Posted by Harry Heckel
So, here’s my first day’s effort at Nanowrimo. It’s just a touch over what you should average a day to finish on time. However, I tend to start slowly in the month and as I get to know the characters and the plot becomes clearer in my head, the writing accelerates.
This is a sequel to an as yet unpublished story originally slated for HeroNet Files Vol. 1, but now appears ready to come out in a later book.
Freedom Squad: Defiance
In Megalopolis, the gleaming self-proclaimed “City of the Future”, the members of Freedom Squad were on mandatory duty to host an important event. Corinne Dandridge, Cori to her friends, but better known to the world as Rigel, projected her thoughts to Nightstar. “Hurry up, we need to begin the tryouts.”
She waited at the edge of the team gym for Nightstar’s inevitably delayed response. She sighed. He never seemed to be on time for anything.
“Rigel, have I mentioned what a bad idea I think this is?” Nightstar thought back.
“Yes. About thirty times by my count,” responded Cori, “but it’s what the mayor wants. I need you, get up here. What are you doing?”
“Sorry, I was working on the Night Cycle.”
“The Night Cycle? We have a Freedom Van, Freedom Cycles and a VTOL Freedom Flyer.”
“Well, now we have one less Freedom Cycle and a bonus Night Cycle. Don’t worry, I can pay for it if the government budget people get mad.”
“Get up here.”
“No worries,” he replied, partially imitating her Australian phrases.
Cori folded her arms across her chest as her last thought echoed in her brain. She wondered why she was still the team leader of Freedom Squad. She could have left.
She looked over at Alex, known to the world as the Protector, in his blue and gold, holding the Shield of Justice. As she heard the passion in his lecture about what it means to be a hero, she knew why she was still the team leader of Freedom Squad.
With a sense of guilty pride, she thought, “This is my team.”
Alex paced back and forth with the ease of a panther. He looked so much like a superhero, like the Protector. Cori wondered what the former heroes who had carried that mantle, the ones that Alex always worked so hard to honor, would think if they could see their successor. Alex didn’t think he had any real powers, and he always seemed to be trying to prove himself. Yet, when he was the Protector, when people needed him, Cori found herself hoping that she could be half the hero he was.
As Protector spoke to the recruits while Cori watched for their reactions, and she could see that they shared her own admiration for Alex. The only one that she couldn’t gauge was Starlight, an alien who the government had agreed to assign to Freedom Squad. He had no face, just a reflective featureless white mask that hid some type of advanced circuitry comprised of energy… maybe. He had come to replace a former malfunctioning alien named Star Sentinel. Cori was a genius, but she had no idea what to make of Starlight other than he was from a far more advanced civilization.
She focused on the other recruits, trying to study them and separate worthy candidates from unworthy ones. She wished that she could just read their minds. It would make things much easier.
Ion yawned beside her. He was the newest member of the team, and the only candidate who had proven himself from the last one of the mayor’s tryouts. Half of that group didn’t even have super-powers when it came time to test, and the other hero who had seemed worthwhile, a man who went by the name “Secret” had balked when he had found out that he needed to reveal his identity to the government.
“I like the woman in red,” Ion quietly whispered to Rigel.
The group of a half dozen would-be members of Freedom Squad included a tall woman with brown hair in a form-fitting red uniform with a yellow sun on it. Her codename was Solaria. She could fly and project flame.
“She’s not bad based on her energy outputs, but she’s new to being a superhero. We’ll see how she does after Protector runs her through the paces.” Rigel said, “Besides, Ion, she comes with her partner, Snowfall,” Rigel indicated a young man in a blue and white uniform with patterns that reminded her of snowflakes, “or not at all.”
“She’s with him?” whispered Ion. He sighed and shook his head. “That’s too bad.” He smiled, and Rigel wasn’t sure if he was being serious or not. Ion did have a mischievous touch to his personality, which Cori rather liked.
Protector walked over to the door of the simulation chamber and checked the settings. He looked over at Cori. “Rigel,” he asked, “may I start the combat testing?”
Cori tossed her blonde hair over her shoulder and stepped forward with a swish of her white cape. “I’d like to wait for…”
A bright yellow flash cut through the air. A crack seemed to form in the fabric of reality itself, and Nightstar stepped through, twirling his sword composed of psychic energy. He wore a black bodysuit with a bright yellow set of boots, gloves and a bright yellow belt. A brilliant yellow and red exploding start was emblazoned on his chest. He adjusted the mirrorshades that he always wore and gave a smile to the recruits. “Hello, everyone. I’m Nightstar.”
