Two hours after the battle, Rigel stood in the mayor’s office, doing her best not to look angry or upset as the mayor berated her.
“So, you take the Freedom Flyer, and your most experienced team member to visit Psionicist on a hunch, the day after a massive super-villain escape. The group that you left behind decided that they should respond to an emergency by bringing an alien who is still under observation and call two heroes who haven’t even passed their tryouts to fight some of the most powerful villains to menace this country. Do you know how lucky you are that I don’t have a dead superhero or six on my hands? Have you seen the footage of Protector with the ripped costume and the blood all over his face? And Rockslide, a shattered mess? How long is it going to take him to get back together? Should I call all the King’s Horses and all the King’s Men? And thankfully, Snowfall is alright, though the potential liability that your team risked could have cost the city millions if his family decided to sue. You also realize that it was the police who took care of the zombies.”
The mayor paused to clear his throat and picked up a bottle of water from his desk. He quietly unscrewed the cap and took a drink. He replaced the cap before putting the bottle down. He stared at Rigel.
“Sir,” said Rigel uncomfortably, “I’m sorry. I know you don’t approve, but Freedom Squad did drive off the villains. And…”
“Are you kidding me?” he said, waving his hands. “Those villains left. We don’t have a lead or any clues. Instead, I’ve got CNN flashing headlines like ‘Devastation in Megalopolis’ and showing images of a warzone that used to be a park. Meanwhile, I don’t know if you heard, but Defiance was looking for me.”
Rigel paused and looked down at her boots. Why couldn’t she be facing down a super-villain instead? She thought about being quiet, but a touch of annoyance won out. She folded her arms and asked in a slightly accusatory tone, “Why was he looking for you, sir?”
The mayor seemed to discount her tone, but she was sure he noticed it. “Probably because he knows that I assembled this team of ours. Maybe because he wants to hold me for ransom, I don’t know. Today was an unmitigated disaster. You need to get those tryouts done and recruit some more muscle for the team.”
“Yes, sir. But, we had a software test that turned off our communicators during the attack.”
“You should check your computer systems. After all, didn’t you hack the Freedom Squad servers and insert your own code? I’m assuming that you set up the software test and forgot to turn it off. I’d like some answers about that.”
Rigel fidgeted and nearly reached up and started twisting her hair. She forced her hand to remain at her side. The mayor was right. She had gone over all of the computer code. What if they had been hacked?
A strange feeling twisted inside her.
“What is it?” asked the mayor, “Something about the computers.”
“No, sir,” Rigel lied, “I was just wondering about Solaria. Does anyone know what happened to her? Ion called her and she said that she was on her way.”
“The police saw her blazing through the sky on the way to the park and told her to stop. They didn’t recognize her, and she didn’t have any Freedom Squad identification because…” he let his sentence hang and looked to her.
Rigel completed his statement, “… because she’s not a member of the team.”
“Very good,” said the mayor. “And with a massive super-villain breakout, they held her for questioning. Fortunately, she did everything that they asked. Maybe we should make her a member of the team. So, what did you accomplish with Psionicist? I’ve been told he woke from his coma.”
“Yes, sir, but…” Cori hesitated. Could she trust the mayor? What about the Ace of Spades? Was she being paranoid? If Defiance was looking for him, could the mayor secretly be the Ace? “Um… I’m not sure that Psionicist remembers anything. He seemed very lost. I had been hoping that he might be able to tell me something about Defiance.”
“Hmm…” said the mayor, “Walt Blythe, the last Protector, is dead. I’m assuming that Alex doesn’t know much about Defiance. What about Poltergeist? Have you tried to contact him?”
“Yes, I have, but I’m not sure how much he can help.”
The mayor paused and tapped his chin. “How about your telepathy? Didn’t you just scan the city for Nightstar’s mind and locate him before? Can’t you do the same thing with Defiance?”
Rigel sighed. “I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor, but I don’t know Defiance. I’m not even sure if he prefers to be called Bill or William or really anything about him. I need to have a strong mental impression to discern someone’s thoughts in a city of minds.”
