Outlands Patrol Vehicle 27AA3-C traveled through the rocky wasteland, its massive body hovering smoothly above a forcefield which barely disturbed the dust on the arid ground. As it rounded a hill on its patrol route, it came across an octet of men, clad in long robes to protect them from the heat. "Outlanders," stated the vehicle's pilot, his voice hissing and crackling mechanically, as he dismounted. The Mandroid focused its lenses on the gathering. "This is a forbidden area. Return to your domiciles immediately."
One of the men stepped forward. "Not Outlanders," he said in a firm voice. "Invaders." His red-gloved hand reached into the pack behind his back and drew forth a circular shield, its red-white-and-blue markings chipped and aged. Faster than the artificial entity could react, the weapon swiveled through the air, striking at the Mandroid's sensory array and then returning back to its owner. The Mandroid fumbled towards its vehicle before a hurled ball of flame burst upon it, causing it to explode.
One of the other men growled, "Urbia-1 mapped this path for us, it was supposed to keep us clear of the patrols."
The man with the shield drew aside his hood, revealing a blue cowl emblazoned with an 'A' on its forehead. "It looks like your father needs to work a bit more on his pet machine, Starhawk."
Mark Wilde, the man known as Starhawk, nodded. "I guess so, Captain," he said sourly.
One of the other men, his skin a pale green beneath his hood, approached the body of the Mandroid. He knelt down by it, and placed his hand into the smoke arising from its burning body. "He'll have to do it soon to help us. I sense that the Master Computer has already been automatically notified. He's been tracking us for some time ... he'll have his full array of forces directed our way." His voice was monotone and otherworldly.
"Let them come," said another. "I tire of this endless skulking in shadows. The avenging son was not meant for thus."
Starhawk nodded and entered the patrol vehicle. His fingers worked the keyboard quickly, bringing up a holographic mapping of the surrounding area. "Mascom's been working overtime," he said. "It looks like almost seven hundred Mandroids are heading our way, and a cadre of his elite forces as well."
Captain America placed a strong hand on Starhawk's shoulder. "We've faced worse odds, Mark. Ever since we were pulled from our own century and into yours, we've fought by your side. We'll stand with you now."
As he spoke, the others doffed their cloaks, revealing brightly colored uniforms redolent of a bygone age. One of them burst into flame, and he and a trio of his fellows ascended into the sky. Of the remainder, one drew forth a curved, glowing sword and the final one curled his fists into readiness.
Captain America looked up. "Namor and Angel, take point and attack the aerial elite forces. Torch and Vision, protect their backs and do as much damage to the Mandroids as you can from the air. Starhawk, Fin and Patriot ... follow me ... we're going to cut a hole right through the center of the Mandroids and core them like an apple."
From afar, Starhawk's father Jonathan Wilde monitored through the advanced computer he named Urbia-1 as with fire and ice, across earth and sky, the greatest heroes of centuries past engaged in battle.
Finally, he looked away.
Hours later, a small white sphere propelled itself across the Outlands battlefield, surveying the bodies both human and Mandroid. [[Life signs]] it radioed back.
[[Is it Mark?]]
[[No, Sir. Jeffery Mace.]]
After a pause, [[Bring him in.]]
As the Patriot was shuttled back within Urbia-1's antigrav envelope, he coughed, blood trickling down his chin. "Wilde," he said.
[[I'm here, Jeff. Don't worry, we'll get you back to base soon.]]
"No," the Patriot said raggedly, "I'm not going to last that long. You said ... you said America won the war?"
[[Our records of the 20th century are scattered, thanks to the virtual destruction of the Earth in 2115, but ... yes, you won your war.]]
"My allies," he croaked, "the ... Liberty Legion ... as powerful as ... the Invaders. Get their help, as you ... got mine. Let them ... finish the war ... take them ... a decade later?"
[[We don't have records on the Liberty Legion, Jeff. Form their image in your mind; Urbia-1 will be able to go back and retrieve them, as we did you. And as you wish, we'll wait until the war is over.]]
Urbia-1 extended its sensors towards Jeff Mace's temples. [[Sir, he is fading. Images are blurry.]]
[[Do the best you can.]]
[[Sir, you realise we only have enough energy for one more retrieval. Bringing forth the Invaders nearly fused my circuits. If this team doesn't work, we have no more options.]]
[[We don't have a choice. Proceed.]]
Urbia-1 broke off an infinitesimal time-slice of itself, narrow enough to slip through space-time, and directed it backwards to the battle scene from whence it had taken the Invaders originally.
