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Chapter XXXIII

 

            “What the hell, man?!” the young teen said, flipping through the channels on the hotel TV.  Crash’s language had gotten a little “colorful” since their encounter with the Hell Spawns.  It was nothing for him to toss a damn or a hell into every other sentence.  It never progressed beyond that, but that miniscule amount was out of character for the formerly quiet boy. 

            “Hey!  Hey, DD, you see this?” 

            Crash pointed the remote at the news report on the television.  It was the third one he had seen that morning rehashing the events from the recognition ceremony the day before.  The ceremony where Electric Blue revealed to the world that Colonel Courageous was her father; after blasting him repeatedly with electricity.  Now, public opinion had turned on the overnight media darlings, and they found themselves being attacked by the same people eighteen hours earlier were praising them. 

            Outside the hotel, a crowd had gathered with signs decrying them and they’re antics.  Crash looked at the video of the angry mob on the TV, then walked to the window and looked out at them from his vantage point several stories above.  He clicked the remote control and changed to another channel where they were also discussing the teens.  On the news show, the hosts spoke via teleconference with an attorney who spouted legal mumbo jumbo and precedents.  The teletype on the bottom of the screen read: “Hell Spawns Detained Illegally.” 

            Crash un-muted the television so he could hear the garbage the lawyer was spewing. 

 

            “You have to remember, that these so called heroes have no jurisdiction in Argo city, or any other town.  Their actions are nothing more than vigilante justice.”  The attorney spat with false conviction. 

            “So,” the host responded.  “You consider this as ‘vigilante justice’ and not, say, a citizen’s arrest.  Let me remind you, that the police were on the scene, and they actually did the arresting.  All these teens did was help subdue the members of the Hell Spawns gang.” 

            “You say, that they helped subdue, but when I look at that video, what I see is not neighborhood citizens rushing in to protect themselves and their loved ones.  What I see on that video is a gang war.  The police are on the sidelines afraid to intervene.  There are undermanned and underequipped to deal with even one of them.” 

            “Hold on for a minute, Jason.”  The host spoke up.  He leaned in to the camera as if he and the lawyer were face to face instead of several thousand miles away.  “I don’t see where the video shows anything that you’re claiming.  We see these kids show up after the Hell Spawns had already begun their terror campaign.  They had one of the city’s heroes, the Aggressor, down on the ground, and were beating him to death.” 

            “There you go, mixing facts again.  Heroes, real heroes, like Colonel Courageous, Astronima, and Spartanicus are recognized bodies and have been duly appointed by federal and state agencies with the special privilege to be able to subdue and arrest those that break the law.  The Aggressor has not been recognized, or authorized, with those privileges. Furthermore…”

 

            Crash couldn’t take any more.  He turned the TV off and threw the remote on the couch.  The teen paced in front of the window.  One protestor stood out over the others.  He held a sign above his head that had the word “Heroes” crossed out and the word “Terrorists” underneath.  The teen snarled at him through the reinforced glass.  He reached out with his ability and pulled on the sign. 

            The man holding the sign jumped.  He looked around frantically as if someone had called his name, before going back to waving his sign.  Suddenly, his arm shot higher into the air, and his hand slid to the end of the wooden post that held the sign.  The man looked around again, and shot a glance into the air.  Crash could see the fear on his face as the protestor wondered what was going on. 

            Crash laughed and gave the sign another tug, yanking it completely out of the man’s hand.  He let it hover just out of reach for a few seconds, before dropping it down on the man’s upward looking face.  The protestor picked his sign off the ground and waved it halfhearted, while looking around to see if he could find who was responsible.  Slowly, he lowered his sign and slinked away, disappearing in the back of the crowd. 

            The mischievous teen chuckled at the frightened man down below.  “This is crazy.  DD, you should see this.  Yo, DD!” 

            Sitting at the breakfast nook, DD stared blankly at the trail of water he poured along the nook’s edge.  He lowered his head to the table, putting himself at eye level with the elongated pool.  He took his index finger, placed it on the table top, and slid it to the pool of water.  Crystals formed on the tip of his finger and slowly extended into the trail of water.  The water retracted as the line of quartz grew within it.  As the quartz grew upwards, the water was drawn inwards. 

