The Masters Initiative
CHAPTER 1: New Faces
Hold the line! Supermans voice carried over the burning landscape, as dozens of heroes worked to extinguish the flames that threatened the town hardly a mile to the south of them.
How it had started was anyones guess. A spark, or cinder from a still smoldering cigarette butt. Whatever it was, it had been enough to ignite the bone dry California brush into a raging inferno that had already consumed over ten thousand acres. Firemen and Justice League alike worked tirelessly to try and quell the ravenous flames as they drew closer and closer to the small town, while the local law enforcement worked side by side with the heroes and heroines to get every last person to safety. The heat rolling off of the towering flames was intense, even by Supermans standards, and he could tell the firemen were beginning to struggle with it. They werent going to last much longer like this.
Shayera, are you just about finished there? Supermans strained voice came in over her com-link, Even with the League, this fires beating us back! Were not going to be able to hold it off for much longer before well need to start pulling the firefighters out of here.
I think were just about ready, Came her reply, Most of the people left before the fires got too close, were just rounding up the stragglers now.
Alright, Superman said, pushing a burning tree back into the flames, where it wouldnt ignite any others, Ill start pulling everyone out of here then.
It took him less than a second to give the order to retreat, and the entire task force, both meta and human began to hurry away from the oncoming blaze. Superman himself was about to pull back, when he noticed a commotion about a hundred yards away, a group of firefighters shouting so loud he could hear them without any super-human ability.
We cant just leave him in there!
What can you do?! Add to the body count?
Superman turned back to the small group of men, most of whom were struggling to hold one of their own from charging straight into the fire. But the lone man was more than determined, and with one last pull, he broke free of his crew and bolted straight for the flames. It took less than a second for Superman to cover the distance that separated himself from the group, and caught hold of the mans collar before he charged into the roaring inferno.
Whats going on here? The Man of Steel demanded, knowing every second that passed lessened their chances of making it out of the fires alive.
Its Michaelson! The Firefighter in his hand nearly screamed, We were pulling out and he got caught in the draft from one of our back-fires! We lost him when the fire break closed over!
Superman dropped the struggling man and turned his sights to the raging blaze. With the waving flames and intense heat, it was nearly impossible to make out any kind human figure that would have been scrambling to get out of the fires path. But it wasnt what was behind the curtain of flames that caught his attention; instead it was a black blur that rushed past him. The figure took two bounds before leaping into a charring tree and vaulted down behind the wall of fire.
Cursing the rashness of the daredevil, Superman turned back to his group of evacuees. They had to get everyone they could out now, or risk losing far more than one man. He gathered the men next to him and took to safer air, leaving the smoke and cinder charred skies behind him. He could see everyone was out already, League and safety personnel checking in, but in the back of his mind he knew there would be two missing somewhere on their rosters.
He more or less dropped the men, before rushing to find whoever was keeping track of the heroes checking in. Superpowers or not, the crowds around the station were so thick, it felt like an eternity before he managed to get a hold of one of the people in charge.
You there! Superman shouted at the worker, What groups havent checked in yet?!
The man stammered, scrolling through his lists, Squads 3 and 12 sir!
Has anyone been reported missing?
Iits too early to tell sir, He fumbled, trying to find anything to tell one of the
most powerful men on the planet, I dont have anything-
The Man of Steel looked to see someone pushing through the crowd towards him, waving an arm trying to get his attention. Hed seen the hero around the Watchtower before, not an old man, but certainly one whod seen a number of years in such a dangerous line of work. Thin plates of a strange metallic armor seemed to hug his body like a living suit as he weaved nimbly in and out of the crowd of people to reach his destination. The secret behind the strange suit didnt remain that way for long, thanks to an almost imperceptible clicking and metallic sound of movement at a microscopic level. Nanobots, the whole suit was made of them and he knew of only one person who owned such an intricate piece of technology. Devlon McDernon, a.k.a. Black Jack.
Black Jack? Superman said, a little confused as the hero finally caught up to him, Whats the matter?
My squads short one man, Black Jack panted, nearly cutting Superman off, Weve checked the entire area, but theres no trace of him anywhere and hes not answering his com-link.
Who is it? Superman demanded.
Guy calls himself Windrider. Im pretty sure hes the one a couple of you Founders picked up off the streets a few months back.
Where was the last place you saw him?
About half mile south of the river break, but last I checked that whole areas charcoal-Whoa!
Black Jack flailed a bit as Superman hoisted him up off the ground and started hauling him through the air and back towards the rolling heat of the blaze. It took less than a few second to reach the fires edge, but they were still a mile out and the smoke was far too thick to breathe in, much less see through. It didnt matter how high or how far around Superman tried to circle the fire, the smoke had a veil cast around it so think it would take hours for it to clear enough to see through.
Fearing the worst for the missing Leaguer, Superman started to circle around one last time praying for any glimpse through the haze, when Black Jack thrashed in his arms, wildly pointing to something on the ground below.
Look! Superman! There in the water! Someones coming out!
Sure enough, two blackened figures were stumbling out of the shimmering silver ribbon that ran right next to the rallying point. And their appearance hadnt gone unnoticed by the people on the ground either, a large group of them breaking away from the mass of people to help them out of the water. Superman and Black Jack touched down just near the waters edge in time to see a group of firemen rush over to one of the soggy figures to embrace him like a brother back from the dead. A few others crowded around the other, only to be waved off as he stood doubled over coughing up the soot tainted water. It wasnt easy, but Superman could just make out the stylized W ingrained on the lightweight chest plate, as the young hero would try to stand in order to breathe a little easier.
