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It's a Wonderful Legacy

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“Okay, heroes, let’s fight some evildoers today,” Legacy said to his fellow members of the superhero team Freedom Five, hoping to be the inspiring presence they had come to expect of him. “May justice prevail today!” 

The gallant, brown-haired Legacy marched toward where Baron Blade and his battalions were up to no good, attacking last-minute Christmas shoppers.

“So much for a Christmas break, huh?” Wraith complained a bit. Christmas was in two days, and she’d rather be preparing for her holiday party.

“Nobreaksforheroes,” said the speedster Tachyon, zooming up to Legacy.

“... at least not while the ol’ Baron refuses to take a break,” Bunker said, ambling forward in his brown-and-black huge armored suit, appearing almost like a giant among them, though he was just a normal man underneath it.

“Bah humbug anyway,” Absolute Zero said a slight crack in his voice as he approached the others in his cryogenic suit. The black-and-blue suit made him resemble a robot, but it kept him alive as any temperatures just above absolute zero would burn him. The “bah humbug” was mostly to tease Wraith a bit. Mostly. He didn’t totally believe it. Wraith just sighed, and while only her two green eyes and black hair were visible with her mask, the glare she gave him was still penetrating. 

“How are we handling this, Sir?” Bunker asked in the Freedom Five communications system that they were all connected to through earpieces and tiny microphones.

“Bunker, get in turret mode,” Legacy ordered. “Take down those battalions, but be careful of civilians.” Blade’s battalions were small groups of genetically and mechanically enhanced humans who did whatever evil was asked of them.

“Roger that, Legacy.”

“Tachyon, run around and get as many citizens to safety as quickly as you can.”

“Alreadyonit!” She zoomed away. Her strawberry-blonde hair and white-and-red costume becoming just a blur of colors.

“Wraith, also help with clean up of the battalions. The stealthy approach.”

“It’s what I do best!” And, with that, the young, black-haired woman seemed to vanish before their eyes. No superpowers, just an incredible knack for disappearing into the shadows -- and highly trained in all forms of martial arts.

“Absolute Zero, you and I will take down the Baron himself. Maybe start with freezing his mobile defense platform. Try to gum up the works a little. Not too much, though. We don’t want that thing falling onto the civilians below.”

“Got it. Baron Blade’s going to have a cold day in hell today messing with people’s Christmas cheer.” There was an audible groan from Wraith.

“Indeed!” Legacy said with gusto. “Heroes, do your thing!”

And they did.

It didn’t take long for Tachyon to rush all the civilians who were milling about the shopping center to safety. She quickly brought them all to a nearby park a few blocks away. She also went into each store to tell the managers to tell them to lockdown the stores until the danger had passed. That all took only a few minutes; she was slowed down only by the reaction time of the regular-speed people she had to deal with. It was the curse of the speedster: too quick for everyone else.

Upon being ordered to do so, Bunker had immediately put his suit into turret mode. This particular mode kept him stationary as the weapons system in his automated battle suit dealt suppressing fire toward the Blade Battalions, keeping them away from any citizens Tachyon hadn’t rescued yet and also kept them from going inside the various stores.

Wraith was certainly doing her part too, sneaking around to each Blade Battalion and taking them down one by one; they were subdued before they knew what hit them.

Legacy and Absolute Zero had a bit more trouble, however.

Legacy soared up toward Baron Blade. The tall, slender black-haired Lithuanian stood on his Mobile Defense Platform, a floating structure of immense size that Blade uses to float high above the city. Normally, every citizen in Megalopolis knows to get out of Dodge (Okay, Megalopolis, really) when there’s one of these floating platforms in the sky. But today, between the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, the people as a whole had either not noticed or not cared. Getting that popular Dinoman toy for little Suzie or little Bobby was apparently more important than their own lives. Legacy had to shake his head just thinking of that.

Absolute Zero had made his way toward the floating structure by making himself an ice bridge upward that he glided along. Technically, Legacy was the only member of the Freedom Five who could fly, but Absolute Zero was able to come pretty close by freezing the air below him as he made his way up to where he needed to be.

When he got close to the Mobile Defense Platform, Absolute Zero fired an ice beam at one of the propellers. 

“You thought it was bad when your computer froze, Blade,” he mocked. But the propellor only froze for a couple of seconds. Just after the beam of ice hit it, some machinery behind the propellor activated and sent out a heat beam, quickly melting the ice away.

“I see you’ve adapted your platform,” Absolute Zero muttered under his breath. 

Just then one of the guns along the side of the platform shot out a beam of pure heat and suddenly the ice bridge below Absolute Zero started to melt. It was looking like he was going to have a nasty fall, but at the last second, he jumped off the melting ice bridge and managed to grab a hold of Blade’s platform and climb aboard.

At this time, Legacy landed on the platform, about 10 feet in front of Baron Blade, directly facing him. “Blade, how dare you mess with this fair city! And during Christmastime too!”

“Why not?! It’s the perfect time of year. Everyone on the streets so … Merry. And. Bright.”

He said those last three words with such emphasis that Legacy almost immediately knew that they must be trigger words for some voice-activated machinery aboard his platform. Baron Blade was a master of machinery, especially machinery that helped with his evil-doing.

And, sure enough, a door opened on the floor of the platform and a ray gun came up from below, and it fired what looked like a series of lightning bolts at Legacy.

They didn’t exactly hurt -- probably due to Legacy’s fortitude -- but they stunned him and encircled him, and Legacy found himself in a bit of a stasis. He couldn’t move at all.

“What have you done?” Legacy asked.

“You walked right into my trap like you always do, didn’t you, Legacy?” Blade asked with a maniacal laugh.

Just then Absolute Zero tried to fire an ice beam at Baron Blade, but it melted as soon as it left his hand. The platform must be radiating some sort of heat that was nullifying his suit, and thus his powers.

“Room for two more on that platform, Dad?” Legacy heard his daughter’s voice over the Freedom Five channel. She and Unity -- the unofficial sixth member of the Freedom Five -- were the only other two people who had access to that channel.

His daughter, Pauline Parsons (though she preferred to go by her middle name, Felicia) was the latest of the Legacy line. Since the Revolutionary War, a Parsons (all men until now) had been born with superpowers and used those powers to fight crime and evildoers. With each new generation, the latest Parsons born into the legacy would inherit all of his predecessor’s power while also developing a new power, thus with each generation, the Legacy line got a little stronger.

And here she was. The daughter he was so proud of; she’d only recently become an adult and developed her powers. She’d flown up to the platform to join the battle. And you could tell she was her father’s daughter, with her own light brown hair and blue eyes, and, of course, that matching uniform. 

She was joined by her friend Unity -- a young, black-haired college woman who was a technopath, someone who had the ability to manipulate and control metal and machinery with her mind. She often used a group of mechanical golems (sometimes made to somewhat resemble her friends) she created with her mind to help her in battles. Today she was using one of those -- a golem in the form of a large bird -- to fly up to the platform.

