Astra was practicing her powers at the base of the 5th Precinct Space Force. Her newer abilities such as Super Punch which is multiple telekinetic punches, mental manipulation, and others. With her mother in the Fae Realm she had to use her time to train as best she could understand.
This meant she couldn't enter the astral plane because it's dangerous to do so on her own. She could use her Telepathic and Telekinetic powers, she could even use her teleportation powers. Maybe she could get some training from Starmaster.
"Computer, activate Alien Hunter Program," She stated. The program began to boot up when The Stander walked in to watch her train. Her red psionic energy surrounded her and she began by telekinetically flying.
The big eyed aliens that changed her appeared. Her eyes went wide, but she maintained control. She began the fight with her Telepathic Assault power followed by her Super Punch. The aliens fired laser pistols and disruptor rifles. She followed up using telekinetic nets to capture them. A few dodged out of the way. This meant she had almost beat the program. She needed to get the last few. She used her new power of Mental Manipulation to trick the remaining into capturing each other. With that the program was over and The Stander clapped.
"Well done," he said. He handed her a towel for the sweat beading on her brow.
"Thank you," she replied. "I wasn't expecting them to be the opponents, but it felt good to let loose."
"I'm sure it did, but you've been here everyday since your mother went to the Fae Realm," he pointed out. "You need a break. I'm ordering you some down time. Get together with friends and have fun."
"I'm supposed to keep the world safe while she's gone," she reminded him. "That's what she told me to do."
"We'll call you if something comes up," he replied. "You're pushing yourself to hard and need to get some rest. Go on, we can handle thing for a day and if you are needed we'll call. No worries, just have fun."
She wanted to put up a fight, but knew he was right. She went and cleaned up and left for home. Where should she go next? Who should she see?
As she headed home, her BADGE communication device chimed, alerting her to an incoming message.
"Hello, Astra? This is Chained Angel. You know, with the Star Force."
"I remember you," Astra said. "How can I help you? Where's the trouble?"
"Oh. This isn't a 'superhero' call. I'm calling you because we wanted to invite you over for dinner and board games, if you would like."
Another voice came over the speaker. "Hey Astra. Wyldfyre here. Futurina asked if I'd check in with you while she was gone with Silver Paladin and the others. Why don't you come on over and hang out with us. Do a guy a solid, will ya. Prysmatica's making some dish her grandmother taught her back in Greece, Italy, or somewhere like that."
Astra thought on the invitation. She had been thinking of doing some training with Starmaster earlier. Maybe the universe was trying to tell her something.
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Astra thought for a moment, she was ordered to have fun. Why not? She bet that whatever Prysmatica was making would be absolutely delicious. Better than having Mac and Cheese again anyway. "Sure, sounds like fun. I just have to drop somethings off at home then I'll be on my way," she replied.
She dropped off her gym bag. The nanites of her suit cleaned themselves so she didn't smell. She could teleport there. It'd be faster than flying. Her mother had been teaching her a technique using telepathy other than precognition. She thought she'd give it a shot. First she fed her wolf Behemoth and then in a flash of red psionic energy she appeared in front of the Star Force base.
She walked to the door and knocked. She didn't want to be suspected of being a spy. She was here for fun.
The Star Force headquarters was formerly a combined museum and observatory. Over the last year, the members of the league used their unique abilities to alter the building to its new function. Standing like a piece of post-modern artwork, the headquarter's Sentinel robot stood guard on a round cement platform in front of the glass entrance doors. Primarily painted in black and white layers of armor plating, the huge protector looked like it could rip a car apart with ease.
Swiveling its head down, the Sentinel spoke. "Welcome Astra. I have been notified of your imminent arrival. The doors are unlocked. Feel free to enter."
"Thanks," Astra said. She knew that Catalyst most likely constructed the defensive unit and wondered how advanced it might be. " I was wondering something. Have they given you a name yet?"
The Sentinel nodded. "Wyldfyre designated me Lurch when I was first activated."
Astra couldn't help but to giggle. The Sentinel was taller than a normal person and did have an almost gaunt appearance. The couldn't be more perfect if it welcomed everyone who approached by stating 'You Rang!" She climbed up the short staircase to the front door and smirked. "Will I find Thing inside the door waiting to take my coat?"
The door swung open as she reached for the handle. Infinite Tempest stood inside the foyer waiting for her. "Hello Astra. It's good to see you again."
"Hi, IT," she said. "It's nice to see you too. I hope we don't have any unruly spirits hanging around to mess with us this time."
