as narrated by Michael “Helios” Vacarro
A lot of people dream of being a star someday. I’d never had that dream but somehow I became one anyways.
“You can count on me.” Stephanie said.
I smiled. Like she had to tell me that. She worked harder than any three of the rest of us combined. If there was anyone on the team that I knew would be able to complete a mission, it was her.
That’s why when the communication line erupted with screams a moment later, I freaked out. Moonbow was the one I usually sent in as cavalry to save the rest of the team. For a moment I had no idea what to do when she was the one who needed to be saved!
The big hit of adrenaline was something I’d experienced before though. It didn’t help with what I needed to do.
“All Olympians, this is Helios. Activating a distress beacon for Moonbow at the following coordinates. Transferring overwatch to FBMA dispatchers. Copy that Dispatch?” I said.
“Dispatch copies Helios. I will handle all deployments until you reconnect.” Claire, the FBMA dispatcher said.
“Thanks Claire. Helios deploying now.” I said.
I normally work overwatch for the team for a variety of reasons. In part it’s because coordinating people is the way I think. I’m not the team leader, and I don’t want to be. Leading super heroes is worse than herding cats. Pointing them in the right direction and keeping them informed though is another matter.
The other reason I don’t do as much field work as the rest of the team is because of the nature of the gift that Apollo gave me. When the others invoke their powers they remain basically human. Larger than life and more heroic but still recognizably human. When I invoke Apollo’s gift I leave my human body and my human frailty behind and became a living star.
“Wait, please.” Princess, the dog/human hybrid said as I rose from my wheelchair with my body converted to flames. “Your friend is in danger. And she was with Mr Baldwin. Can you find them?”
“I’m going to have to.” I told her. It wasn’t necessarily going to be simple though. I had a map of where Moonbow, Groundstrike and Doctor Nightshade had been when they went offline. If no one had moved them then finding them would be easy.
My life was never that easy though.
“My family is protected here. I can help them better out there. Take me with you. I can help find the missing people.” Princess said.
I considered her offer. We hadn’t had any time to evaluate her. It was entirely possible that she was one of Doctor Wyrd’s more subtle agents, perhaps even unknowingly. If I took her with me, she might stab me in the back at any moment.
That made the decision easy.
“Ok. Take me hand.” I told her. Better that she try to stab me in the back than anyone else.
She reached out hesitantly and pulled her hand back from mine several times. I couldn’t blame her, I was made of fiery plasma after all.
“I won’t burn you. I can control my flames.” I said. That quelled her hesitation and she joined hands with me. If I hadn’t been made of fire that would have been a frightening experience on my end of things. Her hands were neither tiny nor harmless. The claws on the end of her fingers weren’t sharp but with the size of them they didn’t need to be.
“I’m going to take us to the street above where they went in.” I told her as we stepped out onto the patio. She nodded in return and I reached up to the sky to call down the Lightning Road.
The Lightning Road is a gift that the Pantheon as a whole has shared with their champions. Some of the other gods have given their champions individual forms of transportation as well, but we all shared the ability to walk the path the connects Olympus to the mortal world.
Once that path used to connect only the divine realm the Olympian gods inhabit and Mount Olympus in Greece. As the tales of the Greek gods spread though their influence did as well, which meant the Lightning Road could take us to almost any point on Earth.
For all its convenience, traveling a short distance on the Lightning Road can be pretty disorienting. One moment we were standing on the patio of the building we were using as the our command center, the next we were surrounded by an explosive roar and the dazzling brilliance of the Lightning Road and a moment later we were standing in the street where Moonbow had met Groundstrike and Doctor Nightshade.
“They went this way.” Princess said, and led me to an storm tunnel access hatch at the end of a nearby alley.
As we ventured down into the tunnels and into the darkness that filled them. Given that the tunnels were powered by their own micro-power plants that didn’t bode well. I kept expecting mutants to leap out at us around each corner that we passed. Instead only silence greeted us, which was disturbing for different reasons.
“They fell here.” Princess said when we arrived at the locations that I’d had for them on the map. As I’d been fearing, there was no sign of them. Only an empty corridor and the force field that they’d found. A section of the field was translucent and behind it I could see the ruins of the device that Moonbow had disabled.
“They were moved beyond the barrier.” Princess said, sniffing the air in quick bursts as she moved around the area.
“Then that’s where we need to go. Stand behind me.” I instructed her. Once she was safely out of the line of fire I lit up the barrier with a bolt of as much force as I dared to expend in the cramped area. It wasn’t anywhere near as hot as I could burn but melting the concrete while we were a hundred feet underground seemed like a fairly bad idea. The barrier held off my assault without even flickering though so I paused to reconsider my approach.
“I’m not going to be able to burn my way through the force field.” I told Princess.
