"Protectors of the Innocent" (Comic book-style sto

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Steve
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"Protectors of the Innocent" (Comic book-style sto

Post by Steve » 2006-02-07 03:25am

A couple of years ago (Oct.-Nov. 2003) I wrote this story as part of the larger "Mistyverse" that is popular on Spacebattles. Mistyverse derives it's name from it's primary creator, Misty (aka LT_Ryguy). It's essentially a comic-themed universe with online persons featured as characters (Misty made me the Incredible Hulk analogue of her universe 8) :P ) with a couple other comic styles, like fictional country names and such (the most popular Mistyverse story, "One Man Army", featured the African country "Nibabwe"). And because Misty is so delightfully mad, there are a few silly things too, like Alan Keyes being the President of the US. 8)

Anyway, I wrote this (you may note the timing of the story's creation runs concurrent with the running of Justice League Season 2 :wink: ) and I today figured, oh, what the Hell, I'll post it.

For those interested in the Mistyverse as a whole, here's a link to a stickied thread in SB's Creative Writing forum that lists the various Mistyverse installments and a couple other things.

Final note: some of these characters are original and not variations of online personas. Those that are variations are in many cases loyal to the original. IOW: there's a preachy Christian character, ye have now been warned! :P


And, without further ado....


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Prologue


Night was setting in on the great city of San Francisco while a woman of twenty-two years named Jane Doe walked along a sidewalk in an area linking the urban centers of the city to the residential areas. The fiery-haired orphan, given her name as an infant by a rather callous child welfare officer, was dressed in plain clothes and carrying a bag that included, among other things, books from the library for study. An attractive young woman, Jane had spent her entire life moving from one foster home to the next, until finally at eighteen years of age when she was literally kicked out of the system and left to fend for herself. Now a struggling would-be college student, Jane lived with an old schoolfriend and worked whatever jobs she could find to help pay for their basic living needs.

Beyond all of this, she hid a personal secret. Something she did not wish to reveal to others, for fear of being hated and shunned. For Jane was different from other people. She had a curse, or a gift, depending on how one looked at it. It had been three years since the morning she woke up to find her bed blacked by fire with her nightgown and sheet turned to ash. Soon afterward Jane first channeled an aura of fire that surrounded her at command, allowing her the ability to fly and to create and control flame. Jane had become a meta-human. How she had acquired these abilities was a complete mystery to her, but she knew they had to be kept secret if she desired to have anything resembling a workable life.

But Jane was a good-hearted girl. She was not about to waste such abilities when they could be used for a better purpose, so she sometimes acted as, dare she say it, a hero. Not very often, of course, life was very busy for her in general, but when she could, Jane used her abilities to protect others. It wasn't as fun or easy as some might think. She wasn't Omega Paladin or IXJac; the vast financial resources of the world's beloved superheroes were in no way available to her. Her "costume" amounted to a leather vest and pants which, in Jane's opinion, were too tight. Leather was the best she could do; all other fabrics burned up too quickly in her aura, and even leather was burned up over time. Her socks were about the only exception, as they were protected as long as the shoe was on top. She had begun wearing low-heeled socks for just that reason, as well as sneakers instead of dress shoes or usual walking shoes.

She walked from the side of a closed resturaunt toward the street when a large explosion drew her attention, and that of everyone in earshot, toward the bank building some distance down the road. Three large vans had pulled up and a chunk of the building was now missing. She could not tell how many robbers there were at the distance, but Jane could see a lot of movement. In a moment she decided to do something about this. She ducked back behind the resturaunt and into the alleyway. The bag over her shoulders came off, and she reached into one of the side compartments to remove the black leather vest and pants. First she took out the band of leather that she used for a face mask and tied it over her face, making sure the eye holes were properly aligned. She nearly tripped over herself to pull her knee-length skirt off and quickly brought up the pants, latching them into place. Her blouse came off next, revealing the leather halter top Jane wore instead of a bra (preferable should she need to activate her power without getting a chance to change, even if it was uncomfortable). Pulling the short-sleeved vest on her arms, she had barely buttoned it before Jane concentrated and her powers came alive. The aura surrounded her, lighting up the alleyway with fire, and in a moment Jane was airborne.

Coming up over the buildings on each side of the alley, Jane looked down toward the bank and raced toward it. She was overhead within ten seconds of taking off. A stream of fire left her hand and poured over the first van. It ignited and drew the attention of the robbers carrying money bags from the bank. Jane stopped for a moment and remained aloft. "Hold it, boys, this is my town. I don't like unauthorized withdrawals from our banks."
One of the men screamed, "It's a Meta! Shoot the freak!" As one the robbers hefted large assault rifles and began firing. Jane was surprised to see them so heavily armed and zipped upward to avoid fire. As she came back down, she placed her hands ahead of her as if she were diving into water and projected flames from her finger-tips. The flames covered her assailants as she leveled her flight and soared over them. She came back around and looked back just in time for more to keep firing at her.
Jane had finally noticed the emblem on their helmets. A bullseye, which she knew from the news to be the insignia of the terrorist group T.A.R.G.E.T., which as everyone knew was competent and armed enough to be dangerous to civilians and pull bank robberies but stupid enough to always fail in global domination schemes. She hadn't expected such nasty opposition and became quite afraid for a moment. She'd never been shot at. Reacting quickly, Jane soared low and poured it on, setting them on fire as quickly as she could as she swerved and moved to avoid their fire. On a couple of occasions she could almost hear the bullets whizzing by her ears.
One of the men stepped out of the bank with an RPG. He pulled the trigger on it before Jane could do anything but look his way. She came low to avoid the missile, which raced over her head and exploded upon impacting the building behind her. Jane was thrown down by the concussive force of the explosion. She hit the ground hard and had the wind knocked out of her. She thought she could hear a couple of her ribs crack and was certain they were at least bruised.

Jane looked up to see a Targeteer leveling his assault rifle at her. "Lights out, bitch," he snickered.
As the man pulled the trigger, a blast of yellow energy struck him in the chest and knocked him back. Jane watched the others look up and shout, "It's the TJF! Run!" She rolled onto her back, reaching her left arm down to feel her injured ribs, and watched Rocket Girl soar overhead and plow into three of the terrorists. Intrepid and Omega Paladin were lowered by rope from a hover-jet transport with the TJF insignia on the belly. Intrepid formed an energy whip with his free right arm and lashed out at a couple of foes, pulling their guns out of their arms. Omega Paladin pulled his sword out and jumped down, using it to slice through the muzzle of an Targeteer's AK-74 before he punched the man's lights out. Intrepid landed next and formed a massive energy pike with his right arm.

This was the last Jane saw of them. The pain in her body had sapped her strength enough that she closed her eyes and was out cold for a brief while. She opened her eyes in time to see Omega Paladin walk up beside her. He extended a hand. "May I, Miss....?"
Jane didn't know what to call herself at first. She never had a codename or nickname, she just did her thing. But here and now, she thought quickly, and her first thought was connected to her love of Japanese animation.
"Sakura." Jane's arm reached up, allowing the shining paladin to pull her to her feet. "Call me Sakura."
"Interesting nickname." Omega Paladin crossed his arms.
To his right, Rocket Girl walked up, still in full armor. She asked, "So, rookie, how long have you been operating?"
"A couple years. But, I don't do this often, just when I have the chance." Jane winced at the pain in her ribs. "I, well, I'm just a college student."
"And a meta-human." Intrepid came up behind her. "T.A.R.G.E.T. may be led by idiots, but they're still dangerous. It took a lot of bravery to stand up to them."
"To be honest, I didn't even know it was them."
"Nevertheless, you still showed courage, even if you're not living up to your potential." Omega Paladin extended a hand as their hover-jet came overhead. "Why don't you try and hone those abilities of your's? Then, in a few years, we may have a reserve spot in the Foundation for you."
"Um, thanks. Really." Jane smiled sheepishly as they shook hands. She never really expected to be offered such a thing.
"Good day, Miss Sakura." Omega Paladin pulled her hand up to his mouth and kissed her fingers. He grabbed one of the ropes hanging from the jet's drop bay and was lifted up.
"Take care of yourself Red," Intrepid added in a cheerful tone. "I want to see you showing up in a few years." He grabbed the second rope and was brought up with Omega Paladin.
This left Rocket Girl. There was no way for Jane to know what the older woman's facial expression was as she looked over Jane. "You need to get to a hospital," Rocket Girl finally said. "Four of your ribs are bruised and one may have a hairline fracture."
"Oh, um, thanks." Jane nodded at the heroine as her thrusters activated and she was lifted up to the hover jet, where she climbed aboard. Holding her ribs, Jane took to the air again to get to her bags and her original clothes. A hospital?! Who were they kidding? Jane was eating Ramen Noodles on a constant basis just to survive, she didn't have the cash for a hospital visit. But even financial concerns were handily defeated by pain, so Jane grudgingly made her way to the nearest hospital after she finished changing back into her street clothes.


Six Months Later


After the fight with T.A.R.G.E.T. and her meeting with the Truth and Justice Foundation, Jane continued to survive. The medical bills had, thankfully, been taken care of by one of her former foster parents with some cash. It had been hard to explain where she got the scrapes and bruised ribs of course, but Jane had managed.
In her spare time, Jane had tried to do as the TJF had suggested and hone her powers, but it just wasn't working. It wasn't like she could train often anyway. Even leather gave way to fire after a while, and Jane could not afford to replace her leather garments at all.
Then she got laid off when the store she was working for closed down from lack of business. Without work and with a dwindling bank account, Jane made the tough decision to try her luck with the TJF. She pooled what cash she had left, sold off a lot of belongings, and took what was left with her on a bus ride east. Her destination was New York City and the Foundation.
As the bus made it's way through Northern California, they came into the woods. Forests on all sides as far as the eye could see. It was something Jane wasn't familiar with. She stayed at the window, not paying attention to anyone else, and watched the scenery race by.

Something caught Jane's eye. Smoke was coming from directly ahead. Her senses tingled and she stood from her seat and looked ahead. The customers began yelping with fright as the realization dawned on everyone that a fire had literally popped up out of nowhere and enveloped them on all sides. The bus driver was on the radio, frantically making a report, and getting only static in response. A tree feel ahead and came down on the road, trapping them.
Jane had kept her bag with her in case she had need of changing into costume, but there was no time for this. Cursing the fact that her nice blouse and skirt were going to get turned to ash, Jane manifested her aura and went out the rear emergency door. The passengers turned to look out the door, seening nothing but flames behind the bus, while Jane flew over the top of the bus and came down in front of it. She faced the grizzled, middle-aged bus driver and his companion in the seat behind. "It's a meta-human!", someone in the bus shouted.
"She must have caused this!", another screamed.

"I'm going to clear a path for you," Jane told the driver while her blouse and skirt began to burn away, revealing her leather halter top and shorts. "Follow me!" She floated to the front of the bus and extended her arms. First she poured flame onto the fallen tree, causing it to burn to ash quickly. When she finished this Jane reached her arms out in either direction and mentally pushed the fires away from the bus. It was a strenuous task to do this and fly at the same time, but Jane managed.
When they came clear of the fires Jane gained altitude again and watched the bus go on. The consequences of her actions had become clear; they knew what she was now. Her secret was out. But there was no time to worry about that; the fire was spreading and she had to try and contain it. It was too much for Jane to mentally command, but she could cut it off by quick-burning the brush around it. She flew overhead and again reached her arms out and downward, burning dead brush and trees that would soon be claimed by the raging fire. The fire eminating from Jane was hot enough to reduce the items to ash in seconds, robbing the blaze of needed fuel.

Moving in for a second pass, Jane saw movement in the trees. Thinking it was someone who needed help, she came down toward movement and through the upper trees. Jane's eyes widened when she saw a number of black-plated robots milling around the trees. Nozzles on their right arms were pouring flame into the forest. This was no accident. This was deliberate.
Jane reached her right arm out and let flames pour from her fingertips. The fire washed over a nearest bot, a large mechanoid of at least eight feet in height, not harming it's protective layer at first. Jane concentrated and increased the ferocity of the flame until it finally melted through. The robot fell in two.
The others noticed her and turned their flamethrowers on her. The flame washed over Jane's body, drawing sweat from her light skin but doing her no harm. This was her natural element and the flame was her's to command. Jane sent the flames back at her foes, channeling them up their nozzles and causing several to explode. The rest proved some intelligence by ceasing their use of the flame throwers. One lifted his other arm and a missile appeared from one of the fingers. It launched straight for her and Jane raced toward the sky. The missile followed without pause, staying right with her.

Realizing it was a heatsaker, Jane did a number of evasive maneuvers in mid-air but with no effect. Finally she turned downward and toward the blaze. From her hands she formed trails of fire in the sky, ensuring the missile lock remained. She went back down into the trees and toward the robot that fired the missile. Her left arm reached forward and covered the robot in fire, which the missiles followed. They slammed into their progenitor and destroyed it in an a rather prominent explosion.
Twisting in mid-air, Jane faced her robotic foes again. She concentrated and cried out, flames erupting from her body and showering the strange robots. Even with their protective layer the robots could not withstand the tremendous heat from Jane's attack, and they slowly began melting away.
Jane finally stopped. The aura around her weakened and she panted from exhaustion. She had never pushed her powers so far. Her body was one massive ache. Jane was surprised that she had even begun to sweat, something she hadn't done in a long time. She landed roughly onto the ground and fell to her knees. The aura vanished and steam began to rise from her exposed back and shoulders for a few moments. Jane pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes and looked around her. The fires were still raging and her attack had probably not helped matters. She got to her feet and drew in several labored breaths before restoring the aura around her, weaker than she had evern seen it, and pulled the fires toward her. Trees were left half-burnt as the fires seemed to be drawn into a vacuum, with Jane as it's center. The flame surrounded her, being absorbed by her. Jane groaned and finally stopped, having reduced the fire's area by half. She collapsed onto all fours with another, louder groan. She was completely spent of energy.

"Wery impressive."
For the first time Jane noticed a shadow over her. She looked over her shoulder and gasped. It was a robot, even larger than the others. It had to be at least forty feet in height, as black as the others but with a number of visible weapons emplacements and a camera eye coupled with a blank "screen" for it's face and a large speaker-like grate for the mouth. "I have never seen a meta-human of your power," a Russian voice remarked. "Control and generation of fire. You vill be an excellent addition to my army."
"I... don't know.... what you're selling...." Jane stood up on wobbly knees. "But I'm not buying."
"I have vays of making you loyal to me, young lady," the sinister voice laughed. "You are as veak as a kitten already. You cannot resist."
The robot reached down for her with a massive pincer arm. Jane restored her aura and went airborne. Every muscle she had protested against her actions. Flight, once so easy, had become a strenuous exercise for Jane's over-exerted body. She dared not try to counter attack, she would have to escape. Jane turned away from the robotic behemoth and accelerated.

The robot's pincers widened to their furthest extent and a blast of blue energy erupted from the muzzle underneath. The bolt slammed into Jane. She screamed from pain and lost all of her concentration. The beam shoved her into a tree about ten feet ahead of her. The ground rushed up to her and she cried out as she made impact with hard earth at the base of the massive tree. She fell away from it onto her injured back and looked up. Bruises had begun to form on her back from the impact of the beam. Her left cheek and the front of her limbs, belly, and visible chest were marred by scrapes received from her falling down along the tree. Pushed too far, Jane's body refused to respond to her commands to move. She was in too much pain and had exhausted herself too quickly. She grunted when the robot's pincer clasped her by the waist and hips and brought her up to the robot. She looked into it's camera eye. "Who.... are.... you...."
"I am your new Master." A small muzzle appeared at the base of the camera eye and pointed toward Jane. A single beam erupted from it and enveloped her head. Jane screamed at the pain in her head. "This veapon vas built by the KGB, to deal vith defiant souls like you. Your vill no longer have any free...."

A blast of red energy sliced through the robot's pincer arm. Jane plummeted toward the ground and away from the beam that had been scouring her brain. As the ground rushed up toward her again, she suddenly stopped in mid-air. Jane moved her stiff neck upward to see a man in mid-air next to her. The boots he was wearing were lit up at the bottom, coursing with electricty. His uniform was a mix of blue and black, with a prominent white cross on his chest and another on the forehead of his helmet. Electricity was coursing from his hands and enveloping the severed pincer arm. Suddenly the pincers seperated and Jane resumed her plummet to the ground. She was startled when a man caught her. She looked up at him and realized, to her immense surprise, that it had been the driver of her passenger bus. But now a black visor was fitted over his eyes, hiding some of his wolf gray hair. "You're in safe hands, kid." The man looked up at the robot as it's other arm tried to strike the cross-uniformed hero that had stopped her descent before. His eyes began to glow and a pair of thick red energy beams erupted from them, slicing through the robot's second arm. "You owe me one, Steltek."
The man in the cross-adorned uniform, Steltek, looked back at the robot. "So, Gabooz, you got tired of being defeated all the time by Rocket Girl and the Foundation and decided to come pick a fight with the JF?"
Jane never heard "Gabooz" answer Steltek. Her head fell back as she finally lapsed into unconsciousness.


Chapter 1


There was no way for Jane to tell how long she'd been sleeping. Her eyes slowly drifted open as awareness returned to her. Her stomach began to grumble to remind her that she hadn't eaten lately. Jane sat up and looked down. Her halter top was gone. A pink silk blouse and white dress had been placed over her with more traditional undergarments in the place of her leather ones. She looked back to see she had been sleeping in a King-sized bed. She'd never seen one in person, much less slept in one.
Jane sat up and her bare feet touched soft carpet. She looked down at where the blouse bared some of her chest and neck. The scrapes she knew were supposed to be there were gone, with absolutely no trace left. Her back was free of the excruciating pain that had wracked it after she was struck by the strange robot's energy weapon. She reached for her hair, which had been combed back and arranged into a pony-tail by someone. Stepping up to a nearby mirror, Jane took a moment to get her bearings. She tried to remember what had happened to her.

She faintly caught the sound of feminine laughter, drawing her attention to the open window. She looked out of it and at a river close by. Looking to either side, she saw that she was in a rather large and beautiful-looking mansion. The sky was clear and blue, with surprising warmth for a fall day. Jane looked down at the back porch and saw a bikini-clad young woman, not too much older than she was, laying on a chair and watching a nearby TV. The dark-haired girl was admiring a muscular man on the TV. Jane's eyes widened when a blue-colored aura briefly appeared from the girl's body and formed the same man on the TV. The woman kissed the facsimilie laying on top of her, laughed, and he disappeared as soon as he had appeared.
Not quite understanding what was going on, Jane walked toward the exit of the bedroom. She was greeted by a man of Hispanic ethnicity in a butler's uniform. "Senorita," he said to her, bowing, "did you enjoy your rest?"
"Where am I?"
Before the man could answer, another voice called out from downstairs, "Alberto, please bring our guest here."
"Please follow me, Senorita."

Jane blinked. Seeing no other alternative, she followed the butler to a central room and a flight of stairs that went down into a large receiving room, complete with chairs. From there Alberto led Jane into another side room, a dining room with a ten foot long table and several chairs. At the head of the table was a man clad in a business suit, reading a newspaper. He had dark brown hair and seemed to Jane to be about six feet in height. He looked up from the newspaper. "Ah, Miss Doe. Please, sit." He gestured to the seat across the table. A breakfast meal of fried eggs and bacon had already been prepared. "I hope this will prove to cure your hunger? You had quite a workout yesterday."
"Yesterday?" Jane went toward the seat. The food was very tempting. "What happened?"
"The passenger bus you were on had the misfortune of being drawn into a scheme by a rather unscrupulous individual called 'Gabooz'. Due to your heroism, however, they remained safe, and a possibly devastating wildfire was averted." The man set the paper on the table. "Go ahead, eat."

"Who are you?"
"I am James Hawk."
Jane sat down. "As in the founder and CEO of Hawk Electronics International?"
"The one and the same." Hawk leaned forward in his chair. "Your name is Jane Doe, yes? It's not just a title?"
"Um, yeah."
Hawk nodded. "I was curious as to why your records all have that name. It seems that some child welfare officials in San Francisco aren't very good with tact."
Jane finished her first bite of egg. "You could say that."
The businessman's hands folded in his lap. "Why don't you eat, Miss Doe, and I shall explain something to you." He waited for her to resume eating before he continued to speak. "I am a man of very immense wealth. My business spans the globe. With my network of connections in politics, finance, industry, and defense, I could become a very powerful world figure. Maybe even a leader in my own right. But I choose not to. I am a man of principle first and foremost. I believe very strongly in protecting freedom, justice, and those other high ideals that so many others use as justification for whatever actions they take. That includes bankrolling those like yourself. People who use special talents, such as meta-powers, to help and protect others. Heroes, if you prefer the term."