“Welcome,” Legacy said. Speaking was about the only thing he could do while in this stasis field. “We are in a bit of a predicament and certainly can use the help of you two.”

“We got your back, Dad,” Felicia said, as she landed on the platform.

“Ah, America’s Youngest Legacy,” Baron Blade said mockingly, using the heroic name the adoring public had given her. “I was hoping you would show up.”

“What about me?” Unity said, as she hopped off her bird golem and onto the platform. “Were you expecting me and my golem army?”

Baron Blade shrugged and a turret aboard the platform fired at the mechanical bird, obliterating it into a million bits.

Unity cried out; she sometimes became attached to her bots, even if they only could exist for hours at a time at most. But she wanted them to dissipate on her own terms, or more “naturally.”

“How dare you!” Unity shouted. “You’ll pay for that.” And pieces of metal and machinery begin to be pulled apart from parts of the platform as they floated about near Unity’s head, about to take the form of some new golem.

“Time for you to get a taste of your own medicine!” said America’s Youngest Legacy. She fired energy beams from her eyes. This was her power that was added to the Legacy line. Her child, should she have one, would also have laser eyes, all the other previous Legacy powers, and some yet unknown addition. 

The beam shot out at Baron Blade, but just as it was inches from him, it seemed to bounce off some invisible barrier that encircled him and it fired back at America’s Youngest Legacy. She fell to the ground. And Baron Blade pushed some button on his belt. A mechanical arm picked up Felicia and brought her next to Baron Blade. A trap door opened below her, next to Blade, and the mechanical arm released her and she fell into a room in the lower section of the platform.

“No!” Legacy shouted.

Baron Blade laughed. “Now I have what I came for! Your daughter! You will know my vengeance, Legacy, and you shall remember it always!”

With that, he pressed another button on his belt and the floating platform immediately began to go vertical. Every mechanical contraption aboard the platform was bolted down and not affected, and Baron Blade’s boots seemed to be magnetized to the platform’s surface, so he was also unmoved. 

But not the heroes. Legacy, Unity, the Legacy bot she’d just finished, and Absolute Zero rolled down the platform’s surface, falling victim to gravity.

As soon as all three heroes fell off the platform, it righted itself, and then what seemed to be a hole in the sky, orangish in color, opened up and the platform went through it -- it was some kind of teleporting doorway. It closed and the platform, along with Baron Blade and America’s Youngest Legacy, were gone!

Legacy was no longer in the stasis, though, and he quickly flew to catch Unity and bring her safely to the ground below. The bot had already disassembled without Unity’s concentration. Absolute Zero, his suit no longer being affected by the platform’s heat wave, reacted quickly and made himself an ice slide to slide to the ground safely.

No one was hurt in the fall, and as they reached the ground they were met by Tachyon, Wraith, and Bunker.

“Where’s Felicia?” Wraith asked. But the look on Legacy’s face said it all.

America’s Youngest Legacy was gone, and Legacy -- or his friends -- hadn’t been able to stop it!

“She was taken,” Absolute Zero said solemnly, answering for him.

They all moved to surround Legacy. He started to speak, but he couldn’t. He knew they looked to him for leadership, but … “My daughter,” he whispered. 

It was all he could muster for the moment.

“We’llfindher,” Tachyon said with such speed, as if the milliseconds she saved by not pausing would somehow make the difference.“I’llrunaroundthecity, thecounty, eyesalwayspeeled.” 

“I will seek out my … sources … see if they have heard everything,” Wraith offered, thinking of the Rook City ne’er-do-wells who often secretly offered her tips or information for the privilege of not being beaten down by Wraith.

“I’ll boost my scanner mode,” Bunker said. “See if I can pick up anything. We’ll find her, Sir.” Then he gave a polite salute to a man who’d never been his military superior, but who he respected just as much, if not more so.

“And, when we do, not only will I give him the cold shoulder,” Absolute Zero began, ignoring the groans, “I’ll give him the cold everything else too.” 

With that, he shot a burst of ice into the air. Legacy smiled, in spite of himself, at the flashy display and attempt at humor from their icy curmudgeon friend.

Then Unity stepped forward gallantly. “And you have my bots.” She was immediately embarrassed, expecting the joke to be ill-timed and unwanted, but Legacy did chuckle a bit. As did Tachyon.

“Thank you, my … friends,” Legacy stumbled. It was certainly unusual for him, but none of them would judge him for this. “... my fellow warriors of freedom. I suspect you shall all do your best. I must… I must… head to Washington. Tell my wife.”

His wife was a U.S. senator and was working late into December on some budget nonsense.

The others nodded. They expected as much.

Tachyon put her hand on Legacy’s shoulder. “Give Emily our best.”

“I shall,” Legacy said, choking back tears. Without another word, he shot up straight into the air. They all waved goodbye before each of them headed to their own individual missions. 

---

As soon as Senator Emily Parsons returned to her office and saw her husband there -- and, more importantly, saw his face -- she knew something was wrong. While Legacy could easily fly from Megalopolis to Washington, D.C. without too much trouble, or time, he never did. Not without it being planned in advance.

“What’s wrong?” she said as she entered her office, after having returned from a long day of pleading her case on the Senate floor.

“It’s Felicia,” he said, not sure what else to say.

Emily let out a cry, having to grasp onto the door frame so as not to collapse. “My god! Is she … How?”

Legacy immediately began shaking his head. He ran over to her and held her in his arms. “No, no, no. She’s not dead.”

Emily put her hand to her chest. “Thank God,” she sighed. “I swear, Paul, you nearly gave me a heart attack.” But then she looked at him. He didn’t look as relieved as she’d felt. Her heart began pounding again. “What then?!”

“She’s been kidnapped.” Emily gasped again. “The others are on it. We’ll get her back. She’ll be … fine.”

“She’s alive?” She asked as she choked back tears.

Legacy nodded hesitantly. “I’m almost certain of it.”

“Almost?!” she said it with such seething, her eyes glaring at him in a way that Paul “Legacy” Parsons would not forget for the rest of his life.

“Honey, Sweetie,” Legacy said, holding her head gently in his hands.

“No, don’t.” She broke away from him. “I always knew this would happen. You and that stupid family legacy.” She began to cry. “My little girl,” she whispered.

“Stupid?” He was shocked. She had never expressed such feelings about his family’s legacy -- generations upon generations of heroes in the same family fighting evildoers in the name of justice -- before. He was crushed.

“Just. Leave me alone. I need to be alone.”

“But … I need you.”

“And I need you to find our daughter. I don’t want to see you again until you bring our daughter back safely.”

The glare she gave him let him know how serious she was. He simply nodded and flew away.

He went to a small bridge over the Potomac River. He knew he should be helping his friends find Felicia, but he needed a moment, or several, to himself. And his heart was crushed.

He figured he might not be much help at the moment anyway.