“I will get your friend back.” She said, looking at me. She then looked at the barrier and walked directly through it.
I blinked, wondering if I’d gone nuts before it occurred to me that the other Muta-Morphs had been able to walk through the barrier unhindered as well.
The idea that the barrier was permeable at all sparked a thought in my mind. I focused on my body and called on my flight form. Fiery plasma converted to pure light. I then stepped forward towards the translucent section of the barrier and pushed through it. The process was slow going. It felt like I was moving through tar but after a few seconds I was on the other side of it.
“Can you still follow them?” I asked Princess as I converted my body back to plasma. She nodded in reply and set off down one of the corridors.
Our search led us down to one of the lowest cisterns in the storm tunnel complex. The cistern chamber was huge, easily the size of a hotel building but hollow on the inside. The drains that ran into it had been diverted to allow machinery to be constructed on the floor and along several of the inspection walkways.
We arrived just as a group of insect Muta-Morphs were strapping Moonbow into a strange biological machine.
“Psi-Lord branding chamber.” Princess said.
“What does it do?” I asked.
“It summons Psi-Lords. Mental entities. Individually they are no match for a human but in great numbers they have considerable strength.” she said.
“What happens if you destroy the machine while someone is in it?” I asked.
“The feedback will stun or kill the Psi-Lords. I don’t know what will happen to the host.” she said.
“Have to take the risk then.” I said and fired a stellar bolt at the crowd around Moonbow. I’d been careful to control the force of it so that it wouldn’t hurt her, but that turned out not to be an issue. The bolt reflected off an unseen force field as a wasp/human hybrid emerged from stealth above the forcefield. At least a dozen more followed suit and the battle was on.
Princess moved with a speed and grace that rivaled Borderskipper. Leaping into the air she tore the first wasp-creature she landed on apart without slowing her fall. The second was able to maneuver to avoid her direct attack but she caught it with one of her hands as she fell and dragged it off balance enough that it plummeted down with her.
I was beset by six of them at once and dropped them all with a wide wave of flame. In their place I saw another six instantly appear. I began to burn hotter. If they were trying to buy additional time then I couldn’t let them delay me from reaching Moonbow.
I watched as Princess dropped through the force field that had deflected my stellar bolt. This force field was fully transparent but I took the chance that it was configured the same as the other one and switched to light form again.
I landed next to Princess as she somersaulted off the top of one of the Psi-Lord branding chambers. Back to back we stood as an innumerable army of insect/human hybrids crashed over us like a wave.
Every time I tried to push towards Moonbow the density of the opposition rose. There wasn’t much that could hurt me when I was in star form, but one by one the army around us was finding tricks that would work. Cold attacks sapped my strength and force fields hedged me in. Over the roar of the battle I could hear Moonbow screaming.
“They’ve locked her mind in a nightmare world. They’re trying to break her.” Princess yelled to me over the fighting.
A cage of force walls slammed down around me, each projected by a different Muta-Morph. I pulsed my temperature and struck the walls with enough energy to incinerate a dump truck in an instant. The force walls shattered but more creatures stepped up.
“They’re being replaced as fast as we can take them down! How is that possible!” I called to Princess.
“The Psi-Lords are activating the mutation of the insects in the room as they fall.” she said.
That presented a problem. I could scour the room clean of insects but to do so I would also have to scour the room clean of Moonbow, Groundstrike, Doctor Nightshade and Princess. I heard Moonbow scream against and briefly considered whether I should try purging the room anyways. I could control of the heat I produced so I could shield the people I chose from its effects. The problem was the secondary heat that would be generating. I could melt an iron bar to slag without directly burning the guy who’d be holding it. The melting iron would still do a job on their hands though. And on the floor where it landed.
Given the opposition, a few burns seemed like a small price to pay, but then I actually listened to Moonbeam’s screaming. They weren’t screams of terror or pain. She was mad. In fact I’d heard her get that mad precisely once before.
“Princess, we need to get out of here. Right now.” I screamed and hauled her away from where Moonbow was.
The monsters had been trying to keep us away from the Branding pods so there were fewer of them behind us. I got us up to a ledge about forty feet above the floor of the room when the entire area below us lit up like a flashbulb.
“Omni-shot.” I whispered to Princess.
Moonbow’s arrows are insanely dangerous. They can hurt me even in pure light form. When she’s angry or desperate she can fire more than one at a time. When she’s truly, deeply enraged she can fire “one for every star in the sky”. I think that’s metaphorical, but I couldn’t actually count how many arrows had lashed out there.
When the flash faded from my eyes, the first thing I saw was Moonglow standing over the prone bodies of Groundstrike and Doctor Nightshade. The ruins of the machinery and bits of the army that had swarmed against us was lying everywhere around her.
