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Chapter XXXI

            Jonni Cordalis Reinhart sat on the plush carpet only a few feet away from the TV.  Her glazed eyes absorbed every sight and sound transmitted from the flat screen.  When the news reports of the new heroes of Future City, along with video of their heroic battle against the local powered gang, was run on every channel and news show Jonni was suddenly filled with new life. 

            On the screen onlookers gathered outside of Future City’s city hall.  Reporters tried their best to speak over the excited crowds. 

            Behind Jonni, sitting on the couch, Charles watched his wife.  This was the liveliest she had been since Celia had run away.  Charles himself was equally as happy.  Not only did he now know that his daughter was alive and well, but his wife was mentally resurrected at the same time.  Over the past week, he had seen her go from beyond despondent to overflowing with energy.  She had written a new chapter in her book, all about her life after the heroes and how happy she was.  Jonni was her old self again. 

            When the live broadcast started, Jonni was sitting on the couch next to her husband.  Within a few minutes she was down on the floor, as close as she could get to the TV and still make out the picture.  Charles stayed in his spot and let her have the moment.  She needed it. 

            “I think I just saw her!” Jonni squealed.  “Oh my God, honey!  I never would have thought.” 

            Charles smiled.  “Me neither, baby.  But then, she is her mother’s daughter.  Being exceptional is in her blood.” 

            Jonni heard her husband’s words, but gave no indication.  She was lost in the moment. 

*****

            “Good afternoon, Futurians.” said the channel WKST anchorwoman.  “I’m Rebecca Summerland…”

            “And I’m Roland Clark.” The anchorman next to Rebecca added.  “Welcome to our special coverage of the mayor’s Hero Commendation Ceremony.  In just a few moments we will be turning things over to our on location reporter, Scarlet Hensley.  Scarlet was the brave reporter from WKST that along with her cameraman Walter Morrison captured the battle between our new heroes and the Yesterday town gang known as the Hell Spawns.” 

            “That’s right, Roland.”  Rebecca said, assuming control of the broadcast once again.  “Scarlet will be reporting live from the ceremony.  And make sure you stay tuned afterwards for our WKST exclusive interview with these new heroes.  We’ll learn all about who they are, what they can do, and about their training at the hands of the powered criminal known as Abysmal.” 

            “For those of you that don’t know…” Roland interjected on cue.  “Abysmal was the man responsible for the crippling of Walden “Wally” Patterson also known as Kid Paladin, the former sidekick of the Holy Avenger.  Wally wrote the book I’m In the League about his life as a sidekick.” 

            “One moment, Roland.” Rebecca said, holding her hand to her ear and looking off camera.  “I believe the ceremony is about to start.  We’ll now turn things over to Scarlet Hensley on the steps of city hall.  Scarlett.” 

            “Hello Becky and Roland.” Scarlet began.  In her mind she could see Rebecca scowling at being called “Becky.”  “We are about to get started here.  Because of my relationship with the teens, we’ve been allowed to get closer to the festivities than any of the other stations.” 

            Walter swung the camera quickly over the crowd, showing that only he and Scarlet were standing on the steps of city hall, with the other station’s reporters out in the street. 

            Back at the top of the steps, Mayor Guilden stood at the podium with Electric Blue, Diamond Dog, and Crash seated several feet to his left.  The mayor locked eyes with the crowd and wore his best smile.  In the chairs, the teens fidgeted with nervous energy.  Crash drummed a beat on the side of his metal folding chair that with a tempo that rose with each passing minute.  Diamond Dog sipped nervously on his sixth bottle of water.  Tiny crystal spikes formed along his sweaty palms.  Blue took deep breaths and let them out slowly.  She kept her eyes closed for the majority of the waiting.  Every five or so minutes she would open them and look at DD.    

            “As you said earlier, Becky.  We will be doing an exclusive interview with the teenagers after the ceremony.  Diamond Dog, Crash, and Electric Blue, whose real names are Carson Smalls, Joseph Harris, and Celia Cordalis.  As most of the world now knows, Celia Cordalis is the daughter of Jonni Cordalis Reinhart, former superhero groupie turned author.  She wrote the book I’m In the League, Too, about her time with the heroes.  During our interview we’ll talk to Celia and ask her what it was like growing up with a mother as notorious as hers.”  Scarlet smiled and her eyes narrowed to devilish slits, convincing the audience that they were going to go somewhere they weren’t invited. 

