NEW VINDICATORS #71: Winner At a Losing Game
Chapter I: Question
“I don’t think I could bare it if they told me something had happened to you, Magnus. I don’t think I could take being apart from you. And that’s when I realized…” Maria dropped down to one knee, kneeling before Magnus and looking up at him with glassy eyes. “…This is it.”
“What are you–?”
His heart began racing out of control.
“Will you marry me?”
Magnus froze then, staring down into Maria’s chestnut eyes bulging with hope and he sighed. “No,” he said.
Her resolve wavered as her heart broke.
“It’s not supposed to be like this,” he said. “I’m the man. I’m the one who’s supposed to be on his knees, proposing-”
“You took too long.” Maria laughed uneasily and brushed her eyes with the back of her hand. “You are such a jerk, you know that?” She punched him in the thigh as she stood up again. “I thought you were turning me down!” she thundered.
“I thought you were breaking up with me!” Magnus stormed. “All that talk about… not being able to withstand this life and all—I just…” He shook his head and started to laugh. “I love you. You know that, right?” Her enthusiastic nod was all the answer he needed but her kiss was just as welcome.
“So do you wanna get married or not?” she asked.
“I can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else.” He sealed the deal with a kiss and as Maria began to kiss him back Magnus broke their embrace. “I… I’m sorry I don’t have a ring.”
“That’s okay,” Maria whispered as she took the sides of his head in her hands. Slowly she guided his lips back to hers; kissing him proved a challenge as she couldn’t stop giggling giddily. “I don’t need a ring, Magnus Loder. I just need you.”
He smiled as he kissed her. “Can you imagine? Before long you’ll be Maria Loder…”
As he pulled her into a loving hug Maria’s eyes widened as she was immersed in realization. She was proud of her heritage as a Mexican-America; taking his name would destroy what remnants of her father’s country she had to cling to. Laying her head on his chest she prayed that the sound of his heart beating would muffle the mournful sigh that escaped her. “Hey,” he said uneasily. She rolled her eyes up to look at him but she continued to listen to his strong heart. “I love you. I love you more than anything in this life. You know that, right, Maria?”
She smiled and the act of nodding brushed her head over his chest. “I love you more than words can say.”
“I can’t believe this is happening,” he said cheerily. “We… we’re going to be married. Wow. That’s just… that’s wow. I…” His fingers gently fell over hers. “I need to tell my parents…”
It was a simple trick to find them: the RV the Loder family had left in was filled with three generations of Loder men: William Loder, James Loder and Jacob Loder were blessed with the same command over magnetic waves as Magnus was and that made them as easy to find as magnetic north.
Magnus felt out for them and was surprised to find the clan fast approaching them. “They’re on their way to us,” he said suspiciously. Soon enough the RV they had used to escape Ohio came into view and Magnus fixed them a disapproving look. “I thought I told you to get out of town,” he said as his grandfather stepped out.
“We were on our way when the fighting broke out,” James Loder offered. “I was countering your dad’s powers while Will monitored your situation. He felt you get shot across the river and when you stopped moving we started fearing for the worst and doubled back.”
Magnus looked down at Maria who simply held him tightly. Her head was rested on his chest but he could picture the smile plastered on her face. “We were about to come looking for you,” he said. “We have some news…” His hand worked up Maria’s back and gently squeezed her shoulder, telling her to tell him.
“We’re getting married,” she offered.
Nothing could have contained James’ grin. “Marvelous,” he said as he hurried towards them. He hesitated for a moment, recalling that Maria didn’t like being touched. “Congratulations you two,” he offered instead, clapping a hand on his grandson’s shoulder. “I guess I should be saying, ‘Welcome to the family, Maria.’” There was a soft chuckle as he came to his senses. “Go on and get moving,” he said. “We gotta tell your parents this…”
With Maria’s hand in his, Magnus Loder sprinted for the RV and climbed back into their temporary home. “Mom? Dad? Will?” he proclaimed as he got inside. “We have some news…”
His parents reacted with infinitely more enthusiasm than his grandfather had. Magnus was thankful that his father seemed in control of himself; the man had been diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and often the neurological degeneration kept him from being the father Magnus remembered.
The Loder family celebrated for a brief moment before Magnus slowly came to his senses: they were still in a war zone. The battle with Deimos was attracting more than the military: the skies were darkened by clouds of Sentries converging on the Empire State Building. “As much as I want to continue to soak this feeling in,” Magnus said as he replaced his grandfather at the helm of the RV, “we need to get somewhere safe.”
