New Guardians

Issue 34 - Jurassic Quark

The team returns from Chicago (see last issue) with three villains in tow: Bobby Lucese, his right-hand man Carmine Infantino, and one of the Brotherhood of Senghala, Kasun Samaraweera. They’re tossed into holding cells. Also in their possession is one of the weird energy pistols that Marcone’s men were using. Baron Mind hands it over to Ernest, who takes it down to his workshop to dissect it.

Over the next few days, everyone enjoys his or her civilian life. Well, mostly…

Lani works late all week, tracing a wiring problem in her latest engine prototype. On one of those evenings she hears a racket in the lab down the hall, which formerly belonged to Mark Taylor, who’d been working on the Top Secret SENTINEL program until it was recently shut down (see back issues).

She quitely slips down the hallway and sees the door, usually locked, is ajar. As she eases the door open she sees the back of a hooded figure, using a flashlight and rifling through the drawers of a filing cabinet.

She casually flicks on the lights. The figure turns quickly, yelps in surprise, and heaves the flashlight toward the door. It splashes into and through Lani’s liquid body to clatter across the hallway floor.

Mark Taylor doffs his hood, saying, “Lani! You scared me to death!”

“Mark, why are you sneaking around in the dark?”

“They transferred me to another building, working on somebody else’s project. They wouldn’t let me back in here, even after the federal goons took everything. I had some hand-written notes in here, I didn’t have a chance to enter them into my database. I was hoping against hope that somehow the feds had missed them, but I guess not…”

Dejected, Mark retrieves his flashlight and slowly heads toward the exit. “Sorry to disturb you, Lani.”

========

Darlene receives a check-in call from the firm’s PI, Hugh O’Donohugh. She has him tracking the Wellington Special Needs Center (see back issues). He’s currently in Kansas City, having tracked the owner of Wellington’s listed address (which turned out to be a parking lot), Bell Realty. He says the Realty offices are open by appointment only, and the building has some top-notch security. He plans to pose as a real estate investor, but he needs more cash to work with. He also reports that someone might be following him, so he thinks he’s on to something.

O’Donohugh then calls Sid, asking for more time to find answers to Graviton’s disappearance. He says he’s going to look into the background of Grav’s brother, the villain known as Magnus, as soon as Hugh is finished in KC.

The next day, Darlene is called into an impromptu meeting with her fellow partners. There she finds a contingent of suits, all wearing American flag lapel pins. One steps forward and shakes her hand. The senior partner introduces him as AUSA Benito Martinez, newly-assigned to the Southern District of Indiana which is headquarted in Indianapolis.

“Your reputation precedes you, Ms. Weiss,” Martinez says.

“I believe in my job, AUSA Martinez, and I do it well.”

“I always enjoy a challenge. Of course these ‘paranormals’ deserve the same legal protection as anyone else, but I can tell you that I take particular satisfaction in locking them up. They’re dangerous, and the people who fight them, such as the Guardians, aren’t much better.”

“I’m looking forward to the challenge as well.”

=======

Baron Mind returns from Seattle (see back issues). He flies commercially to Indianapolis, during which he finds it impossible to sleep thanks to a squawling infant. The thought drifts into his head that it would be quite easy to make the little monster’s head explode.

Exhausted, he’s picked up at the airport by T.F. Washington in the team helicopter. As they head across the city back to HQ, the hum of the rotors lull him to sleep in just a few minutes.

He dreams of the team’s trek to Sri Lanka, to face Sophia Beaulieau, aka the Mistress of Gaea (see back issues). As they approached the island nation a missile exploded next to their borrowed C-jet, but instead of blowing it apart, the plane was disassembled in mid-air, the parts all separating themselves in mid-air before everything plummeted. In the dream he begins to fall…

He awakes suddenly, immediately aware of a wind on his face that wasn’t there before. Looking around he sees himself and T.F., still in their seats, floating two thousand feet about the East side. The helicopter’s parts float around them, perfectly separated from each other, motionless. T.F.’s eyes are rolled up in his head.

Baron then realizes that his own telekinesis is what’s holding everthing in place. And with that realization, everything begins to shudder and drop. He tries to at least hold everything together, to no avail, there are just too many parts. He and T.F. also begin to plummet, so he changes his focus to keeping their seats aloft. Metal parts, wires, and hydraulic fluid rain around them as Baron flies them both to the ground. On the way down he manages to spot the ‘black box’ and grabs it.

Once again on terra firma, T.F. wakes from his trance, and stares at the remains of his chopper on the ground around them. “What the hell happened to my bird?”

Baron holds up the black box. “I saved this part.”

==========

Alyssia and Reggie have a date night. They see “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” downtown at the Circle Center Mall. Arm in arm walking back to Reggie’s truck, they pass an alley. Suddenly a figure darts out and grabs Reggie’s arm, at the same time sticking a gun to his temple. “All your money, right now! Wallet, jewelry, car keys!”

Reggie, between Alyssia and the assailant, gulps. Alyssia easily wrests her boyfriend from the mugger’s grip, sending Reggie sprawling onto the sidewalk behind her. Beyond the mugger she sees two more dark-clad figures further down the alley, both pointing guns.

In one smooth motion she grabs the mugger with both hands, lifts him above her head, and flings him at one of the other two. He manages to twist out of the way, and the human missile slams into the side of a dumpster. Several loud snaps followed by a brief shriek of pain are heard, then silence.

“Reggie,” Alyssia says over her shoulder, “leave.” Then she strides into the alley. The two remaining muggers, still pointing guns at her, hesitate, glancing at each other, confused.

She moves on one of them, grabbing for his gun with the intent of crushing it around his hand. Instead he twists it away, so that it ends up pointing at her forehead at point-blank range, and pulls the trigger.

The report echoes loudly in the alleyway, followed immediately by the ‘ping’ of a ricocheting bullet. Alyssia glares at the gunman, unharmed.

“Aw hell no, she’s bulletproof!” Both men turn and run the other way, quickly swallowed by shadows.

Alyssia kneels next to the unconscious attacker. He’s hurt badly, bleeding from the nose and mouth, with at least one compound fracture.

“Wow,” she hears behind her. Reggie is there, offering her a hand up. She stands and says, “Better call 9-1-1.” Then, under her breath, “I really hate bullies.”

“What, uh…what do I tell them, exactly? I mean, I can’t tell them the truth.”

Until that moment she hadn’t been certain if Reggie really knew that she was Fortress, or if his hinting around about it was just a little game he played. There was no doubt now.

“Tell them…we just came upon him, heard him groaning in the alley.” Reggie frowns, then nods.

After the ambulance arrives and the police take their statements, they drive home in an uncomfortable silence. Reggie finally speaks up. "When I wasn’t completely sure, when it was just a titillating idea, that I was dating a superhero…the thought excited me, I’ll admit it. I mean, I know that you’re a lot stronger than I am, and a lot tougher. That you could take on a whole gang of muggers and I would be lucky to survive one, and that sounds pretty cool.

“But to actually see it, to experience it? I don’t…I just don’t know how to think about it now.”

“I get it. It’s also changed how I think about it. You’re in danger now, Reggie.”

“Seems like being close to an indestructable woman is the safest place in the world.”

“No, because I’m a Guardian, and Guardians seem to attract trouble. Paranormal trouble. The fact that you know who I am means you can be used against me.”

They both sigh and ride in silence. Reggie drops her off at her house and gives her a peck goodbye. “Call me tomorrow?” she asks. After a second he says, “I’ve got a lot to process.”

==============

Wednesday rolls back around and it’s weekly team meeting night at Guardians HQ. Baron finds a letter waiting for him from the Sri Lankan embassy. On state letterhead he’s notified of a hearing in three weeks in front of the State Department’s Cultural Advisement Committee to determine rightful ownership of the Mind Gem. Sir Lanka claims the gem is a cultural artifact that was illegally removed from the country decades ago, and they want it back.

At the team meeting, Ernest reports on the pistol the team brought back from Chicago, that Marcone’s men had been using. “I recognize parts of the design because they’re mine! Somebody appropriated my ideas for this thing, and I think I know who. Back in my Stronghold days I had some contact with Simon LeBaron, aka Obliterator. He’s the guy who double-crossed Maelstrom during the Tornado Incident.”

Team benefactor Arthur Donaldson arrives a few minutes into the meeting, with AUSA Martinez in tow. Introductions are made. Martinez updates the team on Bobby Lucese and Carmine Infanto; both were extradited to Chicago, transported by DHS. The Brotherhood of Senghala member they’d also brought back was freed thanks to diplomatic immunity.

Donaldson then asks a favor of Fortress. “I actually wanted the green kid but he’s not here. Look, I have a college pal who needs some heavy lifting done tonight. Anya…I mean, Dr. Anagal…is firing up a cyclotron down in Bloomington tonight. Big important experiment. They’ve had a crane conk out on on them and they need something heavy moved. T.F. can take you down there in the chopper, won’t take but an hour or so. Thanks!”

After Donaldson and the AUSA leave, Baron stands. “On a minor note, I have to appear before Congress or something. But I’m not going to. I’m going on the lamb.”

Shocked, everybody rushes to talk at once. Baron quiets them with an explanation. “This stone in my turban…I stole it. Apparently from somebody who first stole it from the Sri Lankan government, I don’t know. They’re claiming it’s a historical, culturally-significant artifact and they want it back.”

“I luv it, mate!” Bounder grins. “Who knew the Guardians was a thieve’s guild?”
“I…I can’t believe it,” Fortress gasps.
“I know. I was selfish in the past. I’m a different person now.”
“Screw it, let’s invade ’em!” Sid pipes up.

The Dark Witch’s eerie voice cuts throught the noise. “No. I know a good lawyer. I’ll talk to her about your case and have her get in touch.”

The meeting adjourns. Fortress meets T.F. on the helipad and the two take off for Bloomington.

==============

The Indiana University Cyclotron is one of the smallest, and yet most powerful, in the country. It sits in its own building just north of Bloomington, surrounded by forest. Fortress meets Dr. Anagal there, who introduces her two assistants, Drs. Trevor Moore and Yao Liang. She explains that they’re attempting a new method to create a microscopic black hole in the lab.

“We had to make some last-minute adjustments to some of the equipment, but when we were moving it back into place our crane conked out on us. We’re on a very tight schedule here and my first thought was that Arthur knew someone who could help. Thank you so much for coming, you’re saving the entire project!”

They enter the main accelerator lab, a multi-storied room filled with massive pipes and wires and monitoring equipment. Thirty or so people in lab coats bustled about. A huge projector emerged from one wall and pointed to the center of the room. There, a platform stood about four feet high, in the center of which was a smaller pedestal stuck up another three feet.

It was the conical end of the projector that had to be lifted into place and then secured. “Then we’ll place a strip of berrylium on that pedestal and bombard it with high-energy particles. Hopefully our monitors will be able to pick up a microscopic black hole, and our energy field will be able to keep it from winking out of existence.”

Fortress hefts the projector into place, signs a few autographs, and departs.

============

Two nights later, Sid takes his girlfriend Vicky to dinner. “Sid, it feels so good to be open about our relationship! Dinner in public!”
“I’m just glad I’m not on parole anymore.”
“And since you’re not, I was thinking…I think we should take this to the next level.”
Sid actually says the word, “Gulp.”
“We should move in together.”
“There’s plenty of room at Guardians Headquarters! You’ll love it there, I sure do!”
“No, Sid, we need something to call our own. I don’t want to move into a frat house.”

As they eat, Sid continues to resist the idea of getting their own place, and Vicky’s eagerness slowly fades. On their way out of the restaurant both admit to feeling a bit woozy. Maybe that’s what causes Sid to finally concede that he’ll think about it. It’s certainly what causes both of them to pass out just after they get into his car.

Sid comes to lying on his side, on a cold cement floor. He feels his hands bound behind him. Vicky lays a few feet away, wrists and ankles wrapped in duct tape. He takes in as much of the room as he can, seeing a dangling light and a workbench against one wall.

A door opens somewhere behind him and someone stomp down stairs. “She didn’t tell you about me, did she?” A man moves into Sid’s field of vision, and he recognizes their waiter from the restaurant.

“D-Darin?” Vicky mumbles.

“In the flesh, baby! No thanks to you. Did you know,” he turns to Sid, "that

she’s the shittiest parole officer on Earth?"

