The End is the Beginning
Protector had never wanted to lead the Last Champions. She knew what they thought when they looked at her, and she knew who they thought of when she gave commands, but she was not Defender. Her armour was a refitted version of Defender’s that she’d fluked into owning. She had enough technological knowledge to repair the suit, and enough skill to pilot it, but she was no Defender. Protector had given up telling others this though. She looked the part of the leader, and her team looked to her for leadership, worthy or not.
Not that there was much team left. After the Battle for Vibora Bay, there had been dozens of heroes striving to save the world. As Edom-Destroyer gained more power, many threw themselves to their dooms trying to stop him. It had been months since Protector had seen any of the other hero teams. Her own team had died around her; dwindling the numbers to only three; herself, Trajectory, and Morgan.
Protector looked down at Jury’s Brig from the roof of the ruined building across the road. She checked her comm. for the fifth time, hoping to see a new post from Trajectory. Protector had sent the speedster ahead to scout ages ago. Trajectory had ran a few laps around Jury’s Brig, and had been texting in her report when everything had gone wrong. There had been the sounds of battle, and then nothing. Despite this, Protector waited. She looked again at her comm., and read the last burst of text from Trajectory.
ENTIRE SQUAD OF TROOPER BOTS. FAR TOO MUCH SECURITY TO BE JUST A TECH LAB. RA MAY HAVE BEEN ON TO SOMETHING
“She’s not coming back, is she?” Morgan hid beneath a cascade of red hair, and wept quietly. A self taught magician, Morgan was being tracked relentlessly by Edom-Destroyer’s Witch Hunters. Magic was long banned, and any practice of it was a crime punishable by death. Despite being hardened by life on the run, Morgan was still just a kid, barely in her teens. She’d seen team members die before, and she reacted with the same bitter tears each time.
“We’ll mourn later,” Protector stated coldly. She was glad her half mask hid her emotions; now was not the time for them. “Trajectory led most of the troopers to the opposite side of the building. We may have a path in.”
Protector didn’t look at Morgan as she gave the command. Right now, she couldn’t force herself to make eye contact. She knew she was right, but she hated having to make the call. Trajectory was dead, or worse, and they had to move beyond that. Protector looked down on Jury’s Brig, and magnified her vision in on the side of the building.
“Alright,” she stated. “There are three basic trooper bots at the door. The others are bound to be back any moment.” It had been a long climb up, and Protector’s rocket boots had failed a long time ago. She glanced at Morgan. “Can you get us down there?”
Morgan nodded once without looking back. She muttered a few incantations, and motioned out an intricate pattern. There was a flash of violet energy around the two girls as they were teleported to the streets below.
Protector brought her defences up as soon as the two materialised. There was little left to connect her suit to Defender’s beyond cosmetic design. The rockets boots were gone, as were the secondary weapons. The super strength the suit had once supplied had never worked to begin with, as Protector had had to redesign the exoskeleton to fit her much-smaller-than-Defender’s body. In fact, the main energy bolts didn’t even work the way Defender’s original ones did. Protector depended on the Harmon Field Generator; and experimental piece of tech that provided both a kinetic pulse attack, as well as a defensive force field. Protector was quite good with the Harmon Field though, and didn’t miss the rest of the suit’s functions that much. It had taken a lot of trial and error, but she’d mastered the field, and even managed to change a few of its diameters.
Protector fanned her hands out, and sent a wide arcing blast towards two of the troops before the robots registered that she and Morgan had appeared. Morgan clenched her hand into a fist beside Protector, and watched as the third trooper bot crumpled like a can. Morgan waved dismissively, and the front door of Jury’s Brig vanished in a flash of purple. The two girls rushed in.
Jury’s Brig looked a lot like an old garage. There was a maze of metal shelves, stacked with boxes of random machine parts. Tools lay on work tables, and stacks of large machines covered the area. There was even an old jalopy up on the lift in the middle of the room.
The far wall was taken up by one giant construction, which to the untrained eye could be mistaken for just another pile of random machinery. Morgan stared at the giant machine. It looked like a pile of rusted metal gone horribly wrong. The only discernable point of it was a platform leading to a massive portal. Protector circled the machine, flicking switches, and powering up the makeshift generators that littered the ground around the metal monstrosity. “What is it?”
