The Crusaders: Order and Chaos
Part 1: Small Time
"Really?" Lizzy asked with a raised brow and an amused grin as she leaned over the kitchen counter with the tablet in her hand. "That's what you spent three days trying to come up with?"
"What's wrong with it?" Kon defensively inquired with a confused frown. "It's a cool name."
"In what world is 'Starblaze' considered a good codename? Like, for an actual superhero?"
"Are you kidding me? Come on! I mean… 'Starblaze.' It sounds better every time you say it."
"Maybe to a 12-year-old."
"Seriously? Come on!" Kon turned on his stool at the bench to face where Andrew was sitting in the living room. "Andrew, help me out here!" In that same space, Suzy and Gunk were seated beside each other on the couch, the three choosing to pass the free time they had watching afternoon television. Andrew turned in the sofa and shrugged with an apologetic smile.
"Sorry, buddy." His disappointing words came gently, but Kon still pointed his finger in annoyance.
"Oh no, you don't get to slip out that easy! Explain to me why I should go with anything else."
"Okay…well, the rest of us all have codenames that are indicative of our powers or skills. Your powers revolve around being a living energy conduit, which has pretty much nothing to do with fire."
"He's right." Lizzy added. "Suzy's a healer, we went with 'Red Cross.' Thomas has all that bat magic going on, so we chose 'Nocturne.' I'm a master of technology, 'Techsmith.' Andrew is a psychic Kung Fu fighter, 'Mind Master.' Gunk is… well, he's Gunk anyway, but you get what I'm saying."
"Um..." Kon scrambled to justify himself. As always, he deferred to his childhood idol. "...did Citizen Justice's powers revolve around justice or citizenship? No. But he's still seen as the greatest superhero of all time."
"I always preferred the Talon myself." Lizzy admitted.
"I like the 'Star' part." Andrew threw out an encouraging word, as always. "It implies the alien origins as well as the energy powers."
"Hey, what about 'Starbolt'?" Lizzy proposed. Andrew smiled and nodded in agreement, while Kon lowered his head in seeming defeat.
"God dammit." His words showed his deflation, something Lizzy was slightly concerned by.
"You okay?" Andrew chuckled as he heard Kon's psychic ticks.
"He's upset he didn't think of that first." Andrew answered on his roommate's behalf. "He quite likes it."
"Aw!" Lizzy quickly finished typing Kon's confirmed codename into her tablet, before sending the email containing the team's final name and the complete list of its member's heroic identities to the team's handler, Agent Alderman. As the message was projected into cyberspace, she lowered the tablet and leant toward Kon. "Hey, Kon? If it helps, as far as team names go, 'the Crusaders' is a pretty good one." Kon raised his head, and the two mutually smiled as they made eye contact.
"Thanks." He responded with raised spirits. "I'm sorry for pouting, I just…it means a lot to me. Being here and doing this, living my dream. I don't want anything to go wrong."
"Actually, you should be hoping for the opposite." Andrew said. "There's not much point to us being brought together if everything stays all peaceful and perfect." Andrew didn't need to see Kon or Lizzy's faces to know he made them happy. A mere moment after this was said, the door to the hallway on the right opened. Thomas' footsteps were heavy on the hardwood floor as he walked into the kitchen and, after pulling down his hood and taking off his goggles and mask, grabbed a blood vial from the storage box in the fridge, downing it in an instant. He'd been practicing hard in the training room, and it showed: even for a vampire, his skin looked drained. Despite how hard he clearly fought against the training room's holographically-generated simulations, his costume was no worse for wear. His mask was black with red armour plating over the mouth, and out of necessity, it covered his whole face save the eyes, which was where his red-lensed sun-reflective goggles came in. The rest of his suit followed the same colour scheme, made up of black-fingered armoured red gloves and armoured red boots that ran to his elbows and knees, black biceps and thighs, and more red armour that took up his torso and shoulders. Strapped to his back were two sheathes that carried his dual short swords, and from the neck of the crimson plating emerged his lowered black hood. After finishing his blood vial, he quickly turned his attention to what Gunk and Suzy were watching: an afternoon talk show, on which the as-of-yet-publically-unnamed Crusaders were the topic.
"Volume?" He requested of Lizzy, who complied by turning the TV audio up with her mind. By the time she stopped, the words of the speakers were audible to everyone. As was the standard, the host was speaking with two fellow personalities concerning the issue of the new super team.
"Well, I have to say, it's strange to see the two of you agree on something." The host commented jovially towards his co-hosts.
"Yes, well, it's not so complex an issue that it breeds disagreement." The first co-host spoke eloquently. "The situation is quite clear. The Department of Superheroic Affairs is doing what we all predicted 10 years ago and have completely turned around on the idea of superheroes operating in the present."
