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Part 12 – Freedom Squad Nanowrimo (long one)

Okay, this is a long section and my personal favorite part of the book so far. Like everything else, it needs a solid rewrite and I’ll work on getting it polished for publication later. As always, I’d love any comments, thoughts, feedback, etc. I’d especially like to thank my old Champions groups with an extra shout to Wayland Smith, Mr. Gambino and Jeff Smith for some of the inspiration.

Chapter 12
Protector had run all the way to the Monitor Room. When he sat down in the central chair, he felt strangely tired. His skin seemed warm, and he felt flushed. Maybe Dr. Lord had been right to keep him off duty.

He watched the Freedom Flyer take off on the roof camera. Despite how he felt physically, he wished that he could be with the others. It was what he was supposed to do.

He was the Protector.

With a heavy exhale, he tried to replay the battle in the park in his head. He considered how he might have been able to stop Defiance. Perhaps if he had maneuvered in front of a shattered statue of one of the heroes of the original Freedom Squad, it might have triggered something in Defiance’s mind. There was a hero still inside that angry caped man in red and white. He had ordered the villains not to kill Freedom Squad. He had tried to talk to Alex about the Protector, Defiance’s Protector.
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Part 11 – Freedom Squad Nanowrimo

Chapter 11

“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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Part 10 – Nanowrimo Freedom Squad

Chapter 10

An afternoon of concentration had yielded nothing on Defiance. Cori sat in lotus position on the floor of her bedroom and continued to project her mind, attempting to sift through the thoughts of thousands of people at a time without disturbing any of them.

In many ways, the experience was similar to diving to the bottom of a pool and holding her breath. She would concentrate, telepathically send her thoughts out, shift through as many minds as she could, brushing against them ever so gently. When too many thoughts touched her mind, she’d have trouble sorting and discerning them. It would feel like she was drowning, so she’d come up for air and open her eyes.

A picture of Melbourne hung on her wall, or rather the Puffing Billy Steam Railroad, outside of Melbourne. Nightstar had once asked her why she didn’t have a picture of the Sydney Opera House on a wall or Uluru if she wanted something to remember Australia. She had finally purchased and framed a picture of the Sydney Opera House and put it on the opposite wall.

The truth was that though she had spent a lot of her life growing up in Australia, she was an American. Her father had gotten worried that one day his enemies might find out that he had a daughter, so he had spirited her off to Australia. She learned later that she had almost grown up in New Zealand instead, but apparently as a toddler had gotten very excited when she saw a kangaroo at the zoo.

Little Cori liked kangaroos, therefore, she had to grow up in Australia.

However, she had her US citizenship and had certainly spent a lot of her time in the States growing up at her dad’s house in San Francisco. She had always wanted to go to university at Stanford or Berkeley. Being a child genius, she had attended both by age 16. Now, all she had of Australia was a slight accent that she cultivated and the occasional “G’Day”.

She wondered if she sounded more like an American steakhouse commercial than an Aussie.

The picture of the railroad caught her eye again. It wasn’t really a picture of Melbourne or beautiful Victoria (because she would have chosen the beaches), but it was a picture about her father taking her to celebrate a day about a kid’s tank engine and riding on the train with his little girl. She loved her dad, and she missed him.

She was thinking about calling him and waking him in the middle of the night, when Starlight contacted her on the communicator.

“Rigel, I have received a strange message. Could you please come to the monitor room?”

“No worries, Starlight. On my way.”

She found herself wondering if Starlight was misinterpreting a news broadcast or possibly a mockumentary. She imagined that it would be hard to be an alien surrounded by modern American media sources.

Strangely, she decided that Starlight was growing on her.

When she reached the Monitor Room, she said, “So, Starlight, what is it?”

“That,” he said simply and robotically, pointing at a large monitor screen with the image of a playing card showing on it… the Ace of Spades.

“It appears to be a malfunction. I am unable to remove the image.”

Rigel felt her blood run cold.

A soft male voice spoke, “Hello, Rigel.”

“Fascinating,” stated Starlight. “The auditory message was timed with your arrival.”

