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SUPER HERO CHRONICLES - CITADEL: RISE OF THE HEROES (PART 4)

by Travis Berketa 6 months ago in Series · updated 5 months ago
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In an alternate universe, where superpowers are realised, the city of Citadel, Australia, finds that heroes can rise from the most unlikely places, even when villainy begins to spread.

RECAP: While assisting in an Egyptian excavation site, Jennifer Hans found herself trapped in an antechamber of the lost ruins of the Temple of Bastet. Meanwhile, in Citadel, Padrick Panthia III (who funded the Egyptian excavation) was still trying to hunt down the missing Jewel of Bast, which was locked away in the body of Doctor Samuel Hopper's missing R.I.C.K.I. robot. The mysterious man in black known as Severoin was hired to retrieve the robot and wouldn't want a small thing like an explosion to tarnish his name amongst his rich and powerful clients.

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Eight Years Ago…

The newly found Temple Ruins of Bastet

Bubastis, Egypt

22nd March 8:09am EET (4:09pm AEST)

As the shaft of light returned, the teenager slumped on the mound with a sense of tiredness that seemed to have crept up on her. [Image by Travis Berketa]

Jennifer awoke with a beam of light shining down on her. Dizziness took her over, as she strained to move her head to check her surroundings. While she gradually came to her senses, she found herself on the mound of sand that she had first fallen on. Jennifer looked around to see if the lioness was about, but all she could see were the many golden treasures and mummified cats. She brought her hands to her temples and closed her eyes in the hope that the dizziness would pass.

“Was I dreaming about the whole thing?” Jennifer silently questioned herself. She looked up at the hole she had fallen through, squinted as the light hit her eyes, and then gripped the sides of her head and screamed, rolling off the mound, away from the light.

“Jennifer!” Michelle’s panicked voice called from above, “Jennifer, are you okay? Jennifer – where are you?”

Jennifer’s eyes fixed on the hole above where she could clearly see Michelle’s eyes scanning the chamber for her. “I’m… I’m down here,” Jennifer answered, as she dragged herself up onto her elbows. “Can’t you see me? I’m over here!” She waved her arms, hoping that it caught the archaeologist’s attention.

There was a pause as Michelle strained to see her in the darkness. “It’s too dark, Jennifer. Are you okay? I heard your scream.”

“I’m… I’m okay…” Jennifer replied, placing a hand up to her temple, but this time it was because she noticed that the dizziness and pain had ceased. “You really can’t see me down here?” She was trying to come to terms with the fact that she could see everything around her and Michelle was unable to see her.

“I can hear you,” Michelle responded, “How’s the leg?”

Jennifer suddenly realised that her leg was meant to be in pain, but it was not. She sat up and rubbed it with her hands, although she could see there was nothing wrong with it. “Um… it’s still a bit sore,” she lied. Jennifer ran her hand over her leg once more as she inspected it and shook her head. “What the hell is going on?” She whispered to herself and began running her hands all over her body. “This place is meant to be in darkness, but I can…” Her thoughts began, until they were interrupted. “You can see because we have become one, daughter,” a familiar voice growled at her, “You did the right thing, child – we shall live again!”

Jennifer held her head in her hands, as the lioness’ voice rang in her skull. Her hands suddenly came to her neck, where she felt a foreign object hanging.

“You’re not claustrophobic or anything, are you?” Michelle asked, oblivious to anything that was going on with Jennifer.

“No. I just want to get out of here!” Jennifer told her, as the fear of having the lioness in her head brought on dread.

“It’s alright, Jennifer, Allen put a more urgent call in to the authorities… I’m sure they’ll get here soon,” Michelle explained, before her head shifted from the hole for a few seconds and then returned. “They might be here now… I’ll just check. Hold on a minute.” Michelle left and Jennifer could hear the archaeologist's hopes and fears, as she raced across the excavation site.

Jennifer took it as a chance to examine the necklace around her neck. It was the most beautiful necklace she had ever seen. Made of gold, the circular necklace appeared to have a pool of amber with eight small golden cat-heads spaced out evenly inside the amber. Petite stones of amethyst fused into emerald sat between each cat-head and at its centre a much larger emerald held another amethyst.

“This is the talisman. I’m wearing the talisman…” she said to herself, before realising the significance of her words, “I’m wearing the talisman! That’s why my leg feels better! That’s why I can see in the darkness! That’s why…”

“That is why we are out of the antechamber,” a voice purred in her head.

The shock of hearing Sekhmet’s voice had Jennifer grasping at the necklace. “No… no… no… no…” she pulled at it, considering whether to take it off or not. Each time she chose to take the talisman off, there was a pull to leave it on.