Jane did not respond, still eating. She tried not to eat too quickly, but it was a chore. She was quite hungry. She finished a strip of bacon and asked him, "What do you mean you 'bankroll' heroes?"
"As you've no doubt learned, Miss Doe, it takes quite a lot of money to sustain yourself in life. Even more to pay for uniforms and medical aid." Hawk watched her continue to eat. "Those two individuals you met yesterday are from my team. We keep an eye on things here in Western North America, or wherever we're needed." Hawk watched her finish her meal. "Still hungry?"
"No." Jane put her hands on her lap and looked across the table at the older man. "So you have your own superhero team, huh?"
"You could call them that." Hawk held his hand out toward her. "And now, Jane Doe, I'm going to ask you to join it."

Jane crossed her arms. "So you brought me here to make a recruitment pitch."
"No, my people brought you here because you were wounded. And because there were just enough people on that bus who claimed you were responsible for the fire that, had they not picked you up, you would probably be in a military stockade right now. The Federal government takes meta-humans very seriously." Hawk's eyes narrowed. "Even those whom are not really threats."
"Yeah, I know, we're all threats to mankind and all." Jane looked away from him. A few tears formed in her eyes. "So that's it, huh? I'm a wanted girl now."
"Not quite. I told you before, I have connections in the US government. They'll leave you alone."
"Provided I join your team?"
"No. I made the phone calls this morning." Hawk grinned at Jane. "You're very paranoid."
"I'm just trying to be careful."
"A wise policy." Hawk shook his head. "No, I wasn't using that as a carrot and stick. I won't force you into anything. I want you to join completely of your own free will."
"And what will you do for me? I'm homeless and all of my money was in my bag." Jane finally brought her eyes back into contact with Hawk's blue-gray eyes. "I've got nothing."
"A home can be provided for you. Here, if you want, or elsewhere, if you desire that. I'll also give you a generous living stipend, you can spend it in whatever legitimate means you like." Hawk slid forward in his chair. "It's not always easy, but it can be very gratifying work. You will come home to a roof over your head, a nice bed, and food in the fridge. In the meantime, you will follow what you know is in your heart."

"What's in my heart?"
"You saved the bus instead of just fleeing from the fire, exposing yourself as meta-human in the process. You chose to fight the fire, and then Gabooz's robots, instead of fleeing. You've showed a great deal of potential, Jane Doe. I'd like to give you a chance to fulfill that."
Jane stared off into space for a moment. There was something in the man's words that struck a chord in her. Without a family, a history, Jane had been trying to forge her own. What better way than to join others in protecting the things she believed in? The chance for some security...
And if Hawk was as well-connected as he seemed to be...
"If I join you, will you help me find my parents?", Jane asked Hawk. "I've always wondered why they abandoned me like that. Without leaving any way for me to contact them."
If the tycoon was surprised at the request, he didn't show it. "I will."
Jane drew in a breath. "Then, yes, I will join this little group of your's. So, what do I sign?"
"Absolutely nothing. In this line of work, we have to be able to trust each other without signing contracts." Hawk stood and walked around the table to Jane's right. She stood as he came close and accepted his hand when he reached it out. "Welcome to the Justice Force."

The sound of an opening door echoed nearby. From a hallway leading outside, the young woman Jane had seen earlier walked in. The two-piece red bikini the girl wore complimented her slender and fit body, most of it showing save for the intimate parts covered by the suit. Her eyes shined a brilliant blue. "Jane," Hawk lifted a hand to point to the woman, "this is Sonya."
"Sonya Samari." The young woman flashed a pleased grin and walked toward the two. She extended a hand toward Jane. "But when we're at work, you'll be calling me Sapphire."
Jane took Sonya's hand and shook it. "A code name?"
"Of course. Don't you have one?"
"Not really." Jane shrugged and rubbed the back of her neck. "But when the Foundation asked, I told them to call me Sakura."
"Sakura? A fan of Japanese animation, I take it."
"It's a hobby."
"Of course. And we all have them." Sonya grinned sweetly. "Mine, as you can see, includes trying to get a tan while living in this dreary region." Sonya gave a sour look to Hawk, who crossed his arms. "Well, might as well get into uniform."
Jane watched with some surprise as a blue aura appeared, following the shape of Sonya's figure much as Jane's fire-aura did her's. In a swift line of transformation that went from Sonya's bare feet to her neck, the bikini was covered by a full-sleeved uniform of startling blue color with black trim on the arms, legs, collar, and waist. A gemstone emblem was etched into Sonya's uniform over her chest. "So you're a meta-human too?", Jane asked Sonya.
"Not at all." Sonya lifted a hand. "This is something entirely different. A few years ago, I found a strange pod by blind luck and it gave me this power. I have to recharge it with power bands every few days. But other than that it's pretty limitless."

"The others are downstairs." Hawk gestured to the next room. "I have business to attend to, so if you would be so kind as to give Sakura a tour of our facilities, Sapphire?"
"Of course." Sonya gestured for Jane to follow. "Come on, Jane, let me show you the others."
Jane followed the older woman out of the kitchen, through a couple of hallways, and into a parlor. She walked up to a wall and slid open a portion of it, revealing a security station with an eye scanner. She got close to it and let it scan her eye. The station screen flashed with authorization for entry. The wall beside the security panel slid open, revealing a stairway leading underground. Sonya and Jane entered the wall panel and continued downward. Five seconds after their entry, the door closed automatically. Jane looked back for a minute. "Don't worry about it," Sonya said. "The good part is coming anyway."
Jane nodded stiffly and continued down the stairway. Sonya led her to a central corridor. "Here we have storage rooms for some of the gadgets and equipment Hawk makes available for us." She gestured to one open room with single beds lined against the wall. "We also have sleeping quarters, a fully stocked kitchen, everything we would need to live down here in case of an emergency."
"Wow...."
"Yeah. That's what I thought when I first came here." Coming to the end of the long corridor, Sonya brought Sakura to the right. "Before I take you to Control, you'll want to meet the others."

About ten meters down the corridor was another room. Jane looked inside while walking by and saw it was a locker room, or something like it at least. "Showers?"
"Yeah. Private stalls, too, for us." Sonya smiled back at her. "It'll be nice having another girl on the team. I've been alone ever since...."
"Since what?"
Sonya looked off into the distance for a moment. "Nah, it's not important. This way."
The corridor ended in semi-circle, in the middle which was a chamber shaped like a square, with a massive door facing the corridor itself. Sonya led Jane through a door on the right and into what seemed to be an observation deck and control room. The chamber was larger than Jane had thought; it seemed to go at least five stories into the ground. "This is our training room. We use holographic targets for the most part." Sonya walked up to the windows of the room. "But on occasion, we have real targets." Jane did the same and looked down to see four individuals in the room, fighting multiple robotic drones.
Sonya pointed toward a familiar face for Jane: the bus driver, now wearing a full-sleeved two piece black uniform. Red energy flowed from the visor fitted over his eyes and sliced through a pair of aerial drones. Leaping out of the way of a third's laser weapon, he adjusted a dial on the side of his visor and fired again, this time with a wider beam. "You probably remember him. He is our field leader, Don Graves. His codename is Tron. Like you and the others, he is a meta-human."
"I figured after I saw the whole energy blast thing from the eyes."

"Yes, his optic beams are quite powerful. The visor acts as a lens, allowing him to change the focus of his eye beams." Sonya went to the next person, whom Jane also recognized; the man with the cross-adorned uniform and helmet. Electricity arced through his arms and through a metallic drone, which he seemed to pull with him to cause it to crash into a drone fighting with Tron. "That," Sonya said, "is Joshua Gramm, or Steltek. His powers are based on manipulation of the Earth's electro-magnetic field. He can manipulate any metallic object on the planet."
"What's with all of the crosses?"
"Josh is a very religious man," Sonya answered. "So is he." She pointed to a male with brown hair moving among targets. His uniform was plain, a long-sleeved black jacket with a V-shaped sliver of red at the neckline. A red cape flowed down from his neck. Jane gasped when she saw him fly through two drones like a ghost, causing them to collide. He gave a vicious punch to a third that sent it flying to the wall, where it disappeared, before he looked up to the observation window. He grinned at them.

Without warning, Jane felt a voice in her mind. Hello, young lady. I am Kristan. Kristan Jensen. But you may call me Provost. Her eyes widened as she watched Provost go back to his fighting. Jane looked over at Sonya, who had an amused grin on her face. "Kristan was one of Mister Hawk's first recruits. As you can tell, he is a telepath. He also possesses strength bordering on super-human, flight, and he can phase in and out to go through most solid objects."
"Wow...."
"He's also one of the most boring human beings to ever live." Sonya crossed her arms over her chest and snorted. "If Josh is an evangelist, then Kristan is a monk."

Jane looked back out into the training area. The fourth and final person was wearing a uniform with white on the arm and leg sleeves and light blue at the collar and torso areas. An icicle emblem was on the man's chest. His red-brown hair was cut short and slightly disheveled. He was jumping among targets to avoid laserfire, kicking back at them when he had an opening. Jane watched as ice began to gather among his hands. He reached out to one and ice formed around it until it finally stopped and disappeared; a clean kill. "Let me guess, he makes ice," Jane said to Sonya.
"Not just that. Iceberg may be his codename, but Mark Berger's metahuman abilities go far beyond making ice."
As Sonya spoke, Mark looked to the other drone. It began to tremble until finally it burst apart from the inside in an explosion of steam. "Mark's meta-human skill is to manipulate the physical state of dihydrogen monoxide. Or water, if you prefer the less-wordy explaination."
"And you?"
Sonya grinned. She reached a hand out and generated a cube and cylinder shape in mid-air, made of the same blue aura that hugged her body. "Some fun kind of alien power. I can use it anyway I want. I can make forcefields, energy bolts, anything so long as I keep myself charged up." Sonya chuckled. "Well, Pyrogal, this is most of the team. Let me introduce you to one last member."

Sonya led Jane out of the control room for the training chamber and back toward the main corridor. This time they went in the other direction. They eventually wound up in a large room with a number of computer screens, including one very large one. A table was in the middle of the room, with multiple seats. On the far side was a second exit. "Jane, welcome to Control." Sonya walked up to the table. "From here, Hawk's contacts filter into our computers data on every part of the world. For instance..." Sonya walked up to a side computed and tapped a few keys. Jane watched a map of the globe pop up on the main screen. It narrowed in on the Mediterrenean, south of the coast of France. A small dot appeared on the map. "One of our contacts in Egyptian military intelligence has informed us that a Libyan freighter left Marseilles yesterday, bound for Tripoli. On board are a number of illegal weapons and a few young women abducted off the streets of French coastal towns to be sold into slavery in the Sudan."
"Oh my God." Jane seemed positively horrified at the idea. "What are we going to do about it?"
"Nothing, Senorita." Another voice called out from the corner. Jane looked over to see a Hispanic man pulling himself out from under one of the consoles. He got on his feet and limped over to a control station. His hands moved as a blur over the keyboard as commands were entered as quickly as the computers were capable of receiving them. "But I am now vectoring this data in to the French Navy. They will intercept the ship in the next hour. If they do not, than I have also sent an alert to Justice Force Europe. They have more than enough time to intercept the ship before it reaches Libyan national waters."

"Jane, allow me to introduce you to Pedro Gonzales. We call him Hack."
Jane stepped up to the Hispanic and shook his hand. "Um, I'm..."
"Jane Doe. Born some time on the 17th of March, 1991. Left overnight on the doorstep of a Child Welfare office in Oakland." Hack noticed the young woman's eyes fall. He put a hand on Jane's shoulder. "You have a good heart, Senorita. I'm glad to see you chose to join us. Here, you are with family."
Jane pulled his hand off her shoulder. She replied to his warm welcome with a blank look. She knew he was trying to perk her up, but she felt as if he had plunged a knife through her back and into her heart by reminding her of an all-too-painful fact.
"So, I take it you're meta-human too, for you to be typing so fast."
"Yes, yes I am."
"Hack was once on the field." Sonya put a hand on his shoulder. "He was a founding member of the JF."
"Did you get tired of fighting?"
"No." Hack slapped his left hip. "We were fighting with Shakkara. One of her sonic screams shattered my hip and leg bones. I can no longer run, so my usefulness as a fighter is gone. But I still had my talents."
"Hack is one of the best in the world when it comes to dealing with tight security systems." Sonya smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "He's also an all-around nice guy."

"I see." Jane nodded. "So, um, what's next?"
"Clothes." Hack slapped his hands together. "Your fire aura burns your garments up, even leather ones don't last. But do not fret, amiga, for we have a solution."
"What kind of solution?," asked Jane.
Hack turned and tapped a number of keys on a control panel. The globe on the bigscreen disappeared and was replaced by a piece of fabric, along with strange symbols and numbers that Jane guessed to be chemical data. "A flame retardant uniform and, I think, some flame retardant clothes." Hack looked back at her and smiled. "Wouldn't want you to be fighting naked, would we?"
"Obviously not."
"It is a material that one of James' chemical companies created several months ago." Hack tapped keys and zoomed out to show a full uniform. "It is four times more effective than asbestos at resisting fire while possessing the material qualities of silk."
"Silk?"
"Do not be so quick to dismiss silk." Hack wagged a finger at her. "It is stronger than you think. The Mongols used to wear silk as a means of keeping arrow wounds clean."
"Okay." Jane crossed her arms. "So, how long until it's ready?"
"By tomorrow, I think."
"That does it for the tour." Sonya took Jane by the arm and giggled. "Let me show you around the estate. Once you've seen it all, you'll never want to move out." She pulled her toward the second exit, and the launch bay there. Several small hoverjets were located around one large one. Sonya's aura appeared again and expanded, encasing them both in a sphere. Jane felt a little wobbly as the sphere left the ground. Sonya reached a hand out and a second beam of blue energy reached down and touched controls. Ahead, the end of the bay opened, revealing sunlight. The sphere accelerated and they were brought out of the bay.
Jane was nervous at first, apparently standing in mid-air, but soon she felt confident in the firmness of Sonya's energy aura and walked behind her. "What was that really big jet?"
"That's Nightwing. It's for major ops with the entire team. It has everything we need to conduct remote operations." Sonya grinned. "Hawk knows how to pick sites, all right. That's the Columbia River."
Jane nodded. "So we're in Oregon?"
"Yup. East of Portland, about ten miles from the nearest town. Gives us a sense of privacy." Sonya pulled them along the banks of the river. "Let's get going, I've got a lot to show you."

It had taken Sonya nearly two hours to show Jane everything there was to see in Hawk's estate. Jane was properly impressed by it. When they returned to the mansion, they went in the front door and back underground. Sonya showed Jane all of the rooms in their underground complex. A room for their wardrobe, with spare uniforms, the storage rooms, and the kitchen were all on the central corridor. Their next visit was to the locker room, where Jane found that they had already marked a locker for her next to Sonya's, complete with her chosen code name etched on the door. A change of clothes was left for her. With Sonya having left for the training chamber, Jane removed her clothes and stepped into the shower stall. After washing herself off she stepped out of the stall. She looked toward a towel before grinning and summoning her fire aura. The flames did no harm to her skin but acted to dry her off almost instanteously. After extinguishing the flames and putting her clothes back on, Jane walked to the training chamber's observation and control room.

She was surprised to see that none of the heroes were in the chamber. Sonya and Mark Berger were watching from the window. They heard her enter and turned. "Mark, this is Jane," Sonya said to her comrade. "Her code name is Sakura."
Mark nodded and offered a hand to Jane. "Mark Berger, at your service, Jane."
"Thank you." Jane looked over the window. "So, what's going on?"
"We're keeping an eye on our boss." Sonya pointed to the window. "He's doing some training himself."
Interested, Jane walked up to the window and saw Hawk standing on the ground of the chamber. A slim sword was in his hands. He was whipping it around at an almost frantic pace, slicing through faux-soldiers without pause. "He's pretty good," Jane commented.
Sonya replied, "He used to be a crimefighter. Then he decided to focus on his business and left that up to others."
"So, where are the others anyway?"
"Kristan and Tron went off on a mission." Mark crossed his arms. "Steltek left to go to Wednesday night prayer services at a local church." His expression softened. "The Old Man was really impressed with you."
"Old Man?"
"That is what the younger members call Tron," Sonya explained. "It is an affectionate term, even Hack uses it."
"Tron and Hack were the founding members of the JF, along with another."
"Who?"

Sonya and Mark looked at each other for a moment, as if to decide what to tell her. The decision was rendered moot when Hawk appeared at the door. Sweat now clung to his brown hair and, to Jane, he looked vastly different than the shrewd businessman she had seen that morning. "I may as well tell you now." Hawk walked up to the control panel and de-activated the room. "My ex-wife was the fourth founding member of the JF."
"Your ex-wife?"
"Helen Hawk neè Fuzuki." Hawk looked out at the training chamber. "I met her when I was in my mid-20s, doing freelance crimefighting work. Helen and I became partners and then fell in love."
"She was a fighter too?"
"And a meta-human. She had superior physical strength and stamina, and some ability to fly." Hawk's eyes lowered. "Shortly after I decided to concentrate on founding and running this company, Helen stopped crimefighting too so that we could marry. We had a daughter, Aurora, who has her mother's abilities and tends to take after her mother in other ways."
"So what happened?"

"We split up," Hawk answered. "An amicable divorce, I gave her over half of my material wealth and she left the company to me. She moved north into Washington State and founded a home for girl meta-humans outside of Spanaway. My daughter went with her."
"Wait, I think I've heard of that place." Jane lowered her eyes. "I was looking into going there after I found out I was a meta-human."
"It wouldn't have been a total waste. Helen would have taken you in and taught you to control your powers. You would have gotten to know other girls. But, I'm not quite sure you would have fit in."
"Why not?"
"My ex-wife's not the woman I married twenty-two years ago." Hawk crossed his arms. "She doesn't care so much about using meta-powers to help others. She trains her girls to defend themselves and offers them jobs with her security company."
"Helen's girls are used as security guards on ships, aircraft, and important corporate warehouses," Mark continued. "She calls her core team the Valkyr."
"Helen no longer has anything to do with us, and I will leave it at that." Hawk walked toward the door. "You should go see Hack. He'll enter your biometrics into our security computer so you can access all of the information you need to know. You would best start by studying the meta-human criminals we have on file. Some of them are still at large, and you never know when we'll have to deal with them."

-------------------------------------------------

It was just past midnight in downtown Ottawa. A dark-skinned teenage girl of nineteen, Cynthia, was walking down a street in one of the city's commercial districts. She had gone clubbing with friends and was now on the way home through what she thought to be a rather safe section of the city.
She turned out to be horribly wrong. Two powerful arms dragged her into a nearby alleyway. Her screams for help were silenced by a large hand over her mouth. "Scream and I'll slice open your fucking throat, bitch," a high-pitched male voice whispered in her ear. He moved around her and shoved her against the wall. He had a knife in his hands, which he ran along Cynthia's cheek. The young woman was struck with fear, unable to move, as the shining blade moved down to her jacket and blouse. "I'm lookin' for a real good time." The man's eyes widened. One of his hands touched her posterior. "Gimme what I want or..."
"Stop."

Another girl's voice caused the man to turn. A young Caucasian woman about Cynthia's age stood, clad in bright winter clothing as she was. She looked tired and haggard. The tanned man laughed at her. "Stop? That's all you're going to say, bitch?! Hey, I'll cut you up too!"
"You're not going to cut me up." The woman stepped closer. Her eyes were intent upon the assailant. "You don't want to hurt me. You don't want to hurt her."
"I..." The assailant put a hand to his face, wiping some sweat off of his forehead and left cheek.
"This isn't what you want," the girl said. "You should go home now. You can have a better life if you live peacefully with others."
Cynthia was quite surprised when her attacker dropped his knife and slowly began to walk away, almost as if he were dazed. Finally he disappeared around a corner. She looked to her savior and threw her arms around the girl's neck. "Thank you so much." She looked at her benefactor's blushing face. "You are wonderful!"
"I try to be."
"You're a meta-human, aren't you?" Cynthia grinned at her. "Don't be afraid. You probably saved my life. I owe you."
"Um, in a way, yeah." The girl nodded again. "It's just that... I was doing that because I really don't want to see someone get hurt. I've got a thing against violence."

