December 24th, 3018
A world very much like the one you used to know, but at the same time completely different. Or maybe not. It’s hard to tell these days.
“Who let Youkai arrange the food!? The snack table’s nothing but old tires!”
“Rose Elf is arguing with Jack-In-The-Pulpit about the holly and mistletoe. Again. He claims it’s indecent.”
“Paint Prince actually said decorating in red and green was too gauche. He wanted to do it all in puce, can you believe it? Thank God Huldra talked him out of it.”
“Are they still taking bets for Titan Queen’s showdown with Tomorrow Girl on the Holiday Elves?”
Kalala Jorul was at a loss for words. It was Earth date December 24th, and somehow the headquarters of the Vanguard of Tomorrow had been changed practically overnight. Glass balls and twinkling lights done in shades of crimson, emerald, gold, and silver, adorned every wall and every hall. Strange little plants with red berries and branches with a spicy aroma graced the ceiling.
It was Kalala’s first winter season on Earth, after the Vanguard rescued her from Mater Narda’s Home For Wayward, Spoiled, Rotten, Irredeemably Nasty Heroes the previous spring. Even though she had fought her fair share of battles with the Vanguard as Ultimadien, Kalala was still not used to life on Earth. And lately it seemed like life became more and more erratic as the year drew to a close.
First there was that odd ceremony involving candy, pumpkins, and ghosts, and then the riots about that Columbus person and the turkey revolts. Kalala was hoping by December there would be a reprieve, a time for pause and reflection, but the ridiculousness increased tenfold.
Everywhere she looked, people were rushing and running around getting themselves all worked up for December 25th. She just couldn’t understand why.
“HiKalalabyeKalalanotimetochatMerryChristmas!” A voice sped by Kalala down the hallway. No doubt that was Xephyr, the team’s resident speedstress.
“Xephyr! Get back here!” Another voice, this one sounding quite irate, called after Xephyr. “You always do this!”
“Oh, hey Ultimadien,” Djinni, one of the team’s resident magic users, stopped to catch her breath. “Did Xephyr go down this way?”
“Ugh! Every year!” Djinni complained. “She puts her Holiday Elf shopping off until the last second and then she expects ME to use my powers to whip something up for her. And this year she was shopping for me and she STILL asked me! How shameless can you be?”
“I-I’ll have to take your word for it,” Kalala stammered, having no idea what Djinni was talking about.
“Are you doing the Holiday Elf thing, too?” Djinni asked, running a hand through her thick red hair that tended to float around her head as if levitated by magic. Which, of course, it was.
“No,” Kalala answered, but before she could explain she had no idea what a “Holiday Elf” was Djinni interrupted.
“That’s cool, it’s not everyone’s cup of Konobrew,” Djinni shrugged. “Ariel never does it since their people don’t celebrate Christmas. They always spend the season on Durla.”
“I hadn’t even realized Ariel left,” Kalala admitted. True enough, there were so many people in the Vanguard it was sometimes hard to keep track of everyone.
“I know Jim the Giant is still on vacation in Beanstalk City, and I think Storm Lord and Storm Lady are coming back tonight for the party,” Djinni explained. “They were visiting their brother on Takron-Galtos.”
“Why would they do that?” Kalala was perplexed since Storm Monger and the rest of the Entropy Brigade spent so much time trying to destroy the Vanguard.
“Well it’s the Vanguard’s Annual Christmas Bash,” Djinni mentioned. “It wouldn’t be a party without the Ranzz twins.”
“No I meant-“
“I’m sorry I gotta see where Xephyr’s trying to hide before she thinks I’ll forget about this like I do every year,” Djinni moaned. “I need to find Moonshadow and Grizzly Bear to track her down, excuse me.”
“Of course,” Kalala stepped aside as her teammate ran down the hallway. The conversation had left Kalala feeling more confused than ever, and there was only one person she could talk to at a time like this.
