Rumble and Tripper led the procession of the damned through the ruined remains of the gymnasium. Anomaly followed them; what remained of his graduation gown would have been hanging from him, were it not for his increased size. In his arms he carried Doctor Styles—the real one—whose leg had been injured helping the civilians escape the carnage.
With them was Jetstream and Frostbite; the frigid warrior helped the blue-haired Lodestone as he limped along. For once, he was quiet; he had no innuendo to spout or cruel comments to vomit. He was missing his other half and he knew the effect it would have on his constitution if the two remained apart for long. Hourglass and Fathom followed them and Deimos brought up the rear, carrying an unconscious Copycat they had found amongst the wreckage. He shifted Drew’s body and noticed that once through the doors his teammates had stopped to stare at the sky. “What’s going on? Is there a cloud shaped like a boob or something?”
He stepped out and noticed a canopy of white radiance overhead. “Well… that ain’t natural.”
“What is it?” Anomaly asked. “Is—is it light?”
“No,” Halogen said, shaking her head at his suggestion. “No, I’d recognize an effect similar to my own power signature. This is something else. I- I’m not sure what though. It can’t just be a coincidence though. This has to be tied into the Affiliation.”
“What should we do?” asked Tripper.
“Right now… let’s just get to the van. I’m sure there’s something on the news.”
Anomaly did as Doctor Styles had said and escorted her to the passenger van she had driven many of the students to the graduation in. Once in she began to use her own abilities to tend to her injuries and any her students might have. “Let’s take a head count…” she called back as she turned on the radio. “Sound off if you’re not here.”
“They took Adonis,” Jetstream said sadly.
“My mom and dad too,” Hourglass interjected.
“The Loder’s were taken too,” Anomaly offered. “We’re missing… Magnus and Maria… Marcos?”
“Mae and Gale,” added Jacquelyn.
“Mae… Mae’s on their side,” Frostbite said. “Cassandra and I fought her…”
“Gale is too,” Fathom admitted. “What about Cloud?”
“He wasn’t here this morning,” Jetstream explained. “He—he must have left last night.” She knew the truth; Cloud Goodman had been killed months ago. The being known as Chimera had been posing as her boyfriend ever since.
“So the Affiliation has abducted six of us?”
“Well, six, not counting the Loder’s,” Anomaly said as he transformed back into Lex Sway. Given his weight, he would tip the van over upon climbing in. “What’s the plan, Doctor Styles?”
Halogen shook her head as she turned off the radio. “It’s not good… Apparently that white blanket over us is covering all five boroughs. It’s some sort of force field—it’s a dome preventing anyone from getting in or out of the city.”
“How is that even possible?” Fathom asked, pressing her face to the window as she scanned the vacant skies. “I mean, aren’t these jokers supposed to be just… just former students of the academy? This seems bigger than even the Vindicators!”
“The Vindicators!” Halogen snapped, suddenly realizing a piece of the puzzle she hadn’t before. “They’re—they’re outside the dome. They were scrambled to take down Atlas before he started another panic.”
Rumble took a deep breath. “Mae and Forecast tipped their hands, right?” Her peers looked at her with their confusion apparent on their faces. “Ah mean… they were sleeper agents for the Affiliation and… they’ve been activated. Those of us still here… Ah mean, we… we can trust each other, right?”
Doctor Styles took a deep breath before whispering, “I truly hope so, Atlanta.”
“Then… then Cloud isn’t Cloud.”
Jetstream’s eyes widened. “He’s Chimera,” the Georgian native explained further. “Ah—Ah’ve known for months now. Ah’m sorry Ah didn’t say anythin’ but—it was just…” The blonde girl sighed before going on. “Ah think Chimera is Atlas.”
“What?” thundered Deimos. “Where did you get something like that?”
“When we were goin’ after the Reagan boy, Drew… well, he freaked out again. It was exactly like the last time.”
“That’s impossible, Atlanta. Chimera can’t be Atlas.” Hourglass took a deep breath, ready to explain her case and suddenly she realized she didn’t have one. “Well… well, he just can’t be, okay?”