“Because you’re just another stupid ex-con who can’t stay out of trouble!” Vicky

tries to sound angry; it comes out as a series of gasps.

“A guy can’t be expected to go without having a little fun, Officer McVicker! But

you had to rat me out!"

“A coke-fueled bender with hookers isn’t ‘a little fun’, Darin! I couldn’t just

overlook the drug test!"

Sid tries to buy some time until his head clears. "Say, do you have super-powers?

Control over duct tape or something?"

“Yeah, I control the duct tape, asshole.” Darin rips off another strip and smacks

it across Sid’s mouth. Feeling better, and taking advantage of Darin’s proximity,

Sid unleashes a cloud of knockout gas in his face. Darin coughs and stumbles

backwards, tripping over Vicky and slamming backwards onto the floor.

Sid crawls over to Vicky and revives her with a puff of smelling salts. She comes

to and they manage to extricate each other from the tape.

“Oh Sid! If you hadn’t been with me…this is just another sign that we should be

together always."

His Guardian’s signal device picks that moment to start beeping. "Sid, there’s

been an explosion in Bloomington," Fortress tells him. "We’re on our way to pick

you up in the chopper."

Vicky, still trembling and terrified, stares at him. "You can’t just leave me

here, after all of this!"

“Sorry, baby. Give the cops a call. Here are the car keys. I’ll call you!”

=========

On their approach to the cyclotron building the team sees police cars surrounding it. Most of the building’s lights are out, but still a pale bluish glow coruscates from somewhere inside.

The team disembarks and approaches a group of police behind a barricade, where they also find Dr. Anagal, looking disheveled and upset. “Trevor and Yao are still in there!”

She explains that a power surge blew relays just as the charged stream of particles began impacting the berrylium. An explosion followed, and when she came to moments later she couldn’t believe here eyes. “A hole appeared, a portal, in mid-air! On the other side I saw these…creatures…like humanoid dinosaurs…I panicked, some of us who were still able ran outside. But they’re still in there, with those…things!”

The team decides to walk in the front door. Main power is out. They follow the doctor’s directions and descend three levels via the stairs, to the projector room. Everyone breaks out their IR goggles.

Taking the lead, Fortress carefully opens the stairwell door. It opens onto the main floor of the room. A catwalk rings the room a floor above her, another one a floor above that.

The center of the room is the source of the strange, flickering light: the portal Dr. Anagala described, floating in mid-air where the berrylium pedestal had been. On the other side they see a room that looks exactly like this one, but peering back at them are two sets of creatures: lab-coated figures with smooth greenish skin and elongated necks with reptilian faces; and another group that resembled the velociraptors from “Jurassic Park”, but these wore helmets and armor and weilded large rifles.

The soldier-saurs were forming into lines on the other side, and two-by-two, leaping through the portal. Surveying the rest of the room, the heroes see several groups of them already on this side, fanning out across the lab.

Fortress emerges about halfway from the door and sees one of the soldiers heading toward her. Baron believes his gem will allow him to communicate with them, so he steps out and says, “Greetings! Welcome to Earth!”

The soldier stops, and in mostly-understandable English says, “We thought you were all gone.”

The whole team moves into the room now, behind Baron. “Why are you armed?”

“It’s an invasion. Shut up and stand over there.”

“An invasion? We’re the Guardians, you idiot —” At that last word the soldier squawks and fires his rifle at Baron.

With lightning speed, Dark Witch leaps onto her broom and swings the bristled end around to swat the glowing white energy right back at the soldier-saur. The impact knocks a grunt out of him and he tumbles across the floor. “All units! Under attack!” He screeches.

Fortress immediately leaps to the center of the room, passing some incoming soldiers, landing at the foot of the humming portal. The small berrylium pedestal has been blown to bits; the dimensional hole floats where it once stood, atop the raised floor. She glances around for a second and then begins pummeling some of the large cables connected to the base, hoping that disrupting the power flow will close the portal.

Vapor causes much of the room to fill with gray smoke. At the same time, the felled soldier rolls to his side and flings a black orb toward the heroes. This time it’s Baron Mind, with his telekinesis, who swats the grenade back at the soldier. It hits the floor just behind him and erupts, spewing an oily, gooey substance. Again the soldier-saur yells, “Under attack!”

Torrent moves toward the center of the room, sucking up debris through the bottom of her feet. She moves a twisted metal bolt up through her body and into her arm. “Cease and desist!” she yells, then squirts the bolt out of her hand at a soldier. It strikes his armor like a bullet, knocking him onto the floor.

Dark Witch flies toward the portal, blasting the edge of it with her wand, to no apparent effect.

Having fogged the room, Vapor now targets another soldier with a burst of tear gas. “Gas! Gas!” it yelps before collapsing in a coughing fit.

Baron turns away from the entangled soldier, toward the portal. He projects an illusion at the center of it, making it waver and appear unstable. “The portal is closing!”

In response to this they all hear a transmission coming from each soldier’s receivers. “Form that beachhead and don’t let it go!”

Soldiers continue to leap through into the room. Fortress grabs one and throws it back. She watches it fly past the long-necked lab coats and more soldiers, and hit the far wall. There she sees one soldier wearing an officious look and a lot more medals than the rest of them.

A group of four soldier-saurs coordinate an attack on Dark Witch. Still, only one of them manage to hit her with a rifle blast, but that’s enough to hurt. She wobbles on her broom but stays aloft and in control.

Another group of four target Torrent. This time all four beams meet at her midsection. Water sprays from her body as she sails backwards and slams into the wall.

Baron with his Ego Blast and Vapor with his tear gas continue to pick off individual soldiers. Bounder enlarges a hand and swipes at an entire group of them, making them scatter.

Fortress throws caution to the wind and leaps through the portal. She sticks a superhero landing on the other side, slamming into the floor with such force she knocks all the dinos down.

Pointing at the General, she says, “Stop this now!”

Reptilian eyes look her up and down for a moment. To one of the dino-scientists he says, “How do we close this?”

“I don’t know, sir,” he replies. “We were just trying to create a miniature black hole! This was an accident.”

Meanwhile, a squad of soldiers turns on Vapor. Four more rifles fire, two beams hit him. That’s enough to drop him.

A few yards away Baron Mind is hit with a tar grenade, covering him in goo up to his chin. Another lone soldier fires a rifle at Bounder, who puffs up his chest and deflects the beam. “Shoot me, will ya?” he grunts, and slaps a giant hand down on his attacker.

“Fortress, I’m on my way!” Dark Witch yells, turning toward the portal. “No!” Fortress calls back. “I’ve got this!” So instead, the Witch points her wand and wraps a soldier in black magic.

On the other side, the General continues to stare at Fortress. “What manner of creature are you? Is everyone like you, over there?”

Trying to whisper, the scientist leans toward the General and says, “If I could dissect it we could learn a lot about these things.”

“No,” Fortress replies. “No dissecting. And no invasion. We’re going to say there, you’re going to stay here, and we’re going to close this portal.”

“Close the portal? But there’s so much to learn!” The scientist protests.

“You lie,” the General says. “I can’t trust an alien, not one with your power.”

Meanwhile— Torrent and Vapor have both recovered and are again picking off individual soldiers. Bounder is taking out three or four at a time. Dark Witch blasts the sticky prison from around Baron Mind, and he targets another soldier.

“Sir,” one of the remaining soldiers radios frantically, “we no longer have numerical superiority! The aliens are driving us back!”

Fortress says to the Guardians, “Hold!” The General glares for a second, assessing the situation. He finally utters a resigned, “Cesae fire.”

Everyone freezes in place.

“There is no reason we can’t have peace between our worlds,” Fortress says.

“No. There can be no peace,” replies the General. The Guardians and the soldiers brace to resume combat. "And that’s why this portal must be closed.

“Company, pull back!”

Fortress asks the heroes to help the injured soldiers back through the portal. They overhear two discussing how the Witch with her green skin and hairy mole is pretty good-looking, for an alien mammal.

Fortress brings in Dr. Anagala. “How do we shut this down?”

“Well, I…I think if we recreated the experiment, but recalibrated the particle charge in the stream…that might do it. But our containment chamber is gone, there’s no way to hold the berrylium in place.”

“I can help with that,” Baron replies with a smile. Using his TK to keep the target in place in the center of the portal, Dr. Anagala makes her adjustments and fires up the cyclotron. They watch the dinos watching them back as the particle stream starts. The portal flickers and wavers and then with a loud POP it implodes, and is gone.

The heroes help the wounded out of the bulding to waiting EMTs, promise a statement to the police, and bid Dr. Anagala goodbye.

As they climb back into the chopper for the ride back to Indy, Baron fingers the tar grenade in his pocket.

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Issue 33 - Chicago FIRE!

Guardians_Number_33.jpg

After Lightning Bolt was abducted by Maelstrom and his Revengers (see Issue #32), the team agrees to meet the next evening to discuss what to do next.

Fortress is feeling terrible. Since she accidentally absorbed the boiling contents of two of her vials directly into her system (again, see last issue), she’s been feverish, nauseated, and generally weak. Since he’s the only one who knows her secret identity, Bantam gives her a ride home and helps her into the house, where she collapses in bed.

Back at HQ, Baron has a talk with Ernest. “Ernest, we have to upgrade our security. We can’t have people just waltzing in and breaking supervillains out.” [Vulcan and Microwave were both freed from custody last issue. — Ed.]

“Well sir, I’ve been trying to figure a way to defend against mental illusions projected directly into one’s brain. Funny thing, I’m coming up bupkis so far.”

Baron rubs his eyes. “Yes, of course, but we can at least tighten up access to the front door. Maybe a retinal scanner, tied to an alarm. So even if you’re mind controlled and let some villain in while we’re gone, we’ll be alerted. At least something slightly better than a deadbolt, yes?”

“Sure thing, I’ll get right on it.”

The next morning, Baron receives another call from Anthony Scarpelli. “You said you had some friends who could handle a certain flaming demon problem? Well, the matter has gained some urgency. Two more attacks last night, one at one of my joints, another at a warehouse on the docks.”

“Yes, we can be there this evening.”

“Good. Call me when you get close and I’ll tell you where we can meet.”

Kid Green spends much of the next day on the phone with his mother. Since her husband and her eldest son had both been taken to Stronghold, she’d been lonely and depressed.

As Lani gets to work the next day she sees workmen hauling out boxes of equipment and several computers. Her colleague from down the hall, Mark Taylor, stands outside of his lab door, dejected. “Mark, what’s going on?”
“Oh hi, Lani. They’re shutting down my project.”
“Why?”
“Funding was pulled. It was DARPA-sponsored robotics research, part of some program called SENTINEL. Something happened and the money has dried up. I’m finished.”
“What will you do?”
“I don’t know. Two years of work, gone!” Mark calms himself. “They haven’t decided if they’re going to reassign me or let me go.”
“You can work in my lab.”
“Oh sure, have you got robotic jet engines now? Want me to build a Transfomer?”
Lani just stares. “I’m sorry, Lani. I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’m just…lost right now.”

A similar scene plays out at the biology labs at IUPUI. Dallas Damon arrives at his office to find an excited Felicity Hoffman, his sometime-lab parter. Hers was the experiment that went awry, causing Bantam to have to subdue a shambling mass of meat-eating flesh (see last issue…but you’ve already read that by now, haven’t you?) “Hi, Felicity. You’re in a good mood this morning.”
“Oh yes! You would think, with Dr. March screaming at me first thing about the destruction of two labs, that I’d be upset. But no!
“Dallas, you know how some of history’s greatest scientific breakthroughs have been due to accidents? Penicillin was discovered because Fleming didn’t clean his Petri dishes! I think something similar may have happened to me! My work with stimulating the growth of stem cells may have just taken a huge leap!
“Imagine, growing replacement organs, even limbs, in a matter of seconds!”
Dallas muses, “Sounds like you’re playing God.”
“What? I’m not growing clones, I’m saving lives! How many people die, every day, waiting for organ transplants? I think I can make those waiting lists obsolete! I can make rejection obsolete! It’s the dawn of a new medical age!”

Just then their department head, Dr. Keith March, bellows from the hallway. “HOFFMAN!” Felicity jumps. “Gotta go, Dallas. See you!”