“Scholastica?” Kalala called out as she entered the vast laboratory. “Scholastica V, are you here?”
“Ultimadien!” A familiar voice answered, but not the one Kalala was expecting. She turned around to see a vial of a strange red powder floating in the air, entering through the same doorway. Kalala didn’t need her X-ray vision to know someone was there. “How lovely to see y’all. Merry Christmas.”
“Hello Veil,” Kalala replied, but wasn’t sure how to acknowledge the “Merry Christmas” portion of the invisible heroine’s greeting. “Have you seen Scholastica?”
“Scholly? She’s around here somewhere,” Veil spoke as she waved the little bottle around, signifying her hand gestures. “I’m actually helping her with an important experiment.”
“Well then I won’t intrude,” Kalala was about to turn around and leave before she felt Veil tug at her hand.
“Nonsense,” Veil answered in that odd accent of hers. “I do declare I am certain Scholly is never too busy to see you.”
“Oh!” Kalala blushed. “I mean, if it’s important work-“
“Scholastica!” Veil cried as she dragged Kalala with her deeper into the lab. “You have a guest.”
“I am fairly certain I told you I would be busy with rather delicate work, Veil,” a voice responded, “And I did not wish to be disturbed until I finished.”
“It’s Kally,” Veil added, using the other nickname the Guardians utilized for Kalala.
“I am in the back by the freezer,” was Scholastica’s immediate response. Veil couldn’t help but giggle as she led Kalala deeper into the lab. The two young women found Scholastica V with her back turned to them. The green-skinned, yellow haired woman was bustling about a table loaded with all sorts of strange bottles, vials, and containers of odds and ends, this and that. The smell was so potent to Kalala’s super-senses it was staggering.
“A-hem,” Veil cleared her throat to get Scholastica’s attention. Scholastica didn't respond.
“Scholastica?” Kalala asked.
“Oh, Ultimadien,” Scholastica finally turned around, and for a moment one could swear she actually seemed happy. “Are you feeling well? You seem flushed.”
“I’m fine,” Kalala answered, before Scholastica looked at the beaker in her hand.
“Ah, forgive me,” Scholastica apologized. “DYBBUK,” Scholastic commanded, “Please alter the ventilation in Laboratory 7.”
“VENTILATING,” a mechanized voice responded. Quickly the smell began to abate and Kalala’s head started to clear.
“I did not mean to forget about your heightened olfactory sense, Ultimadien,” Scholastica explained as she turned back to her work, “I assure you it won’t happen again.”
“I have that powder you needed, Scholly,” Veil placed the vial on the table near Scholastica’s right side.
“Mmhmm,” Scholastica nodded as she began to mix something in a large bowl.
“What is it you’re working on?” Kalala asked, looking over Scholastica’s shoulder.
“Something revolutionary,” Scholastica explained. “If my measurements and calculations are correct, what I am working on my in fact change the world.” That got Kalala intrigued. What was Scholastica working on? A vaccine? A performance enhancer? The secret to immortality?
“Well I can see I’m not needed here,” Veil announced. “I’ll leave you two alone. Will I be seeing you at the party, Kally?”
“I guess…” Kalala replied.
“Is this too much? I think so,” Scholastica murmured to herself.
“Love you too,” Veil blew an invisible kiss and departed.
“Um…” Kalala wasn’t sure how to say what was on her mind after Veil's parting words. “What Veil said. Are you two-“
“In a romantic relationship?” Scholastica quickly added. “No, but she seems to find a form of amusement in trying to get a reaction from me by implying otherwise. Regardless, she means these comments in jest and so I do not take her seriously nor do I worry about her intent when we are alone.”
“Oh good,” Kalala sighed in relief before realizing how that sounded, “I mean, not that I thought Veil would ever-“
“How are you, Ultimaiden?” Scholastica asked, taking a spoonful of the red powder and mixing it in the larger bowl. “I, once again, must apologize. Things have become increasingly hectic as the Earthling new year approaches and I have lacked the time to see you. Are you well?”