"Sometimes I wish I was never born into this ridiculous legacy," Paul Parsons muttered to himself. "I wish I was born just a regular guy. A regular guy living a regular life with regular-guy problems." The words surprised him even as he spoke them.

"Pardon me, sir?" a voice broke his bitter contemplation. Legacy turned to see a man in a royal blue suit, complete with a matching bow tie and bowler. He had white hair and vivid purple eyes. "Might I get a photo with you? You're my favorite hero!"

He wanted more than anything to say no. Just this once. But even at his lowest point, Legacy couldn’t bring himself to this. “Of course, fellow citizen!” He stood gallantly next to the man.

The man’s face brightened and Legacy had an eerie feeling that this guy seemed familiar, but in all his heroics, Legacy encountered countless civilians and couldn’t be expected to remember everyone. So he mentally shrugged it off, though the familiarity still nagged at him.

The man in blue huddled close to Legacy as Legacy put an arm around his shoulder. The man held up his camera phone and took some selfies of the duo.

“Thanks so much, Sir,” the man said after he’d taken a few shots. He held out his hand for Legacy to shake. Legacy obliged.

Then the man took out his business card, handing it over to Legacy.

“Listen, Legacy, I know this is a tad odd. But give me a call sometime. I think I can help you out with your problems.”

Legacy balked for a second. Had this man heard him earlier? He shouldn’t put forth such an image of himself to the public; it was not the Legacy way. So he had to put forth another image. As such, with a big smile, Legacy said, “What is it that you do, kind sir?”

And the man returned the smile and simply pointed at the business card. It said simply:

 

GARRET MAWES

Master Dreammaker

800-4MASTER

 

“Oh, I make the greatest dreams come true,” he said with a tip of his hat.

“Well, thank you Mr. Mawes, but I have everything I could ever dream of,” Legacy lied a little, thinking, of course, of his missing daughter. But he couldn’t bring this ordinary citizen into that mess.

“I wouldn’t bet on it,” Garret Mawes said. “And, please, call me Garret.”

“Well, thank you, Garret,” Legacy said. “A pleasure meeting you.”

“Oh, no, the pleasure was all mine. Sincerely,” Garret said. “I’d wager I can show you a better life, one where you wouldn’t want to look back to all this.” He motioned around him.

Legacy shook his head, at a loss for words.

“Trust me,” Garret said, with a wink that almost seemed to spark, as he held out his hand again.

Legacy shook it.

And everything went black.

 ---

A blaring alarm clock woke up Legacy. He was in a bed. In a strange room. In a strange home. He sat up, turning off the alarm next to him. He wasn’t in his Legacy attire, just a white T-shirt and boxers.

“Where am I?” he wondered aloud.

He did some quick investigating. The closet was full of clothes that appeared to be his size. Typical stuff mostly, but there was also what appeared to be a janitor’s uniform with a RevoCorp logo and the name PARSONS embroidered on it. No Legacy costume; no white shirt with the lantern emblem, no blue cape. He looked down at his hand and realized he wasn’t even wearing his Legacy ring. Or his wedding ring.

“What the …” he said.

He searched the apartment for his rings or his costume. Nothing. 

But he did some investigating of the place as he searched. It was a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with a bachelor pad-feel. He found a wallet on the counter dividing his small kitchen from his living room. It had his driver’s license and what appeared to be a work ID for RevoCorp. A work ID for one Paul Parsons.

Why would he have this? It had his name and photo. He scratched his head, trying to remember if a recent Freedom Five adventure had him posing as a RevoCorp employee. But it didn’t ring a bell at all. Spying certainly wasn’t his style. That was Wraith’s thing.  

Thinking of Wraith made Legacy want to reach out to the Freedom Five, see what was up with them and their quest to find Felicia. But when he went to activate his F5 com system, he noticed the earpiece or microphone weren’t there. And he hadn’t found the com system when he’d searched his apartment. It was nowhere.

Odd.

Just then the smartphone on the counter rang. The display read: INCOMING CALL …. THE BIG BOSS.

He answered it. “Hello?”

“Parsons?! Where the hell are you?”

“I’m not sure, I …”

“You’re an hour late!”

“I’m sorry. I don’t …”

He could hear the sigh on the other end of the line. “You don’t feel well, I take it?”

That seemed like the perfect opening. “I don’t feel like myself,” he muttered. That was the truth; he did feel off.

“It’s the last day before Christmas break! Couldn’t power through one more day?” The boss asked. Legacy was at a loss for words. “Well, I guess there’s nothing I can do to stop you, Parsons. It’s within your right. Well, I’ll see you after the break.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Merry Christmas and happy New Year, I guess.”

“You too, Sir, I guess,” Paul Parsons mumbled and then hung up the phone.

Paul walked outside. Things looked a bit different -- shabbier than he was used to for Megalopolis. But the skyline was mostly familiar. It seemed to be Megalopolis … more or less.

He found a car parked in the apartment building’s lot and took a quick look around to see if anyone was looking. When he was sure it was free, he put both of his hands under the bumper and lifted. Or tried to anyway. Nothing. The car wouldn’t budge.

“It’s too heavy,” he said in bewilderment and gasping for breath.

No super strength!

Then, once again checking to make sure no one was watching, he tried to take off in flight. Nothing. Grounded.

No flight!

“This can’t be,” he told himself.

But it is, said a nagging voice in his head. It was the first time he heard such a voice, but it wasn’t going to be the last.

Shrugging his shoulders, thoroughly confused, Paul Parsons headed back into what seemed to be his apartment.

"Where's Emily?" he wondered,booting up the laptop he’d found during the search earlier. After it started up, he did a quick online search: No U.S. senator named Emily Parsons.

"This can't be right," he said, baffled. So instead he looked up who the two Vermont senators were. And there it was: Sen. Jon Truman and Sen. Emily Collins.

Collins. That was Emily's maiden name.

A quick scan of Sen. Collins' bio led to one sentence that made his heart sink: Sen. Collins is unmarried and never had children.

Unmarried.

Never had children.

He couldn't believe it, so he did another search. No results for Pauline Felicia Parsons!

"No, no, no," he said, shaking his head in utter disbelief. "This can't be. It can't be true! It's some trick. Some Baron Blade villainy, no doubt."

It was time to round up the Freedom Five and get to the bottom of this!

He tried calling the Freedom Five offices, but a recorded voice said the number was disconnected.

Deinfeily odd.

He tried calling Tachyon’s number. No answer. Didn’t even lead to a voicemail service; it just kept ringing.

More oddness. 

He was having trouble getting a hold of any member of the Freedom Five and was at a bit of loss as to what to do. So he’d do what he’d often do when he just needed to think: grab a cup of coffee and peruse the daily newspaper. Often that led to some inspiration.

So he made himself some coffee and went to get the paper at his front door. He’d spotted it when he’d gone outside to test his powers, but had ignored it then. 