“Nice shooting there!” I called down to her.
Moonbow’s whipped her head up at the sound of my voice. I saw the tension drain from her as she recognized me.
“No! Not nice at all!” a voice boomed out from all around us. It took me a moment to recognize it as Doctor Wyrd’s voice.
“You have no idea what you’ve done! Why you’ve set back the cause of Science by at least five minutes!” he screamed. “Fortunately you only wrecked the uninteresting prototypes. I already have the production models ready.”
My mind felt like a bomb went off in it. I collapsed to my knees and then fell over and rolled onto my stomach under the unbelievable psychic pressure. To my side I could see Princess suffering a similar effect.
In the middle of the cistern, hovering just below us, a flying platform appeared. It was decorated like a roman chariot had crash landed onto a 1950s flying saucer. On it I could see a man in lab coat with a gem studded crown on his head. Around him there was a ring of nightmare creatures that had been forged from many different animals.. Chimera. On each of the monster’s heads rested a crown with a single jewel above their brows.
“I didn’t mind when you destroyed my forcefield generator. I was powering it off the energy of the worthless, failure Psi-Lords who couldn’t even bond with a simple animal in the first place. Having them all attack you was a much better experiment.” Doctor Wyrd said. I tried to move, to heat up, to do anything but the mental force of the Chimera’s was too much. It was an effort even form coherent thoughts.
“I was even pleased to see you battling my minions. Oh don’t get me wrong, they were good minions, and those are hard to find, but if you can’t test something to destruction then you can’t really know what you once had I always say.” Doctor Wyrd continued.
“But destroying my equipment, I just can’t let stand. However will I repeat the experiment? And so I must destroy you. Fairs fair you see. But perhaps I shall be merciful, after all you are helping me beta test my enhanced Dominator Monkeys! Granted they’re not monkey’s. I think I used a little baboon in there but it’s hard to say. Anyways, very important that the Dominator Monkey’s get beta tested before the main event. Definitely don’t want any bugs showing up for that. Apart from the ones in the Dominator Monkey’s of course. Those are critical.” he continued to rant and ramble but I could tell he was winding down. Another few moments and he’d be done with us as an audience and then we’d be done for.
I wanted to taunt him back, keep him distracted and engaged with us until some other form of help could arrive. There were several flaws with that plan though. First, the only way I think of to escape the mental hold the Chimera’s had on me was to transform back to my human self. A skinny paraplegic college guy didn’t seem like the ideal form to confront a supervillain in though. Beyond that I didn’t know of any help that was even vaguely close to heading our way.
Sometimes I have great plans. Sometimes I can be the star of the show. Sometimes though my plans are terrible and sometimes I just have to be myself.
“Hey Doctor Weirdo! How many legs is it going to take me to kick your butt?” I called out to him. The transformation had changed my mind enough to slip out of the Chimera’s noose as I’d planned. Banter wasn’t really my strong suit but my jibe at least got the bad doctor’s attention. I wasn’t sure what do with it once I had it but up till that point it was a great plan.
“Reverted to your human state? How fascinating.” Doctor Wyrd said. “I don’t know, how many legs will it take you to kick my butt?”
As the gods of Olympus are my witness I did not expect what happened next.
“None, I can’t move them at all, but they can!” I said and pointed in a random direction. My plan, and it was a truly stupid plan I knew, was to wait until he looked away, transform back to my star form and blast the crown off his head. What I did not expect was to see three girls drop down on his floating platform from a ledge above mine and in the opposite direction that I had pointed.
The leader was an Indian girl. Her shirt was covered in blood and in her hand she held a similarly bloody length of pipe. Behind her dropped a girl who looked close to human but was clearly one of our visiting alien college students. The last girl was, as far I could tell, another hybrid. Snake/human from the look of her.
The three of them moved with the speed of desperation and clear purpose. The leader took her pipe and smashed it against Doctor Wyrd’s head with enough force to shatter half the gems on the crown and knock it off onto the platform. The second girl body checked him away from the platform’s controls while the third girl unleashed a focused sound attack that nearly blew out my ears. The Chimera she’d targeted disintegrated under it’s effect. As they exploded, their psychic assault vanished with them.
In maybe two seconds the three of them had captured the most notorious villain in the city!
I flash transformed into my star form and saw that both Princess and Moonbow were on their feet as well. We were braced for more fighting, looking around for the direction the next attack would come from. It wasn’t entirely reasonable behavior but, in my experience, defeated super villains have a knack for not staying defeated.
As if in confirmation of that thought I heard a dreadful, moaning howl erupt from the platform a second later. I spun to see if the girls were in trouble, but it turned out to be Doctor Wyrd who was making the noise. A moment later he switched to laughter.
“This is wonderful. Without my creations, you have doomed us all!”