Daughter of Orion Prologue
I came to the realization earlier this week as I was reviewing my year’s writing goals that I needed to spend some time focusing on Rigel and Freedom Squad. Currently, there are over 200,000 words written on the character, spread across three novels and one novella. I’ve asked Harper Voyager about their interest in her and her team, but I’m still awaiting a reply.
I keep reading that this is the time of the female superhero. As Rigel was originally created nearly 27 years ago, I think she’s ready to burst onto the scene. She even has a fantastic piece of cover art ready to go.
Most importantly, she’s meant to be an inspiration to kids like my daughter. While she’s a legacy hero, she’s not a Supergirl or Batgirl, with the powers and and identity of another character. One of her story arcs is her effort to separate herself from the legacy of her father, Orion, and prove herself on her own, while continuing to uphold her father’s ideals.
I’m currently undergoing a rework of all of the Rigel novels, with some assistance from the capable Heather Curatola (the original creator of Rigel) and my Jack Heckel co-author, John Peck.
So while many of my good friends are at GenCon or the Richmond comic convention today, I thought I’d share the current rewrite of the prologue for Daughter of Orion (formerly In the Stars). Enjoy!
Prologue – Orion’s Last Battle
Ten Years Ago
Orion didn’t know how he was going to escape. Heat escaping from bubbling pools of orange lava burned his cheeks while the stench of brimstone burned in his nostrils. His shoulders ached as he strained against the arcane bonds that held him pinned against an obsidian obelisk. The obelisk was strangely cool, helping to make the cavern more bearable, but he took no comfort in that. Turning his head, he could see purple glowing hieroglyphs etched into the obsidian.
Rasping laughter echoed through the cavern, and though Orion could only making out a floating shadow in the lava-lit cave, he knew exactly who was with him – Doctor Inferno.
Doctor Inferno, Lord of the Arcane Arts, master villain and would-be world conqueror, his arch-nemesis had captured him.
Orion took a breath, doing his best to ignore the heat and the brimstone, breathing in through the nose and out through the nose to focus. His wife had always reminded to use calming breaths, and it had been her universal solution for those times when he had lost control of his mental powers. Despite his situation, he winced at the memories of those days when he couldn’t shut the thoughts of others out. She had always been there, until that dark day when he had lost her forever.
He swallowed and took control. Thinking of his dead wife wasn’t going to save him. He needed help from the living. Closing his eyes and concentrating, he projected his thoughts outward.
New Citadel, this is Orion. Doctor Inferno’s captured me. Focus on my thoughts. It will help you sense my location. I need help.
The only response in his mind was a deathly and absolute silence, but in the cavern, the laughter of Doctor Inferno grew louder.
Orion strained to break free the old-fashioned way, using brute force. His mental powers enhanced his nervous system, allowing far more of his muscle fibers to fire together than those of a normal man. While it didn’t put him in the realm of the super-strong heroes, bending a steel bar wasn’t out of the question. He visualized images of his muscle fibers working as one and his nerve cells firing in unity. His muscles flexed beneath his black costume.
Unfortunately, the mystic bonds only seemed to constrict.
He took another breath, and this time, instead of using his muscles, he used his mind again. Telekinetically, he grabbed the bonds and shook them. He thought he could feel them loosen. He gritted his teeth and took another focus breath. The bonds shook, but they didn’t give way.
Orion cleared his mind. If he panicked, he would die, and too many innocent lives depended on him. He had stopped Doctor Inferno before. This time should be no different.
A whisper of doubt crossed his mind. After all these years, perhaps his luck had finally run out.
“I’m not done yet.”
A little girl half a world away needed her superhero father to come back home.
Perhaps he could telekinetically crack the obelisk.
Finally, floating close enough to come into view, Orion saw that the arch-villain still wore the same tattered purple robes that he had worn in their first encounter. Over a decade and not even a wardrobe update. Doctor Inferno’s gaunt skeletal features were still wreathed in green hellfire. Inferno turned his gaze onto Orion and his mouth formed a malicious leer.
It was time for the speech to begin. Orion thanked whatever power of light compelled villains to discuss their plans.
“Oh, Orion. So many years, we’ve fought, haven’t we? When we first met, your hair was as dark as that black uniform of yours, but now it’s as white as the stars in the constellation emblazoned on your chest.”
“My hair’s actually more of a gray.” Telekinetic fingers probed the obsidian feeling for any cracks, any flaws, any signs of weakness.
