Strike Force: The Reckoning
Trevor Balena

 

CHAPTER ONE

Awakening.

No. Not awakening. For in this existence, there is no rest. No sleep. Such is the life... the existence, of a Guardian.

For that is what the man who was Christopher Blackwood, among other names, was now. He was no longer human, no longer the Psionicist he was in his previous existence. Now, he was only a Guardian. The latest in an eternal line of beings who watches over all of Creation. But Creation was large. Even one who was as powerful as a Guardian could never oversee everything at once. A Guardian’s main role, his purpose in existence, was to monitor the Prime Sphere. The Centre of All.

Earth.

And it was Earth that occupied Guardian Blackwood’s attention at that particular moment. Earth had faced many trials in the past few years. An attack by the Creators of the Two Phases of Life. A wave of disasters that were far from natural. And the coming of the Destroyer of All.

The Coming of Judgment.

The Earth had survived these trials because of the intervention of a small group of beings. A group that Blackwood had belonged to, in his previous existence. A group that he would always belong to, for so long as his current existence, and any other that might follow, lasted.

A team.

A family.

A Force.

Strike Force. A somewhat odd, juvenile name, perhaps. But it was more than a name. Every time Blackwood thought of the name, he was reminded of his past existence. Of friends who had become a family. A family who had become each other’s reason for existence.

Earth would always need its Force. And it would always have it.

The Guardian would see to it. No matter what the cost.

 

CHAPTER TWO

‘Overruled!’

Lindsay Ross sank into her chair. The judge’s shout still echoed in the cramped court house. ‘In the seven years I’ve been practicing Law, I’ve never seen a judge as stubborn as this guy,’ Lindsay thought. She had just attempted to object to a blatant attempt by the defense to lead a witness. She had failed.

‘Thank you, Your Honour,’ the defense attorney lilted, smirking at Lindsay. The attorney in question was a young hotshot by the name of Cassie James. She was an idiot. ‘Surely everyone in here must realize how stupid this line of questioning is,’ Lindsay thought. ‘Even the judge. But he always did coddle rookies.’

Suddenly, a high-pitched noise shot through Lindsay’s head.

‘Ow!’ she shrieked out loud. ‘Damn it!’ Everyone in the court turned, startled, to stare at Lindsay. The judge, quickly regaining his composure, commanded, ‘See here, now, counselor! Restrain yourself, or I’ll have the bailiff restrain you!’

But Lindsay couldn’t hear him. All she could hear was that damn screeching! Slowly, it faded away. Lindsay shook her head, and thought, ‘That was Carrie. It had to be. Ever since she discovered she had limited telepathic power, she’s been using that damn noise as a signal.’

Lindsay rose, and said with mock regret, ‘I apologize, Your Honour, but I have to leave. Now. Strike Force business. I’m sure you understand.’

Just as Lindsay teleported from the room, she heard the judge stammer, Um... well, I suppose I’ll call a recess—’

*

Lindsay reappeared in the Complex. The Complex had been Strike Force’s base of operations for nineteen years, ever since the team was formed. It didn’t get nearly as much use now. In the past, all members of the team had lived in the Complex. It had been their home, as well as their base. Times had changed.

Lindsay ran to the Monitor Console. Carrie Drake and Heather Allen were already there.

‘What took you so long?’ Carrie asked, only half joking. Immediately, Lindsay felt anger rising inside of herself. She tried to ignore it.

She didn’t succeed.

‘I suppose,’ Lindsay said, ‘that it takes those of us that aren’t perfect a little time to respond. Some of us do have lives, you know.’

Immediately, Lindsay was sorry she had said that. And she could tell from the look on Heather’s face that her feelings were hurt. ‘They’re just kids,’ Lindsay thought to herself. ‘I shouldn’t be so short with them. I’m forty, I should be able to control myself better.’

‘Look,’ Lindsay started, ‘I’m sorry if I—’

‘What’s the situation,’ a dark voice said from behind her. Not a question. An order. One that almost gave Lindsay her second heart attack of the day.

‘Jesus, Jordan,’ she shouted as she whirled around. ‘You scared me! How many times have I told you not to do that?’ Jordan Vincent, dressed from head to toe in black and grey, aged fifty-six, almost grinned. Almost. In the last year Jordan had been getting more and more grim. Lindsay hadn’t seen him smile in months. She was worried about him. She just would never admit it.

‘What’s the situation,’ he repeated. His voice wasn’t quite so dark, this time. ‘Trouble downtown,’ Carrie and Heather both said at the same time. They turned and smiled at each other. Carrie continued. ‘Big trouble. Hostage situation in the big McClane building. Cops figure ten to twenty bad guys.’ Jordan and Lindsay both nodded, taking in the information. Both of them had been doing this sort of thing for decades. They were already analyzing the situation, figuring out how to take out the bad guys without losing any good guys. Within seconds, they had both formulated half a dozen viable tactics.

‘We leave immediately,’ Jordan said, already walking towards to door that led to the Hangar. Lindsay hesitated. ‘What about Trevor and Sarah?’ she asked.

‘They’re probably already there!’ Heather called as she raced towards the Hangar.

 

CHAPTER THREE

‘This is crazy!’ Sarah Munroe shouted at the top of her lungs. Sarah and her husband, Trevor Balena, were plummeting straight down towards the McClane building in downtown Toronto. The wind in her ears was so loud that she could barely hear her own protests.

‘Aw, come on, hon,’ Trevor grinned, ‘You’ve put up with a lot of plans crazier than this!’

‘And I hated them, too!’ Sarah shouted back. They were only kidding with each other. They had been through far too much together for this situation to even faze them.