“I don’t know,” Protector answered honestly. “I know what it’s supposed to be though.” She looked over to Morgan. “I was told that there might be a weapon here, something we could use to stop the Edom-Destroyer.” Protector fiddled with some dials as she continued. “Ra wasn’t clear on it…”
“Cause he never is,” Morgan interrupted with a roll of her eyes.
“He wasn’t clear on it,” Protector continued, “but he said that this weapon could be used to make sure the Edom-Destroyer never happened.” Protector stepped back, as the machine hummed for a second with energy. She gave a slight frown as it stopped, and began playing with the machinery again. “I had my doubts, but I think this is…”
A broken laugh echoed through the room, and interrupted Protector. “Oh, is it cosplay night? Let me guess who you both are; Teen Chick Defender and Goth Bait Witchcraft? Well done, both of you. Now, can you guess who I am?”
The man talking stepped into the center of the room. He wore an old style one piece of grays and browns, and a tattered cape hung from his back. Like Protector, he wore a half mask, though his had yellowing pointed wings around his eyes. The whole of his suit was stained, and there was a stale odour that clung to the man. He was unkempt; with a matted beard, and strands of hair that escaped the holes in his mask. His belt buckle had a faded ‘F’ on it.
“Foxbat,” Morgan stated with unhidden disdain.
“Close,” The old villain noted with a sneer. “But it’s Shadow-Bat now.” He bowed low. “Still it’s nice to meet someone who thinks they know me.”
“Oh, I know you,” Morgan commented. She smiled slightly to Protector. “I found an old file on this guy? He’s a joke.” She didn’t notice as Shadow-Bat’s smile faltered. “He shoots plastic balls at people, and gets beat down by nobodies.” Morgan stepped forward, and waved to both Protector and the machine. “You make whatever that thing is work,” she noted with a smirk. “I got this.”
“Pretty brave, little girl,” Shadow-Bat commented with a sneer. “That’s the problem with kids these days; no respect for their elders.” Shadow-bat brushed his cape aside; gunslinger style, and hovered his hand over his Ping Pong Gun.
Morgan made a scoffing noise as Shadow-Bat reached for his weapon. She was already preparing a spell, but without any actual urgency. She barely saw the movement as Shadow-Bat whipped his other hand forward, and fired a quite regular pistol at the young girl.
Morgan gasped as the bullet tore through her stomach. She finished the motions of her spell through trained practice. Shadow-Bat cleared the scant distance between them, and landed a solid forward kick into her midsection. He grabbed her hand, and redirected the built up mystic energy at the stunned Protector.
There was an explosion of purple energy, and Protector was tossed backwards. The wall crumbled as she slammed into it, and the shelves around her collapsed in a spray of molten aluminium and eldritch power. Protector was buried in an avalanche of debris and forgotten equipment.
Protector groaned, and struggled to free herself. The force field that normally surrounded her was offline. She couldn’t see what was on her, but whatever it was was heavy, and had pinned her legs. From her vantage, she saw Shadow-Bat land another kick into Morgan’s bullet wound. The young girl cried out, and curled into a ball.
Protector aimed her palm at Shadow-Bat. “You get away from her,” she warned. “You get away from her now.” There was a flicker of blue energy around Protector’s gauntlet, and then nothing. Protector frantically flexed her hand towards Shadow-Bat again, managing to throw a few feeble trickles of energy his way.
Shadow-Bat laughed at Protector. “American made technology. Am I right fellas?” He mimed adjusting a tie when Protector didn’t reply. “Tough crowd,” he declared. “It’s probably for the best. We’ll want absolute quiet for my next trick.”
“Stay away from her!” Protector screamed as Shadow-Bat stood over Morgan. She shoved with all her might against the rubble pinning her leg. The Defender’s suit was built for Super Strength, but she’d made so many alterations to the exoskeleton just to make the suit fit that it no longer worked. She punched desperate commands into the suit’s comm., hoping to get the blasters back online.
“Harmon Field inactive. Recharge in two minutes, thirty two seconds.” The computer explained quietly. “All connected systems are offline. Two minutes, twenty five seconds left.”
“No! Override! I need them now!” Protector looked back to Shadow-Bat. “You leave her alone!” she cried out at the villain. “Please! Just, just please leave her alone!”