Maria took her spot at his side and he paused to smile lovingly at her. “We’re going to regroup with the Dave,” he told her, “and the first chance we get you and I are going to head into Canada—find your family and tell them the good news too.”
His fiancé’s grin was brighter than any ring he could have dreamt of giving her and it took vast reserves of his will power to pull away and focus on taking their mobile home through the traffic cluttering the streets of Manhattan.
The devastation caused by the Vindicators’ brawl with Deimos had brought traffic to a standstill. A few blocks into the city and the RV ceased to budge. Ultimately it was Will who was asked Magnus to admit defeat: their vehicle was parked and abandoned as the six made their way towards their new home on foot.
Not many months ago the Vindicators had been defeated by the Sixth Reich. The eighth incarnation of the team had been composed of veteran heroes from preceding generations of the legendary team. Crusader, Falkenburg and Tick-Tock had survived but Detective, Blacksmith, Hound and Phenomena had been killed in action.
In the wake of such a terrible event, the United Nations scrambled to create a team to stamp out any wild ideas the more Machiavellian members of the super-powered community might get. Three teams were formed—one in America, one in Europe and one in Asia. The hope was that by having three teams of Vindicators serving concurrently, the world would be prepared in the event that one team ever fail. Additionally, this new system gave the Vindicators a faster response time. No longer did a team have to scramble out of their base in New York City and fly to respond to a crisis in Russia. By locating the Vindicators in New York City, Vienna and Tokyo respectively, the heroes were better able to defend the world.
Magnus and Maria had been drafted onto the American roster and one of their teammates had been David Meinstein. David’s father was Noah Meinstein, head of Patriot Robotics. The public was relatively unaware that this philanthropic industrialist was a corrupt scientist bent on orchestrating the obliteration of the Neo-Sapien race. One tool he had built towards executing their extermination was the 001, a high-powered suit of armor that David secretly stole and used as the vigilante known as Portal.
The armor had been destroyed during the war three months ago and David’s latent Neo-Sapien abilities had seemingly awoken. Masquerading under his prodigal brother’s former identity, Blitzkrieg, David had begun gathering other rogue heroes to his side; he had provided them with a safe place to live and the world with a team of unofficial Vindicators.
As one of the few people privy to David Meinstein’s secret identity, Magnus Loder knew where the rogue Vindicators would be based out of and after vacating the RV he led his family through a throng of fearful New Yorkers towards Hub Enterprises.
Once in the lobby Magnus Loder approached the front desk and casually announced himself: “I’m here to see David Meinstein,” he intoned.
The security guard reached for his clipboard and Magnus raised a hand to stop him. “I assure you that while he’s expecting me, you won’t find we have an appointment.”
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask-”
“Call Quinton Jorgenson,” said Magnus, knowing that his former classmate at the New Vindicators Academy worked as David Meinstein’s right-hand man.
“Can I ask your name?”
“Kennedy Meinstein,” offered Magnus, knowing how damning his real name was. It was part of the reason that Neo-Sapiens were in the mess they were in: a shapeshifting madman had posed as Magnus and assassinated presidential hopeful Senator Amy Bedford, live on national television. That Senator Bedford was a strong opponent of Neo-Sapien rights didn’t help their cause and in the wake of her death a privately funded militia, Black Box, came to power and began hunting down all Neo-Sapiens in the country.
Some were sealed away in internment camps while the less fortunate were reprogrammed and deputized as agents—super-powered soldiers in Black Box’s campaign to stamp out the Neo-Sapien threat.
It was why so many of their friends had tried to build a new life for themselves and for their families; it was why Magnus had to cut his hair, dye it black, grow a goatee and give a fake name.
“Sir?” asked the security guard as he hung up the phone. “Mister Jorgenson says that Mister Meinstein will see you and your family brought to him immediately. I apologize for this delay.”
“It’s all right,” Magnus said loftily. “I understand…” He struggled with seeming snooty and important when all he wanted to do was smile and look at his promoted-girlfriend. Together they led his family towards the elevator that would take them up to the first level of the floors David Meinstein had reserved for the Vindicators.
As the car ascended each floor Magnus and Maria tensed with excitement. He smiled as he kissed the top of her head. The doors opened, revealing an unoccupied front desk before a sign reading, “Blitz Solutions.” Their party walked around it and down the hall that took them past empty offices. Soon they were in a large nexus: a meeting room was divided by frosted glass panels while wide, curving stairs led up to the next floor.
Quinton Jorgenson was halfway down the stairs when they emerged. “Come on up,” he said. “The gang’s all here.”
