“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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When Rigel arrived at Freedom Squad Headquarters, she quickly checked the Monitor Room. Starlight stood in the middle of the chamber, his featureless white facemask reflecting the colors of the different screens.
“Greetings, Rigel,” he said without turning toward her. “I have something that I would like to say to you.”
Starlight made a strange noise. It took Rigel a second, but it seemed that he was imitating someone clearing there throat. “Rigel, with all due respect for the noble efforts of yourself and the rest of Freedom Squad in protecting the good citizens of Megalopolis, I believe that the vile stench of evil has arisen in this fair city and I wish to assist in refreshing it with the clean scent of justice.”
“What?” she asked.
“I’m sorry,” said Starlight. “I probably need to watch more television. The Protector has led me to believe that other television programs would help me assimilate Terran culture. Perhaps I should try another set of colloquialisms. Captain, despite my alien outlook and lack of emotions, I feel that it is only logical that I assist in the retrieval of super-villains from the planet.”
“Are you asking to join Freedom Squad, Starlight?”
Cori bit the inside of her cheek to avoid laughing. Starlight’s alieness somehow seemed much less threatening when he was trying to sound like a cartoon hero or a starship science officer. He had been the only one standing in the park after the fight, and the mayor had told her to augment the team.
“Starlight, welcome to the team.”
“Thank you, Cori,” he said flatly. “Live long and…” Starlight paused as he attempted to position his fingers.
“You are welcome, Starlight. Is Protector in the medlab?”
Starlight lowered his hand. “Yes, he is being treated along with Rockslide and Snowfall.”
She thanked Starlight and headed down to the medlab. She wished that she knew what to do. She wasn’t sure where Defiance could be. The team could go out on patrol, but she wondered if a team of villains would just attack Freedom Squad Headquarters.
“Nightstar,” she thought, “I’m back at the base. Any ideas on how to find Defiance?”
“Hi Cori,” he thought back. Nightstar had a natural affinity for telepathic communication even though he couldn’t initiate it. “I do have an idea.”
“Great! What is it?” she thought back with a touch of excitement. Nightstar did have the most experience of anyone on the team, she reminded herself.
“Orion, your father, was known as the greatest tracker of villains that ever lived. I’d have you reach out telepathically until you found him.”
Cori felt deflated. “Nightstar,” she thought, “I’m not as good as Dad. He had years of experience.”
“So,” thought Nightstar, “Hmmm… Death Queen would need bodies… oh, sorry, studying some crime files while I’m thinking with you. Anyway, you need to get years of experience yourself. It can’t hurt to try while we are waiting for something to happen.”
“You are right. Okay, I’ll try, but first, I’m checking on Alex, Rockslide, JR and Snowfall,” she thought.
“Who’s JR?” he asked.
“Ion. JR is his real name, remember?” she replied.
“Oh. I like Ion better.”
Cori shook her head as she ended her conversation with Nightstar as she walked into the medlab. Dr. Jake Lord, a middle-aged former superhero once known as Dr. Hurricane, was monitoring a console next to a clear tube filled with red liquid. Alex floated inside.
Although she knew about the healing tubes, it still surprised Cori to see one of her team members suspended inside one. Ion was sitting on a metal table, shirtless, with white medical tape wrapped around his torso. He was watching Alex’s tube, but also kept checking another one which was filled with stones. Cori realized it was Rockslide.
Ion looked over at Rigel, “Hey, Cori, isn’t this alien tech cool? Apparently Starlight’s predecessor gave it to us before he went loopy and got recalled. It’s like a bacta tank.”
“Yes, JR, it is.” She tried not to sound worried, but she didn’t like this. They didn’t fully understand how the healing tubes caused cellular regeneration. “How are they doing, Dr. Lord?”
“They should be fine, but I’m ending Protector’s session,” he pressed a button and the red liquid drained out of the tube. Cori could see that Alex was held in a harness and had a breathing mask over his nose and mouth. “Starlight said that he was concerned that a normal human might not be able to endure the process.”