"You and me both," IT said. "How have you been?"
"Oh, you know still adjusting, and still looking for Doug. Been staying busy," She stated. "It's nice to have a little time off." She walked with him to meet the others. She wondered if Highlander was going to be here. She missed him.
They entered the rec room. Everyone was setting different things up. Wyldfyre was setting the drink station up while Prysmatica set the food station. Whatever she made smelled wonderful. Chained Angel and Catalyst were setting up the games table. This was going to be a fun night. She wondered where Starmaster was.
"Glad you could join us, Astra," Starmaster said as he put his hand on her shoulder. "Or would you rather I call you Keri? Or Kevin, maybe?" He smiled.
"Keri is fine," she said. "After all my real parents declared Kevin dead. I like the name I chose for my new body." She looked down at herself and realized she hadn't even thought it was strange to see anymore. She was getting used to her new form. She missed Futurina. The elf heroine had really stepped up and helped her when she needed it. This caused her to look concerned for her adoptive parent.
"What's wrong?" IT asked.
"I just hope everything is going okay for Futurina in the Fae realm," she replied. "I haven't heard anything for a few days, and it's not like I can call across dimensions."
"After we've eaten and maybe played a game or two we could try to contact her," Starmaster said. "I've done a bit of cross-dimensional telepathy on the Mindscape. Do you have much experience on the Astral Plane?"
"Not as much as I would like," Astra admitted. Her chin dipped a bit, wishing she had more opportunity to practice.
"Nothing happens overnight. Keep working on it and you'll be a pro in no time." Starmaster pointed at the table where Prysmatica put the final touches on the meal. "I think she's about ready for us," he whispered to Astra mentally.
"Grab your plates, everyone," Prysmatica said. She turned away from the table and noticed Astra, a wide smile playing on her face. "Astra. I'm glad you can join us. I hope you like lasagna, but if you don't there is pepperoni stuffed chicken breasts or vegan spaghetti. There's plenty of food for everyone. I'm a triplet, so my family always made plenty of food for every meal."
Catalyst came into the room from the kitchen carrying a large basket of toasted bread glistening with butter. The smell of garlic, which was already strong, wafted into Astra's nose and made her mouth water. "I can see that. Thank you all so much for inviting me."
Living with Futurina had been a blessing for her since she joined the elf's family, but it had primarily been Futurina and Astra as the only two members. Prysmatica speaking of her family and everyone coming together sparked memories of her previous life as Kevin and her friend Doug coming over for dinner with his parents for holidays with Kevin's own parents. Her heartstrings pinged at the memories.
Starmaster placed a hand on Astra's shoulder. "Come on. Let's stop talking about it and start eating, ok?"
As Astra and the others filled their plates, a chime erupted from all around them. Starmaster glanced up to one of the monitors on the wall. "Why do those who use magic always seem to be the last to show up?"
On the screen, Arcane Ace stood in outside the doorway to the foyer.
"Hey, come on in, Ace," Infinite Tempest called out. "The doors open."
"Sure thing," he said as he help up a small blue cooler. "I brought some dessert."
Within moments, Arcane Ace joined the rest of the group. The tables in the room had been set next to one another in a long line, creating a family style dining room. Astra knew IT and Arcane Ace the best, but she chose to sit across from Starmaster so they could speak some more about contacting her mother. Chained Angel sat beside her to her left while Wyldfyre took the seat to her right.
"Could you pass the ketchup please," Wyldfyre asked while digging into his lasagna with a fork.
Prysmatica scowled at him as she came around the table with a big charcuterie board, offering everyone their choice of different slices of meats. "You don't need ketchup. Just try it."
"But I like ketchup on my pasta."
"I don't care. If you disrespect any of my grandmother's recipes by adding ketchup to them, I'll--"
"Don't tie your spaghetti in a knot, girl. I was only asking." Wyldfyre chuckled as he gently poked an elbow into Astra's ribcage. "You should see how bent out of shape she gets if you try to add salt to anything. Just warning ya."
The table broke out to several small conversations between heroes as they all took their seats, except for Prysmatica who served and kept beverages full.
Arcane Ace: ID 23078
"It's good to see you, Ace," Astra said as she gave him a hug. The food was wonderful. The Italian spices and herbs were blended perfectly and did not need any alteration unlike what Wyldfyre said. She did wonder what he thought of Futurina's cooking. The elven spices were different but tasty.