After a night of vomiting and fitful sleep, Fortress spends the day in her basement lab, examining blood samples to try to figure out what’s going on. She sees her cells duplicating rapidly, but the resultant cells are different. A bit denser than normal, and more energetic.

Towards late afternoon she’s feeling a bit better, but when she attempts to draw another blood sample, the needle breaks against her skin. It was as if she had injected her serum, but she didn’t really feel the accompanying weight gain. When her serum was active she weighed around 12 tons.

She heads to HQ a bit ahead of the scheduled meeting time, so she can test herself in the team’s workout room. After beating on a practice dummy for a few minutes, the readings indicate her strength is about 40% of what it would be when she’s juiced.

Still a bit light-headed, she showers and then meets the rest of the team in the meeting room. “We need to go after Lightning Bolt.”

Bantam replies, “They teleported away from the Circle, there’s no way to tell where they went. We had tracked Doctor Liefeldt and Kid’s girlfriend ”/characters/amy-matsuzaka" class=“wiki-content-link”>Amy to a Wilmington Special Needs Center in Fort Wayne. So we can assume that’s Maelstrom’s front. But the address was a parking lot. "

[What the team doesn’t yet know is that Darlene “Dark Witch” Weiss has her investigator, Hugh O’Donohugh, still digging into it. — Ed.]

“Actually,” Baron says, “I think there’s a more pressing matter in Chicago. There’s this fiery demon-guy tearing up the city and killing people.”

“Yeah, I saw that on the news,” Kid Green snorts. “He’s hitting mob places. So what?”

“Well, there’s the killing people thing…”

“Yeah, killing mobsters. Big deal.”

Baron hesitates. “There’s also the matter of an amulet with a big glowing gem in it. I think that’s what gave this mob guy his demon powers. We’ve got to stop him and get that away from him.”

[Baron also suspects this gem is related to the Mind Gem that he wears, as he saw an inscription on the amulet in Sinhala script, the native language of Sri Lanka. — ED]

Eventually everyone decides to head to Chicago except Vapor and Bounder. “Did, um…did you say this gem was magic?” Bounder stammers. “Not a big fan of magic. A magic curse is how I ended up a big rubber ball. No thank you.”

It’s decided that Kid Green will head to Chicago under his own power (gargantuan leaps) with Bantam in his pocket. The rest – Baron, Fortress, and Torrent – will travel via the team helicopter. They summon their pilot, T.F. Washington, who preps the chopper, and soon they’re off.

On the way, Kid’s cell phone rings. It’s his mother. “Honey, I need your help right away!”
“What is it, Mom?”
“Well, the garbage disposal isn’t working. I need you to fix it.”
“I can’t, Mom, I’m busy.”
“But it’s full of salad and sausage, I can’t just leave it like this.”
“Mom, I’m on my way to Chicago.”
“Chicago! Oh no, Jake, it’s dangerous up there! It’s all over the news, the Mafia is at war!”
“Mom, I’ll be fine, I’m going up there with some friends. I’ll fix the disposal as soon as I get back.”
“But it’s full of food, it’s going to start to stink.”
“I’ll be back in a few hours, it won’t have time to stink.”

Baron calls Scarpelli as they near the city. “I’ll meet you at the airport helipad when you land.”

Sure enough, just as Kid lands and the Guardians chopper touches down, a sleek limosine pulls around a hangar and onto the tarmac. The team gathers outside the helicopter and watches one of the car’s rear windows roll down. “Jones,” says Scarpelli, indicating Baron Mind. “Get in.” He does.

“Good to see you, my friend,” the mob boss says. “If only the circumstances were more pleasant.” Scarpelli hands Baron a manila envelope. Inside is a list of addresses and several photos of a rather simple-looking middle-aged man.

“That’s ”/characters/bobby-lucese" class=“wiki-content-link”>Bobby Lucese. He’s the idiot causing all the trouble. I need you to find him and bring him to me. The addresses on that list are the joints he runs for Marcone. He’s always at one of them. I’ve sent my guys to stake ‘em out, they’ve even managed to corner him a couple of times. But each time, either he barely manages to get away or he transforms into some giant monster and wipes my guys out."

Baron recalled the name: that’s what the late Vinnie Pestano had called the flaming demon who took the amulet from him and then killed him.

“Call me when you got ‘im. I’m countin’ on you, Jones. There are also room keys in that envelope for suites at the Chicago Hilton, for you and your friends. In case this takes some time.”

Baron gets out and the limo pulls away. He relays the instructions to the team. “Hotel tickets!” Kid scoffs. “How long is this supposed to take? I’ve got a garbage disposal to fix!”

“Well, we have five places to check out. Two nightclubs, the Spybar and the Drumbar. Two strip clubs, The Blue Oyster and Vip’s Gentlemen’s Club, and a casino, The Lucky Horseshoe Club.” All of the addresses are on the near Northside, just blocks West of the Navy Pier. They decide to stay together and start at the casino.

“He wants us to bring Bobby back to him?” Bantam asks. “Yes,” Baron replies, “but we’re not going to. We’ll turn Bobby over to the police, and we’re taking the gem…I mean, the amulet…back with us.”

The LUCKY HORSESHOE CASINO

Arriving at the casino, the team enters the wide entrance as one. As they stop and grow accustomed to the flashing lights and the cacophony of bells and whoops, those gamblers near the entrance stop and turn their heads.

The Guardians make their way through the main concourse over to the bar, eliciting stares and cell phone pictures. “Hey, nice costumes!” the bartender says. “The talent usually comes in through the back, though. I didn’t know we were having impersonators tonight.”
“We’re looking for Bobby Lucese,” Baron tells the bartender.
“Who’s looking?”
“I’m Jack Jones. These are the Guardians.”
“Guys in Guardians costumes, okay. Still, if there’s some kind of problem with your contract, you’ll need to see the manager.”
“We aren’t impersonators and these aren’t costumes. These are the real Guardians. I need to talk to Bobby.”
The barkeep stares hard at each hero for a moment. “Sure thing, Jack. Just a sec.” He moves to the middle of the bar and picks up a phone.

Moments later a distinguished, white-haired gentleman approaches from the rear of the casino. “Paulie here tells me the Guardians are paying us a visit! I’m Tony Capullo, manager of the Lucky Horseshoe. Please, if you’ll accompany me to my office I’ll see what I can do for you.”

They follow him to a back office. Capullo moves behind his desk, offering seating to the team. Kid stands, of course. When Fortress goes to sit down she miscalculates and smashes right through the chair. Embarrassed, she says, “I’ll just stand right here.”

Baron gets right to the point. “We’re looking for Bobby Lucese.”

“Bobby? Well, he does stop by every now and then. Can’t say that I know where he is, but I’d be happy to get a message to him. In the meantime, why don’t you all enjoy some gaming, eh? On the house!”

Baron declines, thanks Capullo for his hospitality, and they leave. On the way out, Fortress notices out of the corner of her eye three men seated at the end of the bar. Rather dark-skinned, their features are somewhat Asian, and somewhat familiar, although she can’t quite place them. All three stare at the team as they walk toward the entrance. One of them appears to speak into his cuff.

She mentions this to Baron. “Looks like the Brotherhood is after the amulet too.”

“One joint down, four to go,” says Bantam. “You know, of course, that he’s going to be at the Blue Oyster.” “Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of,” Baron sighs. “May as well get this over with.”

The BLUE OYSTER

The bouncer greets them cheerfully, if loudly, just inside the front door, shouting over the pulsing electronic dance music. “Oh, girls, the costume contest was last week. Too bad, too, you’d have swept it! Let’s see those IDs!”

Kid says to Baron under his breath, “Um, I’m under-age.”

Baron produces an Indiana State Private Security card. “We’re the Guardians. We’re looking for Bobby Lucese.”
“Is there some kind of trouble?”
“No, we just need to talk to him.”

Baron stands perfectly still and closes his eyes. Tapping into the power of the Mind Gem, he spins time backwards in his mind’s eye. The following is what he sees, in its proper chronological order:
About 20 minutes ago, Bobby was here with two other men. He was wearing the amulet. He answered a phone call. Because of the lack of an audio component to these visions, he put to use his lipreading ability. Bobby was panicked about something, cursed Scarpelli, and said, “we have to get this thing back to Vip’s.”

Unfortunately, it takes Baron several long minutes to gather this info. “I know where he is, but we need to hurry,” he says, heading for the door. As they’re leaving, Fortress again sees three swarthy-looking men in suits sitting at the bar, staring at them. She peels away from the group and walks straight up to them. All three stand in unison as she approaches.

“Hi fellas, is there something I can help you with?” They glare at her for a second, and then they turn and walk away in different directions, fading into the crowd. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

VIP’S GENTLEMEN’S CLUB

Dance music hits the groups as they step into the front doors of Vip’s. A lone bouncer sits in a small booth by the door. As the team approaches they see the bouncer’s eyes go wide. Just then, his desk phone rings. Before he can pick it up, Baron uses his telekinesis to hold the headpiece in its cradle. The bouncer struggles to lift the phone, staring back and forth from it to the heroes.

“Is Bobby here?” Baron asks. The bouncer stammers. “Uh, well, um…let me go check.” He moves out from behind the booth and walks into the club. After a few steps, he glances over his shoulder, then breaks into a run and disappears around a corner.

Hesitating only a second, Kid Green acts. He barrels past the guard booth, through the coat check room, and smashes through the opposite wall. He finds himself in a small corridor. To his right he sees the bouncer dashing around the corner, heading straight for him. The guy comically slides to a stop and stares.

To Kid’s left, the corridor ends in a door with an EXIT sign above it. Two restroom doors stand on the right side of the corridor, on the left is a single door, flanked by two beefy gentlemen in expensive suits.

The team follows Kid. Baron tosses a few coins on the counter of the coat check room as they go by, apologizing to the startled girl watching them go by.

Kid heads down the corridor toward the two guards. Seeing him coming, they both swallow hard and draw Glocks from their holsters. “You don’t really expect those peashooters to stop me, do you? Just get out of the way so I don’t have to hurt you.”

While Kid talks, Baron spies a security camera at the end of the hallway. Again using his TK, he carefully unplugs it.

Fortress, apparently at the end of her patience, steps between Kid and the guards. Without saying a word, she reaches out and grabs both of them by the junk. Unfortunately for them, her powers are still in flux; she squeezes much harder than she intends. Both men scream like girls; one collapses against the wall and slides straight down, the other jumps back and fires his weapon wildly into the ceiling.

With the guards out of the way, she opens the door. Inside is a small office. Three men stand in front of a desk, watching a fourth straightening from a crouch in front of an open safe.

“Bobby!” Baron says. “We’ve been looking for you!”

Bobby Lucese turns to face the heroes in the doorway. The amulet hangs around his neck, its yellow jewel gleaming despite the meager light. “Carmine, take this somewhere safe.” Bobby takes the amulet off and hands it to one of the other men, who puts it on.

Baron steps into the room. “Bobby, we just need to talk.”
“I’ve had enough talk! That’s all Marcone wanted to do, talk.” Bobby spits on the floor.
“Marcone? Your boss?”
“Yeah. When my beautiful Katherine was killed by Scarpelli’s goons during a botched hit, I begged Don Marcone for revenge. Revenge that was rightfully mine! But he refused. Insisted that he would get compensation from Scarpelli by talking to him. Bah! So I decided to do it by myself. I found these Sri Lanka guys, they guaranteed me enough power to rule Chicago, if I would get Vinnie’s lucky necklace for ’em.”

Bobby draws a deep breath, and the air around him seems to shimmer. Instantly he bursts into flames and grows about two feet. Horns sprout from his forehead, his clothes burn away, and his legs twist into those of a goat. Standing before the Guardians now is a flaming horned demon. A huge scimitar sprouts from one hand, made entirely of flame.

“Well, I got their necklace, and now I get why they want it! It’s got power too! Too bad for them, I ain’t givin’ it back. I killed ‘em all last night at their warehouse on the docks. And now I guess I’m gonna have to kill you too.”

To the team, Baron says, “We can’t let him keep that gem.” Still in the hallway, Torrent prepares for the impending fight by sucking up into her watery body large chunks of debris left by Kid Green’s impromptu demolition of the wall. Bantam shrinks to his smallest size and sneaks through the doorway into the office, then uses his static cling to clamber up the wall to the ceiling.