“Why?” asked Cori.
“He couldn’t explain, but he told me that he would watch some medical shows on television to help him with the language. He kept quoting or paraphrasing DeForest Kelley while we were talking. It was amusing.”
Ion hopped off the examination table. “I’m going to have so much fun with him. Can you imagine him going up to a villain and saying ‘Make my day?’?”
“No, I can’t,” said Cori, trying not to even smile at the thought, “And we need to make sure that he doesn’t do that.”
“Okay,” said Ion sulkily.
“How are you doing?” she asked Ion.
“I’m fine. Doc Ex-Hurricane thinks I should find some time to rest. He says the ribs are bruised, but otherwise, I’m okay. I’m staying on duty.”
Cori smiled. “Thanks.”
“I’m staying on duty too,” gasped Protector as Dr. Lord helped him out of the tube.
“I don’t think so,” said Cori, walking over to him. “I saw you after that fight. You took on Defiance, and you have no powers, remember?” Her voice softened. Alex needed to be okay.
“But I’m the Protector,” he coughed.
Dr. Lord stood between Rigel and Alex. He guided Alex over to one of the examination tables. “I’m the team doctor, and I will decide who is cleared for duty and who isn’t. Ion is fine. Rockslide is fine as far as I can tell. Furthermore, he can stay in that regenerative fluid longer than a human.”
“Am I cleared? I need to help stop Defiance. The last Protector did,” said Alex.
Cori folded her arms across her chest and waited. Alex had been the first person that she had met when she had joined Freedom Squad. She guiltily remembered thinking that since he had no powers that he’d be a liability. Of course, that wasn’t exactly true, even if he believed it.”
Dr. Lord pressed a stethoscope against Alex’s chest and made him take several breaths. Cori watched Dr. Lord shine a light in Alex’s eyes. The pupils dilated.
“He’s not cleared. I want him to wait a few days.”
“I feel okay, Doc,” said Alex.
“His medical readings look fine,” offered Cori, who immediately regretted speaking up.
“He looks fine, but he’s only fine because of this technology which Starlight told me was risky for normal humans. I want to reassess him after a few days, Rigel. Protector, that means no crime fighting and light workouts only.”
“Alex, you should listen to the doc. I saw how you looked at the end of that battle. Those zombies the cops shot looked healthier. Please,” said Ion.
Alex shrugged. “I’ll obey doctor’s orders,” he said reluctantly.
“Good,” said Dr. Lord, “Now I only have one patient to worry about. You two can go.” Ion and Protector got up and left. Dr. Lord turned to face Cori.
“Me?” she asked, pointing at herself.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Rockslide. I want you to telepathically check on him to make sure that these readings showing me that he’s getting better are telling me the truth. Quite honestly, there was nothing in my anatomy class to prepare me for him, and I didn’t take geology.”
Cori concentrated. She could feel Rockslide’s thoughts. He seemed quite happy. “Are you doing well in there?”
“Oh, yeah. This is wonderful!” he thought.
Cori chuckled. “He’s fine, Dr. Lord.”
“Good. I’m going to let him out. Oh, and Rigel?”
“Call me Jake. I was a big fan of your dad in my hero days. That and Daniel Hunter always spoke highly of you.”
For the briefest of instants, Cori wondered if Dr. Lord could be the Ace of Spades. In the next instant, she decided that she was getting way too paranoid for her own good. And in the instant that followed, she had an idea.
“Sure, um, Jake, do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“Rigel, you are the team leader of Freedom Squad. I’m the team doctor. You can ask me anything you want.”
“Did you know Defiance?”
“Sorry. I knew of him, but I never met him. Why?”
“Just hoping that I can learn more about him, possibly telepathically locate him.”
The healing tube containing Rockslide swung open, and the hulking member of Freedom Squad reassembled himself. He took a few steps and looked around the medlab. “Better,” he rumbled.
“Wonderful,” said Rigel. “Well, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I’m going to be concentrating on finding Defiance.”