It was the end of the Kree-Skrull War, and the Supreme Intelligence had activated the latent human abilities of Rick Jones' mind to create duplicates of the heroes of his youth. The mechanical mind did not ponder whether the allies he had helped direct had known they were not the originals, but bounced a decade into the future, seeking to fill the template that the mind of Jeff Mace had provided.
Moments or centuries later, six men and four women appeared in a metallic room. Jonathan Wilde, professorial-looking in his silvery lab coat and the antique spectacles he had adopted as an affectation, greeted the new arrivals. "Welcome, Liberty Legion, to the 22nd century!"
"Hey, my dad was in the Liberty Legion!"
"I'm in the future? Cool!"
Urbia-1 arrived with the body of Jeff Mace in tow. Jonathan Wilde looked from one colorfully garbed figure to the other, clearly discomfited. "This man ... the Patriot of your own era ... instructed us to contact you ... he said you were some of the greatest heroes of the war ... "
One of the men, clad in black leather pants and jacket, approached the body. "I kn-know this uniform," he stammered. "I w-was named after him, the Patriot. But h-he was f-fifty years in the past ... I think you have the wr-wrong p-people."
"Not so nearly," said a winged woman, "My dad was the original Red Raven."
A man clad in blue and yellow walked up to her. "It's a shame we never grew up together," he said, "though ... other things got in the way. My name is Robert Frank, Junior. Our parents served together. I used to be known as Nuklo, though my harmful radioactivity faded with time. Recently I seem to have inherited my father's speed, and I've been calling myself the Whizzer ever since."
A girl appeared at the Whizzer's side, "Really, cool! My gramps was Solomon Jones, he used to hang out with your dad. I've been going by Whiz Kid myself ... I guess that makes me your sidekick, yadadamean?"
"I don't think I belong here at all," said a man clad in blue. "I did once borrow the costume of a childhood friend of mine who had become a supervillain known as the Blizzard, and made some stupid mistakes, but Iron Man and Tony Stark gave me another chance. Now I'm just an employee of Stark Industries, not a superhero at all. I was just trying on this old costume because I wanted to recycle some of its components for cryogenics research, and I found myself here."
A man clad in a trenchcoat nodded, "It looks like you may have misinterpreted the Patriot's instructions. You're off by two generations, and grabbed close equivalents of the originals. My name is Val Ventura, but professionally I go by Flatman; I'm leader of the Great Lakes Avengers. I suppose in a stretch ... if you pardon the expression ... I could be mistaken for the Thin Man, who was a member of the wartime Liberty Legion."
"I don't know why I'm here, then," said the man who'd spoken first. "I can promise you there was no Battlestar before me, and there sure as heck wouldn't have been anyone who looked like me in any wartime group." He smiled suddenly, "How about you two ladies?"
The brunette woman smiled back uneasily, "I've gone by Vagabond, and I've worked with US Agent. I do know about you, Battlestar, he mentioned you several times when we were together. But I don't know why I'm here, either. I think I read about a European mysteryman named Vagabond or something like that, right? Do you have any idea, Flatman?"
"I go by Free Spirit," said the blonde woman, "and if there was anyone with that name before me, I don't know about them."
The Whizzer looked from one woman to the other. "My mother was a member of the original team as well, she was Miss America. I didn't inherit any of her powers, but she apparently was quite patriotic ... maybe the two of you, and Battlestar, happened to fit some template that this poor bastard," indicating the deceased Jeff Mace, "tried to communicate to these future folks."
A second man clad in blue looked thoughtful, "That might explain my presence. As far as I know I'm the only man to ever use the name Blue Shield, but I could be wrong I suppose."
"That sounds a likely theory, Whizzer," Flatman nodded, turning to look at the future man. "So, uh, you're in need of heroes? Certainly all of us will do what we can. Unless you're sure you don't want to return us home and go looking for the original models."
"Jonathan Wilde ... please, just call me John. I'm sorry if I brought you all here by accident. Unfortunately, I can't retrieve the originals, or anyone else. Our resources here are limited."
Free Spirit narrowed her eyes, "If your resources are so 'limited,' how are you going to get us back home?"
Jonathan Wilde hesitated, "At the moment, I can't."
Battlestar grabbed him by the lapel, hoisting him up. "Are you telling me you've stranded us here?" The others similarly voiced their outrage.
Jonathan Wilde said, "Please ... I said at the moment. If you help me, I can access Mascom's, the Master Computer's, power source and Urbia-1 ... my own system, which brought you here ... should be able to re-open the timeslice."
The Whizzer stated, "So basically you're blackmailing us into helping you."
Jonathan Wilde fell to the floor as Battlestar released him, and shook his head, "That wasn't my intent. I'm sorry. We need your help, and there was no place else to turn. Extremity forces to extreme measures."
Red Raven knelt down, "Why don't you tell us what we need to know."