“They’re here!” A voice sounded from above. Jennifer took a few seconds to realise that it was not a voice in her head, but Michelle had come to the hole once more. “Are you okay, Jennifer?”

Michelle’s voice was the circuit breaker that gave Jennifer the will to take the talisman off. She screamed with the pain of removing the necklace. It felt as though part of her was being ripped out. Heaving steadily to calm herself, she thrust the talisman into one of the side pockets of her cargo pants.

“Jennifer!” Michelle’s alarmed voice shouted, before it faded a little to say, “She just screamed… I’m not sure what’s going on… she won’t talk to me…”

“I’m okay!” Jennifer called back, as she gasped from the pain returning back to her leg. Michelle’s head blocked the light and Jennifer felt the darkness overwhelm the chamber once more. Her eyes could see nothing. She felt the sudden urge to put the talisman back on, but fought it.

“Jennifer, what’s wrong?”

“It’s alright… I just… I just rolled onto my leg,” Jennifer lied, as she began dragging herself in the direction of the mound of sand.

“They’re bringing the ropes…” Michelle reported, “I’m going to step away, so they can get to you. You’re safe now, Jennifer.”

As the shaft of light returned, the teenager slumped on the mound with a sense of tiredness that seemed to have crept up on her. She heard voices shouting above. She glimpsed a rope being hoisted down. Figures began to surround her, as she faded into blackness, somehow knowing that she was now safe.

The Panthia Family Mansion

Brighton, VIC Australia

23rd April 9:33pm AEST

"If I may say, Master Paton, that book has been sitting on that table for the fifteen years that you have been absent..." [Image by Travis Berketa]

“We were not expecting you, sir,” The butler said with a hint of surprise in his tone, as he escorted the visitor into the library, where the familiar smell of old books filled the man’s nostrils. The visitor was not very tall, although his muscular physique showed through the white shirt and gunmetal grey slacks that he was wearing. The man wore a grim expression under a mess of long black hair, which revealed little more than the uneasy feelings he was emanating. “Will you be staying the night, Master Paton? I mean… I could take your bag, if you would like.”

“Not at the moment, Alex,” Paton replied curtly. “Besides it’s not up to me as to whether I’m staying or not, is it?”

The butler shifted uncomfortably, before placing a chair in front of Padrick Panthia III’s mahogany desk. “Well then, if you just make yourself comfortable, sir, I will get your father.”

“Thanks, Alex,” Paton replied, as he dumped his bag on the chair and proceeded to explore the library for any signs of change.

It had been fifteen years since Paton Panthia was in this room. He had hoped that he would never see it again, but he made a promise to his grandfather that he had to keep. He wandered to the antique black leather sofa by the far window and noticed the large leather-bound book sitting on the vintage Georgian Oak side table. It was the last book he saw before he left, and he did not even know its title. Hearing footsteps, he looked about to see if he was still alone and then picked up the book and eyed the cover.

“Your father will be here in a few minutes, sir. He is just finishing some business…” The butler walked in to inform him, before spotting the book in Paton’s hands. “If I may say, Master Paton, that book has been sitting on that table for the fifteen years that you have been absent. Your father felt guilty for what had happened and has not disturbed this area of the library since then.”

Paton wanted to tell Alexander that he did not care, but he had to restrain his feelings if he was going to fulfil his promise. “I have missed the place, Alex,” Paton lied, as he looked up at the high ceiling. “I guess I should have got all of the facts before… well, I hope that it can all be mended.”

“I am sure that it can, sir,” The butler said with a smile. “Is there anything else I can get you – a drink, perhaps?”

“No thanks, Alex,” Paton replied, as he placed the book back onto the table. “Actually, could you tell me who my father is busy with?”

The butler looked back into the hallway, then stepped forward and uttered secretively, “I believe that it is a Mister Tyler Stone, sir. I am not familiar with him, but I do believe that he is the brother of Bastion City’s successful entrepreneur, Tyrus Stone. As to what they are talking about, I am afraid I do not know, Master Paton.”

Paton smiled at the butler in acknowledgment. “Thanks, Alex.”

The butler left the library and Paton took up the leather book again. Leaning on the arm of the sofa, he inspected the cover and noticed several dried, dark red flecks staining the leather. He took himself back fifteen years ago…

A twenty-three year old Paton Panthia was slumped on the floor; bloodied and beaten. His father stood over him with the leather-bound book in hand, heaving from the violent thrashing he had just given his son.

“Do you know what your problem is, Paton?” his father spat with such loathing, before bringing the book down on his son’s head once more. “You are nothing like your brother! You cannot handle the world as it is…” He smacked the book down again and again, as Paton attempted to protect his head. “The world is a dark, dangerous place and you will never survive!”