Kalala found herself sighing once again. She didn’t know why, but the way Scholastica always got to the point in their conversations put her at ease. Sometimes she felt Scholastica understood her better than Kalala understood herself.
“Are you having difficulty adjusting to life on Earth?” Scholastica mused. “Or is it merely the current season that has you feeling so out of sorts?”
“Is it that obvious?” Kalala twirled one of her long, dark microbraids in her finger.
“I admit it does not take a 12th level intellect to see you are not feeling your best. I promise, even though I am focused on my task at hand, I am happy to listen,” Scholastica promised. “Speak freely.”
Kalala looked around for a place to seat before she decided to hover in the air.
“I have no idea what everyone has been talking about for several weeks,” Kalala admitted. “All this, um, ‘Christmas,’ I think it’s called, has just been flying over my head. And I’m too embarrassed to ask what’s going on.”
“Yes, this time of year has a common effect on most people,” Scholastica nodded while inspecting different vials. “Thankfully, this one year has been quiet compared to what the Vanguard of Tomorrow has previously endured.”
“Really?” Kalala wondered. “I mean, things seem pretty crazy as is.”
“Well, you were not a member last year when the Entropy Brigade unleashed their ‘Anti-Claus Battalion’ across the continent,” Scholastica revealed. “Or the year before, when we were subjected to the Morganaverse.”
“The what?” Kalala wasn’t sure she understood that last part.
“Morgana the Manic attempted to trap the Earth in snowglobe universe, modeled after actual medieval times,” Scholastica sniffed a jar and cringed, placing the jar down. “It was only thanks to Morgana’s mother that the Vanguard was able to free Earth before she ruined the holiday season for eternity.”
“I feel like I’m never going to get the hang of Earth life,” Kalala rubbed her temples, “Maybe I’m always going to be an outsider among you all.”
“You needn’t feel such a way around the Guardians, but I understand where these feelings are manifesting from,” Scholastica answered. “I experienced similar feelings when I officially left Coluan society for the first time. Believe it or not,” Scholastica turned to face Kalala, “but I was quite the introvert when I first joined the Vanguard.”
Kalala didn’t know what to say.
“That was my attempt at humor,” Scholastica mentioned.
Kalala winced, feeling bad for not laughing.
“Veil feels I still need practice in that regard,” Scholastica turned back to her work. “I am currently inclined to agree with her.”
“It’s more than that,” Kalala continued.
“I know I am not as entertaining as those in the Emergency Vanguard, but-“
“No, no,” Kalala quickly answered. “I didn’t mean your jokes, I’m so-ugh, I keep apologizing.”
“Ah, then I will not make assumptions until you finish speaking,” Scholastic added.
“It’s also all this talk about… family,” Kalala looked down at the floor, feeling uncomfortable simply thinking of the word.
“I see,” Scholastica responded.
“I don’t get what this whole thing is supposed to be about, but I’ve gotten the feeling it has a lot to do with family. Family this, and family that. I just heard the Storm siblings are visiting their brother in prison even though just last week he tried to brainwashed Storm Lady into becoming a criminal. Why would they bother going to see him, when he keeps trying to hurt them both?” Kalala placed her hands over her face. “I don’t get it. Maybe something’s wrong with me.”
“I know I said I would make no assumptions,” Scholastica began. “I am about to rescind my previous statement. Forgive me.”
Kalala looked up to see Scholastica taking hold of her hands.
“You are missing your parents and brother,” Scholastica stated. “And it is putting you out of sorts with how our fellow Guardians are reconnecting with their immediate family members.”
Her parents. Kalal, her older brother, the fabled Ultimate Man everyone told her so much about. Her parents, dead on Krypton. Her brother, lost somewhere in the 21st Century.
“…yes,” Kalala looked down again, averting Scholastica’s gaze. “I miss them. And all I want is to have them with me.”