He paused in his pacing. She didn’t need her telepathy to tell that he was considering the fact that Rigel hadn’t met Nightstar when she first scanned the city for him. She hoped he didn’t ask. She didn’t want to explain that she had temporarily imprinted herself with the memories of one of Nightstar’s close friends in order to find him.
The mayor went over to his chair and sat down. He had apparently decided not to ask. His expression went from angry to relaxed and confident in a heartbeat. There was a reason that he was widely talked about for statewide and even national office. It wasn’t hard for her to imagine a time in the future where she might be having this conversation in the Oval Office.
“Rigel, find Defiance and get him back behind bars. Use whatever legal means you need to. He’s the highest profile of the villains and the most dangerous. Finish your tryouts and augment your team. If you can’t apprehend Defiance, get as many of the other escapees back behind bars as possible. Those are your marching orders.”
“And Rigel, I’ve had offers from the Wardens, New Citadel and Vanguard to come in her e and clean up this mess. They aren’t here, because I still believe in you and that team. By the way, despite the poor timing, good job getting Psionicist revived,” he said, without looking up. “Also, don’t worry about the press, just focus on Defiance. See to your team, and I’ll look forward to your call about Defiance’s arrest. Unless you have anything else to discuss, we are done here. You should leave by the roof unless you want to face a horde of reporters who want to know why you weren’t with your team earlier.”
“G’day, Mr. Mayor,” said Rigel.
There were a number of questions that she wanted to ask, suspicions that she wanted to voice. She also felt angry and embarrassed, but she simply left, taking the stairs to the roof instead of the elevator. The exercise did her some good. Of course, she thought it would be easy to explain to reporters what had happened. She was trying to find information on Defiance and thought she might be able to save Psionicist.
Despite her frustration with the mayor, she felt a twinge of guilt. She had left him with the impression that Carlos was Psionicist, when she knew that he wasn’t and never had been. The world would figure it out soon enough. In the meantime, she didn’t want the Ace of Spades to know any more than he needed to.
She felt a chill, a sense of danger, but it faded almost immediately. “I’m getting paranoid,” she thought to herself. “Jumping at shadows and afraid of a criminal’s fairy tale.”
She responded to herself, “You aren’t paranoid. He’s real. He was in Carlos’ mind… and how do you know that he didn’t order the attack on your team?”
She pondered the Ace of Spades and mentally cross-referenced everything she knew about Psionicist and Defiance wondering if there was a connection. She needed to talk to Alex.
More importantly, she needed to check on Rockslide, Protector, Ion and Snowfall. She had seen them at the park, and while all of them claimed to be okay, even Snowfall who needed to be woken up, she needed to find out what the doctors had said.
“They are my team, my teammates, my responsibility,” she said to herself as she reached the roof.
She stood for a moment beside the mayor’s helipad and scanned the skyline of Megalopolis. This was her city. She was responsible for defending it, and it wasn’t just that it was her job. She had the power to fight against villains. It was what she was supposed to do, the right thing to do.
With a burst of telekinesis, she lifted herself into the air and flew toward Freedom Squad Headquarters.
“No one messes with Megalopolis without answering to me. Not even the Ace of Spades,” she said.
Protector sat back and watched the monitors in Freedom Squad Headquarters, his shield leaning against the console. He tried to stay focused and keep a constant check on the graphs and displays that would alert him to the city’s emergencies. Currently, the city was quiet other than a few fender benders suffered by commuters. It disturbed him. Over a dozen super-villains had escaped Megalopolis Penitentiary, and yet, none of them had made an appearance.
The phone rang. It was the mayor’s office.
“Freedom Squad Headquarters,” said Protector.
“Protector,” said the mayor, “where is Rigel?”
“Uh… sir, she went to New York.”
“What is she doing in New York? I need her here in Megalopolis. Did she miss the fact that we had a prison break? I’ll have words with her later. Put Nightstar on.”
Protector cleared his throat. “Um… she took Nightstar with her, sir, to visit Psionicist in the hospital I believe. Ion’s here with me though. And we have Rockslide of course. Oh, and then there’s Starlight.”