Paton rolled away to safety and used the black leather sofa to hoist himself up. “You think Padrick is suited for your world? He’s dying in hospital! I’m still here!”

With the speed of a wild cat, Padrick Panthia III was onto him, sending Paton sprawling onto the sofa. “You never mention your brother again! He is the only one who knows what it means to be a Panthia! You want to bring down everything I have built – just like your grandfather! But none of you will succeed – you’re just as bad as that old bastard!” the senior Panthia shrieked as he punched his son several times in the stomach, until Paton spat out blood. Realising how far he had gone, Panthia rose from the sofa and wiped at the sweat on his face. “You’re done… done with me… done with the Panthia name. Get out – I don’t want to see you anymore!”

The memories were vivid and it took all that Paton had to keep himself from ripping apart the library. He heard the footsteps and the fast-paced heartbeat before the person entered the room. Taking a breath, Paton cleared his thoughts and readied himself for the encounter.

“Paton?” The familiar Irish accent brought on the angry feelings, but Paton was able to suppress them, like he had been taught. “It’s really you, son.”

Paton turned to look at the man as he entered the room. Apart from the vivid streaks of white hair appearing on his head, his father had not changed much; even the suit that the old man wore looked like the same one that he had been wearing on that fateful night, fifteen years ago.

An awkwardness set in, as Paton nodded to his father; “Dad.”

The older man spied the leather book and then eyed his son off guardedly, before stepping a little closer. “So how do we do this?”

Paton felt like throwing the book at the man, but he knew that it would be useless. His father possessed the same powers as he did, so he would be able to dodge the book before it even got close. Instead, Paton placed the book back on the side table and took some cautious steps forward.

Taking another step and with his arms raised, as if to show that he was surrendering, Padrick Panthia III forced a smile, “Do you need to hit me so this chapter can close? What is it you want from me, Patty?”

Paton had thought about this moment for a long time, and for his plan to work, this would have to be the point at which everything would have to seem realistic enough to gain his father’s trust again. “Why? That’s all I want to know, Dad – why?”

“Why?” Panthia appeared baffled and a sneer crossed his face as he said, “You really expect me to believe that you don’t know why? The fact that you wanted to bring down the corporation because of your pathetic beliefs about what is right and wrong…” The old man caught himself before his anger took over. He breathed in to calm himself and a sadness came over him. “You know Padrick passed away… two years after you left.”

Paton nodded. “I heard about it.”

“They say he deteriorated quickly… went in his sleep,” Panthia added.

“You’ll have to forgive me if I’m not all choked up about it, Dad,” Paton commented, “He was always a bastard to me.” He took another step closer, making his father draw back a little. “You still haven’t told me why, Dad. Why did you beat the crap out of me and kick me out? I only asked you about the corporation’s shady dealings and… well…” He gestured in the direction of the leather book.

His father’s eyes darted from Paton to the book and back again. “You came to me with such a cocky swagger… questioning my ethics in regards to some of the corporation’s dealings… and… and – well, your grandfather did the same. He came to Panthian with the Citadel Legion; as though his Dark Pantha guise would instill enough fear in me to make me surrender and allow him to take over the company.” Seeing his son’s quizzical look, Panthia felt a sense of confidence wash over him. “That’s right, Patty, I bet the old bastard didn’t tell you that did he? He wanted the corporation for himself and his Legion! Everything I built – none of it was his doing – he wanted everything I created! And when I didn’t give in to his threats, he made out that the Panthian Corporation was corrupt in some way!”

Paton took this in thoughtfully, as he heard his father’s heart skip a few beats with each lie. However, Paton’s goal needed his father onside – and it needed to be believable. “So because Pa questioned you about it, you decided that that was enough to almost beat me to death? I was your son, Dad…” He left the sentence hanging to see how his father would react.

“I know you’re angry, Patty… I can hear it in your heart beat,” Panthia told him, “But you need to understand – your mother had passed three years earlier and I was left with two teenage boys to raise… I had the business and your grandfather and his Legion were breathing down my neck… then, when Padrick tried to take down the Legion by himself, Mr. Lightning and Flightpath did a number on him... they murdered him!”

“He was mentally unstable, Dad!” Paton exclaimed, not wanting to hide his dislike for his brother. “He killed two bystanders and tried to rip apart Axlotl, when all she was doing was trying to get people to safety! Lightning struck him and Flightpath grabbed him to remove him from the situation… Padrick cut her arm while she flew and she dropped him… that’s how he died – that’s what killed him!”