“You know that we swore once Klockwerx rescinded their ban on time tr-“
“I-I know,” Kalala interrupted, “I know. That doesn’t change that I miss everyone.”
“There is still a chance we can save your brother if we could find him.”
“But you can’t save my parents, right?” Kalala bitterly asked, trying not to cry. “Because you’ve told me their deaths are a fixed point in time with Krypton’s destruction. Because they had to die so our rockets could escape. Even if I find Kal, we can’t be a family again.”
They remained silent for a few moments. Kalala, not knowing what to say. Scholastica having forgotten about her supposedly important work on the lab table behind them.
“I do not know if it will help,” Scholastica continued, “But I believe I can empathize with your feelings.”
Kalala said nothing.
“I also lost my parents.”
Kalala looked up.
“You don’t have to-“
“It is not something I am ashamed of,” Scholastica reassured Kalala. “I was too young to remember them, before all…” Scholastica motioned to the wiring and markings on her face, “Of this was done to me.”
“Done to you?” Kalala was surprised. “I thought-“
“Yes, that I was born such as I am,” Scholastica nodded. “It is not your fault for thinking thus. I have not been as open about my past as you have been about yours. The other Guardians know, but between you and I there has been no reason to share these details.”
Scholastic stood up, and as she did Kalala lowered her feet to the ground and stopped floating.
“The original Scholastica was a human woman of Earth origin, chosen by the Brain Trust of Colu as part of an experiment to augment the intelligence of organic beings. Or rather, I should say abducted. Sadly, those early experiments did not factor in the original test subject’s criminal behavior and deviant tendencies. They attempted to replicate the experiment through Scholastica II, who possessed none of the aberrant behavior of the original. But this too met with failure as far as the Brain Trust was concerned. Scholastica II lashed out and began an organization with the intent to police the galaxy, becoming what was known by Earth standards as a fascist.”
“Why were these Brain Trust so interested in experimenting on humans?” Kalala asked.
“They wished to see if organic life forms were capable of reaching the same levels of thought and intellect as the machine minds of Colu,” Scholastica answered, focusing on her concoction as she told her story. “They wanted to see if it was possible to create a perfect human machine. I am proof that they continued to try, even after Scholastica I and II lashed out.”
“What’d they do next?” Kalala wondered.
“The Brain Trust began to believe the problem rested within the relative ages of their test subjects,” Scholastica continued. “Because Scholastica I and II were both adult human females, the Brain Trust believed the problem was in behavior they developed later in life. The solution that appeared to them was to start earlier. Younger.”
“Oh Scholly, no,” Kalala shook her head, looking horrified as she realized where this was going.
“They made sure to replace Scholastica III with a substitute when she was abducted,” Scholastica added, her voice betraying no emotion. The way her fist trembled, on the other hand, was a different story. “A member of Ariel’s species, I believe. Bio-engineered to stay in human form. In old Earth legends, these were called ‘Changelings.’ It seemed this was indeed the way for the Brain Trust to achieve their desired results. Scholastica III was everything the Brain Trust hoped for in their experiments. What they did not expect was for her to create Scholastica IV.”
Scholastica began to methodically stir the contents of the bowl without adding anything.
“Why would she want to do this?” Kalala asked. “If she was so perfect?”
“Maybe she wished to see if she could perform their experiment better,” Scholastica mused. “If she was a perfect human machine, than logic stood to reason she would surpass her creators. Well, she had. And Scholastica IV surpassed her. It just happened sooner than her creator expected. After… disposing of Scholastica III and most of the Brain Trust, Scholastica IV took over Colu. With no one to monitor her, she began to conduct her own experiments on human/machine hybrids. I was one of those hybrids.”
Kalala wasn’t sure what to say, but she did place her hand on Scholastica’s shoulder. Scholastica did not move away from her.