"Which is fine, in theory." The second co-host interjected with noticeably less smoothness. "But they've assembled this new team of superheroes, and made a big show of how they're going to change the world like the generation before them, and invested in all this money and marketing…for what? For the sake of it? Was it just the inevitable flip-flopping of the United Multiplanetary Government? The same late-in-the-game changing of mind that led to Brutika joining the UMG 15 years after the Planetary War? Why do we need these superheroes?"
"Change the channel, Gunk." Kon asked, his tone more indicative of a superior giving an order than a friend making a request. No one could quite tell if this was his leadership role accidentally leaking into his regular speech due to not having entered the field to use it, or if he really meant to sound like that.
"No, keep it on." Thomas contested. "All your talk of understanding the world through TV…about time you actually did something of the like." Gunk was unsure whether to obey his leader or his roommate. The choice was made for him when Lizzy technopathically switched the channel, an act that prompted a sigh from Thomas. "You all just want to stay in your little bubbles, don't you? Blocking out the truth."
"Which is?" Kon asked with immediate exasperation and regret.
"That this team is little more than a publicity stunt; a desperate act by an establishment dwindling in relevance to keep the public's eye trained on them." Kon immediately took the defensive.
"We're saving lives. We're repelling the next wave of supervillains."
"Where exactly is this 'next wave of supervillains' they keep going on about? Aside from some random punks with fancy guns, we're a little scarce on actual big bads to smack around. Is this what months of planning and training has boiled down to? Catching small-timers?"
"We can prevent those small-time thugs from becoming bigger threats. The DSA has been tracking down the one believed to be their commonly-employed weapons dealer for months now, and when they succeed, we'll be the ones to bring him in. And is it just me, or do you kind of sound like you WANT the lives of innocent people put at risk so you have something to do?"
"Maybe the real supervillain is among us." Lizzy joked, prompting a grin from Kon and Andrew. Thomas didn't let it deter him.
"And can't anyone else smell the desperation that went into this group's formation?" He carried on with mercy. "I mean really. Our team includes a living weapon who doesn't like fighting and thinks like a child, an engineer who seems more occupied trying to beat the record for most amount of words ever spoken in a single sentence than much else, a teenager whose power is almost entirely useless in a full-on fight, and a Citizen Justice fanboy so blinded by the ridiculous fantasies of a boy playing in his backyard to see the facts raising the middle finger to his face." His words came like gut punches to all who heard them, including Andrew, who noted his absence from Thomas' list. Kon angrily stood up and stepped forward, barely restraining the urge to punch his teammate in the jaw. The full team of six had only been brought together two weeks ago, and while that was plenty of time for everyone to get to know each other, it was also just the right amount of time for everyone to start getting sick of being stuck in the same space and having next to nothing to do. Lizzy tinkered with technology in her lab, Suzy went to school, Thomas practiced pointlessly in the training room, Kon sat around exercising his leadership as the self-appointed title-giver, Andrew cooked for everyone and Gunk watched TV. Anything would do, if it meant keeping up a pretence of 'being busy.' Though Kon had grown tired of Thomas' cynical contemptuousness delivered as deadpan as possible, his hands didn't leave his side. Lizzy's response was significantly less restrained, as she quickly made her way to where Thomas stood and angrily shoved him.
"Shut your damn mouth, asshole." She said, her aggravation dancing on her tongue.
"Such a well-articulated response." Thomas snarked. As she raised her hand to strike him once more, Gunk suddenly stood up and stretched his hand over, grabbing her wrist and pulling her to the side, Kon catching her as he released his gelatinous grip from her arm mid-pull. Suzy had retreated into lowering her head in depressed defeat; Thomas' words hit her hardest. Andrew immediately moved over to comfort her, patting her shoulders with one hand, which Thomas observed.
"Wait, don't say anything…I'll put twenty Unics on the table right that you'll say some of that monk crap about positivity." Andrew paused, before standing up and turning to Thomas. While the others reacted emotionally, he retained a collected composure as he spoke.
"Regardless of why we were brought together, the important thing is that we're here." He began. "The fact that we seem so disparate from each other on so many levels doesn't have to be a bad thing. Having grown up in a huge adopted family, I know the value of having a wide range of perspectives and opinions. And don't be so certain that there's nothing for us to do as a group: any moment, there could be an assignment sent our way that could irrevocably change us as a team."
"Speak of the devil." The familiar voice of Agent Alderman came from the opening door at the left hall, the Crusaders all turning on its sound. His suit and slicked-back blonde hair were impeccable as ever, his judging eyes kept from the Crusaders' sight by his sunglasses. "Finish up your scuffle ASAP. Briefing's in the locker room."