"Don't worry about that." Cynthia gestured to an all-night diner. "You look hungry. Want me to get you something to eat."
"Oh, I couldn't..."
"Come on, girl." Cynthia saw the paleness of her savior's face and something occured to her. "Oh, you poor thing, you wouldn't happen to be homeless, would you?"
"Well, I... I don't have anywhere to stay right now, yeah."
"I'll try to find you something. My parents know some people with open apartments and my dad has a small grocery."
"You don't owe me that, I was just doing the right thing."
The girl's pleading with Cynthia only steeled the other woman's resolve. "Let me at least get you a bite to eat and something warm to drink. You look hungry."
The pleading had finally had an effect, and Cynthia could tell the girl's resolve to resist reward had finally been broken by the grumbling in her belly. "Okay, I guess."
Cynthia put an arm around the girl's shoulders. "So, what's your name, girl?"
"My name." The girl looked down at the street. "You can call me Mellian."

-------------------------------------------------

The lights in Control were dim save for one of the computer monitors. Jane was sitting at the seat in front of it, looking at the image shots of a massive muscle-bound creature labeled "Steve". She rubbed at her eyes and looked to the time. It was about one in the morning, meaning she had spent hours pouring over these files.
Jane moved on to the next file on her randomized list. The entry read "Anders, Rollins S.". The figure that popped up was a sinister one. A human with a red power aura that made Jane think of Sonya. His "uniform" was all black and dark red, including a massive black star on the chest surrounded by a field of red. The computer began speaking upon Jane clicking for the audio file; it's emotionless male tone easy to recall for her. "Anders, Rollins. Criminal Alias: DarkStar. Possesses unknown alien power aura. Psychiatric evaluations confirm subject suffers from extreme megalomania. Current Status: At large. Subject has one confirmed kill."
"Confirmed kill?" Jane sat up in her chair. "That's on none of the other files." Her sleepiness now swept away by curiosity, Jane asked the computer, "What's a confirmed kill?"
"Confirmed kill status is achieved when subject is confirmed to be responsible for the death of a Justice Force team member."
Jane's eyes widened. "Oh my God. Who did he kill?"
"Computer, you can ignore that input."
The male voice made Jane turn in surprise. Tron was standing in the doorway, still with his visor. "Hello again." Jane stood up from the chair. "I was wondering when you were going to get back."
"It was a long night." Tron looked to the screen. "So, doing research? Hack called to say you signed up."
"Oh, yeah, I am." Jane shrugged. "Just wanted to get to know everything I needed to know."

"And some things you don't need to know." Tron crossed his arms. "I'd advise you against bringing up the matter of DarkStar to the rest of the team."
"Why?" Jane looked at him with a confused expression. "Aren't we fighting these people?"
"We are, but...." Tron sighed and turned away. "You should go to bed. It's late."
"Tron, what is it? What's so wrong about talking about this?"
The older man looked back over his shoulder. "You've heard of the wisdom about keeping wounds closed, right? Don't re-open this one. It's a very painful one and you'll only get everyone upset."
Jane went to speak before she stopped herself. She was still new. She didn't want to get her teammates angry at her. She drew in a sigh and went back to the computer to shut it down. When she turned back, Tron was gone.

Breathing another, heavier sigh, Jane walked toward the main corridor. As she exited Control, Provost walked by. He stopped her by putting a hand on her shoulder. "Jane, don't let it get to you."
"What?"
Provost turned to directly face her. "I could feel Tron's thoughts as he went by, and I see your's. The matter with DarkStar, you need to let that come as it will. Don't try to push it."
"What did he do?" Jane clasped Provost's forearm. "What could he have done to make everyone so angry?"
"It wasn't just what he did, but what happened because of it." Provost put a hand on her cheek and finished communicating with her via telepathy. I will tell you at an opportune time. But now you must rest, Jane. You have a long day ahead of you tomorrow.
Jane gave a stiff nod and walked down the corridor, leaving Provost to take the night watch in Control.

-------------------------------------------------

In the northern tip of the Canadian Rockies, not too far from the Yukon, a mine belonging to a loosely-attached subsidary company of Sakhirov Industrial Inc. had been constructed to extract important minerals.
Unknown to the Canadian government, which has authorized the sale, the subsidary company was really a dummy corp with a far more devious purpose than mining for minerals. The "Mine" had become a labyrinth of rock, encompassing several square miles between chambers. Inside specially-made tools were assembling hulking metallic figures. War robots, built to fight modern armies and tanks to a stand-still, and to kill the beloved heroes of the world.
Within the main chamber of this facility, a single tall man walked in, flanked by guards wearing the traditional fur caps of the Soviet Army. They had been saved from collections across the globe by one man so that they could regain their former role; with those who were going to fulfill the destiny of the world.
The tall man was met by a doctor, a fellow Russian, Doctor Verbitsky. The wiry doctor, clad in a white suit with thick glasses over his dark-colored eyes, stepped away from a machine he was working on. "Welcome, Comrade Gabooz."

"Comrade Verbitsky." Yuri Sakhirov, aka "Gabooz", stepped up to the Doctor. "Everything is in readiness?"
"Most everything, Comrade. But there has been a problem."
A snarl appeared on Gabooz's face. "What kind of problem?"
"The last shipment of essential communications gear has been compromised. We believe one of the loaders may have been an agent for the Truth and Justice Foundation. If they have found us out..."
"Most of their members are across the globe pursuing other cases," Gabooz remarked dismissively. "I am unconcerned."
"But there is still Rocket Girl."
"So what? She is but one person. Besides, I have had... an idea. We need test subjects, and I know where to get them." Gabooz took a booklet out of his pocket. "One of my agents has opened proceedings to hire these people to protect the shipment."

Verbitsky looked at the booklet. "Hawk Security Company?"
"Run by the ex-wife of Hawk Electronics' founder, no less. She has a team of elite meta-humans, the Valkyr. They should provide excellent test subjects, and guards once they have been properly programmed." Gabooz checked over the table. "So all we need is the empath?"
"Yes. But Comrade..." Verbitsky seemed uncomfortable. "Was it so wise to hire the Horsemen? They are bloodthirsty savages."
"Which means they will inflict a great amount of damage to distract our foes."
"And how will you control that maniac DarkStar?"
"I have promised him some power. Enough that he will do as I ask, until the time comes to rid myself of him." Gabooz looked up upon a screen, a status screen that would soon show him the fulfillment of his dream. A world united under enlightened Communist rule. "I only need them to bring me the empath. Once I have her, my plan cannot be stopped." Gabooz turned to Verbitsky. "Provided, of course, that the equipment has been properly assembled."
"Of course, Comrade!" Verbitsky saluted. "I will get back to work immediately, Comrade Gabooz."
"Of course." A sinister grin crossed the Russian mastermind's face. He barked at his guards, "See about getting some of this place cleaned up. We will be having guests soon. I would hate to make them feel unwelcome..."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Post by Steve » 2006-02-07 03:26am

Chapter 2


Hawk was sitting at the controls for the training chamber with the rest of the team gathered around him. The only exception was Provost, who was sleeping after spending the night on watch in Control.
"So,.how do you think she will do?", Iceberg asked Steltek.
"We'll have to see. She did alright in the forest." Steltek shrugged. "But we all know how Hawk likes to hit us right off with the hard stuff."
"Shh...." Hawk watched the door to the chamber open and admit Jane. She had just put on, for the first time, her special-made uniform. Like most of the others, it was black in color, also with red and orange trim. The trouser piece went down to her ankles, where black boots protected her feet. At her waist, the trousers' elastic waist band kept them tight enough to fit without being uncomfortable. There was a small bit of skin before the uniform top began, a sleeveless garment that bared her arms and shoulders right up to the neck, where a portion of the black material acted as a collar. "From this point forward, we will address you as Sakura, understood?"
The young woman was still getting used to her uniform. She looked up at the control room and observation lounge. "Uh, yeah."

"First things first. We're going to test your general combat skills. I'm going to let you deal with a few old friends."
Jane nodded and took in a breath. Illusions of the black robots she had fought in the forest appeared around her. "The robots will hit just as the real ones would. And they're using standard weapons instead of flamethrowers, so don't count on that. The test begins.... now!"
Jane's fire aura flashed into existance as the illusionary targets brought their laser arms up to attack. She went straight into the air, up about fifteen feet, and whipped herself around in mid-air. Flames erupted from her extended palms and engulfed two of her targets. They melted away as she flew overhead. Laser fire flashed around her. Jane quickly gained altitude and did a loop in mid-air. With her head and hands pointing downward, she created a massive plume of fire that seemed to erupt from her aura. It struck more targets, leaving her with three.
A laser beam hit Jane in the ankle. She grunted from surprise at the stinging sensation of the beam. She descended again toward the drones, flames continuing to pour from her hands.
The targets responded with missile fire. One missile, then another, flew by Jane and turned in mid-air. Jane turned away until her flight path was parallel to the ground and let the missiles get on her trail before heading back to the last drones. She veered toward them, trailing fire from her hands, and doused them in flames before soaring past. As she expected, the missiles struck them and she added two more kills to her count.

Smiling, Jane turned around to deal with the last target. It fired a missile at her as she flew toward it. She continued on path, expecting the same outcome as before.
Which was why she was so shocked to feel an explosion beside her. The blast made her body ache from the shockwave. Jane was thrown to the wall and fell to the ground. She stood up and a laser beam struck her in the chest. The pain was tolerable, again a stinging sensation. The target drone disappeared. "Well, yoiu're dead, Sakura," Hawk's voice announced over the intercom.
"What happened?" She looked up toward the observation deck. "The missile didn't hit me!"
"No, it didn't. But it was not an impact warhead. That missile was a proximity weapon, and your movement triggered it. It didn't need to touch you. Don't assume that every missile flying at you is the same as the previous one. And even more important, don't judge one foe by another."
Jane stood up and rubbed her back. "Okay, okay..."
"Now, let's try that all over again..."

-------------------------------------------------

In a hanger outside of Seattle rented out by another of Gabooz's dummy corps, a pair of cargo planes had gathered. Each was laden with electronic gear that would finalize the arrays that the mastermind's plan would utilize. A single man, Mr. Black, was overseeing the final loading and preparation of the shipment.
He walked outside upon hearing the sound of helicopter rotors thrashing air. Stepping down from the chopper was a woman of half-Oriental half-Caucasian descent. She had slim gray eyes and the other facial features one would expect from a woman of Oriental heritage, while her long hair was a sandy-colored blonde. The business suit she wore hid a powerful body, Mr. Black knew.
Helen Hawk's voice possessed a somber character as she spoke to him. "Your people are ready?"
"Yes. Payment will be given to your team upon our arrival at the mine."
"Hmm..." Helen looked over the paperwork Black handed her. "You're paying an awful lot of money for security."
"My employer is Russian, as you know, and the Russian government has been rather hostile to private businesses. He fears an attack by his country's agents or hired terrorists."

"Of course." Helen signed her name on the presented contract. "Well, you've come to the right people. I've assigned you my best team. They'll be following you in the chopper."
"Excellent."
Helen nodded toward the chopper and the door opened. Five young women, all aged 19 to 21, stepped out. The one in the lead looked very much like Helen, with only the slightest hint of Oriental heritage in her face. The major difference was her hair, a dark brown opposed to the sandy color of Helen's and cut short. She was in a uniform; trousers down to the ankle, boots, and a sleeveless vest that bared her muscular arms. Over the chest a hawk emblem had been emblazoned. Helen stepped to the side to allow the girl to walk up by her. "Mister Black, this is my daughter Aurora, our team leader. You will be addressing her as Trinity for the duration of the mission."

The next girl was wearing an all-black uniform with the same trousers as Aurora's but with a long-sleeved jacket and gloves. Her skin was tanned and told of Hispanic origin, along with her long black hair and brown eyes. "Isabella Gonzales, otherwise known as Blur," Helen said to introduce her.
The third was like Helen, of mixed Caucasian-Oriental descent, with long blond hair and brilliant blue eyes. Possessing the most attractive curves of the girls so far, Black did not resist looking at her a little longer than the others. Her uniform aided in this by revealing her trim stomach and most of her torso, the material beginning a bit below her chest. Bands around her wrists, waist, and shoulders held up what seemed to be large wings. "My name is Kylie Magnusson," the young woman said to Black. "In the field you'll call me Kite."

This left two, another Hispanic girl and one who looked to be Native American. The Hispanic stepped forward first. Clad in black like the others, her uniform was tight enough to give her an appearance rivaling Kylie's in terms of beauty, even if it covered everything save for her face and a bit of her neck. Her raven-black hair went down around her neck and stopped at her shoulders. "I am Oracle. Or Sophia Sanchez if you prefer." She nodded at Black, who seemed to be growing increasingly impatient. She extended her hand and he relucantly took it. He was surprised when Sophia gasped and grabbed her forehead. "Uuunnnnhhh...."
Black asked, "What is wrong?"
"Nothing..." Sophia shook her head. "Nothing is wrong." She stepped to the side, where Isabella and Aurora put hands on her shoulders to show concern.
The Native American girl was the only one to break the uniformity of dress. Her blue uniform consisted of pants, boots, and a bodice that stopped just below her shoulders, leaving her arms, shoulders, and neck bare save where the ponytails made from her long dark-brown hair covered them. The chest and belly portion of the bodice was marked with a lightning bolt. Her blue eyes were a hint of Caucasian heritage. With a high-toned voice she introduced herself. "Carla Stormdancer. They call me Livewire."

"Yes, of course." With an impatient glare, he looked to Helen. "They're ready to go, have your people following. I expect to get my money's worth."
"Of course you will." Helen crossed her arms and an amused smirk crossed her face as Black re-entered the building. "Okay, girls, keep an eye on things and this should be over in no time."
"Did we really have to do the whole introduction thing?", asked Carla. "It seemed unnecessary."
Kylie giggled, "Yeah, but it made him mad. It was worth it to see that pencil pusher fidget."
Helen walked up to Sophia. "Are you okay? You seemed rather shaken when the two of you shook hands."
"Yeah, I got a jumble of images." Sophia rubbed her forehead. "This precog's getting to be a pain in my butt."
"What did you see?"
"I'm not sure. Mostly computer equipment, I think it was underground. But... I did see myself." Sophia crossed her arms. "I saw myself... screaming. Something was happening, I don't know what..."

Helen nodded somberly. "Aurora, keep your eyes open. There is something very suspicious about this whole thing."
"If so, then why did you take the contract, Mom?"
"Two reasons." Helen held up her hand with two fingers. "One, the money was good. Two, if they're up to no good, we could find out about it and stop whatever they're planning."
Aurora nodded. "Okay, Mom. We'll be careful." Mother and daughter hugged while the others boarded the chopper. Sophia slid into the pilot's seat and the helicopter began to ascend. "See you later."
Helen kissed Aurora on the cheek and let her go. Aurora looked up to the chopper and flew up towards it. She entered the side bay door and slid it closed. As they took off, the cargo planes taxied unto their runways. Sophia kept the aircraft in helicopter mode until the planes were airborne, upon which she fired the main engines and put it into turboprop mode. Helen watched them for a short while before she took off, utilizing her own meta-human talents.

-------------------------------------------------

Jane stepped out of the shower with a towel draped around her body. She felt aches in her limbs and back from the rigorous training Hawk was subjecting her to. She had never pushed her meta-human talents so far.
When she walked toward her locker she saw Steltek sitting at the next locker, bare-chested and getting into casual attire. He was facing her locker, but when Steltek saw Jane approach he turned away. She noticed this and said, "That's not necessary, I have a towel. Besides, I grew up in foster and children homes, I'm used to not having privacy."
"It's a matter of principle to me."
"Ah." Jane let the towel drop and reached into the locker for another uniform. "Does Hawk always work us this hard on the first day?"
"Yes. He's quite strict about it." Steltek pulled on a shirt. "But you're doing rather well. You should be proud."

Jane pulled her uniform top into place, running her thumbs under the collar. Her trousers came on next. "So, what's up with your uniform? I mean, I can understand Mark's icicle and Sonya's sapphire gem, but why a cross?"
"It is a symbol of my power. Of our power." Steltek looked back at her, and seeing that she was clothed, he turned around. "God gave us these talents. It is our responsibility to use them as He wants them used."
"So why did God make us into meta-humans?", Jane asked. "Why did he open us to a life of hatred and violence? Why is it his will?

Steltek looked her in the eyes. "Without us, who would stand against those who do evil to others?" He clasped his hands together. "When I think of our talents, I think of a parable told by Christ, about the lord who gives each of his servants money, ironically called talents back then, and instructs them to use them wisely. One servant hides the money and does not use it, does not use his talent at all, and for that he is punished for his laziness. The others, however, do use their talents and make even more money for their lord, and they are rewarded for their work. Just like how we use our talents to do God's work here on Earth. God has charged us to be the protectors of the innocent and has given us these talents to perform that task with. And when the day comes, all of the things we endure here on Earth will be rewarded in a greater place." Steltek looked at his watch. "I'm very sorry, Jane, but I have to be in town soon. I will see you tonight." He patted her on the shoulder. "Good luck with your training."
"Thanks," was all Jane said as she watched him walk out.

-------------------------------------------------

Father Seamus O'Malley was an older and gentle man, a dedicated minister who had developed a prospering Catholic community in one of Ottawa's poorest areas. His church often doubled as a homeless shelter. With four nuns from the Sisters of Charity order he tended to the poorest people in this sprawling city, feeding them and giving them a warm place to sleep.
One of those things he did well was mediate the feuds that sometimes broke out between his charges, trying to convince them that they didn't have to fight over food or a blanket, that he had enough for all of them.
But the two older men he was now trying to seperate were positively determined to slice each other up. Both had switchblades and were beginning to go at it outside of his church. He pleaded with them to stop, but they kept slashing at each other.

From across the street, a young woman in tattered clothes raced across. She stood between the two would-be combatants and looked at them both. "You don't want to do this. You're both hungry and cold. Fighting each other isn't going to change that."
The two men looked around her at each other, and then back at her. The men put the weapons back in their pockets and walked inside of the church, much to the amazement of Father O'Malley. The girl turned and began to walk away. The Irish priest reached a hand out and put it on her shoulder. "You look hungry and cold, child. Why don't you come inside?"
She turned her head and looked at O'Malley. "Thank you, Father," Mellian replied, "but you'll only get in trouble. I'm a meta-human. I'm not welcome anywhere."
The elderly man's expression softened. "Whether you are meta-human or not does not matter. In this house of the Lord all of God's children are welcome."
For a few moments Mellian considered the priest's offer. "Okay, I'll come in."
The priest smiled and led her out of the cold, snow-filled streets into the warmth of his church.

-------------------------------------------------

It took Jane about ten minutes to open her eyes after laying in the hot tub that was in one of the master bathrooms in Hawk's manor. She had spent the time letting the warm water relax her aching body. While Jane was not unfamiliar with exercise this was certainly the most strenuous workout she'd ever had. And she got the distinct idea that this was, if anything, light work.
Being a heroine wasn't as easy as some thought it to be.
The door opened, causing Jane to slide down into the white opaque surface of the water to cover her chest. When she saw it was Sonya, Jane laid her head on the back of the tub and looked away. "Let me guess, it's time for me to get out?"
"Nah." Sonya was wearing her uniform, but all it took was a flash of her power aura and she was unclothed save for underwear. The surface of her skin was sweaty from exertion. "But do you mind me joining you?"
"I've got not problems with that." Jane didn't move her head until after Sonya stripped and got into the tub opposite her. A load groan came from the older woman. "You look bushed."
"You're not the only one who gets training." Sonya laid her head back and closed her eyes. "Five years of this and every muscle in my body still aches after a session."
"So, why do you stay?"
Sonya moaned before answering, "Because I believe in what we're doing here. Besides..."
When a short time passed, Jane looked up and asked, "Besides what?"
"It's nothing." Sonya sighed. "Let's just enjoy the tub before we have to go back to Hawk and his whip."
Jane couldn't help but chuckle, even with the ache still in her body. Not being able to argue with Sonya, Jane closed her eyes again and let the time melt away.

