liabrown: (imperious)
liabrown ([personal profile] liabrown) wrote2013-06-01 01:57 am

Fic -- The Professor's Army

Title: The Professor's Army
Author: [personal profile] liabrown
Artist: useless19
Genre: Drama, Action
Characters: Eobard Thawne, Hartley Rathaway, Len Snart, Sam Scudder, Albert Desmond, Roscoe Dillon, Mark Mardon, Lisa Snart, George Harkness, James Jesse, Evan McCulloch, Mick Rory, Roy Bivolo, Owen Mercer, Thad Thawne, OCs.
Rating: R
Word Count: 16,600+
Warnings: Child abuse [physical and verbal, not sexual], violence, character death, profanity.
Author's Notes: You may have seen the prologue before; I was originally going to keep it separate and then decided to incorporate it into the body of the main story. The Cribis are canon and were introduced in Professor Zoom's first appearance, but Wykeham and Gausbert are my own invention. This is part of the Rogues bang at LJ.
Summary: Eobard Thawne went into the past to abduct the Rogues during their childhoods, and is training them to be his personal soldiers. This will not end well.



Prologue


“Hold my hand tight, Lisa! Don’t let go!”
His younger sister didn’t answer, but her firm grip reassured him that she wouldn’t slip away. She must have been terrified, Len realized, even more frightened than he was. The strange man in yellow had spoken to them briefly before they were pulled into a dizzying void, and now it felt as though they were being dragged through it. Len gritted his teeth; it hurt, and he did what he could to protect her from the worst of the strain. Lisa didn’t make a sound for the duration of the trip, but when they were suddenly deposited onto the floor of a dimly-lit room, she let out a distressed cry.

“Lenny, you’re bleeding!”
“I’m okay,” he said bravely, looking her over for injuries. She seemed fine, just ragged and scared, so he wiped the blood from his forehead. He was accustomed to doing that.
“Hey, there are some new kids,” an unknown voice announced, and several boys approximately his age wandered over to look at them. Len stepped defensively in front of his sister, although she peered cautiously around him to look right back at the boys.

“Who’re you?” Lisa asked in a soft voice, always wary of strangers. Other children usually mocked the Snarts for being poor and unkempt.
“I’m Sammy,” declared the boy at the front of the pack. “This is Mark, that’s George, that’s Mickey, that’s Evan, that’s Al, and the sissy-boy is Roy.”
“Hey!” Roy protested, and the other boys snickered.
“He likes to draw or somethin’,” Mickey giggled cheerfully as he prodded the young artist’s shoulder in a friendly manner. “But he’s okay.”

“Who’re the others?” Len asked as he pointed at a couple of other boys in the shadows, both by themselves. One had his hands over his ears and was staring at the floor, while the other played intently with a top.
“Oh, they’re weird,” Mark scoffed with a wave of his hand. “They don’t talk much.”
“Their names are Roscoe and Hartley,” Roy piped up helpfully. He had some sympathy for children deemed weird because other kids tended to think similarly of him.
“Fartley,” George sneered.

“What kind of stupid name is ‘Hartley’?” Len asked, ignoring the fart joke. The Snarts had heard enough similar jokes to last a lifetime.
“He’s rich, look at his clothes,” Sam noted with a sagacious nod; the unstated conclusion was the general ridiculousness of rich people.
“Rich kids,” Len muttered contemptuously, wrinkling his nose. Lisa stamped her foot in disapproval, although it had nothing to do with anyone’s social class. “Too many boys! Where are the girls?”
“No girls,” Evan said in a surprisingly soft voice, tinged with a pleasant Scottish accent.
“Well that stinks,” she frowned. “All boys smell…`cept Lenny.”

“I’m Len, and she’s Lisa,” Len explained, realizing they hadn’t introduced themselves yet. “Why are we here? What is this place?”
“Dunno,” Sam shrugged. “The door’s locked, an’ the Professor hasn’t told us much.”
It was at the mention of ‘the Professor’ that Evan’s lip began to tremble. “He’s frichtsome. He took me away from Miss McCulloch.”
“He took all of us away, dipstick,” George replied in exasperation. They’d had this discussion before.
“Is that the man wearing the yellow suit?” Len asked, and the other boys nodded. “So this is like a kidnapping? We’ve been kidnapped?” He was very proud of knowing such a mature-sounding word.
“I guess so,” Mark mumbled, and only now did the gravity of the situation begin to sink in for him. ‘Kidnapped’ sounded a lot scarier than ‘brought us here’.
“I want tae go home,” Evan whispered, and started to cry.
“Me too,” Roy agreed unhappily, wailing more loudly than was deemed proper for a boy his age.

“Be quiet!” a voice hissed from across the room. Everyone turned and saw Hartley pressing his hands more tightly over his ears, eyes screwed shut from the pain. “You’re way too loud!”
Roy didn’t stop sobbing, but Len stared curiously at the red-haired boy hunched over on the floor.
“What’s your problem?” he asked, and despite being across the room and having his ears covered, Hartley answered him.
“My problem is that you are all far too loud, and you’re hurting my ears! And it’s not my fault that I’m rich and my clothes are nice or that my parents named me Hartley. I can’t change that.”

“How’d you hear all that?” Len asked in surprise, puzzled that the boy had overheard the less-than-flattering remarks about himself.
“I…hear very well,” Hartley said hesitantly, reluctant to tell strangers about his auditory implants. He didn’t want people knowing he was deaf, which he’d always been taught was something shameful.
“Okay Roy, shut up,” Len ordered, and fortunately the other boy had almost finished crying anyway. With a few exaggerated sniffles, Roy wiped his nose and let his cries die down into soft whimpers. Hartley relaxed somewhat, the pain significantly lessened. But standing off to one side, Sam scowled a bit as he realized the children were listening to a new leader.

“What about that other kid?” Len asked, pointing at the boy playing with the top. Now that he’d met everyone else, he might as well see what was going on with the last one. It seemed odd that this kid wasn’t spending time with the others when he wasn’t obviously an outsider like the rich boy.
“He’s always playing with that thing,” Sam shrugged, having been unable to get Roscoe to talk much. “He doesn’t like being bothered.”
“Hey. Hey, top-kid!” Len called out, but was studiously ignored. “You deaf or somethin’?”
Nobody noticed Hartley’s uncomfortable wince.

Roscoe continued playing and gave no indication that he’d heard anything, so Len walked over and poked his shoulder.
“What?” the other boy asked with exasperation. “You’re disturbing my concentration. And no, I’m not deaf.”
“Just wanted to know what’s up with you. How come you aren’t with the others?”
“Because I’m busy. Now please leave me alone.”
Len stared at him. Playing with a top didn’t qualify as ‘busy’ as far as he was concerned, but he wasn’t going to drag the boy away from it. He was about to turn away with a dismissive comment when Hartley suddenly jumped to his feet and announced fearfully that the Professor was returning.

Time and space began to shimmer, and the Professor soon emerged from the distortion with a slight blond-haired boy. The boy immediately ran from him and hid behind George, who was himself too frightened to jeer.
“Lenny…he’s the one who brought us here!” Lisa whispered apprehensively. She clutched at her big brother’s hand, and he mustered all his bravery to squeeze back.
“This is James. Now your group is complete,” the man in yellow declared to the assembled children, and even Roscoe looked up from his game to listen.

“Take us home!” Sam retorted boldly, hands on hips. “You can’t keep us here. The police will get you and lock you up forever.”
The Professor laughed. “Children, the police will never find you. You’re a long way from home -- several centuries in the future, in fact, and will never return to your old lives again. You’ll have new ones with me.”
“I need to go home to do my schoolwork, or my parents will be very angry at me,” Roscoe said gravely, though Thawne shook his head in annoyance.
“As usual you’re not listening, Roscoe. You will all have a greater future at my side than you ever would have had in your former petty lives. You were destined to become Rogues, the worst criminal scourges of Central City. But I’ve plucked you from early in your timelines and shall sculpt you into something better, something crueler and far more powerful. You’ll realize your true potential and work with me, rather than against me. As my own private army.”

“You’re stupid and I hate you!” Lisa shouted, kicking him in the shin, and the Professor choked with anger. Ignoring the children’s laughter, he hoisted the small girl into the air at super-speed, moving far too fast for her brother to protect her.
“Ah, Lisa -- the spirited one, I’d almost forgotten. You’re fortunate that I value your brother’s skills.”
He dropped her to the ground with more force than was necessary, but although frightened, she refused to cry.
“You stink,” she insisted loudly as Len rushed over and tried to end the situation, placing himself between her and the Professor.

“Some of you children will grow up to be more powerful or skilled than the others,” the Professor continued, paying no heed to Lisa’s insult. “They will be my elite, the special ones, and we will begin training immediately. Leonard, Albert, Mark, Hartley, Roscoe, and Samuel -- come with me. Your new lives begin now.”
“What’s so special about them?” George complained indignantly as the Professor ushered the startled boys towards the door. Len didn’t want to leave his sister, but the man forcibly pulled him away.

“I know your futures, George. These boys are better than you,” Thawne said with a smile, pleased by the angry scowls on the rejected children’s faces. The chosen boys filed out of the room when their benefactor opened the door, except for Len, who had to be dragged out.
“Lenny!” Lisa cried out in fear, terrified to be separated from her big brother, and he looked just as anguished.
“Someone will be in to feed you tomorrow, children. Goodnight,” the Professor addressed the remainders jovially, then slammed the door shut and activated the lock.

The holding room was now painfully quiet. Lisa, Evan, George, Roy, Mickey and James spent the night huddled together in the dark and praying the police would somehow free them, but no one ever came to their rescue. They were on their own.

End Prologue


****


Some of the children adjusted to their new lives in the twenty-fifth century more readily than others. Len, for instance, didn’t miss his father at all, and neither did George. But Len was tormented by the separation from his little sister, always worrying about her safety without his protection. Hartley’s keen ears sometimes heard her crying in another room, but he never told Len because it would clearly upset him.

For the first few weeks, Eobard Thawne and his assistants gradually eased the children into their new existence at his compound. They were kept segregated in two groups, the Alphas and Betas (nobody had ever accused Thawne of being particularly original), his elite squad and the remainders. And the children were never allowed to forget they were different. From the first day, the Alphas were told they were special, smarter, better. The Betas were told they weren’t as good as the other children, but it was possible they might improve. Regardless, the Betas quickly developed a fierce resentment towards their more favoured siblings, easily matched by the contempt the Alphas felt for them. The only members of the two groups who didn’t despise everyone on the other team were the Snarts; Len was an Alpha and Lisa a Beta.