Both Trevor and Sarah were wearing their Strike Force uniforms. When they put on their uniforms, they became different people. Trevor became Rebel, and Sarah became Charge. Trevor’s uniform was jet black. The only other colour showing on it was the small, red Strike Force insignia on his chest. The uniform was made of a highly advanced material synthesized by the Complex’s computers. It was as light as cloth, but had the look and feel of armor. Trevor didn’t pretend to understand it.

Sarah, for her part, wore a similar uniform. Black, except for the insignia. Her clothes, however, were plain cloth, and she wore a red cloth sash over her left shoulder that attached to her belt. It was the only thing she had that had belonged to her father. Sarah didn’t think of her father much.

She liked it that way.

‘Trust me!’ Trevor shouted. ‘I’ve thought this whole thing out! If Jordan and the others arrive when I think they will, we’ll be fine!’

‘And if they don’t?’ Sarah asked wearily. Trevor only grinned in response.

The two were only a hundred feet from the roof of the McClane building now. Trevor spread his arms straight out from his side. Immediately, a white glow could be seen though his uniform. That was Trevor’s Psionicist ability. He could infuse his arms with incredible energy, and then release it, usually in an attack. Recently, however, Trevor had learned that he could make the energy react with the air, allowing him to fly.

The pair’s descent slowed. They landed softly on the roof, and Sarah let go of her husband and dropped to an attack stance. She surveyed the roof in a second; it was clear. ‘We’d better hurry,’ she said. ‘A building as new as this one probably has some kind of advanced security system.’ Trevor thought for a second, then responded, ‘True, but I don’t think they’d have a pressure-sensitive roof. Too many birds around here. No, I think we’ll be safe for the moment.’

Suddenly, alarms could be heard. Sarah turned to frown at her husband. ‘I suppose the designers accounted for the fact that they probably wouldn’t get to many hundred-pound-plus birds landing on their roof!’ she commented. Trevor ran to the side of the building, and peered over the edge. ‘Perfect,’ he thought. He turned his head to the side, and called to Sarah, ‘You know what to do?’

‘Sure,’ she responded.

Trevor winked at her. Then he gritted his teeth, and leaped off of the building.

*

Strike Force’s jet, the Striker Mark II, tore through the sky, headed for the city. The original Striker had been dismantled years before, but the Mark II had been a recent gift from some of the team’s friends in the government. It got the job done.

Inside, Jordan, Lindsay, Carrie, and Heather were preparing for the mission. They had suited up; Jordan was now Blade, Lindsay had become Taser, Carrie was called Strike, and Heather was now Element. Jordan sat at the controls, as he had been flying planes for most of his life, first in the army, and then as part of Strike Force.

‘I hope Trevor and Sarah are doing all right,’ Heather said worriedly. Lindsay wasn’t worried. ‘If we’re lucky, they won’t have finished mopping the floor with the bad guys by the time we get there,’ she thought.

The Striker had entered the city. ‘Get ready,’ Jordan said, with practically no emotion in his voice. Lindsay looked at him, concerned, for a second before joining Carrie and Element near the drop door. Lindsay took a second to size up how the two girls were handling the situation. Carrie’s emotions were hard to read through her mask. Carrie’s uniform was identical to that of the first Strike, Lindsay’s ex-husband. ‘Jack...’ she thought. She shook her head. ‘Can’t afford to go soft now. The others are counting on me,’ she commanded herself. Heather, by contrast, was very readable. She was obviously worried, but she was trying hard not to show it. ‘She’s just a kid,’ Lindsay thought. ‘Barely in her twenties. But then, Carrie’s only three, although she looks twenty five. That still freaks me out.’

Lindsay was startled from her thoughts by Jordan’s gloved hand on her shoulder. ‘You all right?’ he asked. Lindsay was sure she had heard concern in that gravelly voice of his. She smiled and nodded to him, ‘Yes, Jordan. I’m fine. We ready to go?’ Jordan nodded, every trace of concern gone from his face. He was Blade now. ‘Jordan ain’t home any more,’ Lindsay thought to herself.

CHAPTER FOUR

The Striker, in Hover mode, opened its drop doors. Carrie, holding Heather, flew out the opening and towards the McClane building. Jordan simply leapt; no concern for his own safety was evident. Lindsay, after making sure the others had safely disembarked, hurriedly closed the drop doors. Once they were secure, and the Striker was safe from intruders, Lindsay used her Psionicist ability for the second time that day to teleport from the jet.

Below, Carrie and Heather had landed on the rooftop. Sarah was waiting. ‘Trevor went in just a few seconds ago,’ she said. ‘I was about to, but now that you guys are here—’

‘Now that we’re here,’ Jordan said, landing expertly from the fifteen foot drop, ‘this shouldn’t take long.’ Lindsay reappeared behind him. ‘Are we all here?’ she asked.

Suddenly, a loud explosion was heard from below. An explosion, and a shout. ‘Trevor!’ Sarah shouted. ‘That was his voice—’

But Carrie didn’t hear the rest of Sarah’s sentence. She had already leapt off of the roof and was streaking straight down to where the explosion and the shout had come from. She was just in time to see Trevor go flying straight back out a window. Something had hit him—something big.

Carrie increased her speed. She had only seconds to reach Trevor before he slammed into the building adjacent to the McClane building...

With only milliseconds to spare, Carrie grabbed Trevor out of the air. ‘Rebel, sir!’ she shouted. ‘All you all right?’

‘Peachy,’ he moaned. ‘I flew in through the window—thought I’d get the drop on them.’

‘You got dropped, all right,’ Carrie said. ‘Where to? The others are on the roof...’

‘No,’ Trevor said. ‘We go back in. Those terrorists are well armed. Their weapons aren’t from this planet. Now that they know we’re here, we haven’t much time to stop them.’