"Thank you, Prysmatica, this is wonderful," Astra praised. "It's been a long time since I had good Italian food." She took another bite of her lasagna. Prysmatica smiled.
"How's the search for Doug going?" Ace asked.
"Not well," Astra admitted. "I've been pretty busy with work. I'm sure you can relate."
"Yes," Ace replied, "but, it's good to take a break every now and then."
"That's good advice," Wyldfyre agreed. "Everyone needs downtime."
"What hobbies do you have?" Chained Angel questioned.
"I was in track and field in school, you know running, pole vault, high jump, long jump. I still go for a run every morning," Astra commented. "There's also video games."
Catalyst, or Alan Marcus as most people knew him, set his fork back down on his plate before taking a bite. "Like video games. I've got some cool retro games for you to try if like."
"Really? Like what?" Astra asked as she bit into a piece of garlic bread. She knew after this meal, she would have to do some extra miles for the next week on her runs, but it was worth it.
"Developed a VR version of classic game 'Gauntlet'. My favorite. I also made a holographic program for "Asteroids" that interacts with powers. Fun for training." Catalyst said.
"The Asteroid one is actually pretty intense," Starmaster admitted. "It might just be the background music, but it gives keeps me on my toes when I hear that score."
Catalyst Heroes Rising
“Well, look who’s here,” Chained Angel exclaimed. “The prodigal son has returned. Highlander, how are you?”
She had no sooner greeted the big Scotsman as he entered that Starmaster realized the big man was more sullen than usual, and that’s saying something. Inasmuch as the immortal rarely smiles to begin with, more sullen is a phrase that is seldom used to describe the big man.
“Hello, Angel. How are you?”
“Why the long face,” she asked.
“It’s Ricochet. He won’t come clean about the event that triggered his powers, and I’m a wee bit concerned about the lad,” said the big Scotsman. “But that’s not a subject for tonight. Fiona asked me to come by and get a few things from our quarters to take back to the clan castle. Can’t stay long. BTW, Angel. I never did get the opportunity to thank ye for the use of the flyer when I took Fiona home. I’m really grateful.”
“Hey, it’s what we do for each other, big man,” Angel replied. “How is your lovely lass, anyway?”
“She’s fine,” he said. “A bit worried that someone may be targeting her, but then she’s a bit overcautious.”
“Well, what woman wouldn’t be with an act first, think later behemoth like you for a husband,” another female voice interjected.
“ASTRA! How are ye, little lassie,” the big man exclaimed, smiling for the first time since he entered the HQ. “Haven’t seen ye in quite a while.”
Astra responded with a hug and assured him she was just fine. Ace and Infinite Tempest gave the big man playful punches on the arm, which had all the consistency of a granite statue, much like Gar.
"If you can't stay, take some food with you," Prysmatica said. "There's plenty."
Starmaster wiped a glob of sauce away from his mouth with a napkin. "And call us if you need any help with anything. I know you've wanted to stay away from invading Ricochet's mind, but there are other techniques that could be tried. Same with Fiona's concerns. If you need us to play boot to kick some ass with you, give us a shout. You know where we are."
Highlander nodded as he moved on to collect his and his wife's belongings.
"Who's ready for dessert?" Ace asked.
"I'm too full," Catalyst said. Most of the others nodded in agreement.
"What did you bring?" Wyldfyre asked.
"Ambrosia salad, but not like any you've ever had before," Ace said while chuckling. "I discovered a recipe for how to make Ambrosia. The literal Greek gods Ambrosia. I found it in a hidden temple to Ganymede in the Mediterranean."
“Ambrosia of the gods? I’ll stick around long enough to have some that!”
Ace dished up a slightly larger helping for Highlander than he did the others. After all, when you weigh well over 300 pounds, it takes a bit more.
Highlander took a huge mouthful and smiling, nodded his head. “This doesn’t taste like the ambrosia Apollo made. Did ye use his secret ingredient? He would never tell anyone or write it down, but when I was given a brief tour – since I was never going there – they did it out of courtesy. My one concession. I saw him add it,” the big man said quietly.
Ace replied. “I made it from the recipe I found.”
Highlander nodded, “I would never tell him, but his toying with the thing really didn’t make it taste better. But, being gods – that’s what they were called then, since the big guy took over, they’re more like upper management now. Right, Angel? - anyway, Apollo added liberal doses of rum to everything. If he was making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, he’s serve it a plate with a fork and pour rum all over it. Probably set it aflame, also. The gods really liked that.”
