The line of rings, forming a tunnel, snakes from the interior of Halcyon City to the coast. From there, the rings cross the Atlantic Ocean, running dozens of miles to the itinerant island now called Vyortovia. The rings emit a gold-white light from their interiors, just enough to clearly mark their position in the dark. Some clever kid with a large supply of blue paint has already painted Sonic the Hedgehog on neighboring buildings, running parallel to the system.
Likewise, the Vyortovian vehicles meant to traverse this open-air tunnel, are officially called ferðahylki, but informally known as “pills” for their shape. A few crafty souls have tried to add graffiti to their coldly professional hulls, or decorate the antiseptic interiors, with mixed success. As a result, the first day of college for the current and former members of the Menagerie - along with many of their friends - is to begin while aboard “Jaws”.
The group is full of scientists, and/or products of science. How does the system work, anyway? They’ve already been given a briefing, but are happy to talk about it with each other. Each of the rings serves double duty. First, it evacuates the air within its radius, and out along the axis of travel. Second, it provides a magnetic impulse that drives the pills forward. The rings share power with each other at a mathematically precise ratio, so if a series of rings fail for any reason, a pill will gradually decelerate and come to a stop within a functioning ring. Otherwise, the system is essentially a vacuum-assisted maglev rail, without the attendant engineering difficulties of sealing a tube (and rescuing passengers from it in an emergency).
The Vyortovians tested the system in their usual pragmatic style. They sent a team of engineers through the system in one of the pills, and fired tactical missiles at some of the rings offshore.
“Not my style of safety validation,” Leo admits.
“Agreed,” Jason says.
“But it encourages engineers to be honest in their assessments,” argues Alycia.
“Glad I can just run fast,” Harry offers.
“I’m just relieved they survived,” sighs Summer.
“How do you know they did?” asks Aria.
“Well, they let us on board, so it’s safe, right?” Adam points out.
“They were trying to kill us awhile back,” shrugs Otto, now wearing his human shell.
“Things change, and people change. Let’s all be grateful for that,” Charlotte announces.
The green of North Carolina gave way to the blue of the Atlantic, moving by at a blur. The distant outskirts of Vyortovia emerged over the horizon. First, the network of artificial islands. Second, the mountainous natural geography of the main island, dotted with buildings. The pill slowed down, then stopped between two rings. Docking arms pried it out of the air and into a cradle, gyroscopically keeping it aligned with Earth’s gravity. The hatches opened, and the group stepped onto Vyortovian soil.
Well, not soil as such. The artificial islands that had sprung up were technically carbon plates - product of Leo Snow’s technology, Jason Quill’s funding and manufacturing apparatus, and more. They were a peace offering from the United States, and a compromise. Because they weren’t strictly speaking Vyortovian in origin, AEGIS and US intelligence apparatus had the right to surveil them all day long according to the agreement. They were the home of N.U., the New University, and there was in theory nothing to hide from anyone here.
“‘In theory’ carries way more load than two words should bear,” Leo had remarked to his new handler, when told that his parole was up.
The University itself didn’t conform to anyone’s expectations. It wasn’t the grass-covered campus, covered with stately buildings for learning and experimentation, as idealized by the American public. There weren’t fraternities and sororities and moral majorities. It was almost like a giant laboratory, waiting for an experiment to begin. This is in fact exactly what the N.U. was meant to be
The Menagerie’s members stare at the maze of structures, many still under construction, and briefly glance back as more pills arrive from Halcyon City. Other new students pour out to stare. Several of the Ponies. Members of the other super-teams, in their civilian guises. Friends. Comrades. And - to everyone’s muted shock - a contingent of young people all dressed in identical “ROOK INDUSTRIES” jumpsuits.
“I hope the Vyortovians charged Rosa a pretty penny for student loans,” mutters Jason.
Leo pulls Aria close, and reaches down to take her shivering hand.
Whoever said college life was easy compared to high school was very, very wrong.