"Briefing?" Suzy softly inquired, her head raised once more with a curious look. Alderman almost didn't hear her.
"That's right. You have your first mission."
That night, the Crusaders found themselves at the mansion of Prometheus Innovations' CEO, Simon Christos, who was holding a party. The team's high public profile and lack of any present assignments made them the best choice for Christos to bring in as security, a precaution he needed to take for what he intended to present his guests with. The mansion was massive and immaculate, the walls all shining white as the huge golden chandelier hung in the main room above the red carpet, where the rich and well-dressed conversed and drank complimentary champagne around the expensive paintings and classy furniture. Starbolt and Mind Master stood among the people on the ground, while Red Cross and Nocturne patrolled the balcony beyond the massive glass window overlooking the enormous backyard, and Techsmith and Gunk stood watch on the roof above the front door. The four inside had donned formal wear in an effort to blend in, all in identical suits and wearing sunglasses to protect their identities. Techsmith was in her specialised Battlesuit, a power armour made of a shiny darkish-silver XO-10 metal that, despite its thickness required for the internal wiring, was mostly form-fitting, save for bulk on the back that held her jetpack and the greater amount of plating around the forearms and shoulders that concealed her built-in primary weapons. Thin blue highlights ran sparsely across the suit, showing the flow of energy from the armour's power source throughout all its systems. The helmet held in her long red hair, and its visor was a thick V-shape that concealed her face in blue light. With little else to do except subconsciously keep her suit running, Techsmith took up her favourite pastime with Gunk: talking.
"Hey, Gunk?" She began. "Thanks for helping out back there. Y'know, in the kitchen. Things were pretty heated. Dunno what I would've done if you hadn't…y'know."
"I simply dislike fighting." Gunk replied calmly. "From what I understand, you humans all have relatively short lifespans. I find it trivial to spend what little time you have with one another arguing."
"Thomas is actually a vampire and is therefore pretty much immortal, but I hear you. I guess some people handle conflict and all that better than others. I mean, did you see Andrew? He didn't try and pull any Jedi mind tricks to make him agree or anything. He just…took it. Wish I could do that. Not the mind trick, just take it. Actually, both would be pretty helpful to me, just in general…you mind if ask you something?"
"I suppose not." Gunk seemed unfazed by her rapid-fire speech
"If you're some big pacifist, why are you involved with a group of people who resolve 99% of their dilemmas through violence? Seems a little counterproductive. "
"For what Andrew talked about earlier, I suppose. The six of us are all so much unlike one another in so many ways. Moreover, I wasn't even meant to exist. There are so many questions about me that no one has the answers to…such as my own lifespan. Maybe I'll live forever, or maybe one day my cells will return to a state of inanimate life. Therefore, I find it prudent to take in as much knowledge and as many experiences as possible. Given the vastly different lives you've all led apart from each other, as well as the situations superhero teams have been historically prone to getting involved in, I think placing myself in your company will satisfy the accomplishment of that goal." Another pause went by. "Also, I wanted some friends. It's lonely living in UMG confines and destroying tanks all day." Techsmith smiled, refreshed by the childlike innocence of her comrade after the day's more complex debates.
"You're a truly fascinating specimen, Gunk."
"So I'm told."
Back in the mansion, Starbolt sipped his iced water as Mind Master adjusted his sunglasses, while guests communed about them.
"Hey Andrew, can you telekinetically grind this ice for me?" Starbolt asked out of the blue. Mind Master sighed with amusement as he heard his partner's psychic ticks.
"No Kon, I can't make your drink into snow-cone with my mind." He replied.
"Guess the Yong Zhan isn't all it's cracked up to be." He downed what was left in the glass. "I know we shouldn't drink when we're supposed to be providing security, but…I'm tempted."
"Still thinking about what Thomas said?"
"You needed to be psychic to figure that out?"
"Don't let him bring you down. He's a jerk, but his heart is in the right place."
"Yeah, it's in prime staking position."
"We all take things differently. Our opinions are shaped by our experiences. He's had 350 years worth of those. He sees things completely differently to either of us."
"Maybe that isn't so true."
"What do you mean?"
"I wasn't mad at him for talking crap about any of my idols or calling me ignorant. I think I was mad because…he was right." Andrew tilted his head in surprise.
"Gotta admit, I didn't expect that."
"I agreed to lead this team to help people who aren't as powerful as myself the way Citizen Justice did: stopping the people who abuse their own power because they can. I can't hope to do that without anybody to lead us against. And he's even more right about how we were just thrown together. Even if we do come across some villainous plan, who's to say I can even pull us together to stop it? Honestly, we'd be better off if HE was leading us." Andrew smiled and shook his bowing head. "What?"
