Good News, Bad News
Rick pressed his thumb to the electronic lock, and heard the familiar ka-click as the bolt slid back, allowing him entry. He grabbed the handle of the door and pulled it open, a gentle ‘woosh’ accompanying the motion as the cooler air of the room met the warmer air of the hallway. Letting the door close quietly behind him, Rick slid into the office space. It was the only occupied area on the 40th floor of the Beasley building in the middle of Downtown San Diego. In fact, the whole of the floor was dedicated to the one office.
Rick stepped silently over hardwood floors, his boots gently moving heel-to-toe with athletic grace. He’d been listening to U2 on the way over, and whispered the chorus to “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” under his breath. Indirect lighting gave the office a warm glow, and allowed the window overlooking the bay to sparkle with the evening lights of the city.
Sitting alone at the large round table in the center of the room was Commander Dare, looking out over the city. He slumped in his chair a bit, his large arms crossed over his chest. The strains of Beethoven emanated quietly from the surround-sound system, the speakers well hidden within the walls. The holographic projector above the table was on standby, a translucent green globe floating in mid air, the Windows Next logo orbiting like a flat moon.
“Hey, Dare,” called Rick casually. “Whatcha’ doin’ here so late?”
“Hello, Thunderous.” Commander Dare’s voice was deep and, well, commanding. “I was just going over some of the older files, getting things in order.”
Rick could tell something was up; Dare always called him by his first name in private, even when they were in meetings with the rest of the team. Dare never used monikers unless they were on a mission, doing a PR gig, or he had something serious to address. Or if he was pissed off, just like when Rick’s mom used to call him “Richard” if he broke all the windows in the house by slamming the door too hard after a bad day at school.
“Oh yeah?” Rick tried to ignore the obvious. “Well, I just swung by to pick up those zoo passes they gave us last year. I’ve got a date tomorrow, and I thought we’d go down to Balboa Park, check out the animals, grab a bite, y’know?”
“I do know. Sounds nice.” Dare turned and leaned on the table, watching Rick “Thunderous” Cavanaugh grab the complimentary zoo tickets from the black cabinet by the mini-kitchen, where Team Intrepid kept all the schwag they accumulated from grateful citizens. Rick dug through movie passes, Starbucks cards and gala invitations, some of which were outdated or expired.
“Found ‘em!” said Rick. He turned away from the cabinet, looking at the passes to make sure they were still valid. “Wow, just in time. These are about to expire, too.”
“That’s fortuitous,” said Dare, looking up at the ghostly green earth spinning in front of him.
“Yeah. Say, I guess I’ll check in on that lion. Make sure he’s all healed up from the bionics Doc Madness installed on him. Poor guy took a beating that day, eh? Good thing the ‘Kid could remove those things.” Rick laughed half-heartedly, trying to loosen up Dare and ease the tension in the room.
“Indeed. A good thing. The Kid…” Dare looked away, back to the warm city lights. A plane could be seen in the distance taking off from Lindbergh Field, cutting out over the bay.
Rick shuffled his feet a bit. He started to feel more anxious, and even annoyed by Dare’s lack of communication. The guy new how to talk a techno-sniper into the open, but he couldn’t talk about his feelings. Rick tended to brush it off. After all, the successes were impossible to argue with. T.I., as the team called itself, was coming up in Southern California. Their victories against local crime lords, mysti-scientists and rogue robots couldn’t be disputed, though they’d yet to find their legs in the up-and-coming anti-vampire movement. Still, San Diego wasn’t a vampire town. Even LA was fairly dry of the vampire clan threat…too much sun year round and not nearly the dark corners of old Europe or even the East Coast. Rick didn’t really worry too much about it anyway. There was plenty to do right here.
“Well, I guess I’m gonna take off,” said Rick. “See you at the team meeting Monday morning, right?”
“Actually,” said Dare, “I wanted to talk to you about something tonight.”
Rick’s heart sank. He didn’t really feel like dealing with anything right now, but he smiled and said, “OK. What’s up?”
“Well. I’ve got some good news and some bad news.”
“All right,” said Rick. “Uh, give me the bad news first.”
“Very well,” said Dare. He took a deep breath, looked Rick in the eye, and said, “The bad news is, Team Intrepid is losing two members.”
“Really?” Rick was shocked. Two? He’d had his suspicions about The Mechanical Kid, especially since he’d started moonlighting with the X-Friends. But The Red Fury seemed pretty content. At least, as far as Rick could tell under the balaclava-style mask and hood. “So, what? Are we going to find replacements right away? It’s not really a “team” with just two guys…”
“No,” Dare interrupted. “We’ve already got someone to replace The Mechanical Kid, but Red Fury and I haven’t even thought about who will replace you yet.”
“Uh, what?” Rick’s jaw dropped. His domino mask started to feel itchy and he wanted to take it off, but thought better of it. “Where did this come from?”
“Look, you have to admit that it just hasn’t been great for the last few months,” said Dare. His form fitting chain-mail creaked as he crossed his arms, flexing slightly, his broad shoulders rising a little. “I thought maybe I was being emotional, and chose to ignore it, but I just can’t anymore. Team Intrepid needs this change, to help better serve the people.”