Jonathan Wilde nodded. "March 15, 2115 saw the virtual destruction of the Earth in an atomic war. Shortly after that, the remainder of humanity was brought under the iron thumb of a group of men who called themselves the Supreme Lords. They coordinate all human activity through Mascom, and through their armored elite security forces. Only the blasted areas known as the Outlands have relative freedom, and that's a hardscrabble life."
The Patriot said, "S-so you w-want us to f-free you from these Suh-Supreme Lords?"
"My son Mark died while trying to free us from their reign," Jonathan Wilde looked around the room, "I would not want his sacrifice to go to waste."
"And as you said," Blue Shield sighed, "if we want to go home, we have to help you anyway."
"Very well," Battlestar folded his arms. "We'll play your game for now. But we expect payback after we trounce these Supreme Lords of yours."
"I'm not even a superhero," Blizzard said ... "Neither am I, just a glorified courier" Whiz Kid interrupted ... "but I'll help if I can."
"We're not just rushing into this battle," Flatman said. "I presume you have information about where these people are situated, and possible ways to gain access to Mascom?"
Urbia-1 spun to the forefront. [[I have recorded all publicly accessible information, information derived from forays on the part of previous agents, as well as the results of my own calculations.]]
Free Spirit shrugged, "It's a start."
Afterwards, they toured Jonathan Wilde's underground facility. "This locale was formerly known as the Massachusetts Academy," he said. "It has fairly advanced facilities that Starhawk ... my son, Mark ... used for training. Other sites were in New York, but that city was completely obliterated in the war."
Red Raven's eyes bugged out, "You have a Danger Room!"
Jonathan Wilde blinked, "Is that what it's called?"
Flatman scanned the keyboard operations as Jonathan Wilde rebooted the controls which activated the Danger Room, "We'd best make use of it too, if we're going to get this sundry lot working as an attack team."
The next several days saw Battlestar and Flatman training the team in commando tactics, while the Whizzer instructed Whiz Kid in the intricacies of superspeed as an offensive skill. After each session, Jonathan Wilde met with the more experienced or technically oriented members to discuss tactics.
"Go!" Battlestar watched as Red Raven, the Whizzer & Whiz Kid started on a high-speed circuit around the Danger Room, evading obstacles thrown up by Blizzard. "Not bad," said the Whizzer as his junior partner somersaulted through the grip of an ice robot. "You don't make it as top courier in New York City without learning a few tricks," she grinned, and then whooped as she fell into a slide as Blizzard spread a thin layer of ice on the floor right beneath their feet.
The Whizzer kept his balance like a skater and swiveled around to watch as Red Raven swooped down, grabbing the other girl's hand before she collided into the wall and whirled her up in the air. "Good lookin' out, Dania," the other girl said as she was carefully returned to the floor ... right before the two girls were hit in the face by a pair of slushy snow pies in ice crusts.
Battlestar strode into the room as the girls collapsed in laughter. "Ok, you two, break it up. Raven, it won't do Whiz Kid any good if you save her just to make both of you flying targets. Go and take five, everybody. Thanks Blizzard, Whizzer."
As they began to walk out, he tapped Whiz Kid on the shoulder, "Hey Roberta." She turned to look at him, and waved to the others, "I'll catch up later." After a moment she settled next to where Battlestar sat on an ice goblin. "What's up, chief?"
"Don't call me 'chief.' Lemar is fine."
"Cool," she grinned. "What it do, Lemar?"
"I don't really approve of fraternization in the ranks." He hesitated. "But I just wanted to tell you, I've been in these sorts of groups before, and it means a lot to have a sister along. Half the time I feel like I'm around to be the, ah, token negro."
"Don't think I haven't been happy to see you in charge of this little posse." Her grin broadened. "And hey, what if we get stuck here?"
He leaned in and gave her a quick kiss, "I guess I'd have to compromise my rules on fraternization."
She smiled full of starlight.
Elsewhere, Blizzard joined the Patriot in the dining area. "You're looking fairly intent ... oh, that's the Patriot's helmet, isn't it?"
The other man nodded as he turned the metal headpiece over and over in his hands. "I w-was named for him, I decided I ought t-to carry on his uniform in some way ... and the helmet was in-intact at least." He rubbed his hand over his bare head sourly, "And it doesn't look like the hair is growing back, so ... "
"We're hardly an original pair, are we? I borrowed a spare uniform from my friend Donny Gill, and set out to be a criminal mastermind ... never amounted to much, though. I don't think my heart was ever in it."