“My, ‘Mother’ I guess you would call her, wished to see how a society of hybrids would co-exist with each other. Yet her megalomania had not reached extreme levels so quickly. She allowed free will to enter her project. What good is an experiment if the unknown doesn’t factor into it? Is it really an experiment if you know what happens in the end? She sought to abduct individuals of every species, age, and gender. I was one of the younger subjects, replaced by a Durlan too, but I was not designated ‘Scholastica V.’ Not yet. I was given a numerical designation much like my other so-called siblings.”
“What was it?” Kalala asked.
“I do not wish to say. For the sake of my individuality,” Scholastica sighed. “I have avoided ever referencing my past designation. I wish to focus on my identity now.”
“But you call yourself Scholastica V, after the woman who stole you from your family?” Kalala was confused. “Why would you do that to yourself?”
“It was my triumph over my creator,” Scholastica explained. “Much in the way she triumphed over her creator. But my means to do so were not for power to rule or control. Scholastica IV wished to extend her power beyond Colu and simply abducting the odd test subject. Had she seen her way, my progenitor would have converted the entire galaxy, if not universe. The unknown variables she had allowed in her experiment began to frighten her. Her subjects disagreed with her. They began asking questions she did not want to answer. She wished for total control, and slowly began to convert others to her way of thought. It was only thanks to my escaping and reaching the Vanguard that she was stopped. In the aftermath, the new Coluan society elected me ‘Scholastica V’ as their official representative to the outside world. But I assure you, I have no intent to create a ‘Scholastica VI.’”
Kalala had to let all this sink in first before she said anything. Scholastica’s tale seemed to have so much more… depth, than Kalala’s own past struggles. So much had been on her shoulders. It made Kalala’s troubles seem insignificant.
“You were strong enough to leave on your own,” Kalala stated, slipping her arms around Scholastica’s waist and hugging her.
“Not at all, I was terrified,” Scholastica disagreed with Kalala. “But logic dictated my creator had to be stopped, so I overcame my fear.”
“Did you ever try to find your parents?” Kalala asked. “Your real parents, I mean.”
“I found out some time ago they had been dead for a number of years,” Scholastica bluntly stated. “The Durlan doppelganger left in my place had an, I guess some would call it, a relapse to baser instincts. They did not survive.” Scholastica turned around to look into Kalala’s eyes. “I am aware that sounds cold, yet it is hard for me to feel so emotional for those I do not remember. It did hurt at the time to learn they were gone. It still does. Just not as much as I would like to admit.”
“So, you’ve never been able to celebrate the holiday with your family either,” Kalala reasoned.
“Not at all,” Scholastica motioned to the large bowl she’d been working on. “I’m celebrating it with them right now. Come.”
“She had been. Drinking. Too much eggnog,” Sirena sang, to the bemusement of those listening.
“Why is she doing a spoken word version of classical music?” Solve asked his other half, Coagula.
“Just let her have this,” Coagula whispered back to her male side. “It’s the one time of year she feels comfortable experimenting.”
The grand hall of the Vanguard HQ was officially decked out for the holiday season. The lights, the music, the food (okay they had to do an emergency order at the local Planet Kryptons after Youkai’s disastrous banquet, but still), the tree, the presents. It was gorgeous.
Sirena of Marzaal Island was doing her yearly set of holiday classics. Titan Queen and Tomorrow Girl were in the final round of trying to predict who had received what for Holiday Elf, the Titanian telepath going to brain to brain with Tomorrow Girl’s amazing four-lobed brain. Paint Prince was somewhat huffy they hadn’t let him use puce like he wanted, but he had to agree Huldra had style.
Storm Lord and Storm Lady had returned just as the party got into full swing, while Xephyr was profusely apologizing to Djinni for the Holiday Elf fiasco.
Now all that was needed was…
“HEY EVERYONE!” Veil’s voice cried out through the hall as Scholastica and Kalala entered, Kalala carrying a very large crystal bowl for Scholastica. “SCHOLLY’S PUNCH IS DONE.”
