As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my editor Julie finished her work on Action Figures – Issue Six: Power Play, and I spent Saturday implementing her corrections and suggestions. I have yet to do a final read-through and polish, but it’s ready enough to give you all a taste of what’s coming in a couple of months!
SPOILER ALERT! Don’t read this if you haven’t read Action Figures – Issue Five: Team-Ups!
First, the official back cover text:
One of our super-heroes is missing.
It took a devastating attack on Kingsport to reunite the Hero Squad, but their reunion proves short-lived after Lightstorm vanishes following the battle, leaving the team without its most powerful member at the worst possible time.
Damage Inc. is back and more dangerous than ever, thanks to the mysterious mastermind known only as the Foreman arming them with enough firepower to take on the Hero Squad — but for what sinister purpose? The Squad is determined to find out, but the answers could cost them dearly.
Psyche takes center stage for this game-changing chapter in the Action Figures saga, which includes the bonus short story, Action Figures – Live Free or Die.
This is when everything changes!
PART ONE: ONE OF OUR SUPER-HEROES IS MISSING
I tap my headset. “Lightstorm? You there?” I say. “Lightstorm, respond. Lightstorm? Carrie?”
“Hm? Sara?” Meg mumbles, my rising panic rousing her from her nap. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. Carrie went off with one of the aliens. I had her on the comm but she dropped off all of a sudden.”
“I’m sure she’s okay, hon. Carrie can take care of herself.”
“No. Something’s wrong.” I stumble to my feet as a painful burning sensation fills my chest. For some reason I look up into the sky, as if I expect to see Carrie hovering above me. I cycle through every channel on my comm system, listening for her voice. There’s nothing on the secure Protectorate channel, nothing on the military or police bands…oh God. Oh God…
“Meg, something’s wrong!” I squeal, even as some distant corner of my brain argues that everything’s fine, I’m overreacting, there’s some rational explanation for this.
“Sara!” Meg shouts. “Wait!”
Kingsport Heights Beach is still total chaos. The military works to clear the battlefield of debris and bodies both human and alien. Police officers try to clear space for ambulances to get in and pick up those lucky enough to have survived the fight but not so lucky they can reach the edge of the hot zone on their own power. Meg and I dash past Concorde as he confers with a group of men and women, all of them in some kind of uniform. He calls out to me. I don’t stop.
We weave through the maze of wrecked cars and demolished military vehicles, skirt past a cluster of black sedans bearing government plates, past a dump truck transporting alien battlesuits and weaponry to the beach to be secured inside the dreadnought, and jump down onto the beach itself, where the Vanguard stands watch over its prisoners. They’re all aliens — for-real aliens from outer space. They brought this war to Kingsport, and one of them must know where Carrie is.
“Where is she?” I charge at one of the Vanguard aliens, a thing built like a gorilla with leathery skin and a second set of T-Rex arms set into his chest. He’s big and intimidating, but he retreats as I run up to him. “Where’s Carrie? What did you do with her?!”
“Honey, easy,” Meg says, pulling me back.
“They took Carrie!”
Meg spins me around. “Sara, you’re not going to do Carrie any good if you’re freaking out. You need to cool down and think.”
Meg squeezes my arms, and I feel her strength flow into me, quite literally. It’s a smart move; she knows my empathic abilities pick up, sometimes involuntarily, on other people’s emotions, and she uses that to inject some much-needed calm into me. The adrenaline flushes out so fast my head spins. Meg’s grip tightens to keep me from falling over.
“Psyche, what’s wrong?” I look past Meg to see Concorde approaching. He’s hurrying as best as he can, but he took as much of a beating as anyone. He needs to rest but he’s not going to let a little thing like possible internal bleeding slow him down, not when there’s work to be done.
“Carrie’s gone. She went off with one of them,” I say, gesturing toward the Vanguard. “She hasn’t come back.”
“I’m sure she’s —”
“Don’t tell me she’s okay, Concorde, and don’t tell me I’m overreacting,” I snap. “Something’s wrong. Carrie’s gone. I know.” I turn back toward the gorilla alien. “Where’s my friend?”
Gorilla grunts at me. A squishy-looking alien, who reminds me vaguely of Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants, says something incomprehensible to Gorilla, who responds with more grunts.
“This is a problem,” Concorde says.
“No it’s not. They can understand us. Do you have any more of those translator things?” I say to Gorilla.
He furrows his sloping brow at me. He’s considering it — I think. Whatever wavelength these beings’ brains operate on, it’s not compatible with my powers; I can’t read their emotions, much less their thoughts.
With a snort, Gorilla reaches into a belt pouch and hands me a pair of small, pale yellow blobs. I press them into my ears and — “Ohh, gross,” I moan. It feels like I’m shoving wads of cold snot into my ears.
“Not a pleasant sensation, is it?” Patrick says.
“No, it isn’t.” Oh, hey.
“Astounding. Why the matrices don’t fry their primitive little brains,” Gorilla says, his voice not quite matching the movements of his mouth. That’s distracting.
“I can understand you, you know, so start talking. Where’s Carrie?”
“Commander Do has escorted your friend to Kyros Alliance Central, on Kyros Prime.”
“Escorted? Or taken?”
“Your friend went of her own accord.”
“Yeah? Then when is she coming back?”
Gorilla hesitates. “I cannot say,” he says, and oh, I do not like his apologetic tone. “The Alliance is in the midst of a significant crisis, the likes of which we’ve not seen in generations. The Council of Generals has called in Vanguardians from every allied world —”
“Carrie isn’t part of the Vanguard,” I say, but Gorilla shoots that argument down.
“She possesses the astrarma,” he says, referring to the alien tech that gives Carrie her powers. “She is Vanguard.”