"At l-least you s-set out to be something. I guess I ... I don't know. M-my memories are p-pretty much gone. I g-get the impression I'm older th-than I look, m-maybe I was around in World War Two, but maybe I'm j-just th-thinking about some old movie I saw? Then some folks tried to c-convince me I was another man n-named Blade, and I have some of his b-background in my head but it doesn't feel like it huh-happened to me ... I d-don't know how to describe it." He paused. "It's as if th-the memories are in my head, but if you as-ask me a question, I have to l-look it up internally as if I was looking it up in a book, r-rather than it being my own memories."
Blizzard blinked. "I'm not sure I get it, but it doesn't sound real pleasant. I have the opposite problem ... too many memories of things I'd rather forget."
"I d-don't even have a name." He slid the helmet over his scalp. "I guess I'll take his ... Jeff Mace. He d-deserves to have someone c-carry on for him."
Elsewhere, Free Spirit walked slowly down the hallway of the Academy dorm rooms, tucked under one arm a bottle of sparkling wine she had liberated from the storeroom. She passed by Vagabond's room, and noting her light was still on, opened the door to let herself in. She thought to herself . o O ( No point in getting drunk on my own )
"Pris?" she said. Her answer was a shriek, followed by a "Hey!" and in the fastest motion she had ever seen, a blanket whirled around the bodies of Priscilla Lyons and Robert Frank Jr.
"Cathy, you really ought to knock next time," said Priscilla as she adjusted the blanket slightly.
Robert coughed politely, "Uh, can we help you?"
Cathy Webster blushed bright red. "Oh damn, I'm sorry guys, I just needed to talk to Pris, I'm sorry I interrupted."
Priscilla sighed, "Naw, you may as well stay. You already interrupted. That all right with you, Bob?"
Robert shrugged, "I guess."
Priscilla bumped Robert to the side with her hip, making room for Cathy next to her and patting the bed. "What's the matter, sweetie?"
Cathy, rather uneasily, set herself down in the indicated spot. "I'm scared."
Priscilla put her hand on the other woman's shoulder. "What're you scared of?"
"I'm not like the two of you, I never set out to be a superhero. It was something that was done to me. And even now ... I work with Jack Flagg in the Stars & Stripes organisation, but we mainly do emergency relief work. We only bash heads when we have to."
"That's important work," said Robert. "Nothing to be ashamed of."
"I'm not ashamed of it!" insisted Cathy. "I'm interested in helping people, but this whole thing about ... risking my life in the far future when everyone I know is already dead, knowing I'm the second-tier team after the first one died ... it's way out of my experience."
"We're not the Avengers, hon," reassured Priscilla, "I don't think any of us have experience with this sort of thing."
"I've had my own experience with time travelers," Robert winced, remembering the details of the original Whizzer's death. "They're pretty much a bad lot, from what I've heard."
"Oh, thanks." Cathy stuck out her tongue, "That's just what I needed to hear."
Robert looked embarrassed. "Sorry."
Priscilla peered around Cathy's shoulder. "You brought something for us?"
Cathy grinned, showing off the bottle. "Yeah, I found this in a dark corner. Neato, huh? I'd wanted a girls' night out, but I guess you can come along too, Bob."
Later, Roberta Jones was woken up by a siren. "What the fizzle? Oh that sounds bad." In a whirlwind of motion she dragged herself into uniform and raced down the dorm hallways, pounding on people's doorways. She stuck her head into Red Raven's room. "Come on Dania, air raid!"
Vagabond's room was next, and she peeked in only to find the trio in the process of recovering decency.
"Christ, what is this, Grand Central Station?" Robert said irritably.
Whiz Kid burst out laughing, and rushed over to punch him on the shoulder. "Nice couple of breezies you got there, mentor man." Cathy Webster blushed scarlet. "Glad you're makin' out but it's air raid!"
Robert zipped into his Whizzer uniform. "Don't you have someplace better to be?"
Whiz Kid nodded, "Gotta get mah neezy Battlestar up and running, he'll know what to do," and then she was gone.
The Whizzer adjusted his goggles, and laughed despite himself. "What a pick for a kid sidekick."
"I think she's sweet," Vagabond said. "Cathy, you okay with all of this?"
Cathy finished adjusting her outfit. "I think ... I think I'll tell you about it tonight, after it's sunk in a bit more. Let's go see what's going on out there."
Blue Shield was standing with Jonathan Wilde in the main viewing room as the rest arrived. "Sorry for the wake-up call, but we have some uninvited guests." The viewscreen showed a cadre of armored figures, carrying strangely archaic swords and shields, flying towards the Massachusetts Academy.
"They've never come here directly before," Jonathan Wilde grunted in dismay, "the whole mansion is shielded, and appears abandoned from the exterior. I don't know what could have attracted their attention."