“She took Nightstar to see Psionicist in the hospital,” restated the mayor, “Fantastic. There’s four of you. Well, if she’s not there, and Nightstar’s not there, who do you think I should speak with?” His voice dripped with sarcasm.
“I guess that would be me, sir.”
The mayor sighed. “Good job of guessing. Listen, Protector, I’m going to have a press conference with the police commissioner in half an hour at Freedom Park, in front of the statues of the original Freedom Squad, the World War II team.”
“Yes,sir,” said Protector, knowing full well where the statues were and that the original Freedom Squad had fought in World War II.
“I need you there to stand behind me and look impressive. Make sure the shield is shining. Understood?”
“Yes, sir. Do you want me to bring Ion or Rockslide?”
“No, someone’s got to watch the base, and I doubt Ion would cause any harm checking the monitors. In the future, you let Rigel know that I want to know if she’s leaving the city.”
The monitors suddenly flashed red. Protector felt the ground shake.
“What was that?” yelled the mayor. “An earthquake?”
The ground shook again.
“Sir, I need to go. We have a situation.” Without waiting for a response, Protector hung up the phone and grabbed his shield.
Ion was already beside him. “Hey, Alex, did you feel that? I think it was seismic.”
“Possibly,” Protector grabbed his communicator. “Rockslide, head to the Freedom Van.”
“The van?” asked Ion. “How about the Freedom Cycles?”
“Rockslide won’t fit on a cycle.”
Starlight walked in. “I have been monitoring the television as per Rigel’s request. There are super-villains smashing the statues in Freedom Park.” Starlight glanced up at the monitors. “It seems that the alerts in this room are validating those reports.”
The large monitor screen showed a man a white and red costume with a mask and a cape lifting the thirty foot high statue of American Eagle over his head and then throwing it hundreds of yards through the air into the park. A moment later, they thought they felt a faint tremor.
“We need to go now,” said Protector.
“I’ll have it running when you arrive,” said Ion, disappearing with a blur.
Protector activated his communicator. “Protector to Rigel…”
A modulated voice spoke back to him. “Communications software test started. All communicators will be offline for the next hour or until server reboot is completed.”
“What?” he said, staring incredulously at the communicator. Still, there was not time to worry about it. He ran as fast as he could to the underground garage, nearly vaulting the stairs. The van doors were open and he could see Rockslide in the back and Ion at the wheel.
Protector leapt into the passenger seat and heard the back door close.
“I am ready to assist,” said Starlight from the back. He had entered the back door as Protector had gotten in the front.
“Is he supposed to come?” asked Ion, looking to Protector for an answer.
Alex steeled himself. He was the Protector. He was in charge. “Yes. Starlight’s coming. Let’s go.”
Ion drove the van through the underground garage out to the rear exit outside of Freedom Squad Headquarters. “I’m activating the siren.”
The siren blared out as they pulled onto the road. Cars and buses moved to clear the way for the van.
“I could get used to this,” said Ion, as a taxi pulled out of his way.
The tires squealed as Ion made a hard right toward the park and then slammed on the brakes. “Oh…”
Protector held up his hand.
“Right,” said Ion, “We’re superheroes. No saying bad words. Still, troubling traffic, Protector, no one’s getting out of the way. Golly gee, now what?”
The traffic had completely stopped in front of them. Horns blared, but no one was moving. The man in the car in front of them got out and shrugged apologetically.
“I understand what Ion is saying,” said Starlight. “May I attempt to respond in the proper Terran vernacular?”
“Sure,” said Protector. Alex wasn’t sure what they should do. Get out and walk? He wished Rigel were here.
“Now, now, Ion, old chum, there’s no need to get vexed about the good citizens of Megalopolis having trouble with their commute, after all, they need to be able to get back and forth from their jobs so they can put food on the table,” said Starlight in his flat voice. “No, I have a plan for exactly this situation, and it doesn’t even require a utility belt.”
With that, Starlight opened the door of the van and stepped out, closing it behind him.