            Mayor Guilden gripped the flexible base of the metal coiled microphone and angled it towards him.  He cleared his throat and enlarged his smile by two sizes. 

            “Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here at the steps of city hall to recognize the efforts of three incredible teens.  What these three young people have done is more than just their actions on the west side of Argo city.  What they’ve done is send a message.  A message not only to us, but to the world.  That message is progress.  When we look at our city, we are constantly reminded of the steps we’ve taken and the progress we’ve made in technology.  What we forget, and what they have reminded us of, are the steps that we need to continue to make as human beings.  The progress that we still have to work at and strive for to become better people.  Better people make a better world.  We can’t simply quantify our achievements by micro-chips, wireless internet, and plasma televisions.  We need to look beyond our mortal accomplishments, and look at the things that will make us immortal.  The things that we need to do to carry ourselves, our children, our children’s children, and our world into a better tomorrow.  To do that, we must first stand up to the things around us that aren’t right.  We need to stop turning a blind eye to evil and injustice.  We need to take a stand and say we will no longer tolerate these actions in our world.  We will make things right.” 

            The mayor gripped the people of Future City and held them in his hand.  His words had been chosen to negate his own actions of injustice, especially to the people of Yesterday Town.  Despite what he said to the masses, he was afraid of what blue and the others had done.  They brought light to a section of the city he had kept shrouded in darkness.  His gentrification of the people of Yesterday Town had been ignored by the residents of Future City.  They all knew what was going on, but chose to ignore it.  They lived in the bright, shiny metropolis of technology.  It wasn’t their plight. 

            Now, the people were forced to look at what they had turned their backs on for years.  Human nature dictated that they blame someone other than themselves.   The mayor was determined to not be the object of their fury.  So far, his speech was leading them along like a flute song.   

            “For years, a corner of our city was gripped in fear.  Those that orchestrated the terror and destruction held our best efforts at bay.  That fear was then channeled to all of us and we felt powerless.  We aren’t powerless.  We can do great things if we remember the potential that we all have inside.  It doesn’t matter how big or how small we are.  It doesn’t matter if there are a hundred of us, or only one.  All that matters is that we stand up.  Stand up and say we will not allow this to go on any longer.  We will fight, and we will win.” 

            The crowds gathered along on the base of the steps, and along the sidewalk cheered.  The applause was deafening as it echoed along the stone and marble entry way.  The people of Future City shouted praises and endearment to the astonished and somewhat embarrassed teens.  Homemade signs and banners were thrust in the air, searching for their attention.  Many waved quickly produced and over priced tee shirts that they had bought from street vendors that morning. 

            Mayor Guilden gestured for the crowd to quiet down, as he beamed a genuine smile and gripped the mike again. 

            “Thank you.  Thank you.  I would now like to present our three heroes with a token of appreciate from the city.” 

            The mayor turned and gestured for the three teens to stand.  The three nervously rose to their feet, standing awkward before the growing crowd. 

            “Celia Cordalis.  Carson Smalls.  Joseph Harris.  This city owes you a debt of gratitude that we can even begin to repay.  Your actions in Argo City have reminded us of who we are.  I would like to take this time to recognize your actions.  On behalf of the great metropolis of Argo city and its citizens I would like to present you with this medal of heroism.” 

            The uproar of cheers was deafening to the teens.  Crash’s head started to swim as he looked out on the ocean of faces, cameras, and cell phones.  Hundreds of people clamoring for a piece of him.  It was too much for the young boy, and he felt his knees buckle.  His hand shot out and gripped Diamond Dog by the arm to keep himself from collapsing.  Crash wondered how he could have rushed headlong into battle with the Hell Spawns without a twinge of fear, yet here he was more nervous then he had ever been. 

            Diamond Dog winced as Crash’s death grip locked onto his arm.  He looked back at the younger boy and smiled.  He leaned back and whispered to his friend. 

            ‘I hope you’re not expecting me to hold you up.  The way I feel right now, we’ll both end up on the ground.” 

            The two boys laughed. 

            Mayor Guilden looked to the sky over the gathered citizens and smiled. 

            “And here to present the Argo city Award of Heroism – Argo city’s own…” 

            Everyone’s eyes shifted up, and necks craned back to the sky.  Camera’s made “J” shaped movements on their tripods, trying to capture the moment.  His arrival. 

            “Colonel Courageous!” 

