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Childhood Dream (IC)

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January 7, 2010

The letter had gone out on official Freedom League stationary, dispatched by standard US mail all across Freedom City. Reaching the floral-scented apartment of Fleur de Joie, the palatial confines of Danger Mansion, the scientific wonderland of Dr. Archeville's residence, the sanctified walls of St. Stephen's Church in Lantern Hill, and even ASTRO Labs, cc Dark Star. After recent issues with open tryouts going awry, the Freedom League was extending a very special invitation for a closed tryout with some of Freedom City's leading independent superheroes. Lady Liberty herself had signed the invitation, enclosing a personal plea for all the contacted heroes to arrive as soon as possible.

As he didn't eat or sleep, and truthfully had a lot of free time when nothing was going amiss, Freedom Angel arrived early that crisp January morning, his wings covered in a thin coating of ice as he made a landing before the closed front gates of Freedom Hall. He wasn't at all sure why he'd gotten the letter; he wasn't a superhero the way most people assumed. But maybe he could just have a little conversation with the people here and get everything straightened out. He tried to think positively. Perhaps the Freedom League was looking for spiritual counsel!

The building was a five-story structure with sloping walls, its truncated, flat-topped pyramid shape vaguely reminding Heyzel of ancient Egypt. Tall, narrow windows ran the length of the building, though the glare was too much for him to see through them from ground-level. The glass double-doors before the main lobby were sheltered by a snow-covered overhang, leading into the main lobby, their doors firmly closed. The Hall sat in the middle of a small plaza with a finely manicured lawn, now covered of course by now, with a carefully swept and iced path leading up to the entrance. There was an eight-foot wall around the property, with a single gate along the path to the main entrance. Peering through glass, the angel could see the doors are closed and the lobby is empty and quiet. There’s a flat, square call-button beside the entrance. Unsure of what to do here, though, Freedom Angel opted to wait for more information.

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Ace hadn't been exactly surprised when the invatation came, he had been lobbying for just such an arrangement for some time, However he was pleasantly surprised that it was not a matter of some minor functionary but a renowned League member such as Lady Liberty that would be hosting the event.

Ace prepared himself gathering all the tools he thought he might need for their testing as well as a few that they might not, never hurt to be prepared after all. Then he slipped on his trademark fedora and bomber jacket and drove himself Freedom Hall arriving shortly after the angel of Lantern Hill.

He strode up the steps with purpose and greeted the newcomer, "Hi there, Ace Danger." He offered his hand to the Angel as he introduced himself, "You must be Heyzel." As he spoke he took in the scene with a carefull eye. This was not Ace's first visit to Freedom Hall and the empty lobby certainly seemed odd to say the least.

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Heyzel smiled, his white teeth gleaming as he came in for a perfect landing by Ace. His hand in Ace's was strong and human, though perhaps warmer than any healthy normal man's would have been. The armor and wings, however, were something different. "I have heard your name, friend, and know you well," he said warmly. "It is a pleasure to meet you in person at last." Looking around, he added, "I have never visited Freedom Hall before, but this greeting seems very strange. Were you summoned by Lady Liberty as well?"

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"I was indeed." Ace replied while still peering at the empty lobby. "I must admit it is not the welcome I was expecting either."

Ace quickly examined the entryway once more hoping something other than the emptyness of the hall would stand out. "Normally the lobby is fully staffed if not downright busy at this hour." Ace added curiously. "Well as my father used to say never overlook the obvious." And he pressed the call button, non-chalantly leaning down to anounce their arrival.

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As Ace was leaning down to push the call button, a nearby heretofore-dormant tree suddenly sprouted a large knot in its trunk, which then yawned open to expel Fleur de Joie. She looked around, obviously awed even behind her mask and cowl, then brightened to see a familiar face and hurried over. "Ace, hello!" she called, joining the other two at the door. "Did you get a letter, too?" She gave the winged stranger a friendly smile as well. "Hi, I'm Fleur de Joie. Are we stuck outside?" She rubbed her hands up and down her arms. Even through the layers of her costume, it was cold out!

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Stesha felt the hairs on her arms and the back of her neck stand on end. Ace felt just the tiniest bit dizzy as nanogravitational fluctuations played havoc with his inner ears. A pinpoint of electric blue light suddenly winked into behind them, which grew into an basketball-sized orb of swirling electric blue and eerily dull gray light. The orb then became a large flat disk, then a larger hoop, which slid back and revealed Doktor Archeville. Once he was completely through the hoop of energy, it shrank back down and winked out of existence.

Oh, I hope this goes well!

Well, it can't go much worse than the last time we were here.