The teams were kept in separate dormitories, although as the sole girl Lisa had a small room to herself. This only added to her isolation and loneliness, and she dearly wished to be allowed to bunk with the other Betas. She liked Roy and Evan, who were younger like her and very friendly, and was a bit intimidated by the older George, Mickey, and James. George had immediately established himself as a leader despite his somewhat anti-social tendencies, and the team soon settled into a relationship of mostly doing what he told them. But even he had to defer to the Betas' guardian, a mild man with an undercurrent of anger named Bernard Gausbert. Gausbert was responsible for their daily care and tutoring, as Thawne had passed such mundane responsibilities onto his subordinates.

The Alphas were ruled by a hard man they quickly learned to fear, a distant relative of Thawne’s named Ademar Wykeham. Armed with a perpetual scowl, he was under considerable pressure to produce champions out of frightened children, and he made certain to vent his frustrations on them. Fortunately none of the Alphas were unaccustomed to being shouted at, but they’d been thrust into a new world with technology completely alien to them and expected to excel. The stress on them was immense.

****


It was near the end of the supper hour, and Roscoe had wearily put his head down on the table.
“Sit up, or Mr. Wykeham’s gonna yell,” Mark urged him anxiously.
“Leave me alone. I’m real tired.”
“Sit up or I’ll make you sit up,” Sam hissed, worried that their minder would walk in at any moment and punish them all for it, and indeed he did return. Roscoe immediately sat up and hoped the man hadn’t seen anything, but Wykeham stalked over and cuffed the boy on the side of the head.

“Obviously someone wants to work harder,” Wykeham announced coldly, and all the Alphas cringed. “Roscoe, recite the multiplication tables.”
“O-one times one is one. One times two is two. One times three is thr—"
“Not from the beginning, you stupid boy. Even the youngest Betas know that kind of simple math. Start from the sevens.”
“Seven times one is seven. Seven times two is f…fourteen. Seven times three is…is…twenty-two…”
“It’s twenty-one, idiot. Twenty-one. Why the Professor wants you with the Alphas is a mystery,” Wykeham sighed in disgust. He glowered intently at Roscoe, who was unable to meet his gaze and fighting back tears of embarrassment. This was fairly similar to the dialogues he’d had with his own father, but seemed worse because it was in front of his peers.

“Seven times four is twenty-eight; seven times five is thirty five; seven times six is forty-two; seven times seven—" Al interjected with brisk professionalism until Wykeham cut him off.
“I’m aware that you know your tables, Albert, there’s no need to show off.” He looked at his watch. “It’s nearly 2000 hours now, so most of you go back to your lessons. Roscoe, you’ll continue reviewing with me.”
Roscoe looked utterly despondent and had begun to rock slightly due to stress, so Hartley flashed him a sympathetic expression as the other Alphas filed out of the room.

****


Along with their first lessons, the children were taught team-building and given uniforms. The Alphas wore a modified version of Professor Zoom’s costume, in splendid yellow with red highlights, whereas the Betas received the primarily-red motif of the inferior Flash. The uniforms were made of an advanced twenty-fifth century polymer, which would grow with the wearer and were tailored to suit the future Rogues’ needs. Mick’s costume was more fire-resistant than the others, while Mark’s was designed to withstand the elements and Roscoe’s outfit worked to reduce friction. The children loved their new uniforms, especially the Alphas; as much as they feared the Professor, they were regularly reminded it was an honour to be decked out like him. It was a sign they were the chosen children, the superior ones.

They’d been permitted to keep their first names when they were kidnapped, but no longer used their former surnames. Their new family name was ‘Thawne’. When the adults were out of earshot they’d used their old surnames amongst themselves for a while, but time and judicious punishments slowly eroded the habit. After a few months in captivity, what did their old surnames matter anymore? They were never going to see their parents again, and it hurt a bit less to forget about that life.

****


James’ eyes were shut tightly as he clung to a pole fifteen feet above the ground. The high wire in front of him seemed to be swaying, and he feared he’d vomit on everyone below.
“Fall! Fall!” George taunted until scolded by Gausbert. Their guardian was exasperated, however, as he’d been told that James was an acrobat.
“I’m afraid of heights,” the boy confessed in a small voice, barely audible to those on the ground.
“Well, come down then,” Gausbert said irritably, unsure how to deal with the children’s fears. He didn’t have it in him to overtly bully his charges like Wykeham, but wasn’t particularly good at encouraging them either.

“I’ll go up with him,” Lisa declared softly, the first thing she’d said all morning. She studied the hand and footholds on the pole and slowly began to climb, compensating for a lack of strength and experience with sheer determination, just as Thawne had predicted. Soon she’d made it to the top, and hugged James until he relaxed a bit.

James stepped onto the wire with a deep breath and a little more confidence, just as he’d practiced with his parents. He’d never yet performed for an audience, though he still remembered how his father had coached him. But the Professor had told him he would never see his father again, and thinking about it made him feel sick. “Careful!” Lisa cried out fearfully as she saw him wobbling, and the boy fell. He was surprised to be caught above the ground by an invisible energy net; the children were still getting accustomed to the amazing technology of the future.
Gausbert shook his head in disbelief. “Go back and try it a few more times. You’ll have to master it eventually.”
With a sigh, James hopped off the net and trudged back to the pole to ascend it again.

****


The children were kept isolated from the world in a large compound, a prison which kept their existence secret from the authorities. They studied, trained, and were given medical care within its walls, almost always indoors. Occasionally they saw a doctor, but the only adults they typically interacted with were their team tutor and Eobard Thawne. It was a lonely existence, but at least they had their teammates to cling to.

The children forged further bonds to their team and the Professor by way of mandatory chants and slogans. Wykeham and Gausbert privately thought it all very ridiculous, but Thawne had ordered it and they couldn't argue with the results. The Alphas were made to sing daily songs about their superiority and brotherhood, and it obviously worked. The Betas chanted about their strong ties to each other and how someday they might best the Alphas, which gave a boost to their flagging self-esteem. And above all, the children were taught to pledge their allegiance to the Professor. The tutors were less certain about the success of that ploy, but the children never defied him and appeared to place their trust in him. Fear, however, seemed to play a greater role in their deference than love or respect.

****


The Alphas were typically permitted half an hour of free time before bed if they’d been studious, although Wykeham was rarely far away. Tonight most of the boys were rough-housing in the dorm, although Hartley found them too loud and kept his distance, and Roscoe was trying to spin small objects as though they were tops. Wykeham only allowed him to have real tops when he was doing well academically, which he usually wasn’t.

“We should sneak out and do something mean to the Betas,” Sam declared in the midst of a raucous pillow fight with Mark.
“Like what?” Al asked. He and Len had been organizing a steeplechase over the beds and other furniture, but Len stopped playing when he heard Sam’s suggestion. Something bad might happen to Lisa.
“I dunno, maybe get them blamed for something they didn’t do,” Sam shrugged.
“Yeah! Or do something to make them cry!” Mark enthused. “I bet we could make Roy cry in two minutes. I bet you tomorrow’s dessert I could do that.”
“That isn’t very nice,” Hartley said soberly from across the room.
“Mr. Wykeham would get us in trouble,” Len argued, keen to nip the plan in the bud. “It really isn’t a good idea.”

But half the boys were already headed for the door, and Len went with them to minimize the havoc. Hartley stayed where he was, and Roscoe ignored the request to come with them; the others knew well enough that he was too immersed in his own business.

The troublemaking Alphas tiptoed down the hall to the Betas’ dormitory. Sam was utterly gleeful when he quietly tested the doorknob and found it unlocked, so the Alphas crept inside. They discovered that the Betas had an earlier bedtime than they did, and the boys were all asleep.
“We should go,” Len whispered to the others, although he was relieved that Lisa wasn’t there. She was safely in her own room next door. But nothing was going to stop Sam and Mark now, and they crept towards the sleeping children. Evan’s bed was closest, and Mark gestured happily to the others before suddenly pouncing on him.

Evan screamed much more loudly than the Alphas had anticipated. He’d never told anyone that a boy at his orphanage had preyed on other children while they slept, and thus when Mark grabbed him he thought it was happening to him. He sat up in bed, still screaming, and Roy shrieked too at the fright of being awakened by someone else’s cries.

“Let’s get out of here!” Len hissed at his comrades, and they ran for it, but George Harkness was furious and sprang from his bed.
“Oi, yer gonner regret that!” he snarled as he chased them. Al was the least athletic of the Alphas and George quickly caught him and jumped on him, roughly pummeling his face. Al yowled in pain and his teammates turned back to defend their own, the situation soon devolving into a brawl between the Betas and half the Alphas.

“That is quite enough!” shouted Wykeham as he ran down the hall and freely slapped any boy within range. The fighting had already stopped by the time Gausbert arrived, and even Hartley and Roscoe peered timidly around the door to see what would happen. But the non-combatants disappeared when Eobard Thawne strode down the hall like a king; all the children were absolutely terrified of him. Those who’d been fighting didn’t have the opportunity to hide, and simply cowered as they waited to be reprimanded.

“What happened?” Thawne demanded, arms crossed. He could intimidate others even without his fearsome reputation.
“Them Alphas snuck into our room and scared the littler kids!” George said indignantly despite his fear. He was concerned he’d be blamed for starting the fight and receive the worst of the punishment if he didn’t speak up.
“Is that true?” Thawne asked the Alphas, narrowing his eyes at Len and Sam. He knew they were the team leaders.
“No,” Sam muttered darkly, clearly lying.
“Yes, Professor,” Len said quietly, having decided it would be better to tell the truth.
“Wykeham, keep a closer eye on your charges,” was Thawne’s only response, entirely aware that their guardian would punish them harshly for making him look bad. The Professor then walked away, leaving the furious minders to deal with their children.

All the Alphas were severely beaten that night, including the boys who hadn’t participated in the raid.

****


In time, both teams’ guardians began to train the children in more than just academics. Though they were still very young, Thawne wanted them to be taught their powers and weapons early so they’d be able to earn their keep by their mid-teens. Giving weapons to children was dicey, so they began with future-technology simulations, slowly learning to master the weapons their adult selves were known for.