-------------------------------------------------

Iceberg and Provost were in the training chamber doing their usual practice drills while Hawk and Tron were watching from the observation tower. "So the bus company's given you the pink slip for leaving the bus, huh?"
"Yup." Tron shrugged. "It's nothing."
"It will hurt your chances for getting another job in that field," noted Hawk.
"I've got something more important to do. With the new girl on the team, I'll need to be around to get her in shape and work her into the team." Tron adjusted the sunglasses that obscured the faint red glow in his eyes. "What did you think of her?"
"Talented." Hawk steepled his fingers together. "Shows the impetuousness I expect in a youth. But she's also quite restless. She doesn't sleep well."
"Would you if you had lived her life?" Tron snorted in disgust. "Who names an orphan 'Jane Doe'? Someone should smack the guy who did that in the head."
"It's still just a name. Jane's problems go deeper. She's restless and insecure."
"But she's still got her heart in the right place."
Hawk nodded in reply. He heard a phone tone and pressed a button on the control screen. Helen's face showed up on the screen. Hawk made no immediate reaction to the sight of his ex-wife. His heart did tremor a little from his feelings of loss and, admittedly, a bit of lust for her. "Hello Helen."
"Hello James." Helen's face was stern and cool; as always. "I figured I should let you know that I'm a bit suspicious about some new clients of mine. Do you know anything about Blackwell Technologies?"
"Not off the top of my head."
"They've got access to some very good equipment. The machinery my girls are guarding seems to be the basic components to a satallite control network, even if they claim otherwise on their manifest. That's not something small companies get easily, and they certainly wouldn't be shipping it into the Yukon."
"So why are you working with them."
"For one thing, James, I don't have the massive financial resources of an international corporate empire," Helen replied with a snort. "So I do need to earn money, and they're paying well. But more importantly, if they're up to no good, the Valkyr will find out and blow the lid on it."
Now it was Hawk's turn to snort. "And you yelled at me for putting Aurora into danger when she was a junior in the JF."
"Yes, well, our line of work is not as dangerous as daily confrontations with overpowered lunatics." Helen had an angry look on her face. "And don't think either of us have forgiven you for what happened."
"Still blaming me for Danielle making a choice of her own free will?" Hawk shook his head. "Is that all you have to say, Helen? If so, then this conversation is over with. Let's just hope our little girl doesn't get hurt for the sake of your earnings." Hawk flipped the comm switch contemptuously.
Tron looked at him and asked, "Same as always?"
"Same as always."
An amused smirk crossed Tron's face. "Hard to believe you two managed to stay together for twenty years."
"Even my patience wears thin." Hawk turned his attention back to the training chamber. Iceberg and Provost were still dealing with assigned targets. "Do me a favor and get Jane for me. I have a few more test drills I want to run her through."
"Of course." Tron walked out the door. When it slid closed, Hawk looked off into space for a moment before returning his attention back to the controls.

-------------------------------------------------

Mellian was curled up on one of the pews in Father O'Malley's church. The nuns had given her a blanket and a fresh change of clothes and allowed her the use of the church showers, so she felt clean for what seemed the first time in weeks.
Having lost her parents and their home in an apartment fire, Mellian had been given nowhere to go. Even worse, during the fire her meta-human abilities activated, and nobody wanted to be near her. They were afraid of her and her ability to influence someone's mood and emotions. A ward of the state until she was 18, Mellian swiftly found herself on the street, refused work and board and made to wander the streets, looking for scraps of food. Still, being a believer of non-violence, she had used this time to keep the other homeless and unfortunate from harming one another. Her powers allowed her to take away the angry, aggressive moods of others, a laudable goal to Mellian as it decreased the violence and suffering in the world.
It was getting late in the night as Mellian began to fall asleep. She was on the verge of it when the door flew open. Father O'Malley stepped out of his confessional booth and toward the door. "Hello?", he called out.
Mellian sat up and looked toward the door. There were three figures coming through the doorway. The first was a pale-looking man with a dark suit on. "We are looking for a homeless girl," the figure said with recognizable Quebec accent.
The man beside him, obviously a meta-human with gray shell-like skin, added, "Tell us where she is and there won't be any trouble."
"And you don't want trouble, do you priest?" The third man was in a sleeveless armored suit. His left arm morphed into a gun and he raised it to O"Malley.
From behind, the stained glass window of the church shattered. O'Malley's pulpit was shattered into splinters by a massive furry-looking beast humanoid. "Sorborus crush puny things," it rumbled when O'Malley turned to face it.
When a number of the homeless tried to run out the backway, a red energy field appeared around them. They shouted and hit their fists against the field before they were thrown into the middle of the church. From the rear door, a man in a black and dark red suit walked in, with a sinister expresion that made O'Malley think of the devil himself. "Nobody is going anywhere unless I say so." With his arms crossed, he announced, "I am DarkStar, and these are my Horsemen. We have been looking for a young woman. A meta-human with the ability to influence emotion. If you help us find her, you will live. If you do not..." The evil man's eyes glittered. "Then you will all perish."
Mellian heard DarkStar's words and trembled. Afraid, she did not stand up and reveal herself, but kept watching.
Looking past the horrified priest to his other accompliches, DarkStar pointed to the man with the metallic skin. "Death! Pick one from the crowd to go and alert the authorities."
The one called Death stomped over to frightened young girl on the back pew. "Go and spread the word. The empath girl has two hours to arrive here, or we will begin killing our hostages."
The girl nodded, terrified, and yelped when Death lifted her up by the legs and tossed her over to the Quebecer. He caught her and watched the girl begin to moan. He set her on her feet and stepped away. "I suggest you stay far away from me," he said. "I'm quite deadly to touch."
"Plague is a living cancer." The man with the gun arm used his other arm to lift the girl to her feet and throw her toward the door. "I hope you enjoyed losing ten years off your life. Now go before I end your miserable existance here and now."
"War!" DarkStar's shout echoed in the church. "Secure the door!"
The door to the church slammed close, and the girl ran off in a panic.

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In the Valkyr Hoverjet, Sophia and Kylie were watching the planes ahead while maintaining a proper altitude and speed to keep up with them. In the back seats, Carla, Aurora, and Isabella were looking out the windows. "This is so boring." Carla rested her forehead against the window. "Just how much farther until we get there?"
"Another few hours, I think." Kylie laid back in her chair and put her arms behind her head. She looked over to Sophia. "Feeling better?"
"Yes." Sophia was keeping a close eye on the instruments while allowing the auto-pilot to fly them along. "But I still can't get that image out of my mind. It was like someone was ripping me apart..."
"Just remember to keep your eyes open." Aurora clenched a fist. "I don't want to get tricked with any funny business."
"Yeah yeah yeah..." Isabella yawned and rubbed her stomach. "I'm starting to get hungry. When we get back I'm going straight for the leftover Halloween candy."
"That super-fast metabolism getting to you again, Blur?"
"At least it keeps my belly night and flat," Isabella laughed.
A beeping sound came from one of the instruments on Kylie's side. She sat up in the chair and looked at it. "We have something coming in fast. Not very big, about the size of a human being."
"What is it?"
"Activating external camera and magnification." Kylie hit some keys on a control pad.
A screen built behind the pilot's seat, facing the passenger area, flipped on. On the screen was a single person in what looked like pretty impressive powered armor flying straight toward them. Carla pointed at the screen. "Hey, isn't that Rocket Girl?"
"Yeah." Aurora took off her harness and walked back toward the bay door.
"What are you doing, Aurora?!", Isabella shouted.
"Going out to confront her." Aurora clenched a fist. "A job's a job, and I'm not about to let a goody two-shoes spoil our work. Besides, if we don't stop her and she screws this up, we'll never learn what Black is up to, right?"
"Shouldn't I come with you?", Kylie asked.
"Stay here with the others. If I need help I'll ask for it." Aurora opened the bay door. After setting it to close in five seconds, she jumped out and took flight on her own, heading in the direction RocketGirl was coming from. The other Valkyr watched in anticipation as the armored super-hero drew nearer.


Jane lowered herself to the floor of the training center and panted. "So, how was that?", she said.
"Well, you're pretty fast as a flier," she heard Hawk reply. "Nearly as fast as my wife and daughter."
"That makes me feel good. Really. But when do I get to fall to the ground from utter exhaustion and dizziness from all the flying in circles?"
"Never."
Jane groaned and rubbed her sweat-drenched forehead. "I'm starting to wonder if I'm cut out for this superhero stuff."
Upon hearing that, Sonya walked from the wall, where she had generated a protective field for Jane to do her speed drills. "You'll get used to it," Sonya said, putting a sympathetic hand on Jane's bare left shoulder. "This stuff will be child's play when you're done conditioning."
"Think of it like training to be a professional athlete," Iceberg added from the control room. "This is your first day of training camp."
"Now I know why I didn't pursue a career in soccer when I got out of high school," Jane said only half-jokingly. "So, what's next?"
Hawk replied, "You can rest for about five minutes. Then we're going to do another combat drill."
Jane groaned quite loudly. She didn't get the chance to reply when a klaxon sounded. "All team members, report to Control," she heard Hack's voice announce. "Repeat, all team members, report to Control. Criminal meta-human activity detected."
It took less than five seconds for the chamber and observation lounge to be emptied. The newly-returned Steltek joined them at the opening to the locker room and all seven members of the team ran to Control. Hack was at a side console with a map display on the big screen. An cross-hair like indicator had appeared over a part of Canada. "We have reports of a disturbance in Ottawa. Meta-human terrorists, according to Canadian reports."
"That's a bit out of the way," Tron said. "What about the Mounties' Special Operations Force? They're supposed to handle meta-human crimes in Canada."
"They're dealing with a T.A.R.G.E.T. facility in the Maritime territories," Hack responded. "And the Truth and Justice Foundation is out on assignment. There's nobody left in the North and Western Hemisphere."
"You'll have to take Nightwing," Hawk told the others.
"So, who are we facing this time?", Iceberg asked.
"Accessing the Canadian reports for the offered descriptions now, and running it through the computers..." Hack tapped several buttons. "Bingo."
Four faces popped up on the big screen. "The Horsemen," Tron growled.
The computer quickly confirmed this. "Targets identified. Polin, Anthony: Criminal Alias 'War'. James, Timothy: Criminal Alias 'Death'. Jacques, Paul: Criminal Alias 'Plague'. Entity known as Sorborus."
Now a fifth face popped up as it was also confirmed.
"Anders, Rollins: Criminal Alias 'DarkStar'."
Jane watched other members of the team clench their fists and seem generally angry. "Let's go!", Sonya shouted, flying toward the door. The others followed with Jane behind them. As she reached the door, she heard Hawk call out, "Jane, stop!"
She turned to Hawk. "What?"
"You are not going." Hawk walked up to her. "You're not trained enough to face the Horsemen."
"But...."
"That's an order. You're staying here. I'll be going instead. Hack," Hawk looked back, "monitor us from here, and I'll keep you appraised from Nightwing."
"Yes sir."
Jane continued to protest. "But I'm with the team now."
"Yes, but you're not facing the Horsemen. You're too inexperienced and I'm not going to allow it." Hawk looked down and walked through the door. "I'll never make that mistake again." The door closed behind him.
In frustration Jane pounded a fist against the door. Hack came up behind her and set a hand on her shoulder. "I know you want to help them, but you have to understand..."
"Understand what?! That they don't trust me or something?" Something immediately occured to Jane. "What's going on? Finding out DarkStar was there seemed to light a fire under everyone's rear-end. Tron wouldn't let me find out about DarkStar's confirmed kill, Sonya keeps hinting toward something bad but never says it aloud, and all Provost would do is promise to tell me later."
Hack sighed. "I suppose you have the right to know. The others don't like to talk about it, because the truth hurts too much."
"Talk about what?"
"About DarkStar.... and about Danielle." Hack led her back to the controls. "Here, let me show you...."

-------------------------------------------------

The six were strapped into Nightwing within a minute, and Tron and Hawk were completing the pre-launch checks. Iceberg crossed his arms over his safety harness. "So, Tron, you can drive buses, but can you fly multi-million dollar stealth jets?"
"Just watch me." Tron fired up the throttle while Hawk opened the launch doors. Nightwing moved foward, picking up speed and going up the launch incline before finally soaring into the dark Northwestern sky....

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Steve
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Post by Steve » 2006-02-07 03:27am

Chapter 3

The cool winter air stung Aurora's face and arms from the speed of her flight. Like her mother, Aurora had taken to flying with her arms stretched outward. It was in this pose that she approached the battle-armored superhero Rocket Girl. Aurora stopped in mid-air in front of Rocket Girl, causing the other hero to stop when she was in earshot. "Who are you?", asked Rocket Girl.
"Trinity." Aurora crossed her arms. "What are you doing here?"
"After those planes your heli-jet is following. I have reason to believe they belong to a criminal, a mastermind called Gabooz. Whatever his schemes are, I have to stop them."
"I can't let you do that," Aurora answered. "We've been hired to protect the planes."
"Then you're aiding and abetting whatever he's up to, and I'm going to take you in for it."
"You can try." Aurora sneered. "But you might find you've bitten off more than you can chew. Besides, do you think we're stupid? We already knew something was up with this shipment, but if you attack it we'll never find out what he's up to."
"Whatever it is, it can't be good." Rocket Girl pointed toward Aurora. "Get out of my way or I'll take you down to stop that lunatic."
Aurora adjusted her mid-air stance to be ready to fight. "Bring it on."

The modular energy blaster on Rocket Girl's right shoulder fired a yellow bolt. Aurora dodged around it and accelerated straight toward Rocket Girl. Her fist impacted against Rocket Girl's chest and knocked her back through the air until Rocket Girl could regain control with her thrusters. "Pretty strong."
Aurora uttered a battle cry that sounded something like "Haaahhhh!" and slammed into Rocket Girl at full speed, pushing her away from the aircraft. Rocket Girl recovered from the impact and gave Aurora a hammer-punch that caught Aurora on the back and knocked her down. She landed in a cloud of dust a hundred and fifty feet below.
Rocket Girl turned back toward the aircraft and fired her backpack thrusters. Her sensors detected Aurora getting back up and taking flight, but her meta-human flight would be incapable of keeping up.

Ahead, however, was another target who had come out of the hoverjet. Kylie was in mid-air with her arms stretched to either side to their farthest extent, so as to open the wings on her uniform and permit powerful wind currents she had created to keep her aloft. Kylie's eyes narrowed and she began to breathe heavier from exertion. Powerful gusts of wind pushed against Rocket Girl, growing in power and ferocity, but she still flew onward by adjusting her thrusters to match. As she drew closer, she called out to Kylie, "You might as well give up, I can fly in a Category 4 hurricane!"
Kylie replied with a smirk. "Then let's try a Category 5!" She groaned as she continued to push her powers to their limit. The wind gusts buffeted against Rocket Girl, forcing her to fire all of her thrusters to maintain control. Her shoulder cannon moved into position and locked onto Kylie. She fired at the helpless young woman.
The blast was stopped by an invisible field. Sophia flew up behind Kylie, using her telekinesis to maintain her altitude and protect her. Rocket Girl grunted and fired all of her thrusters on full. She struggled to main control against the heightened wind currents.

It was Kylie who gave in first. Pushed past her breaking point, she cried out in pain and stopped the wind. Her arms fell limp to both sides and the winds that had kept her in mid-air stopped. She began to drop to the ground. Rocket Girl ignored her and fired on Sophia, who deflected the shots with her telekinesis. She counter-attacked with an invisible telekinetic bolt, using her precognition to hit Rocket Girl directly in the chest, throwing her backward. Sophia reached down to try and grab Kylie before she hit the ground.
But there was no need. Aurora had snatched her exhausted comrade and was now flying toward the grounded hover jet. Sophia saw this and looked up in time to get slammed by a full-power shot from Rocket Girl's hand cannon. The blast broke her telekinetic field, which had been weakened by distraction, and hit Sophia in the chest. The shock to her lungs made her gasp as she lost concentration and fell. Sophia drew in a painful breath and restored her telekinetic levitation just in time for Rocket Girl to come flying by, shooting. She reached out and grabbed Rocket Girl with her telekinesis. The feedback into her mind from the armored heroine's struggling was intense and Sophia was unable to maintain her grip.

As Sophia let go, Aurora slammed into Rocket Girl and began slugging away again. A vicious punch finally brought Rocket Girl crashing down. Her thrusters failed to fire in time to prevent her from making impact with hard earth. She began to stand up and was confronted by Carla. Electricity crackled from Carla's hands and struck Rocket Girl before she could counter-attack. The electrical currents surged through the suit. Regaining her bearings, Rocket Girl advanced silently against Carla despite the lightning. Carla put everything she had into Rocket Girl but could not stop her. Rocket Girl's shoulder cannon popped up and fired, hitting Carla directly in the left shoulder and tossing her back onto the ground.
Before she could follow up on that victory, Sophia slammed her with another telekinetic bolt. It served a second purpose, as Aurora came down feet first on Rocket Girl's shoulders, driving them both into the soil. Rocket Girl reacted with a blast from the shoulder cannon that blew Aurora off. She stood up and clenched her fists. "I'm really appreciating the workout girls, but I'm not about to let you get away with this." Another cannon slid into place on the other shoulder and yellow energy poured from both. Sophia tried to maintain a field to protect herself and Carla. As the energy battered away at her, a flash went by both and an explosion ripped off one of Rocket Girl's shioulder cannons. She stopped firing and allowed Sophia to fall to her knees, exhausted.

Isabella came to a stop in front of Rocket Girl. "Thermal grenade to the cannon's always annoying, yeah? C'mon, give me your best shot."
Swiftly losing her patience, Rocket Girl responded by pouring fire on at Isabella. But each shot missed as she moved faster than even the instruments installed into the Rocket Battlesuit. Isabella continued to taunt Rocket Girl, sticking her tongue out and putting her thumbs into her ears in the traditional "missed me" gesture. "Oh, come on, girl, can't hit this, huh? Oh yeah."
Rocket Girl set the cannon to continuous wide beam and fired again. This time Isabella, overconfident, could not avoid the blast. It tossed her backward about fifty yards, leaving her unconscious on the ground.

Shrieking in fury, Aurora plunged down in front of Rocket Girl and slammed into her with both fists. Rocket Girl was tossed backward and quickly got back on her feet. She fired her cannon again, on a narrower beam but continuous. It impacted with Aurora's chest and she cried out from the pain of the energy striking her body. But Aurora had dug her heels in and, with a grimace of pure determination on her face, continued to advanced step by step as Rocket Girl poured the energy on. "You've got to go down some time," she said to Aurora.
"Never...."
Aurora's pace finally made Rocket Girl begin to back up. Her power suit's energy reserves were already beginning to show drain caused by the combat and damage she had received. This was not going as planned. Of course, nothing ever did, and she occupied herself with defeating the meta-humans confronting her.

Backing up turned out to be a mistake. Carla had moved herself behind Rocket Girl. Summoning all of her strength, the young woman generated a powerful electrical field around her foe. Rocket Girl screamed from the electricity surging through her body and suit. The suit's electrical systems were insulated from such things, but her body still suffered the same. Weakened physically, she collapsed with a light punch to the cheek from Aurora and fell unconscious.
"Well, that settles that." Aurora walked over to Isabella's fallen form and picked it up. Sophia was lifting herself off her knees and onto her feet while Carla nursed her burned shoulder. "Let's catch up to the aircraft now."
"Aurora, I'm not so sure that was a good idea," Sophia said while telekinetically lifting Kylie from the ground. "If Rocket Girl had good reason to be after that shipment..."
"We'll do as Mom suggested. We're going to let this play out and find out what Black and Gabooz are really up to."

-------------------------------------------------

Jane took a seat at the table while Hack brought up the necessary info on the screen. "The JF used to be larger. Much larger," Hack said. "That's why we have the guest house, and a number of excess rooms in the mansion."
"How much larger?"
"Several more core members, besides Helen Hawk of course. Randall Gill, Abigail Marika, Omar Chaudry.... And then there was the Junior team."
Jane shifted in her chair. "Junior team?"
Hack pressed several keys and brought up on the big screen a tape of various young people fighting and showcasing meta-human talent. "They were young meta-humans, none older than 21, that we met at one place or another. We had a number from Europe, like the Olszewska twins of Poland. But there were five central members."
A touch of a button by Hack displayed three young women and two young men in a picture, all in uniform. The girl in the middle seemed Caucasian and was flanked by two Hispanic girls. The male on the right was African in descent while the one on the left Jane recognized as Steltek. "The girl in the middle, with the hawk emblem on her chest, is Aurora Hawk. The girl to her right is my daughter Isabella, and the guy beside Isabella is Clyde Morrison."
"And who is on the left? Between Steltek and Aurora?"