“Interesting.” Rick clenched his teeth as he said it. He remained standing, but wished his hands were empty of the zoo passes now. He pressed them between his fingers. He worried about putting them on the table lest he forget them, and his utility belt was still in the car, since he’d only expected to be a few minutes. His costume, made a special burn-proof and light weight metal fiber, had no pockets.
“Interesting? How do you mean?” asked Dare. He cocked his head to the side, a quizzical expression on his chiseled features. Rick had seen the look before, when Commander Dare would stall for time trying to talk down a raving villain like Dread Head, or Senor Guapo while the rest of the team moved into strategic position. Rick hated that he was getting that look now; right in the place he called “Home Base” for the past eight years.
“I mean,” said Rick, “That I find it interesting that you’d be kicking ME out. I’m practically a founding member of this team.”
“Well, to be fair, you did replace Steve Stampede…”
“Dude, you went on maybe two missions with that guy before he left. You told me yourself he was just helping out while you tried to find a permanent power-member, and that was me. You…WE weren’t even Team Intrepid until I joined. I came up with the name!”
“Maybe that’s true. But Team Intrepid has become bigger than you or I, Thunderous.” Dare continued to match Rick’s eye contact, as befitted his leadership role. “I think you can agree with that?”
Rick stared at Dare for a moment, then looked away. As strong as he was, Rick still felt a modicum of intimidation in Dare’s presence. Dare came from a rich family, thus funding all of T.I.’s exploits. The Cavanaugh’s were decidedly middle class. As well, while Rick was able to lift 10 tons with one hand and shout down a jet engine with his “Thunder Roar”, Commander Dare’s agility, intelligence, and strategic mind were superior in every way. Dare was no slouch in strength either, possibly at the height of human ability; While not necessarily super powered in that way, he once knocked out The Behemoth in protracted combat. No small feat.
Besides, Rick thought, this guy’s not my enemy. We’re friends…aren’t we?
“So, Red Fury was in on this? How long were you guys talking about it?” asked Rick.
“Well, like I said, I’ve been thinking about the change for a while, but Red Fury definitely wasn’t ‘in on it’, as you say. I just told him my reasons and he agreed, though certainly not right away.”
Rick didn’t feel better, though it was good to know he hadn’t been conspired against by the two of them, at least not at first. “I just find it weird,” said Rick, “Especially since it was I who had to convince you that Red Fury was right for the team after Dervish left, is all. I seem to recall you were pretty against him to begin with…”
“That’s an exaggeration, I think,” said Dare.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Rick. He began to feel a little more confident, and the situation seemed even more absurd as he spoke. “Yeah, as a matter of fact, you only asked him to join because he had a Battle Van, and we were getting ready to go on that road trip to San Francisco to help the Fabulous Quartet bring down Scalawag!”
“What do you want me to say, Rick?” said Dare. “Sure, I had some trepidation about Red Fury before he was on the team, but that was a long time ago. Thing’s have changed. We’ve changed. But I think you’d prefer things stay the same, and that’s just not acceptable.”
“What’s not acceptable? We do well. We’re loved here. We keep our town safe, and we fix problems as they arise. How will kicking me and The Mechanical Kid off the team help in any positive way?” Rick was livid, but tried remaining as calm as possible. He’d long entertained that any “trepidation” on Dare’s part over Red Fury joining the team revolved around RF’s costume being red, just like Commander Dare’s at the time. Mentioning the possibility seemed petty at this point.
“It’s not that we don’t do good, Thunderous. It’s that you and the Kid aren’t thinking globally. With the Kid, I understand. He’s young, his folks are here, he’s got a new girlfriend plus…The X-Friends. No harm. Someday, he’ll be ready. With you, Rick…I’m not sure you’ll ever be ready to leave this town.”
"What?!” Rick was caught off guard by this bombshell. “Are you serious? I’ve been available and willing to go on every out of town mission. I’ve blown off commitments, I’ve sacrificed…For this team!”
“I know you have. But we’ve always gone for just a few days, maybe a week at a time. And you’re always so eager to get home.”
Rick took pause to consider the indictment. It was true that he felt uncomfortable on the road. Even at their best, it was hard to be away on a mission, far from the familiarity of their own city, their own territory. But he wanted to expand, wanted to fight evil wherever it existed. He was sure of it. At the same time, he was proud of his heritage, his history in San Diego. Rick resented the heroes that went global and seemed to selectively forget where they started. The Jewel had cut her teeth on San Diego crime, making the beaches safe again after The Simian’s were sprung from prison. Then, when she went national, she told reporters she came from Alaska. Alaska!?
Dare continued. “Look, Rick. Things need to move forward. Team Intrepid needs to move forward. That doesn’t mean we won’t work together again. It just means we have different paths to follow.”
Rick suddenly felt exhausted. He didn’t want to argue the point, as it was obvious that Commander Dare had already made up his mind. Rick just felt powerless, which was unusual when you could throw a car across the bay to Coronado.
