Young, Gifted, and Black @applesnpb
First Betrayal

Fourteen - First Betrayal

From underground, nothing changed. There was little reason to come up to the surface. Free days were temporarily suspended as they drew closer to exam preparation. Bumblebee's flight tests petered out. The passage of time was largely marked by the calendar.

Things would have been different if she'd been braver, sharper. If only she'd won that ridiculous competition. If she were one of the HIVE Five, she would be able to see more of the world and to know more than the specially selected information passed to her by the HIVE administration.

People said a few notable superheroes were stationed along the west coast, including Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern. Reportedly, Jump City had spiked in crime over the last decade, but not so much that any kingfish supes set up camp here. The worst of their enemies were a recently established team, the Teen Titans. Bee had smirked to herself at their mention at the last assembly. Teen heroes popped everywhere these days. They often chickened out when they realized they were in over their heads. Only villainy toughened a kid enough to throw themselves into this world. Did the Headmistress not realize what a waste of energy the Titans were? Some established villain would take them out sooner or later.

None of this concerned her at the present. She was only a little worker bee trapped in the colony. And yes, a little part of her was relieved. Grateful, even. Because who knew what might be waiting for her on the surface? Certainly not anyone she wanted to see.

Ability Lab was a surprising comfort. Students created and tested gadgets. Bee used to spend the period flying, but now she spent them mulling over the Headmistress's words to her after the competition.

"Who is Bumblebee?"

Here's a start, she thought, resting her chin in her palm, Bumblebee was nobody's fool. The HIVE Five was nothing compared to where she would be soon.

She was getting better at this stuff. She was in the gym before sunrise and in the library after sunset. Calluses reformed on her hands from training with the bow and arrow. And if her wings felt natural before, now they were her primary mode of moving. They were her reminder that she was here for a reason.

Most days, she'd sit and watch her classmates, filling in mental notes. The Headmistress had asked her what made her special. But what made the others special? Underneath the metahuman capabilities and the super serums? The magic and the weapons? The principal might have meant a big showy costume and gimmick. Was this villainy or burlesque?

Bee squeezed her eyes shut, tapping her fingers on the desk. When she first started working for her father, she sometimes worried how much of the little praise she recieved was because she was the only girl on the field. And if there weren't crumbs of praise from other Jacks and the Demis, there were taunts - everything from "beanpole" to "weakling". Her father had only shrugged, lighting his cigar and looking past her. He'd tell her to get used to people kicking you to the ground, but never stay crawling in the dirt.

Only Paola had given her solid advice. "Is that what you're worried about, Little Bee? You're a girl and that's one of the greatest things a person can be. We'll see who's laughing, soon, when they get the sting."

She'd been right. At the next grand meeting, Karen had embarrassed Omega, her father's third-in-command, and while her father hadn't punished her, he'd ignored the spat. Omega never again called her "a battleaxe in the making". Publicly mentioning your superior's history of failed robberies and subsequent arrests was the key to shutting them up.

She knew when and how to sting. Male bumblebees didn't have stingers at all.

Billy walked into the classroom. "Hey."

Then another Billy followed. "Hey."

And another. "Hey."

And another. "Hey."

Bee drummed her fingers on her table. "It's not your period."

He shrugged, pointing to a dead-inside teacher staring at the wall. "Who cares? He doesn't."

That wasn't uncommon, she noticed. Professors and students alike had been losing interest or motivation lately, skipping classes, showing up late, and disregarding rules. If something didn't change, the HIVE would become as lazy as a regular public school. Bee frowned, distracted. "Shouldn't you be getting ready to beat up those supes?" she asked, stopping herself from thinking too negatively.

Billy rubbed the back of his neck. "Nah."

Bumblebee tilted her head. She had been jealous, sure, that her friend was one of the remaining five in the competition. At first, it seemed to her that she was working her tail off while Billy lucked out after weeks of playing around. Admonishment from the principal had not only forced her to rethink herself, but the situation. Despite his background of dealing on the black market, Billy was in much more need of the villainy experience. After all, he'd befriended his captive.