But when he opened the paper and looked at it, his heart about stopped. Right there on the front page, in the newspaper’s flag -- where it should say MEGALOPOLIS TIMES, like it had always said -- were big bold letters NEW MORDENGRAD TIMES. Just below the newspaper’s name was its slogan in smaller type: “Delivering daily to the fine citizens of New Mordengrad all the news you need to know.”

“New Mordengrad,” he whispered, taking a big gulp of his coffee. “What the heck in New Mordengrad?”

Mordengrad was the Lithuanian city that Baron Blade called his home, but New Mordengrad? Legacy had never heard of it.

He searched and read bits of the paper. It was filled with mostly fluff stories. All was well and good in New Mordengrad, if you were to believe the paper. There was little crime and what little crime there was was quickly taken down by what were called New Mordengrad Crime-Deterrent Drones (N.M.C.D.D.s).

On page 2, there was a column from the newspaper’s editor and publisher, Ivan Ramonat, who -- according to the tagline at the end of the story -- was also New Mordengrad’s “beloved supreme leader.” Ivan Ramonat was Baron Blade’s real name. 

This particular column talked about the upcoming anniversary of New Mordengrad, formerly the bustling city of Megalopolis, seceding from the United States of America. “So let’s celebrate the birth of a great nation,” the column ended.

“Baron Blade!” Legacy literally shook his fist at the smiling column mug of his greatest nemesis. “What have you done?” 

He continued to scan the newspaper and a headline on page 5 jumped out at him:

 

BILLIONAIRE MAIA MONTGOMERY IN PRISON

Heiress -- found guilty of assault -- says she was ‘simply protecting her fair city.’

 

“Oh, Wraith, what have you done?” Paul Parsons wondered out loud.

But he couldn’t leave it at that. He had to see for himself. So he went to Rook City. He’d never had to cross a border check before going into Rook City, yet there was one. They were pretty lax about it, though, just asked a few questions about his business and let him through.

But very odd. Was New Mordengrad truly a different country?

Of course it is, Dummy. That’s what secession means! That voice again!

It wasn’t too much longer before he was at Rook City City Prison, checked in as a visitor, waiting for her to appear at the window.

When she sat down, he barely recognized her. She looked so ragged, so unkempt, so … mean. And she didn’t recognize him at all, or so it seemed.

“Who are you?” she said curtly into the phone.

“Wraith… don’t you know me? It’s Legacy.”

“You got the wrong inmate, dude. And what kind of name is Legacy?”

“Sorry. Not Legacy. It’s Paul Parsons, and no I don’t have the wrong inmate. You’re Maia Montgomery.” It wasn’t a question.

She laughed. “Not in here, I ain’t.” There was a pause as she glared at him through the glass. “And what’s the deal with you? Don’t know your own name?”

“I have more than one name. We both do.”

“We? You act like we’re a thing.”

“We kind of are.”

She scoffed. “You wish, buddy!”

Now it was Paul’s turn to laugh, even if it was a way to hide some of his embarrassment. “No, not like that. But we are … were … a bit of a team.”

“I ain’t never met you, old man.”

“The Freedom Five? You know Tachyon? Absolute Zero? Bunker?” With each name, she just gave him a confused stare. “Tyler Vance? You know that name?” he asked hopefully, using Bunker’s civilian name. Tyler and Maia had become somewhat of an item recently, after all, and things were getting pretty serious.

“Sure. That name I remember,” she said nodding, finally showing some familiarity.

“You do? That’s great. You see, you and …”

“Who can forget that nutjob?”

“Nutjob?”

“Seriously? What planet are you from? You don’t remember that story? He was some war hero in Iraq. Then after Megalopolis … excuse me, New Mordengrad” she said those last words with a sarcastic bite, “seceded from the U.S., he was part of the U.S. military outfit that went in there to try to take down that Ivan Ramonot dude. But he got captured, and now he’s one of New Mordengrad’s top brass. They made him a general. He runs the military school there -- Ramonot Military Academy, where Megalopolis High used to be.”

“He’s with the New Mordengrad military now?” Paul asked, a little bewildered. “A traitor? That doesn’t sound like Tyler Vance.”

She shrugged. “Many people think he was brainwashed. Not like we’ll ever know. He’s with them now, either way.” She paused and glared at Paul. “What’s it to you? You know him?” It came across as an accusation.

“Sort of. After the war in Iraq, he became another hero. Bunker. He was given a powered suit, militarized. He became part of a heroic team with me … and you.”

She chuckled. “That the Freedom Five you talked about?”

Paul nodded. “That’s it, yes.”

“Never heard of it.” She smirked.

“But it’s true. You’re Wraith. You sneak around in the shadows; you’ve got a bunch of gadgets.”

She laughed. “That sounds all kinds of cheesy. I got to hand it to you, you have quite the imagination.”

He shook his head. “No. It’s a government-sponsored team of heroes formed to fight evildoers to save the …” He didn’t continue. She was just laughing.

“I get it. I get it,” Maia said. “You’re here to prove some dumb point about my recent vigilante justice? Let me guess, my dad put you up to this? That’d make sense. Wraith. Good one! He paid you a few bucks to try to teach me a lesson, didn’t he?”

“No…,” Paul tried to get in, but she was still going.

“... Well, you can just tell him, it won’t work. They can keep throwing me in here, and I’ll get out eventually, and I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. Someone needs to clean up Rook City. It’s as bad as New Mordengrad. And it sure as hell ain’t going to be the cops who’ll clean it up. They’re as dirty as the city!”

And, with that, she slammed down the phone, called a guard over and was escorted away.

“Goodbye,” Paul said hopelessly into the phone’s receiver, before hanging it up.

He sighed. Wraith’s heart was in the right place … sort of.

She missed your guidance, Legacy, that nagging voice in his head told him.

What she said about Bunker really got to him. He had to check it out. So he went back to New Mordengrad. Crossing the border back had been a little more irksome. The border guards gave him trouble for leaving New Mordengrad, but ultimately his ID allowed him back in.

Paul shook his head after being passed through. He couldn’t believe all this was happening. He made his way to where Megalopolis High should be, but as Wraith -- Maia, rather -- had said, the letters on the main building now read RAMONAT MILITARY ACADEMY.

“What has this world become?” Paul asked himself before entering the administration building.

He looked at a directory posted just inside the building to find out where General Tyler Vance’s office was located… third floor. So he took the elevator up and went to Tyler’s office.

“Can I help you?” the woman behind the front desk asked when he entered.

“I was hoping to speak with Tyler … General Tyler Vance?”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No, I don’t. I’m just an old friend. Was hoping to say a quick hello is all.”

“Let me see if he is available. One moment, please.” She picked up the phone and pushed a button. “General, there’s a man who says he’s an old friend here to see you.” She looked up at Paul. “Your name, sir?”

“Paul. Paul Parsons.”

“Paul Parsons,” she said into the receiver. “Okay, will do. Thank you.” She hung up the phone and then said to Paul. “He does have a few moments and he will see you. You can walk right in.” She gestured to the door behind her and to the left. As he walked toward the door, she asked, “Would you like a glass of water or anything?”