Shadow-Bat tilted his head at Protector, and put a finger to his lips. “Shhh,” he commanded. “You’re going to miss the best part.”
Shadow-Bat turned his full attention to Morgan. She lay fetal on her side, grasping at the bullet wound on her gut. Morgan looked through the pain at Shadow-Bat, and tried to mutter up some conjuration. He chuckled at her, and brought his foot hard down onto her shoulder, pushing her onto her back. Whatever spell she’d been hoping to use was lost in a scream. She clawed at his boot, desperate to get him off.
“Cute kid,” Shadow-Bat commented offhand. He gave Protector a brief wicked smile, and casually soccer kicked Morgan in the side of the head. There was a sick cracking noise as the young girl’s neck gave. Morgan’s hands fell away from Shadow-Bat’s leg.
Shadow-Bat gave Protector a ‘what are you going to do’ shrug. “Them’s the breaks, right?” He smiled wide, and trained his pistol at Protector. “Well, this has been fun, but I think we should probably end it now, huh?”
Protector looked past Shadow to Morgan. “You bastard,” she uttered. “She was just a child.”
Shadow-Bat looked surprised for a moment. He laughed openly at Protector. “Oh, and you’re not?” Shadow-Bat shook his head. “You ask me, I’m doing you both a favour. This day and age? You’re lucky to find someone who’ll just kill you.” His smile vanished. “I’ve seen what some of the others would do to you. There’s bad guys like me, then there’s just plain evil.”
Shadow-Bat’s stared at Protector with sudden disgust. His voice went suddenly shrill as he yelled at Protector “You kids think you’re the Champions?” Shadow-bat pointed at Protector’s armour. “I bet you’ve never even met Defender. You don’t even know what it was like back then.” Shadow-Bat sighed deep, and lowered his gun for a moment. “I miss the old days, you know that? Heroes thick as locusts in the air. Sapphire videos on the TV. All the juicy rumours of what Defender and Witchcraft do in their spare time.” Shadow-Bat shook his head slowly. “I miss the Science Monkey,” he stated under his breath. “Did you know I’d even help them sometimes? I remember back during the Qularr attack in Millennium City…”
Behind Shadow-Bat, the great machine hummed to life. Light flickered from the center portal, and a glimmer of another place began to form. Shadow-Bat didn’t notice. “Anyways, enough tripping nostalgia. I have, what, about a minute to kill you before your suit powers up again?” Shadow-Bat mocked Protector’s look of surprise. “I’d have had my computer text me, instead of announcing weaknesses out loud, but that’s just me.” Shadow-Bat’s face became stone serious, as he pulled the trigger, and fired.
Protector twisted, and took the shot to the side of her head. Her mask, like the rest of her suit, was a Kevlar knit. Her ear was ringing from the impact, but she was still alive. Shadow-Bat frowned, and fired again. This shot took Protector in the shoulder. It hurt like hell, but the bullet didn’t pierce her suit. Protector scrambled to find anything of use in the wreckage around her. A weapon of any sort. Most of it seemed to be random scrap electronics, but still…
Shadow-Bat fired another round into Protector; this time hitting her in the ribs. He slumped at the shoulders. “Your Defender Armour is actually armoured?” Shadow-Bat cursed under his breath, “Ok, that does seem like a given I guess.”
Shadow-bat fired a few more painful shots into Protector’s chest as he stalked towards her. He waved at the bottom of his face. “Half mask,” he noted. “Unless you’ve got some serious makeup, I’m betting you’re mouth isn’t protected.” He stood point blank, and aimed the gun at Protector’s face. “It’s over hero,” he stated.
“No, it’s not,” Protector mumbled feebly. “I still…” her voice trailed off.
“Mutter mutter what?” Shadow-Bat leant in. “Is that the side effects of a concussion I hear? If you’re trying for witty banter, you’re going to need to speak up.”
“I said; I have a jetpack.” Protector pulled the pack up, and pointed it at Shadow-Bat. The jets flared to life, catching Protector’s arm in the wash. She bit back the pain, and held the lurching pack a second more, aiming it at Shadow-Bat’s face. It caught Shadow-Bat under the chin like an uppercut, and threw the villain aside.