Billy sat on the desk, pulling off his eye-mask. His new suit was a red unitard with a division symbol on the front. He had yet to think of a name for himself and the rest of the HIVE Five had facepalmed when he suggested "Divisible Billy". Even when they got new ID's he'd stuck with "Billy". Bee didn't understand how someone could be so attached to their name - it'd been easy for her to shed "Karen".

"Well?" she prompted.

"They only wanted Jinx, Mammoth, and Gizmo. Me and Private H.I.V.E. need training up still, says Headmistress."

Bee smiled smugly. "Well, well, well, look who should've practiced with me on weekends."

Billy laughed lightly, but it sounded more hollow. "You know, sometimes it's okay to say 'that sucks' instead of being right," he half-joked.

She winced. "Sorry."

"It's alright. That's why people look up to you, Bumblebee. You're honest."

"They don't look up to me," she dismissed. "No one likes anyone here, least of all me."

"You're mixing yourself up with Miss Principal. Geez, that lady could piss off the pope," he ranted.

Bee pursed her lips. "You do realize this whole school is bugged, right?"

"Oh who cares? That old crone's not gonna do a thing."His shoulders were still dejectedly slumped.

Bee cleared her throat. "Did you know bumblebee stingers aren't barbed like a honey bee's. They are smooth so they can sting multiple times."

His laugh was as raucous as expected. "So you're going to get a stinger on your butt?"

"No."

It was time to get to work. Billy was himself and the school was intact. Things could be better, but she didn't think things could get worse. But it's at that moment that you start pitying yourself, that life merrily proves you wrong.

Bee finished her project in two weeks. Professor G had rolled her eyes at the designs, correcting mistakes and explaining the mechanics to Bee like she was a toddler. Bee welcomed the Spiderwoman's informative jabs, soaking up the knowledge with gusto. The blueprints were sent to the engineers and within a day they were ready.

In the common room connecting the dorms, she stood facing where a window might have been. Testing the heft of her weapons, hooking and unhooking them to her belt.

"You should paint them gold," a voice weighed in.

Behind her, Jinx lounged on a couch, flipping through a magazine.

Bee rested a hand on her hip. "Excuse me?"

The sorceress yawned, flicking a finger to Bee. "That steel totally clashes with your outfit and your warm undertones."

"Oh." Bee blinked. She knew that. "Yeah."

The other girl didn't reply, satisfied, but Bee's curiosity was sparked. It'd been a while ago that the Headmistress sent Jinx, Mammoth, and Gizmo on their special task, but little gossip followed it. That was unexpected, since Gizmo was something of a braggart. Bee didn't like to be out of the loop, so she asked, "How was the mission?"

"Why, jealous?" Jinx drawled.

Bumblebee had only recently left the legal educational system, and she remembered how some girls operated. Jinx was the type who'd appreciate flattery. "Yes," she admitted. "Everyone is."

Jinx gave her a hard look, clearly knowing what Bee was up to and trying to piece her motive. Yet she leaned forward and revealed, "We threw them out of their tower."

Bee's eyebrows shot up. "The Teen Titans? You threw them out?"

"It was easy." There was a gleam in the girl's eye despite her unbothered tone. "Not a clever one in the bunch."

Bee doubted that. She'd heard the leader was Batman's former sidekick. You didn't get better than Batman. "How so?"

"The witch relies too much on her telekinesis. The green kid's kind of a chicken. He hesitates. And all of them move like they're underwater."

Bee hadn't expected such a concise answer, especially one so fair it had to be partially true. Maybe HIVE Academy was onto something. This generation could turn the tide in the battle against superheroes. "What did the Headmistress think?"

Jinx wrinkled her nose. "Oh we sort of...failed. They had some dirty tricks up their sleeves."