The big man kept shoveling down mouthfuls between sentences, drawing a giggle from Angel and a guffaw from Infinite Tempest. Upon noticing this, the Scotsman blushed so much it was hard to tell where his mask ended and his face began.
“Sorry, I forgot me manners. But … this is really, really good, Ace. I don’t know if I can stay out of it if I took some for Fiona and Ricochet.. Can ye send them the recipe?”
“Sure,” Ace replied.
“Thanks, gotta go,” Highlander said abruptly.
He gathered up the huge box with all the stuff Fiona wanted.
“I don’t know. There’s a lot of beauty stuff in here, what the lass don’t need. Ye got a second, Starmaster? I need to speak privately with ye.”
Starmaster nodded and followed Highlander to the door.
“Since we’ve been kinda designated to look after the lad, I think I should tell you the reason, just between ye and me, ye understand?”
“Are you sure?”
“Definitely. He’s Star Forces ward, basically. His power surge came when he was drenched with Morphons.”
“That’s nothing to be ashamed of. Stuff happens.”
“Aye. That’s how it happened. First of all, don’t say anything to anyone, but my lass talks in her sleep, so I know what she learned. I won’t tell her; it’s a wee bit embarrassing.
“One of the Legion’s ships emptied its bilge tank right over him. Guess the lad fairly reeked for a bit, if ye know my meaning.”
In reply to this post by Starmaster
"It's good to see you, Highlander," Astra smiled. "Let Fiona know I said 'Hi'. Let her know that my adoptive mother, Futurina, will gladly help when she returns if she needs it."
"I will do so, lass. If she'll accept it," Highlander agreed. "Tell the wee elf I'm sorry I missed her, but knowing her she already knows."
"I'm sure she misses you, too," Astra replied.
"Hey, Catalyst, do you have Final Fantasy VII?," Astra asked. "I love that game."
While Starmaster and Highlander stepped away, Arcane Ace looked to the others after they ate the Ambrosia salad. "Do any of you feel any different?"
"I feel like I could explode, if that's what you mean," Lykos said. "I had way more than I should have."
"Well, sure," Ace said. "But other than being full after a delicious meal. And I do mean delicious, Prysmatica."
The gathered heroes looked at each other, wondering what Ace could be driving at. Chained Angel pursed her lips as she gave Ace a wary eye. "What are you driving at, Ace? You're acting like a research scientist waiting for her mice to sprout wings."
"Nothing like that--," Ace held up his hands defensively, "-- but there are myths and legends about Ambrosia granting gifts of invulnerability and longevity to mortals who consume it."
"And you decided to feed it to us for dinner?!" Infinite Tempest spat what was in his mouth back on his plate.
"It's all organic, man. I wouldn't give you anything that could hurt anyone."
"You should have told us before you had us eat it," Catalyst said.
"Well, Highlander dug in and I didn't have time to finish explaining what it could do before you all started to eat it."
Arcane Ace: ID 23078
"So, this is real ambrosia?" Astra pondered. "Were you trying to make new gods to walk the earth?"
"No," Ace replied. "I just wanted to see if it was the complete recipe. I have a feeling that the gods were a lot more paranoid of us getting the true recipe."
"Have you considered that since we already have great powers, we might not feel a change even if it did affect us?" Astra asked.
"Actually, yes. We might not see results for a while, but it was worth a shot," Ace smiled.
"Wouldn't it have been easier to steal Idunn's golden apples of Norse mythology than to find an ancient recipe from Greco/Roman mythology?" IT asked.
"Yes, but it wouldn't go with tonight's dinner," Ace agreed. That got a chuckle from a few of the guests.
"Also, have you ever tried to steal something from a god?" Astra questioned. "It's not as easy as it sounds, most likely."
“Aye, Methinks I should sit down,” Highlander said as he stared at Starmaster, his eyes crossing as he spoke.
Starmaster shouted at the others for assistance as he used his telekinetic powers to keep the burly big man upright.
Indeed, the big Scotsman’s legs had turned rubber-like as he swayed, shaking his head as if to clear fog from his mind.
Arcane Ace and the others moved into the hallway where Highlander and Starmaster held their private conversation. "What's the matter?"
"I'm not sure," Starmaster said. "If I didn't know better, I'd think that Highlander was sea-sick or drunk."
"I do scan," Catalyst pulled out a device from one of his pockets and waved it over Highlander. It generated a whirring sound to that of a medical tricorder from classic Star Trek. "I'm not detecting anything strange, but Highlander's medical scans have always been a bit wonky."