“It would make sense,” Doctor Styles said. “I was willing to assume Atlas was a part of the Affiliation. It doesn’t fit—given that Atlas is so strong he doesn’t need minions or teammates… but… there has to be an explanation for his suddenly showing up today of all times. It’s too convenient that he appears and the Vindicators are trapped outside of New York City while the Affiliation does what it pleases.”
“Ma’am?” asked Anomaly, eagerly anticipating his orders.
“Radio said communications weren’t getting out of the dome but they likely don’t have our capabilities. We need to get a message to the Vindicators or to Michuru. We also need to rescue the others.” She mused on the other factors and realized that the institute was still a target. The Affiliation had been preying on their students to increase their numbers—the younger classmen might be in danger. “The school may not be safe; they may be attacking there next. I’ll go—I’ll go alone. I’ll attempt to rally the other teachers and make sure the students are protected. Meanwhile… Tripper will go to Michuru’s apartment.” Immediately she began to write down the man’s address for the young girl to find. “The Affiliation shouldn’t know about it and he should have some communications equipment that can breach the dome. Rumble will be your muscle and Hourglass your stealth. Better that you took Jetstream and Copycat with you. Be careful as… this attack has probably put the island—no, the whole city in a frenzy.
“Anomaly will lead a group to track down the others. It’s going to be dangerous, given that we don’t know who all is working for the Affiliation. There’s no way to know what you’re walking into but…”
“How are we supposed to know where to go?”
Lodestone grunted and raised his hand, waving to Deimos. “I can sense the other me… like a beacon. I could walk right to him.”
“I'm pretty much an NS detector,” added Drew. “Maybe I should go with Lex instead?”
Halogen nodded in agreement. “Take Lodestone, Copycat, Deimos, Fathom and Frostbite with you, Anomaly. I’ve got some spare uniforms in the back. Get suited up and… I want everyone carrying a GPS tracker. If anything happens, I want to be able to follow the signal right to you. Professor Alston and Doctor Bradley should still be at the school—same for Pandora, Breanne and Walkabout. I’ll rally them together and rendezvous with Lex’s team as soon as we can. Any questions?”
“It’s not a question…” said Frostbite nervously, “but… Doctor Bradley tried to recruit me to the Affiliation.”
Halogen’s eyes widened in surprise. “What?”
Anomaly and Tripper nodded. “Ben already told us,” Anomaly said. “He said… Doctor Bradley told him that Professor Alston and Miss DiMera are in on it too.”
Frostbite and Tripper were nodded in agreement but Halogen was shaking her head in disbelief. “That… that’s impossible…”
“If you’re going back to the school,” Anomaly said, “be careful who you trust.” He smiled warmly at the young woman. “You know how this morning you said we were kind of like your kids? Jacque and I… our parents aren’t in the picture, Doctor Styles. The thing is… we’ve always seen you as like… a mom.”
“You’re like my big sister,” Jetstream said.
“Seconded,” said Fathom.
“Thirded,” offered Hourglass.
“You’re that weird cousin I have funny feelings for,” Deimos muttered.
“Y’all have been an incredible mentor to me,” Rumble said, “and an even better friend.”
“You got great legs,” said the blue-haired Lodestone.
“You’re the one who got me into this,” said Copycat finally. “I don’t know where I’d be if you hadn’t come into my life, Doctor Styles.”
“I think what we’re saying,” offered Anomaly, “is that you’re important to us and you’d better take care of yourself.”
There was no holding back the woman’s tears as she nodded to them. “I love you kids,” she finally said. “You all be careful out there, okay?”
With their spirits rejuvenated the New Vindicators climbed out of the van one-by-one, slipping off to change into their uniforms and save the city. They were blinded by their purpose and failed to notice the stragglers left behind in the disruption. David Meinstein was scouring the ruins, looking for anything that would point him in the direction his brother had gone.
For years, David Meinstein had been best friends with Quinton Jorgenson. The young genius always dreamed of working for David’s father at Patriot Robotics and David had been determined to help him get there any which way he could. The young men often slipped into the corporation David would one day inherit a fifth of and he would give Quinton free reign. With access to the best in tools and components, Quinton was able to invent such wonders as the Morph Buckle and the Amber Armlet.