"Her name was, is, Danielle Sutherland." Hack put his hands together. "She was like you. She was orphaned from the moment she saw light. Her mother died of complications arising from dehydration."
"Dehydration?"
"As you can tell from her skin tone, Danielle was Mexican. Her mother crossed the border in the Arizona desert and tried to get to civilization. We never found out how she ended up out there. Indeed, the police never found out her name. The Sutherlands, a childless ranching couple, found the mother on the property and summoned medical help. It was too late for her, but Danielle surviived. The Sutherlands adopted her and raised her as their own daughter."
Hack took a moment to rub his eyes. "Hadrian Sutherland ended up leaving his failing ranch and taking up a job in Hawk Electronics. James may keep us a secret, but he does not keep secret his philanthropy toward meta-humans. When Danielle manifested her abilities, a skill to generate energy fields, she was brought to Hawk. He invited her into the junior team, and she accepted." A pained smile crossed Hack's face. "Danielle was like sunshine. She always had an encouraging word to say and a smile on her face. Everyone here loved her. Aurora and Isabella considered her the sister they never had."
"She sounds sweet enough."
Hack lowered his head. "Sweet doesn't begin to describe it. Danielle was a girl who was always full of joy and happiness. She infected all of us with joy. Because of how she was, we took to calling her Sprite."

"What happened?"
"Do you remember Inaugeration Day in 2013?"
Jane rubbed her left shoulder and the ache there from the day's training. "Yes. Something about a terrorist attempt to blow up the Capitol."
"Oh, it was more than that." Hack closed his eyes. "It was the strongest force we'd ever faced. The Four Horsemen and their leader, DarkStar, had joined forces with Tachy and Shakkara to detonate a powerful nuclear weapon. They hoped to kill the entire US government. Their planning was so confident that even Gabooz had lent the force some of his most powerful combat mechanoids. To fight these foes, the entire JF assembled. And despite Helen's objections, James allowed volunteers from the junior force. These five all volunteered."
"It was one of the most vicious battles we've ever been in," Hack said, bringing up a video file on the screen. "It was there that Shakkara shattered my hip and leg. But that is not the important issue." With a press of a button Hack began running the video. Jane watched Danielle, in her sleeveless combat suit, jump down beside the bomb. She concentrated and reached her hands out to a large device, which Jane supposed was the nuclear weapon. "DarkStar had activated the bomb. There was no time to disarm it. So Danielle used her powers to shield the nuclear material from the explosive trigger."
Jane watched the bomb explode and toss Danielle backward. Around the shattered remnants of the warhead was an sphere-shaped object that Jane supposed was the nuclear material. Danielle had been thrown nearly ten yards away. Her uniform was torn and bloody from shrapnel wounds but Jane could see she was still alive.

An inhuman howl echoed over the speaker. Jane's eyes widened as she saw DarkStar enter the picture from the far right. With an arm outstretched, he expanded his aura in a thin beam toward Danielle, where it encapsulated her in a sphere of red energy. Danielle yelped as she was lifted off the ground. With an evil glint in his eyes, DarkStar began doing something to Danielle that made her scream. Not just a scream of pain, but a horrible wail. She writhed and twisted in the sphere, wailing without pause from whatever it was DarkStar was doing to her.
"Sprite!", Jane heard a youthful female voice cry out. Aurora Hawk raced by her, screaming, "Leave her alone you demented bastard!" The young woman landed a vicious punch that slammed DarkStar backward. He twisted in mid-air to avoid a second swing and caught Danielle with his aura again as she began to plummet to the ground, unconscious.

Without pause and with only a low growl of rage, DarkStar's aura twisted her body and slammed Danielle headfirst into the nearest wall with a sickening impact that shattered brick and, it appeared, bone as well. An involuntary shriek came from Jane at the sight of blood, bone, and brain matter on the wall. A trail of blood was left as Danielle's body fell to the ground.
Hack was weeping bitterly while Jane watched Aurora turn back. Her eyes widened and she screamed, "Sprite!" Leaving her foe behind, Aurora flew to her fallen comrade and landed beside her. She took Danielle's head with her right hand, using her left to touch Danielle's paling face. "Sprite! Open your eyes! Come on!" Aurora's face welled up with tears. "Oh God, Danielle, open your eyes! Say something! Do anything! Please do something!" She began crying at an almost hysterical pitch. "Don't do this to me! Oh God, please don't die!" Others soon appeared, including team members Jane had not seen before, like a large black man with massive wings. "Please Danielle! Please look at me!!!"

Jane felt tears roll down her cheeks as she watched Provost, stoic as ever, walk up to Aurora and put a hand on her left shoulder. "She's gone, Aurora. There is nothing there."
"NOOOOO!"
It was then that Jane noticed Isabella and Hack for the first time in the video, the latter being carried by his daughter and in a lot of physical pain. She came beside her comrade and put an arm around Aurora's neck. Tears streamed down their faces, their eyes shut closed by the outpouring of grief as Isabella took her fallen friend's hand. Jane saw an older woman who looked like Aurora, likely Helen, give a glare to someone off-screen.
Jane looked over to see Hack placing his fingers at his forehead and then shoulders; the Catholic sign of the Cross. "Danielle, God bless her, was such an innocent girl. And she was killed. Murdered by that depraved lunatic." Hack accepted a hand that Jane extended. He reached with the other hand and turned off the video. "I'm... I'm sorry...."
"No, I understand." Jane put a hand on her face, trying to deal with the upswelling of horror she felt in her belly. "I understand."

It was several minutes before Hack calmed down enough to continue the story for Jane. "After Danielle's death, everything changed around here. Omar Chaudry, Thunderbolt, left within the month for the Middle East. Abigail Marika, Tracker, returned to Australia with Randall Gill, Blackhawk, following her; they got married and are now living a decent life in Adelaide, with a baby in the family. Sebastian Breit, our senior European member, returned to Europe to run his family's bank and has become the leader of Justice Force Europe. Clyde Morrison went his own way. I hear he's taken up shop in Los Angeles as a night-time crimefighter."
Jane nodded at this. "And this is what led the James getting divorced?"
"I was getting to that part." Hack nodded as well. "Helen blamed James for Danielle's death. Their marriage collapsed to the point that they gave up on it and went their seperate ways. Aurora was bitter at the world and decided to follow her mother. Isabella was too much of a friend to Aurora to stay with the JF, so she went too. They now comprise Helen's Valkyr team."

"And so that's it, huh?" Jane crossed her arms. "The team got whittled down real fast?"
Hack nodded. "For a short time, all we had was Sapphire, Tron, Provost, and Steltek. Then about a year ago, Iceberg joined the team. And now, you."
Jane lowered her head. "And everyone's off trying to kill DarkStar, leaving me behind because they're afraid I'd end up like Danielle?"
"That's about it." Hack looked back at his computer screens. "DarkStar lashed out in a moment of savage cruelty, and did far more damage than even he probably thought would happen."
"Yeah." Jane stood up and walked toward the door. "Well, nothing much to do around here. Might as well go find something to do." She reached for the door control.

"Wait..." Hack held up a hand and picked up a receiver to put on his ear. His hands were a blur at the workstation. The big screen highlighted the global map and began zooming in on the Pacific Northwest, somewhere in British Columbia. "I'm picking up an automated signal. It's a Foundation transmitter and frequency."
"Foundation?" Jane turned back toward Hack and the screen. "As in the Truth and...."
"Yes. It's from Rocket Girl's battlesuit. It's set to transmit this if she is ever disabled inside of her suit."
"And the Foundation is out on assignment." Jane walked up and looked at the screen. "That's quite a distance. But I could probably make it in an hour or two at my full flight speed."
"Hawk wants you to stay here."
"No, Hawk didn't want me fighting the Horsemen." Jane turned and headed to the other door to the launch bay. "He didn't say anything about this."
"You've had a strenuous day. Sure you're up to this?"
Jane stopped and looked back over her shoulder. "Yeah, I can do this."
"Very well." Hack turned back to his console. "Use the communication device built into your belt to stay in contact. I'll monitor you from here."
"Roger that." Jane grinned and ran out the door and to the launch bay. She concentrated and jumped into the air, her fire aura coming to life as she took flight to and then through the opening door to the hanger.

-------------------------------------------------

Police had gathered outside of the church in the outer edge of Ottawa and were repeatedly calling for the hostage takers to open negotiations. DarkStar, naturally, had little interest in negotiations. His point had been simple; they were to find a homeless girl who was a meta-human empath or he would begin killing his hostages. Neither side knew that the Horsemen's target was in the church as well, among the hostages.
Mellian had tried to influence the meta-human criminals with her abilities. But she couldn't get close enough, and their minds were very powerful. They were resisting it.
Finally, at the four hour mark after the takeover, an upset DarkStar pointed to Father O'Malley. "Sorborus!" The massive beastoid did not need to hear anything else. It stomped up to the priest and snatched him, holding him rather easily in the grip of it's massive paws. "So, Father, how would you like to die? Sorborus here can rip your limbs off, or we could have Plague suck the life right out of you."
"Don't hurt these innocent people," O'Malley pleaded. "Let them go, they've done nothing."
"I don't care about innocence." DarkStar grinned. "I have the perfect demise for you." DarkStar nodded at Sorborus and it immediately tossed O'Malley to the pulpit. War's cannon arm came up and a bolt of energy severed the cord holding up a lit cross on the ceiling, which doubled as a light source. It sparked and began to plummet toward the helpless Irishman.

As O'Malley prepared to die, energy began to crackle over the surface of the cross and it stopped in mid-air. Suddenly it changed directions and crashed straight into Sorborus, slamming him against a wall. Steltek flew in through the shattered stain glass window. "Take it outside! Now!"
War and Death did not reply with words but with an attack with their energy weapons. Steltek had no need to evade as Sonya flew beside him and projected her power aura to create an energy field. Their blasts struck the field harmlessly. With her other arm Sonya reached out and slammed War with a blast that threw him out the front door.
"Interfering fools!" DarkStar's aura increased in brightness. He created a razor-sharp slicing weapon made of his red power aura and slashed it at Sonya and Steltek. They dodged to either direction as DarkStar flew past them. He turned and tried to attack Steltek.

Entering through the front door, Tron looked up and a powerful twin blast from his eyes tossed DarkStar clear out of the church and into the nearby field. "Take it outside!", he shouted. A hiss from his side made Tron turn. He fired a blast at the approaching Plague, slamming the deathly-looking meta-human into a pillar with his powerful optic bolts.
Tron barely turned back in time before Death's mouth opened and a powerful energy bolt erupted from it, slamming into him and shoving him into the nearby wall. Death reached an arm out and projected an energy scythe. Steltek moved overhead and picked Tron up just before Death could bring the sickle down. "Now you owe me, Old Man," he said to his leader before dropping him off on the middle of the aisle.
A loud roar came from behind. Sorborus had gotten back up and was stomping toward them. Before he could get close enough, Provost materialized from below and slammed into him at full speed. Both went flying through the right wall of the church.

At the front of the church, War got off the police van he had been slammed into and jumped to his feet. Moving swiftly, almost in a blur he re-entered the church and forced Tron and Steltek to take cover. Tron returned fire just to have War dodge every optic beam fired at him. Running over the rear aisle, War suddenly tripped over the iced-over floor. As he landed on his back, Iceberg entered through the front door and projected more ice onto his foe. War was frozen in place.
"Iceberg, get down!"
The iced-up superhero obeyed his leader, ducking and allowing Tron a clean shot that sent Plague through the wall and out onto the street. From the side, Provost came flying through wall he he and Sorborus had created earlier, slamming into the other wall. Sorborus came through the original hole, prompting Tron and Steltek to attack him with their respective optic beams and electrical discharges. The energy washed over the massive beast's form.

A loud roar from behind prompted Iceberg to jump up onto the nearest pew, allowing him to dodge the scythe in Death's hands. "Tim James," Iceberg grumbled. "You never quit, do you?"
The villain replied by bellowing "I am Death, the Destroyer of Worlds!", the bellow accompanied by a powerful energy blast from James' mouth that slammed into Iceberg and knocked him across the church and into Sorborus. The beastoid angrily lashed out and slammed Iceberg back into the pews. He ended up slumped over one and looked up to see Death preparing another blast.
An explosion knocked the armored villain off his feet. Hawk descended from the roof, clad in his own black uniform and helmet. He pulled out two more of his explosive throwing weapons, shaped almost like knives, and tossed them at Death. The explosion did no damage to his armored hide but did manage to keep him down. Sorborus punched Steltek and Tron out of the way and charged toward Hawk. Hawk jumped into the air, somersaulting so that his hands impacted with Sorborus's shoulders. He gave himself a final heave over the massive villain as Sorborus turned to follow.

Still slumped over the pew, Iceberg reached an arm out and ice formed on the floor of the central aisle. Sorborus's massive clawed feet hit the ice and he immediately fell.
War finally broke free of his icey prison and raised an arm at Iceberg. The hero ducked and the shot hit the back of the church, burning some of it's back wall. War quickly dodged a shot from Tron and another from Steltek. "Hold still you little weasel!", Iceberg grunted while trying to catch War with another ice blast.
War's right arm morphed into a tri-barrelled energy weapon and purple streaks of light erupted from the end. One hit Iceberg in the chest, throwing him back into the wall. War turned to the entrance, growling and noticing Provost coming toward him. He raised his weapon and fired. Provost had gone out of phase, however, and the blast went straight through him and slammed into Plague as he tried to return to the battle. Provost's fist slammed into War's jaw, knocking the speedy villain backward. Another punch to the jaw from Provost's other fist knocked the villain back into Sorborus.
Hawk jumped over Sorborus's fallen form and landed by Iceberg. "You okay?"
Slowly Iceberg's eyes opened. "Okay, yeah, except for getting slammed by a really frickin' big gun." He groaned while Hawk helped him to stand. "That really, really hurts."
"Then don't let yourself get hit anymore." Hawk looked around. Plague was trying to get close to Steltek while Tron's optical beams slammed into War. Provost was fighting with Death, leaving Sorborus still on the ground and out of it. "Where are DarkStar and Sapphire?"


Frightened screams came from the occupants of a run-down apartment when Sonya crashed through the wall, a blast of red energy disappearing as she went through another wall and came to a stop in the hallway of the apartment building. Sonya made a painful breath and flew back through the holes she had created as DarkStar came through them toward her. With a cry of feral rage Sonya's fist slammed into his jaw before he could defend, his aura crumbling momentarily at being struck by it's polar opposite. DarkStar flew backward and out of the building, back into the vacant lot between the building and the church. Sonya followed, generating a blue slicing weapon out of the aura around the knuckles of her hand. She brought it down toward DarkStar just as he began to move, missing him by not even an inch.
Sonya turned in time to bring up a shield that stopped a blast from DarkStar. "Sonya, it's been such a long time. I've missed you."
"One of these days, Scooter, I'm going to put you in the ground."
"Don't you ever call me that!" DarkStar howled in anger and slammed into Sonya at full speed. Sonya used her aura to strike him back, in the stomach, and knock him off. She went skyward and slammed him again with a solid blast from her aura. He slammed into the ground. As Sonya raced toward him he projected a beam to strike her. She projected her own and their respective auras clashed. Blue and red color illuminated the entire city block as they drew closer and closer. "You were always the mouthy girl, weren't you?!"

"And you were always the little geek who thought himself better than everyone else." Sonya's teeth clenched. "Even though you were usually nothing better than a whiny boy who complained because he couldn't get laid!"
DarkStar screamed in pure rage and Sonya realized she had made an error in angering him. He overpowered her and hit her with his full force. As she began to fall he encapsulated her in an extension of his aura. "You will regret ever defying me! You will regret everything you have ever done to me!" Sonya shrieked as an energy coursed through her, setting every nerve on fire. The pain was enough to keep her from restoring her aura.

Red energy sliced through air and struck DarkStar in the back. He cried out and released Sonya, who fell to the ground with a thud. DarkStar turned and saw Tron standing outside the church, a hand on his visor's dial. "You stupid old man!" DarkStar flew low and extended his fists, racing toward Tron at incredible speed. Tron jumped to the side and fired again, hitting DarkStar as he raced by. The visor was set to a focused beam with enough force to shove DarkStar against a second apartment building. The supervillain made a deep imprint in the building's structure before the beam stopped. DarkStar growled, but before he could move again another beam slammed into him, pinning him against the wall.
"All you've ever done is spread death and destruction, DarkStar. Tonight, we're going to put an end to that."
"Tron, look out!"
Sonya's cry made Tron look away from DarkStar just in time to get hit by a back-handed slap from Sorborus. Sorborus's powerful strike knocked Tron to the ground. As he began to get up, Sorborus ripped a light pole out of the ground, causing sparks to fly, and brought it down toward Tron.

Sonya reached out and generated a blue shield from her aura that protected Tron from the first hit, long enough for him to get out of the way. Sorborus brought the pole up again for another swing. Suddenly it crackled with energy and twisted around his wrists, binding him. Steltek moved overhead, a stream of energy leaving his hands and entering the pole. Sorborus roared with anger and tried to swipe at Steltek. He dodged out of the way.
Unfortunately, he dodged straight into DarkStar's line of sight. A blast of red energy struck Steltek in the back and sent him flying across the lot. He nearly slammed into the next building when Sonya caught him with her aura and brought Steltek down to the ground. They both got up and rejoined the fight.

Mellian walked out the side of the church and toward the fence that seperated it from the vacant lot. She watched as the combatants continued to battle, stray shots striking the nearby buildings. People were still running from them in fear as the meta-humans continued to fight.
This had to be stopped. Someone was going to get hurt. Summoning her courage, Mellian climbed up the fence and jumped over. She ran toward the middle of the lot, trying to reach to the attackers and make them calm down. "Stop your fighting!", she screamed at them. "You're hurting innocent people!"
"Girl, get out of the way!", Tron shouted while trying to hit Sorborus with a shot.
"You don't want to fight." Mellian concentrated to try and influence her emotions. "This isn't what you want in your heart. This is...."
Red energy snatched Mellian from the ground. DarkStar went airborne with her, a sphere of red energy coming form his left hand and wrist and forming the sphere. He cackled, "So this is our little empath!" A wave of energy went through Mellian's body. She screamed in reply to the pain. "If only she'd shown herself in the church."
Sonya raced toward DarkStar. "Let her go!" Before she could attack, a couple of blasts from War struck her in the side. Sonya cried out before falling back down to the ground.

DarkStar watched her fall with an evil grin before extending his free arm. A beam of red energy reached down and expanded into a sphere around the Horsemen. "Our work is done. It's time to go!" With them in tow he went skyward and raced off faster than Provost or Steltek could pursue.
Hawk and Iceberg went to Sonya and helped her up. "We've got to follow them." Hawk pressed a button on his belt. "Hack, read me?"
"Yes."
"DarkStar and his boys are running. Try to get us a satellite fix so we can track them."
"Roger on that." There was a short pause. "James, I must tell you, we received an automated distress signal from Rocket Girl in British Columbia. Since there was nobody else, Jane went off to get her."
Hawk frowned. "Dammit, Hack, you sent her off against who knows what?!"
"It was a better alternative if this saves Rocket Girl's life, is it not?" Hack's reply betrayed his annoyance. "Tracking DarkStar now. He's heading north west. I'd say he's going to the Yukon."
"The Yukon?" Hawk frowned and bit into a lip.
Iceberg noticed Hawk's expression. "What?"
"Helen called to tell me that she was suspicious about new employers. They were shipping equipment to the Yukon. And Rocket Girl apparently got clobbered somewhere south of the Yukon." Hawk shook his head. "This does not look good at all."
"Well, let's go after them," Iceberg remarked.
"Yeah." Hawk let go of Sonya as she moved a strand of hair away from her eyes. "Let's get that son of a bitch."
The team quickly dispursed and headed toward Nightwing.