Flatman stroked his chin thoughtfully, "Manipulating the timeline the way you've been doing takes a lot of energy, it may have been noticed."
"Wilde has told the tactical team that he doesn't think the aerial elites are anything special compared to us 20th century folks," Battlestar said. "It's time to put this to the test. If he's wrong, we're dead men anyway. I don't want them knowing how many of us there are: Red Raven, Blizzard, and Whizzer are going to take them out. Flatman, Blue Shield, and Vagabond are going to act as second tier ... pulling their fat out of the fryer or gathering up the bodies, whichever it may be."
"What about me?" Whiz Kid stepped up, pressing her finger into Battlestar's chest. "If the Whizzer's going, I should be there too, yadadamean? You trying to protect me or something?"
"Roberta," Battlestar shook his head, "there are only ten of us. I can't exhaust all of our most powerful members in one shot. If those six fail, it's up to the two of us plus Free Spirit and Patriot to carry on, and I have a feeling we're going to need your speed."
"Well ... I suppose." Whiz Kid folded her arms to look indignant for a second, then walked over to kiss the Whizzer on the cheek, "You go show 'em what's what, mentor man."
The armored septet landed outside the mansion's entranceway, and two of them sliced away at the front door with their swords, only to be confronted by a solid block of ice. As they turned to look confusedly at their field leader, the block projected outwards like a battering ram, knocking them flat.
The remaining members of the cadre took to the air. Quick on their heels was Red Raven, carrying a bundi dagger she had claimed from the mansion's collection of antiques. Blizzard followed on an ice ramp, the Whizzer trailing up behind him.
The Whizzer shot forward, taking off from the ice ramp like a cannonball aimed straight at the field leader. His opponent spun out of control, and the speedster danced away, kicking off and projecting himself straight at his next victim. The other's swordpoint swung wildly but the Whizzer vibrated through the blade, his fists' superspeed attack beginning to crack the shield.
Red Raven engaged the closest of the cadre in a swordfight, arcing from beneath her opponent in an attempt to get underneath the other's shield. She managed to knock them for a loop with a blow to a back of the knee, but as she closed in, her blade slammed into the shield, and she found herself engaged in a brutal swordfight.
Blizzard generated an ice sword and shield, and set to battle one of the remaining of the aerial elites. His armored opponent proved more experienced and stronger than he, and his weapons shattered after a brief duel. He grunted as the blade glanced off one of his arms, drawing blood. ( Stupid ) O o . he thought to himself . o O ( I've been using the armor to create weapons, when I should be using it as the weapon itself. ) He projected a blast of cold over his attacker, encasing them in ice.
The remaining cadre member flew in to replace Blizzard's foe, and then whirled around at the last moment, sending her sword handle-first straight at the Whizzer's skull. There was an audible crack, and he fell to the ground.
From afar, Whiz Kid gasped as she watched him fall through the viewscreen. "He's thinking like a team member," Battlestar pointed to the assailant who had doubled-back, "If we can't start doing the same, we're finished."
"It's all going pear-shaped," Jonathan Wilde moaned.
Battlestar extended the antenna on his handheld communicator to instruct the beta team, but saw they were already en route. He ground his teeth in frustration.
Flatman wrapped himself around the Whizzer before he hit, slowing his fall. Vagabond rushed over as Flatman released him, "Bob, you ok?"
The Whizzer touched the back of his head and grunted. "Ouch. Yeah, got a nasty lump but I think I'm all right. Thanks for the save, Val," he said to Flatman.
Blue Shield watched as Red Raven appeared to be on the losing side of her battle. "Dania!" he shouted aloud, and the girl backed away from her opponent and looked to see him beckon to her. Her attacker pressed in, narrowly missing the girl's wingtip as she retreated downwards. At the bottom of her arc, the Blue Shield stepped between the two as Red Raven swept back upwards. The cadre member moved to cut him aside with a gesture of contempt, but the swordpoint bounced off his force field in a shower of blue sparks. Before the other had time to recover, Blue Shield stepped in to grab their wrist and slammed into their jaw with his other hand.
Blizzard and Red Raven pursued the remaining cadre member, the latter buffeting the flyer with a shower of hail. Their opponent whirled around, and used the shield like a battering ram to knock Blizzard down off his ice ramp. The Whizzer set off in pursuit, creating a miniature whirlwind underneath Blizzard to slow his fall.
Red Raven swooped right behind her opponent with a blow to the back just as the Blizzard was downed. The other temporarily lost control of the armor's momentum and beelined straight towards Vagabond, who whirlkicked them straight towards her teammates. Flatman narrowed to a knife's edge, slicing through the armor, causing it to short circuit, and Blue Shield finally delivered the knockout blow.