Protector looked over at Ion, who was laughing. “Where did that come from?”
“Oh,” said Ion, “Starlight told me he wanted to watch television. I put on some old Adam West and Burt Ward superhero shows. However, you know, a utility belt is a good idea.”
Suddenly, the van rose in the air and went soaring over the stopped cars in the direction of the park.
“I think he’s carrying us,” said Protector.
“I think you’re right,” said Ion, nervously. “I’m turning off the siren and the light. We don’t need to be but so obvious. Any idea on how many villains we’re facing?”
Rockslide rumbled in the back.
“Defiance for certain,” said Protector.
“Right. He’s invulnerable, you know. I had a poster of him up in my room as a kid. He stopped a meteor once,” said Ion, “when he was a hero.”
“No, he didn’t,” said Protector. “Let’s not make this any worse than it has to be.”
“So,” said Ion as the green grassy park filled the windshield, marked with several discarded bronze statues. “I count 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… plus Defiance, and look at all those cops. Okay, what’s the plan?”
“I’m going to talk to Defiance,” said Protector.
“What?” said Ion. “Alex, I mean Protector, are you crazy?”
“He used to be a hero.”
“Okay, and he was defeated by the guy who used to be the Protector. I mean, what about the other villains? They weren’t heroes.” Ion gestured. “Oh and…” He rolled down his window. “Um, Starlight, old chum, I think you should put us down before the bad guys shoot us out of the sky.”
The van suddenly dropped before coming to a gentle rest on the grass. They were close enough that Protector could make out Death Queen in her barely-there black costume, displaying her pale white skin to the world, floating over the massive broken head of the Light of Liberty statue. Barrage was hovering over the scene in her bronze power armor, massive guns visible on the arms of her suit. He wondered how they all managed to get costumes so quickly after they escaped. Defiance seemed to be yelling at the police. He also recognized the massive magical creation called Golem, towering at 12 feet tall over the others, as if he were one of the fallen statues come to life. A few figures shambled near Death Queen, and Protector assumed that they had to be some of her zombies.
This was going to be tough.
“Hang on,” said Ion. “I’m calling backup.” He pulled his personal cell phone out of his belt.
“Who?” asked Protector, “Wildside, Inc.? I don’t think we can afford them. Rigel doesn’t have her cell on her when she’s in costume, just her communicator.”
Protector looked down. The communicator screen said “Software test in progress.”
“Hi,” said Ion with a big smile, “it’s Ion. Remember when I asked for your number in case of an emergency. Well, Solaria, Freedom Squad needs backup at the park. It’s going to be rough. Get here fast… oh, Snowfall? Sure, bring him too. See you soon.”
Protector was going to say something about the protocol of getting the personal number of someone who was trying out for the team, but this wasn’t the time. Defiance had seen them.
“Out of the van, now!” ordered Protector.
Ion and Rockslide didn’t question him, and Protector dove to the side, just as Defiance crashed into the van, knocking it across the park into a large tree. Defiance floated over them, his red cape billowing back behind him. “Freedom Squad,” he spat.
“Ion, Rockslide, go deal with the others. I’ll handle Defiance.” Protector raised his shield.
Electricity crackled around Ion’s fists. “Yeah, Protector, that’s a great idea. How about we stay here and take advantage of our local numbers instead?”
Rockslide slammed a granite fist into his hand in agreement with Ion.
“Fine,” said Protector.
Suddenly, Starlight floated down beside Defiance, his own black cape billowing in the breeze. “Excuse me, but do you have car insurance? If you do not, I will inform you that in fifteen minutes, your insurance could be compared…”
Defiance punched Starlight in the chest hard enough that Protector felt the shockwave. The alien flew backward dozens of yards until he finally crashed into the ground, spraying dirt into the air.
“Where is the mayor?” he demanded.
“Defiance,” said Protector, stepping forward. “I’m the Protector, and I’m asking you to surrender.”
Defiance landed in front of Protector. “I knew the Protector, and you are not worthy to hold that shield.”