Each child’s training program was different. Hartley was taught various musical instruments and techniques with the aspiration that he would eventually discover the secrets his adult self had learned. Al was immersed in the sciences to better use the Philosopher’s Stone, which he wouldn’t be allowed to handle until completely trustworthy. In the meantime, he used simulations of his Mister Element equipment. James and Lisa were trained to use upgraded versions of their gravity-defying footwear, somewhat akin to 25th-century rocket boots. Once they’d mastered the boots, Thawne planned to outfit them with powerful weaponry so they could strike viciously with high speed from the air.

The most intensive programs were used for the Mirror Masters and Roscoe. It was difficult to teach the use of mirror technology when even the trainers didn’t fully understand it, so the best they could do was to teach the boys science, expose them to the equipment, and hope they figured it out. As expected, Sam took to it easily and Evan floundered, which was why the former had been placed in the Alphas and the latter was a Beta. Thawne pondered allowing Sam to teach Evan, but decided against cross-pollinating the two teams. Evan was merely surplus, a backup. And available to be sacrificed if necessary.

Roscoe posed an interesting challenge for Thawne: how to teach a child to spin at super-speeds. The boy actually enjoyed it and practiced often, but was too young and undisciplined to progress as quickly as expected. He soon realized he was disappointing his tutors on this front just as he was in academics, leading him to anxiety and angry outbursts, which were severely punished. The other Alphas tried to cover for him and help with schooling, but he was becoming increasingly stressed and neurotic as the adults grew more exasperated with his inadequacies. The tension amidst the team was escalating.



****


Wykeham and Gausbert were required to present weekly status reports to Thawne, a task they dreaded. Wykeham in particular was under tremendous pressure to show his team was progressing well, since Thawne’s expectations for them were greatest.
“Most of them are doing quite satisfactorily, although they’re all wretched little scum,” Wykeham said as they sat around the table in Thawne’s office.
“Of course they’re scum…they’re Rogues,” Thawne said with a slight smile, thinking back to his various conflicts with their adult selves. “They’re the lowest of the low. But you said ‘most’; I assume the exception is Roscoe.”
“He’s a mess. He belongs with the Betas.”
Gausbert immediately felt defensive about the children in his care and nearly said something, though one look from his boss reminded him to be silent. Thawne tapped his chin thoughtfully.

“The adult I knew was brilliant and extremely powerful -- although the catch is that it was all spawned by centrifugal changes to his brain from spinning. If that doesn’t happen, he isn’t very useful to me.”
Wykeham frowned. While he would have been delighted to get rid of the child who made his job that much more difficult, failure would reflect poorly on him. “In the past, you’d mentioned a surgical option…”
Thawne nodded briskly. “Yes, I think we should try it. There isn’t much to lose at this point.”

****


The Alphas were clustered together in their classroom, taking advantage of Wykeham’s absence to socialize and help each other with schoolwork. Al and Sam regularly competed to be the smartest boy in the group, and one way to show off was to help the struggling members of the team with homework.
“…so you see, when you solve a quadratic equation, you're actually finding the x-intercepts of the parabolic plot,” Al concluded with a magnanimous smile. Hartley rolled his eyes at how obviously smug he sounded, but Roscoe was just relieved to have someone explain it without yelling and insults, as Wykeham always did.

“I think I got it,” he said with some uncertainty, biting his lip. He didn’t feel very comfortable making eye contact with other people, so his eyes remained fixed on the paper in front of him, but he smiled. “Thanks for helping me.”
“Brothers stick together. Alphas stick together,” Sam said flatly, and the other boys nodded.
“Mr. Wykeham’s coming back,” Hartley warned, and everyone hurried to their seats before the man returned, pretending to be hard at work.

Wykeham seemed unusually agitated about something and made a beeline for Roscoe, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him from the room. He hustled Roscoe down the hall and past a door he’d never been through before, and the boy soon found himself in some kind of medical office.

“Um, can I go back to class? I have homework to finish,” he asked quietly, finding the place rather sinister. He went silent upon seeing Eobard Thawne and a stranger in an odd type of one-piece suit. The stranger began prepping Roscoe’s arm for some kind of procedure while the boy became increasingly frightened and looked for a way out, but Wykeham stood between him and the locked door.
Thawne was smiling at him in an unfriendly manner, and he cowered as the stranger injected something into his arm. It didn’t hurt, but he felt woozy in moments and his vision soon went blurry.
“Try not to kill him,” was all he heard Thawne say before losing consciousness.

****


The Alphas were worried when Roscoe didn’t return by bedtime. They rarely asked Wykeham for anything because the response would be unpleasant, but Sam had to question him about their brother’s absence.
“He had brain surgery. Now go to bed,” came the brusque reply.
“Why?” Sam asked, horrified.
“Because he was a failure. That’s what’ll happen to the rest of you too if you disappoint the Professor, by the way. Now get to bed.”
Sam was slapped when he tried to ask further, so he and the other Alphas hurried to bed, utterly terrified. They wondered if they’d ever see their brother again.

****


Lisa and James loved zipping around on their rocket boots, chasing each other through the air and pushing themselves to go ever faster. Gausbert allowed them to play because he knew it would improve their skills, and brought a small amount of joy to some young lives he felt increasingly guilty for ruining. It was only a matter of time before they’d be given deadly weapons and taught to kill, he reflected, something that wouldn’t come naturally to either of them.

George liked killing, or at least relished destroying things with his boomerangs. The lethal models would come later, but he was already good at hitting targets and would soon move up to the next level of training. Gausbert was proud of his success in a twisted sort of way. Mickey truly enjoyed playing with fire, his pyromania having been indulged and encouraged, and would one day make a terrifying foot-soldier in Thawne’s army. Gausbert was obliged to regularly search him for matches and other fire-starting equipment, lest the boy burn down the compound with everyone in it.

Roy and Evan were still gentle and shy, but Roy was developing a bit of a sadistic streak. Having been bullied and different most of his life, he enjoyed having some power for the very first time. He was now allowed to use the real prism goggle technology his adult self had utilized, but only under supervision because the adults were concerned about what he might do with it otherwise.

Gausbert was certain the Betas were not failures, no matter what anyone said. They were good children being twisted into something ugly, and becoming increasingly skilled at it. They’d give the Alphas a run for their money someday.



****


When Roscoe returned a few days later, his head had been shaved and bandaged and he was very quiet. The other Alphas greeted him delightedly, relieved to see him alive, but when they mobbed him he seemed sullen and annoyed. They were surprised by it, but figured he was just tired and overwhelmed. His dour mood didn’t lift in the following days, however, and he remained more aloof than before. In the past he’d kept his distance due to shyness or preoccupation with his own interests, but now seemed simply cold and unfriendly.

After a few days of recovery he returned to his studies, and another change soon became apparent: he wasn’t struggling academically as he had been previously. The other boys’ attempts to help were now curtly rebuffed, and he'd soon begun to master all his schoolwork. Wykeham seemed pleased and was already kinder to him, or at least less insulting. But the other Alphas were disturbed; Roscoe wasn’t the same as before. And his hard stare was disconcerting.

****


For Gausbert, the most tiresome part of training was dealing with Mickey. The boy was far more eager to practice than the others because he loved to burn things, and these sessions were the only times he was permitted access to flames. Gausbert had to watch him constantly when he had fire, and endure his pleading to be allowed to “play” when it was taken away.

“Settle down,” the tutor scolded one day as the two of them watched the other Betas practicing. Lisa and James had clearly mastered their boots and were ready to move to the next level, and George sliced through his targets with frightening efficiency. Above them, Roy joyfully goofed around on a beam of light and hit all his own targets. Only Evan struggled, unable to complete his assigned tasks or requiring multiple attempts to get it right.
“Can I play now?” Mickey whined, excitedly tugging at Gausbert’s shirt.
“No. Wait your turn,” the man said curtly as he watched Evan intently. The junior Mirror Master didn’t seem to be trying very hard, and it had been happening consistently for several weeks. Gausbert finally called him over.

“What’s going on? Why are you doing so poorly?” the tutor asked calmly, though with obvious frustration in his voice. He knew Evan could do better.
“No reason,” Evan muttered, looking down at the ground. His accent and dialect had softened considerably after months away from Scotland, and he’d picked up new vocabulary from living with foreigners.
“Evan, what’s wrong?”
The boy was silent for several moments, but decided he could trust the only adult who was reasonably kind to him. “This is daft and pointless. Sammy’s always gonna be better than me, so I’m wasting my time trying. Why didn’t the Professor give me another job? I wanna do what Lisa does…it looks fun.”

Gausbert’s first impulse was to retort with a ‘because I said so’ response, although he realized it wouldn’t be particularly helpful to the situation. But ultimately that was the reason for it.
“That’s the job the Professor wants you to do,” was what he finally said. “It’s what he thinks you’ll be good at. Are you going to tell him you don’t want to do it?”
“….no, sir,” the child sighed unhappily. He feared Thawne above all else, as did Gausbert.
“I thought so. Go back and try again.”

“Can I play now?” Mickey begged desperately as Evan trudged away, and Gausbert groaned in exasperation. He had no idea why he’d ever agreed to this job.
“Yes, Mickey. Be careful.”
He gave the boy his miniature flamethrower, otherwise kept under tight control for everyone's safety, and Mickey gleefully ran to the training area to start burning things.

****


One day it was Mark's turn to be taken away. He was abruptly pulled out of class while the other Alphas buzzed with worry over his fate, helpless to assist their friend. Wykeham led him down the hall and into the same medical office Roscoe had been brought to, and while Mark didn’t know it was the same place, he remembered that Roscoe had been taken away and returned different. He refused to let it happen to him without a fight. He shoved Wykeham and dashed past him to the door, running as fast as he could down the hallway and attempting to find an exit. But Thawne had super-speed, and it took only seconds to retrieve the struggling boy and return him to the doctor’s office.

“Let me go!” Mark screamed, kicking and flailing as though his life depended on it; as far as he was concerned, it did. The adults weren’t accustomed to this sort of resistance from the young Rogues and were taken aback by it, but a solitary child was no match for Thawne and his assistants. They held him down as the doctor sedated him and strapped him to a bed, and then Thawne went to calibrate some nearby equipment of his own invention. He'd built the devices some years earlier during his supervillain career, and had recently redesigned them for other purposes. Minutes later, the machines hummed to life and bathed Mark in a beam of radiation while the adults watched from the safety of another room.