“The magnitude of the electrostatic force between two point charges is directly proportional to the magnitudes of each charge and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the charges,” Quinton had said as he offered a perplexed David the wristwatch and accessories. “A small charge carries between the watch and this ring and these ankle bracelets. The charge is harmless enough—but it’ll flow between them through your body… empowering you.”
A demonstration had proved to the young Meinstein what he had already known: Quinton Jorgenson was a genius. So long as David had that watch, he was capable of interfacing with technology. It was what allowed him to ‘datalink’ as Quinton had called it.
It was what turned the Portal armor into a puppet David could manipulate from any distance. Without the watch he couldn’t summon the bionic warrior… he would have no choice but to go where he had stashed his father’s stolen device and don the armor himself.
“You’re going to fight, aren’t you?”
David turned around and narrowed his eyes at the man. He didn’t recognize the middle-aged man… though he was intrigued how he had deduced that he intended to join the battle. “I’m not sure what you-”
“Don’t patronize me, Portal.”
David traversed the space between them casually and sized up the man. If things turned into a fight, he was positive he couldn’t take the man. David Meinstein was physically unimposing and this man appeared to be a seasoned combatant. “I’m listening…”
“My name is Detective John Long and… I was a young hero once myself. I worked side-by-side with the Detective. I was his partner: I was the Gumshoe.” The man took a look at the abashed expression smeared over David’s face and sighed. “It was in the eighties—everyone used embarrassing codenames.”
“The Detective trained me to be… well, to be a detective. It’s how I pieced together what you were up to. It wasn’t hard… the ZERO and Portal armors were both lifted from your father’s laboratories on the same day—during Atlas’ attack. It stood to reason that it would have to be a student, given that-”
“I don’t want to sound cold but… I really don’t have time for any exposition, sir. The city needs saving.”
“And you’re going to do it? Just you?”
David never turned back as he walked away from Detective John Long. “‘Fear is the path to the dark side’,” he said proudly. “‘Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering.’ Master Yoda, episode one… I’m not afraid, Detective Long.”
“You’re not some character from a movie!” the Detective called, hurrying after the young man, intent to stop him and persuade him to abandon this suicide mission. “You’re not—not a Jedi!”
“Obi-wan Kenobi… is my hero,” David said sternly. He had stopped, but he was still opting not to face the man. “And if I’m the kind of person who runs away when his power is taken from him… then what does that say about my character?”
The detective nodded. “C’mon… I’ve got my old equipment in the trunk of my car. If there’s no stopping you, the least I can do is help you.”
“You could come with me,” David said.
“My step-son is missing,” Detective Long said sadly. “I know this city is in trouble… but I promised my late wife I’d watch out for him. His name is Jack… Jack Olsen. He was eight when I married his mom—his dad had run off with the boy’s Sunday school teacher three years before. The boys, they… they always called me dad, even though I wasn’t their father… They said I was as much of one as they’d ever known. When—when Jack’s brother was sixteen, his father’s Neo-Sapien powers manifested publicly and… we moved around a lot to try and spare Jack any of the social backlash.”
The detective opened his trunk and produced a small duffle bag stuffed with his old costume and his utility belt. It wasn’t much, but it would give him an edge until he could get his armor back. “Troy couldn’t cut it—knowing what he was doing to the rest of us—and… he—he killed himself… He killed himself with his own powers and his mom died trying to stop him. I told her I’d watch over him but… I’m not sure where he’s gotten to or what’s gotten into him. Still… I have to save him. I know that one life doesn’t balance against a city full of innocents but… a promise between a man and the woman he loves is the promise of a lifetime, kid.”
David couldn’t stop staring at the costume he had been handed—while they certainly felt durable, he wasn’t happy with the color scheme. Green and red didn’t even look good together at Christmas—why would anyone willingly wear something so gaudy?
With a sigh, David looked for a place to change. He would have to endure the atrocious costume long enough to cross the city if he was going to make it to where he had hidden the Portal armor…
…he would have to make it to the New Vindicators Academy of America.
To Be Continued... wrote:With four chapters remaining until the Affiliation's leader steps out of the shadows, Neo-Sapiens have taken over the city and stolen his daughter; Forrest N. Bedford wasn't about to just sit idly by and do nothing. As we near closer to the end, Anomaly's team faces off against the Church of Genetic Purity.