“Whatever, Dare.” Rick slumped down into his old chair at the table, and it occurred to him that this would be the last time he’d get a chance to sit here. He looked around the room. Framed newspaper clippings taunted him with stories of past glory. The Heat Meister’s flame gun hung in the corner. A giant nickel, eight feet tall, rested along the wall opposite the kitchenette, a trophy of an early battle when Dervish was still on the team. Rick took a long breath and held it for a bit.
“So,” he finally said exhaling, “who did you get to replace The Kid?”
“We’ve asked Mr. Tinker, and he enthusiastically agreed.”
“Really? Mr. Tinker? The guy who wanted in before we refused and asked The Mechanical Kid?” Rick chuckled. “What changed your mind, Dare? You decide his costume would compliment your new one?”
“Actually, Thunderous, I heard good things about him when he was with that temporary team last month who thwarted that trolley conspiracy. I’ve had a chance to reevaluate his strengths, and I think he’ll be a good fit.”
“Yeah?” Rick didn’t have anything against Mr. Tinker. The guy seemed like a good cat. After being rejected by Team Intrepid, he still invited them all to his wedding. Even The Kid.
“Well, that’s fine, I guess. And have you already talked to The Kid? Let him know the ‘good’ news?”
“Yes. We talked this afternoon. I asked him not to tell anyone until you and I had a chance to converse, of course.”
“Right. Of course.” Rick shook his head a little and sniffed. “Well. OK. Fine. There’s not a whole lot more to say, is there? I guess I’m gonna get out of here.” Rick stood to leave, the zoo passes still in hand.
“Alright, Rick.” Commander Dare stood as well. “I hate to say, but I’m going to need to reprogram your thumb access. After you leave, you won’t be able to get back in here. Security reasons, you see?”
“Yeah, I see.” said Rick. “So if I forget anything, what’ll I do, just call you or Red?”
“Sure, Rick. Anytime. If we’re available, of course.” Dare walked around the table to shake Rick’s hand and usher him out. Rick took his hand, trying to hide his reluctance and gave a quick shake, not looking up. Dare patted him on the back and moved with him to the door.
“Oh, uh, by the way…” Rick stopped and turned towards Dare. “You said you had bad news AND good news. What’s the good news?”
“The good news,” said Dare, putting his hand on Rick’s shoulder, “is that Team Intrepid has been asked by The Freedom Force of America to assist on a mission to New Orleans. Seems there’s a Vampire Lord down there stirring up lots of trouble in the districts still rebuilding after Katrina and…”
“Wait. How is that good news? It has nothing to do with me. I’m off the team, remember?” Ricks eyes were wide, and he raised his hands in disbelief.
“Rick, it doesn’t become a hero to be selfish. Why can’t you be happy about the good we can do down there?”
Ricks arms dropped to his sides. “You know what. You’re right? What was I thinking? That’s great news! I’m totally stoked! Why, I can hardly contain myself!” Ricks voice shook the windows as it rose to a yell.
“Thunderous, you’re behaving like a spoiled child.”
“Yeah? Well you’re a JACKASS!” As Rick bellowed, the reinforced Plexiglas windows overlooking the harbor bent and shook. If they had not been designed to survive an earthquake prone landscape, they might have shattered. The black cabinet rattled behind Commander Dare, and one of the framed clippings fell from the wall and broke against the floor.
“And I’ll tell you what else,’ said Rick, turning away from the unmoved Dare, “I’m taking this!” Rick strode over to the giant nickel and picked it up with his free hand. The girth of it stretched his hand wide open, but he refused to put down his zoo passes. Awkwardly, Rick moved the trophy past Commander Dare and to the door.
“Do you need any help?” asked Dare behind him.
“No. I got it up here myself; I can get it out of here myself! I don’t need your help!” Rick put the coin down and went to the door to open it, but it wouldn’t stay open, and there was nothing to wedge under it. He reluctantly put the passes down just outside the door and reached back into the office to grab the giant circular slab of metal, then dragged it out into the hallway while trying to keep the door from closing on it. When he finally got it out, the door closed behind him. He swiped his thumb across the reader, but tried to open the door too soon, resetting the lock. Blood rushed to his face as he waited ten seconds before he swiped his thumb again, and then waited to hear the sound of the mechanism clicking. He pulled the door open to see Dare standing right where he’d left him.
“Good luck with the new team, Eugene!” Rick sneered, spitting out Commander Dare’s real name with as much bitterness as he could muster. He tried to slam the door dramatically, however the same hydraulics that kept the door from staying open worked twice as hard to keep the door from slamming, even against Rick’s super strength. The frame might have broken if it hadn’t been built to withstand super-powered assault from Team Intrepid’s enemies. Frustrated and embarrassed, Rick grabbed the giant coin in both hands and marched off towards the stairs, since he knew from experience it wouldn’t fit in the elevator. The zoo passes, still on the floor of the hallway, lay forgotten as the door to Team Intrepid headquarters hissed shut quietly.