“Of course it is. You could never bear to let me win an argument. Still, I’ll let you worry about hair. I haven’t had any in centuries. Since my rebirth, I’ve always encountered you. Those psychic powers of yours seem fated to counter my sorceries, and you keep using your knowledge of this modern world to find new ways to trick me. But I’ve returned each time, and this time, finally is different.”
“Oh?” There was a slight imperfection a few feet above Orion’s head.
“There is no Citadel of Justice to stop me. Your teammates are gone – retired. What have you done in their stead? Tried to mentor a team of children? New Citadel? What kind of name is that?”
The obsidian refused to break.
“No answer, Orion? Ah, I guess you are trying to use your telepathy to call for help. Unfortunately for you, I’ve mystically sealed this cavern. You won’t send any messages. No, my old enemy, you are alone. Unlike all of those innocents you’ve saved in your career, no one is coming to help you. Even if they wanted to come, even if you could send a message, we are deep beneath the earth. Welcome to my underworld.”
“An appropriate place for a rotting skeleton to burn.”
“That’s more like it! Challenge me. Refuse to yield. It will help me savor your defeat.” Doctor Inferno rubbed his skeletal hands together. “In your scientific studies, have you ever heard of the Eternal Darkness?”
“No.” The telekinesis wasn’t working.
“Of course not. Perhaps you can grasp the idea if you think of this dark energy that your physicists sometimes discuss.”
“When did you start studying science?”
“I’ve learned from my defeats. I have assistants who advise me, but that is irrelevant. The Eternal Darkness is a sentient mystical energy source thought sealed away in the other realms, in places you might call Avalon or Arcadia. But for whatever reason, it has broken through to earth. It seems quiescent, yet I will call it forth and unleash it. Putting it into terms that you might understand, think of a black hole being unleashed upon this precious planet – a black hole that I will command.”
“Dark energy pulls matter apart, black holes smash matter together – which is it?”
Doctor Inferno’s teeth gnashed. “Bah, it doesn’t matter. I mean, it’s not important. Enough of trying to make you appreciate the impending destruction.”
Orion forced confidence into his voice. He needed time. Perhaps if he spoke long enough, the bonds would break. Maybe help would come. His old friends might have reunited when they heard he was missing. Some of the younger heroes could show up. As long as he was alive, there was a chance.
“We’ve done this before, Doctor Inferno. You’ve always failed. Remember the Unstoppable Demon? What about the Key of Nightmares? How about the time you formed that team, the Sorcerous Seven?”
“I didn’t know the werewolf and vampire would attack each other!”
Orion laughed. “I’ve beaten you before and I’ll stop you today. So, I’ll save you the trouble for old times’ sake. Surrender.”
A harsh rattle escaped Doctor Inferno’s throat. “Don’t delude yourself, Orion. You know that even your science dictates that I should triumph. You call it the law of averages. You defeated me what, six times?”
Doctor Inferno clenched his fists. “Fifteen? Truly? Fifteen! Fine! So, you’ve defeated me fifteen times. Fine. But this time is different. You are old and weak. Your team is gone. No one can find this lair. And the ritual is nearly complete. Behold!”
Inferno swept his hand toward the back of the cavern. Flames erupted out of the lava, and Orion could see four robed members of the Inferno legion, poor souls that had devoted themselves to serving as Doctor Inferno’s minions. They stood around a circle of silver inscribed with mystical symbols.
A fracture seemed to be forming in the air above the circle – a crack in reality.
Orion thought this might be his only chance. He concentrated and reached out with thoughts once more, trying to contact his team. It was a slim chance that the portal to the Eternal Darkness might be close enough for his team to hear him, and there was even less of a chance they’d find him, but he had to try. He called each of them, except for the android, Blazar.
Poltergeist. Nightstar. Spira. Clone. This is Orion. Doctor Inferno has me prisoner. He’s started a ritual which threatens the world.
Orion, we are coming.
It was Nightstar. The bright yellow glow of the young hero’s psychic blade slashed through the portal, and four costumed figures in costume tumbled into the circle. The Inferno Legion paused their chants and dropped their hands in confusion.
Within a heartbeat, the heroes were on their feet.
“Who dares?” shouted Doctor Inferno. “What madness is this, Orion?”
“It’s not madness, Inferno,” replied Orion calmly, doing his best to mask his own surprise. “This is the part where we defeat you.”
Nightstar threw his cape back over his shoulder, revealing the yellow exploding star symbol on his chest. The young man adjusted the mirror shades that he perpetually wore, before lunging at one of the Inferno Legionnaires. His golden psychic blade crackled as it impaled the robed figure, and Orion was thankful that the weapon did no physical damage.