****


Mark felt terribly ill when he regained consciousness. Still strapped down, he turned his head and vomited all over himself, and then noticed Thawne smiling broadly at him.
“What’d you do to me, Professor?” he asked fearfully, and Thawne grinned wider.
“We’ve unlocked your genetic potential to command the elements. You should thank us.”
“I want…I want to go back to the dorm,” Mark said in a small voice. He felt incredibly vulnerable and still very sick, with an odd tingling sensation reverberating throughout his body. Electricity occasionally arced painfully around his eyes.
“Later. For now, get some rest, and then we’ll test your new abilities,” Thawne told him, with a surprisingly gentle pat on the shoulder. “You may now be the most powerful of my Alphas.”
Ill and frightened as he was….Mark liked the sound of that.

****


Sam had been one of the first children to be kidnapped by Thawne, and had quickly assumed a leadership position amongst the captive Rogues. It was in his nature and something he enjoyed; he liked having others look to his wisdom and do what he told them. But then Len had joined the group, and his own natural leadership skills had been a constant source of irritation to Sam ever since. Both felt they should be the sole captain of the Alphas, and the other children worsened the problem by not consistently accepting one boy as leader. The Alphas prided themselves on being egalitarian (even though they weren’t), and generally followed the directions of both Sam and Len.

Wykeham and Thawne had opted to let the boys battle it out for themselves, figuring that whoever came out the victor would be the better for it, so Sam and Len were in a constant unspoken war for leadership. To talk about it would have resulted in hot denials about Alpha brotherhood, so no one ever said anything and the duo engaged in passive-aggressive competition to prove each was the better leader. It was stressful for them, and sometimes resulted in awkward situations for the other Alphas caught in the middle. But the adults decided a bit of tension in the team would keep them from getting complacent, so nothing was done to resolve it and the resentment worsened.

****


Thawne and Wykeham had taken Mark outdoors to test his supposed new abilities. The research indicated he should now have innate weather-controlling powers, but nothing was proven until he could demonstrate it. The boy blinked painfully in the bright sun, shielding his eyes, as none of the children had spent much time outside since their abduction ten months earlier.
“Concentrate,” Thawne told him, and Mark obeyed, but for several long minutes there was no change in the weather.
“Professor…”
“Concentrate!”

Mark directed all his thoughts to making it rain, creating a breeze, anything, but still there was nothing.
“Such a useless boy,” Wykeham muttered under his breath, and although Mark wasn’t supposed to have heard it, he did. Anger swelled in him and the air began to crackle, and Thawne noted with satisfaction that the hair on his arms had risen. Within moments, a bolt of lightning tore down from the heavens, striking the ground in front of Mark and fusing the soil to glass.
“Excellent,” Thawne smiled as Mark stared at the smoking earth in amazement.
“Did I..?”
“You did, without the assistance of any wand. Show us what else you can do.”

Mark closed his eyes and imagined a downpour soaking Wykeham. Thirty tense seconds passed and then rain began to fall; at first just a few drops, and soon heavily.
“I did it!” Mark cheered jubilantly. He raised his hands to the sky in triumph. “I did it!”
“You’ve done well,” Thawne said in a respectful tone, placing a hand on his shoulder. The Professor rarely offered praise to any of the children, so it was a pleasurable reward indeed, and for a moment Mark almost felt like an equal. The rain quickly turned to blowing snow, and the boy’s proud grin widened.
“How does it feel to be the mightiest soldier in my army?”

****


James and Lisa bounced up and down excitedly as Gausbert handed a box to each of them; they’d finally been given their first weapons. Both were thrilled when they saw the bladed gauntlets.
“Be careful!” Gausbert scolded, concerned they would hurt someone with the serrated edges, which was really quite ridiculous when he reflected on it later. Obviously they were meant to hurt people.
“So cool!” Lisa squealed in delight, awed by the gleaming metal and keen to try them on.
“These aren’t the fully operational gauntlets, which you’ll get once you’ve shown proficiency with these,” their tutor reminded them. Even Thawne didn’t want the children to get killed during training, which would have been a tremendous waste of resources.

“What are we gonna do with them?” James asked, suddenly curious about the point of it all. It was something he’d never really questioned. He’d been told that one day he would graduate to acquiring weapons, which he'd assumed was a desirable goal because the adults had told him so, but didn't quite understand it.
“You’ll fight. The Professor will send you on missions,” Gausbert replied in a gentler tone, already sensing the boy’s ambivalence, and James looked confused.
“But I don’t want to fight, I just want to wear the rocket boots.”
“You don’t have a choice, James. None of us do,” Gausbert said wearily. “The decision was made for you, and you have to follow it.” He desperately wanted to apologize to the children for his role in their situation, but knew it wouldn’t help and would probably just undermine his authority, so he remained silent. Instead, he put his hands on James’ and Lisa’s shoulders and smiled sadly at them. “You’ll understand someday. But let’s postpone the next phase of your training until tomorrow.”
“Okay,” James answered quietly, trying not to let anyone see his lip quivering. He sought out Lisa’s hand as they were ushered back to the dormitory.

****


Mark soared on the breeze, loving the sensation of flight. The ability to fly, and the knowledge that he was the most godlike member of both teams were the greatest feelings he’d ever known. He enjoyed looking down on the others as they trained below, and as much as he loved his brothers, it was fun to annoy them with the occasional bit of inclement weather. Even better was to torment the Betas, particularly if he could do so undetected; it was hilarious watching George’s boomerangs blown off course or Mickey’s fires surreptitiously extinguished, and of course he shared the details with his delighted teammates later.

“The best part,” he snickered one night, “was watching those stupid rocket boots kids trying to keep their balance in the wind. They both wiped out!”
Most of the boys laughed but Len instantly went quiet, as he knew his sister was one of the kids in question.
“Guys, could you try to take it easy on Lisa?” he finally asked with an uncomfortable frown. “I don’t care about the rest of those losers, but I don’t want anything bad to happen to her. Remember, she’s my sister.”
We’re your family now,” Sam said imperiously. There was a genuine element of team rivalry in his response, but he’d also sensed an opportunity to exert his dominance over Len and the others, and had decided to seize it. “You’re an Alpha, she’s a Beta. She doesn’t matter anymore.”
Most of the other boys nodded at this -- with the exception of Hartley -- but Len wasn’t going to back down.

“She’s still my sister and it doesn’t matter what squad she’s on. Don’t be a jerk.”
“How can you say that? Don’t you support the team?” Sam demanded. He’d suddenly found a new angle to exploit, and was going to milk it for all it was worth. Now even Hartley seemed annoyed and offended, and Len was facing a group of hostile faces.
“Of course I do. But I love my little sister too. All I’m saying is to not be mean to her: if you want to pick on any of the others, go ahead. Just leave Lisa out of it, okay? She’s only a girl.”
“A girl with a knife,” Al reminded him contemptuously, eyes rolling.
“Beta-lover,” Sam sneered, but Hartley had finally had enough.
“Drop it, guys,” the red-haired boy said as he stepped forward and put a hand on Len’s and Sam’s shoulders. “We’re better than this and we’re brothers, remember? We’re a united front.”
“I guess,” Sam muttered, feeling unhappy about the disruption of his scheme. He’d try again at the next opportunity.
“Yeah,” Len replied crossly, not entirely thrilled by the situation either. He would have preferred to settle the matter right then, rather than leave it unfinished and let it fester.

Mark took over the conversation again at that point, loudly regaling everyone with stories about the amazing things he could do now, but Len was lost in worried thought until bedtime. And as usual, Roscoe sat on the sidelines and said nothing.

****


Gausbert was absolutely furious at the next progress meeting. “Your brats are stirring up trouble for my children!” he accused Wykeham angrily, a finger stabbing in his direction, but it didn’t quite have the intended effect.
Your children..?” Thawne asked in amusement, and Wykeham openly chuckled.
“Yes,” Gausbert replied with a hint of defensiveness, but he was already backing down. “That Weather Wizard boy…or whatever he’s called now…was disrupting the Betas’ training. I’m certain it was him. The children are unhappy about it.”
“So? It’s a good thing they’re encountering unexpected obstacles. Might teach them something,” Wykeham said with obvious contempt, and Thawne nodded in agreement.
“They don’t deserve to be bullied or humiliated,” Gausbert answered as irritation crept back into his voice, although he knew it was a lost cause. That made him angrier.

“They are Rogues and soldiers, and it’s the least they deserve,” Thawne told him coldly. “Remember your place and theirs, and stop whining about it or I’ll simply have you removed.”
“Yes sir,” Gausbert said quietly, well aware of the full implications of the threat. At this point he knew too much, and Thawne would certainly kill him if he left the project.
“Good. If you’re so concerned about ‘your’ children being victimized, then teach them to fight back. It’d be good for the little vermin,” Thawne replied, writing a few notes on his ledger. “You’re both dismissed.”
“Beta fool,” Wykeham muttered under his breath as the tutors left the room together, and Gausbert had to force himself to remain calm. So much was dependent on it.

****


The Alphas had spent an entire afternoon working on arithmetic lessons, and were long past restless. They stopped studying as soon as Wykeham stepped out of the classroom for a brief errand.
“This is so stupid, we should be out training,” Mark grumbled, always eager to use his new powers. He couldn’t use them much indoors and still hide the evidence afterwards, so he amused himself by creating light winds to blow things around the room.
“Hey!” Sam shouted as math papers flew off his desk, and the other boys laughed as he ran after them. The tension had dissipated and they were happy, which was rare these days.

Mark added to the jest by manipulating the winds so carefully that Sam would nearly reach his paper, and then it would fly away from him. Len laughed harder than the others, glad to see his rival embarrassed, and Hartley smiled contentedly at the older boy’s delight. He liked Len, as more than a friend. It was merely the sort of admiration one had for a role model, or so he told himself. He didn’t want to admit there could be anything more to it. But all his appreciative staring had not escaped the notice of one silent onlooker; Roscoe typically said little but observed a lot, and always filed away information he could use.

There were a few more minutes of horseplay and merriment before Hartley’s keen hearing detected Wykeham’s return and they rushed back to work. But even despite their tutor’s irritable scolding -- from the mess it was obvious they’d been up to mischief -- it had all been worth a little bit of fun.