            Diamond Dog would have found it fascinating, learning a new way to use his ability, had his mind not been weighed down with concern over everything that had happened.  Nothing had gone right for him since he was gifted with his ability.  Gifted?  Not a gift, a curse. 

 

            “Diamond Dog?” Crash called.  “You listening to me?” 

            “Enough of this Diamond Dog shit!  My name’s Carson!  Okay, Joseph?!” 

            ‘What the hell’s wrong with you?” 

            “Nothing.” Carson snapped at his friend.  The crystal trail that ran the length of the table extended upwards into spikes.  DD kept his finger on the table, at the starting point of the miniature crystal wall.  With an agitated push of his finger, the two inch quartz spikes were expelled from their bases and embedded themselves into the high ceiling. 

               Carson fell back in his chair and ran hand over his face.  “Joseph… Crash…  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry about all of this.  I never wanted any of this.  I don’t want to be a hero.  I don’t want people to depend on me to help them.  I don’t…  I can’t handle that responsibility.” 

            Crash looked down at the older teen.  Carson had always felt like an older brother to the younger teen.  He looked up to him. 

            “I do.  Maybe it’s a stupid teenage dream, but I’ve always wanted to be a hero.  Wanting to save people and make them feel safe.  Be on TV and on the cover of magazines.  But, I can’t do any of that.  All I can do is lift things into the air.  I’d make a great moving man, but not a hero.” 

            Crash walked back over to the window and looked down at the people with their signs calling him a menace. 

            “I mean, we kinda owe it to them, don’t we?” 

            “We owe a lot of people.” Diamond Dog whispered.  Crash knew who he was talking about.  Headwires, Renegade, and Bigtime.  They didn’t go with DD and the others to Yesterday Town that night, and had been excluded from the praise they initially received.  Diamond Dog was sure they felt slighted by that at first, now, though, he was certain they were relieved. 

            Even still, with Guru revealed as Abysmal, it didn’t take long for the government to seize his assets, including the house they had been staying in.  Scarlet helped bring them to the Valiant hotel to stay with the others.  Now, DD was worried that if the press found out about them, they would lump them all together.  He wanted to keep them out of it, if he could.  For their sakes. 

 

            While the others were on his mind, Diamond Dog’s primary focus was Blue.  He was still reeling from the events of the day before.  It didn’t help that he was constantly reminded of it everywhere he turned.  The thing he found the most difficult to accept was learning that Colonel Courageous was Blue’s father.  It all seemed so sudden and random at the time, but looking back on it, it made sense.  Somehow, it made sense.    

 

            A knock on the room door gave him the excuse he needed to stop thinking about Blue and the others for just a moment.  He rose from the chair and carefully made his way to the door. 

            Crash’s heart pounded in his chest, and he instinctively moved away from the door.  Images of old west lunch mob justice stampeded through his mind. 

            Diamond Dog peered through the peephole and into Scarlet’s friendly face.  Behind her were two people he could barely see.  He opened the door slowly, keeping his foot on the bottom of door, and preventing it from opening all the way.  Scarlet went to step inside the room, but stopped short when she realized that DD was standing in her way. 

            “Who are they?” Diamond Dog asked, keeping the door partially closed.  A thin layer of quartz formed on his unseen hand.  “More reporters?” 

            Scarlet didn’t smile.  Her expression was somber.  “No.  These are people you really need to talk to.” 

            Scarlet stepped back and ushered the man and woman forward.  The couple was in their mid thirties, but looked like they were ten years older.  It was clear that they hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in months.  Every ounce of worry they felt had been etched into their faces. 

            The man and woman tried to smile but their mouths only twitched, as if they didn’t know how to anymore.  Nervously, the man extended his hand to DD. 

            “My name’s Edgar, and this is my wife Judith.” 

            DD looked from the couple to Scarlet, who nodded at him to shake hands.  He didn’t move, uncertain of where it was all going. 

            The man continued with his greeting.  “We’re Caroline’s parents.  May we come in?”

 ****

            The hotel bedroom was dark with the exception of the teenage girl that sat on the bed; a faint outline of blue and white illuminating her form.  Blue held the phone loosely in her hand, afraid that she might electrocute the person on the other end.  She tried to carry on a normal conversation, but her mind kept going back to the cheap high school phone prank.  Only this time, she really was afraid it could happen. 

            “Are you sure you’re okay?” asked the disembodied voice of Jonni through the phone. 