“Lies – all lies – that bastard, Lightning, electrocuted him to put him out of action and then Flightpath took him up and threw him down, just to make sure he was dead!” Panthia cried bitterly. “You’ve been speaking to your grandfather and he has filled your head with lies... is that why you returned – to kill me?”

Paton shook his head and remained calm. “I have spoken to Pa and he told me so many things,” he said truthfully, “I just want to know if they’re true. I know all corporations have some sort of shadowy side dealings at times and I’m sure Panthian is much the same; but it’s the murders that I want to know about.”

“Murders?” Panthia repeated with a quizzical look. Paton could hear his father’s heart jump at the mention, before returning to a somewhat quickened pace.

“You told me that the Dark Pantha killed my grandmother – your mother – is that true?” Paton questioned and a form of relief came over the older man’s face. “Pa told me that you were the cause…”

“Of course he would!” Panthia growled menacingly. “He came into Panthian with his Legion while your grandmother was visiting. I told her to back away, because Dark Pantha had that look of hate in his eyes. Your grandfather kept ordering me to hand the corporation over to him, so that his Legion could use it for their own purposes, but I denied him! Then when your grandmother intervened and told him to leave, he… he grabbed her by the throat and threw her across the room! He was a violent bastard, Patty – you have to know that! It’s where we all get our tempers from!” The old man softened a little and his face looked almost pleadingly at his son. “I know that he has filled your head with all kinds of stories – that’s just what he does. Is anything I say going to change your mind about me, Patty, or is this all there is between us now?”

Paton sighed and shook his head. He paced up and down the Persian rug, before muttering, “Between you and him, I’m getting so many different stories… I just want to know the truth.” He looked up at his father accusingly. “He said you had mum killed – is that true?”

Anger filled Panthia as he slammed his fist against one of the book shelves, knocking several books to the floor. “How dare he… how dare he try and demonise me in front of you! Your mother was dying of cancer – you know that! You know I was by her bedside day and night, as she languished.” Through gritted teeth he snarled, “He claims that I poisoned her – is that correct?”

Paton nodded.

“And you believe him – after everything we went through, Paton?” He turned and waved his son away. “For all I know, your grandfather killed her. He never did like your mother; told me I was a fool to marry her. But I did love her… you know I did, Patty.”

Paton heard his father’s heart skip a beat. The lie continued, he thought to himself, before leaning across the desk. “Look into my eyes, dad, tell me that Pa was the criminal you claim that he was.”

“Surely you can hear it in my heartbeat,” his father suggested, more than questioned. When Paton shook his head, Panthia forgot himself for a second, and a slight grin teased the corner of his mouth, before it went back to its usual grim state. Then, he looked directly into his son’s green eyes. “The Citadel Legion was a criminal organisation, using its heroic status as a front. They would work with super-villains to create distractions and then come in and clean-up the situation. Why do you think so many villains made it back out onto the streets? Your grandfather, the Dark Pantha, would set them free before they even made it through the court system. He’s a liar, a thief and a murderer!” Panthia broke eye contact and once more waved his son away. “There – you’ve broken me! Is that what you wanted, Paton? You want to see me at my weakest? The Dark Pantha was supposed to be my father. He was supposed to be a hero. But instead I found out what he truly was and since then he has wanted to bring me down. The only way I could possibly have become the murderer that he claims I am is if I came face to face with him - because I wouldn't hesitate to kill him right now.”

Paton turned and picked up his backpack, as his father walked around to his desk and slumped down in his seat. Paton carried the bag to his father’s table, intriguing the old man. Tipping the backpack’s contents onto the desk, a clanging sounded, as two silver gauntlets landed in front of them.

Panthia’s forlorn figure took in the gauntlets and his demeanour changed to one of disbelief, before he caught himself and asked in a quiet tone, “Are they your grandfather’s?”

Paton nodded, as he sat himself down in the chair that Alexander the butler had organised for him earlier. Pushing himself into the backrest, Paton cupped his hands together and sighed, before explaining himself. “When you threw me out of here, I went in search of Pa – you knew I looked up to him and I knew it would hurt you to know that I was living there.” Even with his heightened senses, Padrick Panthia III could not tell if his son was lying. “I wanted revenge. I wanted Pa to teach me all he knew, so that I could come here and kill you.” Paton truthfully stated, “But after many weeks of training to use my powers, Pa started saying things about you. He told me things I never wanted to hear, things that I would never have believed.” Paton nodded at his father, as though he was answering a silent question. “Yes, the murders. He wanted me to believe his stories about you murdering Mum and Ma… I think he thought he had me…” Paton pointed towards the gauntlets. “As you can see, I refused to believe him, Dad. My loyalty lies with you.”