-------------------------------------------------

Sophia brought the Valkyr Hoverjet down on the only available pad at Blackwell's private airport. She looked back to Aurora, who was watching over the unconscious Kylie and Isabella in the back portion of the craft. "Well, go get our money."
"Yeah." Aurora stood up and stepped toward the door. "Livewire, Oracle, stay sharp. I don't want to get taken by surprise."
The two girls nodded and Aurora walked out of the jet and flew over to the office where Black was waiting for her. She stepped inside to his office and saw him standing at his desk. "Ah, Miss Hawk, you have done well." He handed her a suitcase. Aurora popped it open and found a large stack of cash in it. Holding the case with one hand, she picked up the money with the other. "It's all there."
"It is." Aurora nodded. Remembering Rocket Girl's charge of Gabooz's involvment, she asked Black, "So, why do you think a superhero like Rocket Girl was out to stop you?"
Black shrugged. "Perhaps my employer's enemies lied to her. I don't know. Why?"
"Just..... curious...." Aurora felt her eyelids droop. She was getting tired. Very tired.
It was then that she dumped the rest of the money out of the case and saw a device in the bottom, with a small vent. She tossed the case aside and stomped over to Black. "What did you do to me?!" She grabbed him by the collar and lifted him in the air. "What?!"
"It is a special gas. Very short-ranged in the atmosphere, but strong enough to disable you." Black smirked. "Your friends are being disabled as we speak."
"Why?!"
"Our employer has a use for you."
"You mean Gabooz!"
"So the Rocket Girl told you. It doesn't matter at all."
"Your gas doesn't seem to be working," Aurora grumbled. "I'm still awake...." She looked outside as she heard a sound from the hoverjet.
"Yes, it seems I'll have to give it a little help." Before Aurora could react, something slipped into Black's hand from underneath his sleeve. He poked Aurora in the belly with an electrical prod. The electric shock elicited a scream from her before she fell unconscious to the ground.

-------------------------------------------------

Sophia's precog alerted her three seconds before the gas grenades slammed through the windows, allowing her to raise a telekinetic field around herself and Carla just in time. She shoved open the door and brought them both outside of the hoverjet. They were surrounded by human guards and war robots with energy weapons. A voice shouted for them to surrender. "Like hell!", Carla shouted as Sophia let her drop to the ground. Electricity flowed from her finger tips and struck the nearest guard. He howled as the electricity coursed through him and he fell unconscious to the ground. Sophia created a telekinetic field at the opportune time to deflect their laser shots, allowing Carla to focus on the offense as she protected them both.
There was a loud thud on the ground. A meta-human approached them from the side, a massive metallic-looking hulk of metal clad in long trousers to cover his legs. His metallic body was heavily-muscled and imposing. "I am Red Steel," he rumbled in a Russian accent. "You will come with me."

"Like hell we will." Carla struck him with an electrical bolt, which did absolutely nothing. "Oh crap... I thought metal was a very good conductor of electricity?!"
"Most are!" Sophia tried to slow him with her telekinesis. Unfortunately, the prior fight with Rocket Girl had weakened her, and between the rain of energy fire from the guards and this metal hulk, she was losing ground. "Dammit, I can't do this, Livewire! I'm too weak!"
"Then get out of here!" Carla looked up toward Sophia. "Someone has to tell the boss!"
"I'm not leaving you and the others here!"
"Go, dammit!" Carla's eyes crackled with electricity. "Or you'll get caught too!"

Sophia grumbled and then moved away with her telekinesis. Carla projected an electrical field to protect her from the energy weapons while the massive Red Steel stomped toward her. She rolled under him and between his collossal legs to avoid a hammer punch, and like any girl well-versed in self-defense would do, she brought her fist up into his crotch. A scream came from Carla as the impact broke four out of five fingers and sprained her wrist. "You're armored everywhere!" She jumped to the side to avoid another swing, tossing electrical charges at the other guards and robots. She kept her field forward to act as an electrical shield to deflect several shots. Hearing Stalin stomping up behind her, Carla jumped away. But as she hit the ground, an energy shot got past her shield and struck her injured shoulder. Carla cried out and fell to a knee from the intense burning sensation.
By the time she looked up, Red Steel's fist was coming down, and all became black.

Sophia watched this as she flew away, pushing herself as fast as she could. A large war robot flew over her, but Sophia ignored it to concentrate on her flight.
Because of this, she did not notice the loan figure holding onto the robot's back. He jumped down onto Sophia's back and put his hands on her face, holding her cheeks as Sophia screamed in surprise.
Everything disappeared for Sophia. She was back in school, her head aching after she had tossed over an over-muscled jock who had gotten a little too frisky. The other kids had seen this and began screaming at her. Mocking her. Laughing at her.
And there were more memories. Her own relatives recoiling in horror at the "freak" born into the family. Kids she grew up with no longer wanted anything to do with her. Finally her own parents kicking her out at 18. The biting accusation "Freak!" kept echoing in her head over and over....
By the time Sophia hit the ground, she was crying hysterically from the pain of these old memories. The impact knocked her unconscious.

-------------------------------------------------

"You're almost on top of it, Sakura," Jane heard Hack say over the comm unit. "See anything?"
Jane looked down at the terrain. "Nothing."
"Hmm... Keep looking. Hawk and the others just departed Ottawa, but they don't have the fuel for near-orbital course. It's going to take them a few hours to get into position."
"Yeah, got that." Jane kept looking. "I see some trees that have been leveled. Like those films you see of powerful hurricanes."
"You're close then. One of the Valkyr can create and control wind."
Jane looked to either direction until she spotted the familiar red of Rocket Girl's armored suit. "Found her." Jane pointed her legs down and landed on the ground near Rocket Girl. She walked up and examined her. "She's alive, I think."
"Take her helmet off. I'll tell you how."

Jane listened as Hack explained the process to her, and in a minute or so the detachable helmet of the armor was to her side. The woman inside the battle armor had dark hair, cut short. Her eyes slowly opened while she groaned. "Who..." She concentrated for a moment. "The rookie from San Francisco? How did you get out here?"
"A long story." Jane helped her get up. "So, what happened?"
"Some meta-human girls juimped me." Rocket Girl looked Jane over. "That's a new look. And your belt... Ah, joined up with James Hawk's outfit, huh?"
"Yeah."
"Good for you. But I'm going to need some help." Rocket Girl looked behind Jane and saw something. "So, who is that?"
Jane turned and looked up. She recognized the woman flying down at them as Helen Hawk. Her uniform was the same as Jane had seen in her files: trousers, boots, and a black bodice that bared the arms and shoulders, with a hawk emblem over the chest. "You're the former Mrs. Hawk?"
"Yes." Helen looked Jane over. "You're new to the JF."
"Yeah."
"I'm going to need your help." Helen crossed her arms. "Black is obviously in cahoots with Gabooz, and as I didn't heard from my daughter and the Valkyr after they arrived at his facility, I'm sure he took my girls prisoner for whatever reason. I want to get them back."
"You and your girls could be in an awful lot of trouble for helping Gabooz," Rocket Girl said in an accusing tone. "The government doesn't like meta-human terrorists."

"We had a legitimate contract," Helen retorted. "And you have no legal authority to stop anything, the authorities just turn their heads whenever you do something right."
"Can't this wait?" Jane stepped between them. "We have more important things to do."
"Yes, we do. Are you in contact with Pedro? Hack, I believe he's called now?"
"Yes."
"Good." Helen drew closer to Jane and took the comm unit from her belt. She pressed down on the transmitter button and said, "Speedy Gonzales, you there?"
"Yes. Good to hear from you Helen."
"Save it for later. I plant my girls with subdermal transmitters. GPS system-compatible, of course." Helen stepped away.
Rocket Girl looked to the younger woman after picking up her helmet. "So, when did you sign up with them?"
"Just yesterday, actually."

"Ah. I figured you were involved in that forest fire a couple days ago. Good to hear that you were putting it out." Rocket Girl smirked. "I was a little afraid you'd gone batty and were the one who set it in the first place. But what were you doing out of San Francisco?"
"Going East. I was actually going to take you guys up on the offer. I had nothing else to do, nowhere else to turn."
Rocket Girl nodded. "Well, rookie, it's a good thing they found you, because the Foundation has no positions open at this time."
Helen stepped back toward them. "Hack is tracking their signal. Shall we be going?"
"Of course." Rocket Girl clenched a fist. "But you'd better not be trying anything."
"If I were, you'd never see it coming anyway," Helen guffawed.
Both women heard a sizzle and a rush of flame, and looked away to see Jane already in flight. "She's an eager one." Rocket Girl put her helmet back on and slipped the attachments down. "Let's go," she said, her voice again metallic and tinny-sounding.
They both took off, following Jane through the air.

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Steve
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Post by Steve » 2006-02-07 03:28am

Chapter 4


Wearing a protective armor suit, Gabooz stepped into the equipment room with his guards. His machinery, much of it Soviet-era equipment or refined versions of it, was completely assembled. All that he needed know was the empath, and DarkStar would be arriving shortly with her.
Arrayed in front of the machine's local projector were five restraint frames now occupied by the Valkyr. The frames had their limbs arrayed in an X-shape, powerful restraints covering their feet and hands and a neck brace to keep their heads stable. Each occupant was now waking up.
Gabooz stepped up to the middle frame and put a hand on the cheek of it's occupant, Aurora Hawk. Her dark eyes opened slowly. She saw Gabooz looking at her and frowned. "What is going on?!" She tried to struggle against her restraints. A powerful electric shock surged through Aurora and she howled.

"Your restraints are attached to a system that detects the brain patterns of meta-human powers being used," Gabooz informed them. "Try to use them and the shock that results vill be most painful."
Kylie turned her head to the right to face Gabooz. "What do you want from us?"
He walked over to her. Taking a moment to examine her, Gabooz put a hand on her cheek. "You vill be the first. The first of the new humanity, deprived of all fractious reactionary thought. The first of the New Humanity that vill finally bring about a Communist Paradise on Earth."
"Get your hand off of me," Kylie hissed.
"So lovely." Gabooz put a hand into her rich blond hair. "Your meta-human talents are merely a portion of vhat I like of you."

Kylie replied by spitting in his face. Gabooz snarled and wiped the spittle off of his right eye and cheek. He reached down to the control on his armor's right arm and pressed a button. An electrical current passed through Kylie. She began to scream. "Defiance vill not be tolerated. Not that you vill have much of a choice wery soon." He stopped the current and Kylie's body relaxed, her chest heaving as she sucked in air.
Verbitsky stepped away from the machine. "Comrade, the Horsemen are returning. They have the empath with them."
Gabooz grinned. "Excellent. Open the blast doors!"

-------------------------------------------------

DarkStar and the Horsemen descended toward the mine shaft's opening, Mellian slumped unconscious over Sorborus's shoulder. As they went to enter it, the shaft's defenses came alive. The villains turned back just in time to see why.
Rocket Girl was the first to come low. Energy bolts came out of her wrist-mounted particle blasters, silencing two turrets. Behind her, Helen soared low and twisted a turret's gun on itself, moving away as it fired again and exploded.
DarkStar removed the field protecting the Horsemen, taking Mellian from Sorborus and going toward the shaft. War and Death began blasting away with their energy discharges while Plague and Sorborus rushed to get into range.

Jane ignored all fire coming her way and raced for the door. Flames erupted from her arms and enveloped War, who screeched as he tried unsuccessfully to hit her with energy fire. Jane did not hear Helen's shout to pull back and went straight for the door as it began to close. She pushed herself forward with as much speed as she could muster and got through just before the blast doors closed.
DarkStar had already flown ahead, but there were robots and human guards waiting for Jane as she came down the incline toward the base's interior. She lifted an arm and created fired around her targets. The men shouted from being lit on fire, jumping to the ground while the robots began to melt in place from the intensity of the flame. Jane flew past them and came upon another closed blast door. Not to be stopped, Jane gathered her strength and created a tight beam of flame that began cuting through the blast door like a blow torch.

Minutes passed and Jane found her breath was becoming labored. She stopped a moment to catch her breath when she realized to her horror that it wasn't her fatigue that was making her breathing heavier. They had sealed off the air vents to the base entrance corridor and she had now burned up all of the oxygen in the room.
Desperate, Jane restored the aura and tried to continue burning through, but this was a foolish mistake. The aura slowly died and the beam lost cohesion, until finally all of the oxygen was used up. Jane fell to her knees and hands, trying to breathe. Her lungs felt like they were going to explode out of her chest from the pain. Everything became black.

Jane lost consciousness as the air began circulating again. The door slid open and DarkStar and Gabooz came through it. "She's a new one," DarkStar said.
"I've seen this wildflower before," Gabooz commented. "She was in the forest. She prevented my wildfire from spreading long enough for the Justice Force to come to the rescue."
"Going to put her with the others?"
"No." Gabooz crossed his arms. "I'm going to let Pablo play with her. She should provide some useful information to use against the others." He looked over at DarkStar. "Why don't you join your Horsemen in getting rid of the nuisances outside?"
"With pleasure." DarkStar flew off toward the entrance.
Gabooz knelt over and lifted Jane onto his shoulder, taking her deeper into the complex.

-------------------------------------------------

Helen tore the computer processor out of one of the monolithic robotic forms protecting the base shaft and turned to Rocket Girl, who was deflecting blasts from War with a shield projecting from her forearm. She picked the massive robot up, and with a grunt of effort tossed it at War and Death. They did not see it coming until it was too late, so it crashed into them and knocked them both down.
Rocket Girl immediately turned her attention, and her shoulder cannons, to Plague. He avoided one shot and then another, but the third made contact with his chest and knocked him over. She looked over at Helen, who flew up beside her. "The rookie's going to be in a heap of trouble when we get in there."
"I think we have more important things to worry about," Helen replied. She pointed to the opening shaft doors. DarkStar flew out, his aura fully charged. "I hope you're up to this."

"He shouldn't be that hard." RocketGirl flew toward DarkStar and fired a pair of energy blasts toward him. At his mental command, the aura expanded to create a shield that absorbed the blasts. "Then again..."
From the door, DarkStar was joined by more of Gabooz's creations. The heavily armored Guardians, black and red creations with energy cannons on the arms and chests and missile emplacements on the legs and shoulders. Helen flexed an arm. "Just like old times," she muttered before charging toward them.
Rocket Girl flew to one side of DarkStar, keeping the fire pouring from her shoulder weapons, when he finally retorted. With his other arm, DarkStar created a power blast that Rocket Girl barely avoided. Several more erupted from his outward palm and Rocket Girl barely brought up her shield in time to stop it. One got through and hit her, knocking her to the ground.

DarkStar moved closer and created a sharp blade from his power aura. "Meddling fools," he spat while bringing it toward Rocket Girl's chest. Before he could try to put it through her armor, Helen took one of the Guardians by the arm and tossed it at him. The massive robot collided with him and both hit the ground. "That will buy us some time!"
Rocket Girl got off the ground and shouted, "Look out!"
Helen turned, but not in time to see the missile from one of the Guardians. She grunted loudly as she caught it with her arms. Before she could throw it back, the warhead went off and she was tossed into the side of the mountain.
By the time Helen got back up, RocketGirl had flown back over to her. "I think we need to pull back for a bit."
Helen heard a howl of rage and watched a red scythe cut through the fallen Guardian, and DarkStar emerge from it's remains. "Yes, I think we do."
They both took to the air, pursued by the Guardians.

-------------------------------------------------

Verbitsky finished securing Mellian into the machine at the moment Gabooz re-entered the chamber. "Has she been given the drug?"
"She has, Comrade Verbitsky. Brain activity has spiked and her meta-human powers are operating at maximum capability."
"Very well. We'll begin the process with these young ladies." Gabooz looked over at the Valkyr.
Sophia looked up at him. "What did you do to that girl?"
"It is a drug I have perfected over the years. It accelerates activity in the portion of the brain that controls meta-human talents. In this case, the increase is nearly a hundred fold. If she were not unconscious and nearly brain-dead from the effects of the drug, this girl could probably control the emotions of every human being within a hundred miles. But I'm aiming for far more than that." Gabooz went to the controls of the machine. "We're using her brain as an amplifier. Soon I will hook this machine up into the global communications network, and control the emotions of everyone on the Earth. I will increase apathy and tendency to obedience while suppressing all defiance, even as my machine's other effects eliminate free will. This will make my takeover very easy. But first..." Gabooz pressed several buttons and a transmission dish swiveled toward the Valkyr. "I will try it on you."

The five women braced themselves and were soon enveloped in light energy from the dish. They began screaming from the searing pain in their heads.
Gabooz stepped away from the machine. "Monitor them closely, Comrade Verbitsky. I will go check on the fire girl."
Verbitsky nodded and stood beside the status screen, ignoring the cries from the Valkyr.
Gabooz took a couple of turns once in the main halls until he entered the appropriate room. In the middle was a restraint frame similar to the ones placed into the machinery chamber. It's occupant was Jane. Standing beside her, in a familiar KGB commissar's uniform, was a special meta-human agent Gabooz had known since the fall of the Soviet Union twenty years prior. For security purposes, he went by a false name he used during operations in Latin America: Pablo Sanchez. A meta-human with powerful telepathy, though it required physical contact. "Comrade Pablo. Are you ready to begin?"
"I am."
"Very good. Wake her up."

-------------------------------------------------

Jane's eyes snapped open and a gutteral cry came from her lungs from the electric shock that surged through her. Gabooz, complete in battle armor, stood in front of her. Beside him was a man in a strange olive-colored uniform, with Soviet-era regalia all over. "Good day, young lady. Ve meet again." Gabooz walked up to her. "You are brave, but not wery bright, da?"
"What do you want from me? More brainwashing?"
"Perhaps later. This is Comrade Pablo, my senior political commissar. He has some questions to ask you." Gabooz pointed to her belt. "Since you have signed on vith the Justice Force, ve vish to know all there is to know about them. That comes before crushing your free vill."
"So what? Are you going to torture it out of me?" Jane spat at him. "Do your worst."
"As I said, wery brave. But physical torture? Absolutely not!" Gabooz laughed and stepped away. "It's so crude. And it never vorks as vell as advertised. Comrade Pablo provides a wastly superior alternative."

Jane grunted and tried to establish her aura. A powerful electric current passed through her, the most painful thing Jane had ever felt. She screamed as a result of it. "I vould not recommend using your powers," Gabooz noted. "This device detects such attempts, and replies vith a wery powerful electric current."
While Jane groaned, Pablo stepped up to her. "Do not worry, Comrade Gabooz, I will find out everything you need to know. Go do whatever it is you need."
Jane did not see Gabooz walk away. She felt Pablo's hands touch her on the face and his face come close enough that she could feel his breath.
Everything became dark. She was alone. Jane looked around as she heard a voice say, "Show me what lies within. Show me everything."
"No!" Jane clenched her fists. "I'm not going to give in to you."
Pablo appeared in front of her. "Tell me about pain, Jane Doe." He reached for her. Jane recoiled away from him and into his own waiting arms. The copy held her tight while the first came close. "Show me your pain, girl without a name."
He stared intently at Jane and their surroundings finished. She was in front of a familiar sight. A childrens' home in the city.

Jane was eight years old again, clinging tightly to the leg of a foster mother who had been forced to give her back to the State after her boyfriend was found in possession of drugs. Jane cried, "No! I want to stay with you Mommy!"
The older woman, in her thirties, looked down at her. "Jane, I'm sorry. I can't have you anymore."
"No!" Jane was taken by a couple of the home attendants and pulled away from the woman forcefully. "No! Mommy!" She strugged and pulled against the men, but they were too strong. Soon she was inside, and she would never see her "mother" again.
"She was the only one," Jane heard Pablo say through her wracked sobs. "The only foster mother you loved. The only one you called 'Mommy'. And you never saw her again."

In another few moments, Jane was fourteen. Her foster parents this time were an older married couple. A very religious married couple. The mother especially was rather strict about it, and was now screaming at her. "I do not want to see you dressed like that! Do you hear me, young lady?! I don't care how many of your friends wear those clothes, they can be godless sluts if they want, but you're going to be a proper Christian woman and I will not stand...."
"They never loved you," Pablo said. "He barely tolerated you. She was determined to destroy everything you wanted in life. That's why they sent you back to the State, isn't it?"
A year older, Jane was being pushed into a car by state child officers. Her foster mother was giving her a cold glare. "You lost all of your friends in school. All because you wouldn't go to church. How pathetic was that?" She turned her head and saw Pablo sitting by her. "Let's face it, Jane, nobody in this world really wanted you. You were never important enough. You're just another statistic."

