“How could you?” shouted Cori’s dad. “You let all those people in the mall die.”
Cori looked around. She was at home in Australia, a place that she hadn’t lived for years, but she was Rigel and in costume. “No, Dad, this isn’t you. I’m in my own mind being attacked.”
She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned. A black-gloved fist slammed into her jaw. She fell to the ground with the taste of blood in her mouth.
The Ace of Spades stood over her.
“You think I’m afraid of a fistfight?” she asked him.
“No,” he said, drawing a pistol from his belt, “but you’ll be traumatized by this.” He pointed the gun at her father and fired three times.
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The mayor rubbed his temples. He couldn’t believe what had happened. He was inside Freedom Squad Headquarters in Protector’s room sitting in a chair. Protector was lying in a bed only a few feet from where he was sitting, and Starlight stood over him.
“What just happened?” asked the mayor. “Defiance was about to crush me. Now, I’m here?”
“As mayor of this fine city, you should know that you are in safe hands. The noble heroes of Megalopolis are currently outwitting the foul villains outside,” stated Starlight flatly.
The mayor stared blankly at Starlight.
The mayor stood up. “Starlight, how did I get here and please use standard English?”
“My apologies, sir. Velocity brought you. I am to defend you if the battle goes poorly, however, it appears that Freedom Squad has triumphed.”
“Who is, no, wait, by Velocity are you being scientific or… never mind, I need to make a call. Afterwards, I want a full explanation from Rigel,” he looked over at Protector. “What happened to him?”
“I believe it was the work of a super-villain known as the Ace of Spades.”
“Fine, Starlight, stay here with Protector. I’m going to have a talk with Rigel.”
The mayor stepped out into the hallway and began walking toward the front. As he walked, he typed a single word text into his encrypted phone. “Nuclear.”
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“Last night, Freedom Squad may have been saving lives, but this reporter wants to know where Protector and Rockslide were? Are they recovering from injuries in their battles with Defiance, Death Queen and the other villains rampaging through the city? And in the meantime, progress continues slowly on cleaning up the monument to the original Freedom Squad. But first, news from the Northwest, where the hero team Vanguard defeated one of our escapees…”
Rigel turned off the morning news broadcast and put her boots up on one of the consoles in the Monitor Room. She groaned softly. “Why does the press have to be so difficult?” she asked no one in particular.
Rockslide rumbled beside her. He sat down heavily on the floor.
“I know,” Rigel thought to the massive stone superhero, “And I’m sorry, but you are a little hard to disguise.”
“I know,” he sadly thought in reply.
“Besides, you’ll have Starlight around if things get out of control, and you know what you need to do,” she thought back to him.
“Protect the Protector,” he thought back. “And put on a good show.”
“Right,” she responded. “Now, remember, what we are about to do is rather mad, but I need you to make it look good. I’d also like you to trust me with something. I want to alter your brainwaves slightly. Basically, I’m trying to make you less susceptible to mental attack. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Ace of Spades tries to do something to you once he figures out my plan.”
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Matt Johnson sat in a tired old recliner and stared at a feature article about up and coming American Olympic athletes. His photo was in the middle of page. He was holding a medal in one hand and wearing his Penn State colors.
That all seemed to be gone now.
He kept wondering how it had happened. Was it the diet? The training? Had someone slipped something in his drink?
The speed was one thing, but he had broken his own weight lifting record without breaking a sweat. He felt indestructible. He also felt healthier than he ever had. It was as if some magical genie had given him everything he had ever wished for when he was training.
And that meant he would never be allowed to win an Olympic gold.
The doorbell buzzed. Angrily, he got up. The reporters were wearing him out. It was late enough that he could be asleep. He wished that the whole thing had never happened. Stupid other coaches started going crazy. Coach Hudson, his coach, hadn’t said anything. He just seemed sad.
The last look Coach Hudson had given him stung him. It was betrayal along with dashed dreams, mixed up in a confused whole.
The doorbell buzzed again. “I’m coming,” Matt said, doing his best to move slowly.
