“What do you mean The Eagle invited us to his house and he’s not even here?!” Jeremy shouted at Sabrina.
“Of course he’s not here, that’s why you’re here. We need to go save him and the rest of the Assembly,” Sabrina attempted to explain.
“How are we supposed to save the greatest heroes on Earth?” Mandy Tune demanded.
“Because The Insider doesn’t know us like he knows them,” Sabrina hopelessly replied.
“I know you’re not up on the superhero scene, but The Insider is dead,” Blaze argued. “Major Justice killed him in Assembly of Heroes 2: The Insider’s Betrayal.”
“It also happened in real life, genius,” Mandy retorted. Her brother Tommy sat next to her, nodding his head silently.
“Is this some kind of joke?” Laura accused Sabrina.
“No!” Sabrina shouted, trying to gain control of the situation. “The Eagle brought you here so that we could go get them out of trouble. He told me himself.”
“Well she is The Eagle’s pet,” Tommy interjected.
“Hey!” Sabrina shouted at the bulky nineteen year-old, offended by his backhanded insult.
“I say we just sit here and wait for Jason to get back and we ask him,” Jeremy suggested.
Sabrina rubbed her face with both of her hands. She had not expected this part of the assignment to be the most difficult. She considered just going off the face The Insider alone.
Then she had an idea.
“Who wants to see the original IAS headquarters?”
The rest of the group went silent for short moment before jumping up with glee. She had finally found something that appealed to their interests. She quickly led them to the basement door before their short attention spans could wander elsewhere.
She swung open the wooden door before placing her hand on the steel security door. After scanning her hand print, a small hole opened up and a small laser shot out to perform a retinal scan. Upon completion of the retinal scan, another hole opened up below the first. Sabrina breathed into the hole before stating her full name.
“Recognized,” an electronic female voice said before sliding open the security door.
“Told you,” Tommy Tune muttered to his sister from behind Sabrina.
Sabrina bent forward at the waist and delivered a hard kick to Tommy’s gut.
He made an “oof” sound as he buckled over, clutching his gut. Laura giggled and patted the poor dumb oaf on the back before following Sabrina into the basement.
“Rufus!” Blaze bellowed after catching his first glimpse of the basement. The others echoed his amazement, taking a moment to appreciate the fact that they were standing in a room few others had ever been allowed to see.
“What’s with the clothing rack?” Laura asked, pointing to the rack of remaining uniforms that Jason had left pulled out of the wall.
“Those are for us to wear when we go save the people currently wearing the uniforms not on this rack,” Sabrina replied.
The room grew quiet as everyone’s attention shifted to the missing uniforms.
“You’re serious?” Jeremy asked, receptive for the first time since he’d arrived.
Sabrina widened her eyes and lowered her head to accentuate the fact that she was deadly serious. “Yes.”
“Sit down guys,” Jeremy ordered, gesturing to the chairs around the poker table and taking a seat in one himself.
Sabrina inhaled deeply, frustrated by the fact that the group had been willing to follow Jeremy’s instructions without question after they had blatantly ignored hers for the last half hour.
She exhaled and calmed herself before walking over to the table and picking up the tablet. She pulled up a picture of Insula Lacertus after the attack and flung it up onto the monitor.
“As you all know by now there’s been a recent tragedy on Insula Lactertus. You’ve probably heard that this devastation was caused by a malfunction with the fusion reactor core, causing it to go nuclear.”
Sabrina paused as the group silently acknowledged that they had in fact heard those reports.
“What you don’t know, is that this was no accident. This was the result of an attack on the Society—and more specifically the Assembly—orchestrated and performed by The Insider.”
The entire group began to mutter to themselves in disbelief.
“Walter Sykes is in fact not dead,” she continued. “He is very much alive and more powerful than ever. He managed to take control of several minds while on the island—including She-Beast—and manipulated them into using their powers to destroy the Society and everyone in it. He also somehow managed to keep anyone from realizing what was happening.”
“That’s insane,” Jeremy commented.
“And terrifying,” Mandy added.
Sabrina took a breath and let the group finish digesting what she’d told them. She was relieved that they were finally willing to listen.
“He did this all by himself?” Jeremy asked.
“No,” Sabrina answered, glad he had reminded her of that detail. “It seems our friend Bryan was with him.”
“No way!” Blaze shouted, standing out of his chair. “Bryan is a good dude. He would never do something like this.”
“You were there at the HQ building,” Laura retorted. “Him asking about where The Insider’s uniform was and then taking control of She-Beast’s mind. Of course he would join up with him after he got kicked out.”
“You can’t deny the evidence,” Jeremy added.
Blaze looked at the rest of the group who was convinced that Bryan would in fact take up arms with The Insider. He threw himself back down in his chair and crossed his arms, disappointed in the others for giving up on their friend so easily.