“Boys,” Bobby says, “we’re gonna need those special toys.” While Carmine and Bobby watch, the other two men draw weird-looking pistols that appear to have multiple barrels. They both fire at the biggest target in the doorway, which is Kid Green. Greenish bolts of energy shoot out. One misses and punches a small hole in the wall, while the other strikes Kid square in the chest. He feels it.

In response, Kid whips a stalk into the room and grabs the gunman who hit him. Picking him up he swings him at the other gunman but misses; the guy is slammed through the wall and into the adjoining coat check room. The girl starts screaming as coats fly everywhere.

On the wall, Bantam fires a Bantam Bolt toward Carmine. At the same time, one of the two chains holding the light fixture above Bobby’s desk gives way. The light swings down and is destroyed as it intercepts Bantam’s attack.

Baron tries to infiltrate Bobby’s mind and do damage directly into his brain, but he finds weird mental ‘interference’ that proves somewhat difficult to get through.

Fortress zips up to Carmine and grabs at him. He twists at just the right second and she ends up with a fistful of torn necktie.

Bobby growls to Carmine, “Go!” Carmine obeys, scooting through the new hole in the wall and into the coat check room. Bantam chases him with another blast of electricity, but this time a hunk of loose plaster around the hole in the wall breaks away, and again his attack is thwarted by happenstance.

In the hallway, Torrent sees Carmine emerging from the coat check room. She spits one of her debris chunks at him. Her aim is typically precise, but this time just as it’s about to hit him, he trips over a coat. The shot sails right over his head.

Thinking a more personal approach might work better, Torrent runs and flings herself at Carmine, intending to wrap her arms and legs around him. Instead she ends up on the floor, wrapped around his jacket, as he continues to head for the front door. As she tosses the jacket aside, she sees the fleeing mobster stop in his tracks. In front of him are standing four members of the Brotherhood of Senhala, those “Indian”-looking men they’ve been seeing all evening.

“The Gem does not belong to you,” the apparent leader says. The other three pull blowdart tubes from their jacket pockets. One puffs a dart toward Carmine but it glances off the amulet (Torrent notices the end the dart seems to be faintly glowing). The other draws in a breath to shoot Carmine and accidentally inhales his dart. He stumbles backwards, choking.

MEANWHILE
Inside the office, Bobby roars. He casually swats the desk out of the way and swings his flaming sword at the closest Guardian, Fortress. She ducks it. From the doorway, Kid performs his famous Whiplash maneuver: a stalk shoots out at Bobby, grabs him, and pulls him hard toward Kid Green, who greets him with a punch. The demon is knocked flying back through the office and through the far wall, landing in a heap in the bouncer’s booth.

Bobby hauls himself to his feet and stomps like a bull. “Yer gonna pay for that!” Fire and thick black smoke belch from his nostrils and he gallops across the office. Kid sets himself; thick roots burst through his boots and plunge into the concrete floor. When Bobby slams into him at full firey-demon speed, it’s like hitting a brick wall. A shock wave rocks everyone and everything in the room.

Bantam takes the opportunity and throws a deadly electrical charge coursing over Bobby’s body, who bellows with pain and rage.

Baron, still in the office, is interested only in the Gem. He can see out into the club through the hole in the wall, where Carmine is facing down the Brotherhood. An idea comes to him. Baron mimics Bobby’s demonic growl and shouts, “Dammit, Carmine, give the jewel to Jack Jones!”

Hearing this, Carmine is even more confused. “To Jones? B-but Bobby, you said…you said to get it outta here!”

Bantam zips down the wall and through the hole. He throws an electric cage around Carmine in case he starts running again.

Torrent shoots another bit of debris and stuns one of the Brotherhood, while Forterss bearhugs another. The one remaining Sri Lankan yells into his cufflinks, “Converge on Vip’s! Converge on Vip’s!” Torrent quickly runs between Fortress and the electric cage to get a better shot at him. She sends another chunk of wall at him, sending him sprawling into a table. But, as she’s getting into position, her watery leg brushes the cage and shorts it out. The sparking energy dome that was around Carmine dissipates.

Baron again, in Bobby’s demonic growl: “Carmine! Give Jones that gem now!” Baron then steps from the office into the foyer, walking up to Carmine with his hands extended. Carmine is still confused, but crazy people are shooting darts and lightning and bits of plaster at him and he’s had enough. “S-sure, Bobby, sure! Here!” He removes the amulet and hands it to Baron. Then he beats feet past the main stage into the interior of the club.

Baron, clutching the amulet in one hand, darts behind the bouncer’s desk. He removes the DVD from what he assumes is the security system. He also sees one of the weird multi-barreled pistols and takes it.

“No!” cries the man in Fortress’ grasp. “We must have that Gem for the ”/characters/mistress-of-gaia" class=“wiki-content-link”>Mistress!"

MEANWHILE
Inside what’s left of the office, Bobby and Kid are now face to face. The flaming sword slices right through Kid, searing his midsection. Bantam turns and sends a jolt of electricity through his wounded area to stimulate healing. Kid punches back at Bobby who leans out of the way.

Torrent re-enters the office and sprints toward Bobby. She tries to grab him and her hand starts steaming due to the heat.

The demon tries to grab Kid by the throat but the hero blocks it. Bantam hits Bobby with a blast, which enrages him even more. He turns his head and breathes a sheet of fire at Bantam. Too small to get out of the way, the tiny hero is stunned by the flames. He drops to the floor and regains full size.

Kid swipes at Bobby but misses. Torrent leaps onto his fiery body from behind. Now she’s steaming like crazy. The mobster shrugs her off, then swings a fist at Kid, who dodges it.

In the front of the club, Baron now goes to the front door and locks it. Outside, he sees two cars screeching to a halt, one at either end of the parking lot. A few feet away, one of the Brotherhood who’d been previously knocked out gets back up and takes aim at Fortress with a blowgun. She quickly lifts the one she’s been holding and throws him. Both go flying back against the wall and land in a heap.

Torrent gives up on trying to bearhug a flaming monster and dashes out of the office, to the front of the club. She moves next to Baron, who’s gazing out the front door. In the parking lot, from one car emerge more Sri Lankans. From the other spring four men in suits, presumably either Scarpelli’s men or Marcone’s. She takes advantage of her watery body and oozes through the crack between the locked doors, reforming just outside.

The one Sri Lankan still standing steps toward Baron. “We must have that gem! It does not belong to you!”
“But it belongs to you?”
“It belongs to The Mistress. You know this. So does yours.” He indicates the red jewel in Baron’s turban.
Baron drops him with a mental attack.

Fortress looks around and notices the member of the Brotherhood who’d swallowed his dart. He’s lying on the edge of the stage, a stripper bending over him. Fortress turns him over; he’s not breathing. She sees the glowing tip of the dart lodged in his throat. After pulling it out, she begins to perform CPR. In a few seconds he sputters back to life.

Back in the office, Bantam regains his wits and shrinks again. He slams Bobby with another burst of electricity, just as Baron Mind, glancing into the office from the front door, hits Bobby again with a mental blast. This time the psychic attack punches through the demonic resistance and the demon rears back its horned head and bellows fire into the ceiling. Kid then drops and sweeps his leg at Bobby’s, dropping him to the ground with a thud.

“Get away from him!” Kid hears. He turns and looks down the hallway. Carmine stands there, next to the bouncer who’s still gaping. He’s got one of the “special toys” in his shaking hands. It jumps as he pulls the trigger and green energy fires out. The bolt hits Kid with a tremendous impact, sending him flying down the corridor and smashing through the door at the end. He ends up lying on his back on the sidewalk outside.

Bantam zips into the hallway and shoots at Carmine. Electricity dances around his body as he convulses with pain, but he remains standing.

Bobby gets to his feet and stomps into the hall, going after Kid. “I’m gonna burn you!” Kid, still on his back, stretches an arm above his head. A stalk whips out, grabs one of the parked cars only a few feet away, and sends it flying head-on into the flaming villain. Bobby raises his sword of fire to deflect it, but he’s too late: he’s hit in the grill with a grill. The impact is deafening: crunching metal and smashing glass resound off the corridor walls. Bobby is sent careening back down the hallway, so far that he slams into Carmine and they both smash through an interior wall, into the main room. They land in the center of a table, which smashes into firey bits. Club patrons and lap dancers go tumbling.

The demon struggles to his feet and lumbers toward the front door, swatting more normals out of the way as he goes. Bantam dashes down the hallway and examines Carmine’s gun. He sees a numbered dial on one side with four settings. He grows, picks up the gun, and fires across the room at Bobby’s back. The green bolt hits him between the shoulder blades. His flaming body goes into a tumble and blows through the wall next to the front door.

“So much for locking the door,” Baron muses.

Torrent now stands just outside the front door. Bobby lies amidst a pile of rubble a few feet away, in the handicapped parking spot. A few yards from the door, two young men had been heading to the club for a night of debauchery, but they now stand in shock at the scene before them. “You two,” Torrent says, “need to turn around and get out of here. Now.” They do.

Bobby heaves himself to his feet, a bit more slowly than the last time. One of the mobsters now standing next to their car yells, “There he is!” They all open fire with handguns. The bullets hit Bobby but dissipate instantly in puffs of superheated gas. He bellows again and starts to head toward them. Baron instead hits him with one more ego attack. This one goes deep into the brain of the possessed mobster. He stiffens and is perfectly still for a second. Then the flames swirl madly, obscuring his body. With a ‘whoosh’ they flare up and vanish, leaving a smoking, naked, very human Bobby Lucese. He collapses to the ground like a marionette suddenly without strings.

Two of the newly-arrived Sri Lankans sprint toward the front door, the other two head toward the side door, where Kid Green still lies.

Fortress heads outside and kneels beside Bobby, to make sure he’s still breathing. “Get away from him, lady,” one of the mobsters says. Their guns are still drawn. “We’ve got this under control.” Bantam runs over beside her and throws up a electric cage around the three of them.

Kid Green gets up and leaps over to do a very impressive Superhero Landing behind the two Brotherhood who were running toward the front door. They stop and turn around in awe. “Get lost.” They slooooowly back away, meeting the other two back at their car.

Kid then leaps across the parking lot and executes another Superhero Landing in front of the mobsters’ car. “Leave.”
“We ain’t leavin’ widout Bobby.”
“You have to the count of ten to be gone.”
They glance at each other and before the word “One” is out of Kid’s mouth, they’re climbing back into their sedan.

Still inside, Baron slips the amulet into his shirt. It seems to glow and grow warm against his skin. He feels light-headed, almost giddy, for a second. At complete peace with the universe. The euphoria is short-lived, but it leaves behind a certainty: the gem in this amulet is the Karma Gem, one of the four Universal Jewels. [Of which his own Mind Gem is also one — see the “Items” section for more info — Ed.]

He’s jolted from his reverie by the patrons and dancers, who are all heading toward the exits in somewhat of a scramble. He unlocks the front door and steps outside, out of their way.

He can hear sirens in the distance as he watches the mobsters and the Brotherhood drive away. As the rest of the team restrains Bobby, Carmine, and the Sri Lankan who appeared to be in charge, Baron calls Scarpelli. “We’ve dealt with Bobby.”
“Jones, that’s wonderful. Really great news. Now, you need to take him to —”
“I won’t be able to hand him over to you.”
“Excuse me? Why not?”
“This whole thing is too high-profile. The Guardians just battled a demon in the middle of a strip club in downtown Chicago. There’s nothing I can do.”
Baron can hear Scarpelli breathing for a moment. "I’m disappointed, Jones. Very disappointed.
“Listen, did he…did he have anything…unusual in his possession?”
“No.”
“Nothing at all?”
“Nothing at all.”
Again Scarpelli is silent. Then, “I’ll be in touch.”

What’s Baron going to do with the Karma Gem? What are the Guardians going to do with two Chicago mobsters? What’s that crazy pistol those guys were using? Those questions and more will be answered next issue!

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Issue 32 - The Revengers
This time it's personal

Guardians_Number_32.jpg

The team is home from Seattle, the first leg of their promotional tour for the upcoming Fox reality show (see last issue). Over the next few days they escort the captured paranormals to Stronghold (successfully this time…for a list of the bad guys, go here).