‘How many of them are there?’ Carrie asked. ‘Not many,’ Trevor responded. ‘Four or five. But that hardly matters with the firepower they’ve got.’

Carrie nodded. Carrying Trevor, she soared upwards, and then rocketed in through the window that Trevor had fallen out of seconds before. Carrie let go of Trevor, and he landed on the plush carpet of the McClane building.

He took in every detail of the situation in a second. ‘Four bad guys,’ he thought to himself. ‘A dozen hostages. Where the hell are the others?’ Rebel broke into a sprint; he had to take down at least one terrorist before they had time to react to his arrival.

Rebel’s Psionically-charged punch took down one terrorist right away, but by the time Rebel turned around, the other three were all pointing their guns at him. Big guns.

Before any of them could fire, Strike shot through them, knocking all of them flat on their faces. ‘Right on cue,’ Trevor thought.

The terrorists started to stand. They didn’t get the chance. Lindsay and the rest of the team teleported in right on schedule. Blade took one step forward, and hit one of the terrorists on the back of the neck with the side of his straightened hand. That one was down for the count.

The other two terrorists hesitated, then went for their guns. ‘Wrong move,’ Trevor whispered to himself, smiling. Heather shot a spear of ice that impaled one terrorist’s gun. Lindsay whipped out one of her own two personal sidearms, and shot a mild blast that hit the last terrorist square in the chest. He wouldn’t be getting up for a while.

Trevor stood and nodded in approval at his friends—his family.

Lindsay twirled her gun around one of her fingers, then holstered it. ‘That’s a wrap,’ she said, grinning.

Blade didn’t smile.

 

CHAPTER FIVE

The terrorist leader woke up screaming. He didn’t stop for two minutes.

Sarah let him scream until he finally regained his composure. ‘I take it,’ Sarah said sweetly, ‘that you’ve realized that you’re apparently floating a mile above the ground.’

Trevor, who was holding both the terrorist and Sarah while hovering in mid-air, raised an eyebrow. Sarah was obviously enjoying this.

‘Now,’ Sarah continued, sounding much more serious, ‘I suggest you tell us where you and your friends got those weird weapons, before my husband’s arm gets tired. You do weigh quite a bit, you know.’

‘W- Whatever y- you want, lady! Just let me down!’ the terrorist screamed. Sarah shook her head. ‘Information first. Then down.’

The terrorist started whimpering. Trevor rolled his eyes. This wasn’t getting them anywhere. ‘Uh oh,’ he said, not very convincingly, ‘my arm’s getting really tired...’ He swayed his arm for effect. The terrorist bought it. ‘All right!’ he screamed. ‘W- we bought the guns from a couple of guys down at the pier! I don’t know who they were, I swear!’

Trevor nodded. ‘These guys didn’t happen to have really weird voices, did they?’ The terrorist nodded emphatically. ‘Yeah!’ he said. ‘Real deep voices. And I never really got a good look at them, either. They always stayed in the shadows.’

Trevor and Sarah looked at each other. Sarah nodded. ‘His story checks out,’ she said to her husband. ‘It’s just like we thought.’

‘We’ll need to get to the pier right away,’ Trevor said.

‘No need,’ Sarah replied. ‘Jordan’s already there. He recognized the weapons and vanished right after the fight. Now, what should we do with this guy?’

The terrorist leader woke up three hours later in a jail cell.

He would be afraid of heights for the rest of his life.

*

Blade was hanging from the ceiling of the largest warehouse on the pier. According to his sources, the same people who had sold the weapons to the terrorists were coming here tonight. ‘Possibly to make another sale,’ Jordan thought. ‘It wouldn’t be very smart, with all the heat from the terrorists still on, but if my hunch is right...’

After waiting for twenty minutes, Jordan heard a noise. Someone else was here.

Jordan pulled his dagger from the ceiling and dropped a split second before a large bolt of energy smashed into the ceiling. Jordan landed on the floor, and leaped to the side. Another shot flew by him. Jordan slid along the floor, and stepped into the shadows. No one would be able to find him now.

After a few seconds, Jordan heard a voice. A very deep voice.

A voice he recognized.

‘Vincent! Blade! You’re just as good as ever! Your age hasn’t slowed you down one bit. We needed to make sure of that before we extended you our little invitation, so we tested you with those terrorists. You followed our trail quite well.’

In the shadows, Jordan smiled grimly. ‘An invitation. The only thing they would invite me to is my death. Why don’t they just wait another twenty years?’ he thought. ‘I’ll be dead of old age by then, anyway.’

The voice continued. ‘We cordially invite you and your friends, if there are any of them left, to our planet. We wish to negotiate a treaty.’ The voice paused. ‘We’re tired of fighting, Vincent! We know when we’ve been... beaten. It’s over.

‘We’ll be waiting,’ the voice finished.

Then all Jordan heard was the whisper of their transporter beams, and silence. A silence that seemed to weigh down on Jordan until he could finally form his thoughts. ‘It has to be a trap,’ he thought. ‘But his voice sounded sincere, and...’ His thought trailed off.

As he left the warehouse and started to head for the Complex, one thought repeated itself in Jordan’s head. A thought he refused to acknowledge

Peace.

But if there was peace with the Creators, would there be a need for Strike Force?

Would there be a need for Blade?

 

CHAPTER SIX

Everyone in the room was completely silent as Jordan told them what had happened at the pier earlier that night. When he finished, Trevor asked, ‘You were there, Jordan. What’s your opinion? Can we trust them?’

Jordan hesitated. He was obviously torn on the subject. ‘Normally, I would never believe a word a Creator says. We all know what they’re responsible for, and—’

‘Um,’ Heather said quietly, ‘I don’t.’

