Samsara's portal opened into the danger room of the Wildside Complex. Although they had left at different times, they all walked through together. Indigo ran, still carrying Shockwave, headed for the medical lab. The rest of them looked around at each other. Legionnaire was ready to bolt until Samsara stopped him with a gesture and light mind control.
"You did well," Samsara said. "And Legionnaire, you have nothing to fear. You have a right to search for your father."
"How did we ever find them?" Platinum asked. "That was an incredible stroke of luck."
"It wasn't luck," said Dave Hunter as he limped into the room. "I should know."
Cindy rushed over and hugged her father. He pushed her away gently. He glared at Samsara.
Samsara waved his hand and Cindy and Dave disappeared.
"Where did they go?" Platinum asked angrily.
"They had private business to discuss," Samsara answered. He looked to Vincent, who had a worried expression on his face until he realized he was being watched.
"We have things to discuss as well," Samsara said. He and Vincent vanished.
Mary, Platinum and Dragon were walking out of the room. Dragon turned to Mary and said, "What? Why?"
Platinum asked his father, "What did she say?"
"I have to leave, Alex," Mary said in his mind. "In my journey alone, I learned some things about myself. I experienced some things I would like to know again. I need to be on my own, as I have never been."
"I'll go with you," Alex said.
"I need to be alone," she repeated in his mind.
Mary walked out of the room, pulling her cloak around herself to ward off an imaginary chill.
"Take me to see your mother," Dragon said. "It's been a long time."
"I'm afraid that won't be possible," Samsara said, appearing out of nowhere. "Vincent has gone on a private mission, and in his absence, Platinum will lead the team against whatever objectives I need them for."
Dragon appeared to be about to object, but he disappeared in a flash of white light.
"He has gone to see Kimberly," Samsara said before Alex could ask the question. "It will make them both quite happy, something they have not enjoyed for a long time."
Samsara stared off for a second, as if looking at something only he could see. Then he smiled ephemerally and said, "Come. We must discuss your next mission."
Legionnaire, still standing in the center of the room, said, "Um..." before being teleported away in a burst of white light.
* * * * *
Dave and Cindy appeared in the hangar, next to the Vagabond. Dave smacked his cane against the side of the plane.
"Dad, what's the matter? Damn who?"
David Hunter looked at his daughter and said, "Damn Samsara. He's using you, all of you. You didn't stumble onto Wildside. He guided you there, after sending you through various other dimensions so that you would have the tools and ability to defeat him."
"But we defeated him," Cindy said. "I'm kind of surprised, but big deal."
"It is a big deal! What if you'd been killed? He has no guarantees that you'll survive his little games!"
"Hold it," Cindy said, getting angrier. "Little games? Is that what you think this is? I'm a soldier. This is my assignment. Samsara is my commanding officer. I do what he tells me, good gets done. A lot of good. We've saved Wildside from destruction, and rescued your oldest friends from exile in a world that was as close to Hell as they were going to get! I think that's worth a little risk!"
Dave frowned and said, "He's warped your mind, too. That's it. We're leaving. Get in the plane."
Dave was halfway up the ladder when he heard his daughter shouting.
"We're leaving? Get on the plane? I am not twelve years old anymore, dad! I am an officer in the United States Aerospace Force and a member of Wildside! Samsara has not warped my mind! I just have a sense of duty, a sense of honor! Just because you don't understand that, just because you don't care about anyone but yourself, don't try to take that away from me! If you're not having fun here anymore, why don't you just leave? The rest of us will handle the hard part!"
When she was finished, Cindy immediately wished she could take back everything she had just said. The pain in her father's eyes was unbearable. He dropped off the ladder and got into his car. She tried to stop him, but the words wouldn't come. They probably wouldn't have done anything anyway.
He drove off, out of the underground complex through a tunnel to the surface. Cindy stared after the car and managed to squeeze out, "I'm sorry" before breaking down and crying.
Vincent wished he could stop and say something to her, but he knew he only had a little time to prepare before Samsara sent him back. Aztecs, he thought. Well, should be relatively uneventful.
* * * * *
It was three weeks later when Vincent returned. His trip had been many things, but uneventful was not one of them. He stopped in to the kitchen and found Platinum, Cindy and Indigo sitting at the table moping.
"What's up?" he asked.
"We almost destroyed the space-time continuum," Platinum answered. "We've been on stand-by until you got back to lead us."
Vincent didn't even try to suppress the smile. This little episode, which Samsara almost certainly created, might dull Platinum's ache for leadership. He wasn't ready for it. Vincent wasn't sure if he ever would be.
"How's Shockwave?" Vincent asked.
Indigo looked up and waved her hand, indicating "so-so."
"He's stable, I'll say that for him. But for some reason, he's just not coming out of it. It might be a while before he's even up to being a doctor again, let alone a member of Wildside. I'm keeping him at my clinic."
"Has anyone seen Dragon lately?"
"Mother and Father stopped in a week ago," Platinum said. "They told me they were returning to Japan. Mother has contacts she developed there while raising Mary, and Father has responsibilities to the Dragon Cult."
Vincent was glad to hear that. He'd been through a lot with Dragon, but he wasn't ready to turn over the team to him. Like it or not, Wildside 2020 was his team now. He looked around and nodded, allowing himself a smile. He knew his destiny was not an easy road. But for right now, at least, he was content.