Bee didn't know if that was the exact story, but she had gotten the big picture. "Hey, at least you guys got to try, right?"

Jinx rolled her eyes. "You suck at being nice. No, we failed big time. The Headmistress had her knickers in a twist because her client was some bigshot she needed to impress."

"Client?" Bumblebee had forgotten about that part. About how the students were being prepped to be agents-for-hire. That was technically their primary role until graduation. To make the academy some money.

"We were hired out, duh. If I had my say, we would've looted the mall."

"No, who is the client?"

"Eh, some older guy, I think? We never met him in person."

"Who?" Bee pressed.

"Oh, I remember. Slade. He keeps a low profile, but he seemed pretty important."

"Oh." Bumblebee's heart slowed and she realized she'd tensed up instinctively. She'd been bracing to find out the Seven was tracking her. But that made no sense. They had no west coast base as far as she and Billy knew. Besides, she was one of the bad guys, a crime lord's daughter. Surely they wouldn't have targeted a teen superhero team if they wanted to reach her.

No. It'd be smarter for them to wait for Bee to be thrown in jail, then capture her themselves. Knowing what to expect was comforting. Marginally.

Jinx gave a half-concerned smile. "You good, girl?"

Bee's face smoothed over as she walked away. "Thanks for the tip. And good luck next time. Otherwise, you may find yourselves with a new teammate." She glanced over her shoulder. "Or a replacement."

Jinx only scoffed in response, but a crackle of pink energy played at her fingertips.

Good. She got the message. Which meant that Bee only had to be ready to put her money where her mouth was when the time came to spar with the top student.

Bee was almost on her way to the lab when the alarm blared. Red lights flashed around the HIVE, washing everything in a warning glow.

"Intruder alert! Guards on watch!" a disproportionately calm voice urged. "Intruder alert! Guards on watch!"

What the speaker didn't announce, for the sake of secrecy, was the reminder for students to head to their dorms. Protocol stated the dormitory entrance would lock within three minutes of an intruder alert. That would be a great idea if the HIVE wasn't made up of five floors with a gazillion twists and turns and secret entranceways. Which meant you started swimming or sinking really fast.

Bee was flying through the air, racing back to her bedroom. All she saw were honeycomb walls made red in the light. Where were the guards? There were always some milling about, but there weren't any on her long journey. It was a weekday night, so all students were here. She zipped past a few kids running for their lives.

"We should just fight!" a girl whined in between gasps. But it was a half-hearted complaint. Who knew what they were up against? This had never happened before.

Bee could see the entrance to the dorm up ahead. The doors were closing! Just inches apart! She shot like a missile toward it…

...and smacked into the closed doors.

Perfect.

Her panic rose as she rubbed her sore forehead. She could hide in an office. Or look for fellow stragglers and form an alliance. No. She didn't want to hold back anymore. She was no longer the scared girl that cowered and hesitated in the face of danger.

Footsteps clacked in the distance. Bee widened her stance and pulled her prototype weapons out of her pockets, squeezing the handles.

But no person appeared. The alarm was silenced. The lights stopped.

"Hello."

Bee gasped and accidentally fired a shot. A shock of electricity from her right stinger nearly hit the television screen that had flipped itself on.

A masked face was on the screen, half black, half orange. The lighting was so dim Bee could only make out the right eye peering out the orange side. Startled, Bee floated up to it, watching the person.

"You were all very good." It was a woman's voice, purring and low. "But not good enough."

Wait a minute. That voice was very familiar. It was one she heard almost every day. The one of the intercom making announcements. The one from the HIVE advertisement. It was…

Ruby. The Receptionist.

Of course. When things seem the most out of place they're actually right where they belong.

Ruby laughed. Her voice sounded inflectionless, the lilting accent vanished. "I expected more of self-proclaimed elite villains. But hey, you can't teach an old dog new tricks."