“It’s also very possible that Walter is controlling Bryan like the others,” Sabrina said in an attempt to dull Blaze’s concerns. “We won’t know until we get there.”
“Get where?” Tommy asked her.
“Right,” she said, flicking another image onto the monitor. “The Insider left an image of where he was hiding in Amara’s mind—here.” She pointed to the location of the cave on the monitor.
“He let the Assembly find him?” Jeremy asked in disbelief.
“Yes,” Sabrina replied flatly. “That way not only could he sense when they were coming, but they would be playing on his home turf. It offered him the greatest odds of success.”
“And they failed?” Mandy asked for clarification.
“Probably,” Sabrina responded. “If Jason’s prediction came true, by now the entire team has been captured or killed.”
“What team?” Jeremy asked.
“Four survived the attack—She-Beast, Animal, Illusion and Chip,” she told him.
“I love Chip,” Blaze interjected with a surfer chuckle.
Sabrina rolled her eyes and continued. “Actually there were five if you count Grok, but he’s unconscious upstairs.”
“Grok is here?!” Tommy shouted excitedly.
Sabrina sighed. “Yes, but his body is badly damaged and he could be unconscious for decades while he heals.”
Sabrina could see that two of the other group members were preparing to say something else about Grok, but she cut them off aggressively. “Harry and Jason went with the other four to find The Insider. Like I said, Jason was pretty sure they were going to fail which is why he brought you here. We have an advantage because he doesn’t know us and he won’t be expecting us. The plane should be on its way back from Peru as we speak.”
Sabrina went back over the information in her head to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything. She was pretty sure she’d covered everything.
“How did they think they were going to beat The Insider if he could just control their minds?” Laura inquired.
“Roger Bankman gave them these devices that prevented him from doing that,” Sabrina replied.
“How many were there?” Laura asked.
“So there aren’t any more for us to use?”
“And the greatest heroes in the world had them, but were still pretty sure they were going to fail.”
Sabrina cringed at the discouraged look on the rest of the group’s faces. She had to admit that this did feel an awful lot like a suicide mission, but she trusted Jason enough to believe in his instincts.
“Look,” she said, “I know this seems hopeless, but the leader of the greatest team of heroes ever assembled believes in us. Isn’t this why we accepted the invitation to the embassy in the first place? Doesn’t some part of you feel we’ve been waiting our whole lives for this?”
“I always thought something like this would come after training,” Jeremy murmured.
“You can’t die anyway,” Sabrina jested. “What are you worried about?”
Jeremy grinned while inside he debated whether or not to go through with this seemingly impossible mission.
“Listen,” Sabrina said, “We can face him now, or we can do it later. If Walter Sykes really does have control of the Assembly, we’re screwed either way. He will come after us eventually, only by that time we won’t have any chance of stopping him.”
Blaze slapped the table in front of him. “I’m in!”
Laura nodded and displayed a forced smile. “I’ve got nothing better to do.”
Simultaneously, the Tunes said, “We’re in.”
Jeremy grinned as he continued staring at the table. He finally glanced up at Sabrina and asked, “What’s the plan?”
Sabrina almost pumped her fist in joy at the group’s willingness to come together as a team. The enormity of what they had just agreed to was probably still a little beyond them, but they were committed.
She began with her plan, “The last thing Jason told me before he left was that The Insider is easily distracted. We are going to use that to our advantage.
“Blaze, Mandy and I will sneak into the cave first—with Blaze invisible, Mandy in gas form, and me in the shadows. He has to be looking for us to get inside our heads, so with any luck he won’t even realize we’re there.
“Once we’re inside the rest of you are going to waltz in the front door where he can easily see you come in.”
“You want to use us as bait,” Jeremy clarified.
Sabrina nodded before pointing to each individual separately. “You can’t die, you can touch the door on our way out of the basement and transform into reinforced steel, and you can increase your mass. Our abilities make us stealthy, while yours make you resilient and able to deliver the biggest punch.”
To her surprise, Laura, Jeremy and Tommy accepted her reasoning.
“While you’re distracting Bryan and The Insider, we’ll be searching for the Assembly and more importantly their Extro-Neuro Blockers—and most importantly this…”
Sabrina flung an image of the headband Bankman had designed to neutralize Walter’s powers onto the screen.
“This is what will keep The Insider from ever being able to use his powers on anyone again. Well…as long as he’s wearing it, but I don’t know who would ever take it off once it’s on.”
“Maybe Bryan,” Blaze said softly.
Sabrina put her hand over Blaze’s. “Once we’ve taken care of The Insider we will try and help Bryan. I promise.”
Blaze pretended to smile but it was clear that he was heartbroken over trusting someone who had turned out to be evil.