With that, Defiance pulled back his fist and struck the Shield of Justice. A ringing noise filled the park, but Protector held his ground.
Ion unleashed a blast of electricity. Sparks flew over Defiance’s body, but they seemed to have no effect.
Rockslide made a scraping, grinding noise and threw himself into Defiance. The former hero fell backward, buried by the earth elemental. Rockslide reformed and smashed Defiance over and over. For a moment, Protector thought that Defiance might be defeated.
Then, Rockslide went flying straight up into the air.
Protector held his shield more tightly. “Ion, try to distract the other villains. Run around them. Make something up, but I’m going to try to convince Defiance to help us.”
“That’s a terrible plan,” Ion said, looking at Barrage, Death Queen, the zombies and the massive Golem, “although, only Barrage looks fast. I’ll do my best.”
Defiance pulled off his mask and wiped dirt from his face. He looked angry. “Do you know who you serve? Do you know who is pulling your strings? Did it ever occur to you that there is a reason that your team was assembled?”
“I know why my team was assembled. We are going to protect the citizens of Megalopolis.”
“No!” said Defiance, smashing the shield again. A feeling of déjà vu came over Protector. He wondered if Defiance might get tired like Uberdude had.
As the former hero continued to swing, Protector somehow found a way to block each blow with his shield. He wasn’t sure that Defiance would tire. The power behind each of the blows was staggering. The Shield of Justice dispersed such impacts, but Protector still felt the shock of each of these punches pass through him. Though the shield was obviously protecting him, it seemed to have reached its limit.
“You aren’t worthy to hold that shield,” shouted Defiance. “You were put up to this, weren’t you? It’s all part of his plans. You are a fraud.”
Alex tried not to listen and think about what he could do in between impacts. Defiance was a brawler with exceptional speed and power, but he wasn’t a martial artist.
Protector turned his shield as he was hammered with yet another blow, and he managed to throw his powerful foe off-balance. Protector risked a quick leg sweep, and Defiance fell even if only for a moment.
“We don’t have to do this,” said Protector. “Listen, I don’t know what you are talking about, but if we could discuss it perhaps I could help.”
Defiance responded by rising in the air and hurling himself at Protector, who somehow managed to dodge the attack. Defiance stopped in the air and turned back to his opponent.
“You can’t keep this up. You can’t win,” said Defiance.
Alex checked his grip on the shield. Defiance was right. Alex couldn’t keep this up, but he was going to try.
“I’m going to keep this up,” Alex said. “I have to. I’m the Protector.”
Defiance roared at him.
The next morning, Rigel was in the Monitor Room reviewing as many files as she could. Starlight stood quietly behind her, observing.
“May I be of assistance in some manner?” he asked.
“Do you know anything about magic or the Death Queen?”
“Yes, the Death Queen is the code name used by the super-villainess Monica Black, a reputed necromancer with the ability to animate and control the dead. Most notably, she was involved in yesterday’s prison break when a guard suffered a heart attack in the vicinity of her cell. Before a medical response team could reach him, she is believed to have used magic to reanimate him. As for the nature of magic, I believe that it involves quantum and extra-dimensional events which remain inexplicable to your species. Quantum fluxes do cause issues with my systems however.”
“Not bad, Starlight. You already seem to be better than your predecessor. Death Queen made sure that a powerful villain known as Golem broke free, and then, she released Defiance. Once he was free, everything went crazy.”
“I am aware,” he said coldly, or rather flatly. There was no emotion in his voice. He was rather like some Hollywood robot.
“Well done, Starlight.”
“Thank you, Rigel. Would you prefer for me to call you Cori in the base?”
Cori looked over at him, seeing that strange mask and feeling strange inside. It was more than the featureless mask that bothered her. It was his thoughts. She couldn’t read them. He was something unknown, something that she couldn’t explain. He wasn’t human.
“Am I bothering you, Rigel?” he asked in his flat tones.
She wasn’t even sure how Starlight talked.
“How familiar are you with human behavior?” she asked.
“I require more data,” Starlight said.