“But she is coming back.” I mean it as a question. It comes out as a demand.
“Maybe. If the council decides she’s —” Patrick begins. Gorilla makes a jabbing gesture. Patrick shuts right up. “Sorry,” he mumbles.
“The matter is out of our hands,” Gorilla says.
Gorilla abruptly dismisses us so his people can focus on securing their prisoners and all that tempting alien tech in the dreadnought — the Nightwind. The Kyros Alliance is supposed to dispatch another ship to remove the Nightwind, but Gorilla — Lieutenant Bote Maasuur — has no sense of exactly when that might happen. Optimistically, it could arrive within a few hours, he says, but Kingsport could wind up playing host to a crippled alien warship for a day or two.
“That’s one problem on a very long list of problems,” Concorde says, calling to order an impromptu meeting of the Protectorate, the Hero Squad, and the Quantum Quintet. “Entity. So glad you could finally make it.”
I jump when I realize the big leather-covered weirdo is looming right behind me. He wasn’t there a second ago, and I never felt his presence. How does he do that? Is he an alien too? That would explain a lot.
“I’ve been here the whole time,” the Entity says in his creepy monotone.
“We never saw you,” says Kilowatt Quantum, who may be the unsung hero of the battle. He can generate focused electromagnetic pulses, which generally aren’t very useful, but when your opponents are all wearing fancy powered battlesuits? Extremely useful.
“Exactly,” the Entity says.
“He was here,” Missy says, and that’s good enough for Concorde.
“All right. We have two big issues to address,” he says, “and the first is Lightstorm. She’s apparently gone off with the Vanguard’s commanding officer to Kyros Prime, wherever that is. It seems she went of her own free will but we have no idea if or when she’ll return.”
I expect an outburst, for someone to say, “There has to be a way to get her back!” or for Matt to throw out one of his so-insane-it’s-brilliant ideas, but all I hear is a heavy, resigned silence.
“That means we’re that much more short-handed, and that brings me to problem number two,” Concorde continues. “The Kingsport PD has been decimated. I spoke to the chief and his rough estimate is that two-thirds of the force is dead or injured. The governor plans to declare martial law in Kingsport in the short term, at least until the dreadnought’s been removed. Distasteful, I know, but it’s necessary.”
“And in the long term?” Mindforce says.
“That’s where we come in. The chief plans to call in some favors and see if he can borrow some officers from surrounding communities, but it won’t be enough. Until the department can rebuild, we’re going to be pulling extra duty.”
That’s a noble thought, but we’re in no condition to sub in for a school crossing guard much less the police. Most of us are so exhausted we can’t see straight, and a few of us took some nasty hits from the aliens’ hypervelocity weapons. Nina Nitro is toughing out a gunshot to the abdomen until all the injured civilians have been cared for; Rockjaw Quantum literally had chunks of his rocklike skin shot out; and Stuart is covered in bruises.
I tell myself it could have been worse. I glance over at the olive drab pavilion tent the military set up at the edge of what used to be a public baseball field. That’s where they’re storing all the bodies until they can be removed. It’s a harsh reminder that any one of us could have wound up in there.
“I have too much free time on my hands anyway,” Nina says, trying and failing to hide how much pain she’s in.
“You are going to heal first,” Concorde says. “We all are. As soon as we clear out, anyone with an injury is going to the hospital. Everyone else, go home and get some sleep. The National Guard will keep watch on the dreadnought until the Vanguard sends the recovery ship.”
“Which will be when?” Matt asks.
“Unknown, but from what I gather, the Vanguard isn’t thrilled about leaving advanced tech accessible to what it considers a primitive culture, so I suspect they’ll do their best to clear it out ASAP. I informed Lieutenant — Maasuur, was it?” Concorde says, looking to me for confirmation. “I informed Lieutenant Maasuur we’d guard the ship in the meantime, but he plans to leave a couple of his men — er, people — um…”
“Let’s go with people,” Doc Quantum suggests.
“He plans to leave two of his people behind to keep an eye on the prisoners and, I suspect, to keep us honest until they get back.”
“You mean they’re leaving?” Matt says.
“The Kyros Alliance has its own version of the Prime Directive,” I say. “They’ve already violated it, like, a thousand times over, but Lieutenant Maasuur doesn’t want to stick around and make it any worse.”
“Will he be returning to Alliance Central or whatever they called it?”
“I see where you’re going. Good thinking,” Concorde says. “Anyone want to sacrifice their phone?”
When Matt told me what he had in mind, I offer up my phone without a second thought.
I find a relatively quiet corner of the battlefield to record my message then give the phone to Lt. Maasuur. He promises he’ll deliver it to Carrie, but that’s all he can promise. It’s good enough. It has to be.
Lt. Maasuur orders First Rank At Mo Ke — a particularly bizarre alien with a cylindrical body, three stumpy legs, and a matching set of arms — and Lt. Commander Fast, who looks like a giant snake, to stay behind and keep an eye on things Earth-side. They decide to station themselves inside the Nightwind so they won’t distract the humans. Or maybe so we won’t distract them? I imagine we look as weird to them as they do to us.
I stand there on the beach and watch Lt. Maasuur and his people take off, rising into the sky until they’re tiny pinpoints of light, until those pinpoints wink out of sight. Meg tries to pull me away, but I don’t want to leave. I want to be here when Lt. Maasuur comes back. He could come back at any minute.
I feel so helpless and useless.
“Hey.” Meg wraps her arms around my waist and holds me close. “You’ve done all you can. Nothing left to do now but wait.”
“No. There’s one more thing I have to do,” I say. I’d give anything I had to avoid it, but there’s no way out of this. “I have to tell Christina her daughter’s been abducted by aliens.”