Ernest informs them that they’ve received VIP invitations to attend a ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the Maelstrom Tornado. Years ago, the arch-villain Maelstrom had obtained a device to enhance his powers a thousand-fold. He created a mile-wide F5 tornado in south-central Indiana and marched it toward Indianapolis, demanding to be made King of Indiana. As far as the public knew, the Guardians defeated the insane villain Maelstrom and his team Death’s Hand, thus limiting the death toll to just over 3000. In reality, the villains fought the Guardians to a standstill until the creator of the amplification device, Simon LeBaron, arrived and detonated a self-destruct bomb he’d built into it.

The ceremony will be an unveiling of a monument to those who lost their lives, on Monument Circle in downtown Indy. Several state dignitaries will attend, and Lightning Bolt, as the only remaining team member who was there that day, is asked to say a few words.

Joe Bob “Alpha” DeWitt, escaping charges thanks to his FBI informant status, expresses his concerns about the mysterious figure known as Black Lung, whom Joe Bob claims is the spirit of his long-dead uncle. He says Black Lung needs to periodically return to the abandoned mine in which he was killed 30 years ago, or he’ll wither and eventually die.

Darlene receives a report from one of her firm’s PIs, Hugh McDonohugh, who has been on the trail of the missing Dr. Liefeldt. He’d previously tracked him to a Fort Wayne firm, Wilmington Special Needs Center. The address on their single-page website was a parking lot. Darlene tells Hugh to dig into the organization, particularly its funding.

Kid Green has his hands full consoling his mother, who in the past few weeks has learned that the son she thought she’d lost was still alive, and that her husband had been lying to her about it for years (see Issue 25). He manages to get away to visit the comatose Amy in the hospital, only to find she’s been transferred out.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the desk nurse says, “privacy laws prevent me from saying anything else.”
“Do privacy laws prevent you from being squished?”
Shaken by the hero’s unhero-like behavior, the nurse eventually reveals that Amy was signed out by a woman claiming to be her mother, May. The paperwork indicated that she was taken to the Wilmington Special Needs Center in Fort Wayne.

Sid, pining for his friend and mentor, calls Hugh McDonohugh and hires him to track down Graviton, who left with his brother Magnus when the team had been captured by General Stone (see Issue 28).

Baron Mind catches up on his fan mail and rehearses for some upcoming stage shows. One email in particular catches his eye, it’s from a young man who loves magic and is seeking an apprenticeship. The boy is backstage at Baron’s next show, introducing himself as Eric Hanson. He shows Baron some of the tricks he knows and begs to be an apprentice. It’s clear that he has some talent. Baron agrees to teach the 16-year-old what he knows.

Baron also receives a call from Anthony Scarpelli. After using his retrocognition to discover who killed the manager of a Scarpelli-connected nightclub, Baron had learned that the culprit was named Bobby Lucese. Bobby had somehow been transformed into a flaming horned demon, attacked the club, and made off with a glowing yellow amulet. Baron instinctively knew that the gem in that amulet was related to the one in his turban, to the group of stones sought by the Mistress of Gaia (see Issue 17 and Issue 29).

“So,” Scarpelli began, “I know you claim your magic isn’t real, but do you happen to know anybody who might be able to deal with a flaming-headed-demon kind of problem?”
“Yes, I think I do.” To himself, Baron mused, “That’s my new sidekick’s gem.”

Dallas is settling back into his lab at the Indiana Center for Vascular Biology and Medicine on the campus of IUPUI. He hears glass breaking and screams from down the hall, from the direction of the animal labs. He pokes his head out the door and sees a shambling, quivering, misshapen mass of pink blubber emerging from a laboratory door. It leaves a wet trail as it crosses the hall and enters another animal lab. More screams.

From the first lab, Dallas’ frequent research partner Felicity Hoffman comes running. “What is that thing?” Dallas asks. “My experiment,” Felicity pants. “I’ve been working on spurring the growth of stem cells. Something…something went wrong…”

“No kidding. What exactly is it made of?” “Just…just stem cells. Mice.” Dallas hesitates only for a second before heading back into his lab. “I’m going to call the authorities!”

Instead, he dashes behind his desk and shrinks out of his clothes (fortunately, he’s taken to wearing his Bantam costume full-time). He runs back down the hallway and into the animal lab. As he dashes up a wall he sees the Blob, jerkily moving toward a lab tech who is cowering in a far corner. Bantam fires electricity toward the beast, aligning the electrons so that a sparking wall of force forms between it and the tech. The Blob moves against it and momentarily stops; that’s when the Guardian erects an electric cage around it.

“Look,” someone from the hallway cries, “it’s Ant-Man!”

“I’m not Ant-Man!” Bantam says as more electricity arcs from his hands. The bolt strikes the creature. It shudders and then is still.

He hears Felicity from the hallway. “Dallas? Where’s Dallas?”

Knowing he has only seconds to preserve his secret identity, Bantam spies a wall outlet. He shrinks even further and leaps into it, riding the electrical current back to his office, emerging from a socket there. He pulls his clothes on and is straightening his tie when Felicity walks through the door. “Dallas! You should’ve seen it! Bantam, of the Guardians, was here! He stopped the thing!”


The day arrives for the unveiling ceremony. The Circle has been blocked off, and two hundred chairs have been arranged on the South side of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Seated to either side of the shrouded sculpture are the Governor, the Mayor, and assorted state and city government officials. Seated on the stage, to either side of the dignitaries, are the Guardians: Lightning Bolt, Fortress, Kid Green, Baron Mind, Bantam, Vapor, and the newest member, Torrent. Dark Witch and Bounder couldn’t make it; Darlene is arguing a case in court, and Elton has a meeting with his parole officer.

The emcee for the event, Channel 6’s Kevin Gregory, introduces the dignitaries to the lunchtime crowd. "Today we honor the memory of those 3114 people who perished all those years ago today, innocent victims of an insane supervillain. Today we also honor those fearless heroes, The Guardians, who put their lives on the line that day against a mad monster.
“We’ll hear from some of Indiana’s Finest in a moment, but first please join me in a moment of silence.”

Next, Governor Mike Pence takes the dais to speak. After him, Mayor Joe Hogsett says a few words. Both praise the Guardians. And then, Lightning Bolt is introduced.

The hero takes the posium. He speaks of being grateful for having stopped Maelstrom and his villain team. He then mocks the bad guy. “All of this needless death, because he wanted to be king! Of one state! ‘Oooh, make me king of Indiana!’ He was insane! And if he showed up here today, we’d stop him again!”

The crowd applauds and cheers as LB retakes his seat. Emcee Gregory then introduces the dancers of the Indiana Repertory Theater. “Please enjoy this special dramatization of that fateful battle, through interpretive dance!”

Costumed dancers emerge from the edges of the crowd. They are dressed as Maelstrom and his Death’s Hand: the demonic Devilar, the albino Halo, the four-armed Tick, the armored Whirlybird (now known as Chopper), and the powerful psionic, Brain (later called PsiLord). They begin to dance as large wind machines, standing on either side of the stage, are cranked up, and dry ice generators waft a low-lying fog over the ground.

Then more dancers appear, these dressed as the members of the Guardians at the time. There is Lightning Bolt; the brutish Monstro; tech expert Thermo; Spider-Man (now calling himself Black Spider) and the late martial artist, Black Panther.

As the dancers engage in mock fisticuffs (and mock flying and mock energy-blasting), dark clouds begin to develop directly overhead. The rumble of thunder can be heard. The dry ice fog seems to thicken and rise, from ankle-height to waist-high in a second. Ever on the alert, Fortress stands and shouts, “Everyone get inside, now!” She quickly grabs one of her four vials of serum and injects herself.

Appearing in individual flashes of light around the stage area are: the speedster who nearly killed Fortress, Friction; Vapor’s murderous ex-wife, Stiletto; the demon-possessed former partner of Baron Mind, Miscountess, who just days ago was delivered in custody to Stronghold; the lightning-goddess-worshipping Conductor; Lightning Bolt’s former lover/sidekick, Blue Streak; Kid Green’s girlfriend Amy, as her costumed alter-ego Scarlet; the four-armed, slow-witted pawn of Maelstrom, Tick; an unknown figure in a black-and-yellow costume; and the mad supervillain himself, Maelstrom. Each has soft blue crackles of energy dancing over their bodies.

Lightning Bolt stands, clutching his shield. “Martin.”

Maelstrom sneers. “Arthur. How rude to commemorate an historic day, yet fail to invite the man who made it so.” He gestures to the sky with his remaining good hand (the other having been destroyed when the tornado device was blown up) and a lightning bolt tears from the cloud and strikes LB. The explosion sends the spectators in his immediate vicinity flying and chairs toppling.

“What do you call this new team, Martin? Death Fist? Stormfinger?”

“No, I think you’ll agree that a much more appropriate name is…The Revengers!”

Blue Streak zips over to LB. “Hi, Shannon. I assume —” She savagely kicks him. “Yeah, that’s what I assumed.”

“You abandoned me! Treated me like shit for over a year, ignored me while I ran your business practically by myself! And then when I’m beaten within an inch of my life, where were you? Where was the hero? This is my payback, Artie!”

The dignitaries are still on the stage, staring in mute shock. Fortress steps over and picks up the podium. Hefting it above her head as a weapon, she leaps toward Stiletto. The villain, in noticeably better armor than the last time she faced the Guardians, produces a sword blade of pure energy from her right gauntlet. She swings and slices the podium in half cleanly as Fortress brings it down toward her head.

The ominous clouds overhead begin to spit rain.

Kid Green moves down the steps, toward Scarlet. “Amy! Thank God you’re alive!”

A glowing red bubble of energy grows around her and she rises into the air. “But my father’s not alive, is he, Jake? He’s dead! Dead because of you!”

Tick, standing a few feet away from the stage, is intent on Fortress. Baron Mind hits him with a Mental Illusion, causing him to think Conductor looks like Fortress. The large man furrows his brow, turning his confused gaze from the real Fortress to Conductor, and back. “Daddy? Tick see two Fortsesses. Tick confused…”

Vapor focuses on the unknown villain, the one in black and yellow. He explodes a puff of knockout gas in his face, to no apparent effect. Sid postulates that the bad guy’s full-face mask is acting as a filter.

Kid, stinging from Amy’s accusations, turns his attention to Maelstrom. He whips out a stalk, but misses. “Arthur, where did you find this freak?” Maelstrom laughs.

Preparing to swing a fist at Stiletto, Fortress hears a sudden rush of air behind her. “Hi, baby! Miss me?” Friction pummels her with a flurry of super-speed punches before wrapping his arms around her. The intense heat radiating from his body plays havoc with her powers. She begins to sweat and feels her strength waning.

Miscountess seeks out Baron Mind. “I’ll have that Gem!” she says in what sounds like two voices, one silky and the other a gravelly rasp. She raises her staff, the end glowing with energy. Baron reaches out with his telekinesis and whips the shroud from the commemorative sculpture, holding it up in mid-air between him and Miscountess. Fire spews from the end of her staff, burning through the canvas like tissue paper.

LB, catching Fortress’ predicament from the corner of his eye, turns and flings his shield at Friction, but misses. The diminutive hero feels Friction’s super-heated aura drive the last of the serum from her system. She’s normal again, and with her arms pinned she can’t quite reach her vials.

Bantam also turns his attention to Friction, hitting him with a stream of electrons meant to resonate in his bones, weakening him. Still the villain hangs on to Fortress. That’s when the unknown villain moves toward Bantam. “You’re no hero!”

“Who are you?” Bantam asks. The man pulls off his mask to reveal a mutilated face, scarred almost beyond recognition. Almost. “Liefeldt!”

“Is this what heroes do, Damon,” the former Dr. Charles Liefeldt asks. “They abandon innocent people? Look well upon me, these scars are yours! This face is your fault! And because your failure to help me has destroyed my life, I will now destroy you!”

Kid Green, somewhat distracted by Amy, fails to hear Tick approach. He feels four large arms wrap around him from behind. “Get your hands off me, Ugly.”

“Hey! Tick not ugly! Tick do okay!” Kid’s skin begins to tingle as Tick leeches energy from him.

LB says through the team comm-link, “Kid! Call him stupid! It drives him nuts!”