“You might want to watch some television, and you probably should call me Rigel.“
“Excellent suggestion. Thank you, Rigel. How is your query proceeding?” he asked.
“I’m not finding anything significant on Psionicist.” She sighed. Dossiers on Psionicist showed on multiple screens. No family, no identity, no information on his powers except for media reports and nothing to help her. Even HeroNet had nothing of value, and they always had information on heroes.
“Nothing,” she repeated.
“That in itself may be a worthwhile observation. I will now watch some television.”
Cori paused and considered Starlight’s statement. She looked back over Psionicist’s information. There was nothing significant, but he was currently in a coma in a hospital in New York. He might not be conscious, but perhaps she could reach him.
She picked up her communicator, even as she looked over some information on the jailbreak. “Protector? Are you available for monitor duty?”
“Yes, Rigel, of course, but what are we doing about the tryouts?”
“Oh, they are delayed for a day or two. We need to track down some of these villains who escaped. Listen, I’d like you on monitor duty if you don’t mind. I trust you, and I think you’d be a good choice to watch and coordinate everything. I have some investigating to do.”
“You shouldn’t go alone.”
“True. I’ll take Nightstar with me,” she said.
Less than an hour later, she and Nightstar had flown from Megalopolis to New York via Freedom Flyer and were answering questions from hospital security.
Nightstar adjusted his mirrorshades as they exited the Freedom Flyer into a bright New York City morning. “So, let me get this straight one last time, you got flight authority into New York pushed through because you think that Psionicist can give us some insight into capturing Defiance.”
“That’s right,” she said, trying not to look amused.
Hospital security approached.
“Look, I think I know what you are going to do, Cori, and I’m not sure about it,” Nightstar whispered.
She looked at him, feeling strangely close to him, and noticing those shoulders of his beneath his black bodysuit. “Please trust me,” she whispered back.
He nodded and looked over at the hospital security personnel in their dark blue uniforms.
“G’day,” said Rigel, stepping forward and extending her gloved hand. “We’re from Freedom Squad.”
“Why do you wish to see Psionicist?” asked the man in front, who seemed to be the head of security.
“Defiance, the man who put him into this hospital, escaped yesterday,” said Rigel.
The man cleared his throat and looked over at Nightstar for validation.
“Yes,” said Nightstar shuffling with slight discomfort, “like Rigel, the team leader of Freedom Squad, the new one in Megalopolis, just said, it has to do with Defiance. The exact reasoning is classified.”
“Understood, Nightstar, sir,” the man said.
Cori rolled her eyes. “Thank you for clarifying my statement, Nightstar.”
The hospital seemed like any other hospital, other than the extra security guards and a number of cameras. Rigel couldn’t help but notice the number of cameras. “This would be perfect for someone like an Ace of Spades.”
The smell of rubbing alcohol and cleaning supplies filled the air. Loudspeakers made announcements and nurses quietly discussed their charges. As Rigel and Nightstar walked through the halls behind the head of security, conversations stopped and everyone grew quiet.
“Hello, everyone,” said Nightstar, “Don’t mind us, we are just here to pay our respects to a fallen hero.”
Cori hoped that no one would ask Nightstar for his autograph.
The guards in front of Psionicist’s door checked their badges. Fingerprints and retina scans were checked before they were allowed to enter.
A thin pale man lay in a hospital bed hooked up to monitors with a feeding tube. There was a nurse in the room, a man who looked like a backup linebacker for the New York Giants. “Nightstar?” he said. “It’s an honor.”
The nurse came over, “I’m Gabe Lincoln. My kids won’t believe this.” He offered his hand, and Nightstar took it.
“Good to meet you,” said Nightstar. “How’s Psionicist?”
Gabe shrugged and looked over at the man in the bed. He went over and adjusted the sheet. “He doesn’t change. You know that they don’t even know who he is.”
Rigel swallowed. “I know.”
“Yeah,” said Gabe, “This has to do with Defiance escaping, doesn’t it? He did this to Psionicist.”
“Mr. Lincoln, could we have some time alone with Psionicist?”