“I don’t think it was timed, Starlight… G’Day? Is this the Ace of Spades?”

There was silence for a second.

“Such a poor question from such a brilliant mind. I suspect that you had quite the experience with our friend, Carlos,” said the voice.

Rigel tried to mentally contact Starlight, but she didn’t seem to be able to link with him. His alien thoughts were too strange for her. She wondered if he might be a robot of some sort or at least, some type of artificial being. She reached out to Nightstar.

“Nightstar,” she thought, “the Ace of Spades is talking to me in the Monitor Room. Make sure the team is ready.”

“Sure, JR was helping me with some engineering issues with the Night Cycle. We’ll contact Rockslide and Protector,” he thought back.

“Not Protector,” she responded. “Doctor’s orders for Alex.”

“I hope this will be the first of many talks for us, Rigel,” said the Ace of Spades. “But you need to leave soon.”

“What? Why do I need to leave?” she asked.

“Oh, I think you are going to want to visit your friend Daniel Hunter before Defiance gets to him. After all, maybe he’s me. Oh, but as Daniel says ‘The Ace of Spades doesn’t exist’, so I suppose you can ignore this warning if you’d like to… Cori. Goodbye.”

“Wait!” Cori said, but the image on the screen fell backwards and began spinning, flipping and growing smaller until it became a point of light in the center of the monitor. A second later and Doppler radar scans from the Megalopolis airport appeared on the screen.

“Excellent,” said Starlight. “I was hoping that a flying villain, such as Defiance, might display on your Terran radar systems.”

Rigel was barely listening. She knew Daniel. She could reach him telepathically. “Daniel!” she shouted.

“What is it?” came the return thought.

“Defiance is coming. Get your suit on. Now! We are on our way.”

“I’m at the Top of the World restaurant on the Megalopolis Tower having a late lunch/early dinner.”

“And I know you have your suit in your briefcase. Go. You don’t have much time,” she thought.

Telekinetically, she hit the alarm. Setting her communicator on full broadcast, she announced, “This is Rigel. Protector to the Monitor Room. Everyone else to the Freedom Flyer. Hurry!”

As she ran to the Freedom Flyer, she contacted the Megalopolis police. “This is Rigel of Freedom Squad, please evacuate the Top of the World restaurant. We have reason to believe that a team of super-villains is about to attack.”

As the team got into the Freedom Flyer, a terrible thought struck her. What if they were being set up and the real attack was coming to Freedom Squad Headquarters?

“Here we go. Hang on!” shouted Ion and they launched.

They soared across the city. “Using the hovering engines so we don’t crash into any skyscrapers,” announced Ion.

Nightstar activated his psychic blade. “So, how do we know there’s an attack coming?”

“The Ace of Spades informed Rigel of the attack on Daniel Hunter,” stated Starlight.

“Who’s Daniel Hunter?” asked Ion, as he made a left turn past a bank.

“He’s Poltergeist,” said Rigel.

Nightstar stood up.

“Nightstar,” said Starlight, “I wish to advise you, old chum, that you should remain seated while the Freedom Flyer is in motion and wear your seatbelt. I understand that they may be inconvenient or uncomfortable but they are one of the greatest safety inventions in the modern era.”

“Thanks, Starlight,” said Nightstar nonchalantly. “I figured it was the conversation with the Ace of Spades. Cori, how do we know that we aren’t being manipulated?”

Rigel stood up to face Nightstar. “We don’t, but how can I take that chance, Nightstar?”

“Excuse me, Rigel, but as I advised Nightstar…”

“Not now, Starlight,” said Rigel and Nightstar in unison.

Nightstar adjusted his mirrorshades. “Okay, we are about to engage in battle on top of the highest building in the United States.”

“My apologies, Nightstar,” said Starlight, “but both the Willis Tower Building in Chicago and One World Trade Center in New York are considered higher…”

“Understood, Starlight. Nightstar, what are you thinking?” Rigel asked.

“If they are after Daniel, we need to get him out and let them know about it. You locate him mentally, project the location to me telepathically, and I’ll teleport in, grab him and get out. I’ll head to the roof so the bad guys can see me. It won’t do us any good if the villains think he’s inside the restaurant. In the meantime, Cori, since only you, Starlight and Ion… wait, Ion, do you fly?”