Kid: “Okay, get your hands off me, Stupid.” Tick thinks for a second, then bellows with rage.

With Fortress’ attention elsewhere, Stiletto moves away from her to locate Vapor. She finds him and advances, the glow from her sword casting her rage-contorted features in an even more menacing light. “Any last words, worm?”

“No. I’m not going to die.”

“Oh, really? You’re not?” She swings a fist at him. He tries to dodge but fails. She slugs him right in the jaw, sending him sprawling backwards onto the steps. “You little asshole!”

“I missed you too, honey.” He knows she wears nose filters, specifically for him. But he also knows that tear gas works on the tear ducts as well as the sinuses. He blasts her full-on with a facefull. She can still breathe, but her eyes fill with tears. “Aagh! I can’t see! You bastard!”

Conductor teleports next to LB with the crackle of lightning. She grabs him and sparks fly between them. As she feeds on his bio-electricity, she says, “At last! A fitting sacrifice for the Lady of the Lightning!” LB swings his shield and smacks her hard. “Well, she’s still crazy.” An explosion of sparks sends them each tumbling in opposite directions. LB comes up on his feet.

A rock zings past Blue Streak’s head. She turns and sees Torrent. “What the hell are you?” she asks, seeing a woman made of translucent water with bits of debris floating around inside of her. Shannon fires a blue streak of electricity towards Torrent but misses.

This serves to turn Maelstrom’s attention away from LB and toward Torrent. "You must be the famous Water Baby from years ago. Another freak.
“Tell me, child, did Lightning Bolt bother to tell you how my powers work?”

The villain gestures towards Torrent and demonstrates: Maelstrom can affect the moisture in the air, including freezing it. As a blast of cold hits her, Lani feels her body solidifying. In a second she’s frozen solid.

Bantam continues to dodge the energy bolts Liefeldt is firing. He hits the man with an electrical blast of his own, but when it strikes the villain he laughs and begins to glow. Bantam zips over to one of the wind machines, to get some cover and maybe a second of breathing room to figure out what to do next.

Lightning Bolt has concluded that the faint blue glow coruscating around each villain is likely a force field being generated by Blue Streak. “Everyone, pile on the blonde!” He throws his shield toward her but misses.

But everyone is busy with their own problems. Kid Green can feel his strength draining away, and Tick’s grasp getting even stronger. He focuses his remaining energy into one massive effort and breaks free. In the same motion he drops low and swings a leg around, knocking Tick’s out from under him.

Straining within Friction’s grasp, and now powerless, Fortress manages to reach one of her remaining three vials. But instead of injecting herself, she slams the needle into Friction’s leg! “You’re stabbing people now?”

“Sometimes,” she gasps in reply. “Feeling okay?”

Friction’s hold on her weakens and she feels his weight shift. “N-no…what did you do?”

Baron Mind’s force field protects him as Miscountess swings her staff as a cudgel. “I’ll pluck that Gem from your cold, dead head!” she cackles. Baron replies with an attack directly into her brain, turning her cackle into a shriek of pain. She hits him with a wind blast from the staff, but again his mental force field holds.

Stiletto continues to swing blindly, her energy sword sweeping a wide arc in front of her. Vapor edges backwards, staying just out of her reach, until she trips on a step and goes down, cursing all the way.

Maelstrom cocks his head to the side, as if listening to someone whisper in his ear. He then nods and says, “It’s done. Conductor, now!” They both gesture toward the sky. Two streaks of lightning zag through the cloud and merge directly over LB. He tries to raise his shield but is too late; the force of the combined bolt slams him hard into the ground, and despite his natural resistance to electrical damage, it hurts. He lies there, smoking.

Liefeldt blasts the wind machine above Bantam, sending him spinning.

Blue Streak teleports near Fortress. Friction has released her from his grip, he’s stumbling backwards with one hand on his forehead and one on his stomach. Shannon hits her with a sparking blue bolt, a blast which normally would do her no harm at all. But she’s yet to re-inject herself, so the attack hits a normal person. Alyssia is stunned and falls hard to the ground, landing on her remaining vials. The normally shatter-proof glass has also been weakened by the sustained heat of Friction’s aura; they shatter, shards slicing into her hip. The serum, the contents of both remaining vials, is absorbed into her wounds.

Lightning Bolt can sense the fight slipping away. The Revengers have them out-numbered and they were taken by surprise. The battlefield is surrounded by two hundred gaping bystanders, some already injured. He decides there’s only option that keeps everyone safe.

Lightning Bolt stands. Eyes lowered, he drops his famous shield to the ground. He then raises his head, staring right into Martin Langstrom’s eyes. “Leave them alone, it’s me you want. So here I am.”

The steps of the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument grow quiet, apart from the patter of the rain that’s still falling. Maelstrom smiles and shakes his head in disbelief.

“Oh? You’re just…giving up?”

“That’s right. Take me, kill me, whatever. Just leave everybody else alone.”

Langstrom’s brow creases, then clears. The malevolent smile widens. “Kneel.”

Lightning Bolt steps up to him and stops. Some in the crowd gasp as he slowly sinks to one knee.

Maelstrom throws back his head and laughs. "The great Lightning Bolt is mine! After all these years….say goodbye to your friends, Arthur. Say goodbye to everyone and everything! You’ll never see any of it again!

“Janus!”

No sooner does Maelstrom call out the name than the villains each disappear just as they appeared, in a flash of bright light. Lightning Bolt, too, is gone. The rain slackens, then stops, and sunlight begins to peek through the cloud.


The remaining Guardians return to HQ only to discover Vulcan and Microwave gone from their cells. Ernest tells them that shortly after they left for the ceremony, Lightning Bolt and Fortress returned and told him they needed to escort the two villains to Stronghold.

A review of security camera footage instead showed two mysterious figures: one, a young adult woman, the second a withered male in a floating wheelchair. His head was larger than normal, as if he suffered from extreme macrocephaly. He also had two faces, side by side on the front of his head.

Vapor is able to identify the male: it’s Janus, a powerful mentalist last known to work for Maelstrom. He apparently overcame Ernest with a mental illusion to change their appearance, and perhaps took control of his mind.

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Issue 31 - Blood And Oil
Featuring the debut of GM Katie!

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Finally ready to serve federal warrants on the villains who raided the Stronghold train and Guardians HQ (see the last two issues), the Guardians coordinate with the U.S. Marshal’s office. They take several SUVs full of tactical agents and four Stronghold containment units on semi trailers.

All of the suspects have one address on file. It turns out to be DeWitt Automotive on Stinking Creek Road in DeWitt, Kentucky. The convoy halts in front of the garage and a small, thirty-ish woman emerges, wearing coveralls and wiping her hands on a greasy rag. She wears one pair of glasses and has two more stacked on her forehead.

“If’n y’all need a brake job, it’s gonna be at least a week ’fore I can git to it.”

Deputy Marshall Royal exits his vehicle, alone with the Guardians. “We’re here to serve warrants on suspects in federal crimes, including assaulting federal officers, six counts of attempted jail break, destruction of property…there’s more, ma’am.”

The woman stares. “Ah suspect ya’ll understand what you jest walked into, don’tcha? Ya’ll want to arrest DeWitts? This town is called DeWitt.”

As she speaks, from homes up and down Stinking Creek Road, front doors open and people walk out. Men, women, and a few children, almost as one move down their front steps to stand along the road in front of their houses.

“Ma’am, we don’t want anybody to get hurt. But your people are suspected of crimes and we need to let the law work.”

“The law?” From inside the garage comes Drusilla DeWitt, matriarch of the clan. She steps up beside the other woman. “You mean the same law that allowed you to murder my boys?”

Lightning Bolt steps forward. "Ma’am, we’re very sorry for what happened but we were not responsible for that. The dog was wrong. We were being controlled by nanobots — "

“Oh, of course! You weren’t in control of your own body. Well that’s mighty convenient, ain’t it? Ya’ll can git away with anything, just claim “mind control”! Well you ain’t in the city any more, boys. This here town is called DeWitt for a reason!"

Suddenly the ground rumbles, and Black Lung erupts from the ground a few feet away. The townspeople began to walk up the road toward the garage. The tactical agents brace, raising their weapons.

Marshall Royal raises his as well. “Tell everyone to stand down, ma’am!”

Drusilla scowls. “Ya’ll are the top dogs everywhere else. But you ain’t the predators here.”

“Ma’am, how do you think we knew your family was going to attack that train? We were warned. By your son, Joe-Bob.”

“You lie!” Drusilla spits on the ground and glares at LB.

“He’s an FBI informant. He’s been one for months, that’s how General Stone knew your sons were going to hijack that weapons convoy. He got them killed! That’s who told us where you were. That’s who identified everybody involved in the raid on the train. Your niece Penny said that you suspected someone close to the family was an informant. It was Joe-Bob.”

Drusilla’s grimace softened into a frown. Her brows worked, and tears appeared in her eyes. “No…” She connected the dots. “My son…four boys dead and my only surviving son, a stinkin’ rat…” She turns away.

Black Lung vanishes in a cloud of coal dust and emerges from the ground near Drusilla. He puts a hand on her shoulder. She looks up at his featureless face, sobs, and nods.

She turns to the woman and weakly says, “Gadget, go get the others. They’re turnin’ themselves in.”

“Meema, no!”

“You heard me, child! Enough blood has been spilt.” Drusilla turns a cold gaze on Lightning Bolt. “Your justice system is shit. You can arrest my people and lock them up, but know that there are a lot of us. And we never forget those who cross us.”

From the depths of the garage come the suspects: Gnat (Bobby Oney), Dart (Daisy DeWitt), Wildfire (Becky Oney), Mule (Jackson McCoy), and even the 12-year-old, Captain Awesome (Jerome DeWitt…the Marshall’s office had sent deputies with expertise in handling special needs offenders. Between them and his Meema Drusilla, they manage to keep him calm). The deputies handcuff the suspects and lead them to the containment units. Black Lung stands motionless, looking down from his 7 feet almost daring them to cuff him.

So Baron Mind pitches in, creating an illusion in the big guy’s mind of his relatives surrounding him and urging him into a containment unit. It works, and the villains are transported back to Indianapolis without incident.

THE NEXT DAY

The team receives a call from Megan Williams, PR Director for the FOX Network. She relays details of the upcoming junket to promote the TV series. She has their travel itinerary, all arrangements have been made. They’ll leave on a pair of chartered planes this coming Sunday, and stay at the Four Seasons of Seattle.

Psyche of the FBI’s F.I.R.E. Team informs LB she’ll be tagging along. On the flight she reveals that she’s been given the case of a serial killer in Seattle and there appears to be paranormal involvement. Seventeen women have been killed in eerily similar fashion. The last victim’s murder was caught on surveillance tape. A female attacker is seen dragging the girl into an alley. She kills her quickly, cuts off and keeps an ear, and then a man seems to fly into the alley. He has words with the woman, then wraps her in his arms and flies away.

Once in Seattle the team gets settled in their rooms (actually an entire floor has been rented by FOX; each hero has his own suite). Then the guys (LB, Vapor, Bounder, Baron, and Kid Green) head to a bar on the pier, Whaler’s Pub. Bounder convinces everyone to wear their costumes, to better pick up women.

As the boys drink round after round, wanting to see who could get more drunk, an odd pair enter the bar. Identical twin males, dressed exactly alike, step up to the bar and place a large case on it. They speak with the bartender for a moment, then leave without the case.

Always curious (or paranoid, depending on one’s perspective), the guys question the bartender and find out that the twins are local brewers who dropped off a case of a new beer.

The next day it’s off to Comic-Con! Megan has the team scheduled for an open panel at 8 AM, after which they’ll do an exclusive 2-hour interview with the FOX Network.

Audience questions are asked during the panel discussion (“Which teammate to you like the least?”), and at 10:00 the heroes are whisked to an adjoining conference room for the FOX interviews. These are focused on the upcoming reality show (“The Real Guardians”). They run clips of previous battles and situations and ask for commentary. One thing the team notes is that the network had previously announced a 9-episode season, the last two of which were to be the team’s capture at and eventual rescue from Camp Atterbury. Those two episodes have been scratched.

At 12:30 they step outside the convention center to meet Governor Jay Inslee and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray for a luncheon at SkyCity, the restaurant atop the Space Needle. Both men enjoy the company, the mayor even asking LB if they’d consider relocating the team. He mentions a three-fold increase in paranormal crime that has him and the Governor concerned.