****


As time passed, there was a new addition to the curriculum: both teams were taught to steal. Hartley and Evan were slapped when they insisted stealing was wrong, and the children were reminded that they now lived by Thawne’s rules. Theft was acceptable when the Professor said so, and Wykeham hinted that the Alphas would one day be stealing on his behalf.

The first lessons were about effective criminal habits, such as how to burglarize a building, how to avoid leaving evidence, and other related topics. These were taught by Thawne himself, who had a long history of breaking the law and running from the police, and his classes were fascinating to the children. They then put these lectures into practice, training in specialized exercises just as they did with their weapons and powers.

Gausbert hated what was happening to his charges. Though they got along with each other as well as ever, their aggression levels were spiking and their behaviour in training was becoming increasingly amoral. George and Mickey ‘killed’ their opponents without a second thought, and Lisa was capable of surprising savagery with her blades. Not for the first time, their tutor wondered if someday they’d turn on him.

****


Despite the sensitivity of his hearing, Hartley didn’t detect Roscoe’s approach until he was almost next to him, which was extremely unnerving.
“What do you want?” he asked quietly, attempting to hide his unease.
“Hartley. You like Len, don’t you?” Roscoe said in a flat tone, more statement than question. He veered in closer than Hartley was comfortable with, their faces only inches apart.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I see the way you look at him. You’re in love with him.”
“You’re nuts.”
“No. But I won’t tell anyone if you’ll do a favour for me.”

“What kind of favour?” Hartley asked suspiciously, heart sinking. He didn’t want to be ostracized from the Alphas; they were his brothers. He, like the rest of them, had literally no one else.
“I don’t know yet, it hasn’t come up. But I’ll let you know when it does.”
“…fine. Keep your mouth shut and I’ll help you when you need it. That’s what brothers are for, right?” the worried boy said with false cheer, hoping to appeal to the other’s sense of camaraderie. But Roscoe’s face was emotionless and seemed unmoved. His eyes momentarily flickered with a strange glow, then quickly returned to normal.
“Of course,” was all he replied, turning on his heel and walking out of the room as silently as he’d arrived. Hartley couldn’t even begin to guess what he was thinking.

****


Days passed and the other Alphas didn’t treat Hartley any differently, so he assumed Roscoe was keeping his word. Hartley watched the other boy intently in an attempt to determine his motivation, but saw nothing aside from his typical calm mask and odd stare. There was never any visible malevolence or pleasure, just the same expression he'd often worn since his brain surgery, and somehow that seemed even more unsettling.

But Hartley had to keep up appearances as Just One Of The Guys, so he put on a mask of his own to seem cheerful and normal, and nobody else suspected a thing. I’m living a lie, he thought to himself. I’m just like my brothers, except in the ways I’m not. The only other person who knew wasn’t much of a conversationalist these days, so he couldn't discuss it with anyone. He’d never felt so alone.

****


Lisa had been spending a lot of time with James in recent weeks. At first it was just to co-ordinate their skills and practice with their weapons, but they’d discovered they enjoyed each other’s company and found excuses to be together at other times too. They sat next to each other during lessons and meals, and although Lisa insisted they were just “Best friends forever!”, their closeness hadn’t gone unnoticed by the other Betas.

Evan was not about to give up, however. He had a crush on Lisa, who was closer to his age than James, and determinedly tagged along with her whenever possible. He was certain that once Lisa realized how much they had in common (such as their age and unstable family background), she’d want to be with him instead. She wasn’t the squad leader but always had a couple of boys following her around, and George was actually envious of her influence.

****


The Alphas were finishing lunch in the cafeteria one afternoon when the Betas wandered in; Gausbert had thoughtlessly told his team to go eat without considering who else might be there.
“Oh look, the Beta Bitches are here,” Roscoe said in a bored tone, not bothering to look at them, and Mark began snickering.
Roy was infuriated despite Lisa’s attempt to calm him, which of course amused the Alphas further. “You jerks oughta treat us with more respect!”
“And why’s that?” Roscoe asked calmly. His attention was still focused on his plate.
“Because I’ll…I’ll make you respect us!”

Before anyone could stop him, Roy blasted Roscoe with a yellow fear beam. Roscoe stared at his teammates in horror, once again seeing himself as the group’s failure and the others laughing at him. Ostracizing him.
“Stop it -- stop it!” he howled in humiliated and frightened agony, jumping from his chair and running at full speed from the room. The other children remained momentarily frozen, completely shocked by what had happened, and then Sam shook himself out of it and leaped at Roy. That sparked a free-for-all brawl between the two teams, and this time their minders weren’t about to get involved; it was too dangerous.

“Lisa!” Len shouted as he punched George in the face, worried she’d be injured in the fighting, but across the room he saw her slashing at Al with her wrist blades.
“Shit! Lisa, no!” he ordered, now more concerned about Al than her, though Mark suddenly intervened with his winds to blow her several meters away. To his horror, Len realized that Mark was then preparing for a lightning strike, and yelled a futile order at him to stop. But Hartley understood the situation had gotten completely out of control, so he quickly froze everyone with his music.

“This is nuts!” Hartley shouted at the crowd, breathing heavily while all the combatants stood temporarily paralyzed. “Somebody’s gonna get killed!”
“Better them than us!” Mark seethed, furious that his own teammate had stopped him. “What happened to brothers in arms?”
“The Betas aren’t our enemies,” Hartley declared firmly, although from the grumblings of his comrades it seemed none of them agreed. He was relieved to see Thawne and Wykeham finally enter the room, as no one would dare to resume fighting in their presence.
“This ain’t over,” George spat at the Alphas as the two groups were separated and marched to their respective areas of the compound.

In fact, it wasn’t over: Roy was found dead of a broken neck in the Betas’ washroom that night. It looked as if it might have been an accidental fall, but everyone was fairly certain it wasn’t. And Roscoe seemed inordinately pleased with himself.

****


The surviving Betas were grief-stricken, as was Gausbert. He couldn’t cry with them like he wanted to, but hugged the sobbing children longer than usual and whispered a few kind words of comfort to each one.
“We’ll all miss Roy. It’ll be all right,” he told them as he choked back his own tears, determined not to let them see him cry. It was easier to hurry away and yell at Wykeham instead, since he was well aware that the killer must have been an Alpha.

Lisa was absolutely inconsolable, although the other boys tried. James and Evan sat with her while George ranted angrily about revenge, and Mickey hung on their leader’s every word.
“Don’t cry, Lisa, don’t cry,” James pleaded, trying to play silly tricks to make her laugh. “You know Roy hated it when people cried.”
“But he’s gone and I miss him,” she sobbed. Evan scooted in closer and clasped one of her hands in his, though she scarcely noticed. “It’s not fair, he was so nice.”

“We’ll wipe those smug grins off them Alphas’ faces,” George growled as he paced back and forth, and Mickey nodded enthusiastically at his threats. Mickey was always eager to please and looking for approval.
“If you guys can get me some matches…or a lighter…I can burn `em all out,” he declared with an excited grin. “I can lock the door and burn down the dorm with them inside!”
“Oh, don’t do that -- you’ll burn Lenny too!” Lisa protested, her eyes flashing with fear and anger. “At least make sure Lenny’s out first.”

“The Professor would be very angry if we killed the Alphas,” Evan said solemnly. “He likes them better than us, so he’d punish us. I think he might kill us.”
“Right,” George mused, frowning. He was inclined to think Evan was absolutely correct, and their second-class status had always stung. “But we can hurt `em good and make them look stupid.”
“Just like Roy did,” James said softly, shaking his head slowly. That had gotten Roy killed, so it didn’t seem like a good idea to try it again, but he knew the others wouldn’t listen. They would have their pound of flesh.

****


Thawne was unusually animated at that week’s progress meeting. He listened impatiently to the tutors’ regular reports, but was eager to get to his own announcement.
“The children will be going on their first mission next week,” he declared with a broad smile, completely unbothered by the guardians’ shocked reactions.
“The Betas are too young and still grieving the loss of their teammate,” Gausbert said flatly, at which Wykeham laughed.
“You mean too incompetent to do the job,” Wykeham chuckled. He too had been taken aback by Thawne’s announcement, but was not going to let that slow him down. He was under significant pressure to prove the Alphas’ skills.
“No, I mean they’re not ready,” Gausbert shot back, well aware Thawne wasn’t going to change his mind. “At the very least, go easy on them.”

“They’ll simply be back-up anyway,” Thawne shrugged. “The Alphas will do the bulk of the work, and the Betas only need participate if something goes wrong. But I don’t expect any problems, since the children will be a complete surprise to the authorities. The police would know to counter my powers and those of other metahumans from this time period, but the Rogues will be utterly unknown to them. The Alphas will destroy them.”
“And once the authorities are aware of all the children and their powers..?” Gausbert inquired pointedly, though Thawne simply waved a dismissive hand.
“Irrelevant. The Rogues work as teams and use cutting-edge modern technology, which should be more than enough to defeat the police. And I have another ace up my sleeve if we encounter problems; you’ll meet them shortly.”
Gausbert raised an eyebrow at this, but Thawne didn’t seem interested in elaborating, so he let the matter drop.

“Inform your teams of the upcoming mission, prepare them for it, and I will debrief you all as the day approaches,” Thawne told them. “Failure to ensure your teams are ready will result in severe punishment for you and them, so I suggest you take this seriously. In particular, the Alphas will be expected to perform at a level befitting their elite status, so you had better pray they do a good job, Wykeham.”
Wykeham couldn’t hide his fear and dismay, and Gausbert didn’t bother containing a gleeful smirk. Perhaps karma existed after all.

****


“You disgusting brats aren’t worth the food you eat!” Wykeham screamed at the Alphas the next day. He’d been pushing them particularly ruthlessly since getting word of the imminent mission, and anxiety was making them sloppy.
“Sorry, sir,” Sam cringed after one failed maneuver, receiving a stinging slap in response.
“Don’t be sorry, just do better! Try it again!”

The holographic simulation began anew, and the boys positioned themselves to battle their imaginary foes.
“Hartley, ignore that one and help Albert!” Wykeham ordered from a distance as they started fighting. “Leonard, you’re pathetically slow and will get yourself killed! Mark, be careful with that lightning, for Sirius’ sake!”

Roscoe, who’d been spinning around in the fight but hadn’t incurred his teacher’s wrath over the past five minutes, suddenly stopped cold and fixed Wykeham with his dead-eyed stare.
“You should be kinder to us,” he said calmly as the man gaped at him, and then spun back into battle. Wykeham was too startled to respond before the boy withdrew, but resolved to punish his insubordination later. Still, he was disturbed that Roscoe no longer seemed afraid of him.