The shot was widening and brightening as she spoke. Her dark hair was now blonde. She wore an armored bodysuit with only her jawline exposed beneath the mask. Bee wondered if the face underneath would match the one she'd known.

"Of course, it's only fitting you die at the hands of the future," Ruby continued. "It'd be dishonorable to throw you to the police's mercy."

Bee stepped back in shot as the whole room came into view. It looked like some sort of factory, with cogs and machinery in the background. Center stage was something like a gigantic metal operating room table. On it, the professors were locked in thick metal tubes, only their wiggling heads visible. Bee counted all twelve of them - Professors Y, L, S, G, K, M, P, R, Q, I, C, and T. Two giant lasers were sparking above the head of each captive. All of them were gagged, but some of their faces twisted as if they were shouting.

These men and women had been captured...by the secretary? How was this possible? Who was she working with?

"Don't worry, students," Ruby announced. "We'll consider letting your precious teachers leave. The country, that is. We don't have time to clean up all this blood. Provided your precious Headmistress turns herself in by the end of the day."

The message faded to black. Bee growled in frustration, wanting to kick the television. What had the Headmistress gotten herself into? Maybe this was some kind of elaborate test...

But she had no time to even consider that before the explosion went off. With a thunderous boom and sparks of red light, the hallway blew up in a cloud of smoke.

She launched herself into flight, zooming past chunks of the ceiling competing to knock her out. In the gaping holes, she could see the halls and televisions of the floor above her. Was this some kind of automatic self-destruct command if no authority figure was in the tower? Another bad idea.

Flying up, Bee raced down the halls. Words pressed against her lips, but she resisted the urge to cry out in fear.

Something smacked into her. A hand wrapped around her throat. The face was covered in a mask identical to Ruby's, half-black, half-orange.

The fear made Karen angrier. "Get off me!"

She jammed her stinger into the offender's head and flipped them over. The assailant rammed his knee into her ribs. She fell backwards and flew up. She stung her attacker in the face and he stumbled back. Someone grabbed her foot, trying to pull her off balance. She stung them too, without pause.

"How many of you are there?" she growled, kicking another identical masked flunky. She turned off her brain and kept pace with the dozen fighters. She only had to hold on until someone came - Billy, Jinx, hell even Mammoth.

Someone hit her over the head. With a crowbar.

Bee whirled around. Okay, not a crowbar, a long stick. "You…" she slurred, falling to the kept her eyes open, unwilling to succumb to unconsciousness, even as the assailant cornered her, his arm poised to strike.

The staff snapped in half. The man wheeled around. A shock of red energy ripped through him and his comrades. Bee lurched forward, swinging out her stinger and delivering a sizzling shock to the masked man's chest. She turned to go for the others, but they suddenly rose in the air. Like magic, they were raised high then thrown forcefully to the ground.

Bee covered her head to avoid the onslaught. A piercing sound of scraping metal echoed throughout the hall. She peeked an eye open. There was a mess...just not the one she expected. There was no blood, but parts - fake ones.

In the center stood a middle-aged man in a long white gown. He kind of looked like a priest. He smiled at Bumblebee. "You can never be too gentle with robots."

Bee, still clutching her injured head, straightened her spine. She didn't recognize this man. He certainly wasn't a teacher. And visitors to the HIVE weren't usually free to roam the school. "Who are you?"

A crowd of people entered the room, at least thirty figures. All of them wore violet robes with their faces completely obscured by hoods. One of them walked right up to the priest and kowtowed. "Master, we've retrieved all the students."

He smacked his lips. "Excellent. Here is as good a place as any."

The bowing person turned and lifted their hand. One by one, Bumblebee's classmates entered in a single-file line. Thankfully, no one appeared hurt. Billy looked amused. Jinx was already bored. Gizmo was skeptical. The others were openly frightened. No one would judge them for that today.

"Kneel before Brother Blood!" a hooded man shouted at the students.