“No, thank you.”

When he walked in, it was certainly Tyler Vance. He was wearing a full military uniform, but it certainly didn’t look like a U.S. military uniform. It was mainly gray and brown in color. When Paul entered, Tyler stood up and shook his hand.

“Paul Parsons, is it?”

Paul nodded. Tyler didn’t seem to recognize him. “General Vance?”

“Indeed,” he smiled. “My assistant Melissa says you’re an old friend, but I must admit, I don’t have the faintest idea who you are.”

“You don’t?” Paul stumbled, worried where this was headed.

General Tyler Vance of the New Mordengrad military is going to have your head for this. Throw you to the gallows. That awful voice.

Instead Tyler just smiled nervously. “My fault, I’m sure. I don’t remember much of anything before my war … injury. I must have known you before all that?”

Paul nodded. “Yes. We met … a long time ago.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t remember you. Tell me, something, Mr. Parsons, though, you a New Mordengradian?”

Paul nodded again and reached for his wallet. “I have an ID, if that…”

Tyler shook his head and waved his hand. “No, that won’t be necessary. I trust you. I mean, our borders are pretty secure. Don’t usually find any of those evil Americans in these parts, you know what I mean?” His smile was unsettling.

“Yes, Sir. I do.” Paul kind of hated himself a bit for saying that.

“Unfortunately, Paul … Can I call you Paul?”

Paul nodded. “Absolutely, Mr. Vance.”

“General Vance,” Tyler corrected.

“Yes, I’m sorry, General Vance.”

“Unfortunately, Paul. We’ve got a little holiday shindig thing coming up here. The Academy is about to break for the holidays. Won’t be back until after the new year. But I really need to make an appearance at this thing. You know how it is, being at the top and all. Everybody looking to you.”

“I get it.”

“But I really do want to catch up. You can fill me in on the old days. I do sometimes wonder about those. And tell me what you’ve been up to. Sometime after the new year? Maybe call Melissa and set up an appointment this time?”

“I will certainly do that.”

“Great. I do look forward to hearing from you,” Tyler said, a little too business-like.

“Thank you for your time.”

Tyler nodded and just then his phone rang. And he answered. “General Vance.” He started talking into the line and seemed to forget that Paul was even there, so Paul left.

This wasn’t Bunker. Not at all.

Of course not. There is no Bunker anymore. Was there ever a Bunker?

It was time to go to Tachyon. Surely with her brilliant mind, she’d know what was going on. If nothing else, her speediness may help him solve this predicament quickly.

If she has any idea who I am, that voice pointed out. 

The man who once was Legacy wanted to punch that voice out.

Soon he found himself at Eaken-Rubendall Laboratory. He could have looked up her name online, he supposed, but he wanted to do this in person.

He walked in, stopping at the front desk.

“Is Dr. Meredith Stinson in?” he asked the receptionist.

The young man in spectacles looked shocked. “Dr. Stinson?” he asked.

“Yes,” Paul said, realizing he didn’t know this man. “I’m a close friend of hers.”

The man gave a nervous laugh. “Not that close, I guess.”

“Excuse me?”

“Doctor Stinson hasn’t worked here in about a dozen years,” he said as if he were happy she was gone. A dozen years ago? That sounded like around the time of the … “Not since the accident.”

“Oh, yes, I forgot,” Paul said. “My mistake. Thank you.” He turned to leave.

“No problem, sir. Have a good day,” he said. “I hope you find her.”

“Me too,” Paul whispered as he exited the building.

He walked all the way to Tacyhon’s house, or at least what he hoped was Tachyon’s house.

It turned out to actually be her house, yet it wasn’t actually her. 

Not truly.

She was a mess, and that was an understatement.

Seconds after he rang the doorbell, Tachyon answered. Or was it Meredith Stinson? She wasn’t wearing the Tachyon outfit but …

“Whatisit?I’mbusybusybusy.Notimetomessaround.Tenexperimentsgonigonatonce.Youknowwhattheysay:norestforthegeniuses.NotimeforGirlScoutcookies.”

“Tachyon?” Paul Parsons asked.

It seemed to slow her down. “Tachyon?” she repeated back, in normal-person speak. “Who are you?”

“You don’t know me?”

“I don’t think so. Should I?”

“I’m Legacy,” he said, sighing. “Paul Parsons.”

“What do you know of tachyons?” she asked, accusatorily.

He shrugged. “It’s your hero name.” She looked back at him blankly. “And it’s how you got your powers?”

“Powers?” She looked like she was ready to slam the door in his face.

“Your superspeed? You’re … fast … right? Like super fast?”

“Wheredidyougetthatinfo?Whoareyou?Areyousomekindofspy?I’llhavenoneofthat!” And then she just about slammed the door, but Paul stuck his foot in the way.

“Please, Dr. Stinson. Let’s just say I’m a friend … from another life. Can I come in for a few minutes and explain?”

“Doctor,” she said in amazement. “I haven’t been called that in years.”

“Trust me?” he said hopefully. “You always have.”

She looked into his eyes and perhaps saw something there because she opened the door, inviting him in.

Paul couldn’t believe what he saw. The place was a mess. Boxes everywhere. Dishes on the couch and chairs. Old, smelly food. Trash. Blankets strewn about.

“Letmeclearaspotforyou,” she said. And all he saw was her typical blinding speed burst, just a blur of colors moving about the room, up and down the stairs. Within seconds everything had been cleared from the couch and chair. “Haveaseat.”

He sat down on the couch.

“Tea?” she asked.

“Please.” And within a second he was holding a cup of tea in his hand.

“Gottogoputapauseonmyexperimentsupstairsanddownstairs.Givemeasecond?”

It was literally a second by the time she was back, sitting in the chair across from him, after the Tachyon-like blur moved about the house.

“Do you believe in alternate realities?” Paul asked, suddenly wondering if that’s what was happening to him. Or figuring it was the best way to broach the subject anyway.

“Ofcourse!AssureasIbeieveingravityorthesphericalnatureoftheEarth.Ibelieveinthembecausetheyexist!” 

Then he proceeded to tell her the story … the whole story … the history of the Freedom Five and all. And about how no one seemed to recognize him anymore.

She had been listening intently. And it seemed as if it had slowed her down again. “Do you still have your powers?”

“No, it doesn’t seem so,” he said, shaking his head. 

“Well, if you had somehow got yourself stuck in an alternate reality, wouldn’t you still have your powers?”

He shrugged. “I guess so. Not sure how that all works. I’m not sure I know what’s going on at all.”

“Can I run some tests on you?”

“Tests?”

“Yes. I can scan you. Look for anything unusual. You see, each reality has its own unique ultraradiant subparticle residue, so I can do a scan of you to determine if the ultraradiant subparticle residue emanating from you is identical to mine and thus this reality … or if it’s different.”