I should hope not!

Finally, we'll have access... muah hah hah hah hah!

"Ah, Ace, Stesha, so good to see you two!," Archeville said warmly, "do you know of anyvone else who vill - oh!" The Doktor seemed just a tiny bit startled when he noticed Heyzel, "I do not believe ve haff met, sir, dough I haff been hearing rumors of a new vinged man in de skies of Freedom. I am Herr Doktor Viktor Archeville," he said with a click of his heels and slight bow, "und who might you be?"

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Dark Star dropped off the trailer in the parking lot. It was amazing the accidents people got into. He made sure the hospital orderlies were looking at the couple before nodding and rising upwards. He did a quick circle around the Eiffel Tower. He'd have to visit here at some point with Stesha. With Stesha... "Oh darn it," he muttered as he called he was supposed to be at Freedom Hall with her already. They had talked about it of course. How could they not? It was big new after all. And they both had received an invitation too.

And of course, he was late. It took only a moment to flash through the intervening space. In the blink of an eye, he passing through the walls of the building and up to the small group. "I apologize for being late. I was held up with a minor accident. It's nice to see you all." He looked over at the winged fingers. "But I'm afraid I don't know who you are sir. I'm called Dark Star."

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"I am Heyzel," said Freedom Angel warmly, shaking the hand of everyone there. "I am Heaven's ambassador to Freedom City." Everyone here was very friendly, radiating strength of character and moral conviction, a solid reminder of the decency of humanity. He'd have gone on, giving a further explanation of his mission to the small group of friendly strangers, before he was interrupted by the callbox that Ace had pressed.

From tiny speakers mounted on the callbox, a gentle, neutral voice spoke:

“We’re sorry but the Freedom League has been called away on urgent business and Freedom Hall is currently closed. If you have an emergency, please press the call button again and you will be connected to the Freedom City Police Department. If you wish to leave a message for the Freedom League, please do so now.” After a short musical tone, the voice stopped speaking.

Before the assembled heroes could decide what to do, yet another new arrival showed up. A van bearing the logo of Channel 9 pulled up to the curb, just outside the wall. The doors opened quickly and a news crew piled out: a cameraman and a technician along with an attractive Asian woman wearing a skirt and blazer and carrying a microphone. They came through the gate and headed up to the steps of the building, making a beeline for the most famous of the heroes standing outside the door.

“Hi there!” the woman calls to Ace Danger. “I’m Amy Feng, with Channel 9 news. Are you and your team new associates of the Freedom League?”

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Ace frowned slightly at the call box's announcement. Even if the league was all occupied, which was rare enough an occurrence without overt threat, Freedom Hall was normally maned by assorted support staff. He wouldn't put it past the league for this to be some sort of test as well but didn't wish to speculate too much.

As the news van spilled forth its eager crew he slowly descended the next few steps, "As I'm sure you well know Amy," He replied with practiced ease, "I have a long standing relationship with the league, My fellows as well all have proven themselves ardent Guardians of Freedom city." No real claim of a direct connection to the league nor even that they were a formal team of any sort but hints of what he hoped was to come.

He made his final approach and quickly avoided explaining their presence there with introductions gesturing to his fellow heroes in turn, "Dark Star I'm sure you know from his vigilant defense of the city from many threats, The good Doctor Viktor Archeville as well has faced many a nefarious foe to protect our fair city, Fluer de Joie works both in beautifying the city as well as defeating crazed villains bent on all manner of destruction, and of course Freedom Angel as he has come to be called in the press."

He stared down at the young reporter with the full force of his personality, "We all of course share a common goal of protecting you, the citizens of this great city, with each other as well as the league."

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Dark Star nodded to the winged hero. "Pleasure to meet you." He didn't comment on the angle bit. Whether it was true or not didn't particularly matter to him. Gods, as far as he was concerned, were just ridiculously powerful beings.

He looked over at the speak and frowned invisibly. He hoped everything was alright. If something required the entire League, it was likely a significant problem. He glanced over as the reporters and crew showed up. He happily let Ace handle the talking though. While DS often talked with reporters, he tried to avoid publicity when he could. It didn't seem right to him and he was not the grandstanding type.

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Stesha smiled at Derrick as he arrived, then ducked half-behind him and Ace as the reporters arrived. Maybe it was silly, but part of her still felt like her costume was no more convincing than a Halloween getup, deep down. If her parents got a glimpse of her on the news, they would somehow know right away, and the game would be up. Since she'd chickened out at Christmas, she had to keep the lid on that little secret for a few more months. Luckily, Ace was easy to hide behind, and Dark Star was far more famous than she was, so it wasn't too hard to blend. While Ace talked to the reporters, she peered in through the windows. Where was everybody, anyway?