            Backlit by the midday sun, Colonel Courageous glided down from the sky.  His body slowly descended over the heads of the crowd and to the top landing of the city halls steps.  A momentary hush fell over the crowd as the city’s protector moved above them.  Without warning the crowd erupted into a cacophony of roots and cheers that could be heard from blocks away. 

            The Colonel touched down on the marble floor with the grace of a butterfly.  He shook the mayor’s hand before turning and waving to the crowd. 

            “Good afternoon, Argo city!” The Colonel bellowed.  His voice carried as far as the masses screams, but without their volume or a microphone. 

            Diamond Dog’s heart raced, and he reached for the bottled water on the ground.  He could barely keep on his feet amidst the instant popularity and throngs of fans, but coupled with an appearance by the world’s hero… he suddenly wasn’t sure. 

            “You’re on your own.”  DD said to Crash as he removed the boy’s hand from his arm. 

            A jolt of electricity zapped DD as he bent down to grab the bottled water.  Blue threads of electric current ran between the legs of the metal folding chairs next to him.  His eyes moved upwards, leading his body, scanning Blue’s body.  More thin tendrils of electricity twisted and jumped along the metal chairs and to her body.  The ends of Blue’s hair began to lift skyward. 

            DD put a hand on her shoulder and received a shock for his caring gesture. 

            “Blue?’ he started.  “Blue, are you okay?” 

            The teen girl didn’t answer.  Her eyes were locked on the larger than life hero and the perfect smile he cast out at the crowd. 

            “What’s he doing here?” Blue spat between gritted teeth. 

*****

            Jonni had been watching the ceremony with the excitement of a young child on Christmas day.  She even found herself moving Closer to the television every time the camera panned by Celia, or zoomed in.  That all changed with the mayor’s last words, and he appeared on the screen.  Jonni’s smile disappeared, and she quickly retreated from the bright, high definition TV. 

            “Oh no.”

            Charles moved over to his wife’s side, stopping her backward crawl across the carpet. 

            “What’s wrong, honey?  What’s going on?”  Charles asked. 

            The images on the TV started to waiver and became distorted. 

            “She doesn’t know.” Jonni whispered.  “She doesn’t know.” 

            Charles looked from his wife to the television and back again. 

            “She doesn’t know he’s her father?” 

            Jonni shook her head no.  “She doesn’t know the truth.” 

*****

            Colonel Courageous walked over to Celia, his hand outstretched.  His charming smile made her sick, and fueled the rage building inside her. 

            “Celia Cordalis?” the Colonel asked politely.  “I knew your mother, Jonni.” 

            The metal folding chairs rattled against each other as they danced to the pull of Blue’s electric sway. 

            “Don’t you dare say her name!”  Blue commanded. 

            “Blue…” Diamond Dog called to her.  His words were lost in the crackling sound of collected electricity that filled her ears. 

            “You don’t have the right to say her name!” 

            “I’m sorry?” questioned the Colonel. 

            “No.” Blue responded.  “You’re not sorry.  You’ve never been sorry.” 

            Blue’s eye’s disappeared behind a wall of white electricity.  The hair on her head stood on ends and the air around her became charged with static. 

            “Is there a problem here?” the bewildered Colonel asked.  “Did I do something?”

            “You don’t know what it was like for us!  What we had to endure because of you!  Because you weren’t there!  You could help everyone in the world, but you couldn’t help us!” 

            DD could see the currents flowing into her hands before she raised them, and knew what was about to happen. 

            “Celia!” he cried out to her.

            “You bastard!” Electric Blue screamed.  She fired off a blast of electricity that hit the Colonel in the stomach, just above his navel.  The charged electrical bolt burned through his nerves.  The muscles in his stomach tightened and locked, and the hero staggered backwards. 

            Colonel Courageous gripped his stomach and stood up straight.  The first shot had caught him off guard.  He braced himself for a potential follow up and stepped closer to the young girl. 

            “Where were you?!” Blue cried.  She fired a second bolt of electricity at the Colonel which stung him more than he thought it should. 

            “Caroline is dead because of you!”  A third bolt shot out from Blue’s fingertips.  The Colonel was still too shocked to move out of the way.  The blast hit him in the upper right of his chest.  He could feel the tendrils of electricity as they moved through his skin, danced along the fringes of his nervous system, and constricted the muscles in his chest and back.  The blast exited out of the Colonel’s right shoulder and hit the stone wall of the building behind him. 

            The city’s hero staggered back.  He tried to maintain his ground, but the blast from the young girl had an unexpected effect on him. 