The training session ended with better results than the ones before, although Wykeham still wasn’t satisfied with their performance. His own future depended on the boys’ achievements, so he continued shouting at his team and pushed them to the point of collapse. They tried not to show weakness in front of him, but Al cried in bed that night and the others were too exhausted to offer comfort.

****


Thawne approached the Alphas after several days of intensive training. Though tired and stressed, they immediately stood at attention once they saw the man who ruled their lives. He liked that, and didn’t tell them to relax.
“Has Mr. Wykeham told you why you’ve been training so much lately?” he inquired, and they shook their heads. “It’s because you’re going on your first job for me. Some years ago, I successfully managed to steal a Cribi sculpture, but the authorities confiscated it when I was defeated by the Flash. I want you to obtain it and all the others for me.”

The Alphas murmured softly, each well aware of the security assigned to Cribis. Of alien origin and completely indestructible, these sculptures were the most valuable objects of the 25th century. Only the wealthiest people could afford them, and a potential owner had to guarantee sufficient protection for it before buying one.
“Yes, sir,” Len answered after a few moments, already pondering the possible logistics of such a scheme. It certainly wasn’t going to be easy.

“Have you boys worked out who’s in charge of the squad?” Thawne asked, and Sam instantly brightened.
“I am, Professor,” he said confidently before anyone else could respond. Thawne smiled a bit and shook his head.
“For your arrogance, Samuel, I’m appointing Leonard as team leader. He’ll give the orders and I expect you to follow them.”
“What..?” Sam demanded, shock and outrage colouring his expression until he remembered who he was talking to. In an instant he forced himself to calm down, but the irritation on Thawne’s face was obvious.

“Thank you, sir,” Len said politely, just as surprised as Sam but better at managing his composure. “I’ll make you proud.”
“Anything less will be punished,” the Professor replied curtly. He handed a holo-screen to Len. “This contains all the known details about your first target. I expect the entire squad to study this and work up a plan of action; Wykeham and I will assist you if needed. The job begins two days from now, at 0400 hours. Any questions?”
The boys shook their heads again, remaining respectfully silent, and he nodded as he left the room.
“Get to it.”

****


The Alphas spent the next two days scrutinizing the layout of the Cribi’s location, as well as all available information about the security system. They were inexperienced thieves, but Thawne continued to give them tips and advice about stealing, and they slowly grew more confident about the mission. After all, the Professor had faith in them, and they were his chosen team. It seemed like it would be an exciting adventure, and a sure way to prove themselves.

The Betas watched from afar, stewing in jealousy. As the intended back-up if things were to go wrong, they’d also been briefed on the details of the job, and didn’t understand why they weren’t part of it from the beginning.

“We’re just as good as they are, Professor!” George said indignantly, far more bold about standing up to Thawne than any other child. “They’ll need our help!”
“You Betas are the weaker team, and down a man since Prism died,” Thawne replied in a patient tone. He could afford to be more lenient with the Betas because he expected far less from them. “Besides, someone will have to assist if the mission fails, and it certainly won’t be me.”
“The mission won’t go wrong, `cause the Alphas are perfect,” Evan muttered resentfully under his breath, and Thawne simply ruffled his hair. The children were startled by this; they’d never seen a hint of affection from the man.
“We’ll see,” the Professor said with good humour. He was feeling surprisingly optimistic about the entire operation. “We will certainly see.”

****


The Alphas were awake and prepared by 0200 hours on the big day. They now had the expertise to don and configure their own equipment, so the adults watched approvingly as the boys readied themselves to leave.
“They’ll do well,” Thawne noted with a slight smile, and Wykeham nodded proudly. He didn’t particularly care about his charges (though he disliked them less than before), but took pride in his own efforts at whipping them into shape.

“We’re ready to go,” Len announced after they’d spent an hour ensuring everything was working correctly. Their regular yellow uniforms were set to stealth mode, darkened to black and armed with some cloaking technology of Thawne’s own design. They weren’t completely invisible to sensors and electronic equipment, but were more difficult to detect.
“Excellent,” Thawne replied as the boys lined up for inspection. “You will be in continuous contact with us here, and keep us informed of your progress. The Betas will be standing by if needed.” He snickered at the idea, and the boys felt free to do so as well. “Now bring me that Cribi.”

The boys moved to face each other in a circle before heading out. “Brothers forever, united we stand. Alphas together!” they shouted, an abbreviated version of the team chant Wykeham had them recite every morning. With that, Sam activated his mirror technology and the boys disappeared into their reflections.

****


The Alphas materialized in the home of a wealthy industrialist. They knew the layout of the house and where the Cribi was located, so they immediately focused on getting there. The house was dark due to the early hour and they were difficult to see, enabling them to avoid detection even as they entered the room it was kept in. Before them sat the Cribi, protected behind robot guards which would shoot anything within a four meter threshold of it.

“Fantastic,” Al murmured when he saw it, having read so much about the sculptures’ amazing physical properties. He hoped the Professor would allow him to examine it after they returned.
“Shut up,” Len ordered tersely. Anyone shot by the guards would be killed instantly, so focus was essential. “Remember the plan: Sam gets rid of those robots, Mark fries any other security systems, and Roscoe grabs the Cribi. The rest of us watch your backs and go after any unexpected surprise that pops up.”
Sam was tempted to retort that they were all aware of the plan and didn’t need him bossing them, but realized the Professor would punish him for it and remained silent. He was still rankled by his official demotion, though if Len made a mistake maybe there was a chance he could reclaim the position.

There was no time to think about that now. Sam flicked on his light, activated his mirror gun, and sent the robots elsewhere. Other security measures instantly flared to life -- including a loud klaxon which was hell on Hartley’s sensitive ears -- and Mark conjured up lightning to hit them as fast as he could. Roscoe was off in a second, moving faster than any other boy could, and soon passed the threshold to snatch the Cribi. It required a leap of faith that he wouldn’t be immediately vapourized by the security system, but the others had sufficiently neutralized the defences to keep him from being killed. In moments he was back with the others outside the threshold, the Cribi in his hands.

“Get us out!” Len ordered Sam, and as much as the other boy hated taking orders from him, he quickly obeyed. In mere seconds, the Alphas were out of the house with their prize.



****


“Excellent! Excellent!” Thawne crowed jubilantly when the boys returned with the Cribi. He rushed over and snatched it from Roscoe’s hands, first cradling it like a baby and then holding it aloft as a trophy. “You have all done well, and will be rewarded.”

The Alphas felt almost surprised that the operation was over so quickly, but basked in the praise and their own success. They hugged and slapped each other on the back, and even Roscoe seemed happily animated.
“We did it, brothers, and proved the Alphas really are the best,” Sam declared with a proud grin. Len disliked the comment, feeling it was an attempt to encroach on his leadership position, but couldn’t stay angry for long. And Hartley was so relieved to be one of the guys that he couldn’t stop smiling.

The Betas couldn’t hide their sour and disappointed expressions. They’d been ready and wanting to go, but ultimately hadn’t been needed, and as usual the Alphas were receiving all the accolades. They turned and left without bothering to offer congratulations to the victorious team.

****


Thawne wasn’t satisfied with just one Cribi; he was determined to own them all. He sent the Alphas on another mission a week after the first theft, which also went smoothly, and then successfully after a third. These jobs were starting to feel routine to the boys, though they never grew tired of the praise and rewards. They were given better food and more privileges because of their good work, and even greater freedom. Thawne reasoned that they could be trusted because they’d had the opportunity to escape but hadn’t.

Unfortunately, some of the Alphas chose to use their increased freedom by taunting the Betas, to which Wykeham and Thawne turned a blind eye. Gausbert protested and was ignored. There was little he or the Betas could do, particularly when Sam could transport the Alphas directly into their dorm to bully them. The Alphas never caused any physical harm, just teased and occasionally pushed the other children around, but George and the Betas were furious. It only strengthened George’s resolve to get revenge someday.

****


The mission to steal the fourth Cribi went sour from the beginning. As always, the Alphas transported in via the mirror dimension, but the entire building was brightly lit and they were shot at almost immediately. All dived for cover to assess the situation: there were several robots firing at them, as well as a human guard coordinating the attack.

“They guessed someone would come after it eventually,” Len noted with a chagrined expression. “Sam and Mark, you take them out so we can--”
He hadn’t even finished his sentence before the human guard shot at them with an odd-looking gun. A bright light pulsed, momentarily blinding them, and all their equipment went dead. Their weapons had gone offline, the stealth tech in their suits fizzled out, and the communications link with home base was severed. Frantic attempts to contact Thawne were futile, and Sam couldn’t activate his equipment to get them out of there. The guards continued shooting at them with conventional weaponry, keeping them pinned down behind bits of furniture as cover.

“What do we do?!” Al panicked, desperately looking for a means of escape, and Len slapped him to maintain some sense of calm.
“We’re not done yet. Mark can fry them with his powers, and Roscoe can take them on once Mark’s cleared the room a bit. Sam, keep trying to make your tech work so we can get out.”

The others nodded and obeyed, deriving a measure of confidence from Len’s calm demeanor. Mark destroyed one robot with lightning while Sam tinkered with his equipment, struggling to restart it or even get a response. The circuitry seemed to have been overloaded by the pulse, and as he worked to bypass the damaged areas he suddenly felt very pessimistic that they’d be able to return home.

****


Back at the compound, Thawne had immediately become alarmed when the comm-link went down. There could have been a relatively benign reason for it, but this was why he kept the Betas around.
“Betas! Go into the field and assist the Alphas!” he barked, and the bored-looking children were startled into action. They’d been dressed in uniform and ready to go in case of emergency, and it took only moments for Evan to activate the mirror technology and send them to the Alphas’ last known location.

****


The Betas leaped into a chaotic situation. Mark was bleeding badly, having been shot in the shoulder by a robot, and Hartley was frantically playing a flute to ward off their attackers. With Mark down, the simple pipe was the only weapon available to the Alphas, as all of Hartley’s electronics-based instruments had been neutralized along with the other equipment.

Len muttered a prayer of thanks when the Betas arrived, though he soon became terrified when Lisa instantly charged into battle on her boots. He had visions of her being shot down just as Mark had been, only she would be too far into the line of fire to rescue. But she was moving too swiftly to hit, and using her bladed weapons against the guards with great success; James joined her in moments, and George and Mickey attacked from a distance.