“Sorry, I stay, short of getting an order from the President. It’s for medical reasons.”
Rigel nodded. “I’m going to try and help him.”
Gabe Lincoln raised his right eyebrow. “What? Are you some kind of mutant healer?”
“No,” answered Rigel, “I’m a telepath. I’m going to try and talk to him. He has mental powers, like me. I can’t imagine being like that. And if he can help me apprehend Defiance, then all the better.”
“Whoa,” said Gabe. “I’m not sure.”
Nightstar stepped over to the foot of the bed, with Rigel on one side and Gabe on the other. “Watch his monitors. This is the best hope he has. Trust me. She saved me with her telepathy one time.”
Gabe paused, but there was something about Nightstar that convinced him. “Ma’am?”
“Yes?” said Rigel.
She smiled. “You just make sure that I don’t hurt him.”
Rigel closed her eyes and reached out with her thoughts. She could “see” the room without her eyes, from the glowing mind of Gabe Lincoln, to the bright shining light of Nightstar shrouded by faint wisps of the darkness imprisoned inside him, to the faint glow of the man lying on the bed.
She felt as if she flew into Psionicist’s soul.
His mind was shattered. She envisioned it as a ruined city, dark and twisted beams of metal stretching for her, broken glass scattered over shattered pavement and everywhere, dark smoke rising into the air. She flew through the ruins, searching for light and truth, trying to find him.
“Psionicist, my name is Rigel. I’ve come to help you. Are you here?” she thought.
She heard a faint weeping sound. She willed herself to fly toward the sound, uncertain of what she might discover – a shattered and incomplete individual, a fragment of a dream, a subconscious remnant of his youth? Whatever it was, she hoped that she could help him.
She saw him, sitting at an intersection, huddled in a woven blanket. She landed in front of him.
“No,” the man cried, “no, no, no, no, never.”
He looked up at her with wide eyes. He was a thin man, Hispanic perhaps, in his early forties. Although she could understand his thoughts, she knew that they weren’t in English. He was angry and scared.
“Who are you?” she asked, not coming too close to him.
“Carlos Jorge Hernandez Ruiz.”
She knelt down within arm’s length of him. “What do you know about Psionicist?”
“He is a nightmare that I have, a nightmare that I can’t escape. He took over my life.” He reached out toward her with shaking hands. “Are you real? Can you take me home?”
She took his hand. “You’ve been hurt. Please tell me what you know about Psionicist.”
“I was trapped here. He controlled me. He spoke with my body. He saw with my eyes. He is there.”
Carlos pointed to a dark smoke-filled alley next to what appeared to be a burned church.
“He is there!”
Rigel put a hand on his shoulder. As reassuringly as she could, she said, “I’ll go over there. I’ll find him.”
“Are you an angel?”
“No,” she said, “I’m a superhero.”
She stood up and walked over to the alley. Something about it frightened her. Her stomach twisted, and she felt her pulse beat in her neck. She took a few yoga breaths to calm herself, breathing in through the nose and out through the nose. She reminded herself that nothing she saw was real, just telepathic images. While Carlos might be afraid, she had no need to worry.
She stepped into the alley. “I’m Rigel of Freedom Squad,” she said, placing her hands on her hips. “Come out.”
A strange sound echoed in the alley. It was a sound she didn’t recognize, a sound like a fan, but lighter and sharper, like pages in a book being turned slowly.
“I am Psionicist,” came a voice.
Rigel folded her arms across her chest and tapped her right foot. “No, I don’t think so. Prove it.” She reached out as best she could with her telepathy, trying to look beyond the scene that she found herself in, trying to look deeper.
“There’s a letter for you. Not for Carlos, but for you,” said the voice.
A sudden chill came over her, and she shuddered involuntarily. An envelope rested at her feet. She bent down to pick it up, and as she did, the sound became louder. She ripped it open and reached inside.
Everything around her had a dreamlike quality to it. She had entered a dark smoke-filled alley, but there was light and no smoke. She drew the contents of the envelope out with two fingers. It was a playing card.