Trevor leaned forward in his chair and grimaced. This wouldn’t be easy for her to hear. ‘The Creators are from a planet called Destia. They first came to Earth billions of years ago, when they planted the seeds of creation on this planet. I’m speaking metaphorically, of course. Not real seeds. These seeds eventually became humanity. Then in the early eighties, they came back. They altered a few genes, and created Psionicists. When they discovered that they couldn’t control us, they tried to eradicate us. Repeatedly.’

Heather was obviously shocked. ‘Sorry I asked,’ she whispered.

‘As I was saying,’ Jordan continued, ‘normally I wouldn’t trust them. But they seemed truly genuine. And, given the fact that we’ve beaten them so many times, a treaty makes sense.’

Lindsay scoffed. ‘It would make sense to any reasonable being. But not the Creators. I don’t trust them.’

The room was silent for almost a full minute. Finally, Trevor broke the silence. ‘I hate to make a decision for the whole team, but I think I have to in this case. The last time the Creators attacked Earth, half the Psionicists on the planet lost their powers. What if next time, half of us lose our lives? Or half of humanity?’

No one answered. Trevor answered for them. ‘We can’t risk it. We go to Destia.’

*

Susan Jones hated using elevators. Today, however, she didn’t have a choice.

The stairs in her apartment building were currently under repair, so the only way Susan could get to her apartment was to use the elevator.

After waiting for almost a minute, the elevator arrived. The doors opened, and Susan got on. The doors closed, and the elevator began its trip to the thirtieth floor. Susan stood inside, scared half to death.

She hated elevators. She hated the fact that, after her years of fighting and sacrifice, her life could end in something as stupid and pointless as an elevator malfunction. Just one small computer glitch, and the elevator would plummet to the basement. And be flattened. And without her power to transform her skin into an invulnerable metal, Susan would be flattened, too.

Susan breathed a sigh of relief when the elevator stopped, and she was able to get out. That was another thing that Susan hated. She hated being so helpless and fragile. A few years ago, she had been a hero. A member of Strike Force. But after the Creators’ most recent assault on Earth, all that had come to an end. Her powers were gone, along with those of half the Psionicists on the planet.

Susan arrived at her apartment. Opening the door, she knew immediately that her husband had just arrived, too. The window was open.

‘Jordan,’ she said into the dark apartment. ‘You’re home early. It’s only three in the morning.’

‘Something came up,’ the dark voice replied. ‘The Creators may want to negotiate a treaty. Rebel wants us en route by dawn. We might... be gone for a while. I thought you’d like to know.’

Susan flicked on the lights. Jordan noticed that her mouth was hanging open. ‘The Creators just snapped their fingers, and now you’re all just going to waltz off to Destia, straight into a trap, is that it?’ she asked. Jordan thought she might be about to cry. ‘You’ll all be killed!’ she shouted.

‘It is a possibility,’ Jordan replied. ‘But we’ve been to Destia before. And no one...’ he stopped abruptly, then recovered, ‘no Strike Force members have ever died. The risk seems minimal.’

‘Minimal?!?’ Susan was screaming now. And probably waking everyone in the building. ‘Are you trying to comfort me or something? The last time we went to Destia, you were crippled for eight years!’

Jordan winced. He remembered. The bolt of energy slamming into his back. The pain. But most of all, Jordan remembered the agonizing feeling of being completely helpless. He hated to be helpless.

And he hated being shot in the back.

‘I didn’t think you’d approve,’ Jordan said, turning to leave. ‘But I thought you’d like to know.’ He prepared to jump from the window.

‘Wait!’ Susan shouted. Jordan turned. ‘Give ‘em one for me, okay? I love you.’

And in that moment, Susan thought she might have seen her husband smile. Maybe.

‘I love you, too,’ Jordan said. There was a softness, a loving in his voice that Susan hadn’t heard in far too long. She reached out to him—

But he was gone.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

Trevor and Sarah stood in the graveyard. They were visiting the grave of their son. Trevor was hanging his head, and his eyes were closed. Sarah thought he looked almost... repentant.

‘Is it my fault?’ Trevor asked, breaking the silence. Sarah wasn’t surprised by the question. Trevor asked it every time they came here. ‘Should we have brought Ben into the world?’ he continued. ‘In retrospect, we were fooling ourselves. We should have realized that Ben could never have a normal life. I mean...’ he trailed off. This was always hard for him to say. ‘I mean, he spent half of his life in seclusion. Alone. Without even the comfort of other things existing around him. And then, when we found him...’

Sarah put her hand on her husband’s shoulder. Sarah had resolved her own issues about her son’s death. But she knew it was different for Trevor. ‘He watched Ben die,’ she thought. ‘He has to live with the knowledge that he couldn’t save him. Even after years, it’s still tearing him up inside.’

Trevor took a step forward, and put a hand on his son’s grave. For the thousandth time, he read the inscription.

BENJAMIN BALENA

BELOVED SON

Sarah put her hand on her husband’s. They stood like that for a while, thinking about the past, and worrying about the future.

‘We have to go,’ Sarah said. ‘The others will be waiting for us.’

‘Let them wait,’ Trevor responded. He sounded distant. Sarah squeezed his hand. ‘We have to go,’ she said. ‘There’s finally a chance for peace. For harmony.’

‘Any chance I had for harmony died with Ben,’ Trevor whispered. ‘But it has to be done.’ He stood. ‘Let’s go.’

*

Lindsay sat on top of the CN Tower, thinking. Thinking about friends long gone. ‘Jack,’ she thought. ‘I wonder if you’ve gone on to a better place... I wonder if you were happy with your life, in your last few years... There’s just so much I want to say to you, and you’re not here any more...’