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"Hello again, Ms. Feng." Heyzel had met the TV reporter a few days after his initial appearance, for all that the story about him had eventually been pulled from all but the Web broadcast thanks to concerns about offending sensitive viewers. "She's a very good woman," he murmured to the others, floating in air as he studied the League's building with a look of concern on his handsome face.

Feng looked satisfied after her talk with Ace, nodding understandingly, and gestured for her team to finish setting up their cameras and sound equipment.

“This is Amy Feng outside Freedom Hall. For the past three days, the headquarters of the world-famous Freedom League has stood silent and apparently empty, the whereabouts of Freedom City’s heroes unknown. This is hardly the first time that the Freedom League has disappeared for an extended period of time, but there is some concern that the team may have encountered trouble too great for even them to handle. Police Commissioner Barbara Kane issued a statement that there is no cause for concern, so the citizens of Freedom City can only wait and watch, and hope for the best. I have with me associates of the Freedom League, who may have some insight as to their whereabouts.

“I'm here with the famous Ace Danger. Mr. Danger, does your team have any theories on the disappearance of the Freedom League?” Ms. Feng asks.

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'His' team? Well, I hardly think-

His team?! That spotlight-hogging gloryhound! I-

Whoa, whoa, wait! She said the League's been MIA for three days! Would that be before the letters were sent to us?

Bah! Who cares? The League is gone, and we can start a new team here, now, with myself at the head!

In the spotlight?

Of course!

Where everyone can see you? Al the time? Never getting a moment of rest, of solitude, of secrecy?

I- ... hrm... perhaps letting Ace pretend call the shots, and being the secret 'power behind the throne' would be more beneficial in the long run.

Archeville turned to Dark Star and Fleur, and spoke in a low tone so the reporters wouldn't overhear. "Did you know they vere gone? I had no idea! Und knowing is vhat I do!"

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Ace carefully schooled his face to show no surprise at the revelation. The league often hied off to the far corners of the world or even the solar system, however a complete absence without announcement of whatever crisis had called their attention was unusual. Even more unusual was that Ace hadn't heard of the absence.

Given normal delivery times Lady Liberty's message would have left near the time of the leagues departure. Given the urgency expressed however it may have been sent later. Regardless she likely had some inkling that they would be called away. That of course assuming the messages had indeed come from the heroine and not as part of some deeper plot, not hearing word was making him paranoid Ace thought. The league was called away to answer some threat or another anything more sinister was purely speculation, for the time being at least.

"Well Amy," Ace said affably no trace of uncertainty in his voice, "The league has concerns that spread far beyond this city. They take the world as a whole as their charge to protect."

Ace looked back to Freedom Hall for a moment its stark emptiness revelatory in its own way. "If I knew anything that I was at liberty to discuss on the matter you would be the first to know." The charming hero said turning back to the young reporter with a knowing wink. "For the time being take heart in knowing that wherever the league has been called my fellows and I along with many others still stand Guardian over the great city of Freedom."

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Wait a minute... the League is gone... so their base is ours! Ours for the plundering!

What? No!

Archeville's hands were fidgeting, clenching and unclenching and fiddling with the controls on his ultra-tech belt.

Just 'port in... say we're going "to scout ahead".... they'd never know....

Well, if we can get in -- and given that I am sure Daedalus has installed some rather effective teleport denial systems in place -- I-

Bah! I've got yer denial right here!

"Excuse me a moment," Archeville said to Dark Star and Fleur. They may have noticed that his voice was just the tiniest bit...'off,' but that could be due to the energy distortions caused by the teleportation system in his belt that he was now activating.

Next stop, Freedom League's Comman- wait... no!

I told you....

Rather than disappearing, Archeville appeared to 'blink.'

"Well... hunh... now I vonder if dose are merely de League's security measures," he thought out loud, "or if mein failed attempt to teleport in is tied to de League's disappearance?"

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Something seem distinctly off about the League building as Dark Star's senses passed through the heavy defenses outside, more off than peeking into someone else's house just because they hadn't been seen for a while. As Dark Star pushed his senses further, things outside his body changed. The news technician who'd helped set up the camera leaned out from the side of the van, calling to the reporter he was working for.

“Amy!” he yelled. “You’re not going to believe this! There’s a call on the police band. Members of the Freedom League just broke into ASTRO Labs up in the North End!”

“Then what are you waiting for, Irv?” Ms. Feng said as she dashed for the news van. “Let’s roll!”