Red Raven landed and as the sextet set about comparing notes, the front door opened to as Battlestar came onto the scene.
"Looks like we took care of them in short time," said Red Raven.
"Not all of them," Battlestar fumed. You nabbed six out of seven ... one has flown home and is doubtless alerting Mascom even now. You also violated strict orders for team beta to remain hidden until I gave the word."
Vagabond folded her arms, "What if Bob had gotten hurt in that fall?"
"Then he'd be the world's fastest cripple. At any rate, they now have a lot more information about us than they had before, and we no longer have the leisure to strategise and train until we're ready." He hoisted one of elite force over his shoulder, "Let's haul these folks in and get them under wraps. We have only one thing in our favor right now: the one who escaped presumably doesn't know our numbers yet, or what all of us can do. That will change if we keep having little parties like this one."
Hours later, ten figures arrived at the gate to Inland City. Vagabond and Free Spirit, clad in stolen armor, led several robed figures in chains. "My god," Free Spirit whispered to her companion, "a wall surrounding the entirety of Manhattan Island ... and that tower in the center ... "
"That's where we're headed," nodded Vagabond, "at least, according to Wilde. The Watchtower, home to both the Supreme Lords and Mascom."
A pair of Mandroids outside the gate saluted the pair. "712," said the first.
Vagabond prayed that Urbia-1 had gotten something right and gave the coded entrance response. "1919, prisoners for interrogation by Mascom."
The Mandroids stepped aside, "Access code accepted," said the second, and the two women led their companions through the gates. Once inside, the dectet boggled at high-rises the size of city blocks and robot workers commonplace amongst the milling crowds. People backed away with frightened faces as they saw the armored women with their captives in hand.
Finally they reached the Watchtower, and found their way to an alley behind the waste disposal units. Battlestar drew his companions into a circle. "Split up," he said, "and keep in touch via communicator. We need to get access to the secured levels of the building." With silent nods, the team dispersed.
Whizzer vibrated slipped into the lobby unseen save for a flicker of blue and yellow in the corner of a doorman's eye, and crisscrossed around the ground floor, exploring. He settled on a bank of elevators, chose one which was unlabelled, but which bore an entry keypad. He considered different numbered combinations. He knew he could do high-speed random entries, but multiple tries might lock him out ... and the wrong code could set off an alarm or an explosion. Finally he typed in '31916' and smiled as the doors slid open.
He entered the elevator, and braced himself as it raced up to the top floor of the Watchtower. Finally the door opened, and he walked out into an immaculately gleaming, high-tech work center. For a moment, he was blinded by a force shield of multiple colors, and then he heard a familiar voice. "We wondered when you would show up."
From below, the Patriot heard an unfamiliar voice. "Jeff Mace?"
He whirled around, to confront a hooded man. The other narrowed his eyes, "No, you're not Jeff Mace at all. Where did you get that helmet?"
"I rec-cognise you." The Patriot relaxed, and sheathed his wooden daggers. "You're Mark Wright ... St-Starhawk. Y-your father sh-showed us your picture."
Starhawk nodded. "You're a confederate of my father then? I'm sorry I haven't been able to reach him, I've been trying to stay underground here and haven't had much access to communications."
"L-let me t-take you to the f-field commander," the Patriot said. "Battlestar'll w-want to sp-speak to you."
From above, the Whizzer pulled back his mask and grinned. "Zhib-Ran, Kyle, Obatu," he named off the men before him. "I had a feeling you were the Supreme Lords, but I wasn't sure. You've done well in my absence."
Dr. Spectrum withdrew the force shield. "James Sanders," he said.
Hyperion's grin matched the Whizzer's. "We have the original Squadron Sinister together again. I never thought we would see the day."
The Whizzer approached Nighthawk, "I am surprised to see you here, I'd thought you'd gone over to the other side. You're looking remarkably youthful, if I say so."
"Let me tell you about Lazarus Pits one day," Nighthawk chuckled. "You're looking remarkably youthful yourself. If Obatu's power prism hadn't verified your identity, Zhib-Ran probably would have taken your head off. We all thought you were long dead, after you disappeared ages ago."
The Whizzer sighed, "It wasn't my plan at all ... someone messing with the time stream ... and from what you say, it looks like I don't manage to get back. Still, I'm consoled to learn that my team are the ones running things. And I came with news: I wasn't brought here alone."
None of them noticed, in the far corner of the room, a pair of glittering eyes on a face sharp as a razor's edge.
From below, all the agents and superhuman crew went out and rounded up everyone who knew more than they do. Battlestar regathered several members of the team as the Patriot introduced Starhawk. He tapped the communicator attached to his ear, "The Whizzer and Flatman aren't reporting, I wonder whether anything's wrong."