Swinging the door open without checking the peephole, he didn’t know what to do when he found himself face to face with Rigel and Nightstar of Freedom Squad.
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Protector was asleep. More importantly, he was alive.
Rigel knew that Dr. Lord was going to stay at his bedside, and that whatever the Ace of Spades had done, Alex’s mind was doing its best to heal. She wanted to try and go into his head, but she convinced herself that she needed to trust that the best thing for him was to let him heal.
Whatever the Ace had tried to do, it had failed.
There were other matters that Cori needed to address. She was determined that she was going to redo the code on the Freedom Squad servers and create the world’s greatest firewall. The Ace of Spades wasn’t going to get into their systems again. Afterwards, she was going to check every log file imaginable and determine how the Ace had accessed their systems. She sat at a keyboard with her hands folded under her chin as she watched code flash by on the monitor. The keyboard beeped as it tried to keep up with the speed of her telekinetic typing.
Daniel Hunter came up behind her. She mentally sensed him before she saw him. He seemed a little shaken by the attack, but he was otherwise okay. Like everyone else, he was more concerned with Protector. Though, at this point, she knew that he was worried about her. He had been a team leader in the past, and he had been the one who had supported her when she decided to join Freedom Squad.
Daniel put a hand on her shoulder. In a gentle voice, he said, “I can do that.”
“No,” she said. “This is my responsibility. The mayor even told me to do it. There was an error with our security system before the cameras showed Protector convulsing. I should have taken care of this. Someone’s been accessing our systems. I’ll let you follow up and check the log after I’m done. If there’s another crisis, I’ll even let you take over, but for right now, I’m going to catch the person who’s been causing all the trouble.”
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“Touchdown!” said Ion. “This is your captain speaking, the Freedom Flyer has landed. Please return your tables to their upright positions and deplane before the bad guys get here.”
Cori breathed a sigh of relief. The jolt was from the landing. The doors of the Freedom Flyer opened and the team quickly disembarked.
“We should hire a pilot,” suggested Ion.
Rigel was busy trying to watch the top of the Megalopolis Tower, seeing if she could spot Nightstar. There was a light flashing, which had to be his sword. The light suddenly faded as what appeared to be smoke billowed around the base of the restaurant.
Nightstar’s thoughts filled Cori’s mind. “Death Queen and lots of baddies… slicing out of here with Polt, hope he’s ready… oops… park’s a bit out of my range.”
Rigel saw Nightstar appear in the sky holding on to Daniel who was now in his gray and white Poltergeist armor. They were hundreds of feet up. Nightstar thought, “Need to adjust for altitude when I’m figuring out distances… Daniel!”
Poltergeist grabbed Nightstar by the arms and was carrying him through the air. A bright red and white comet streaked toward them.
“No!” she said and launched herself in the air, hoping she could get close enough to telekinetically stop Defiance before he hurt Nightstar and Daniel. Unlike Nightstar, she didn’t have any issue calculating speeds and distances, and she knew that she wasn’t going to be anywhere close when Defiance hit them. Mentally, she yelled to them, “Activate Daniel’s force field or teleport or something… Defiance is coming!”
Nightstar’s thoughts flew back. “Not enough power. He’s going to hold me and I’m going to try and swing. Maybe my sword can take him out.”
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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.
(Just more of this year’s Nanowrimo Story – very raw, but still enjoy!)
About a hundred yards away, Ion was dodging missiles and doing his best to exchange fire with Barrage. She was a high-tech villain, and Ion kept hoping that somehow his bolts would be able to fry her circuitry. Golem and a pair of zombies shambled after him. Death Queen would raise her hands and launch a bolts of some kind of cold darkness at him, but up to this point, she hadn’t hit him, and he’d managed to keep everyone busy.
Ion could see Protector struggling against Defiance, but he didn’t have the ability to get over to help Alex. Poor Rockslide had come back down to earth and was lying in a heap near a pond. “C’mon big fella,” said Ion, “don’t lie there until a bunch of kids start climbing on you.”