Now it was the sidewalk outside of her high school, in Jane's senior year. An attractive boy she had been trying to date stood in front of her. "Jane, you're really cute and all, but I don't want you as a girlfriend. I can't afford supporting you right now. I'm sorry."
Jane's eyes filled with tears. The boy morphed into Pablo. "Nobody wants you, Jane. Not even your own parents!"
Sobbing, Jane screamed, "Get out of my mind!" The memory dissolved and Jane was again alone in the black.
"If you surrender your pain to me, Jane, you'll never feel it again." Pablo's voice was sinister and cold. "I'm going to take what I want anyway. You might as well give up now and spare yourself."
"Get out of my mind!!!!"
"That wasn't enough? Let's make you relive it all..... once again."
The blackness disappeared and Jane screamed, physically and mentally, as the hidden torments of her soul were released.

-------------------------------------------------

Helen tossed Plague into Death and went back into the air, where Rocket Girl was pouring firepower into DarkStar's protective field. Helen came up behind him and slammed him in the back of the head with a punch. He fell to the ground and created a cloud of dust with his impact, making a foot-deep imprint in the rock.
Rocket Girl flew up to Helen and reached her shield arm around her comrade, deflecting a laser bolt from more Guardians. "They keep coming!"
"So much for pulling back," Helen said. "Get them in the flanks."
The two heroines split up and flew at the Guardians from the sides. Rocket Girl's hand cannons fired and yellow energy speared through her targets. Helen plowed through the chest of one and the neck of a second. At the third on her side, she flew to the side to dodge a laser blast and grabbed it's arm. She howled in frustration while ripping the left arm off. With a swing she smacked the wounded Guardian back and against it's companion, knocking both to the ground. Helen tossed the arm at another while Rocket Girl finished the last in the squad off.

A missile from a second incoming squad came in from behind. Rocket Girl and Helen turned in time to see it and began to move before it's proximity warhead detonated. It detonated before they could get to a safe distance and they were slammed into the ground.
When they looked up, the second squad was in firing range. Their weapons fired before either could move. A blue energy field suddenly appeared in front of Rocket Girl and Helen, absorbing the shots.
Sonya flew up behind them, surrounded by a sphere of blue that also contained Tron and Iceberg. She let them go as she got close to the ground. Picking up speed, Sonya created an arrowhead at the tip of her aura and plowed through one of the Guardians, decapitating it. The one beside it lost it's head shortly thereafter to a blast of Tron's eyebeams.

Iceberg reached out toward a Guardian. It stopped and began to tremor before it collapsed with all of it's hydraulics burst. Without pausing he turned to another and turned it's hydraulics into pure ice, causing it to lose motion and fall over.
"Look out!" Steltek flew between Iceberg and a Guardian that was about to shoot him with it's chest beam. An electro-magnetic field stopped the bolt. Steltek raised both hands and tore the machine apart with magnetic force.
Another Guardian fell from combined blasts from Tron and Rocket Girl. Helen took off and was joined in mid-air by Provost. They each took on a Guardian. Helen slammed into one, punching away at it's head and blinding it. She wrapped her arms around the head, and with a loud cry of exertion Helen ripped it off.
Provost flew toward his foe and dephased in time to let a trio of particle beams pass harmlessly through him. He flew up and through the machine's chest, coming out the back of the head. The Guardian sparked and de-activated. Provost watched it hit the ground while crushing it's removed motherboard with his hand.

Sonya finished off the last Guardian in time to bring up a shield to protect herself from a blast of DarkStar's power aura. They immediately resumed their combat from Ottawa.
War and Death stomped up, joined by the massive Red Steel. "It's Red Steel," Rocket Girl said in an insulting tone. "Gabooz's favorite meta-human lackey."
Tron pointed toward them. "Steltek, deal with metal boy over there. Iceberg, Kristan, we'll take the other Horsemen."
Iceberg crafted a shield of thick ice that blocked a powerful blast from Death's mouth. War's arms morphed into energy cannons and his fire joined the others. He dodged swiftly to the side to avoid a blast from Tron.
From behind Red Steel, Sorborus appeared. It roared and tossed a massive chunk of rock at Rocket Girl and Steltek. Helen flew in front of it and caught it. She tossed it toward DarkStar, who was locked in a grapple with Sonya. Sonya saw it coming and pushed DarkStar off to get away from the boulder. It slammed into DarkStar and both went down to the ground. Sonya turned to the battle and projected a shield wall to protect Tron and Iceberg from War and Death.
Iceberg formed a puddle of water below them and hardened it to ice, keeping War from moving long enough for Tron to blast him. The blast was strong enough to dislodge War from the ice and straight into Sorborus. The lighter villain did not actually cause his larger compatriot to move with the impact. Enraged, Sorborus picked War up and tossed him at Steltek. Steltek did not move in time to dodge and was knocked to the ground.

With Steltek's control gone, Red Steel dropped from where Steltek had suspended him in mid-air. He stomped toward Iceberg and Tron. Tron's eye beams struck the armored giant and only managed to slow him down. Iceberg tried to ice his legs over, but Red Steel was simply too strong for ice constraint and each step shattered the ice sheath.
From behind them, a shining projectile soared to Red Steel's feet and detonated. The ground under him shattered for several feet and he fell down into the resulting hole. Hawk jumped down from the ledge he had been on. A plasma cannon was in his arms. "Iceberg, now!"
Iceberg nodded in reply and filled the hole with ice, restraining Red Steel completely.
Helen landed beside Hawk with her hands on her hips. Hawk looked over at her and grinned. "Like old times, huh? And you're still wearing that uniform."
"I've got nothing better," Helen replied. "Come on, they've probably got the girls in their base, and your new girl flew in alone."
Helen put a hand around Hawk's waist and went airborne again.

A loud roar of rage echoed over the battlefield. DarkStar had regained consciousness and was now gunning for Helen and Hawk. He formed an axe with his power aura and brought it down to land a killing blow. Sonya flew up between them and the blade and projected her aura to form a shield. She grunted as DarkStar pushed against her field and pushed back. With a free hand she projected a solid blast of energy that slammed into DarkStar and made him dissolve the axe. Sonya screamed in rage and plowed into him, fists swinging.
Tron's eyebeams struck Sorborus after he landed a punch on Provost, allowing Provost to phase out and get out of the way. Rocket Girl swooped in low and punched Death straight on. The shelled meta-human struck back with a back-handed slap, knocking Rocket Girl out of the way. he was struck by a solid geyser of very hot water coming from Iceberg's fingertips.
"Look out!" Provost flew through Iceberg, became solid again, and slammed into Plague. He quickly gained altitude to get out of Plague's life-draining range while Iceberg turned and created an ice shell around Plague to restrain him.
Death opened his mouth. Iceberg was hit from the side by a solid bolt of dark energy and smashed to the ground. Death stomped up toward him and tried to stomp on his chest. Provost slammed into Death at this point and knocked him away.

As Provost flew up from hitting Death, he felt a sudden pang of pain in his mind. "Jane," he said softly. "Tron! I sense Sakura's mind! It is crying out for help!"
"Time for that later," the older man barked while blasting another newly-arriving Guardian. "We've got work to do." Steltek lifted a pair of destroyed Guardians' fists and slammed them into the damaged Guardian, dismembering it.
Provost sighed in resignation and flew back toward the battle.

-------------------------------------------------

The blast door was sealed tight when Hawk and Helen landed in front of it. "This will only take five minutes," Hawk assured his ex before stepping up to the controls. He began to open the plate to get into the inner wiring and hotwire the door to open.
Helen was not so patient. She flew up into the air, gave herself some distance, and flew as fast as she could into the door shoulder first. The impact managed to bruise her, but she came out the better of the two, as the door came apart and left a large hole for Hawk to step through. He looked at her with an amused grin and helped her onto her feet. "That's the Helen I married. Always one for the direct approach."
"And you always were in favor of stealth. And not one to get straight to the point either." Helen mimicked his amused grin. "Let's end this awkward moment and get back to work, James."
"Yes, let's."

The couple ran through the facility. Around one corner they found the smaller war robots Gabooz employed. Helen plowed straight through one and slammed the other with a punch. Hawk reached to his shoulder and whipped out his blade. He leapt to the wall to avoid a blast, jumped off the wall to avoid another, and executed a perfect hurricane cut in mid-air to decapitate both of his foes. Helen looked at him. "Still using that adamantine sword?"
"What else would I use?"
"Was just wondering if you'd gone all-gun in your old age." Helen smirked and flew on. Hawk ran after her.
Gabooz's facility was, thankfully, not very complex in layout. A few turns and they found themselves confronted with another set of blast doors. Helen plowed straight into it and knocked it out of the way. They found themselves in a large chamber. A young woman that Hawk recognized as the girl in Ottawa was securely fitted into a machine.

Seeing their daughter, and the other Valkyr, unconscious in their restraints, Helen and Hawk ran up to the restraint frames and opened them. As they opened them, a noise made Hawk turn. He tossed an explosive when he saw Gabooz. The throwing weapon exploded harmlessly against Gabooz's battle armor. "I see you have come to save your precious girls, Mrs. Hawk. I am afraid that they no longer vant saving."
They were given no chance to respond. Carla's eyes snapped open and an electrical field generated around them. They cried out and fell to the ground. Hawk was unconscious, Helen nearly so. She tried to get up and was pulled to her feet by her own daughter. Aurora's face was without expression as her fist slammed into her mother's jaw. Helen collapsed and fell unconscious.
The last thing she heard was Gabooz's evil cackling.

-------------------------------------------------

Gabooz watched the brainwashed Valkyr shackle their would-be rescuers into their restraint frames and turned back to Doctor Verbitsky and his men. They were putting the final touches on the satellite transmission system that would allow him to take over the minds of everyone on the Earth. "How much longer, Comrade Verbitsky?"
"We are still working, Comrade, but it will be finished shortly."
"It had better," Gabooz said. "The capitalists are at the gates. We must act swiftly to stop them."

-------------------------------------------------

The barrage of painful memories continued for Jane. She found herself lying in bed sometime in the middle of the night. She was not wearing any clothes and she only had to look to the other side of the bed to remember what this was.
The one person she'd ever felt love for, a former classmate named Gerald, was standing in the doorway. This had been their last night together.
For the moment he began kissing and touching her. Suddenly Gerald became Pablo, causing Jane to scream as he began laughing and repeating those horrible words that Gerald had said that night.
Jane, I don't love you and I never will. It was all for the sex and you know that.
"Stop! Please!" Jane curled up into a fetal position on the bed. "Please stop.... please stop it!"

Her tormentor replied, "Show me what I want to know." Jane found herself standing in a void, naked and cold. Her wrists were bound to invisible chains, holding her arms out to either side. Pablo stepped up to her, an evil grin on his face. "You cannot hide from me. I can see everything in your soul, Jane." He laid a hand on her, then the second, and he seemed to be all over her. A sharp pain filled Jane and she cried out. It was rape; not physically, but a mental violation as the KGB telepath stripped her soul bare.
In real life, Jane's eyes were tightly shut and she was struggling against her restraints while Pablo's hands remained fixed to her face. Her terrible screams surprised even Pablo's aides. They had never seen their boss do this to someone before; she was wailing as if he were ripping her soul to shreds.
Which is exactly what he was doing.


Provost dephased as Sorborus and Red Steel came at him from different directions. They ended up punching each other and were knocked onto their backs. He rephased and suddenly a sharp cry echoed in his head. "Jane," he said softly. He turned to Tron, who was busy with a Guardian, and flew over. "Sakura is under mental attack," said Provost. "Her mind is being ripped apart from the inside. She needs help."
"We're a little busy, Provost."
"You can't just leave her to get mind-shredded," Steltek grunted while protecting Iceberg from Death's blasts with his electromagnetic fields. "We can handle this, Old Man. Sakura shouldn't be left to that."
Tron bit into his lip. "Do what you have to."
Provost nodded and disappeared into the ground.

Moving through solid dirt and rock, Provost followed the telepathic signal he was getting from Sakura into the facility. He did not phase back until he was inside the facility.
Provost immediately came under fire from sentries. He thought about fighting but realized he had to hurry and help Jane before too much damage was done. He phased out again and moved through the ground. After a short distance around his attackers, he came back up and into an unoccupied supply locker. Provost sat down and concentrated, reaching out telepathically for Jane.

He found himself standing on the waterfront of San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge was in clear view. There was nobody present, or so Provost thought until he heard sobbing. He turned and saw a little girl of about eight sitting, her head bowed as she cried in misery. The girl's hair and general appearance told Provost who she was, so he stepped up to her and knelt beside her. "Jane?"
"Nobody wants me," the girl sobbed. "Nobody loves me. I'm nothing. I'm nobody. I shouldn't live."
"That isn't true, Jane."
"I'm nothing to nobody."
Provost took her small hand with his and used the other to wipe the tear off her face. "No, Jane. You are someone. You are...."
"What is this?!" A figure materialized in front of Provost. "What are you doing here?!", Pablo screeched. "She is mine!"
"She is no one's!" Provost stood. "Leave her mind at once!"
"Never! Now that I have broken her, I am the ultimate power here!" Pablo lunged and slammed into Provost. Provost tripped backward. When he landed on the ground, tendrils formed from the street reached up and grabbed him, holding him down. A blade appeared in Pablo's hand. "I am more powerful here, telepath. Here I can slay your mind and leave your body to wither and die!"

Provost looked to Jane. "Jane, this is your mind! You are in absolute control! You can still stop him!"
"No! You're nothing! You're a nobody!" Pablo clenched a fist. "It's as I've shown you; you are a mistake! You should never have existed!"
"He shows you the worst in your life, but you know there is better. People who really did love you, who felt you were a woman of worth!" Provost struggled against the tendrils as Pablo's blade drew closer to his chest.
"But.... I'm nothing," Jane whimpered through the sobs.
"That's not true! You are Jane Doe and you are a good person. Your memories, your hopes, sorrows, and joy, these things make you what you are! You know this. This is why you chose to risk your life for the sake of others!"
"Shut up!"
Pablo brought the blade down, just to have it disappear from his grasp before it could pierce Provost. He looked at his empty hand in wonderment. The tendrils holding Provost down disappeared.

Jane was no longer a little girl. She was again her adult form, complete with uniform. She threw a vicious punch that connected with Pablo and knocked him backward. Provost threw another to keep him disorientated. They each grabbed an arm and tossed him into the water. Provost put a hand on her chin. "I will help you. Push him out of your mind! Awaken your power!"
"The restraints will shock me if my powers come active," Jane told him. "I can't."
"Yes, you can. Ignore whatever pain it causes, you can do this. I will help."
Jane nodded and, after bracing herself for a moment, summoned her aura.

-------------------------------------------------

Pablo's two aides could not tell who was screaming loudest. Jane's fire aura came to life and Pablo's hands became covered in flame, forcing him to pull away. Her face contorted and showed an expression of agony from the electricity crackling through her. With her teeth gritted Jane maintained the aura. It began to melt her restraints.
While one aide ran for the fire extinguisher, the other looked at his control station. "The current is being interrupted! She's melting the leads!"
"Turn it up!", Pablo howled. "Kill her if you have to!"
The aide reached for the power dial to increase the power surge, but he never got a chance to turn it. A hand thrust out of the station and slammed into his forehead, knocking the man out cold. Provost emerged from the control station with wires in his left fist.

The current running through Jane ceased. She opened her eyes and concentrated her fire into one hand. The restraint quickly melted way, freeing her right hand. She turned to Pablo, and with a howl of rage caused the fire on his arm to expand to his whole body and onto his aide. Both men went screaming out the door to get an extinguisher.
Provost hit a key on the control station that released the remaining restraints and let Jane stumble free. She took two steps and fell to her knees, steam rising from her back while she bowed her head and rested for a moment. Provost walked over and helped her to her feet. "You did good, Sakura."
"Thanks." Jane grinned at him. "But I owe you for that one."
"You owe me for nothing." Provost put a hand on her sweat-coated shoulder. "But we have no time to talk now. Gabooz must be stopped."
"Then let's go!"
They both went for the door.

-------------------------------------------------

Helen and Hawk had regained consciousness just as Gabooz and Verbitsky put the final touches on their machinery. "Just what are you doing?!" Hawk snarled. "What did you do to the girls?!"
"They vere test subjects," Gabooz replied. "For my great machine. It combines the brainwave programmer my people have constructed vith the empathic powers of this girl, increased a hundred fold by the most powerful drugs I could create." He pointed to the unconscious girl in the machine's alcove. "She is effectively brain-dead, as all her neural capacity is going to be used to boost the power on my machine's signal. Once ve tap it into the satellite system, the vorld vill be under my control and mine alone. I vill then create a true Vorker's Paradise so that Marx shall finally be windicated!"
"The system is ready, Comrade!", Verbitsky shouted.
"Then power it up, and let the new age of Man begin!"
Verbitsky hit the appropriate button to start the machine.
Gabooz watched it light up with satisfaction. His time had finally come, after all these years! It would be glorious.

That was when a burst of flame struck his precious machine.
The enslaved Sophia acted immediately to protect it by creating a telekinetic field to deflect the flame, but it did cause Gabooz to turn. Jane were standing at the entranceway. "You!" Gabooz clenched his fists. "How did you get out?!"
"Let's just say your friend's having a bit of a hot flash right now. So...." Jane ignited her aura and clenched her fists. "Who's first?!"

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Steve
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Post by Steve » 2006-02-07 03:29am

Chapter 5

"Valkyr, destroy her!"
At Gabooz's command the five Valkyr went into action. Sophia and Carla tossed telekinetic and electric bolts at Jane. Aurora and Isabella raced toward her, the latter getting close enough to nearly land a punch before Jane was airborne. Aurora followed Jane into the air and tried to land a punch, which Jane narrowly dodged. She kicked out with her leg and caught Aurora in the chin, knocking the stronger meta-human back. Jane did not wait for Aurora's counterattack. She flew on to Carla, avoiding an electric jolt and slamming Carla in the chin with a mid-air uppercut.
Isabella slammed into her and knocked Jane to the ground. Jane rolled with the momentum and went back into the air while Aurora came straight for her. Jane was about to shoot flame at her to make Aurora move away when a powerful circular wind struck her. Kylie's outstretched arms moved about, creating a miniature tornado.

Jane concentrated and caused a massive shower of flame that hit Kylie in the arm and made her scream. She fell to the ground, writhing in pain. Free of the winds, Jane ducked a nasty punch from Aurora and kicked her in the belly. Aurora's meta-human strength and physical fortitude made sure she barely felt the impact. Jane had to dodge out of the way.
Unfortunately for her, Sophia had created a solid telekinetic wall which Jane ran into at full speed. She grunted in surprise and hit the ground. Aurora pointed her foot downward and began to plummet.
Provost suddenly emerged from the floor, going through Jane and solidifying in time to catch Aurora with an uppercut to the chin. Aurora hit the ground, knocking Isabella and Sophia down, and made an imprint in the floor from the force of Provost's own impressive strength. Without pausing Provost went for the restraints holding Hawk and Helen. "Sakura, destroy the machine!", Hawk shouted.
Jane nodded and went into the air again. Carla tried to create an electrical field around Jane but Jane was too quick in getting out of the way. She began to cover the machine in flame.

"Stupid fool!" Gabooz raised an arm and fired a bolt of energy from a handblaster built into his battle armor. Jane swerved to avoid it. "You vill kill the girl inside!"
Jane stopped immediately. "Just destroy the damned thing!", she heard Helen shout, and she did begin to strike the machine with flame again. But in her heart Jane could not cause an innocent person's death, so she stopped.
Another blast from Gabooz connected with Jane's chest and slammed her into the opposite wall. Jane fell to her belly and stayed their a moment. Gabooz laughed and looked back to Vertbitsky. "Comrade, activate the machine! Let the new order begin!"
Helen was freed by this time. She went airborne and charged toward Gabooz, slamming into him and knocking him down. Provost freed Hawk and immediately ducked a blast of electricity from Carla. Hawk reached into his belt and pulled out a throwing weapon, which he tossed to the ground before him as Isabella came by. It was not a conventional explosion, but rather a brief blinding flash, which caused Isabella to lose her sight for a crucial moment and slam into the wall.
Aurora had recovered and came straight for Helen. Daughter and mother exchanged blows in mid-air until a blast of telekinetic energy struck Helen and tossed her to the side.
Sophia turned her powers into creating a field around Jane so that she would run out of oxygen. This means she did not see Provost come up behind her. His eyes glowed an eerie green as he established telepathic contact. Sophia suddenly grabbed her head and screamed, falling to her knees and arms. When she looked back up, she blinked. "Wha.... what happened?"
"You were under Gabooz's control. Go help the others." Provost looked to Kylie, who was beginning to stir. "I will free your friends."

