HeroNet Files Story Excerpt
Here’s a draft of the first section of my story in HeroNet Files. Enjoy!
Ten Years Ago
Trapped in an underground cavern, the hero Orion struggled to free himself from the arcane bonds pinning him against an obsidian monolith. He strained both his muscles and his mind, as his psychic powers tried to unravel the evil magic that held him captive. He didn’t have much time. His archenemy, Doctor Inferno, had already completed the first part of his unholy ritual.
The super-villain paused from his castings and floated over to regard his black-clad caped nemesis. When they had first met, Orion’s hair had been as dark as his uniform, but now, it was as white as the starry constellation pattern on his chest. Of course, Inferno had not changed, at least in appearance. He still wore his tattered purple robes and his skeletal features remained wreathed in hellfire. So many years they had fought, but now, it would come to an end. Despite himself, Doctor Inferno was determined to explain to Orion how he had finally won. He wanted to savor this victory.
“So, Orion,” Inferno rasped, “you can keep trying to find a way to use your mutant mental abilities to defeat my sorceries, but you will fail. Your old team is gone. They were smarter than you. They retired. There is no Citadel of Justice to stop me. No, my old enemy, there is only you, and you are trapped and bound.”
He paused to savor Orion’s glare. Rubbing his skeletal hands together, Inferno continued. “I’ve summoned the Eternal Darkness, a mystical energy source capable of unraveling your world. Think of it with your scientific mind as a black hole unleashed upon this precious planet – a black hole that I will command. It’s coming, and nothing you can do will stop it.”
Orion forced confidence into his voice. There was hope, but he needed time. Perhaps if he spoke long enough, the bonds would break. Maybe help would come. “We’ve done this before, Inferno. You’ve always failed, and I’ll find a way to beat you again.”
Doctor Inferno made a harsh sound that could have been a cough. “Don’t delude yourself. You know that even your science dictates that I should triumph. You call it the law of averages. You defeated me what, six times?”
Doctor Inferno clenched his fists. “Fifteen?” He hissed and coughed again. “Truly? Fifteen! Fine! So, you’ve defeated me fifteen times. Fine. But this time, we are buried in a lair underground, shielded by so many mystic protections that no one can find us.”
Orion smiled. “I found it.”
Inferno’s skull flames flared with his anger. “Yes, you did. You always find people. That’s why you call yourself Orion, because you hunt down injustice. I’m used to it. I knew you would be here, but I have trapped and defeated you. And when the Eternal Darkness comes to me, I shall make you its first victim.”
“You’ve lost, Inferno.”
“How can you say that? I could kill you now. I could win anytime I want. You are helpless. I’ve won.”
“Watch,” said Orion.
At that moment, a twisting tunnel of light formed in the center of the ritual circle. Four figures in costume landed on the stone, ready for action.
“Who dares?” shouted Doctor Inferno. “What madness is this, Orion?”
“New Citadel, attack!” shouted one of the figures. He wore a black costume with yellow flame designs on his gloves and boots and a yellow exploding star symbol on his chest. He threw his cape back behind him with a flourish and ignited a brilliant golden energy blade which reflected off the mirror shades that he wore even in the darkened cavern.
“I was planning on it, Nightstar. Let’s see how Doctor Inferno handles his balance being disrupted,” said a young woman with a domino mask wearing a unitard covered in kaleidoscope of colors.
Nightstar didn’t pause to reply. “Clone, find a way to free Orion. Blazar, help Spira with the evil doctor. Let me know if nuclear energy can overwhelm hellfire.”
Without waiting for Blazar, Spira soared toward the roof of the cave and pointed her hands at Doctor Inferno. The air rippled around the super-villain.
“Foolish child, do you think that you can disturb the sense of balance of one who has traveled realms beyond your ability to comprehend?” said Doctor Inferno. He responded to her attack with a bolt of flame. A crackling field of electricity formed around her, diverting the fire.
Spira looked first at Orion, then around the cavern. She was as surprised as Doctor Inferno. “Where did that come from?” she whispered, even as she used her flight to dodge another flame blast.
While Dr. Inferno focused on Spira, the living nuclear android, Blazar, unleashed his fusion bolts with a roar. However, as they reached their target, a glowing mystical shield deflected them. Realizing the potential danger to his teammates, he activated his control rods to absorb the radioactive blasts into himself. He would be able to fire again in 52.17 seconds, but he calculated a 70% chance that he would be too late to determine the outcome of the battle.
Clone, the man able to be in two places at once, divided and sent his second self, Clone 2, over to Orion, using his genetically enhanced reflexes to leap across the pools of magma, while his first self, Clone 1, moved underneath Spira in hopes of catching her if she fell out of the air. Before Clone 2 could reach Orion, a rocky humanoid erupted out of the ground between him and the world’s most powerful psionic hero.
“My rock elementals should easily thwart any chance you have of saving Orion,” laughed Doctor Inferno.
With a deep rumble, two more rock elementals rose from the ground to join the first.
“Nightstar, we have a problem,” said Clone 2 as he prepared to dodge giant stone fists.
“Is this your plan, Orion? These young heroes? Are they the replacement for your Citadel of Justice? Perhaps one of them will survive to tell the story of your defeat… that is, if I leave anyone in the world for them to tell.” Doctor Inferno laughed maniacally. “What do you think? Should I leave someone to record my triumph?”
There was no answer. Orion was gone. Only the mystical bindings remained.
“No!” screamed Doctor Inferno. “That’s impossible! He can’t have escaped.”
Nightstar spun his sword and seemed to cut a hole in reality which he stepped through, only to step out where Orion had been a mere moment before. He stood defensively in front of the obsidian monolith.
Doctor Inferno now knew what was happening. Orion was invisible.