The police had tried twice to start advancing on the villains, but they didn’t have the firepower or the armor to stand up to Barrage and Golem. The Death Queen was protected as well by some kind of mystic force field.
However, Ion gave the cops a fist pump as a few of them took down the zombies. “Great job, Megalopolis’ finest.
Unfortunately, Ion was getting tired.
He glanced up at the sky, hoping to see a blaze of light. Maybe he’d see a shiny Freedom Flyer racing to land. Instead, he saw what looked like a rogue fogbank flying down at him.
“Aaahhh!” came a man’s voice from within the cloudbank. Then, the fog crashed in front of Ion.
“What is the world is that?” asked Barrage , who stopped firing at Ion in her surprise.
Ion couldn’t blame her. He wasn’t sure what to make of the mysterious cloud.
A man in a blue and white costume with snowflake patterns stumbled out of the cloud. It was Snowfall. “I don’t really fly well. I’m still working on it.”
“Too bad you’re not going to be around long enough to learn,” said Barrage.
Snowfall raised his hands and ice coated Barrage’s armor, snuffing out her rocket jets. She fell onto the grass with a thunk.
“Hi, Ion, sir,” said Snowfall, “I am very good at putting people in their own personal ice cubes, however. Maybe you can teach me to fly.”
“I can’t fly,” said Ion.
Golem was running at them.
“I can move out of the way of big things. What about you, Snowfall?”
Snowfall extended his hands and the ground in front of him was suddenly covered in ice. The ice patch spread out growing larger and larger. “How’s that?”
“Um, not bad, but it makes it hard to run.”
Golem hit the ice and slipped, falling forward and sliding toward Ion and Snowfall.
“Uh oh,” both heroes said at once.
“Ice Wall!” said Snowfall, furrowing his brow as a wall of ice grew into the air to block Golem’s sliding body.
Ion tried to run, but the ground was too slick.
With a crash, Golem went through the newly-formed ice barrier, shattering it, before knocking Snowfall and Ion sideways.
Ion moaned as he picked himself up off of the wet ground. Barrage was standing beside him, steam coming from the surface of her armor. “Snowfall’s not really with us. He’s just trying out. Maybe we can talk?”
“Fortunately, Ion, you have two things going for you,” she said.
“Oh?” asked Ion. He tried to summon up enough of a charge to zap Barrage, but the steam, the water and his general fatigue were making it difficult. He needed to stall. “What are they?”
“First, my primary weapon systems are offline. Second, you make me laugh. So, I’m not going to kill you,” she said.
“That’s reassuring,” he replied. There still wasn’t enough charge, just a few sparks on his fingertips.
He saw her armored kick coming, but there was nothing he could do about it.
To his surprise, Ion realized that he was still conscious, though he was having some trouble seeing and could easily imagine little cartoon birds flying around his head. Pain ripped through his insides, but he could still move. “Something to be said for electrically-enhanced physiology,” he muttered. “Okay, Ion, remember, Protector said to keep them busy. Solaria should be coming, after all, Snowfall’s here, right? The cops are around. Somebody’s going to turn the tide of battle.”
With a thump, Snowfall landed beside him.
“Looks like you are out cold,” said Ion, who realized that he was on his hands and knees. Despite himself, he chuckled. “Out cold, get it?”
“These two are done,” said Barrage. “Shouldn’t we help Defiance?”
Death Queen gave an evil laugh. “Help him? He should be finished with that fool with the shield any moment. However, the mystical protections that are keeping the police at bay won’t last forever. I think the mayor has escaped us. Still, we’ve sent a message. Golem, if Ion keeps moving, step on him.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” said Ion. “I’d leave a big stain.”
Ion considered several things, including the chances that Rigel and Nightstar would appear, where the heck Solaria was, whether he might be able to come up with some crazy plan like using whatever ice was left on the ground to send electricity cascading in all directions without killing Snowfall, and how if he survived this, he would definitely design a utility belt. He took a little solace as none of the options except the utility belt seemed to have a chance that at least he really did make Barrage laugh.