            “I’m fine mom.  I’m a little scared, but I’m okay.” Celia answered.  She called her mother the minute they arrived back at the hotel room; almost half a day after the incident.  It was all too much for her, and she felt like she was losing control.  When she wasn’t worrying about sending electric currents through six hundred miles of phone line, she repeatedly asked herself: WhyWhy her? 

            “The people outside are kinda scary.  I mean, some of these same people were asking for my autograph a few days before.  Now they want my blood.  I feel kinda like John Lennon.  I’m afraid one of them might try and kill me.” 

            Jonni practically burst into tears hearing her daughter say that, and she wondered: Is that how it happens?  Is one of those crazy people outside going to kill my daughter? 

            “It’ll be okay, baby.  I went through the same thing when my book came out.  It’ll all die down before you know it, and you’ll wonder what it was ever all about.”  Jonnie prayed that Celia couldn’t hear her voice crack as she spoke.  She did her best to keep her tears behind the thin wall she had built inside. 

            “He wasn’t lying, was he?” 

            “What do you mean?” 

            “Colonel Courageous.  My father.  He didn’t know about me, did he?” 

            The wall broke, and tears came flooding out. 

            “No.” 

            “Why didn’t you tell me?  You told me who my father was when I turned eight.  You made me keep it a secret.  Do you know how many birthdays that my only wish was to have him come and visit?  All those lonely nights when I prayed to God and asked why didn’t my father love me?  Why did he love everyone else and not me?  All that time, and he didn’t even know.  Why, mom, why?” 

            Jonnie sniffed hard, and wiped her tears away.  “I was afraid.  I was afraid that you’d- that you’d want to be just like him.  I was afraid that you would idolize him and that lifestyle he lives.  I’d been there.  I’d made my mistakes.  I didn’t want you to go there, too.” 

            “What mistakes?  Getting pregnant?!  Having me?!”  Celia started to get angry at her mother.  The light radiating from her body increased, brightening the entire room. 

            “No, baby.  Not you.  Never you.  I was afraid of losing you.  When I was growing up, there was a hero named Golden Goddess.  I wanted to be just like her.  I used to dream about what it would be like to be her sidekick.  How cool it would be to fight bad guys by her side.  Somewhere inside my common sense area, I knew that it would never happen.  But I still wanted to be there, be a part of it.  It was a different time back then, and to meet a hero you just had to be in the right place at the right time.  I got together with a group of other girls, and that’s all we did, travel to where the action was, trying to meet the heroes.  Eventually it worked, and – well… you know the rest.”  

            “I don’t – I don’t understand what you’re saying.” 

            “My point, is that I was afraid you would end up like me.  Not exactly like me, but wanting to be a hero.  Wanting to live that life.  I wasn’t afraid you’d fail to become one of them, I was afraid you’d succeed.  I’ve seen so many of them die long before their time.  I didn’t want you to be one of them.  I didn’t want to lose you.” 

            “You can’t stop it, mom.  If that’s my fate, then that’s the way it is.  Nothing you can do will stop it from happening.”  Celia had started to calm down, and room slowly went dark again. 

            “I know.  I know.”  Jonni started to cry again.  She had been crying so much over the past couple of months that each time she was surprised she still could. 

            “The thought of never seeing you again… I can’t… I don’t want that to happen.” 

            “I don’t either.  I’m just as scared as you are.  You’re not the only one, mom.”

            “I know, sweetie.  I know.”  Jonni took a deep breath and let it out in a staggered breath.     

            “Charles and I are coming to see you.  We’re going to try and fly out tomorrow.” 

            “No, don’t.  With everything that’s going on, it’d be better if you stayed as far away from all this as you can.  Scarlet’s still going to do her exclusive interview with us.  Give me chance to explain what happened yesterday.  Maybe once people know why I freaked out they’ll ease up on us.” 

            “Ok, you’re right.  Besides, we’ve got a lot to do around here after Colonel – your father – paid us a visit.  The neighbors aren’t too happy with their broken windows.” 

 

            A knock at the bedroom door took Celia’s attention away from the call.  Diamond Dog opened the door slowly and poked his head in. 

            “Blue?  There’s someone here you need to meet.” 

            “Just a minute.” The glowing teen answered.  She turned her back to the door and resumed her call.  DD retreated from the room, closing the door behind him. 