“You have something that can scan for that?”

“Of course!” She said with such matter-of-factness that the ‘doesn’t everyone?’ seemed almost implied. “I invented one last month. Or last week? Or last year?” Paul gave a nervous laugh and she shook her head. “Time is fleeing. It’s upstairs. Shall we?”

“Sure.”

And, in a flash, she was gone. Paul started to make his way toward the stairs, not at all sure where exactly she went. Before he got to the bottom of the stairs though, there was another blur and she stood right before him again suddenly.

“I suppose I should lead the way a bit more slowly.”

“Yes, please.” 

 So she did.

The upstairs of her house was filled with various machines and contraptions. He largely couldn’t tell what they did. A ray gun? A bunch of monitors with readings. Cages with rats and hamsters that seemed to be a part of various experiments or running mazes. Things that looked like robots or androids in the works. Something that looked mysteriously like Doc Brown’s failed mind-reading contraption from that “Back to the Future” movie. Dr. Meredith Stinson went to a desk drawer and pulled out something that, if he didn’t know better, Paul would’ve guessed was a Star Trek phaser.

She pressed a button on it and it started beeping as she moved it around his body. Meanwhile, she was looking at readings on the screen. After a few seconds of that, she turned the “phaser” on herself and looked at her own readings.

“No.No.No.Notfromanalternaterealily.Unlesswebothare.Wearemostcertainlyfromidenticalrealities,youandI.” She’d ventured back into her speedy mode, probably without realizing it.

“You sure?” he asked hopefully.

“Absolutely.”

Well, there went that theory. Then he took a hard look at the woman he once knew as Tachyon, or the woman who should be taken. She looked weary and worn. Forlorn. Sad. She was unkempt and didn’t seem to care.

Paul Parsons suddenly felt for her. “Can I ask you something else?”

“Ofcourse!Fireaway!”

“Do you know Dana Bertrand?” 

“My …. ex-wife,” she said with much sadness. “She left me.” She had slowed down again. “She didn’t understand me or my … endeavours. She thought I was wasting too much time on machines and inventions, not enough time on her. Which is weird, because with my speed, I should have all the time in the world. But … I miss her. The Meredith Stinson you remember … she’s still with Dana?”

Paul nodded solemnly. “Indeed she is.”

She nodded, fighting back tears. “I think maybe you should go now.”

“Yes, I think maybe I should,” he said, not at all sure what to say. “I’m sorry … for taking up so much of your time.”

“Yes, yes, experiments to get to.” 

She made no move to walk him downstairs, so he showed himself out. 

At a loss for what to do next, he returned to what was apparently his home now. Thinking of Tachyon and what she’d become -- or not become, to be more precise -- made him think of Absolute Zero, of course. She had saved his life, allowed him to have a life, by designing his now-famous cryogenic suit. Had she still done it? Had someone else?

You know the answer to that, the pesky voice mocked.

And he did.

That’s why Paul Parsons was dreading (and rightfully so, it turned out) this one, because of that sinking feeling in his stomach, that nasty voice in his head, but he had to do it. So he typed the words into the computer: Ryan Frost.

He was, after all, the last member of the Freedom Five; the final one Paul hadn’t tried to reconnect with yet.

And he certainly didn’t like what he found. It actually made him a bit sick to his stomach.

He saw references to the explosion at the cryogenics lab that ultimately left Frost in a coma and unable to survive in temperatures a little above absolute zero. 

No mention of the suit Dr. Meredith Stinson had built for him, so that he can walk around and lead a somewhat normal life. No mention of Frost being offered the chance to live again as part of the Freedom Five Initiative -- because that initiative never existed, Dummy; it’s all been in your head apparently -- or the hero Absolute Zero. 

This was all public knowledge, at least in the world and life he once knew.

But none of that.

“Are you still in that coma, Frost?” Paul whispered to himself. That would make it nearly 20 years. 

Or … “Are you dead?”

Paul shuddered at the thought. He considered checking online obituaries to see if he could find a reference to Ryan Frost. His hands hovered over the keyboard. Instead, he closed the laptop.

He just couldn’t. He couldn’t face a truth as dire as that.

There was no Absolute Zero here. That was all he really needed to know. Just as there was no Tachyon or Wraith. Or Bunker.

No Freedom Five. Never had been, it seemed.

“Four strikes and you’re out,” Legacy mumbled, not caring in the least about his butchering of the baseball metaphor.

But, while he was out of Freedom Five members, there was still that unofficial six member. Unity had been there when Felicia had been kidnapped too. Legacy was still convinced all this … craziness … was related to that.

So he looked up Devra Capist, Unity’s “real life” name. Apparently, she was a student at New Mordengrad University, formerly Megalopolis University, of course.

“Time for another visit,” Paul mumbled.

Why would Unity be any different than any of the others? Why would he expect her to know him? Truth be told, he didn’t. After all, he’d met Unity through Tachyon, so without Tachyon …

And yet he had to know. Maybe, he reasoned with himself, if some villainy were involved, maybe only the Freedom Five were targeted? Not being an official member, perhaps Unity had been overlooked.

So, he went to New Mordengrad University  to look for Unity -- or Devra, really.

It actually wasn’t too hard to find her. He was walking around the main campus, somewhat directionless, when he saw a bulletin board with a lot of fliers and posters hung up. One caught his eye:

 

DEVRA AND THE BOTZ

ROCKIN’ THE HOLIDAYZ!

BEHOLD THE SPECTACLE AND GET IN THE SPIRIT

DEC. 23 @ 9 p.m. at the Student Union

BE THERE -- THE BOTZ DEMANDZ IT!

 

It had to be her.

“Bots with a z,” Paul chuckled. “Oh, Devra!”

It was a poster for a band, which was apparently playing tonight at the Student Union. He’d have to check it out.

It was certainly a spectacle to behold. Devra was the lead singer and guitarist. She wasn’t very good on guitar and wasn’t much better at the singing. And she’d created bots to play each of the instruments. They looked like various humanoid animals -- a female cat on drums, a male dog on bass, a female bunny on the keyboards. The bots were actually better at playing their instruments than Devra, making Paul wonder how that was the case.

It wasn’t a great show, but it still brought a smile to Paul -- probably something he hadn’t done for awhile -- because the whole thing felt so much like Unity.

She was Unity.

But she wasn’t Unity.

He thought about leaving it there, walking away before his worst fears could be confirmed. But he knew he had to know. He’d gone this far; he had to see if she knew him.

So, after the show, he started to approach her.

And when she saw him, her face brightened; a great, big smile.

“Paul!” She shouted, running up and hugging him. “I didn’t know you were going to be here! How’d you even find out about this?”

“You … know me?” Paul stumbled over the words.

She laughed. “Of course, silly!”

“I didn’t think you would.”

“What you thought me seeing you outside of your janitor’s uniform would make me not recognize you?” She laughed. “It’s not that good of a disguise, Paul.”