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Curious, and rather worried to boot, Stesha extended her senses into the quiet building as well. She could see plants in the lobby, and was pretty sure there had to be plants elsewhere as well, even if it was just a potted plant on someone's desk. The moment she tried to see through them, however, she hit a blank wall and recoiled. Something was preventing her from seeing inside the building, very odd! She was just shaking off that strange feeling when she heard the reporter's words. "Astro Labs?" she murmured worriedly to Dark Star. "What would they be doing there?"

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"ASTRO houses some of the most advanced research facilities in the city if not the world." Ace replied somewhat distantly his mind already trying to make guesses at what was going on.

"If the league is mind controlled or duplicated again our best chance at uncovering what is happening is to stop that break in." Ace stated plainly looking to his comrades, "So who wants to give me a ride?" he asked with a smile knowing all of them capable of transporting themselves to the labs near instantly.

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Dark Star nodded. "Indeed. Their work is rather impressive though I've only been there a couple times. Hold on everyone," he said. Reaching out, he gently lifted the other heroes in a gravitic grip, keeping Stesha a little closer even though he couldn't technically touch her. With a final nod to everyone to make sure they were ready, he launched himself and them upward and away to the facility. He'd keep them up high for a moment so they could see what was going on before just bursting in. It would only take a second or so after all.

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Thanks to Dark Star's quick teleporting, the heroes were soon in the air over the headquarters of ASTRO—The Advanced Scientific and Technological Research Organization—in the North End of Freedom City. When they arrived, they quickly saw a gaping hole smashed in the side of the building, right through solid brick and cinderblock. Suddenly, a figure came hurtling out of the hole in the wall, but he wasn't flying, he was falling! With a yell of terror, the older man in the white lab coat plunged toward the ground, several floors below. With a shout, Freedom Angel folded up his wings and dived, just managing to catch the man by the ankle, quickly pulling him up into his arms. As the man's scream came to an end, the heroes heard the distant sound of police sirens, growing closer.


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Stesha gasped, putting her fingers over her mouth until Freedom Angel had safely caught the falling man. "That can't be the Freedom League," she said with great surety, "they'd never do something like that. Something terrible is going on." She closed her eyes and looked for plants inside the building that would let her get a peek at what was going on inside the walls.

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"Not of their own volition no." Ace replied as he peered down at the scene unfolding before them. "But it would not be the first time Earths greatest defenders have been compromised."

He himself had faced them when replaced by Grue as well as mind controlled. "Lets head in and see if we can get a handle on whats going on."

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Dark Star let Freedom Angel grabbing the falling man, thankful they had a flier ready for that. DS had his 'hands' full at the moment carrying everyone else. Time to fix that problem.

Nodding, he quickly brought them inside, letting them go gentle on the rubble-strewn floor. With civilians in danger, he wasn't willing to wait and assess the situation. After he let them go, he let his senses extend, trying to get as much information possible as he moved to the fore, if elevated, of the group. It would be safer if whoever was in here shot at him first anyway. Not to mention that Stesha was behind him and he didn't want anyone taking a shot at her, despite her ability to defend herself.

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"Oh, thank God!" exclaimed the scientist, his nametag reading "Dr. Frank", as Freedom Angel came in for a neat landing on the ground below.

"Yes," said Heyzel calmly, gently setting the man down on his feet. "Can you tell us what happened?"

"It was terrible!" exclaimed the man, looking around at the other heroes, focusing on the familiar faces in the crowd. "It was Captain Thunder, Lady Liberty, and Johnny Rocket, or people who looked just like them and knew everything they did!" You couldn't rule anything out, not in Freedom City. "They came in, asked some questions about the new quantum transmitter, and then Captain Thunder threw me out the window! They're stealing the transmitter right now!"

Just as Doctor Frank finished speaking, the authorities arrived; four squad cars and an armored van bearing the logo of STAR Squad, the elite FCPD unit charged with dealing with superhuman crime. The famous Bulldog Maddicks, the squad commander, was the first out of the armored van, quickly shouting orders to his men. Maddicks didn't like superheroes, most of the time, but fortunately this group was particularly well-loved in Freedom City.

"What's the situation?" he asked brusquely.

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Dark Star paused, blinking, as he saw the three well known heroes apparently stealing a rather impressive piece of technology. His first thought was that they had to be impostors; the renowned heroes just wouldn't do that. Or maybe they were being controlled somehow... Either way, this couldn't be allowed to continue.

"Stop this and surrender immediately! What's going on here?" Probably not the best way to get this rolling, but he believed strongly in trying to solve problems without violence.

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