 

            “Mom, I need to go.  Someone’s here.” 

            “I understand.” 

            “Let me talk to Charles.” 

            Jonni handed the phone to her husband. 

            “Hello.”  Charles said. 

            “Hi dad.”

            Charles choked for a moment and he began to stutter.  In her sixteen years on the planet, she had never called him dad.  It was always Charles, never dad.  “Uh… H-Hi, CeCe.  You hanging in there?” 

            “Yeah.”  Celia smiled.  “I just wanted to say I love you, dad.” 

            Charles beamed.  “I love you too, CeCe.” 

            “I gotta go.  I’ll talk to you later.” 

            “Okay, honey.  Be safe.” 

            “I will.  Bye.” 

 *****

            The wind whistled as it split around the Colonel’s body.  He was amazed at the speed he was able to achieve.  Never before had he been able to reach velocities that great, much less sustain them.  Though he acknowledged this, he spent very little time thinking about it.  His head was still reeling from the high pitched squeal of the broken communicator that assaulted him minutes before. 

            He realized something was wrong during his meeting with Astronima weeks earlier.  After his secret meeting with Dr. 253 and Major Tom, he had completely forgotten about the malfunction, until the Dr’s call nearly crippled him. 

            Colonel Courageous’ mind was a mess of thoughts, ranging from the Cycksiks, to his new found daughter.  He was having a hard time believing that he was a father.  More so, he questioned Jonni’s decision to hide her from him. 

            Was his life so bad?  He wondered. 

 

            The Colonel landed at the secret military instillation, softer than he had at the Reinhart home.  He lifted the heavy metal cover that protected the launch tube and climbed inside.  He floated down the fifteen story concrete shaft to the hidden base below. 

            As he drifted down the dark opening, Colonel Courageous felt his eyes getting heavy.  His body started to list from side to side, and he nearly pitched forward to fall head first to the bottom.  He shook his head vigorously, trying to force the sleep from his mind.  It wasn’t really sleepiness as much as it was exhaustion. 

            His feet had barely touched the bottom of the shaft when the door to Major Tom’s research facility opened.  He smiled as the ground lights revealed the heavenly visage of Astronima. 

            “Fancy meeting you here.” The Colonel said with a smile.   

            “Gary.” Astronima was startled by the senior hero’s appearance.  “What are you doing here?”  

            “The Doc called.  I guess you know about our plan, right?” 

            “To destroy the Cycksiks home world?  Yeah.  Given what I’ve been through, forgive me when I say it should’ve been done a long time ago.” 

            The Colonel lowered his head and looked away.  “I’m sorry.  If I had known…  I never would have asked you to go there.” 

            “I know, and I don’t blame you.” 

            “What are you doing here?  You’re not planning on coming with us, are you?” 

            “No.” Astronima balled her fist and clenched her jaw.  “I wish I could.  But, I can’t.  I don’t trust myself right now.” 

            “Is there a problem?” 

            “I’ve been a little under the weather lately.  My powers have been a little erratic.  I’m worried that the procedure might be wearing off.  It was supposed to be permanent, but who knows.” 

            Colonel Courageous moved closer to her. 

            “What did the Doc say?” 

            “Nothing.  I mean, I didn’t get the chance to talk to him.  He and Tom have been in that lab working on the invasion plan.  I didn’t think I should disturb him.  That’s a bit more important than some manufactured hero.”  Astronima forced a smile. 

            “You’re a hero, that’s all that matters.  How you came about powers doesn’t change who you are.  Come on, let’s get Doc to give you a good once over.” 

            “Thank you Gary, but no.  I’ll be fine.  I just need a good night’s sleep and to stay out of the skies for a little while.  I’ll call Great Guardian, and see if he can help keep watch over LA for a week.  Give me some time to relax.” 

            “Are you sure, Val?” 

            “Yeah,” Astronima said, already rising into the air.  “I’ll be fine.” 

            As she spoke, her body waivered a slightly, and she put a hand to her stomach.  She gave the Colonel another forced smiled and flew out the long tunnel. 

            As his colleague disappeared the Colonel questioned his life once again. 

            Ailing heroes.  Alien invasions.  Maybe his life wasn’t as shiny as it looked on the cover of the magazines.   

 

 

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