Youll have to tell me how you did that one day, Superman said appreciatively, walking up next to the recovering Leaguer.
The young man didnt quite stand up, but he did crane his head around to get a better look at the Man of Steel. What first struck him, was just how young the daredevil was. He couldnt have even been old enough to drink or toss a few coins into a slot machine, yet here he was gambling his life in the ultimate game of Russian roulette. Spiky sand-brown hair was peppered with the still falling ash and soot that hung thick in the air even as far away from the fires as they were. His eyes didnt seem as though they were quite able to make up their mind on what color they wanted to be, shifting from a rustic green to a deep amber in just the few seconds Superman was able to observe him. Black, loose fitting material disguised a study and muscled frame, given away only where space pieces of light armor clung to his arms and shoulders. Now his face looked familiar. The kid was a young runaway by the name of Raizel Kurin. He remembered reading the report Batman had filed not too long after he and Jonn had found the kid on a recovery mission following a prison break from Strikers.
Impulse, Windrider coughed, The river was a big help though.
Superman spared a chuckle, a mix of relief and good humor. He noticed a few tears in the younger heros suit, angry red lashes marking where the materials barrier had failed.
You should probably go and get checked out by one of the medical teams, Superman suggested.
Ill be alright, Windrider said quickly, gingerly testing all of his limbs to make sure everything was still in good functioning order.
You wont be when I get done with you! Black Jacks voice cut through, as the man pushed past Superman to whack Windrider hard on the shoulder, You almost gave me a heart attack! I mean how bad would Id a looked if I lost one of my squad on a simple rescue mission?
No worse than you look now, Windrider grinned faintly, dodging another retaliatory swipe from the older Leaguer.
Alright, thats enough, Superman said, putting an end to the bickering, Go let one of the techs know your squad is ready for teleport back to the Watchtower. And Windrider, you really should get yourself checked out. You had to have been in that smoke for quite some time.
As soon as I get back to the Tower Superman, Windrider nodded, following behind Black Jack before vanishing amongst the throng of people.
What were you thinking!?
Trust me, there really wasnt a thought process.
The comforting hum of the teleporter died away to the metallic sounds of the Watchtower, and Black Jacks continued rant. Really, the older hero was perhaps Rais closest friend in such an alien feeling setting, so he took the conversation in stride, knowing full well had he been in a similar position their roles would have been reversed. A stifled yawn rose in his chest, and he looked around to check the time, forgetting for the thousandth time that there was no set hour on board the orbiting space station. He understood why, after all when they were changing time zones every ten minutes and people were coming and going at all hours of the Watchtowers erratic schedule, time was really the last thing on anyones minds. But it didnt quite make up for the havoc it wreaked on his internal clock.
Look, Ill try to be more careful next time, Windrider promised, Ill catch you next shift?
Oh no you dont, Black Jack insisted, grabbing a hold of his uniform, and pulling him towards the Commissary, Youre not just going to slink away today. Youre going to come get something to eat.
Windrider chuckled politely, Im really not hungry, and Id just like to get some sleep-
Dont try it Rai, The elder cut him off, You and I both know you hardly sleep, or eat for that matter. Im going to make sure you get a good meal at the very least.
What? Rai asked, realizing where they were headed, At the Commissary?!
Ok, so maybe not a good meal, but food,
Rai rubbed his neck, as he stood in line waiting for his tray in the cafeteria. His eyes continuously darted from one costume to another, every nerve and muscle drawn taut, despite what he looked like on the outside. He felt exposed here, even though he knew full well no one here would do him any harm. It took every ounce of his self-control to maintain a relaxed appearance despite of the deer in the headlights feeling that kept rolling inside his chest.
He quickly snatched a dish from the line, hardly looking at what it was and headed for a table on the edge of the room. Windrider set his tray down, taking his seat at the empty table, as Black Jack found his own opposite him. The Commissary was packed today, especially after so many returning from that wildfire. Windrider started into his food without another word, keeping his eyes solidly fixed on his tray, trying to ignore just how many other people there were around him. Black Jack was saying something to him, but his voice sounded far off and distant, until a plastic cup knocked into his forehead.
You didnt hear a thing I just said did you? Black Jack huffed.
Sorry, Windrider apologized, I guess Im just a little tired.
Apparently, Black Jack said pointing to his tray, You didnt even add the cheese to your pasta there.
Rai glanced down at his food and saw the still sealed packet of cheese sauce next to the half eaten macaroni. With a sigh, he tore it open and dumped some of it onto the lukewarm noodles and stuffed another forkful into his mouth.
See? Being social hasnt made you drop of a heart attack yet! Black Jack joked, taking a bite of his sandwich.
Funny. Windrider mumbled, shoveling the last of his food down and standing up with his tray, Look Dev, I need to get going. I still need to get checked out at the med bay before I turn in alright?
Whatever pal, Black Jack resigned, waving Rai off in defeat, If you do ever decide to have some fun, Ill be on the station for another couple of
Black Jack sighed, by the time he looked up, Rai was already long gone.