His father was stunned. He did not know exactly what to say. His mind churned wondering what his son was up to, but Paton's heartbeat and breathing did not betray him. Panthia’s forehead creased, as he attempted to organise his thoughts – his son could have learnt how to calm his heartbeat and control his breathing, but he could not even focus enough to hear such a sound, let alone have the talent to control it. He inspected the gauntlets from where he sat and then examined his son’s earnest face.

“Well, Dad?” Paton questioned, looking into his father’s eyes, “Can I come back? I know you said you never wanted to see me again, but…” He gestured a head nod at the gauntlets, then continued, “Hopefully this shows that I’m dedicated to you. I can help with the not so legal side of the Panthian Corporation.”

For the first time in a long time, Padrick Panthia III was lost for words, but his curiosity soon had him asking, “Your grandfather, where is he now?”

Paton wrung his hands together nervously. “I hope you’re not mad, but… well, the Dark Pantha is no more.”

“You killed him?”

Paton nodded, with a hopeful look on his face. “I… I didn’t like what he was saying and he wouldn’t stop… I… I got angry and lost it and… pieces of him are floating somewhere down the Yarra.”

A smile came over Padrick Panthia III’s face and he began to laugh. “You dumped him in the river?” Paton nodded once more, as Panthia laughed again. He composed himself and pushed his chair away from the table, before standing up and walking back around to the front of his desk. He pulled his son up and hugged him. “There is no question about it, Patty, of course you are welcome. I am glad that you chose the right side.”

Paton would have liked nothing better than to grab the gauntlets and stab his father then and there, but he wanted to see his father’s face when he brought down the whole Panthian Corporation, so he decided to keep him alive a little while longer.

Upon breaking the embrace, his father put one hand on Paton’s shoulder. “I will tell Alexander to prepare your room. Then we will have to get ourselves reacquainted; fifteen years is a long time, Patty.” He looked at the gauntlets on the desk. “You can put them away for tonight, but they will come in useful within the next few weeks – it seems we may have a competitor coming to Citadel.” With that his father left the library.

Paton collected the gauntlets and placed them into the backpack once more. His grandfather had taught him how to lie, without giving it away. His grandfather had taught him everything he knew. It was now Paton’s time to return the favour. He hefted the backpack over his shoulder and turned his head in the direction of the leather book once more. He smiled at the irony of the book’s title, ‘War and Peace’ – as far as his father was concerned the war had ended and they had made peace, but in Paton's mind, the war was just beginning.

Glamoúre Fashions

Citadel Docklands, VIC Australia

18th August 8:52pm EST

She turned in the direction the lightning bolt had come from and spotted a glowing woman who appeared to be in a green and purple costume. [Image by Travis Berketa]

“Courtney, are you even listening?” Reisha exclaimed, as she helped the model into an Emilio Emiliez emerald green plunging V-neck evening dress. Courtney Maize’s manager was of a slender build, but had a spark that could ignite almost anyone into action. Always fashionably dressed, Reisha knew her clients and understood how to get the best out of them, in order to help them achieve success in their industry. “You’ve got the look they want and if you sign the contract you’ll be locked in as the face of Glamoúre Fashions for at least two years. Do you know how many models would kill for a deal like this?”

Courtney adjusted the tightly fitted bodice of the dress and spun around to allow Reisha to tie the straps up at the back. “I know, but I’m not sure I want to be locked in just yet. Seth and I are about to set a date for the wedding, now that his promotional tour is over, and I don’t want to postpone it further, because Glamoúre want me to do a shoot in some other country…”

Reisha turned Courtney to face her, and then altered the shoulder straps of the dress to sit neatly on the model’s shoulders. “And what would be so bad about having a wedding in Milan or Paris?”

“Well, first off, will Glamoúre pay for my family to be flown over for the wedding?” Courtney responded, as she checked the mirror to see if she approved of the look. “I’m guessing – no.”

“Forty-seconds before you go on, ladies,” the floor manager announced to the models that were hustling about the backstage area.

“Alright, let’s forget about all that now,” Reisha brushed the topic aside and led her client to where the models were assembling. “What I want you to do is show Glamoúre why they need you – go out there and electrify the place. This is the last one for the night, Court, so make it count.”

Courtney nodded, as she stood in the line, ready to make her way onto the catwalk.

“Okay, dar-links,” Emilio Emiliez inspected each of his five models’ outfits before giving them a faint clap of approval. “You are all so fabulous because of mine garments,” he said in his thick Argentinian accent, while jumping around in excitement. “Okay, it is nearly nine o’clock, dar-links. This is the final show; so, Emilio wants you to get out there and be beautiful!”