"Everything's wrong," said a voice, as Flatman appeared seemingly out of nowhere. "We've been betrayed."
Blue Shield looked around the room, "By whom? Surely you don't mean Starhawk ... "
Flatman shook his head, "No, this is who he says he is. Battlestar, we've already given too much away. You'd best disconnect the communicators."
Battlestar scowled as he assessed those assembled in the room. "The Whizzer, then."
Free Spirit blanched, "Bob? That's impossible ... he wouldn't ... "
"He's not Bob. And I'm not Val Ventura," the other said as he returned to a three-dimensional form. "Urbia-1 did something right; my name is Bruce Dickson, I was the Thin Man in the original Liberty Legion. My apologies for the deception, but I wasn't sure whom I could trust at first. But the Whizzer isn't Robert Frank Jr ... he's Speed Demon, and he's been aligned with the Supreme Lords this whole time."
Whiz Kid looked at Battlestar, "Uncool."
Vagabond growled, deep in her throat. "That bastard, after he ... and now they know everything about us."
"But now we know things about them, too," nodded the Thin Man. "And here's what we can do."
The team listened to the Thin Man's plan, and Blizzard whispered to Battlestar, "I'm not sure I can do this, I've never practiced ... "
Free Spirit scowled, "I'm only unhappy it means I don't get to take the Whizzer down myself."
Whiz Kid squeezed her on the shoulder comfortingly, "It's a long line to get in, yadadamean?"
"The original Liberty Legion sent the Super-Axis running with their tails between their legs," Bruce Dickson said as he narrowed back to two-dimensional, "and the odds are more in our favor this time."
Battlestar whispered, "We'll only get seconds to make this work Blizzard, and I know it's all on your head ... "
He had barely had time to speak when the legionnaires were knocked off their feet by an explosive tube which seemed to appear out of nowhere, out of which emerged four men: the Supreme Lords of Inland City.
As the Supreme Lords charged forward, they found themselves encased within an immense glacier. Blizzard and Blue Shield ducked into an alleyway, Blizzard erecting an ice shield to block their way, Starhawk fired his anti-photonic gun to provide additional darkness to hide the trio from view. "I hate not being in the thick of things," he grumbled.
"You'll be in the thick of it soon enough," Blue Shield said.
Outside, the glacier cracked, exploding in colored lights as Hyperion flew forward with a roar. He was met mid-air by the two armored women, whose blades crashed down on him with augmented strength, and the Thin Man, whose molecule-thin sharpness could slice even through his immensely dense hide.
Red Raven flew up to meet Dr. Spectrum in mid-air, bundi dagger aimed at his throat, but at the last moment she dodged and weaved, more concerned with staying out of range of his spectrum-blasts or energy constructs than actually harming him.
Nighthawk flew forward and landed down before Battlestar. "Just the man I'd hoped to see," he grinned as the latter led with a right hook which he easily blocked. "You have no idea how appropriate this is," he said as his claws scraped across Battlestar's chest, leaving red weals. "Y-you're not the only one w-with claws," interrupted the Patriot, slashing at his birdnosed opponent with one of his blades.
The Whizzer appeared next to his old sidekick, "Looks like it's just you and me, kid," he sneered. She smashed him across the face, "Bite me!" and ran off across the city block. He kept up easily, racing ahead and tripping her so she slid to the ground. "Just say where and how hard, brat."
Hyperion grabbed hold of each of the swords and crushed them in his hands. "The others were right, creating an all-female 'power princess corps' was pure vanity. Vagabond kicked at him mid-air, "I just regret you're not the stud whose face I want to be stomping." Free Spirit shouted, "Pris, watch ... ouf!" as Hyperion grabbed hold of the other woman by an ankle, swinging her at Free Spirit and Thin Man like a club.
Dr. Spectrum swore as Red Raven managed to evade his lightbursts, and refocused his concentration. He flew after his opponent while simultaneously emitting an enormous bundi dagger directly in her flight path. She saw the weapon just in time to evade being impaled by the blade, but in her distracted state Dr. Spectrum was able to strike her in the back, and he watched as she fluttered helplessly to the ground.
Nighthawk dodged away from the Patriot, "You're as clumsy with those things as I was told," he said as he grabbed hold of the other's wrist and forearm, following through with his opponent's motion and flipping him directly at Battlestar. Battlestar struggled to stay afoot as he caught hold of his partner.
Whizzer advanced on Whiz Kid as the latter uprighted herself, and backed away. She waited until he was closer and aimed a hard knee at his groin. He grunted, "Brat," pushed her knee to the side and grabbed her by the hair. "A few lucky blows don't make you a professional. I've been doing this since you were in diapers." He hit her in the face, "Kid sidekicks, what a stupid idea."