The Ace of Spades.
“Now, we are going to find out how powerful of a telepath you really are,” said the voice, and this time, it came from inside her head.
“The Ace of Spades doesn’t exist,” she said.
“You don’t believe that,” the voice replied, “you know I exist. That’s why you are here.”
“Carlos isn’t Psionicist. You set him up. You set up Defiance.”
The entire world was spinning around her. Shapes were losing their form. It was as if she were caught in the eye of a tornado, complete with howling winds. She felt as if she were being swept away from Kansas, and somehow, she knew that what was happening was far worse than that.
She was being swept away from her own mind.
“It doesn’t matter,” replied the voice, the voice that she knew came from the Ace of Spades, “because you are staying here with Carlos. I left a little surprise for lesser minds that might meddle. This, I’m afraid, is a trap built for someone like you. You made a psychic connection, and those work both ways.”
Rigel felt her heart pounding. “There’s one mistake you’ve made, Ace or whatever little mental construct that the Ace left for me.”
“I’m part of a team,” she said. With every fiber of her being, she thought, “Nightstar!”
However, she didn’t know if Nightstar could hear her. There was someone closer. “Carlos!” she shouted. “Help me fight your enemy. I’ve found him. Carlos, if you can, he’s here.”
“No, he can’t be defeated,” replied Carlos.
“Yes, he can! Carlos, I need you to try,” shouted Rigel. “Nightstar! I need you!”
She hoped that Nightstar could strike her with his psychic blade, knowing that if he broke her telepathic connection to Carlos, she’d be safe. But, if Carlos could help her…
“I am here,” announced Carlos. The huddled scared man was standing tall beside her.
“Thank you,” she said. “Listen, this is your mind. I don’t care who or what the Ace of Spades is. This is your mind. I need you to drive him out.”
“But how, I don’t have the strength. He controlled me, made me pretend to be Psionicist.”
“I understand,” she said, “but I will give you strength. Take my hand and wish with all your heart, with every fiber of your being that the Ace of Spades is gone and that you want to wake up.”
“Carlos,” said Rigel, screaming to be heard over the maelstrom surrounding them, “I need you to do this. I need you to believe.”
“For you, my superhero, I will do my best.”
The howling of the whirlwind stopped, as did the other noise, which Cori now recognized as the sound of a flipping playing card just on a grand scale.
“You can’t win. Carlos cannot defeat me.”
Rigel squeezed Carlos’ hand. “Yes, he can,” she said, and with that, she focused her energies through him. “Drive him out Carlos. Take back your mind.”
“YES!” yelled Carlos.
The ruined city shattered in a burst of light. The playing card in Rigel’s hand caught fire. She caught her breath.
“You did it. I’ll see you when you wake up.”
With that, the world faded. Rigel glimpsed a hospital room as she lost her balance and nearly her consciousness. She waited for the impact on the floor, but instead, she felt Nightstar’s strong arms around her.
“I’ve got her,” Nightstar said.
“Superhero…” said a weak rasping voice from the hospital bed.
“He’s awake,” shouted Gabe. “She did it.”
“Rigel, are you okay?” asked Nightstar.
As she thought about the Ace of Spades, she shook her head no.
“What is it?” he asked, sounding concerned.
Her mouth felt dry. She heard Gabe open the door and shout for assistance. Carlos was mumbling on the bed.
“That man isn’t Psionicist. We need to get back to Freedom Squad before….”
She swallowed and telepathically answered Nightstar, not wanting to speak. “Before the Ace of Spades finds out what we’ve done.”
I’ve been busy recently in my writing life working on Cursed Necropolis: Washington, DC, but in the meantime, I’m having some much needed upgrades done on the website. The banner above has changed and includes the cover art for HeroNet Files, a superhero anthology that includes a story that I wrote, along with my fellow Blue Oranda authors, Wayland Smith and Dara Hannon. Speaking of which, Dara Hannon’s urban fantasy novel, Broken Faith, is also currently free on Smashwords this month with the same coupon as Souls of the Everwood.