“You didn’t put this team together, did you, Orion? It was your old teammate, that gadgeteer lad, Poltergeist. I should have known from the girl’s electrical force field. Have you grown up now, kid hero? Gathered your own team of youths? Well, you think of me as a master of fire, but the flames of hell burn cold as well as hot. Ice of Nevermelt, freeze my enemies and bring an end to this.”
1.03 seconds to power, thought Blazar as his systems shut down. Frost covered his body. Ice encased Spira, and she fell toward Clone 1. Perhaps by reflex, Clone 2 summoned his other self, before Spira’s ice block smashed him. Nightstar became a frosted statue and the outlines of another figure in gray and black armor appeared beside him, with one hand touching Orion’s chest in an attempt to share an invisibility field.
Only Orion remained untouched, just as Inferno had wanted.
“Very clever. It was Poltergeist. He’s old enough now to mentor these young heroes. Trying to pass on a legacy, Orion? How did they find me?”
“I’m sure if you try to think about it, you can figure it out. I’ll let you try twenty questions if you’d like.” Orion furrowed his forehead, trying to find some last reserve of psychic power. He was still trying to stall. He looked at the frozen body of Poltergeist, and thought to himself, “Good try, Daniel. I knew that you might one day be the best of us.”
“It is over,” pronounced Doctor Inferno. “The Eternal Darkness is here. I can sense it. I now call it to me!” He raised his hands and more flames erupted from his skeletal fingertips.
Orion focused on the evil mastermind. He had to make mental contact with Doctor Inferno. Despite the bonds, maybe he could fire a single psychic blast and still disrupt this terrible ritual…
Suddenly, Nightstar appeared in the air beside Doctor Inferno, no longer frozen. Before he fell, the young hero struck the super-villain with his blade.
The sword was psychic energy and though it did no physical damage, the thrust disrupted all of Doctor Inferno’s spells, including the one that sustained his physical form. Orion’s greatest enemy screamed, a terrible agonizing psychic scream that Orion felt in the deepest sections of his mind, echoing over and over. The mental feedback made him scream louder than his nemesis before falling to the floor, no longer held by his mystical bonds, unconscious.
Nightstar twisted in the air and landed in a crouch on his feet.
Doctor Inferno’s empty tattered robe landed beside him.
“Orion! Sir, are you okay?”
There was no response. Nightstar was beside him in an instant and put a hand over the man’s heart. He felt a beat. Orion was breathing, and his heart was beating. Nightstar ran a gloved hand through his hair.
“Nightstar, step back. I’ll check him,” said Poltergeist. Nightstar’s mentor, the former kid sidekick of the original Citadel was moving again. Poltergeist carefully checked Orion.
The freezing spell had broken.
“My uniform feels terrible,” shouted Spira.
“What happened?” said Clone.
Orion opened his eyes. He looked from Poltergeist to Nightstar. “Nightstar. Is that right?”
“Yes, sir, that’s me. Doctor Inferno is gone.”
Orion laughed softly. “Nightstar, you just saved the world. I’m not sure what went wrong with Inferno’s spell, but I won’t argue. Good teleporting too,” said Orion with a smile.
Behind that smile, the older hero had come to a realization.
Poltergeist spoke. “Nightstar’s the team leader. He’s the one that located you and his teleportation to bring us here, though I wish the young man had given me more warning.”
Nightstar adjusted his shades. “There was no time,” he said flatly.
“He’s right,” said Orion. “There was no time. He did well.”
Poltergeist nodded. “He’ll need more training. They all will. Just like you trained me, but I agree, old friend, they did well.”
Orion closed his eyes. He didn’t want to say anything. He worried that if Nightstar knew what had truly happened, the young hero might not forgive himself. Orion had made contact with Inferno at the moment of Nightstar’s psychic sword strike. The psychic backlash had quieted Orion’s mind. The thoughts of everyone around him were silent for the first time since his childhood. He wondered if his mind would stay this way. If so, his days as a hero were over. To his surprise, Orion felt a great sense of relief.
He sat up with Poltergeist’s help and regarded the young team staring at him in awe. They would protect the innocent from threats like Inferno.
It was time to hang up the cape.
“As for me,” said Orion, “get me back to your base, let me heal, and then, I have a special lady waiting for me.”
Three days later, Corey Dandridge parked his car in the driveway of his townhome in Sydney, Australia. He had wanted to live his normal life as far away from the United States as he could, where few super-villains bothered attacking. He had chosen Australia.
The media was abuzz with word of Orion’s retirement announcement two days ago in San Francisico at the headquarters of the Citadel of… well, actually, New Citadel, he reminded himself. It would subside soon enough. Maybe he would write a memoir one day.
As for now, there was someone he hadn’t seen in far too long. He unlocked the door and went inside.
“Li? You’re free! I’m home,” he shouted to his housekeeper.
“Dad!” came an excited yell. A blonde-haired twelve-year old girl raced into the room and threw her arms around him. She started crying.
“Corinne, are you okay?”
“I just missed you, so badly. I was worried, really worried, and I needed you. I needed you a lot.”
Li slipped through the room, taking her pocketbook and the roll of bills that Corey handed her.
“Goodbye, Cori, and Mr. Dandridge,” she said. She gave a smile and then left the father and daughter to their reunion.
After the door closed, Corinne released her father. She wiped her eyes.
“What is the matter with you, young lady?” he said softly. “You haven’t cried like this when I’ve been away on business since you were six.”
“That’s because I thought you were away on business, Dad, not fighting for your life against Doctor Inferno.”
Corey froze. “What?”
“Don’t try, Dad. If you are wondering how I know, well, something’s happened.”
With that, she raised her hands in the air. All of the furniture in the room lifted a foot off the floor. In his mind, Corey Dandridge heard his daughter’s voice.
“I need you to teach me how to control this.”