‘Thinking?’ the familiar dark voice came from behind her. ‘Yeah,’ Lindsay replied. ‘Ha! I’m getting better, Jordan! You barely startled me that time!’ Lindsay frowned, then whirled around. ‘Hey, wait a minute! I ‘ported up here, but how did you...?’

‘Climbed,’ came the matter-of-fact answer.

‘Huh,’ Lindsay smiled. ‘Should have known.’ Lindsay paused. Did she really want to ask Jordan this? She decided that she did.

‘Jordan? So you ever think about... the others? The friends that we lost along the way? Chris, Rick, Matt...’

‘And Jack?’ Jordan asked. ‘Yes. I think about them every day. As long as we remember them, they’ll always be with us. And Jack will always be with you.’

Lindsay smiled. She had one more thing to ask. ‘After the divorce, did Jack ever... talk about it? Did he... miss me?’

‘Jack spoke of you constantly. He never stopped loving you. You know that.’

‘I guess I do. But I just needed to hear it from you. Thank you, Jordan.’

Jordan stood. ‘Time to go.’

‘Need a lift back to the Complex?’ Lindsay asked.

‘Yes.’

Lindsay walked over to him. He took her hand, so that she could carry him when she teleported.

Just before they disappeared, Jordan spoke. ‘Jack was always proud of you,’ he said.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

Lindsay and Jordan reappeared inside the Complex’s hanger, where the others were preparing for the trip. Lindsay looked around. ‘Where are Trevor and Sarah?’ she asked.

Carrie, who was securing supplies is the storage area of the Striker, replied, ‘Don’t know. They said they had some place they had to go, and disappeared.’

‘I’m here,’ Trevor said as he walked into the room. ‘Sarah will be here in a minute. She’s just letting Alex, Janet and the Nightridges know where we’re going.’ Alexandria Barkley, Janet Erikson, Andrew Nightridge, and his daughter Leah were all former members of the team. If something happened to Strike Force on this mission... they would be all that was left.

Finally, Carrie finished loading the ship. Everyone had put on their uniforms. ‘Well, off we go on another suicide mission. First Judgment, now this,’ Lindsay said. ‘Now, as soon as Sarah shows up, we can get this show on the road...’

*

Andrew Nightridge was walking with his daughter Leah through Castle Nightridge’s garden. In this time, hundreds of years before Strike Force, Andrew was Lord of this castle. He was recruited in the present by Strike Force, but was now ready to live out his days here with his family.

Or so he thought.

‘Andrew!’ The voice came out of nowhere. Andrew and Leah spun, just in time to see Sarah emerging from one of her ‘Time Globes’. ‘I need to talk with you,’ she finished.

‘What’s up?’ Andrew asked. Sarah was about to answer, when Leah leaped forward and embraced her. ‘Aunt Sarah!’ she exclaimed. Sarah wasn’t Leah’s real aunt, of course, but she had known Leah since she was born. Leah was almost as close to her as she was to her own parents. ‘Hi there, kiddo,’ Sarah said, smiling. Her face turned serious. ‘Andrew, I really need to have a word with you. Leah, could you excuse us?’

Leah pouted. ‘Aw, c’mon! I’m fifteen! If this is Strike Force stuff, I can handle it. I was on the team, remember?’

‘You were in training,’ her father corrected her. ‘Do as your aunt says, Leah. Head back to the castle and get ready for dinner, okay?’

Leah obeyed grudgingly. Sarah and Andrew could hear her grumbling to herself until she was out of earshot. Once she was, Andrew was all business.

‘Something’s wrong, I take it?’ he asked. Sarah nodded. ‘The Creators want us to go to their planet so we can discuss a possible treaty. Lindsay thinks it’s a trap. The rest of us want to investigate. I came to say goodbye... and to ask your opinion.’

Andrew thought about it for a minute. ‘I’ve been around for a long time,’ he answered finally. ‘Almost a thousand years. And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned in that time, it’s that people change. If the rest of you, especially Jordan, believe the Creators, then I’m inclined to agree.’

Sarah looked relieved. ‘That’s good to hear, coming from you. I wonder if—’

Sarah stopped when she realized that Andrew was looking at something behind her in shock. She turned around, puzzled.

Nothing could prepare her for what she saw.

Castle Nightridge was almost totally engulfed in a ghostly image. As far as Sarah could tell, the image was of herself, with tears in her eyes, kneeling over a body. Sarah couldn’t tell who the body was, but she had seen enough death to realize that it wouldn’t be getting up. But what scared her most about the image was that the body was clothed in a Strike Force uniform. The uniform itself was mangled beyond recognition, but Sarah knew what it meant.

If the image was accurate, and was indeed a sign of things to come...

One of her teammates, someone she loved dearly, didn’t have long to live.

 

CHAPTER NINE

The Striker Mark II rocketed through space. ‘We’re almost to Destia,’ Trevor said from the pilot’s seat. ‘No sign of any danger yet. That’s a good sign—last time it took everything we had just to get this far.’

Lindsay leaned forward from the seat behind Trevor. ‘That’s true...’ she said, ‘but we didn’t have an invitation last time. If it is a trap, they’d wait until we’re down on the planet with fewer places to run before they’d spring it on us.’

‘You really ought to get rid of that pessimistic attitude, Lindsay,’ Sarah said. ‘After all this time, you still need to learn how to give people a second chance.’

Lindsay scowled at her. ‘They’ve had a dozen chances at least. And don’t you remember what happened last time they attacked us? Half the Psionicists on the planet lost their powers!’

The silence answered for her. Everyone remembered.