Magnus and Maria followed him up into the common room where the Vindicators’ numbers had surged. Alexa Hawk was here, joined by Mia Stanton and her daughter Lexie. Ben and Alicia Altair held their daughters, Neige and Margaret, while Phobos stood at the back of the room, watching everyone nervously. Atlanta White was sitting on the couch, quietly observing the beige carpet while her boyfriend, Michael Luom, looked on at her worriedly.
Adrianna Covington and Clarissa Townsend were still technically students, although their school had been dissolved. Both young women were in somber spirits as they respectively recalled their time dating the now-deceased Peter Errons. Connor Crete, the chunk of organic rock better known as Bulwark, guffawed as he watched syndicated reruns of Home Improvement.
“Will Loder,” David Meinstein said as he led Cassandra Goodman towards their guests, “James Loder. Jacob Loder. It is an honor to be in your presence. Welcome—all of you—to Hub Enterprises. Welcome to my home and… yours if you want. Welcome to the future.”
Will gawked at the scope of the second floor while James smiled politely and shook David’s hand. “Honey?” asked Magnus. “Are you ready to tell them the good news?”
“Tell us what?” asked David.
“I… I have decided to change my codename,” Maria offered shyly. Magnus looked down at her with a look of sheer shock mixed well with confusion. This wasn’t the good news he had expected her to be telling them.
Bulwark shrugged. “Why not? Everyone else does. ‘I’m not Amalgam anymore; I’m Anomaly.’ ‘Portal? No, you have me confused for someone else! I’m Blitzkrieg II: Electric Boogaloo!’ ‘Flostobito? Sorry, I go by Coldfire now.’ Not that I can blame him on that one. ‘Cold Fire’ is an awesome song by Rush and they’re from Canada! The Curler approves of anything that gives honor and glory back to our home and native land!”
“Since when was I ever known as ‘Flostobito’?” asked Ben.
“When you were in Japan! The Japanese have trouble with their ‘L’s and ‘R’s…”
“I was in Japan for like… a day!”
“Could be worse, dude,” offered David reassuringly. “Japan took Portal’s image and turned him into the spokesman for some cell phone company.”
Cassie groaned loudly, silencing the three men and then offered the attention back to Maria. “So what are you changing your codename to?” she asked, feigning interest.
“Tierra,” said Maria. “It… it’s the Spanish word for ‘earth.’ It’s just… with Magnus and I being engaged now, I… I want to reflect my heritage somehow… even after I take his last name.”
“Kind of like Alicia Altair being Captain Canada?” asked Bulwark. “I can relate. For a while, when I was in the Netherlands, I went by the name Grote Stomme Rotsmens!”
“And that means…?” asked Ben.
Bulwark shrugged. “How would I know? You think I speak German?”
“Congratulations!” exclaimed Atlanta, erupting forward and hugging Maria. Michael walked forward and shook Magnus’ hand.
“For what?” asked Bulwark as Cassie put her arms around Atlanta and their newly engaged friend. Ben smiled warmly as he patted Magnus on the back. “What’s going on?”
“Didn’t you hear her?” asked Phobos, standing back and observing the happy moment. When he had first met most of these heroes he had been their enemy. He didn’t know if they would accept him yet or not. “Lodestone and… Tierra… are engaged.”
“In what?” asked Bulwark.
“They’re getting married,” answered David happily. “Congrats, man!”
Alicia, holding Margaret, cleared her throat. “That’s… that’s great news,” she said coldly. “When did this happen?”
“Just now, Al,” said Magnus. In his bliss he was oblivious to the scowl Maria fixed on her fiancé’s former lover. If the story Hikari had woven at the Gladstone’s abode could be believed then the baby in her arms was Magnus’ daughter. Maria could guess the child’s age and did the math; she would have been conceived in that window of time Maria had spent on trial for murder. Looking at the woman with her illegitimate child only caused feelings of murderous rage to bubble up once more…
“Oh,” Alicia said. There was no mistaking the disappointment in her voice. “Congratulations, you guys. I’m sure you’ll be very happy.”
“I know I’m happy,” said David. “I’m very happy for the both of you.”
“Well I’m glad that someone’s happy!” thundered Anna. “In case you people forgot, we’ve lost a lot people today!”
They didn’t need to be reminded; it was there in the back of their heads that today Steve Potter and Peter Errons had both lost their lives. No one here needed to be remembered of what they had lost—they simply needed to remember that there were still things to celebrate.
They needed to be reminded of why they were fighting this fight to begin with.