Spira, a woman with a domino mask clad in a unitard covered in swirling patterns, ignored the Inferno Legion and glared at the arch-villain. “Let’s see how Doctor Inferno handles his balance being disrupted.”
Nightstar had dropped a second legionnaire. “I’ve got these guys. Clone, free Orion. Blazar, help Spira with the evil doctor. Let’s see how hellfire measure up against nuclear reactions.”
Spira didn’t wait for Blazar. The air rippled around her and she soared toward the roof of the cave. She pointed her hands at Doctor Inferno and the twisting, distortion effect surrounded him as well.
“Foolish child, do you think that you can harm one who has traveled realms beyond your ability to comprehend?”
With a gesture of his own, he conjured a globe of emerald hellfire and hurled it. The ball twisted and wove its way through the ripples, unerringly flying toward her. At the last instant, she raised her arms as if to ward it off, and a crackling field of electricity formed around her causing the flames to explode and dissipate harmlessly in front of her.
Spira lowered her arms, but her eyes were still wide. “Thank you,” she whispered.
A faint voice crackled in her earpiece. “A little less confidence. Distract him.”
As another globe flew at her, and this time, she flew out of the way to dodge it. It kept following, so she made a tight turn around a hanging stalactite and it exploded harmlessly on the stone. Another globe was already giving chase.
Blazar’s internal systems showed nominal readings, despite the extradimensional transport. He recorded that the incident seemed slightly different than the other times Nightstar had managed to slice a portal through the fabric of space-time. He targeted Doctor Inferno as per team orders, his entire android body glowing brightly as he unleashed his fusion bolts with a high-pitched whine. As the blasts reached their target, an energy field of variable wavelengths and frequencies materialized in their path, deflected them into the right side of the cave, where they melted a large portion of the cavern wall. He calculated that he would be able to fire again in 52.17 seconds, but determined that by that time, there would be a 70% chance that he would be too late to impact the outcome of the battle.
“Nightstar, I am recharging. I will need time to adjust my blasts to penetrate his defenses.”
“Understood,” replied Nightstar as he dropped the third legionnaire. The remaining one grasped a glowing mace and swung it wildly as he desperately advanced toward Nightstar.
Clone, the man able to be in two places at once, divided and sent his second self, Clone 2, over to Orion, using his genetically enhanced reflexes to leap across the pools of magma, while his first self, Clone 1, moved underneath Spira in hopes of catching her if she fell out of the air.
A massive humanoid figure made of stone erupted out of the cave floor in front of Clone 2, nearly knocking him backward into a pool of lava.
“Face my rock elementals!” shouted Doctor Inferno as with a rumble, two more monstrous stone men rose out of the group to join the figure towering over Clone 2.
“Nightstar! Plan?” shouted Clone 2.
Nightstar spun, dodging a mace swing, and counter-attacked with a thrust of the psychic sword. As the last of the Inferno Legion fell, he glanced at Clone 2’s adversaries. “Keep them busy. Let Blazar recharge.”
Doctor Inferno threw yet another globe of flame at Spira. The woman was slowing, and obviously didn’t feel confident about whatever electrical field had protected her before. Doctor Inferno laughed.
“Orion, are these young heroes trying to carry the banner of the Citadel of Justice? Pathetic. Perhaps one of them will survive to tell the story of your defeat… that is, if I leave anyone to tell. What do you think? Should I spare someone to record my triumph?”
There was no answer.
Doctor Inferno paused in his attempts to incinerate Spira and glanced back at the obsidian obelisk.
Orion was gone. Only the mystical bindings remained.
“No! Orion! I’ll find you!”
As the villain screamed in rage, Nightstar spun his sword and sliced a hole in reality. He stepped through it as if it were a rent curtain, stepping out beside the obsidian obelisk.
“Wait…” hissed Doctor Inferno, “the bonds aren’t tight around the obelisk. He’s still trapped! You just made him invisible! It was that gadgeteer lad, Poltergeist. He did the electrical field as well and saved the woman. Ingenious, but I’ve had enough. The flames of hell burn cold as well as hot. Ice of Nevermelt, freeze my enemies.”
1.03 seconds to power, thought Blazar as his systems shut down. Frost covered his body. Ice encased Spira, and she fell toward Clone 1. Perhaps by reflex, Clone 2 summoned his other self before Spira’s ice block smashed Clone 1. Within the next instant, he was encased in ice. Nightstar became a frosted statue and as did a figure in gray and black armor which became visible beside him, one hand on Orion’s chest in an attempt to share an invisibility field.
Only Orion remained untouched, just as Inferno had wanted.