“Only Freedom Flyers,” he said. “I can’t fly.”

“Right,” said Nightstar. “Everyone else, land in the… park I guess. I want to avoid as much collateral damage as possible. I should be able to teleport that far, though it will be a strain. Cori, make sure Daniel knows I’m coming too.”

“Talk time is over,” said Ion. “I’m hovering outside the restaurant.” Ion waved through the front windshield.

“Ion, waving is illogical. The windshield is tinted,” said Starlight.

Rigel sent out her thoughts to Daniel, explaining the plan as quickly as she could. He was in the men’s room trying to get his costume on. She projected the location to Nightstar, who wasted no time cutting a hole in reality with his psychic blade. In a flash of yellow and red light, he vanished.

“Don’t say anything, Rigel. I’m heading to the park,” said Ion.

Rockslide made a rumbling noise that sounded distinctly like a groan.

As Ion banked the Freedom Flyer, Rigel nearly lost her balance for a second. She telekinetically caught herself and levitated off the floor.

“Again, I recommend seatbelts,” stated Starlight.

Rigel shook her head as she watched the green of the park fill the windshield. She telepathically projected. “Nightstar, you will let me know what’s going on and if you and Daniel get into the least bit of trouble.”

“Will do,” responded Nightstar. “I’ve got him. We are outside. He’s getting his power packs activated, and I’m waving this brightly colored psychic sword of mine around and making it flash rainbow colors. Defiance is bound to see us.”

Cori felt a sudden chill. Something bad was about to happen. Nightstar sensed it as well.

“Something bad is about to happen,” thought Nightstar.

Rigel felt a sudden jolt.

A very dated picture of Rigel :)

A very dated picture of Rigel 🙂

Part 6 – Nanowrimo Freedom Squad

Chapter 6

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.

Part 5 – Nanowrimo Freedom Squad

Chapter 5

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.

“Good luck.”

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.”

“What’s that?”

“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….”

“Before what?”

She swallowed and telepathically answered Nightstar, not wanting to speak. “Before the Ace of Spades finds out what we’ve done.”

Day 4 Nanowrimo – Freedom Squad (a little late)

Chapter 4

Daniel Hunter was awake when Cori’s call reached him. “Hello, Cori,” he said.

“Are you on an encrypted line?” she asked.

“Do superheroes have any unencrypted lines?” he replied with a chuckle.

“True. Okay, what do you know about Defiance?” she asked. Cori felt a twisting worry in her stomach. She paced around her room, walking back and forth at the end of her bed. As much as she tried to reassure herself that Daniel was a technical genius and a former superhero, all she could think was that he was over forty and a normal human. “You should probably be wearing one of your Poltergeist suits.”

“I’m fine, Cori, and I’m not worried. You should do some of your yoga. It’ll help relax you.”

“I’m ignoring the yoga suggestion for now. Seriously, Homeland Security warned me that Defiance might go after you.”

“If he does, I’ll let you know. Listen, Cori, I knew Bill, I mean Defiance. He was a good hero, a little hot-headed, but he was a good hero.”

Cori paused. Her father had always said that Daniel Hunter was an excellent judge of character. There was also something strange in Daniel’s tone, almost melancholy.

“Daniel, what happened to Defiance?”

It was Daniel’s turn to pause. Cori wished that she had the video-conferencing feature activated. She wanted to see Daniel’s expression.

“He made a terrible mistake. He attacked a group of cosplayers, and he couldn’t accept what had happened. I suspect Psionicist tried to use some type of mind control on him, and Bill didn’t take it well. In the end, he surrendered. He just knelt over Psionicist’s body mumbling the same thing over and over.”

“What was he saying?”

Daniel sighed. “He kept saying, ‘He was the Ace of Spades,” like it was a mantra. I think he was trying to convince himself. I had to do it.”

“Daniel, who is the Ace of Spades?”