Shadow-Bat hit the ground hard, and rolled to a stop. The pack sputtered, and bounced along beside the villain. Shadow-Bat came up crouched. He ran a hand along his mouth, and flicked away the blood dramatically.
“Oh, you absolute…” He shook his head, and smiled. “Not bad. I’m sure Defender would have been impressed, for whatever that’s worth.” He rolled his eyes as he noticed his pistol laying across the room. “Guess we do this old school,” he muttered as he pulled his Ping Pong Gun from its holster. Shadow-Bat waved the bulky weapon at Protector. “Any last words? Fancy hero quip or something like that perhaps?”
Protector smiled, as the computer answered for her. “Harmon Field recharged; systems active.”
“Yeah, something like that,” Shadow-Bat noted dryly.
There was a flash of blue, and an explosion of rubble. When the villain looked back, Protector was free. The Harmon Field surrounded her like a new skin. She screamed fury, and clapped her hands together. A wave of power flowed at Shadow-Bat.
Shadow-Bat leapt over the blast. He flipped in the air, and landed with cat grace as the wave tore through shelves of equipment behind him. “Forty-seven martial arts, baby,” he bragged as he fired balls at Protector. “I just prefer shooting people.”
Protector waved dismissively at the Ping Pong balls. They exploded against a quickly formed field, and left a smear of glue floating in the air. Shadow-Bat smiled. “You know, I’ve missed this too,” he stated. “The hero/villain fights? Two epic characters facing off, right against wrong, unwavering in their….” His speech ground to a halt as Protector broke stance, and bolted past him. “Hey, where are you going?”
Protector scooped up the jet pack as she ran past the surprised Shadow-Bat. She ignored his protests as she dashed towards the machine. The slight flicker in the machine’s portal had become a full glow; and Protector could see a hazy image of a city through it.
Shadow-Bat cursed at Protector as he fired. The Pong of choice was built with localized EMPs, and passed through her field with ease. It smashed hard into her shoulder with a loud crack. Protector lurched forward, and slammed hard to her knees.
“You don’t just walk away from me,” Shadow-Bat declared. He thought on it a moment. “OK, you don’t run away, or…” Shadow-Bat looked to the exit, which was in the opposite direction Protector had run. He tilted his head as he looked over to the machine. “What exactly ARE you up to?” Shadow-Bat adjusted his aim, away from Protector and towards the machine.
Protector’s panicked at the sudden change of target. She threw her arms wide, and unleashed the full power of the Harmon Field. The blue sheath of energy that surrounded her grew outward like a shockwave, and tossed items across the room like they were toys. Shadow-Bat was thrown backwards, crashing through a series of metal shelves before they too were flung. Without looking back, Protector dashed the last few yards, and leapt through the portal. There was a flash of light, a sudden tugging sensation, and then nothing.
Protector opened her eyes. She could feel the asphalt beneath her cheek, and wondered how long she’d been laying there. The machine had done a number on her sense of time, and left her dizzy and nauseous. She struggled to her feet, and took in her surroundings.
The air was thick with smoke, and she could hear screaming coming from all directions. Buildings lay broken in the streets, and fire was everywhere. She felt her knees go weak, and struggled to stay on her feet. This couldn’t be the past; the machine was only a teleporter. She’d lost the last of her team just to be teleported across town.
“You alright hero?” A voice called out to Protector. “You are a hero right? Most of the villains buggered off when the Qularr attacked.”
Protector followed the voice. A man in a blue uniform waved for her attention. It took a moment for Protector to recognize the suit. She’d seen them during her childhood. Police men. Protector tilted her head quizzically. There were no police in her time.
She fought the vertigo, and stumbled towards the man. She meant to ask two questions at once, and settled on “When happened?”
The officer looked her over. “Jeez, you look like you’ve been fed through the shredder,” he commented offhand. “You know what’s funny? I thought you were the Defender at first. I mean from a distance. Looking at you now, I can see you’re obviously not…” The officer recognized he was babbling, and cut it short. “You alright?”
“I’m fine,” Protector insisted. She shook her head. Shadow-Bat had mentioned helping during some sort of attack. It had been what had started the machine. She was in the past after all! Now, it was all a matter of making sure the future didn’t happen. She ignored the screams of protest from her body. “I’m better than fine. Show me how to help with this mess, then show me how to find the Champions.”