Everyone agreed to retire to their quarters and think about it. Kim put Mary to bed and came into the room. She began giving Dan a back massage, but could barely even move her fingers on his shoulders because he was so tense.
"It bothers you that you lost your detective abilities, doesn't it?"
"Yes," Dragon answered, taking one of her hands and kissing it. "I have the skills of a soldier, but I'm not a soldier. I may not be a detective either, but I need those skills more than the military skills I'm stuck with."
"So get another teacher. You're learning swords and cults, why can't you find someone to teach you about detective work? Maybe all you need is to reawaken your instincts."
Dragon reached over and kissed her. "You're right. That's what I need to do. I think the basics are still in my mind somewhere, I just need someone to help me remember them. Maybe Brimstone, if he isn't in another dimension. Dimension..."
Dragon jumped up, startling Kim. As he ran out of the room, he yelled, "Sorry, honey! But I think one of those instincts just came back!"
Kim sighed and fell onto the bed. Again, she knew she'd be sleeping alone.
Dragon ran down the hallway and downstairs, looking for Schizo. He found him laying in the middle of the dining room, asleep. But he was in a different state than the one he'd been in earlier. Dragon shook him awake.
"When you were away earlier, where were you?" Dragon demanded.
Schizo looked confused, and Dragon didn't wait for an answer to his question. Instead, he fired off another one.
"Was it the astral plane? Because that mind link sure looked like the astral plane. I've been there before."
Schizo said, "It was a different place. I felt the need to go there and rest, and when I was there, John contacted me."
"Of course," Dragon said, "he contacted you when you were on another plane of existence. He's not powerful enough to do it here, but in the astral plane, mental strength, not physical, is what matters. Can you go back?"
Schizo shrugged and concentrated. Soon, he and Dragon appeared in the misty white zone. Dragon began calling out, "John! We're here! Help us find you!"
A form of John came into existence. This was the Twilight Dragon remembered, dressed in blue armor and cape and standing tall, not sitting in a wheel chair. He spoke in a faint voice.
"Dan. We don't have long. If Darke finds out I can still contact you, he'll suppress my powers even more. Come and rescue me."
"I will, John. Where are you?"
John looked in Dragon's eyes and said, "We're in Los Angeles, in some abandoned theater. More than that, I don't know."
John's form dissipated, and Dragon looked at Schizo. "John was taken," the creature said.
Dragon ordered Schizo to take him back to the normal dimension. When they were both in the mansion again, Dragon went to wake up Garrison. The man was groggy, but came to full awareness when Dragon said, "I've found John. PSI has him and if we don't go now, they might do something terrible."
Garrison sat up in bed and reached for his robe. "Give me and my team ten minutes to get into costumes."
In fifteen minutes, the Freemen, accompanied by Dave and Dragon, were airborne in the Vagabond. Kim and the Teacher stayed behind.
It took a little over an hour to reach Los Angeles at top speed. By the time they arrived, Garrison and Dragon had narrowed down abandoned theaters to two possibilities. The first one checked out as empty, but the second was shielded from psionic scans and the Vagabond's sensors.
"This is the one," Dragon said.
The theater, with a cracked sign that read "Nile Theater," was a two-story brick building with four windows spaced evenly along the first level and one door, all boarded up. Dragon and Garrison agreed to go in through the front door, with Indomitable and Athena crashing in through the back window. Backfire and Schizo would hang outside until they needed reinforcements.
"What about me?" Dave asked, cocking his gun.
"You will stay on board and be ready to teleport John out as soon as we find him," Dragon answered firmly.
With that, Dave beamed them down to the ground level. Dragon hit the door, crashing into a brightly lit steel interior. Five men spun around and one of them yelled, "Wildside! How did they find us?"
The men were dressed in VIPER uniforms. They were sitting around a card table playing poker and watching some sort of Japanese cartoon on a large screen television. They reached for their blaster pistols, which were on top of the table.