He laughed, remembering the uniform from the closet at “home.”  Of course, Devra must work there too, perhaps an internship. 

“I guess not,” he said with a shrug.

“So, I guess you weren’t here to see me after all, since you didn’t seem to think I’d know you. Just a coincidence then?”

“Yeah, a coincidence,” Paul nodded. “I come to these things occasionally. I like … music.”

She nodded. “Of course you do. Well, it was good to see you. Missed you today. Playing a bit of hooky, I guess?”

He balked a little and shrugged. “I guess so.” Then he feigned a chuckle. “Don’t tell.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” she said laughing. “I play hooky all the time. I mean, not so much at work, but here. School’s so … not me.”

“That’s … too bad.” She certainly didn’t seem to have the drive he knew Unity to have; drive that had been inspired by Tachyon. And without Tachyon …

She shrugged. “Eh. It’s not for everybody. Been thinking about quitting. Maybe going on the road with my band. I know RevoCorp wants me to finish school. Might have a job available for me afterward, but ... ” she shrugged again. “... do I even want this job anymore? Not sure.”

“Well, I hope you stay.”

“Awww, thanks, Paul. I’ll at least think it over, but I’ve got to go. Take care, Paul.”

“You too,” he said, forcing a bit of a smile.

No asking her about Unity. Or the Freedom Five. He knew what those answers would be.

The Freedom Five was no more.

The Freedom Five never was at all, more like. That pesky voice again.

Paul Parsons wanted a rootbeer to drown some of his sorrows.

So he went to the liquor store on the corner, not prepared at all for what would happen next.

He had the 20-ounce bottle of rootbeer in his hand and was looking at the snack aisle when a man with the ski mask entered, brandishing a gun.

“Give me all the money in your cash register! Now,” he yelled as he pointed the gun at the clerk.

And Paul Parsons’ Legacy mode clicked in, without the costume. But, more importantly, without the powers as well.

“Drop that gun, evildoer,” Paul said in his best Legacy-voice as he stepped forward.

The man quickly turned to Paul and fired his gun twice.

Paul suddenly felt immense pain, and he fell to the ground, clutching his gut as blood spewed out.

“Definitely not bullet-proof,” he mumbled. His vision was going blurry, but he looked up to see the gunman running out of the store.

“Oh my god,” he heard the clerk shouting. “Are you okay? I’ll call 9-1-1!”

“I’m …,” Paul tried to talk, but everything went fuzzy.

He kept weaving in and out of consciousness. Blurry figures. Blackness. More blurry figures. And there were sirens … a million miles away.

He was in a hospital. He knew that much. Hooked to machines.

He was alive. Barely hanging on.

“Mr. Parsons?”

He turned his head slightly in the direction of the voice to see a doctor looking at him.

“Yeah?” he groggily asked.

“How are you feeling?”

“OK. No real pain … anymore.”

The doctor laughed. “Yeah, the morphine will do that. I heard you tried to be a hero, Mr. Parsons.”

“Tried?”

The doctor laughed again. “I guess the gunman didn’t get any money, but he got away. And he nearly killed you. It was very touch-and-go for a bit though. Might I suggest, in the future, leaving the heroics to the N.M.C.D.D.s?”

Paul just nodded weakly.

“Good,” the doctor continued. “Now, I believe you’re past the worst of it, but I’d like to keep you here overnight for observation.”

“You’re the doc, Doc.”

The doctor smiled. “Is there anyone we can call for you?”

Paul shook his head. “There’s no one … anymore.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” the doctor said, putting a hand on Paul’s shoulder. “Now, get some rest. Doctor’s orders.”

Paul raised his hand ever so slightly, barely managing a thumb’s up gesture.

The doctor left. A few minutes later, Paul had just been drifting off to sleep, when he heard a woman shout, “You can’t go in there. Visiting hours are over.”

“Not for me, they’re not,” said a man’s voice that was eerily familiar to Paul. And there was a snap of fingers. 

Paul turned to see the man in the blue suit and those purple eyes coming into his room -- the one from before it all went to hell.

“You,” he said, as something began to dawn on him, but the drugs were slowing his ability to put it all together yet.

“You remember me?” the man said with a big smile.

“Mr. Mawes,” Paul stumbled, searching his memory. “Garret Mawes.”

He nodded. “That’s correct. How are you doing, Paul?”

“I want my old life back. I just want to be Legacy again.”

“But why?” he scoffed.

“Excuse me?”

“Why would you want that life? Thankless heroics. Villainous masterminds always trying to kill you or your friends and family! Think of Felicia! So much pressure! And so much pressure on her too! She’s so young for all that! Save the world! Save the universe! Do it again! Fly up there and rescue my cat from that tree! And barely a ‘thanks!’ or ‘good job!’ They go on with their miserable lives, and the very next day you’re out there risking your life again for another thankless sad sack. And then you’re cursed with forcing your daughter into this life, leaving her no choice and you’re left always wondering when some nemesis will do her in! And it goes on and on. Her children. Her children’s children! It’s never going to end. I mean, what kind of legacy is that?!”

Paul Parsons smiled. “It’s a wonderful legacy.”

“Is it really?” he asked, and he seemed genuinely surprised.

“It is. You wouldn’t understand,” Paul said. “I sometimes don’t.”

“So normal is just too…”

“Normal,” they said the word together.

“And you don’t want to be just good ol’ unnoteworthy Paul Parsons anymore?” Garret asked. “Without too many cares in the world?”

“No, please, if there’s anyway you can give me my old life back … my real life … that’s what I want. What I truly want. Forever.”

“Very well, then. I was wrong,” he said, shaking his head. “I’ll never understand you … people.”

Garret Mawes said that last word with such disdain that Paul balked a bit. He almost said something, but before he could, the man in blue snapped his fingers.

And everything went black again.

---

“Legacy. Come in, Legacy, are you there?” Wraith’s voice cackled through his earpiece. Legacy brought up his arms to take a look. He was in his Legacy costume and on the bridge over the Potomac River where he’d first met Garret Mawes. He was Legacy again! “Legacy?” 

“Oh, Wraith, yes I’m here. Sorry. I was just … not myself for a bit there.”

“Well, I understand that, Paul! But great news. We found Felicia! She’s safe!”

“You rescued her?” Legacy asked. He could hear the joy in his own voice.

“Did you ever doubt we would?” Absolutely Zero's voice chimed in on the line. “We’re the Freedom Five! We're cool like that!”

“Oh, Absolute Zero! It's so good to hear your voice! And thank you, all!”

“Wait, wait, wait,” his daughter’s voice came over the earpiece. “What’s this about the Freedom Five rescuing me? I’d pretty much rescued myself by the time they showed up!”

There was laughter over the coms.

“Oh, Felicia, I’m coming right now.”

“See you soon, Dad!”

Was he truly back to being Legacy? Only one way to find out: He attempted to take to the skies.

And he was flying! Soaring!