Minutes later, Trevor broke the silence. ‘We’re entering their atmosphere. They’ve transmitted landing co-ordinates.’ Trevor hit some keys. ‘Entering co-ordinates,’ he said. He frowned at the screen in front of him. Sarah leaned over so she could see the screen too. ‘What is it?’ she asked. Her husband responded, ‘The co-ordinates they’ve given us appear to be...’

Jordan finished for him. ‘The Royal Capital’s Landing Platform.’

*

The Striker had landed. Its ramp lowered, and Trevor took a few tentative steps down it, just far enough that he could see the welcoming party. Delegates, from the look of it. No guards, and no one with any visible weapons.

Jordan knew what Trevor was thinking. Jordan whispered to him, ‘Just because we can’t see any weapons, doesn’t mean they don’t have any.’

Trevor nodded, and walked to the bottom of the ramp. The head delegate moved to greet him, and spoke in perfect English, ‘Welcome Mr. Balena, and the rest of your entourage. We are delighted to have you here under more...’ the delegate paused, no doubt searching for a delicate word, ‘...civil circumstances. I would love to give you a tour of our city, but the King insists that you see him first.’

Jordan moved to the front. ‘I’m sure he would,’ he said. The delegate started to squirm. Trevor suppressed a grin. Trevor thought that Jordan overdid the whole grim-and-gritty routine, but he had to admit, it was effective. Jordan continued, ‘But what assurances do we have that we will not be attacked? My last visit to this planet was... unpleasant.’ Jordan gave the last word extra emphasis, and scowled even more.

The delegate looked like he was about to faint.

‘Uh...’ the delegate began. ‘Y- you have my word that our m- motives are entirely pure, Mr. Vincent,’ he was finally able to stammer.

Jordan stepped back, apparently satisfied. He thought to himself, ‘Either he’s unaware of the King’s treachery... or there is no treachery at all.’

The delegate led the group off of the Landing Platform and towards the Royal Palace. As the were walking, Trevor was able to take in the sights around him. ‘Last few times I was here,’ he thought, ‘I was either a prisoner, fighting for my life, or running like crazy. But now that I think about it, Destia’s really beautiful.’

Up ahead, Trevor could see the Royal Palace looming over them. It was several hundred stories high, and glimmering in the sunlight like a jewel. The delegate led them through the gates, though the courtyard, and, finally, into the Palace itself.

Lagging slightly behind, Heather was having trouble keeping up. ‘Hey, Carrie...’ she panted, ‘how much further do you figure we have to walk?’

Carrie shrugged. She didn’t seem to be showing any signs of fatigue, no doubt thanks to her genetically engineered origins. ‘Probably not much farther,’ she said. ‘I think I see the throne room just ahead.’

Increasing his pace so as to reach the throne room doors first, the delegate swung the doors open and motioned the group inside. When everyone was inside the throne room, the delegate closed the doors. They shut with an almost deafening noise.

Suddenly, Carrie collapsed. She clutched her head with her hands. Underneath her mask, she opened her mouth to scream...

As her friends ran to her, the King of the Creators smiled, pushed a key on the side of his throne...

And reality was unmade.

And somewhere outside the universe, Guardian Blackwood fell to his knees...

 

CHAPTER TEN

Jordan awoke, and every inch of his body ached.

As soon as he opened his eyes, he knew he was not in the Royal Palace any more. In fact, he suspected he wasn’t even on Destia any more. He was on his back, staring up at the ceiling of a dilapidated room in a very cold house.

He sat up, and his mind started racing. ‘How did I get here?’ he thought. ‘The last thing I remember... Strike—Carrie was is pain... we ran to her, then there was a flash of light... a feeling of... shattering, then...’ He winced. His head was throbbing.

‘Oh, dear!’ came an elderly female voice from the doorway. ‘Oh, please, don’t try to sit up, sir! You’re very badly hurt. My son thinks you’ve fractured your spine... he’s a doctor, you know. He has machines to tell him these things...’

‘She’s obviously senile,’ Jordan thought. ‘But I don’t have time to mince words.’ He turned to face her. She was only a few years older than him, about sixty, and he definitely didn’t recognize her face. ‘Listen to me,’ he croaked. ‘I don’t have any time for this. Where am I? Who are you?’

Jordan swung his legs over the side of the bed and started to stand. ‘You mustn’t get up...!’ the lady started to say.

‘Listen, damn it!’ Jordan shouted. ‘I can stand. My spine’s been broken for over ten years. I don’t have time to explain it. Now answer my questions!’

The women took a step back. ‘My... my name is Lynn. You’re in my house. Well, actually, it’s my son’s house, but I live here since I can’t really take care of—’

‘Enough!’ Jordan shouted. ‘What city is this? What country is this?’

Lynn took another step back. ‘Why, this is Chicago, of course. It’s a city in the State of—’

‘I know where Chicago is. But this can’t be it. The State of Illinois was destroyed a year ago. The major cities aren’t even close to being rebuilt!’ Jordan stood, and started to walk towards Lynn. ‘What are you trying to pull?’

Lynn was terrified. ‘I’m not trying to pull anything! I don’t even know who you are!’

This time it was Jordan’s turn to be surprised. He frowned. ‘Something is definitely amiss here. Almost everyone in the world knows who I am, much less someone from Chicago...’ he thought. He regained his composure, and spoke. ‘You really don’t know me? My name’s Jordan Vincent, and I’m a member of Strike Force—’

Lynn turned white, and collapsed. Jordan rushed over to her. She was mumbling almost incoherently. ‘No...’ she said. ‘You can’t be... you’re dead. You looked like him, but I thought it was just a coincidence...’

‘What are you talking about, Miss?’ Jordan asked, puzzled. ‘Do I know you?’