Garrison concentrated, and the jewel set in his mask glowed. One of the agents dropped to the floor as the mental bolt hit him. Dragon, never one for subtlety, dove in and cracked two of the others' heads together, dropping them.
The other two had a chance to act. One of them pushed the other towards the single steel door set in the back wall as he opened fire on Garrison and Dragon. The blasts ricocheted harmlessly off of Dragon's skin and Garrison's force field, but the other one managed to enter a code on the door's terminal and slide through it. He closed it behind him. The agent looked mortified as he saw the controls he had accidentally blasted.
Garrison dropped the remaining agent with his mental blast and looked at Dragon. "What's going on? I thought John told you he was here."
"He did. Maybe VIPER and PSI are working together."
"Not hardly. They hate each other. More likely, we've been duped. We better get out of here."
The VIPER agent closed the door behind him, panting. He looked at the commander of the safehouse, sitting against the far wall with his Brickbuster cannon. He didn't seem aware of what had happened in the other room. In fact, he didn't seem awake at all.
Moving in cautiously, the agent nudged his commander. The man's helmet fell off, revealing a horrible look of agony on his face and dried blood on the sides of his head, leaving a trail from his ears. A clang brought the agent's attention back to the room around him as someone began kicking on the steel-reinforced boards on the back window.
Picking up the Brickbuster, the agent aimed at the window. He felt a burning sensation in his stomach and turned to look at the cell in the room. The red light indicating the power disruption field was off, and inside the cell the weak young blonde man was staring at him.
The agent turned the gun, but was too late, as waves of mental agony rushed over him. He fell over, howling with agony. He dropped mercifully into unconsciousness as the young man stepped into the room, formerly blocked off by a force field. He picked up a ring that the VIPER commander had been holding and twisted the jewel in its face. Just as the steel window crashed in, he vanished.
Indomitable crashed through the window with Athena right behind him. He grimaced as he saw the two unconscious VIPER agents. He checked for a pulse and was relieved to find that they were both still alive.
The door on the other side of the room came crashing in. Dragon looked around and saw the other two unconscious VIPER agents. Garrison did a quick mental scan and confirmed that there was no one else inside the building. They all noted the empty cell.
"Grab these two," Dragon said, motioning to the unconscious VIPER agents, "and we'll carry them up to the Vagabond for interrogation."
Both men actually recovered fairly quickly, and they found themselves stripped of all weapons and held in the strong grip of Indomitable, one in each arm. Dragon looked at them and asked, "What were you doing in there?"
Before they could say anything, Garrison answered. "They were guarding Torment. Somehow VIPER had captured him and they moved him to a location secure from PSI. Then, when we attacked, the power was knocked out and..."
The men were staring defiantly at Garrison, who simply shrugged. "I needn't probe your minds any deeper. We already know what happened next. He used his pain-inducing powers to knock both of you out and probably teleported away using his panic ring, which you foolishly still had, as a memento of your conquest. VIPER Command won't be happy that your nest didn't report this immediately."
At the sound of that, both men turned white. They realized they were as good as dead. The Supreme Serpent had a reputation for intolerance of independent action, especially when it failed.
"Please," the commander said, "I've got a wife and two kids."
Backfire snorted, but Dragon looked worried. "If you agree to turn yourself in to the Champions, and tell them everything you know about VIPER, I'll make sure your wife and kids are safe."
The commander considered it and realized it was the best deal he would get. He nodded lightly, looking ashamed. The other spoke up, in a southern accent, yelling, "Traitor!"
He reached across to strangle the other, but Indomitable held him away and Garrison knocked him out with a mental bolt.
"We'll turn this one into the police," Garrison said.
"No," Dragon argued, "VIPER will kill him! We can't do that. We'll have to let him go."
Garrison was clearly unhappy, but he didn't much care what happened to VIPER, only what happened to PSI.
Dave lowered the Vagabond to the ground and Dragon got out with the unconscious agent. He shook him gently until he woke up. The agent spat in Dragon's face, and Dragon had to control his anger again.