Daniel cleared his throat and forced a sad chuckle. “Cori, there is no Ace of Spades. There’s no such thing. He’s a myth, a fairy tale, a story that criminals tell to scare each other. When things go wrong, crime lords blame the Ace of Spades. He’s solo operatives, like the hero Argent, or other criminal organizations who disrupt plans and cause issues that criminal organizations don’t anticipate. He’s a bogeyman that master criminals blame for their own failings.”

“Wait,” said Cori, “I thought he was a criminal, not a hero. Why would he be something that criminals would be concerned with? And what is the myth that criminals like to tell each other? Who do they believe he is?”

Cori kept thinking about Agent King. Stacy believed in the Ace of Spades. She had wanted Rigel to know that she believed in the Ace of Spades.

Cori reminded herself that she needed to get used to thinking of herself as Rigel and not mentally refer to herself in the third person.

“Slow down, Cori. First, if he existed, which he doesn’t, he is definitely supposed to be a criminal. Criminals fear competition more than they fear heroes. Most of us obey laws – villains don’t. As far as the myth, it can be convoluted, but generally, he’s supposed to be a genius, usually a hacker and/or engineer who either was arrested as a youth or forcibly recruited by a major criminal organization, something like Dr. Inferno’s cults. As the story goes, he learned everything he could from the criminals he associated with until he was ready to break out on his own. He then used his abilities to steal, scavenge, salvage and take over operations built by other criminals. He’s reputedly untraceable, a phantom, a nearly virtual entity with resources now on the scale of a major corporation or small country. Think of him as a ‘shadow government’ or other conspiracy theory organization in the form of a single individual.”

“Someone like that would be incredibly dangerous,” she said.

“That’s true, except for one thing,” said Daniel.

“What?” asked Cori.

“He doesn’t exist,” stated Daniel.

“Right. I know. I’m just trying to understand what Defiance might be thinking and what he might do,” she said. She didn’t like lying to Daniel, but if the Ace of Spades did exist, he might be able to monitor her communicator or Daniel’s line, even if it had been encrypted by Poltergeist.

She glanced around her room, noting the various security cameras and thinking about the number of security scanners that ran throughout Freedom Squad Headquarters. What if someone could use them to watch her?

“Daniel, could we get together for lunch sometime? I miss you. We could even meet somewhere as Poltergeist and Rigel.”

“Sure,” he said, “but no costumes. I’m retired. Send something to my scheduler.”

“Will do. Thanks, Daniel.”

“Cori, one last thing,” he said, “be careful.”

“No worries,” she said with a smile that she didn’t feel. “Bye, Daniel.’

“Bye, Cori.”

She sat down on her bed, debating about whether to mentally command her costume to shift into something more relaxing. Her head still hurt.

“Off,” she said aloud, letting the costume flow off of her. She needed to sleep.

She climbed into bed, lay down on her pillow and closed her eyes. As she drifted off, she imagined that somewhere the Ace of Spades might be real and be watching.  As she cautioned herself not to be paranoid, she slipped into a restless sleep.

Nanowrimo Day 1 – Freedom Squad

So, here’s my first day’s effort at Nanowrimo. It’s just a touch over what you should average a day to finish on time. However, I tend to start slowly in the month and as I get to know the characters and the plot becomes clearer in my head, the writing accelerates.

This is a sequel to an as yet unpublished story originally slated for HeroNet Files Vol. 1, but now appears ready to come out in a later book.

Freedom Squad: Defiance

Chapter  1

In Megalopolis, the gleaming self-proclaimed “City of the Future”, the members of Freedom Squad were on mandatory duty to host an important event. Corinne Dandridge, Cori to her friends, but better known to the world as Rigel, projected her thoughts to Nightstar. “Hurry up, we need to begin the tryouts.”

She waited at the edge of the team gym for Nightstar’s inevitably delayed response. She sighed. He never seemed to be on time for anything.

“Rigel, have I mentioned what a bad idea I think this is?” Nightstar thought back.

“Yes. About thirty times by my count,” responded Cori, “but it’s what the mayor wants. I need you, get up here. What are you doing?”

“Sorry, I was working on the Night Cycle.”