“Let’s get out of here,” Evan urged, though Sam shook his head forcefully as he continued tinkering with his equipment.
“No! I’ve almost got this fixed. And we don’t have the Cribi.”
“Who cares? We’re gonnae get killed out here -- and Mark’s bleedin’ to death!” Evan retorted angrily. His accent was returning under stress.

“The Professor will be hopping mad if we don’t get the Cribi,” Sam replied with an almost Zen-like calm as he concentrated on what he was doing. He almost had it…
“We can come back fur it!” Evan shouted, fearful that Lisa would be injured during the fight. Only moments later, James was shot in the leg and cried out in pain, and Len had seen enough.
“Let’s go. Activate your mirror and get us all out,” he told Evan sharply, and the younger boy was utterly grateful to comply. Both teams vanished in seconds.

****


“What did you do?!” Sam screamed at Len and Evan as soon as they returned to the compound. Thawne rushed over and carried Mark to the infirmary, while James was left to limp there with the worried assistance of Lisa.
“We’re alive,” Evan replied defensively, fighting back a few tears.
“You ruined everything! I almost had it!” Sam shouted at him, so angry he was shaking. He’d lost his bid for leadership, they’d failed to get the Cribi, and he’d been shown up by this B-level Mirror Master. Evan had saved the day, not Sam, and Len had even taken Evan’s input over his. It was too much to endure.

Sam grabbed Evan by the collar and activated the younger boy’s mirror technology before Evan could react. In an instant both disappeared into a reflection, completely inaccessible to others without the equipment.

****


“You understand that you will be punished,” Thawne told the Alphas (minus Sam) coldly. “You failed in your mission, my greatest soldier has been injured, and you could not even control your errant brother.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Len said quietly, and Thawne backhanded him. Len didn't make a sound, having endured many beatings from adults during his lifetime. He knew Wykeham would be dealing out more violence soon enough.

“Go to your dorm,” Thawne ordered, and the boys silently began to leave the room. Sam suddenly jumped out of a nearby mirror as they departed, his face desperate and uniform soaked with blood. He turned and fled as soon as he saw the Professor.
“Deal with your charge, Wykeham,” Thawne said in a low voice, his expression absolutely furious, so the Alphas’ guardian rushed after Sam.

****


Wykeham was viciously beating Sam when the other Alphas returned to their dorm. Brother or not, they believed Sam deserved some punishment because he’d made the consequences so much worse for all of them, but Wykeham didn’t stop after just a few blows. He hit Sam repeatedly with a metal cane while the boy screamed in pain and terror, and the Alphas quickly became disturbed by the scene.

“Mr. Wykeham…stop,” Len said timidly. Even this mild defiance further angered their tutor, and he began hitting harder as Sam begged for mercy. Al fled from the room, unable to continue watching, and Roscoe crept over to Len.
“We can stop him,” Roscoe said in a low voice, and Len nodded. They ran to Wykeham and pulled him off Sam, roughly shoving the man against the wall.
“You filthy brats are all in for it now,” Wykeham spat as they pinned him, and then Roscoe lashed out and snapped his neck.

“Holy shit,” Len breathed, utterly in shock as their guardian slumped over. “What did you do..?”
“He won’t be terrorizing us anymore,” Roscoe said darkly, and dropped the body. “See to Sam.”
Hartley had already run to Sam’s side and was looking him over for serious injuries. Sam was sobbing, covered in blood, and huddled himself closely against Hartley for comfort.

“You killed that kid, didn’t you?” Len asked him numbly, still in shock. Sam nodded as he cried, his face pressed against Hartley's shoulder.
“I don’t know why…he just made me so mad…the Professor’s gonna kill us all!”
“He will now,” Len replied with a worried expression, gesturing at Wykeham’s body. “We need to get out of here, go to the cops or something.”
“They will prosecute us for theft and murder, and the Professor would hunt us down anyway. We have to kill him,” Roscoe said calmly, rocking back and forth on his heels.
“Are you crazy?!” Len shouted in disbelief. “He has super-speed, we wouldn’t be able to kill him!”
“And he’s the Professor, he’s our leader,” Al piped up, having returned once the screaming had stopped.

“I’m going to kill him, whether you join me or not. Hartley will help,” Roscoe announced, and the other boy simply looked startled by the declaration. “He owes me a favour.”
“Oh damn…” Hartley murmured quietly, suddenly understanding what he meant. “I guess so.” He began chuckling nervously because everything about the last hour had been so incredibly disturbing, and he had to laugh or cry.

“Okay,” Len said, swallowing hard. “If you two are really gonna do it, then I’ll join in. To stand with my brothers, and because we’re gonna die either way. You with us, Al?”
Al actually didn’t want to participate; he thought it was a futile endeavour and he’d begun to genuinely admire Thawne. Perhaps the Professor would even spare him for his loyalty if he snitched. But peer pressure and the bonds of family were strong, and he hated being the odd man out. “I’ll…I’ll help too.”

They put Sam to bed, still crying brokenly about the beating and what he’d done to Evan, and went to find the Betas.

****


The Betas were waiting anxiously in their dorm. Any joy they'd felt about saving the day was marred by concern for Evan, who'd disappeared with Sam and hadn’t been seen since.
“What if the Professor’s punishing him?” Lisa cried as she clutched James’ hand.
“Don’t be silly, there’d be no reason to. He’s probably just having a hard time getting back from wherever Sammy took him,” James told her gently, which wasn’t much comfort.

There was a knock at the door and George answered it. “What the hell do you want?” he demanded, eyes narrowing when he saw four Alphas standing there. His hand reached for a boomerang.
“Mr. Wykeham is dead. We’re going to kill the Professor next, and we want your help,” Len said quietly, casting a worried glance at Lisa’s teary face.
George’s jaw dropped. “What?! And where’s Evan?”
“The Professor killed him,” Roscoe answered before Len could say anything. The Betas’ faces went pale and Lisa began crying anew. James held her and cried too, while Hartley shifted awkwardly, uncomfortable about such a blatant lie.

“We’ll help,” George said with furious determination as he held back tears of his own. He couldn’t believe how much it hurt to lose two friends in such a short span of time.

****


The Betas took ten minutes to compose themselves and gather their weapons. Mickey didn’t have his flamethrower because the adults kept it under lock and key, but he was eager to help, and took two of George’s trick boomerangs. Most of the Alphas’ weaponry was still offline, but Hartley had his flute and Roscoe didn’t need any technology. Al had been tinkering with the disabled gear since they’d arrived at the Betas’ dorm, attempting to get it working again and having only minimal success. Some of the equipment would power up but was unable to do anything, while other pieces would briefly operate and then go dead again. “I’d really need to sit down for an afternoon to fix all the damaged circuitry -- and get Sam to help me, he’s a whiz with this stuff,” Al said to Len, who told him to keep at it. They’d be heading out shortly.

Without the use of their weapons, the Alphas armed themselves with anything they could find, including the metal cane Wykeham had used to beat Sam. And then both teams hurried out to find Thawne before he could learn of Wykeham’s death and be warned of the insurrection.
“I’m scared, Lisa. The Professor’s gonna kill us,” James said softly as they walked hand-in-hand, though she was full of iron resolve now that she’d stopped crying.
“Doesn’t matter. He killed Evan, so we need to make him pay.”

The two groups suddenly halted when they heard Gausbert’s voice behind them.
“George, where are you all going?”
Len gripped Roscoe’s wrist before he could attack, figuring George would peacefully handle the situation. If not, they’d have to kill Gausbert too, for whom the Alphas had no particular feelings one way or the other.

“Evan’s dead, and Mr. Wykeham’s dead too. We’re going after the Professor now, Mr. Gausbert. He killed Evan,” George explained defiantly, though the sorrow was obvious on his face.
“Oh. Oh dear,” Gausbert gasped. He supposed he should have seen it coming, and yet wondered if he’d be killed next. And he cared about Evan, just as he’d cared for Roy, so the news was very difficult. How many of these children were going to die?

“Can I have my flamethrower, Mr. Gausbert?” Mickey asked plaintively, and his guardian sighed. If they were rebelling against the man who’d ruined their lives, he supposed they ought to be well-armed. He owed them all the help he could give, as some small penance for his own role in their ruination.
“Yes, Mickey. Come with me.”

****


The flamethrower was kept in the armory, which Gausbert unlocked and allowed the children to enter.
“Take what you can. Hurry.”
Delighted, the children rushed in and grabbed anything that looked useful. Len found a back-up version of his cold gun, which didn’t work as well as the regular model but was better than nothing. Hartley filled his pockets with sophisticated electronic instruments, while Al picked up some of his old Mr. Element training technology. And George gathered more explosive boomerangs for his arsenal as Mickey excitedly strapped on the flamethrower.

“Thank you, Mr. Gausbert,” Len said appreciatively, and the man smiled sadly at him.
“Don’t thank me. I should be stopping you, because you’re all in grave danger. But I suppose you have been since the first day you got here, and I’m sorry about that.”
“I love you, Mr. Gausbert,” Lisa said softly, using her anti-grav boots to reach up and kiss his cheek.
“I love you too. Please just go,” he replied, his voice wavering as he struggled to maintain composure; if they’d stayed any longer he would have felt compelled to stop them. So the children marched out silently, and he broke down in tears after they were gone.

****


“We’re going to burst into his office and surprise him,” Len told the others as they walked down the hall towards Thawne’s administrative area.
“What if he’s not there?” George frowned, although Roscoe shook his head.
“He’s there.”
“How do you know?”
“I can sense it.”
“All of you shut up or he’ll hear us,” Hartley said irritably. The unbearable tension of the situation was giving him a headache, though he supposed it would be over soon enough.
“I wish Evan was here,” Lisa whispered sadly, and Len had to agree that having him or Sam around would have been extremely useful. And Mark's assistance would have also been welcome, though he was presumably still in the infirmary.

The rebels paused several meters from Thawne's office door. Len had to decide how to enter as quickly and safely as possible while still affording them the element of surprise.
“Roscoe, you think you can spin through it?” he asked after a few moments, and the other boy nodded. The children stood off to the side while he retraced his steps to gather momentum; in seconds, he’d spun down the hall and through the door with a tremendous noise of splintered wood and shattered glass.