“Any questions?” Sabrina asked the group. She was shocked to find that they had none.
“Suit up!” she said, gesturing to the remaining uniforms on the rack.
Surprisingly—or maybe not—everyone was able to find a uniform that fit them almost perfectly, including tiny Sabrina. No one could resist the urge to smile as they donned their heroic garb. They felt like real superheroes.
“One more thing,” Sabrina said before they went upstairs to embark on their journey. “I made these while I was waiting for you guys to get here.”
Sabrina went into Jason’s workshop and came back with pieces of cut-out construction paper and one of Jason’s homemade adhesives. The group made a sound of happy surprise as she returned to the room and they saw what she had for them.
“Acrobash,” she said, placing a red cutout of an acrobat smashing through a boulder on Laura’s brown uniform. All of their uniforms had been designed for someone else, so she placed the cutouts over top of whatever symbol was currently on the chest.
Sabrina moved over to Blaze, “Ghost.” She stuck a white cutout of a generic looking ghost onto the chest of his black uniform.
“Painless.” She walked over to Jeremy and slapped a black cutout onto his green uniform.
“Is that a syringe?” he asked with a chuckle.
Sabrina laughed. “I couldn’t think of anything.”
Jeremy smiled and patted her on the shoulder. “It’s the thought that counts. Thank you.”
Sabrina nodded and walked over to Tommy and Mandy Tune. “The Elemental Twins,” she said, pressing their unique cutouts to their chest. Both were a picture of an atom—Tommy’s with an upward facing male arrow extending out from the atom’s nucleus, and Mandy’s with a downward facing female arrow. Tommy proudly wore the blue cutout on his grey uniform and Mandy’s pink cutout rested on the chest of her baby blue uniform.
“What about you?” Blazed asked her when she was finished with everyone else’s.
Sabrina held up a cutout of a brown bird and stuck it on the padded chest of her black uniform.
“Sparrow,” she said with a smile.
“Brown on black?” Mandy asked critically.
Sabrina shrugged. “Just the way it worked out.”
She felt a great sense of pride as she looked around the room at everyone in their uniforms. They all seemed pleased to have a symbol representing their individual identity displayed proudly on their chest. Sabrina could feel herself smiling from ear to ear—she was about to march into what was probably her certain demise and yet she couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so happy. Somehow—for the first time in her life—among this group of people she barely knew—she felt like part of a family.
“Now we’re real superheroes.”
Jason regained consciousness as Walter released control of his mind. It was like waking up from an unexpected nap only he remembered every minute of it.
He looked around and saw that he was strapped to some kind of stone slab, unable to move. The rest of the team appeared to be in the same predicament.
He sighed, remembering that he voluntarily put himself onto the slab while Walter was in control. The rest of the team had done the same. He looked over at Harry who was strapped to the slab next to his.
“He really did a number on you, didn’t he?”
Harry’s gazed remained forward. “This is for the best. Walter is the only true hero in this world.”
“Good grief,” Jason replied, rolling his eyes. Until they got that band around Walter’s head, Harry was going to be useless to them.
The band. Harry must have handed it over to Walter. Jason looked up to see their enemy and his teenage deputy watching them from another cavern up above.
“Bloody hell,” he heard Eric say from somewhere nearby. “What happened to Amara?”
“We gave her a sedative,” Harry responded flatly. “Walter helped her drink it.”
“What’s with Major Cult over there?” Eric asked sarcastically.
“Brainwashed,” Jason answered.
“I thought Mister Bionic Brain was immune to that sort of thing.”
Jason sighed. “I guess that explains how Walter convinced Harry he’d killed him twenty years ago.”
“Well that’s just great,” Eric replied in frustration.
“I guess those devices Bankman gave us weren’t much help then,” Antonio’s voice spoke from elsewhere in the cavern.
“I should have known Bryan’s telekinesis would operate on a different frequency,” Jason spoke in a defeated tone.
“Don’t you see? We have found truth,” Harry said, adding his brainwashed philosophy to the conversation.
“Oh shut him up!” Eric yelled in an irritated British rage.
“Sammy?” Jason called out, not yet having heard from the human wifi connection.
“Yeah, I’m here,” she called back. “Just incredibly annoyed.”
Jason almost chuckled. “Can you connect to any of their systems?”
“No, already tried that,” she responded. “If they had anything operating on a wireless frequency they’ve shut it down. I can’t connect to anything.”
“Damn,” Jason muttered to himself.
“So I guess this is it then,” Eric lamented, “the world belongs to Walter. God help us all.”
“God would want this,” Harry interjected.
“I swear to God I’m going to kill you if we ever get out of this!” Eric yelled at the brainwashed hero.
“Relax Eric,” Jason said, trying to tame the wild animal. “There’s still hope.”