Lynn began to cry. ‘Know me? Of course you should, Jordan... you’re my husband! My husband’s name was Jordan Vincent...’

*

Trevor awoke, and couldn’t believe his eyes. He was staring into his own face.

‘A bit confused, huh?’ the ethereal image asked. It looked just like Trevor, but was dressed differently, and had an almost ghostly appearance.

‘You could say that...’ Trevor said as he stood. He took a second to look around. He had no idea where he was... no that wasn’t true. He knew where he was, but he didn’t know how he knew. He appeared to be standing on thin air. He was surrounded by darkness. There was not even a hint of light. Aside from his ghostly double, the only other things Trevor could see were a floating image of the Earth, and a small stand with a closed book on it.

‘I... I’m not on Destia, in the Palace any more... am I?’ Trevor asked hesitantly.

The other laughed. ‘No. You’re not,’ he said. ‘But I think you know where you are, don’t you?’

‘Yes. But how do I know of this place? I’ve never been here before...’

The other laughed again. ‘That’s where you’re wrong. You’ve been here for the last year and a half. Or, at least, I have.’

Trevor frowned. ‘No offense pal, but I have no clue what the hell you’re talking about. And since I’ve got no proof you’re not working with the Creators, you better explain yourself.’

‘You’re right, of course. I don’t blame you for not trusting me. After all, the Creators didn’t exactly give you a warm welcome, did they? The second you enter his throne room, the King goes and unmakes reality... very uncordial. If it weren’t for Carrie Drake’s little premonition, I doubt I’d have been able to shunt your friends into another dimension in time.’ He sighed. ‘But you want me to explain myself, don’t you. Very well. To put it plainly... I am you. No doubt you remember, a year and a half ago, when you were killed during Judgment’s first onslaught?’

Trevor frowned. ‘Killed? What are you talking about? I was hurt badly, but obviously I wasn’t killed...’

The ghost smiled. ‘That’s where you’re wrong. You were killed. Or rather, we were. A split second after that, the Guardian at that time took our soul, and made us... made me... the new Guardian. My first act was to restore life to Jack Samson’s deceased form back on Earth... and that explains you.’

Trevor nodded. ‘Somehow, I’ve always known this...’

‘Of course you have. We’re the same, effectively, and so we share a link. It’s not always apparent, but it’s there.’

Suddenly Trevor remembered... ‘... the others! Sarah and the others! Are they all right?’

The Guardian nodded. ‘Like I said earlier, Carrie’s telepathic warning gave me just enough time to save them, and you. The Creators used a device even they don’t fully understand to wipe every trace of Strike Force from existence... effectively, remake reality without you. I rescued the others by putting them in an alternate reality, where the Creators cannot find them.’

‘Can you...’ Trevor started. ‘Can you get us back home?’

‘Perhaps...’ the Guardian said, thinking. ‘There is one way. You see, the device the Creators used to remake reality is what I like to call a singular dimensional constant. Meaning, there is one in every reality... but there is also only one for all of existence. Destroy the device in the reality where your friends are...’

‘... and it’ll disappear from our original reality, as well.’ Trevor finished for him.

The Guardian nodded. ‘That’s right. Then I’ll be able to put you back in your original reality, and exact punishment on the Creators for messing with the dimensional balance. Except...’

‘Except what?’ Trevor asked.

‘Well, I didn’t have much time to save your friends, so I had to put them in the first available reality I could find. And, I’m afraid, the Earth in that reality...

It’s under the total control of the Creators.’

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Henry Vincent leaned over his dinner table to stare at the man across from him. This man, dressed all in black, looked exactly like Henry’s father.

‘What did you say?’ Henry asked incredulously.

‘I said,’ Jordan answered, ‘that I’m your father. Sort of. As far as I understand, you’re real father died several years ago... when the Creators took control of Earth. I’m not him... but I am the Jordan Vincent of another Earth. An alternate reality, if you will.’

‘I think I understand, but...’ Henry frowned. ‘Where’s my mother?’ he finally asked.

‘She had quite a shock when I told her who I am. She’s all right, but resting.’

Henry leaned back in his chair. ‘I have so much to ask you,’ he said. ‘I never really knew my dad. He died... protecting me and my mother before I really got a chance to get to know him.’

‘I’m not him,’ Jordan said, standing. ‘To pretend that I am... serves no purpose.’

Henry stood, puzzled. ‘What are you doing? You’re not leaving already, are you?’

Jordan nodded. ‘Yes, I am. The Creators are probably already aware of my arrival in this dimension. I’ve got to find the rest of my team. Maybe then, we can find a way home.’

As Jordan began to move to the door, a loud rumble started to shake the house. ‘What’s that?’ Henry shouted.

Jordan listened carefully. The sound of a shuttle’s engines... a very distinctive sound. Creators. Jordan whirled. ‘Henry!’ he shouted. ‘Get your mother, and get out of here! Carry her if you have to!’

Henry nodded, and started for the stairs. He paused, and turned. ‘What are you going to do?’ he asked.

Jordan almost smiled. ‘Stop them,’ he replied.

*

Sarah whistled in disbelief. She was in the co-pilot’s seat of a Creator shuttle. Trevor was in the pilot’s seat. Lindsay, Heather, and Carrie were behind them. The Guardian had put Trevor back on Earth, and Trevor had found the others using a shuttle he had stolen. ‘Doesn’t look good,’ she added. She was looking out the cockpit’s window, and half a dozen Creator tanks and other assault vehicles were surrounding a small house.

Lindsay leaned forward. ‘No kidding,’ she said. She turned to Trevor. ‘You say Jordan’s down there?’