Thawne was reading at his desk, and looked up in shock when Roscoe smashed through the door and came to an abrupt halt.
“What’s the meaning of this..?” Thawne demanded, and suddenly the other children swarmed through the doorway and attacked him. Only his super-speed saved his life, but there wasn’t a lot of room to maneuver in such a confined area. “You ungrateful little brats--!” he sputtered as he dodged Mickey’s flames, Len’s cold gun, and George’s explosive boomerang. The children were too skilled and powerful for him to handle on his own, especially in an enclosed space, and he needed assistance. He tapped the comm-link on his ear. “Omegas, help me!”

Only seconds passed before a blur streaked into the room and knocked Mickey off his feet. A second blur joined him moments later, walloping Len to the ground as well. And George scarcely dodged a sharp projectile thrown at his head, which embedded itself in the wall behind him. “A…boomerang?” he remarked incredulously as he looked at the familiar craftsmanship. It was identical to his own.

“Are you all right, Granddad?” one of the blurs asked, which coalesced into a young boy when it finally paused.
“I am. Thad, Owen -- kill them.”

Len got to his feet as quickly as he could, as did Mickey, and the mutineers soon regrouped to attack again.
This time everyone joined the fight, as there were now multiple targets to strike.
“Mickey and I will stay on the Professor. The rest of you take out those kids!” Len ordered, and everyone immediately complied. Hartley felt sick at the idea of hurting or killing other children, but it was clear they would do the same to the rebels, and his first loyalty was always to his brothers.

The problem with Mickey was that he was indiscriminately careless, and Len was afraid he might burn one of the Alphas or Betas by mistake. But Mickey represented the best chance of killing or injuring someone, especially a speedster, so that made him invaluable to their cause. Len stood back-to-back with him to protect him from a sneak attack, and together they sought the Professor amidst the chaos of the crowded battlefield. Thawne had started running again to escape them, and they were having difficulty locking onto him because of all the additional combatants in the room. Nevertheless, they continued to follow their target as the other mutineers chased after the younger speedsters.

****


Lisa and James sped after Thad, who had knocked out Al and was about to go for a killing blow. She managed to wound the boy speedster and chase him away from Al, but simply couldn’t catch him. He laughed delightedly and even made silly faces, clearly garnering enjoyment from taunting her and threatening her friends. Finally he caught James by the leg and pulled him roughly to the ground as Lisa screamed in fear, terrified she wouldn't be able to reach them in time. But suddenly Thad was held immobile, unable to run, and she was determined to take advantage of the unexpected good fortune. She plowed into him at full speed with all her blades out, and the young speedster died in a gush of blood.

“How..?” she wondered aloud as she picked herself up and looked at the bloody mess on her uniform. She’d never killed anyone before and it felt kind of horrifying, not at all as expected. Roscoe was nearby, spinning in place. He didn’t seem to be paying any attention to her, but his eyes glowed in a strange way she’d never seen before. Now wasn't the time to ask him about it, however, so she stood protectively over James and watched the boys fight the other speedsters, ready to jump in again if needed.

****


Owen had managed to strike George’s head with a traditional wooden boomerang, so the older boy was nursing a large bump and significant grudge.
“Can’t bloody believe the Prof has another kid with `rangs,” George muttered angrily. This was an affront to his status and professionalism, so the fight meant a great deal to him. He threw an explosive boomerang at the other boy, who easily dodged it with surprising speed, and Owen tossed a razor-sharp one at him. This managed to gouge a painful gash in his leg, but thankfully his counterpart’s aim didn’t seem to be as keen as his own. Which was yet another reason to scorn him.

“Give it up, mate: yer way outclassed,” George grinned as he prepared to throw another weapon.
“I don’t think so -- you attacked my grandfather!” Owen retorted furiously, and charged at him with that frightening speed. Almost reflexively George hurled an explosive boomerang at him with all his strength, and the device detonated in Owen’s face. The boy collapsed to the floor with a scream and horrific burns, and soon stopped moving.

****


Mark had stumbled through the doorway moments before Owen was struck down, and he stared in shock at the bloody scene. “What the hell..?”
“Mark!” Len shouted, relieved to see him there and glad that he was even up and walking at all. “Help us!”
Thawne took advantage of the distraction to elude his pursuers, and sped over to the young weather manipulator. Len stopped Mickey from shooting at the Professor while he stood next to Mark, but everyone was tense and prepared to attack.

“I need your help, Mark. Who gave you your powers?” Thawne asked pointedly, his gaze boring down on the boy. Mark squirmed uncomfortably and wasn’t able to look at him.
“You did, Professor…” he said in a faltering voice. He couldn’t go against his brothers, yet it was true he owed everything to Thawne. And the man had treated him more kindly than he did the other children; they had a special bond, one of near equals in power and status. Or so Mark liked to believe.
“You’re an Alpha first!” Len shouted worriedly, suddenly fearing the tide would turn against them. They could not afford to lose their trump card. “Brothers forever!”
“….yeah,” Mark said after a few moments of tortured hesitation. He closed his eyes, already hating himself, and electrocuted the Professor with a bolt of lightning.

The surviving children stumbled over to look at the body sizzling on the floor. Thawne was still alive, but barely, and Mickey mercifully dispatched him with a cleansing gout of flame.
“We did it,” Len remarked with startled wonder, a smile beginning to form. “I can’t believe we did it.”
Mark turned and stalked out of the room in obvious distress, and the others let him leave without protest.

“So what now?” Lisa asked quietly, tightly clutching James’ hand while supporting his injured leg.
“I dunno,” Len shrugged. He was still in a bit of shock from their victory, which almost seemed too good to be true. “Maybe we can go home now. Back to the past.”
“No!” Roscoe exclaimed loudly. He’d begun to spin in place again, full of pent-up manic energy. “Now we can ascend to the Professor’s position! We can run this joint and do whatever we want!”
“That’s nuts. You’re nuts,” Len said incredulously, shaking his head in disbelief. Roscoe was still his brother, but he’d never heard anything so ridiculous and it was best to just drop the matter. “Let’s go, guys.”

He was suddenly slammed against the wall by a spinning whirlwind.
“But you can’t go, I need you! I can’t do it by myself!”
Roscoe sounded more desperate than angry, but he was hurting Len. The older boy cried out in pain as his arms were twisted behind his back and he was shoved more forcefully into the wall.

George had finally had enough. Quick and silent, he walked up behind Roscoe and stabbed him hard in the neck with a razor-rang. The taller boy collapsed, clutching at his throat in agony and gasping for air, and George soon finished him off with a swift kick to the trachea.
“That was for Roy,” George spat, looking around at all the horrified faces. “Come on, you blokes know it was him.”
“I want to get out of here,” Lisa said tearfully, thoroughly sickened by all the deaths and bloodshed, and Len hugged her comfortingly for the first time in months. She allowed herself to have a good cry in his arms, glad to finally be allied with her brother again.

After taking some moments to say goodbye to Roscoe and the Professor, the children left the office in shell-shocked silence, carrying Owen's limp body between them. They'd discovered he was still breathing, a slight bit of solace amidst all the carnage, and hoped his life could be saved.

****


Gausbert was sitting despondently in the Betas’ dorm when they returned, though he lit up with surprise and delight to see them. The Betas ran to him, and he enveloped all four of them in a tight embrace.
“Thank God, thank God,” he murmured, tears streaming down his face, and they cried with him. “I can’t believe it.”
“We killed him, Mr. Gausbert,” George said quietly as he hugged the man in return. “An’ I killed Roscoe too.” It was something he felt the need to confess, for it seemed to him that he’d crossed a line he shouldn’t have, even despite Roy’s death. He’d killed someone outside the heat of battle, and the Alphas had been allies.
“Well…he was never quite right after that surgery,” Gausbert replied sadly, unsure of what to say. Once again he realized how badly Thawne and his helpers had damaged these children, and that so much of it was his own fault. He had been all too complicit in the scheme, even despite his doubts.

He looked at the Alphas, who were standing a short distance away and mourning the death of their brother, as well as worrying about Sam. “Come here, boys. We’re going to leave this place, find somewhere else to live, and figure out where to go from there. All of us.”
“What about Sam and Mark? What about this kid?” Len asked plaintively, gesturing at Owen lying nearby. He worried that some of the boys might be abandoned because of their presumed failures.
“We’ll drop off the lad at a hospital, and they’ll take care of him. Sam and Mark will come with us. So gather your things and let’s go,” Gausbert told them in a gentle tone. The children were relieved to have an adult take charge again, especially one who seemed kind and sympathetic, and they hurried away to pack their few possessions.

****


The surviving children and Gausbert congregated outside the compound’s front door several hours later. The children had never been through the door before, and stared in wonder at the open landscape surrounding the buildings; the sight was entirely new to them because they hadn't seen the wider world during their missions.
“Is everyone here? Do you have everything you wanted to bring?” Gausbert asked the group, and there were silent nods of assent. They’d packed their clothes and weapons, but had never owned much since arriving in this time period.

Gausbert had commandeered one of Thawne’s spacious transport vehicles, which he now packed full of food and medical supplies from the compound. In a way it was unfortunate to leave the place, as it had been excellent lodgings for such a large group, but there was too much trauma and death associated with it. He hoped the children could begin to heal once they’d left.

Owen was carried to the van and laid on a seat, and Sam was carefully helped to sit next to him. Sam had scarcely uttered a word since he’d been reunited with his brothers, always looking pale and withdrawn, and Gausbert was concerned about him. His physical injuries from Wykeham’s beating weren’t particularly severe, but his muted distress suggested he’d been traumatized by something, and he clearly didn't want to talk about it. Mark was also uncommunicative, frequently hiding his unhappy face behind a favourite shirt and pretending not to hear when people spoke to him. The other children seemed relatively normal, albeit still behaving as if part of a military organization, and they sat down in the vehicle with a minimum of noise or fuss. But Gausbert asked Mickey to remain outside with him.

“Mickey, I want you to burn the place,” Gausbert told him quietly, and the boy lit up with excitement. He took the proffered flamethrower and torched the buildings with absolute delight, relishing the opportunity for sanctioned destruction. The fire would destroy evidence of Thawne’s operations, give the children some closure, and cremate the dead who’d been left inside.

Gausbert drove away once he was satisfied the compound was sufficiently aflame, and the children silently watched it burn as the buildings disappeared behind them. The indestructible Cribis would be all that remained.