The models filed out one by one onto the catwalk, and Courtney was once again caught up in the flashes from the photographers that surrounded the stage. On her turn, she strutted up the catwalk, giving the right facial expressions at the right time and posing in all the right places. However, as she began walking back up the catwalk, a sudden sensation of pins and needles tingled over her body. Courtney did her best to remain steady, even though she found it difficult to feel each step she took in her stiletto heels.

Emilio Emiliez checked his watch; it was one minute to nine. He fretted as he noticed Courtney’s awkwardness. “No, no,” the designer said to himself, “This does not make mine fashions look beautiful.”

Suddenly there was a clap of thunder and the lights blinked on and off, before filling the auditorium in darkness. The crowd gasped, a few even yelped in fright, however no one moved from their seats. Thinking it was part of the show, they began to feel a little uncomfortable sitting in the darkness for what they felt was a long time, but the minute hand had only just hit the twelve – making it nine o’clock.

“What’s going on?” A cameraman was heard to question, after his camera switched off.

“We’ve lost the feed,” The floor manager replied.

Just then, a second thunderclap was heard and a bolt of lightning burst through the roof, collapsing the ceiling. Courtney shoved the model next to her into the backstage curtain, while other models screamed and leaped aside in an attempt to dodge the falling debris. This brought on hysteria in the audience and they began running for the exits.

“Everybody move out in an orderly fashion!” The floor manager made a futile call to be heard over the pandemonium. “Use the closest exits please and do not push and shove!”

The usually refined audience showed their true selves, as they ignored the order and climbed over each other in order to escape, amidst another roll of thunder that shook the building.

The models were similarly hysterical behind the stage, attempting to leave via a different exit, while Emilio Emiliez was crying out about the state that some of his creations were in from the models’ bid to escape the terrifying ordeal.

In the darkness, nobody noticed Courtney struggling beneath the debris of the fallen ceiling. She had unselfishly saved one of her fellow models, by pushing them away, only to find part of the roof falling on top of her. She pushed against the wooden structure that covered her upper thighs, but other than a slight groan, it would not budge.

“Help!” Courtney pleaded into the darkness, but the audience’s screams of fear surpassed her own cries.

“Courtney, where are you?” Reisha shouted, as she groped about the dark catwalk to find her most valuable client.

The time moved to one past nine. Suddenly, another roll of thunder rumbled, sending a bolt of lightning straight through the hole in the roof and hitting Courtney, who was still struggling amongst the rubble. As the lightning lit up the auditorium, Reisha screamed in fear, jumping away from the catwalk that crumbled from the bolt.

As the clock turned to two past nine, the black cloud that had cast a shadow through the hole in the roof withdrew and the moon’s pale light illuminated part of the auditorium. Reisha rose warily from behind the front row of chairs, where she had hidden herself when the lightning struck. She could not hear or see any one around.

“Courtney?” Reisha called softly towards the destroyed stage. The limited light did not allow her to see too much, other than the dark outline of the wreckage that had occurred during the freak storm.

“Help me…” A faint voice called.

Reisha rushed across to the other side of the fallen catwalk and noticed someone trapped underneath some fallen concrete. She began grabbing fragments of the concrete and throwing them aside, in the hope of rescuing whoever was underneath.

“Don’t worry, I’m going to get you out,” the personal assistant said, hoping she sounded confident enough to persuade the person that they were going to be alright. Upon removing a largish chunk of concrete, Reisha realised that it was the floor manager. “I can’t get this big piece off you,” Reisha told the woman, as she attempted to push it off.

Suddenly a loud crackle of lightning had Reisha diving aside as a boom sounded and dust particles filled the room. The personal assistant sat up and coughed, while waving away the dust and noticing that the large concrete block was now several smaller pieces. She turned in the direction the lightning bolt had come from and spotted a glowing woman who appeared to be in a green and purple costume; although the dimness of the room made it hard to see exactly which shade of the colours they were.

“Hey!” Reisha called out, as she got to her feet. “Can you help me? There’s a woman hurt over here.”

A crackle of lightning came from the glowing woman, as though she was trying to communicate, but did not have the words. She looked up at the hole in the ceiling, then back at Reisha, before taking off into the sky. Reisha hurried across and looked up at the sky through the hole, but saw nothing. The approaching sirens brought her back to reality and she made her way across to the floor manager to look after her until the paramedics arrived.

The Hopper Residence

Boronia, VIC Australia

18th August 11:38pm EST

“YOU KEEP MY FAMILY OUT OF THIS!” [Image by Travis Berketa]

“I told you before – I have nothing to do with C.U.R.E Laboratories! When they conveniently lost the robot, I quit!”