“Very clever. It was Poltergeist. He’s old enough now to mentor these young heroes. Trying to pass on a legacy, Orion? Reasonable. You are old for a hero. So, how did they find me?”
“I’m sure if you think about it, you can figure it out. I’ll let you try twenty questions if you’d like.” Orion furrowed his forehead, trying to find some last reserve of psychic power. He was still trying to stall. He looked at the frozen body of Poltergeist. Good try, Daniel.
“It is over,” pronounced Doctor Inferno. “The Eternal Darkness is here. I can sense it. Despite your interference, the ritual succeeded. I now call it to me!” Flames burned brightly over his skeletal hands.
Orion focused on the evil mastermind. He had to make mental contact with Doctor Inferno. Despite the bonds, maybe he could fire a single psychic blast and still disrupt his magic…
Suddenly, Nightstar appeared in the air beside Doctor Inferno, no longer frozen. The young hero reacted instantly, reaching out to slash the villain with his psychic blade even as he fell onto the rocks.
The sword was psychic energy and though it did no physical damage, the thrust disrupted all of Doctor Inferno’s spells, including the one that sustained his physical form. The rock elementals crumbled into rubble. Doctor Inferno screamed, a terrible agonizing psychic scream that Orion felt in the deepest sections of his mind, echoing over and over. The mental feedback made him scream louder than his nemesis.
Doctor Inferno’s empty tattered robe fluttered to rest beside Orion.
“Orion! Sir, are you okay?”
There was no response. Nightstar raced over and placed a gloved hand on Orion’s neck. He felt a pulse. Orion was alive.
“Nightstar, step back. I’ll check him,” said Poltergeist, now no longer frozen. From around the cave, the rest of the team moaned and shivered. The freezing spell had broken.
“My uniform feels terrible,” shouted Spira.
“What happened?” said Clone.
Orion opened his eyes even as Poltergeist carefully propped him up. He looked from Poltergeist to Nightstar. “Well done, especially you, young man. I’m not sure what went wrong with Inferno’s spell, but I won’t argue. It must have been a lucky strike with that blade of yours. Good teleporting too.”
“Thanks,” said Nightstar. “Sometimes it works better than others. It must have been the right moment.”
“Indeed,” said Orion with a smile.
Poltergeist nodded. “He’ll need more training. They all will. Just like you trained me, but I agree, old friend, they did well.”
Orion closed his eyes. He didn’t want to say anything. He worried that if Nightstar knew what had truly happened, the young hero might not forgive himself. Orion had made contact with Doctor Inferno at the moment of Nightstar’s psychic sword strike. Perhaps that was what helped the blade be so effective. Regardless, the psychic backlash had quieted Orion’s mind. The thoughts of everyone around him were silent for the first time since his childhood. He wondered if he would stay this way. If so, his days as a hero were over.
To his surprise, Orion felt a great sense of relief.
He rose to his feet with Poltergeist’s support and regarded the young team staring at him. They would be the new generation of heroes, his legacy. They would protect the innocent from threats like Doctor Inferno.
It was time to hang up the cape.
Three days later, Corey Dandridge parked his car in the driveway of his townhome in Sydney, Australia. He had chosen to live his normal life as far away from the United States as he could, where few super-villains bothered attacking. Australia had barely beaten out New Zealand.
The media was abuzz with word of his retirement announcement two days ago in San Francisco at the headquarters of the Citadel of… well, actually, New Citadel. The news stories would subside soon. He vaguely considered penning a memoir.
He unlocked the door and went inside.
“Li? You’re free! I’m home,” he shouted to his housekeeper.
“Dad!” came an excited yell. A blonde twelve-year old girl ran to the door and threw her arms around him. She started crying.
“Corinne, are you okay?”
“I just missed you, so badly. I was worried, really worried, and I needed you. I needed you a lot.”
Li slipped through the room, taking her pocketbook and the roll of bills that Corey handed her.
“Goodbye, Cori, and Mr. Dandridge,” she said. She gave a smile and then left the father and daughter to their reunion.
After the door closed, Corinne released her father. She wiped her eyes.
“What is the matter with you, young lady?” he said softly. “You haven’t cried like this when I’ve been away on business since you were six.”
“That’s because I thought you were away on business, Dad, not fighting for your life against Doctor Inferno.”
Corey froze. “What?”
“Don’t try, Dad. If you are wondering how I know, well, something’s happened.”
With that, she raised her hands in the air. All of the furniture in the room lifted a foot off the floor. In his mind, Corey Dandridge heard his daughter’s voice.
“Help me control this.”