The HIVE students looked around at each other, clearly confused.

The man repeated himself. "Kneel before Brother Blood!"

Mammoth growled. "No -"

The priest waved his hand. "There's no need for that. It's been a rough night for us all." As he spoke he began to levitate, rising high above all of their heads. "Students, I'm exceptionally relieved to see you survived a takeover from one of the most heinous men in Jump City. As your new principal, I'd say we're off to a great start."

"Wait," said Gizmo. "Where's the Headmistress?"

Blood whistled. "My good friend won't be able to continue on as your headmaster, so she entrusted me with her school in the interim."

Bee gaped. "She's turning herself in? To the receptionist?"

Blood chuckled to himself. "I doubt it. The Headmistress is everything you all should aspire to be - ruthless and selfish to her very core. If I know her like I think I do, she's probably figuring out which small, forgettable country to hide in."

"But," a yellow-eyed girl stammered, "our teachers are going to die! The Headmistress could die, too."

Other kids joined the chorus of disagreement. Even the toughest of them looked conflicted at the thought of abandoning their old staff so easily.

Without even a change in volume or pitch, Blood's smooth baritone cut in. "Raise your hand if you would like to rescue your professors?"

With little hesitation, every student lifted their hand. Even jerks like Gizmo didn't want to see their teachers killed.

"Keep your hand up if you would like to leave this school permanently to face off against the Stroke of Death and his sidekick. Alone."

The hands fell to their sides.

"LIsten. It was extremely hard work for me to secure the school for you students. The plans Slade prepared for it were so evil it'd turn you good. All of you would essentially be slaves. I want each of you to be powerful." He sighed. "Sadly, the only way to do that is if we keep our school strong and mighty. Recovering your teachers in a suicide mission may feel right when you're standing here safe in your little hive, but you'll see once you're out there. The 'heroic' choice will only lead you towards disappointment and anger."

Bee looked down. Every time she tried to make the 'heroic' choice - quitting her father's syndicate, searching for Yasmina - she'd felt that same crushing disappointment at her failure. Always, always, always. She'd try to get her life back on track and it'd start falling apart at the seams. Maybe it was time to let things happen.

"I see a spark, a beginning in some of you." He turned and Bumblebee felt he was looking right at her. "If you join with me, evil will never fall so shamefully on its face again."

Everyone looked at him in awe. Somehow his simple words were incredibly intriguing.

"Who will rebuild evil with me?" A thin smile curled across his face.

Bee tore her eyes away. The students were a diverse group, including metahumans, robots, supernatural species, aliens, and modified humans like herself. But none of them were that level of creepy. Most of the teachers had been trained to kill, but they were more cold than threatening. Everything about Blood was a threat, more alive and alert than the ones from the Headmistress.

Bee realized nearly everyone was looking at her, including the new headmaster. Not at Jinx, not at Gizmo - at her.

She remembered what Billy had told her. She was someone people looked up to.

So what was she to do? Follow Blood or save her teachers?

This was the change she'd been hoping for. She knew HIVE was useless without a strong leader. Otherwise they'd be in juvie by the week's end.

But didn't leaders always do the right thing? Oh, wait. Evil leaders didn't care about helping and loyalty. They looked after their own and her own didn't include her frosty, good-as-dead teachers. All of her half-baked morals had tainted the past and now they were threatening to spoil the present.

Loyalty seemed to matter less and less these days. Besides, betrayal was much more fitting of a villainess.

Bee raised her hand. "I will."

And many other vows to Brother Blood echoed it.


Replies:

Hechizada517: Welcome, new reader! I wanted to include the 'normal' side of Karen instead of only her superhero personality. I am glad you liked that part!

tontheoffbalance: I'm a huge fan of the mid-2000s comic series but I'm mostly sticking to characters that appeared in the original Teen Titans cartoon and the related comic books. Right now we're around the point of season one.

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