Delighted cheers and cries rang throughout the room, and everyone began to crowd around Scholastica and Kalala.
“Alright!” Pinball Wizard cheered. “Now it’s a party!”
“Some of us have been waiting all year for this,” one of the Weird Sisters said.
“I waited longer than you,” the second argued with the first.
“I was waiting longer before ANYONE,” the third yelled.
“I don’t get it,” Kalala said to Scholastica, “I thought you said this was going to change the world.”
“It does!” Pinball Wiz explained, hoisting up a cup in the air. “Scholly’s been making this punch for us every year during the holiday party.”
“She ONLY makes it for the party,” Pearl Priestess handed a cup to her beloved Quartz.
“She refuses to share the recipe,” Titan Queen sipped at her drink and savored it. “None of us can get it out of her. God knows I’ve tried but her mental defenses are incredible.”
“All that work you were doing was for punch?” Kalala asked as Scholastica handed her a cup.
“Ridiculous, I know,” Scholastica shrugged. “But it makes them happy.”
Kalala looked into the cup of dark red juice and sniffed. She had to admit it smelled good, but cautiously took a sip.
“Oh. OH,” Kalala blinked. “That is good.”
“Thank you,” Scholastica smiled, which was a rare occurrence. “Your praise means much to me. Now then,” Scholastica placed her arm around Kalala’s waist. “Shall I help you to better understand the rest of the traditions that come with the holiday?”
“O-okay,” Kalala smiled and blushed, “Like what?”
“Well for starters,” Veil’s voice floated behind them, holding a small plant above their heads, “I do believe y’all are standing under the mistletoe.”
Kalala looked up.
“What’s th-?” Kalala asked, but before she could finish, Scholastica planted a kiss firmly on her lips.
“Do you feel better?” Scholastica asked.
“I. I,” Kalala gulped. “I mean, yes, but…”
“But?” Scholastica coyly asked.
“What’s mistletoe for?” Kalala asked.
Scholastica looked at the clueless expression on Kalala’s face and sighed before downing her own glass of punch in one gulp.
Logic dictates it’s always the cute ones who were clueless.
VANGUARD OF TOMORROW ROSTER AND COMPARISON CHART
Valiant (Mon-El + Triumph)
Magno King (Cosmic Boy)
Titan Queen (Saturn Girl)
Storm Lord (Lightning Lad)
Storm Lady (Lightning Lass)
Weird Sisters (Triplicate Girl)
Pinball Wizard (Bouncing Boy)
Scholastica V (Brainiac 5)
Veil (Invisible Kid)
Grizzly Bear (Timber Wolf)
Mega Knight (Ultra Boy)
Spirit Queen (Phantom Girl)
Helios (Sun Boy)
Planet Boy (Star Boy)
Tomorrow Girl (Dream Girl + Tomorrow Woman)
Albedo (Element Lad)
Visionary (Sensor Girl)
Jim the Giant (Colossal Boy)
Rose Elf (Shrinking Violet)
Pearl Priestess (White Witch)
Lady Dusk (Shadow Lass)
Twilight Queen (Night Girl)
Ariel (Chameleon Boy)
Sumo King (Karate Kid)
Solve & Coagula (Chemical King)
Silver Princess (Ferro Lad)
Jack O’Lantern (Wildfire)
Match Girl (Inferno)
Wind Rider (Nightwind)
EMERGENCY VANGUARD: The VoT’s backup.
Polychrome (Rainbow Girl)
Jack In The Pulpit (Chlorophyll Kid)
Lady Eleanore (Infectious Lass)
Paint Prince (Color Kid)
Janus (Double Header)
Boreas (Polar Boy)
Shadow Puppet (Ron Karr)
Golem (Stone Boy)
The Entropy Brigade (Legion of Super-Villains)
Mater Narda (Nardo)
Morgana the Manic (Mordru the Merciless + Morgana)