Anika Hopper heard her father shouting while she hid herself under her covers. In her twelve years, she had never heard her father raise his voice like this. Since Professor Samuel Hopper quit his job two years ago, Anika had helped him out in his shed with many contraptions and inventions and, even if she made a mistake, her father would simply correct her and show her how to improve the gadgets she was working on. Now, since the strange black van had appeared in the driveway, four men had come into the house and made her father very angry.

“Prof, I’m not sayin’ ya have anythin’ to do with C.U.R.E., I’m just askin’ about the robot,” a raspy voice whispered, loud enough to carry up the stairs to Anika’s room. She did not like that voice – not one bit – it was scary and reminded her of a horror movie she watched during a sleepover with her friend, Rachel, one night when her parents were sleeping.

Just then she heard footsteps creep past her bedroom door and a chance peek from under the covers revealed a shadow heading towards the landing. Anika threw the doona cover back over her head and took a deep breath. “Maybe a quick look wouldn’t hurt,” she thought, as she began trying to gather her courage to slide out from under the covers.

“…now I’m not a man who likes to disappoint my clients,” the harsh voice stressed, “so ya either have to find me McCormack, show me where this robot is, or come and make another one… if ya can't make the choice ya-self, we could get a little more persuasive…”

Anika felt the cold floorboards under her feet, as she tiptoed to her bedroom door. She reached her hand up to turn the door handle quietly, even though she knew that there was usually a squeak when it turned.

“YOU KEEP MY FAMILY OUT OF THIS!”

Her father’s roar had Anika racing back into her bed and hiding under the covers again. She felt her heart beating furiously and tears began to trickle down her face, though she kept the sobbing silent. Her arm stretched out from under the doona and fumbled about the shelf above her bedhead to find the old, gymnastics cow plush toy that she received during one of her gymnastics Christmas parties. As soon as she had the cow in her grasp, she snapped her arm back under and squeezed it tight.

“What ya don’t seem to understand, Prof, is that the robot means a lot to my client, and as my boys happened to have misplaced it, I figured that ya could help me out by directin’ me to a solution to the problem,” the scary voice whispered its way up the second floor and into Anika’s bedroom.

More footsteps crept outside the bedroom, but they did not pass. Anika heard the familiar squeak of her door handle and squeezed her plush toy tighter, whilst trying to hold her breath.

“Ani – you okay?” Her sister’s voice whispered into the dimness of the room.

Tears of relief began to run down Anika’s cheeks, as she emerged from under the doona cover with her cow. “Lilly… what’s happening? Dad sounds angry…”

Lilly moved silently into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. “There’re some men here. I think they’re from dad’s old work, but I’m not sure.”

“I don’t like that man with the scary voice,” Anika said, as she cast the toy aside in exchange for her sister.

Lilly returned the hug. “I don’t either, Ani. Don’t worry, Mum and Dad will sort it out,” the elder sister said, attempting to hide the fear in her voice.

A scream came from downstairs.

“Leave her alone!”

“I think ya beginnin’ to see just how serious we are.”

Lilly squeezed Anika tighter. “Just stay here,” she directed and hurried out onto the landing, where her brother had been sitting for some time. With renewed courage, Anika followed Lilly and sat herself down next to her older siblings. Shannon signaled them to be silent, but Anika found it hard to restrain herself, when she saw her mother being held by two large men in black suits and her father being yelled at by a shorter man in a black hat, cloak and gloves. Another thinner man was holding a knife at her mother’s throat, while he grinned maliciously at her father.

“So what’s it gonna be, Prof – the robot or the wifey?” The man in the hat said in his whispering voice.

“I told you, I can’t do anything without the plans – I left them with C.U.R.E. Just let my wife go. She has nothing to do with this!” Tears began to stream down Professor Hopper’s face. “Just let her go.”

“Okay, so you don’t know where McCormack is. You don’t know where the robot is either. Also we got no plans… I believe ya, Prof,” the man in the hat declared, as Samuel fell to his knees. The man with the knife appeared a little upset by the statement. “Mickey, let her go,” he ordered the knife-wielder.

Mickey grumbled as he pulled Kimberley Hopper from the two brutes’ grasp and shoved her across to her husband, who took her in his arms and held her tightly.

“So what happens now, Mister Severoin?” Mickey questioned, as he put his knife away.

Severoin clucked his tongue and crouched down in front of the parents. “It still leaves us with a conundrum, Prof – ya see, me and my boys travelled all this way to fix a small error on our part, so we can’t just up and leave without a solution.” He smiled at his men, as he rose from his crouched position, and Anika noticed a gold tooth sparkle in the light of the hallway. “If we can’t find the good doctor or the bot, then we can have the prof build us a new one. It’s the only solution I got at the moment.” Severoin stepped aside and gestured with a gloved hand from his men to the professor. “Take him, boys.”