            “You should’ve been there!  You should have saved her!  This is all your fault!”  Blue screamed at the world’s champion. 

            “Wait!’ Colonel Courageous said.  He was finally able to snap out of his surprise.  “Just stop and talk to me for a minute.  I know you’re upset.  Just talk to me.”   

            “Talk to you?  Where were you all the other times I needed to talk to you?” Blue screamed at the Colonel. 

            “I don’t… I don’t understand what you mean.” 

*****

            Jonni sat on her knees in front of the television mumbling to herself.  She could see it all happening moments before it actually did.  All those years she had been hiding the truth from everyone.  Eventually it had to come out. 

            Jonni turned behind her and looked at Charles.  The large man sat behind her with the same horrified expression on his face.  It was all about to come out. 

            Jonni turned back to the TV. 

            “Not like this.” She mumbled to herself.  “Not like this.  Don’t do it, baby.  Please, don’t do it.”

 *****

 

             “Where were you?!” Blue repeated, followed by another electric blast.  This blast was different then the three before.  Not only was it more powerful, but also had a light blue streak that ran through its center.  Unlike the preceding bolts, this one didn’t leave her fingers and fire out at the target.  The blast was a stream of electricity that flowed from Blue’s hand.  It moved through the air like a high voltage snake. 

            Colonel Courageous tried to dodge the electric whip.  He side-stepped the blast at super speed, shifting his body two feet to the left without actually taking a step. 

            The electric whip snapped back at the hero, arcing around from behind and hitting him in the back.  The attack brought the earthly savior to his knees.  The energy drilled into him, and set his nervous system on fire.  The pain was like nothing he’d ever felt. 

            Blue drew her other arm back and drew more electricity from the available sources around her.  Currents arced through the air and from the ground and into her body.  The blue and white tendrils traveled through her and amassed in the palm of her withdrawn arm.    

            Diamond Dog ran up behind Blue and grabbed her.  His hands reached out and took a hold of hers.  Crystals grew along DD’s forearms and down to his hands.  The crystals covered his and Blue’s hands, locking them together.  A long faceted spike extended from their union, aimed at the sky. 

            Blue’s last burst of electricity was released inside the quartz covering and bounced furiously around inside.  Diamond Dog concentrated on his quartz exo-skeleton; forming crystals within crystals.  He tried to alter and arrange the formation of the quartz to funnel the electricity to the spike where it could discharge harmlessly into the air.  

            Blue and DD fell to the ground spent.  DD let his sheath slough away so he could hold her in his real arms.  He kept his arms wrapped around hers in the event she tried to fire another blast. 

            The young girl kept her eyes on her father, refusing to look away or blink.  She wanted him to feel her anger.  Her hatred.  Her pain.  She wanted him to know what he had done to her all those years. 

            The Colonel rose to his feet, taking all the strength he had, and made his way over to the two teens lying on the ground.  Bleary eyes stared down at them with confusion.  What was she going on about, he wondered.  Why would Jonni’s daughter attack him?  Surely she knew about the time they spent together.  What woman wouldn’t brag about being Colonel Courageous’ former girlfriend?   

            His eyes widened and his jaw dropped.  Jonni.  The girl on the ground was about sixteen years old.  Sixteen years.  It had been that long, hadn’t it?  Sixteen, almost seventeen, years ago that Jonni left in the middle of the night without saying goodbye.  In hiding for years until the book came out.  By then she was married to Charles and they had a baby girl.  A family.  My family?  Is this my daughter?  My baby girl? 

            Thoughts ran through his head like twenty high-speed trains all pulling into the station at once.  His thoughts collided with one another and were scattered throughout his mind.  Some were salvageable, others destroyed upon impact, and the remaining had merged into incoherent mental babbling. 

            Celia.  My grandmother’s name was Celia. 

            The Colonel knelt down before the crying girl.  She lifted her head up and looked into his face.  He stared into her eyes.  Not her eyes… his eyes. 

            “Oh my God.” 

            The Colonel stumbled back.  He couldn’t take his eyes off hers and nearly fell down the building’s steps. 

            “No.” he finally said. 

            “I didn’t know.  She didn’t tell me.” The Colonel mumbled.  “She didn’t tell me.” 

            Without another word he was gone.  Faster than anyone had ever seen him fly before.  The people around him were blown backwards by his sudden departure.  Within seconds a quiet boom sounded in the sky overhead. 

            Celia curled up in Carson’s lap and cried.

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