During lunch, Baron suggests to the others that they each develop their own catch-phrase so they can expand their marketing to bumper stickers and coffee mugs. Then it’s back to the ’Con for an afternoon autograph session. Ever the scoundrel, Bounder winds up autographing a few female breasts and rear-ends.

Finally the day is done and the team relaxes for dinner around 7:30. Midway through the meal, Psyche walks in. “Bounder, do you know a Sally Jonas?” “Not if she has a kid.”

“She was murdered tonight. She had your name scrawled on her chest.”

“Woah, hold on! I signed lots o’ body parts today, luv! Didn’t kill a one of ’em!”

Psyche tells them the MO appears to be the same as her serial killer; if so, Sally was Victim Number 18. So far the killer’s victims have next to nothing in common, apart from being young and beautiful. But they’re all killed with a knife, facially mutilated, and missing one ear.

The team leaves the restaurant and accompanies Psyche to the latest crime scene: the alley behind a Days Inn. There, Baron uses his retrocognition to view the past several hours in reverse. This is what he tells the team:

A woman was lying in wait in the shadows, several hours ago. Sally passed by the mouth of the alley and the woman stepped out, asking for change. This caught Sally off guard, and suddenly the woman attacked her with precise Martial moves. She dragged Sally into the alley, behind a dumpster, and killed her. Then just like in the surveillance video, a man entered the scene, flying in from above.

Reading his lips, Baron related the man’s words: “You have to stop doing this, Rachel.” Rachel replied: “But she was prettier than me.” To which the man replied, “I’m sorry.” The man wraps Rachel in his arms and they both fly away.

Baron noted that the woman had been wearing a necklace made out of what appeared to be human ears. Twenty of them.

They retrace the woman’s steps to the woods across the road from the motel. Baron’s retrovision sees the woman emerging from a path. They follow that until they come out next to another road, where they find an abandoned car. A quick check on the car reveals it’s been reported stolen.

Anticipating an early wake-up call, the team retires to the Four Seasons. Psyche will continue with the police work.

The next morning is set aside for individual interviews. Each hero is set up in his or her own room and a parade of reporters and bloggers and entertainment show hosts march in and out.

At one o’clock the interviews are wrapped up and it’s time for lunch and then an afternoon flight back to Indianapolis. The team gathers in a conference room awaiting their catered meal when they notice that Fortress isn’t there.

Megan stated she last saw Fortress a few moments ago on the way to the bathroom. Baron mentally scans for her in the convention center but she’s gone. He expands his mental reach to include the greater downtown area, but there’s no sign of her.

He then enters the bathroom to use his retrocognition again: He sees the brewer twins from the bar enter the bathroom behind Fotress and subdue her quickly with what appears to be chloroform. They drag her outside.

Baron recalls the brand of beer they sold at the bar was called Bob’s. The team locates a Bob’s Brewery just outside of the city and hightail it there. Baron scans for Fortress as they approach but she’s not there.

The owner, Bob, says the twins are actually three or four brothers who all answer to the name Mark Simmons. Weirdest thing he’s ever seen. He gives them the contact information he has, an address and phone number.

The address is an apartment building. Barons scans it, no Fortress. He knocks on the apartment door, no answer. They do get the attention of the landlady, however, who tells them Mark owes her rent and she hasn’t seen them for weeks, but she did hear noises in there last night.

Without much prodding she produces a master key and lets them into the apartment. The only clue they find is a calendar with today’s date marked: “Pier, 2 PM”. Which was half an hour ago.

They race down to the pier. Questioning neighboring boat owners and other witnesses they say the Marks (numbering by some accounts as many as seven or eight) have been seen carrying bags to and from their boat. One guys says they told him something about a decommissioned offshore oil rig, which the locals considered to be haunted. Their slip is currently empty.

The heroes rent a couple of boats and head out for the rig. Baron scans it on the way and locates Fortress, who seems to be beneath the gigantic platform, under the water. They dock the boats and stretch/leap/fly up to the main level, which is about 30 feet above the ocean surface.

They immediately see, scattered about the platform, several Mark Simmonses. Bounder stretches a giant hand out and picks up the nearest Mark. He squeezes hard and demands to know where Fortress is. “We’re just lackeys, we don’t know! Ask The One!”

A frustrated Bounder flings the Mark over his shoulder and off the platform, into the ocean below. “Somebody else have a different answer?” he shouts. Another Mark points across the rig, “The One is over there!”

The rest of the team begin to make their way across the rig to the structure that Mark pointed out, Kid Green leading the way with a titanic leap across the rig, landing on top of it. He punches a hole in the roof and sees inside a man at a keyboard who looks like the flying man in the police video. Next to him is a young boy who is surrounded by a foggy aurora. After a second Kid sees faces resolve themselves in the fog, and realizes they’re ghosts, whirling around the boy.

The boy looks up and sees Kid staring down at him. One of the ghosts flies free from the others and shoots through the hole but misses Kid.

Baron, still standing just in front of Bounder and next to a door in the side of the helipad, sees the door slam open and a tiny glowing figure fly out. Vapor, next to Bounder, sends a puff of knockout gas its way. The glow flickers and the small figure drops to the bulkhead.

Baron peeks through the door and sees radar and other operational equipment. “Find an elevator!” Bounder shouts, but Baron sees none. He turns away and flies up into the air, better to view the entire rig.

The One asks Kid, “What are you doing here?” and follows it up with a blast of energy from his hand which hits Kid.

A door in another structure, this one across the platform from where Kid and The One are, opens and out steps a very tall, grinning man. With him are several more Mark Simmonses. Bounder leaps over and lands in front of the tall man. “Is there an elevator in there?” “BALL!” the man answers, jumping up and down and clapping his hands. As Bounder stares in bewilderment, the Marks all swing at him at the same time. Only one hits, but with enough force to set his bulbous body spinning in place. Tall Guy, laughing gleefully, starts to dribble Bounder like a giant basketball.

LB arrives at the building where Kid Green is taking energy blasts from The One. He turns back and targets three Marks with his shield, but hurries the throw and misses them all.

From a large maintenance hole in the deck, between LB on one end and Bounder on the other, flies a person on fire. At the same time, around a corner near LB, races Rachel: the woman from the police video, Psyche’s suspected serial killer, complete with a neckace of (now 21) human ears. Tiny Bantam zips across the deck to stand next to LB.

The flaming man unleashes a thin stream of flame toward Kid. It misses, but quickly melts a hole in the concrete roof next to him. He ignores the flame and whips a stalk into the structure, trying to Whiplash The One, but he misses.

Vapor, seeing the flaming man from across the rig, tries to steal the oxygen from the air around him but he’s too far away.

Ghost Boy turns and runs through the open door, past LB and Bantam, and out across the deck.

Baron, who can now see the tiny figure is a female, smacks her brain with an Ego Blast, which stuns her again.

LB and Rachel spar for a second before Bantam fires electricity at her, knocking her off her feet and several feet across the deck.

Suddenly a muffled explosion is heard and felt beneath the rig, under the water, but powerful enough to cause the huge structure to rumble and quake. Kid sees The One momentarily turn away from their fight, toward his viewscreens. “Shit! She broke my machine!”

Rachel gets to her feet. “Kent,” she shouts, “what do we do?” Before she gets an answer Lightning Bolt flings his mighty shield…terribly. It short-hops into the deck two feet in front of her and careens sideways, until it comes to rest just at the edge of the platform.

Bounder, tired of being bounced, times a jump and leaps away from Tall Guy, who giggles. Bounder is immediately attacked by Flame Guy, who hits him with a gout of flame but does no apparent harm.

Most of the Marks spread across the oil rig break into a run, toward the structure where The One is. All but two; the two nearest Vapor move toward him menacingly. One punches him and knocks him sprawling. The rest of the Marks reach the buliding and attack LB and Bantam. One does manage to connect with LB, but it has little effect.

Vapor gets to his feet, produces a dense fog bank around himself, and then slaps a Mark with knockout gas. He drops.

Ghost Boy, now across the deck, turns back and sends one of his ghosts away from his body. It flies to a pile of drill pipes, lifts one, and swings it at Bounder like a giant baseball bat, missing. As if that weren’t enough, Tall Guy now leaps over and lands next to Bounder. “Oi, Mate,” Bounder asks him, “is that a real ghost up there?” Tall Guy nods vigorously. “His name George.” Bounder gapes in disbelief.

Another explosion shakes the platform. It rattles and sways before beginning to tilt toward one corner.

The One moves to the doorway. “Abandon ship!” he yells. Rachel instantly turns and dashes to the other side of the deck. Kid Green does a Foot Stomp on the roof, caving it in. He slams to the ground amidst a pile of rubble, just a few feet away from Kent. The One turns to him, a look of admiration on his face. “We should’ve gotten you, you would’ve been a good one for it.”

Baron continues to search for an elevator, floating down a stairwell to the deck below. LB dashes through the crowd of Marks and across the deck to retrieve his shield before it slides away.

Bantam simply explodes, a ball of expanding electricity shocking the four Marks and sending them tumbling; one rolls over the side.

The rig shudders again and tilts even more dramatically, knocking several Marks, Baron, Bantam, and Tall Guy onto the deck.

The One flies up and out of the now-roofless structure, across the rig, and picks up Rachel. LB steps toward them and throws his shield, this time hitting Kent. He and Rachel go into an airborne roll, but continue to fly away.

Bounder, tired of this shit, leaps high above the platform and out over the edge of it, splashing down into the water. He desperately looks for the source of the explosion, or some way to get into the structure to save Fortress. He sees air bubbles and debris near the drill shaft.

Flaming Guy and Tiny Girl take to the air and fly out and away from the rig.

Vapor takes off running across the rig toward Ghost Boy, but as he does he sees the ghosts around the boy begin to fly even faster, spinning into one solid wall of fog, and then they and the boy disappear.

Bounder paddles over to the drill pipe structure. He stretches an arm below the water, feeling around the pipe for an opening. He finds that it’s been severed several feet below the water. “Help!” he screams. “I can’t submerge, I’m too damn floaty!”

Baron gets Tall Guy into one of the heroes’ boats by telling Tall Guy he will get him a new ball, then scans again for Fortress. He senses her mind, inside the drill shaft, several feet below the surface. She’s sinking. She’s still alive and conscious, but her claustrophobia has kicked in and she’s panicking.

Bounder is bobbing helplessly in the water. “Kid! Leap down here, grab an arm as you go by, and pull me under the water! Then I can stretch down further and get her out of there!”

Instead, Kid decides to do it himself. He dives into the water next to Bounder and sinks fast. He stretches out stalks, probing inside the drill shaft, until he finds a coffin-like pod, bristling with broken cables. He sends it to the surface, where Bounder grabs it and pops off the lid. Inside is a terrified Fortress, curled into a quivering ball. “Shh, luv, it’s okay. I saved you!”

The rig by now is half-submerged and still sinking. The team gathers the remaining Marks on the boats to question them. They insist they want to be killed, so they can rejoin The One. They practically beg for it, and agree to answer one question in exchange for one of them being dispatched. Curiously, the team agrees.

Via this questioning they find that Fortress was kidnapped so Kent could steal her powers. He has a machine that transfers paranormal powers to him. The names of the other villains are Brick Wall (“Tall Guy”), Pixie (the tiny glowing woman), Red Edge (Rachel’s nom de guerre), Hot Head (“Flaming Guy”), and Gravekeeper (“Ghost Boy”). They were all hired by The One, and he pays well. They don’t know where he is, they are simple duplicates.

They don’t end up killing all of the Marks; three survive and are turned over with Brick Wall to Psyche for arrest and processing (good luck with that!).

View
Issue 30 - Stone Cold
General Stone's last stand

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After stopping the raid on the Stronghold train ( see last issue), Lightning Bolt contacts the DHS to report the incident. With the trestle destroyed and nothing to get the villains securely across the trestle that won’t take several hours, it is decided that the train will head back to Indianapolis and the villains will be re-established in Guardians HQ until the track can be repaired. The transfer will be rescheduled. Also in tow are the two baddies captured at the train, Joe-Bob “Alpha” DeWitt and Penny “Pygmy” McCoy.