"We're letting you go. Run. You know that VIPER will kill you for letting Torment get away."
The agent took off, disappearing into an alley. Dragon waited until he couldn't hear the footsteps anymore and got back inside the plane.
"Take us to Homestead," Dragon said, and Dave obeyed.
It took a few minutes to get to Homestead, and as Dave was radioing for permission to land, Dragon asked Garrison, "What do you think was going on?"
"I think we were duped by John into raiding a VIPER operation to free a PSI operative named Torment. That means John has been brainwashed by Counselor Darke."
"John brainwashed? I thought mentalists had a higher resistance to that."
"Normally, they do," Garrison answered, "but given John's condition, who knows what might be going on with him."
Dave brought the plane in to a landing and they all disembarked to greet the welcoming party. James and Elaine were there, standing next to Eddie and Jenny. Noticeably absent was Dark Rose. And Dave was the first to notice.
"Hey, where's Rose?" Dave asked, climbing out of the cockpit.
"She's gone," Elaine answered quietly. Everyone else just remained quiet. Elaine handed Dave a note. When he finished reading it, he crumpled it and tossed it into the Vagabond.
"Hey Dragon," Dave asked, "is that offer to join up with you still open?"
"If you're sure..." Dragon answered cautiously.
Dave smiled and said, "Sure I'm sure. It'll be fun. Let me just grab the rest of my stuff from Homestead and we'll be on our way. Places to see, women to meet, I can't wait!"
As he walked off into the base, Elaine cast a worried look behind herself at him. James, meanwhile, walked up and shook Garrison's hand.
"Good to meet you, Memoir. I've heard good things from the Protectors about you. Who are these people...with...you?"
James' voice trailed off as Schizo walked out from the plane, looking all around in wonder. He recovered fairly quickly and called out, "Schizo! Have you come to rejoin?"
"Defender? I remember you." Schizo answered, and then he walked past everyone and into the base. James, Elaine, and Jenny stared after him.
"That's not the Schizo you knew," Dragon explained. "He's an independent being, not a projection, like he used to be. I don't know how much you knew, but just trust me that this being is different."
Indomitable hauled the VIPER agent out of the plane and looked out at the four Champions standing on the lawn. He stammered out, "Nice to meet you all" and walked on past quickly.
"That was Indomitable," Garrison told James, "he's a member of my team, the Freemen. The other members are Athena and Backfire, who are still on board the plane."
Garrison started walking towards the building, gesturing for everyone else to follow. "He's just nervous, so we'd better catch up to him before he realizes he hasn't got the foggiest idea where he's going."
James cracked a smile and, taking Elaine's hand, walked along with Garrison. Dragon walked over to Eddie, who still had bandages over his eyes, and said, "How are you doing, Eddie? Have you decided what's next?"
"Not yet, Dragon," he answered, "but with you and Rose both gone, Wildside may not be an option anymore."
"She'll be back," Dragon answered, and he added in his thoughts, "or my brother will answer for it."
Once inside the house, they were surprised to find Schizo already waiting in the holding area. Indomitable put the man in a cell and locked the door. Dragon shivered, remembering his last experience in these rooms. He'd been influenced by Black Dragon, and when he got too rough with a prisoner, the Champions tried to take him in. Schizo pulled him out of there, and he learned the truth about him. He still owed John for that save. If not for him, Dragon would probably still be sitting in one of these cells, in the grip of Black Dragon.
"Do you have a problem with Europe?" James was asking the man, and he shook his head no.
"Good, that makes our job easier. I'll get you a phone, and you can call your wife and kids. We'll send someone over to pick them up. Then I'll call UNTIL."
"I'll go get his family," Dragon said to James, "I'd feel horrible if anything happened to them because he helped us."
James nodded, understanding. He left to call UNTIL. After the agent had called his wife and explained the situation to her, Dragon took Dave and the Vagabond and went to pick up the man's family.