"Wonky? Is that a new medical term?" Wyldfyre asked.
"Being immortal, his cells work differently. His telomeres work differently. They don't work the same as yours or mine."
"I just need some time to catch my breath," Highlander said. "I'll be fine."
"Let's take him to the medical bay, just in case." Starmaster ordered. "I wish Krystal wasn't off-dimension right now."
"I can handle doing an initial work-up," Prysmatica said. "I'm not going to medical school for nothing, you know."
"He's all yours. Chained Angel, why don't you contact Fiona and let her know what happened here. She deserves to know what's happening to her husband."
Arcane Ace: ID 23078
"On it," Astra replied as she sent a telepathic message to Fiona.
"Fiona, Highlander is in The Star Force Med Bay. Somethings not quite right, but also nothing to worry about. We'll keep you informed." Astra said.
"Hopefully nothing like that happens to the rest of us," IT stated.
"Are you implying I had something to do with that?" Ace responded.
"It might be wise to have Catalyst scan us," Astra mentioned. "How about it, Marcus?"
Catalyst scanned the rest of the group, trying to determine if there might be any concerns. He shook his head. "Something is a bit different in each of us than normal. Not make sense. Each has a minor alteration to basic function. Does anyone else feel any different?"
Silence was his only immediate response.
"I feel fine," Astra said. "No different that before. Maybe it is because we've been altered by the Morphons in different ways. Highlander keeps saying he had his powers long before Legion was involved with the planet. We've all been changed by the Morphons. Could that be part of the difference."
"Maybe." Catalyst scratched his head. "I can compare changes to altered DNA in each person. Take time."
"Go ahead and do that then," Starmaster said. "And how about a chemical analysis of the Ambrosia itself."
"Good idea. On it." Catalyst headed to the table where the food rested.
"Should we be worried?" Chained Angel asked.
"Guys, your blowing this all out of proportion. I wouldn't serve you anything that would harm you. I ate it too," Arcane Ace said. "What's happening to Highlander must be a fluke."
Starmaster rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. "You might be right. But better safe than sorry. Astra, care to do a little experiment with me?"
"What do you want to do?" She asked. It seemed her goal of a day off might be put on hold for a while.
"On the off chance there has been any alteration to our abilities, I propose you and I take a brief jaunt to the Mindscape and see if there anything we can identify from that vantage point. We are all asking one another how we feel, but if we take a look at people's aura's, or mental aspects, from there, we might find subtle changes people haven't noticed for themselves."
The application of using their mental powers in that way tickled Astra's fancy. The Astral Plane was still a large mystery to her. She and Futurina had spoken about Starmaster's Mindscape on occasion. Futurina described it as a sub-basement level to the actual astral environment. He could use it very effectively because it offered a unique layer isolated from creatures that inhabited the full plane. If the astral plane were an ocean, there were many large creatures that could be found in its depths, but since Starmaster's Mindscape essentially covered the same region, but only with a depth of an eighth of an inch, figuratively, from the surface.
"Sure, I'm game if you are, coach."
Catalyst Heroes Rising
As the intrepid explorers ventured into the Mindscape, there came a resounding crash followed milliseconds by a sudden thud which produced tremors throughout the facility. Everyone stared at each other for a microsecond before IT bolted toward the Infirmary.
“WHOA!!! IN HERE!!”
Everyone raced to where Tempest stood in the entrance way to the med room, and gasped when they looked inside. There was Highlander, laying atop a wreckage of twisted metal that was once a hospital bed, which had sunk into a never-before-seen hole in the floor. Moreover, the big Scotsman was even bigger. A quick glance indicated that if he was upright, he would have probably stood nearly 12 foot tall, and was covered with hair in place of his gear, which had split apart at the seams.
And, he was now sprouting fangs, three pairs of wings and was obviously continuing to grow. His arms gad grown to where he could tie his shoes without bending over, if he had been wearing shoes. Great talons had replaced fingers and toes. And he was now approaching 25 feet in height.
Wit a blood curdling roar, he soared upward smashing through the ceiling and continuing on.
The teammates left behind could hear him exclaim as he flew out of sight,
“I can fly! I can fly,
I have mastered flight.
To you puny humans,
This may be your last night.
HO! HO! HO! YOUR BUTT’S MINE, RUDOLPH!!”
“Man, something tells me that nobody’s gonna want my recipe,” Ace muttered.
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