Still, no one needed to be reminded more than Rissa. As soon as Anna had articulated that Steve and Peter had both been slain in combat today, she sped off towards her room and Quinton—three of him—rushed to follow her. Though he wasn’t naïve enough to presume that he knew what she was going through, he understood what the catalyst for this was: “What did you people do?” Donna-Anne Potter had frantically asked after the Aurelia had teleported them away from Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Only moments ago the woman had watched her husband and the father of her unborn child slain by a volley of bullets while he tried to break through the force field Boson had erected around them. “Rissa! Why did you let Steve die!?”
“What happened?” Magnus asked.
David shook his head. “I’ll give you the details later. For now… don’t let anything darken this day.” If anything he was thankful for this spot of good news on an otherwise bleak day. This could be what he needed to invigorate the moral of his friends once more. “I think this calls for a celebration…”
“A celebration?” asked Anna darkly. “Steve died, Miss Manther ran away, Peter was killed and the Empire State Building is giving everyone who remembers 9/11 really bad déjà vu. What part did you want to celebrate?”
David grimaced. “You forgot about Deimos’ going over to the Dark Side. Look, Anna… I’m well aware of all that we’ve lost today and I think that’s why it’s so important for us to find some measure of happiness here.”
“So you just want to forget about Steve and Peter?”
“I do!” exclaimed Bulwark.
“Not helping,” growled David. “I’m not trying to forget them, Anna! I just… I don’t know, y’know? Would you prefer us to be like Rissa? To ache and hurt and try to figure out who’s to blame for this? No one is to blame, Anna. It was senseless and-”
“Peter got himself killed,” said Bulwark.
Everyone in the room froze. In part they were undone by the big man’s audacity and also in stark fear of what logic he applied to arrive at such a conclusion. “Earlier today, we were talking about people dying and I said that everyone dies at some point. I was all like, ‘The Aurelia is going to die. Quint is going to die. Savant is going to die without remembering what had for breakfast.’ Then later, after you revealed your erectile dysfunction to everyone-” As David slapped himself in the forehead all eyes wandered to him. “-Peter came up to me and was all like, ‘hey, I remember what I had for breakfast.’ We should have warned him that the laws of dramatic irony were closing in on him. See, I didn’t know it at the time but I was foreshadowing his death and had he not remembered what he had for breakfast, he would still be alive.”
No one knew what to say. “Oh, wow…” Ben finally articulated as he shook his head at his former charge. “Just… wow…”
“Of all the stupid, idiotic, inconsiderate, hurtful things you’ve said,” fumed Anna, “this one tops the list.” The sorceress turned around and fixed David with a baleful glare. “I’m sick of him! I’m sick of the way he treats everyone!”
“All right,” said David, trying to be diplomatic.
“No! It’s not all right! As soon as Bulwark finds something that affects us, he just keeps rubbing it in! He never lets up! I’m not going to stand here and have him constantly dredging up Peter’s death like that!” She folded her arms over her chest as she turned her back on the gathered heroes. “Either Bulwark leaves or I leave.”
Bulwark shrugged. “Well, it was nice knowing you then.” He dropped back onto his mound of cushions, picked up his oversized remote and began laughing at the antic of Tim Allen once more.
David approached Anna cautiously; he didn’t believe surprising a frustrated magus was an intelligent thing to do. “Adrianna,” he said, “can we please talk about this-”
“No,” she said. “No one can actually stand him so… either he goes or I go. What’s it going to be?”
David looked back to Bulwark and sighed. He knew she had a point: Bulwark got on everyone’s nerves. He was the problem here and the solution was to simply exile him from the team. “Let me make some arrangements,” David said calmly. “I’m not just going to throw him out on the street.”
“What!?!” exclaimed Bulwark. The titan spun around, hardly able to believe what he had just heard. “You—you’re actually kicking me off the team!?!”
“It’s like she said, Connor-”
“-you don’t let up. Even when we tell you something hurts you just continue to say it or do it and…”
“Is this about me joking about your PE? We’ve been over this, Davey! You told me! How can you not expect me to joke about it?”
“Again, I didn’t tell you anything… See, this is what I’m talking about, Bulwark. It’s just… this isn’t working out. Like I said, give me a minute to make some calls and get someone who can take you in-”
“Don’t bother,” growled Bulwark as he climbed to his feet. “I know where the door is. I can show myself out.”
The titanic figure lumbered past the Loder’s and down the hall they had followed Quinton down. A few moments later a loud crashing noise carried to them and David shut his eyes tightly. “The stairs weren’t build to support his weight,” he groaned.
“So not Lundgren…” they heard Bulwark say.
David opened his eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to put the unpleasantness behind them. “So… we were about to celebrate,” he said then. “Who wants cake?”
To Be Continued... wrote:Chienne versus Apocatastasis