“Would you let me surrender?” he asked, risking a glance at Protector.
Alex was still standing, gripping his shield. Blood was coming from his nose, and he could taste it in his mouth. He was determined to keep standing. Defiance paused.
“Why don’t you fall down?” Defiance asked him.
“I told you,” said Alex, as he stood on legs that felt like rubber. “I’m the Protector.”
“Perhaps you are. Your predecessor would be proud. I’m sorry about this. One day, you will understand. Still, you impressed me. You don’t have his presence or experience, but you have the same sort of heart.”
“There’s something that I have that he didn’t,” said Alex, “something that might make me better than he was.”
“What’s that?” asked Defiance incredulously.
A blast of energy struck Defiance with enough power to send him flying in the direction of the other villains and Ion.
“I have a team,” said Protector.
Starlight was at his side. “My apologies, Protector. I had not properly compensated for his initial attack,” said the alien.
“Stop them, Starlight.”
“Are you certain that you do not require immediate medical attention?”
“Stop them,” spat Protector, as he did his best to remain on his feet. He was determined not to fall.
Starlight flew over to the other villains, a radiant light shining from him. “I apologize if this is not communicated correctly. Attention, villains, criminals, arch-fiends and evildoers of Megalopolis,” he said in his flat robotic tones, “Please surrender yourselves to the nearest Terran authority.”
“Who is that?” asked Barrage.
“Powers of Darkness, I command you to snuff the light of life from this… Starlight,” said Death Queen. Black screaming tendrils snaked up toward Starlight.
Ion took a deep breath, then made his move. Rather than risk a blast, he grabbed Snowfall and ran with every bit of speed he had over to Protector.
“Whoa,” he said when he reached Alex, “you are a mess. Can you still hold that shield?”
Protector straightened up and raised the shield to defend Ion and Snowfall as well as himself. “Yes,” he said in a tone that scared Ion.
The tendrils swirled around Starlight.
“Quantum flux detected, indicating power recognized as magic by Terrans. Compensating with quark emissions,” he stated. He emitted a glow from his hands and the tendrils vanished.
Ion had just breathed a sigh of relief with the tendrils reformed.
“Difficulties in compensating for quantum fluxes noted,” said Starlight.
Defiance suddenly flew into Starlight striking him with a thunderous impact. The alien hero crashed into the ground, digging another crater into the soil of the park. This time, he flew back into the air.
“Compensation protocols successful,” stated Starlight.
Barrage had apparently fixed her weapons systems as she unleashed a hail of laser bursts into Starlight. Her attack seemed utterly ineffectual. “I repeat, please surrender yourselves to the nearest Terran authorities, or I shall…” he paused, “… find one of the good citizens of this fair city to conduct a citizen’s arrest, as being an alien, I do not have the authority myself to arrest you. Rules are rules, as you know.”
Ion laughed and held his ribs in pain as he did. “Next time, remind me to show him something different.”
Protector didn’t look amused. “See if you can wake up Snowfall. Where’s Solaria?”
“I have no idea, and I will. Has Rockslide moved?””
“I think so,” said Protector, “but I’m not sure how well he’s going to be able to fight.” Protector swayed slightly and then caught himself.
Defiance floated in the air in front of Starlight. He looked in the direction of Protector, Ion and Snowfall, then over to the rubble of Rockslide, which was definitely reforming.
“It’s time to kill them and make them into my undead slaves!” shouted Death Queen.
“No!” said Defiance. “No killing. You all agreed. The mayor isn’t here. We’ve made our point. Let’s go.”
He flew down next to the other villains. Death Queen gestured and then all of them were shrouded in dark mists. The mists dispersed and the villains were gone.
Police poured into the park, followed by a platoon of reporters and cameras.
“We did it,” said Ion.
Protector looked around at the shattered statues, “I don’t think we won.”
“Alex,” said Ion softly, “We survived.”
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.