He wanted to fly directly to Megalopolis, to hug his daughter, to be reunited with the rest of the Freedom Five, but he had to make a stop first. So he flew directly to his wife’s office.

Legacy floated outside her window and looked at her for just a second. She had her head down on her desk in her arms. Her shoulders heaving. She was crying.

Legacy tapped lightly on the window.

She looked up. Her face was reddened from all the crying.

“You told me not to come back until we found Felicia safe,” he said, smiling widely. “Well, I’m back.”

She jumped up, a smile appearing on her own face.

She opened the window, Legacy flew in, and they embraced.

“She’s safe, she’s safe,” he whispered to her.

“Oh my god. Thank god,” she whispered. “And thank you.”

He looked at her, held her gaze. “You know I worry about her all the time too, right?”

She nodded. “I know.”

“But she’s going to keep hero-ing. We can’t stop her. She does want it, you know? It’s her choice.”

“I know,” Emily nodded.

“And she’s going to be a far better hero than I ever was, I suspect.”

Emily smiled, but there was a tear in her eye. “Will you go to her now?”

Legacy nodded. “I will.”

“Tell her my flight’s tomorrow morning. I’ll be there soon.”

“In time for the party?”

“Wouldn’t miss it.” Her smile was even brighter now. Genuine. That spirit of the holidays -- always a favorite for hers -- returning.

“I love you, Emily.”

“I love you too, Paul.” And as Legacy turned and was about to fly away, she tapped him on the shoulder and he turned back to her. “And I love Legacy too. With all my heart. It’s just sometimes …”

“I know,” he said. Then he kissed her on the forehead and flew off.

He was smiling the whole flight to Megalopolis.

As he neared the Freedom Tower, Felicia flew up to meet him in the air. 

“Dad!” she shouted. 

They embraced in the air.

“Oh, Felicia. I’m so glad you’re OK. I was so worried.”

“I know you were,” she said with a smile. She broke the embrace to put her hands on her hips while still floating in the air. “But I was fine. I can hold my own, you should know that by now. And that Baron Blade got what was coming to him!”

Legacy nodded with a big smile. “That’s my daughter!”

They flew down to the Freedom Tower and joined the rest of the Freedom Five.

Legacy embraced each of them tightly. “I missed you all so much.”

“You act like you’ve been gone forever,” Unity said. “It’s only been a few hours.”

“Yeah. Are you okay, Sir?” Bunker asked.

“I am now,” Legacy said, relieved. “I thought I’d never see you guys again.”

“Why’d you never think you’d see us again?” Tachyon asked. “We weren’t the ones kidnapped.” Then she looked over to Felicia. “Sorry, Felicia.”

She just chuckled. “No worries. Comes with the territory, I guess.”

Legacy laughed. “I’m just glad we’re all back together.”

“Something happen to you out there, Legacy?” Absolute Zero asked.

“It’s a long story, and it’s late. I think I just want to go home with my daughter.”

“Yeah, it’s been a long day for me too,” Felicia said. “Home and a nice cup of hot cocoa sounds … superb.”

“Doesn’t it, though?”

“Okay, well you can tell us the story tomorrow,” Wraith said. “You’re all still coming to my Christmas party tomorrow night, right?”

“We’ll be there,” the two Legacies said together and laughed.

“Most certainly,” added Tachyon.

“Can Mr. Chomps come?” Unity asked. Wraith just laughed and nodded. Unity usually liked to show off her favorite bot at parties and celebrations, so it never truly felt like one until Mr. Chomps showed up for a bit.

“Consider it achieved,” Bunker said, giving a thumbs up. “This mission shall be accomplished.”

“Sorry, Wraith,” Absolute Zero said. “Didn’t I tell you I have a hot date?”

“No, you don’t,” Wraith said with certainty. “You will be there.”

Absolute Zero sighed. “I will.” Then he shrugged. “Can’t blame a guy for trying.”

“Oh, but I can,” Wraith said with a smile.

“Until tomorrow then, fellow heroes,” Legacy said and flew off, his daughter following just behind him.

The next day they were all finishing up a nice holiday dinner, including Emily Parsons and Tachyon’s wife Dana, at the Montgomery mansion when Legacy told him all the story of what had happened when he went to Washington and wound up in a place called New Mordengrad in a world without the Freedom Five.

“So I was in a band,” Unity said in amazement. “I should join one of those. What do you say, Mr. Chomps?” Mr. Chomps hadn’t made his appearance at the party yet, but just then some of the silverware from the table began to form into Unity’s favorite raptor bot. Once formed, Chomps gave Unity a high-five.

“Wow, that’s quite a story,” Wraith said. “I was in Rook City Prison, eh?” She grimaced.

“It was very strange,” Legacy said. “I guess I passed out after meeting that man. Maybe the stress of Felicia gone and Emily upset at me caused me to faint. And it was all just some unconscious dream. Never done that before. But I met Garret Mawes, all went black, the weirdness happened, and then I was right back to where I’d left him, but he was nowhere to be seen.” 

Legacy took out the man’s business card and twirled it around in his fingers. 

“Let me see that card,” Tachyon said. Legacy handed it over to her. “Hmmmm.”

In a flash, she was gone. In another flash, she was back with a Scrabble game under her arm.

“I don’t own Scrabble,” Wraith said.

“I know,” Tachyon said, pointing to the name scrawled on the inside of the box lid: PARSONS FAMILY. “Hope you don’t mind?”

“Not at all,” Legacy said. It wasn’t the first time Tachyon went to their house. She knew how to get in.

“We live five miles away,” Emily said flabbergasted. She still found it hard to get used to the superspeed thing.

“I know. I’m sorry it took so long.”

 Then Tachyon dumped out the tiles and quickly found the letters she wanted. She arranged them on the table:

GARRET MAWES

She pointed it out. Everyone just looked at her.

“So?” Unity shrugged.

With an exasperated sigh, Tachyon rearranged those 11 tiles in a blink of an eye:

WAGER MASTER

And, with that, they all nodded in perfect understanding.

Wager Master was a blue-skinned, purple-eyed cosmic being with unheard of reality-bending powers who liked to meddle in the heroes’ lives.

“Makes sense,” Wraith said, nodding and taking a drink of her egg nog.

“Indeed it was the work of some villainy,” Legacy said. “I knew it!”

“Now that that’s settled, let’s all get back to celebrating Christmas,” Absolute Zero offered to everyone’s amazement.

And, a little bit later, as everyone enjoyed their Christmas cheer, Shadow, Wraith’s sleek, black cat, batted at a bell hanging on the lower branches of the tree.

"Look, Dad,” Felicia said as the bell chimed. “You know what they say: Everytime a bell rings, an all-powerful cosmic entity loses a bet!"

They all laughed, and Legacy took his wife and daughter into each arm, bringing them together in a group hug.

"That is indeed what they say," Legacy said with a chuckle, pulling the two women he loved most in the world into a tighter embrace. "Merry Christmas, everyone!"

And to all a good night.