After what felt like an eternity, Cori clambered out of the tube. She wondered if she had briefly drifted off to sleep. As the air hit her, her skin felt slightly sticky. Solaria had been right. A second shower was a requirement after spending time in the healing tubes.
Dr. Lord handed her a warm towel. She wiped off the residue from the tube. Strangely, she felt surprisingly clean afterward. She wondered if she had been wrong about the second shower. When she touched her hair, she decided that Solaria had definitely been right.
Nightstar was gone. She looked around, slightly surprised that he had left.
“Dr. Lord?” she said.
“Cori, call me Jake.”
“Okay, Jake. Where did Nightstar go?”
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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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Good news! I’m over 40,000 words. No real bad news other than I need to post a bunch of chapters. Here’s Chapter 14:
Stacy King checked the GPS coordinates she had received from Rigel. She stood in a grove of trees in the Appleton Mall Park, and she seemed to be alone except for a flock of Canada geese who were trying to get to sleep. The sky was dark, and she didn’t see any sign of a flying superhero.
She was starting to get nervous. Superheroes usually didn’t like to be late.
The entire jailbreak played out in her head. She had been studying it since it took place, trying to make sense of everything.
The super-villain wing of the Megalopolis Penitentiary was not meant to be permanent, but rather a temporary solution until a more permanent holding facility was completed in Nevada. Still, state-of-the-air technology was used, including neutralizer bracers, Ultracite alloy bars, etc. Although it had been suggested that robots replace humans as guards, the technology wasn’t advanced enough to be even remotely affordable (not that Ultracite alloy was affordable) and of course, there were fears of cyberattacks. The guards were well-trained and for the most part, competent.
Unfortunately, one of them had died in the wrong place, at the wrong time. She hoped the autopsy would come back sound. George Nelson, age 54, could be seen walking past a few cells one minute, before suddenly collapsing the next. It had been a massive heart attack. Basically, his heart had exploded. The autopsy had confirmed it.
He had died within sight of Death Queen’s cell. Security wasn’t meant to stop a necromancer with access to a dead body that had access to open her cell.
Once the door had opened, all hell had broken loose.
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More writing… Chapter 13 continues
An alert blared. “Unauthorized personnel at front gate,” announced the computer.
Solaria could be seen standing at the front gate, flames swirling around her. She had her arms folded in front of the sun symbol that she wore on her red bodysuit. Snowfall was clearly recognizable standing behind her and to the left, despite the fact that he wore a black trenchcoat over his costume and a black hat on his head.
Telekinetically, Rigel activated the front intercom. “7… 8… 9…“ said Solaria while flames crackled in the background.
“Solaria, this is Rigel. What are you doing?”
“It’s about time. We need to talk, and don’t I get a ‘G’Day’?”
“Sorry, it hasn’t been a good day. I’ll let you both in and meet you at the front door, assuming you’ve passed all the scans,” said Rigel. “Oh, and stay on the sidewalk. The grounds have mines.”
Rigel clicked off the intercom.
“I can talk to Solaria, if you’d like,” offered Ion with a grin. “I don’t mind.”
“I’m sure you don’t. Fine, you can come.”
After Solaria and Snowfall passed retina scans and made it up the sidewalk, Rigel and Ion greeted them at the front door to the mansion. Solaria was no longer projecting flames, but she seemed irritated enough to do so.
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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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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.
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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“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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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.