"Just thinking of how satisfying it'll be when all this works out. And it will. For every good person like you, there's four bad...something my father taught me. When one of them rears their ugly head, you'll be the one to show them the inside of a Maximus cell. And as for pulling us all together to fight the good fight, take comfort in knowing that, even if no one else is, I'm on your side." Mind Master's generous words brought a smile out of Starbolt.
Out on the balcony, the atmosphere was not quite as warm between Nocturne and Red Cross. As Nocturne sipped his champagne - immune to its effects - Red Cross stared out at the field beyond the railing. Mind Master's words about the goodness of Nocturne's heart were put to the test as he tried to make conversation.
"Nice mansion." He attempted, to no response from Red Cross. "Pretty boring. I get it. Guarding some rich guy's new invention isn't exactly as stimulating as punching out solid-light entities in the training room. At least we're out of that bloody penthouse. Christ, that sounded like Andrew." His efforts were in vain, it seemed, but unbeknownst to him, Red Cross was actually focusing on building up sufficient nerve to respond to his words. "So I…"
"You're a dick." Red Cross finally said before turning and stiffly walking inside, leaving Nocturne alone.
"…wanted to apologise." He finished to himself. He tossed his champagne over the balcony's railing before following her inside to watch her back.
The tinging of a metal fork to a glass of champagne broke through the conversations on the ground floor, an effort by Christos, standing on the room's overseeing walkway above his guests, to draw the attention of the partygoers. The indoor Crusaders looked up to watch as well.
"Excuse me, everyone." He began, anxious to get down to business. "Firstly, I'd like to thank you all for coming out here to celebrate with me. Prometheus Innovations has worked long and hard for this, and it's a real pleasure to host you all. I founded Prometheus Innovations to help people and to make the world a better place. This, ladies and gentlemen, may stand to be the company's greatest achievement yet. I present to you, Apollo!" A holographic screen projected onto the wall behind him, displaying videos and images of Prometheus Innovations scientists working in a dark metal laboratory on six blue bars that glowed with a constant pulse of energy, contained within a metallic cylinder. The sudden spectacular display brought a shared gasp from the people below, save Andrew and Thomas, who respectively couldn't see it and didn't particularly care. "Our company's off-world researchers have been working with our team here on Earth, to find a way to fuse the technological and scientific capabilities of two worlds. The goal: produce an unlimited source of clean energy with which to continue the effort to make every world in the UMG as tightly-knit and universally-accessible as they can be. On the list of breakthroughs in that endeavour to further unite the known universe, many acknowledge the perfection of universal living conditions across the six UMG planets, and the advancement of interstellar travel to enable casual space exploration and interplanetary visitation, as being among the greatest triumphs humans and aliens have accomplished together. We believe the invention of the Apollo energy source will earn a place beside those achievements. But only by joining forces here, and bringing all our individual brands of influence and resources together, can we use this great power to help-"
Suddenly, the lights began to flicker. The holo-screen shut down. Starbolt felt as though there was energy being sucked from him, the glass in his hand starting to slip from his fingers as a result. Mind Master could sense something strange, forming in the centre of the room the more his roommate winced. It was a mind. Dim and slowly-forming, but present. In the time it took him to realise what was happening, the various power outlets throughout the room began to project bolts of electricity to the spot in the floor's centre Mind Master detected the presence at, which caused the frightened crowd to disperse and flee in different directions. As the four Crusaders in the room watched in shocked astonishment, the electric bolts converged and slowly formed a ball of light, that quickly expanded and burst like a great bubble. In the wake of the flash stood a towering beast that the Crusaders could barely make out through the lingering light in their eyes. With electricity-conducting towers emerging from its back, black legs that looked robotic in design, gigantic black metal hands, huge rippling muscles and a Frankenstein-like pattern of skin grotesquely stitched together to form its upper body, it stood in place, slack-shouldered and lowly growling. Its head turned as it scanned the room. Its black eyes assessed the four Crusaders, but it in no way regarded them further. However, upon looking at Christos, it was suddenly filled with violent vigour. After flexing its arms and twisting its face with fury, it let out a deep, bloodcurdling scream, aimed straight at the petrified CEO.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed. If you're really liking this story so far, give it a favourite, and tell your fellow authors to check it out. Next chapter, the Crusaders vs the monster! If you have anything to say or suggest, any plot holes to point out, details needing clarification, or general questions to ask, feel free to PM me or leave a review. Finally, be sure to check out my community, The All-Star Multiverse, and my Facebook page, PancakeOverdose! As always, take care.