Dr. Spectrum advanced on Red Raven, and kicked her bundi dagger out of her reach, stepping on her right wing. "Children shouldn't play with sharp things," he said, creating an energy duplicate of it which he brandished around his own hand. "Leave it to the grownups." Suddenly, he found himself coated in darkness. He turned around, blinded, and gave a contemptuous snort. "Do you really think switching off the lights is going to have any effect on the bearer of the power prism?" He began to project light into the surrounding area.
Blue Shield stepped forward, coruscating in the dark. "We're not fighting light with darkness ... we're fighting it with ultra-light!" Blizzard created an ice prism between the two of them as Blue Shield shifted the range of his aura, and the pair projected a wave of ultraviolet light at Dr. Spectrum. The latter cursed as he felt his power begin to flicker out, and he lunged at the Blue Shield, only to be encased in an ice block. "One down," said Starhawk as he withdrew the anti-photonic projection from his sidearm. "I wasn't sure that would even work."
"I wasn't either," said Blue Shield as he scanned the surrounding battlefield. "Let's work on evening the odds a bit more." He turned to Red Raven as she struggled to her feet, "Go relieve Priscilla." She gave a quick salute, leaned down to grab her weapon, and rose into the air to join the melee.
"Jonathan Wilde's son, isn't it? We all thought you were dead." Nighthawk glared at Starhawk as the latter joined the battle against his almost-namesake. "I'll have to make sure you remain that way." He swooped down, claws bared.
Hyperion found his vision impaired by a block of ice, as Blue Shield took advantage of his distracted state by wrapping himself around the man's arm, forcing his grip open until he released Vagabond. Hyper-vision shattered through the barrier. "Was that supposed to stop me?" he almost chuckled. "No," said Thin Man, as he and his teammates rejoined the fray, "we are."
The Whizzer looked up as he saw the flickering shadow of on the ground, and caught Vagabond's shield as she swung it at his head. "They're pitting all girls against me? That's just embarrassing," he said, and set up a miniature whirlwind which grounded the flyer. Whiz Kid kicked out, catching the backs of his knees and causing him to fall to the ground. Vagabond grabbed him by the shoulders in her armored hands, and then slammed his head down repeatedly into the concrete. "I haven't been a 'girl' since I was in my teens, you prick." When he'd stopped moving, she landed next to Whiz Kid. "You all right?" The other rose to her feet, "Yeah, a bit shaky, but I'm all right."
"Come on," Vagabond waved her arm in a summoning motion, "They still need us back there ... we can come back and pick up the dirt later."
Starhawk reversed the polarity of his hand weapon and fired a photonic ray directly at Nighthawk's eyes. Nighthawk growled angrily as he was temporarily blinded, and continued his forward sweep, sinking his claws into Starhawk just as the Patriot hit him in the gut with his sword. Nighthawk's superhuman durability prevented him from receiving serious injury, but he gasped for breath, until a pile-on by Battlestar put him down for the count.
Vagabond and Whiz Kid arrived just in time to see the blow. "Nice work, chief," said the latter.
Battlestar pointed upwards to indicate Blizzard, Blue Shield, Free Spirit, Red Raven, Starhawk, and Thin Man in desperate battle against Hyperion. "The hard part's still to come," he said.
From afar, Starhawk's father Jonathan Wilde monitored through the advanced computer he named Urbia-1 as with light and darkness, across earth and sky, the second-greatest heroes of centuries past engaged in battle.
Finally, he looked away. "They did it," he said. "We've won. We're free."
Hours later, Starhawk and the nine others confronted his father. "Are we?"
"Mascom is still operational of course," Jonathan Wilde said, "and we'll need to find a permanent means of securing the Supreme Lords, but surely Urbia-1 can ... "
Starhawk shook his head, "The others are right. You put too much faith in that computer, father."
Blizzard stepped forward. "From what you've told me, you have a population that hasn't been free in a generation. Do they know how to govern themselves? This is a problem liberators faced back in our own century."
"Vagabond and I have been receiving transmissions through our armor," Free Spirit noted. "The commander of the power princess corps is declaring herself interim Supreme Lady following the disappearance of the Lords ... and apparently a mob of criminals are calling themselves the Institute of Evil, setting up checkpoints, and claiming neighborhood by neighborhood. There's also a vigilante group called the Redeemers which opposes them, but they're violent and out of control, using pretty much the same tactics."
Jonathan Wilde looked at the others, speechless.
"We've agreed, we will stay for as long as necessary to help," Battlestar said gently. "Our parents' Legion fought against a foreign power in the name of liberty ... this team can do nothing less than fight against fear, ignorance and corruption under the same banner.