Trevor nodded. ‘According to the info the Guardian gave me,’ he responded. ‘We should get down there. You know how arrogant Jordan can get sometimes; he’ll try to take them all on himself.’

Trevor piloted the shuttle to a close but safe distance from the troops. ‘All right, guys. Let’s take ‘em. But be careful. This is a residential area. No one dies.’

The others nodded.

Below, the Creator troops were preparing for attack. The commander was dispatching orders to the other vehicles: destroy the house, and make sure anyone inside is dead.

Suddenly, the commander felt something prick his back. A low voice came from behind him: ‘Don’t move. I’ve got a blade against your back. Now tell your men to deactivate their weapons and leave the area.’

The commander tried to turn around. ‘Who the hell are—’ he started. The blade pressed harder into his back. The voice commanded: ‘Do it!’

The commander grimaced, and said, ‘All right. But I’ll need to use my hands to relay the order.’

The voice again: ‘Do it. But no tricks.’ The blade twisted a bit against the commander’s back to emphasize the statement.

The commander slowly reached for the communications panel. As he did so, he activated the small device in his brain and used it to send a different message to his men.

Simultaneously, a look of surprise flashed on the faces of dozens of Creator soldiers. They all whirled and pointed their weapons at the black-clad man who was threatening their commander with an elaborate blade.

‘Shit,’ Jordan breathed.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

Still holding the Creator commander in front of himself, Jordan threw himself backwards. The pair went flying over the edge of the commander’s tank, fell, and hit the ground. Jordan landed expertly on his feet. The commander did not.

Mere feet away, the Creator troops were becoming aware that they had more opponents than they thought. Jordan saw Trevor, Sarah, and the others descending from the shuttle he had heard before.

Carrie was the first to reach the ground. Using her flight ability to increase her speed, Carrie shot through one of the tanks like a rocket. Trevor knew that Carrie wasn’t as brash and inexperienced as she had been when he invited her to join the team; he knew that she had first used her growing telepathic abilities to make sure that her path was clear of living beings.

Above, Heather was using her element-based power to create a ramp of ice that slid the others safely to the ground. Before her feet touched the street, Heather shot a burst of flame forward to give the others time to get into position for their respective attacks. It was, however, an unnecessary gesture; Trevor, Sarah, and Lindsay had already begun to move.

Trevor had long since adapted to the powers that came along with Jack Samson’s body. He knew that they were just as effective defensively as offensively. He knew his wife needed a few seconds to charge and throw the inch-long pellets she used. He charged his arms with plasma energy, and within microseconds glimmers of the light they produced could be seen though his uniform. His arms now fully charged, he knew he’d be able to fly. He swooped down and arced in front of his teammates, just as the Creator soldiers were getting their first shots off. The shots reflected harmlessly off Trevor’s arms.

Sarah took aim, and threw a half dozen pellets at the attacking soldiers. She had had a lot of practice, and each shot hit its target. As the six soldiers fell to the ground, unconscious, Sarah knew the reason more soldiers weren’t firing. A glimpse of a shadowy black blur of motion out of the corner of her eye confirmed it. The Guardian’s tip had been right.

Jordan was here.

When Sarah glanced over to her right, she knew Lindsay had seen him too. Lindsay thought for a moment, and then began to teleport rapidly across the battlefield, using her weapons to incapacitate any soldiers who posed a possible threat to the team’s strategy.

Nearby, Jordan slipped silently behind another soldier, and within the blink of an eye, the soldier was unconscious. Jordan ducked behind the sole remaining tank to plan his next series of moves. He paused for a moment when he saw Carrie. She was using her powers much more strategically and with much more confidence than before.

Jordan’s heart skipped a beat when he heard a footstep behind him. He whirled to see three Creator soldiers aiming their weapons at him. ‘Damn,’ he thought. ‘Nobody’s ever snuck up on me before. They’re genetically enhanced, by the looks of them. Not that that’s any excuse...’ His mind was racing. He could easily take down one, or even two Creator soldiers before they got a shot off, but probably not three genetically enhanced soldiers...

Suddenly, the three soldiers all whirled around in surprise, as if they had heard something. Jordan saw what they had heard... a man running at them, enraged...

‘On, no...’ Jordan thought. It was Henry Vincent, his ‘son’...

Screaming, Henry slammed into all of the soldiers at once, knocking them flat on their backs. Jordan was already in motion, attempting to knock the soldiers out, before...

He wasn’t fast enough. The third soldier raised his weapon at Henry, and fired...

The shot hit Henry square in the chest. He flew back, landed, and lay still.

Jordan let out an almost deafening scream of anguish, and slammed his foot into the soldier’s skull. Jordan ran to Henry, and knelt down beside him.

‘Henry...’ Jordan whispered. He felt tears welling up in his eyes.

Henry painfully turned his head to face Jordan. ‘Mom’s... safe,’ he croaked. Henry tried to smile, but couldn’t. ‘It’s funny...’ he said. ‘My real dad... died protecting my mom and I... and, now...’ Henry’s mouth moved for a few more seconds, as if there was so much more he wanted to say. Jordan saw the light go out in Henry’s eyes.

Jordan held Henry’s body, feeling emotions that he hadn’t allowed himself to feel for years. After what seemed like an eternity, Jordan spoke. His voice was a hoarse, pained whisper: ‘My... my son...’

Jordan felt a hand on his shoulder, and slowly turned to see Trevor and the others watching on. The battle was over. ‘I’m, sorry, Jordan. I.. I know how you must feel—’ Trevor stopped, shocked by what he saw. For the first time in over fifteen years...

Jordan was crying.

 

 

Copyright © 1999 Trevor Balena
Published on the World Wide Web by "www.storymania.com"