The two large men ripped Kimberley from her husband’s arms and dragged her aside, as the professor attempted to fight them off her. They then proceeded to grab the struggling professor in a bid to haul him out the front door.

“No! Leave him alone!” Kimberley shouted desperately, as she got back to her feet and hammer-fisted one of the brutes on the back, only to have Mickey grab her by the hair and fling her aside.

Shannon had seen enough. “Lil, you need to grab your phone and call the cops,” he directed his sister quietly, as he went to the landing closet. Seizing his cricket bat, he gave it a few practice swings. “Ani, you should go back to your bedroom and push your bed in front of the door. If the men do break in, use your Taekwondo to protect yourself as best as you can – do anything you need to do to keep yourself safe. Lil’s calling the police, so they should be here really soon.”

As Lilly came out of her room with her phone to her ear, Shannon charged down the stairs ready to strike with his bat. Anika watched as Shannon leaped off the second last step and smacked the bat on Mickey’s shoulder. The thug screamed out in pain at the surprise attack and went for his knife, but Shannon already saw this coming and drove the bat into Mickey’s stomach. The air was driven from his lungs and he crumbled over, as the bat was brought up into his face.

“There are four men… they’ve hurt my mum and they’re trying to take my dad!” Lilly anxiously told the operator, after giving all of her initial details. Glancing over the banister, she saw her brother standing against one of the brutes and she panicked. “My brother’s trying to fight them off…” Lilly handed the phone to Anika, who was sitting paralysed as she watched her brother courageously swing his bat into the laughing thug. “Ani, talk to the operator, I need to help Shannon.”

Lilly removed the cricket stumps from the closet, as Anika tightened her grip on the landing post and watched her brother being punched to the ground. Severoin smiled evilly, as though he was enjoying seeing her brother so helpless.

“Lilly? Lilly, are you there?” the operator on the end of the phone called. However it simply sat ineffectively in Anika’s lap.

“Ani, tell the lady that we need the police here now,” Lilly urged, before she raced down the stairs, throwing one of the stumps in a spear-like fashion into the throng of people.

Anika wanted to tell her sister to stay, but she could not move. She could not even find a way to scream or cry, which was what she wanted to do most of all. Instead, she watched the stump knock Severoin’s hat off his head, before another stump bounced off the large man restraining her father. Lilly swung the third cricket stump into the face of the brute that had just knocked Shannon to the ground. Mickey had recovered enough to grab Lilly’s plait, but her Taekwondo self-defence kicked into action, as she grabbed the offending hand in both of hers and twisted, sending the attacker off balance, before driving a knee into his face.

“I should be doing that,” Anika thought, but the fear did not allow her to move. She clung onto the landing post, as though she was mounted there like a gargoyle, and watched the brute who had knocked out her brother grab Lilly’s plait and yank her back hard, before planting a punch to her face. She fell instantly.

Severoin clicked his tongue, as he picked up his hat and dusted it off, before putting it back on his head. “Such a mess for one little robot,” he said with a gold-toothed grin, as the faint sound of sirens was heard. “Mickey, get ya arse up off the floor. We need to get goin’.”

Anika’s eyes moved from one sibling’s battered body to the other; blood was pouring out of their noses. She realised that her father and mother were also quiet, but did not know when they were knocked out during the scuffle. The two large men picked up her father’s unconscious body and carried him out of the front door.

A half-dazed Mickey readjusted his tie and ran his hands through his dark, greasy hair, as blood seeped from his own nose. “What do we do with them, Mister Severoin?”

“Just get into the van,” Severoin stated, as he gestured Mickey to leave. “Do not fret my dear – it seems ya rescuers are comin’ anon.”

Anika did not know who the man was talking to until he looked straight up at her and gave a smile; the gold tooth glimmered once more. Severoin tipped his hat and left the house, closing the door behind him. Anika heard the van start within seconds of the man leaving.

Anika did not know how much time had past when she saw some police officers enter the house with their guns drawn. She simply sat and watched from her place on the landing, as some ambulance officers eventually tended to her family. Fear still paralysed her and she hated herself for it.

“It’s alright, darling,” A soothing voice cooed, as Anika felt a blanket being thrown over her shoulders, “You’re okay now. We’ll take care of you.”

She simply sat and watched from her place on the landing... [Image by Travis Berketa]

To continue the story, follow the link to:

Super Hero Chronicles - Citadel: Rise of the Heroes (Part 5)

Series

About the author

Travis Berketa

I am a father. I am a teacher. I am a writer.

I love reading fictional stories and I love writing fictional stories.

I hope you enjoy my contribution to Vocal.

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