Sophia nodded and stood up. She concentrated and projected a telekinetic field around Hawk to deflect an attack from Gabooz. Hawk did not seem to realize that Gabooz's shot had been deflected, concentrating on slicing open a part of Gabooz's armor with his adamantine blade. Gabooz stepped backward and allowed Isabella to attack Hawk. A flurry of her punches knocked him into the wall.
Gabooz looked at Sophia. "Vhy did you help him?!"
He was answered by a telekinetic blast which slammed him through the wall.
Sophia projected a field in time to stop Isabella's attacks. Her mesmerized friend continued to circle her field, punching away in vain. A scream echoed in the room again and Kylie slumped to her knees, out of Provost's grip.
With Kylie freed, Provost turned his attention to Isabella. Sophia created a telekinetic bump in the ground, an invisible force that Isabella tripped over. She landed and was immediately grabbed by Provost. Isabella began to scream.

"Stop!" Gabooz brought out an arm cannon and leveled it at Provost. Before he could fire a massive blast of wind slammed into him, knocking the shot off-target and causing it to hit the wall. Kylie shook off the remaining cobwebs in her mind to regain her concentration.
Isabella slumped to the ground, holding her head. Provost showed a little fatigue as he moved on to Carla, who was still trying to catch Jane in an electric field.
Hawk jumped on top of the machine and came down on a war robot coming through the door. His blade sliced it in half. A second swipe destroyed a second machine. Before he could swipe again, an energy blast knocked him backward. Hawk sat up and moved out of the way as the robot fired. Kylie's arms raised and a powerful gust of wind slammed into the robot. Sophia lashed out with telekinesis and ripped it in half.
Carla screamed from the pain in her mind caused by Provost's removal of Gabooz's mind-control. She fell to her knees and left only Aurora mesmerized. She was flying about, exchanging punches with her mother. Provost dephased and flew through an enraged Gabooz toward them. Gabooz turned to track him before he was struck by an electric discharge. Carla's eyes crackled with electricity as she howled, "You think nothing of your cruelty! But you will now!" Gabooz had to fall backwards to avoid an electrical field that would have knocked him out. As he got up Isabella ran around him, generating a strong tornado-like wind current that was amplified by Kylie's powers. Sophia levitated herself above him and used his disorientation to slam him into the ground with her telekinesis.
"Now!"
The cry in Russian turned heads. Verbitsky pulled on a lever and a massive hum began to fill the room. "Yes!" Gabooz stood from the ground. "It is working!"
"Stop the machine!", Hawk shouted while slicing through another war robot. More of them were entering the chamber and keeping the others fighting.

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DarkStar's surprised howl echoed in the air after Tron blasted him in the back to help Sonya. Behind him, Steltek projected an electromagnetic field to stop War's arm cannons. Death joined in with his own blasts. "This is getting ridiculous," Steltek shouted. "We're outnumbered!"
A loud shout came from Iceberg as he took a blow from Sorborus. The massive beast's smack placed him into reach of Red Steel, who grabbed him and began to squeeze. Iceberg grunted from the pain of being crushed. Concentrating, he projected ice in front of Sorborus. Rocket Girl took the hint as she disengaged from a Guardian and blasted Sorborus in the back. The beastoid was knocked forward and slipped on the ice, plowing headfirst into Red Steel's knees and allowing Iceberg to get free. He created an ice platform to land on and covered them both with as much ice as he could manage in the time.
It wasn't enough. Red Steel and Sorborus broke free together and advanced on Iceberg.

A loud rumble came from the ground and the nearby mountain. A blast door appeared, hidden by holographic illusion, and a massive satellite dish emerged. "Whatever he's up to, he's succeeding!" Rocket Girl jumped into mid-air. "We've got to stop that dish!"
She headed toward the dish before being blasted from mid-air by DarkStar. "No!" He generated a drill and pointed it at Rocket Girl. "Power will be mine!"
"You fool! Gabooz is going to get rid of you at the first possible chance!"
"He lacks the power!" DarkStar narrowed his demented eyes. "Now you will die!"
Sonya crashed into DarkStar just as he was going to bring the drill down. They slammed into the rock, Sonya's fists striking him on the jaw over and over. "This time, Scooter, stay down!"
DarkStar reacted with rage and struck her with a blast that sent Sonya backward. He went after her and formed a vise that he wrapped around her. "I'll squeeze the life out of you! I'll squeeze until you are torn into...."
At once, Rocket Girl and Tron fired. The yellow and red blasts struck the maniac from opposite angles. DarkStar was blown away from Sonya and into the side of the mountain. He did not move afterward. "That took the fight out of him," Rocket Girl said to Tron. "Now to get that dish!" She looked to the dish, which was about to begin transmitting.
"Leave it to me!" Sonya reached out with her left arm and generated a massive blast from her power aura. It struck the dish and blew it into two pieces.

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Aurora's fist crashed into her mother's jaw and caused Helen to slam up against the wall. With the cold movements of an automaton, certainly not that of a free person, Aurora flew up and grabbed Helen by the throat to strangle her. "Aurora.... please....", said Helen. Defensively, she grabbed Aurora's throat and began to squeeze just as hard. "Please...."
Before either woman could strangle the other, Provost came up and put his hands on Aurora's face. She howled as her mind burned and let go of her mother, who in turn let go of her. She dropped to the floor, cleared of the mental control.

That was when Gabooz screamed in rage at the screen. The signal, which had just begin to translate from the first satellite, was suddenly interrupted and stopped. He batted Isabella away and fired a shot to stop Jane from covering his suit with flames. "What happened?!"
"The satellite is out!"
"No! Impossible!"
"Looks like your plan's gone up in smoke."
Gabooz clenched a fist at Verbitsky. "Activate the internal transmitter! They can't get that one!"
Aurora got back to her feet and snarled. Howling in anger, she plowed into Gabooz while Verbitsky followed his leader's orders. Verbitsky continued to work until an electric current coursed through him. He cried out and collapsed.
Gabooz immediately went for the controls. Hawk tried to jump in the way but was knocked aside. Blasts from his arms stopped an attack from Aurora and Helen, and another knocked Kylie down. He continued over and slammed the button to activate a second transmission dish inside the mountain itself. The signal would be weaker, but it would certainly suffice.

But it didn't work.
Cursing in Russian, Gabooz slammed the button a few more times and never got a result. He stared wide-eyed when Provost came out of the control panel, wiring in his hands. "Your mad plot ends here."
"Perhaps this time." Gabooz flipped open a control on his arm. "But the Revolution will one day succeed!" He hit a button on the control.
Everywhere explosions started to go off. Gabooz took off toward a rear entrance to escape. "We'd better get out of here!" Helen ran for the door. Provost picked up the unconscious Verbitsky while everyone began to flee.
Everyone but Aurora. She flew to the machine and to the covering that held Mellian. "Help me get her out!", Aurora screamed over an explosion.
"Aurora, come on!", Helen called out.
"We have to get the girl out! Mom, we can do it together!"
Helen stopped for a moment, and then flew on out the door. Aurora called out to her mother. "Mom! Don't go! Help me!"
Hawk looked at Jane. "Go with the others." He pulled a device out of his belt and ran up to where Aurora was struggling to get a grip to remove the covering. A red laser beam appeared from the end and began cutting through the covering. Soon Aurora got enough of a grip to pull it off, allowing Hawk to remove the unknown girl. Aurora picked her up and they both ran toward the entrance.
Hawk led Aurora down the corridors he remembered to get to the surface. Jane was just ahead of them. He shouted, "I thought I told you to go outside!"
"I wasn't leaving without you!" Jane looked up at the falling ceiling. She generated a massive plume of fire that melted some falling steel.
Aurora grabbed her father by the collar with her free hand and lifted him up. Jane took flight beside her.
That was when the entire facility came down on their heads.

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The explosions began to ripple out of the ground, surprising both the Horsemen and the JF. Red Steel looked away from Iceberg in time to see a single craft rising out of hidden blast doors in the mountain. "No! Master!"
DarkStar deflected a couple of blows from Sonya, not paying attention to the ripple of fire coming from the ground. "It seems that Gabooz's plan has not gone well. It is time for us to depart!" He reached a hand out and his aura encompassed the other Horsemen. He took off with them in tow.
Sonya went to follow when she saw the explosions beginning to tear away the ground. She swooped back down to her team and surrounded them with her own power aura, picked them off the ground. "Take us to the entrance!", Tron shouted.

Sonya moved over the mountain and back toward the entrance of Gabooz's facility with the others in tow. Provost and the other Valkyr had come out, coughing and hacking from the gathering dust. "Where is Hawk?!"
Provost pointed back to the entrance for Tron. "He and Aurora were freeing the girl from Ottawa. I'll go back for...."
As Helen came out, the entrance collapsed into a pile of rubble and twisted metal. The astonished members of the JF watched the dust settle. "Helen, where are the others?"
"They were..." Helen looked at the door. "They were behind me."
"You left them behind?!" Tron stomped up toward her. "You left James behind?! Your own daughter!"
Helen went to speak and stopped. She knew it would only make things worse.
Isabella stepped up beside Tron, an angry glare on her face. Before she could say anything, she noticed that the rubble covering the entrance was starting to turn red and melt. Sonya noticed this too and created a wide drill with her aura to clear the melting rock and steel out of the way. She dissolved the drill when the debris cleared and Jane stumbled out with Aurora, who was holding her unconscious father in one hand and the girl in the other. The others began to cheer and milled around them. Jane dropped to her knees and put a hand on the back of her neck, which was bleeding from where some debris had hit her. "Out.... got out...." She fell over and hit the ground unconscious.

Helen ran up to Aurora just in time for her daughter to send her to the ground with a single punch. "How could you?!", Aurora screamed. "You left us to die!"
"You were the one who wouldn't come!", protested Helen from the ground. "Don't blame me because you got dumb!"
"Got dumb?! I was trying to help this poor girl!" Aurora's fists clenched. "If you had helped me...."
Overhead a large light appeared. The rush of hover engines was heard as a Foundation hoverjet eased itself to the ground. "This can wait." Rocket Girl stepped toward the jet. "Let's get your friends some medical attention."

-------------------------------------------------

When Jane woke up, she felt a sharp pain in her head. She sat up on the bed she had been laid on and found Steltek and Sonya standing to either side of it. "You look good, Red," she heard another voice say, and from the far side of the room she saw Intrepid walk in. "Well, I was hoping you'd come to join us, but I suppose the JF is as good as any."
Jane looked at Sonya. "Where are we?"
"The Truth and Justice Foundation. We needed their medical facilities for you and the others." Sonya helped Jane up. "You got a nasty bump on the head but you're otherwise fine."
"What about Hawk and the other girl?"
"Hawk's fine. The girl, however...." Sonya looked to the door. "Why don't you follow me?"

Jane got off the bed and followed them out and into the halls of the Foundation's medical ward. Most of the occupants were refugees that the Foundation had saved from a sinking ship in the Pacific, but Jane found the girl who had been in the machine in another room, hooked up to life support. Hawk and the other JF members were standing around her, with OmegaPaladin at the foot of her bed. "You're okay!" Jane ran up to Hawk, pleased to see the wounds he'd suffered having not been serious.
"As are you." Hawk grinned at her. "You saved my life. And the lives of this girl and my daughter. I can't thank you enough."
"It's all in a day's work, right?"
"Yes, but," Hawk exchanged a brief smile with OmegaPaladin, "it doesn't mean we can't compliment each other for a job well done."
"So, what about the girl? Who is she?"
"We don't know." Hawk looked back at the comatose girl on the bed. "She was some homeless girl in Ottawa. A meta-human with the ability to influence emotions. But I'm afraid that ability is what prompted Gabooz to abduct her."

"Why hasn't she woken up?"
OmegaPaladin frowned and answered, "She's been injected with a drug that was intended to make her body's neuro-system devote all of it's capacity to her meta-human powers. The result is that she's like this, a vegetable. The drug sustains itself on her body's nutrients, it's really a virus in that regard, and we can't remove it by starving it. Not without killing her."
"We need to find a cure." Hawk clenched a fist. "Gabooz probably has it, but he's not going to give it up. We may need to develop one ourselves."
"My people will do what they can," OmegaPaladin promised.
"I know." Hawk extended a hand. "Let me know if you need funds for her care or cure. I'll pay whatever you need."
"Thanks for the offer."
"Well, there's nothing more to do here." Hawk stepped toward the door. "Let's go home."

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The Nightwing was berthed in the main hanger of the Foundation. The Valkyr were gathered there, with Helen in front. While the JF boarded the aircraft, Hawk turned to his ex-wife and said, "You can ride if you want."
"I've got a flight arranged," replied Helen. "It won't be necessary."
"Oh." Hawk nodded and looked away, taking a moment to notice his daughter's generally upset expression. As he stepped onto the ramp to board the rear of the jet, he smiled to himself. At least Aurora's heart was in the right place. He couldn't say the same for Helen anymore.
Before he could finish going up the ramp, he heard Aurora call out, "Wait!" When he turned, Aurora stepped out from behind Helen and walked up to him. "Father.... Dad...." Aurora took a moment to gather her courage. "I'm going with you."

Both Hawk and Helen were rather surprised by their daughter's pronouncement. "Aurora? Are you sure?"
Helen's angry eyes could have drilled holes into her daughter's head. "Aurora, after all I've done for you, you can't just walk out on me!"
"I can and I will!" Aurora stabbed a finger in her mother's face. "You're not the mother I grew up loving. I can remember when I was little and you and Dad would get back from doing your hero work, and you would take joy in knowing that you'd helped other people. The money didn't matter! But now? Now you're nothing more than a greedy hag and I'm tired of putting up with it."
"Aurora...."
"It all became so clear to me back in Gabooz's base, Mother. The simple fact that instead of trying to help me, you saved yourself and left me to die!" Aurora looked toward her father. "Dad risked his own life to help me save another. He's still the same person who raised me. But you? You're not. You've lost everything that made you a good person, Mother, and you're nothing more than a greedy business suit." Aurora took out her company ID card from her uniform and crushed it, leaving it's remains at Helen's feet. "I'm out."

"You signed a contract with me," Helen said through clenched teeth. "You can't get out."
"So what are you going to do? Sue me for the money I've earned? You can have your money. I don't want it anymore." Aurora walked passed her mother and toward Nightwing. Isabella ran between her and Hawk. "I'm not going to change my mind, Isabella. Do what you want, but I'm going home with Dad."
"Oh, I'm not going to try to get you to change your mind." Isabella pulled out her own company card. "You're my friend, Aurora. More than that, you're my sister. I'm going with you."
Helen was livid when Isabella tossed the card to her feet. "You can take your money, Helen, I'm going to do what I should have done two years ago. I'm going to take my Papa's place in the Justice Force."
Hawk watched the two girls walk up the ramp and looked back to Helen and the remaining trio of Valkyr. They all seemed rather amused at their leader's anger. Hawk couldn't blame them. Helen had used them and cost them a lot of anguish. Helen raised her fist, and her voice, when she screeched, "You turned my daughter against me, James?! How could you?!"

"I didn't turn our daughter against you, Helen," James shot back. "You turned her against yourself by betraying everything we raised her to believe in!"
"You haven't heard the last of this! I do have good lawyers!"
"Oh, sure, sue in court because you left your daughter to die, and admit that you were complicit in the criminal operations of a deranged lunatic. Besides, you and I both know that you can't sue for a sum too large for me to pay off for them." Hawk turned his back on her. "I see now that the Helen I loved is dead and gone. If you're what's left, I want nothing more to do with you. I'll give you the sum total of money they've gotten out of the contract, but not a penny more. And I'm sure you'll enjoy Rocket Girl telling the courts how you aided an enemy of the free world for money. One of the advantages of being a public hero is that judges tend to listen when you speak."
Helen went to speak, but could say nothing more. She just growled in impotent rage as Hawk finished boarding Nightwing. They watched as the plane took off before leaving.

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Over Two Months Later

Near the river bank of Hawk's estate was a small plot of land fenced away from the rest. A lone gray statue stood, and on it's base was an inscription. Here lies Danielle Francesca Sutherland, Beloved Daughter, Sister, and Friend. Born October 19 1994, Died January 21 2013. She was taken from this world before her time.
It seemed odd to Jane, standing in her uniform near the grave, that they did not comment on Danielle's death as being a sacrifice, as most heroes were mourned. But it made sense. The bitterness in those words were unmistakable, for Danielle's was not a death in combat but rather a brutal killing by a deranged psychopath.
In the months since the fight against Gabooz, there had been little for Jane to do aside from train. She was fed well, and in her off time Jane had enjoyed the hospitality of Hawk's estate. Training itself was rigorous and sometimes exhausting, but it had begun to work. Now when Jane looked in the mirror she could see her body's improved muscle tone and when using her powers, she could now do with ease things that once took true willpower to accomplish. As the others kept saying, she could only improve with her mastery of her powers.

Now she and the others, all in uniform, were gathered around this simple grave in a gentle snowfall, the day cloudly and gray without a hint of sunlight. A picture of the deceased, her smile heartwarming but also certainly heartbreaking, had been laid against the statue. Jane wondered what kind of girl Danielle had been. She was certainly loved, as the tears on the faces of the assembled showed.
Aurora and Isabella were the most emotional. They sobbed openly, without shame, and Jane could see the pain in their eyes as they marked the passing of their beloved friend and sister. In the last two months they had started to become Jane's friends, helping her deal with painful memories of the past and making her feel welcome.
Along with the rest of the team were two older people, whom Jane had been told were Danielle's parents. They held onto each other and wept as Steltek stepped to the head of the part, standing beside the grave. In his hands Steltek was holding a large Bible, a steel-encased family heirloom. In a solemn voice, he began speaking. "We are gathered here today to honor the passing of our beloved friend and sister, Danielle Sutherland. In her short time on Earth, Danielle was a blessing to all she knew. A girl whom was blessed by God to have a joyful and friendly heart of such strength that no sadness, no despair, was capable of bringing down her spirits. While she was taken from this world by the act of an evil man, we must forever keep in our hearts the knowledge that she had done a great good in her last minutes of life, and in accordance with the will of God she saved countless thousands of innocent souls from evil. Though her loss has caused us all great pain and sorrow, we can remember that she did not squander the talents granted her by our Lord, and that a place has been given to her in Heaven by the Lord, the same place that is prepared for all of us who answer the call of God. Let us be comforted in the knowledge that she now rests eternally with our Lord Jesus Christ, and that one day we shall meet her again in the presence of our Heavenly Father. Amen."

It was after this that Jane noticed another figure, an Air Force officer of Asian descent standing with the Sutherlands. The name "Nguyen" was printed on his nametag. After everyone turned away from the grave, he got the attention of the Sutherlands. "Ma'am, sir, I am Major Phong Nguyen, commander of the Joint Services' Meta-Human Operations Unit. The President has asked me to bring this to you. He apologizes that the needs of national security forbid us to make the sacrifice of your daughter public knowledge." He handed them a box. Mister Sutherland opened it and found a medal within. "By order of the President, your daughter Danielle has been posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom, in recognition of her patriotism, courage, and sacrifice. You can be assured that when the time is right, her actions will be made public knowledge."
The Sutherlands accepted the medal graciously and were escorted away by Major Nguyen and Hawk. Jane stood beside the grave longer than any others. Finally she knelt down beside the grave and put a hand on it, pushing away some of the snow and feeling the cold granite. "Danielle, enjoy your rest. I'm here now. I'll take up the slack for you. I'll do the things you would, I'll..." Jane closed her eyes and took in a breath. "I will protect the innocent."
Standing up, Jane walked away from the grave to join the others in the house. As she walked away, the sun began to shine through the clouds and over the grave. Jane looked back and saw this, causing her to smile as she continued on into the house.

The End
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

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