“The Night Cycle? We have a Freedom Van, Freedom Cycles and a VTOL Freedom Flyer.”

“Well, now we have one less Freedom Cycle and a bonus Night Cycle. Don’t worry, I can pay for it if the government budget people get mad.”

“Get up here.”

“No worries,” he replied, partially imitating her Australian phrases.

Cori folded her arms across her chest as her last thought echoed in her brain. She wondered why she was still the team leader of Freedom Squad. She could have left.

She looked over at Alex, known to the world as the Protector, in his blue and gold, holding the Shield of Justice. As she heard the passion in his lecture about what it means to be a hero, she knew why she was still the team leader of Freedom Squad.

With a sense of guilty pride, she thought, “This is my team.”

Alex paced back and forth with the ease of a panther. He looked so much like a superhero, like the Protector. Cori wondered what the former heroes who had carried that mantle, the ones that Alex always worked so hard to honor, would think if they could see their successor. Alex didn’t think he had any real powers, and he always seemed to be trying to prove himself. Yet, when he was the Protector, when people needed him, Cori found herself hoping that she could be half the hero he was.

As Protector spoke to the recruits while Cori watched for their reactions, and she could see that they shared her own admiration for Alex. The only one that she couldn’t gauge was Starlight, an alien who the government had agreed to assign to Freedom Squad. He had no face, just a reflective featureless white mask that hid some type of advanced circuitry comprised of energy… maybe. He had come to replace a former malfunctioning alien named Star Sentinel. Cori was a genius, but she had no idea what to make of Starlight other than he was from a far more advanced civilization.

She focused on the other recruits, trying to study them and separate worthy candidates from unworthy ones. She wished that she could just read their minds. It would make things much easier.

Ion yawned beside her. He was the newest member of the team, and the only candidate who had proven himself from the last one of the mayor’s tryouts. Half of that group didn’t even have super-powers when it came time to test, and the other hero who had seemed worthwhile, a man who went by the name “Secret” had balked when he had found out that he needed to reveal his identity to the government.

“I like the woman in red,” Ion quietly whispered to Rigel.

The group of a half dozen would-be members of Freedom Squad included a tall woman with brown hair in a form-fitting red uniform with a yellow sun on it. Her codename was Solaria. She could fly and project flame.

“She’s not bad based on her energy outputs, but she’s new to being a superhero. We’ll see how she does after Protector runs her through the paces.” Rigel said, “Besides, Ion, she comes with her partner, Snowfall,” Rigel indicated a young man in a blue and white uniform with patterns that reminded her of snowflakes, “or not at all.”

“She’s with him?” whispered Ion. He sighed and shook his head. “That’s too bad.” He smiled, and Rigel wasn’t sure if he was being serious or not. Ion did have a mischievous touch to his personality, which Cori rather liked.

Protector walked over to the door of the simulation chamber and checked the settings. He looked over at Cori. “Rigel,” he asked, “may I start the combat testing?”

Cori tossed her blonde hair over her shoulder and stepped forward with a swish of her white cape. “I’d like to wait for…”

A bright yellow flash cut through the air. A crack seemed to form in the fabric of reality itself, and Nightstar stepped through, twirling his sword composed of psychic energy. He wore a black bodysuit with a bright yellow set of boots, gloves and a bright yellow belt. A brilliant yellow and red exploding start was emblazoned on his chest. He adjusted the mirrorshades that he always wore and gave a smile to the recruits.  “Hello, everyone. I’m Nightstar.”

Solaria grinned and clapped, and so did Snowfall. One of the recruits, who went by the codename Wraith simply said, “Wow.”  Freefall, a recruit who apparently hadn’t had the resources to give himself a full costume as he wore a black shirt over a Kevlar vest, jeans and a trenchcoat with a cheap domino mask, just stared. The only one who didn’t seem completely impressed was the alien Starlight. Rigel had to keep reminding herself that he wasn’t the same person, or being, or entity, or whatever as Star Sentinel.