Solaria grinned and clapped, and so did Snowfall. One of the recruits, who went by the codename Wraith simply said, “Wow.” Freefall, a recruit who apparently hadn’t had the resources to give himself a full costume as he wore a black shirt over a Kevlar vest, jeans and a trenchcoat with a cheap domino mask, just stared. The only one who didn’t seem completely impressed was the alien Starlight. Rigel had to keep reminding herself that he wasn’t the same person, or being, or entity, or whatever as Star Sentinel.
Nightstar gave a bow with a flourish of his cape to more whistles and cheers. Nightstar was the team member with the most experience as a hero and a reputation as part of the famous West Coast team, New Citadel. She knew that he didn’t want to be team leader, but he naturally seemed to command attention. “I’m looking forward to see if any of you can make the team.”
He walked over to the recruits like a celebrity and started shaking hands. Rigel rolled her eyes. In a few minutes, Nightstar would be signing autographs.
“Whoa… Nightstar’s on this team?” whispered Ion in false incredulity. Rigel nearly giggled despite herself.
Protector came over to Nightstar. “I was about to have them start in the Simulation Chamber.”
“Sounds good, Protector,” said Nightstar, stepping back. “I’m just here to help with the evaluation.”
A woman in green, who went by the name Chameleon, raised her hand. “Nightstar, sir,” she said, “could I have your autograph after the testing session, even if I don’t make it?”
“Oh my god…” thought Rigel. “She actually asked him.” She made a mental check against Chameleon in her head.
Nightstar adjusted his mirrorshades, but before he could reply, Rigel strode over and interjected, “No. We aren’t doing autograph sessions. This tryout is about finding new members to join Freedom Squad. Megalopolis is a big city and after battling menaces like Promethea…”
Rigel paused mid-sentence and glanced at the ceiling. She had a sudden feeling of danger. As if in response to her hesitation, the alert blared.
The Freedom Squad computer announced, “Alert. Priority One Alert. Code Tartarus.”
“Ion,” said Rigel, “get upstairs and get the Freedom Flyer ready.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Ion, instantly serious. With the smell of ozone and a faint blue afterimage left behind, he raced upstairs.
“Sorry, everyone,” said Nightstar, “but the tryouts are over. We have an emergency. If you will all come with me, I’ll teleport everyone out of here.” He spun his sword and cut a rent in the air. The glowing tear hung unsupported over the floor. Nightstar reached out to Chameleon, and she took his hand with a happy gasp. “Everyone hold hands,” he said.
All of the recruits did as they were told with the exception of Starlight. He was under orders from the US government to remain under observation at Freedom Squad Headquarters. The alien walked over to Rigel. Nightstar took the others, closing the rent with a flash of light.
“I can be of assistance, Rigel. I was sent here to aid the Terran authorities. I command cosmic energies.” The alien looked at her from his blank faceplate. It was a little eerie for Rigel to stare at him and see a vague outline of her own face reflected back.
“I’m sorry, Starlight, only members of our team can come in the Freedom Flyer. We will handle this.”
“I understand,” he responded flatly.
“Protector, let’s go,” said Rigel, as he started climbing the stairs.
He stared at her, and she could hear his thoughts. “Should we leave Starlight alone in the base?” he thought.
“I think he’ll be alright, Alex,” thought Cori. She didn’t know why, but she trusted the alien. She remembered how his predecessor, Star Sentinel, had constantly tried to warn the team that he was malfunctioning, yet no one has listened. Besides, she wasn’t sure what Freedom Squad could do to stop a fully functioning alien android from a civilization that had mastered faster than light travel.
When Protector and Rigel reached the Freedom Flyer, Nightstar was already inside. Ion had gone through the startup sequence and activated the VTOL engines. Rockslide, the massive earth elemental-like muscle of the team sat in the cargo area. “Base Lockdown,” Rockslide managed to say in his gravelly voice.
“Hey, Rigel,” said Ion, “What’s Code Tartarus?”
Cori swallowed. “It means there’s been a breakout at Megalopolis Penitentiary in the super-villain wing.”
The mood aboard the Freedom Flyer was suddenly serious.
“Wait, couldn’t Nightstar just teleport us?” asked Ion, “With his sword slash wormhole trick?”
“Too far and I’ve never been to the Megalopolis Penitentiary,” Nightstar said.
“No problem,” said Ion, “Well, then strap yourselves in, because I have GPS coordinates and the auto-pilot is ready to take us there. Megalopolis Airport acknowledged the emergency flight.”
With that, Ion pulled back on the controls. The engines screamed and launched the Freedom Flyer across the Megalopolis skyline.