Nightstar gave a bow with a flourish of his cape to more whistles and cheers. Nightstar was the team member with the most experience as a hero and a reputation as part of the famous West Coast team, New Citadel. She knew that he didn’t want to be team leader, but he naturally seemed to command attention. “I’m looking forward to see if any of you can make the team.”

He walked over to the recruits like a celebrity and started shaking hands. Rigel rolled her eyes. In a few minutes, Nightstar would be signing autographs.

“Whoa… Nightstar’s on this team?” whispered Ion in false incredulity. Rigel nearly giggled despite herself.

Protector came over to Nightstar. “I was about to have them start in the Simulation Chamber.”

“Sounds good, Protector,” said Nightstar, stepping back. “I’m just here to help with the evaluation.”

A woman in green, who went by the name Chameleon, raised her hand. “Nightstar, sir,” she said, “could I have your autograph after the testing session, even if I don’t make it?”

“Oh my god…” thought Rigel. “She actually asked him.”  She made a mental check against Chameleon in her head.

Nightstar adjusted his mirrorshades, but before he could reply, Rigel strode over and interjected, “No. We aren’t doing autograph sessions. This tryout is about finding new members to join Freedom Squad. Megalopolis is a big city and after battling menaces like Promethea…”

Rigel paused mid-sentence and glanced at the ceiling. She had a sudden feeling of danger. As if in response to her hesitation, the alert blared.

The Freedom Squad computer announced, “Alert. Priority One Alert. Code Tartarus.”

“Ion,” said Rigel, “get upstairs and get the Freedom Flyer ready.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Ion, instantly serious. With the smell of ozone and a faint blue afterimage left behind, he raced upstairs.

“Sorry, everyone,” said Nightstar, “but the tryouts are over. We have an emergency. If you will all come with me, I’ll teleport everyone out of here.” He spun his sword and cut a rent in the air. The glowing tear hung unsupported over the floor. Nightstar reached out to Chameleon, and she took his hand with a happy gasp. “Everyone hold hands,” he said.

All of the recruits did as they were told with the exception of Starlight. He was under orders from the US government to remain under observation at Freedom Squad Headquarters. The alien walked over to Rigel. Nightstar took the others, closing the rent with a flash of light.

“I can be of assistance, Rigel. I was sent here to aid the Terran authorities. I command cosmic energies.” The alien looked at her from his blank faceplate. It was a little eerie for Rigel to stare at him and see a vague outline of her own face reflected back.

“I’m sorry, Starlight, only members of our team can come in the Freedom Flyer. We will handle this.”


“I understand,” he responded flatly.

“Protector, let’s go,” said Rigel, as he started climbing the stairs.

He stared at her, and she could hear his thoughts. “Should we leave Starlight alone in the base?” he thought.

“I think he’ll be alright, Alex,” thought Cori. She didn’t know why, but she trusted the alien. She remembered how his predecessor, Star Sentinel, had constantly tried to warn the team that he was malfunctioning, yet no one has listened. Besides, she wasn’t sure what Freedom Squad could do to stop a fully functioning alien android from a civilization that had mastered faster than light travel.

When Protector and Rigel reached the Freedom Flyer, Nightstar was already inside. Ion had gone through the startup sequence and activated the VTOL engines. Rockslide, the massive earth elemental-like muscle of the team sat in the cargo area. “Base Lockdown,” Rockslide managed to say in his gravelly voice.

“Hey, Rigel,” said Ion, “What’s Code Tartarus?”

Cori swallowed. “It means there’s been a breakout at Megalopolis Penitentiary in the super-villain wing.”

The mood aboard the Freedom Flyer was suddenly serious.

“Wait, couldn’t Nightstar just teleport us?” asked Ion, “With his sword slash wormhole trick?”

“Too far and I’ve never been to the Megalopolis Penitentiary,” Nightstar said.

“No problem,” said Ion, “Well, then strap yourselves in, because I have GPS coordinates and the auto-pilot is ready to take us there. Megalopolis Airport acknowledged the emergency flight.”

With that, Ion pulled back on the controls. The engines screamed and launched the Freedom Flyer across the Megalopolis skyline.

HeroNet Files Story Excerpt

Hi everyone,


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.”


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