They arrive back at HQ around 11 pm and meet up with Bounder, Torrent, Dark Witch, and Vapor. They survey the damage done to HQ while they were away (also see last issue).

MEANWHILE
After Kid Green left the headquarters (did you read last issue yet? It’s all there!), he leapt straight to Harry Matsuzaka’s house.

He breaks in and begins to search for any clues to the location of General Stone. A perfunctory search of a main floor office reveals nothing, so he heads to the basement, where he knows Matsuzaka kept a small lab.

Eventually he finds a large safe, tucked behind a panelled wall. Using his safe cracking skills…just kidding, he wrenches the door off like it was made of cheap plastic. Inside are stacked books and ledgers.

BACK AT HQ…
While Kid sits down for several hours of reading, Lightning Bolt and Baron Mind are interrogating the newest residents of Guardians holding cells. They first sit down with Penny McCoy, aka Pygmy. “Snake girl”.

She reveals her relationship to the DeWitts (she’s the daughter of Drusilla DeWitt’s sister, Dora McCoy). She repeats her accusations: the Guardians at the behest of the US government murdered four DeWitt brothers near Camp Atterbury ( Issue 24 – Excuse Me While I Kill This Guy). The clan knows this because one of her Uncle Joe-Bob’s dogs witnessed it, and he can see whatever his dogs see.

She also believes that somebody tipped off the government to the DeWitt Brothers’ raid on the weapons shipment, but she doesn’t know who.

The two heroes then move on to talk to Joe-Bob DeWitt. He immediately tells them that he’s an FBI informant (the one referred to by General Stone when this all started back in Issue 24).

“After I was arrested three…four…six times fer dog-fighting, I was looking at some serious prison time. Well, for some time now my four brothers have been trying to set up a paramilitary anti-government camp outside of Ninevah, Indiana. They wanted me in on it, but I said no, that’s a little too much fer me. So I stayed in DeWitt, Kentucky. They was already on the feds radar I guess, ‘cause this Agent Marx pressed me hard to join them and rat ’em out. What could I say? I’d been arrested four…five…eight times already by then, I had no way out.

“But you can’t let Penny know! You can’t let anybody know. My momma would be heartbroken, four of her boys dead and the last one a rat that got ’em killed.” Joe-Bob lowers his head and wipes tears from his eyes. “Call Agent Gordon Marx, he’s my handler.” The number Joe-Bob gives them rings to voicemail.

They decide to wait until morning to verify his claim, but they leave him something to stew on. Baron Mind produces a key fob from his pocket and, using his skills of ventriloquism and mimicry, produces a playback of Joe-Bob’s words, as if the fob is a recording device. “Oh God please, no, you can’t let anybody else know!”

MEANWHILE AGAIN
The ledgers in the safe detailed monetary transactions and supply shipments going back over two years. The books Kid found were Harry’s personal diaries. These went back over 20 years. He found the account of his daughter Amy’s accidental ingestion of Harry’s early nanobots, and the puzzling transformation they made in her. They granted her the ability to project an energy field around herself, and to control that field to manipulate objects with it. The nanos also rapidly healed any injury or malady; a broken arm was knitted back together in hours, and the child never was ill for more than a couple of hours. The diaries went on to detail Harry’s struggles to duplicate these effects, and his frustration when he continued to fail.

When it was revealed to his bosses at Raytheon that he’d allowed his young daughter into his lab and to accidentally ingest a top-secret project, Harry was summarily dismissed, and became known as a kook in the science community at large. He became quite reclusive, still obsessed with duplicating his one success. Tapping retirement funds and investments, Harry established a secluded lab and continued his work as best he could.

Then, just over two years ago, Harry met General Hiram Stone. Stone offered him the backing of the National Security Agency to develop his nanos toward security concerns; specifically, paranormals. More specifically, even the good guys. You never know when somebody can go rogue. With seemingly unlimited resources, Harry made great progress.

The next few pages lay out the plan to use Amy to get next to Kid Green, gain his trust, and then lure him to Harry’s lab, to get the nanos into him for a test run ( Issue 15 – Nano He Didn’t). Harry writes that Amy was reluctant at first, and then truly fell in love with Jake and regretted her part in it.

At this point a loose page falls from the diary. On it is an address and a list of dates and times. The last entry is 7 PM tomorrow. Kid texts Fortress: “I may have found Stone.” He sends her the information. “We’ll be there,” she sends back. She Googles the address and finds an abandoned paint factory on the Westside.

BACK AT HQ AGAIN
Everybody’s tired. LB decides to pursue warrants for the DeWitt Clan in the morning, so the heroes call it a night. Vapor has used his oxygenation powers to help clear Darlene’s lungs of the coal dust that had caused

For Darlene, it’s a townhouse near downtown. But not long after she enters deep sleep, a nightmare arises.

She stands on a mountain of rubble. The blood-red sky is smeared with black smoke, from fires stretching from here to the horizon. The stench of burning flesh fills the air; she sees bodies piled like old tires and set ablaze. Buildings that once stretched to the sky are smashed and toppled, severed limbs aimed impotently for heaven. As she scans the landscape, the horror she expects to feel isn’t coming. Instead she feels elation. Power! Triumph!

She looks down and sees in her hands the source of…everything! A bold, scarlet gem the size of her fist. It shines, it pulses…it lives! And she commands it!

Darlene bolts upright in bed, damp with sweat. The nightmare begins to fade almost immediately, although the feeling of terror mixed with joy will linger all day, in and out of her thoughts at random moments. The one thing she will remember with some clarity is that gemstone. It looked just like the one in Baron Mind’s turban.

THE NEXT DAY
Agent Marx confirms that Joe-Bob DeWitt is his Confidential Informant. He’s not happy that his intel on the DeWitt Clan was somehow obtained by General Stone. He takes the statements of a couple of the heroes and promises warrants for the rest of the villains by noon.

Initially planning to head to DeWitt, Kentucky as soon as those warrants came through, Lightning Bolt decides instead to wait so the team can accompany Kid Green into the paint factory at the designated time that evening.

T.F. pilots the team helicopter and the Guardians arrive a few minutes ahead of seven o’clock. They assemble in an overgrown, vacant lot next to the factory. Vapor creates a dense fog to hide them. The team waits as Bantam shrinks and dashes through the fence around the property.

The building appears to have gone unused for some time. Graffitti adds color to some of the walls, and the few windows not boarded up are smashed. But as he reaches the front door, Bantam notices that it appears brand-new, and there’s a keypad on the wall next to it with a small red light. He’s able to shrink down small enough to zip under the door and into a corridor.

Four offices line the hallway, which terminates in double doors. Bantam peeks in two of them to see furnished offices. Filing cabinets stand open, and cords snake from wall outlets to empty desks. Somebody left in a hurry.

He moves on down to the double doors. Another keypad is here, and the doors are too close to the floor for Bantam to get under.

Just then, Kid Green arrives. His leap carries him over the property fence and he slams into the ground at the foot of the entrance steps. He chooses to bash through a boarded-up window next to the front door, landing in an office that had been cleared out.

As Kid emerges from the office into the corridor, Bantam returns to normal size. “Hey Kid, I’m going to see if I can figure out this keypad.” He goes to work, using his knowledge of security systems. In just a few seconds the pad’s red light flashes to green and the doors slide open. “It’s an elevator.”

The rest of the Guardians head inside. The elevator can hold them all but Bounder, so he stays back as the team descends. The doors open onto a large room. On a concrete floor stood what remained of a bucket-filling assembly line. In one corner stood large mixing vats and pumps, while in another were stacked dozens of one-gallon paint cans. Partitions had been erected along two walls, apparently to create more offices.

As the team fans out across the room, at the other end, from one of the office doors, bursts a humanoid, featureless, silver figure. Someone covered with the SENTINEL nanos!

“Tell me where to find Stone and I’ll go easy on you,” Kid Green snarls. The figure says nothing. Kid shoots out a stalk, but the Sentinel effortlessly knocks it aside. Its other arm raises but before it can do anything, Dark Witch wraps it in the eldritch energies of her wand.

The Guardians jockey for position…except for Vapor. He moves to a side wall and sits on a table. “I know from experience my powers are completely useless against these things. I’ll be over here in case somebody gets hurt.”

A brillaint flash of light shreds the entangling energies around the Sentinel. It follows that by creating a blast of water from its hands, sending Lightning Bolt diving out of the way. The water slams into Dark Witch, drenching her and knocking her down.

Baron Mind projects an image of Graviton standing next to him, throwing a Gravi-Pulse, hoping a decoy might draw some fire. Bantam, from some distance, fires a Bantam Bolt which doesn’t appear to do much damage.

As Fortress, Kid Green, and LB crowd around the Sentinel, its face shimmers and resolves into that of General Stone. “This attack proves me right! You so-called heroes are unaccountable. A threat to the security of the United States!”

Torrent, who’d previously sucked up loose nuts and bolts through her feet, fires one at Stone. With amazing accuracy it strikes him in the forehead, dropping him to a knee. This causes Kid Green, Bantam, and Dark Witch to all miss with attacks, but LB’s haymaker connects. Stone grunts with the impact and flies backwards several feet before imbedding in a concrete wall. Fortress follows this with a titanic punch, sinking him even deeper into it.

Bantam moves to get a clear shot and arcs electricity toward Stone. It strikes him and a charge dances over his body. Puffs of dust erupt from the silver nano armor; it appears to be killing the nanos.

Kid Green steps in front of Stone and pulls back a fist. “I have you to thank for the success of my project,” Stone says with a smile.

“You’re lucky I don’t kill you.”

“Kill me! I will have given my life as a patriot! The SENTINEL Program will live on!”

With that, Stone seems to explode with light. The blast wave blows through the heroes, knocking them back like bowling pins. LB, Kid Green, and Fortress are all catapulted away. Bantam, extremely susceptible to knockback due to his size, is sent careening clear across the room and smashes into the stacked paint cans.

“Fortress, love!” screams Bounder, emerging from the elevator in time to see her flung onto her back. “I’ll kill you, you bastard!”

Stone stands there, free from the wall, eyes glowing. LB leaps to his feet and gets in Stone’s face. “Are you even inside that armor, or are you a coward, doing this by remote control?”

“Does it matter? You’re all dead either way!”

Torrent delivers another bolt to Stone’s forehead, sending him staggering backwards into the wall again. Baron Mind attack’s Stone’s mind, dealing damage straight into his brain. Stone screams with pain.

The Brit bounces over to Fortress’ side and she reluctantly takes his hand and stands. “Thanks, Bounder,” she says. Then she picks him up. “’ey now, this is more like it!” he says, just before she heaves him at Stone. Bounder’s rubber body smacks into the General, flattens against the wall, and rebounds with equal force back into the room.

Kid, still on his back, follows this by shooting two stalks to the rafters and using them to swing himself up and into Stone, feet-first. The punishing blow further cracks the wall surrounding the villain.

The heroes move in again. Stone begins to rage, but Torrent slides over and clamps a wet hand over his mouth. Bantam teleports closer and hits Stone again with an electrical BODY drain. Sparks flow over his body as he sputters and twitches, and then with a loud CLICK the silver nanos suddenly turn a dark gray and sluice off, a gooey mess puddled at his feet.

Kid entangles the defeated General with this stalks, and the team carts him back to HQ.

LATER
The team has a lengthy discussion about how to proceed. Kid Green wants to beat Stone to a pulp. LB suggests going straight to the President to inform him that Stone went rogue. LB considers having Kid accompany him to the interrogation. “Can I trust you not to hit him?” he asks. “No.” Kid huffs angrily and storms off (again), going to visit the comatose Amy in the hospital.

As the discussion drags on, Baron Mind and Fortress return to the paint factory. Baron takes the next few hours standing in key areas of the building, using his Retrocognition to replay events going back over a week.

Time unspools before him, like a video on rewind. His reconstruction of events is this:
The factory was being used by General Stone as a makeshift NSA office and testing complex. Over the past 24 hours, crews dressed in fatigues systematically disconnected all computers, emptied all file cabinets, and cleared out. Not long after that, a shadowy figure, in a trench coat and wide-brimmed hat to shield its face, escorted General Stone into the building. The figure then left, alone.

HOURS LATER
General Stone sits shackled in an interrogation room. Vapor surreptitiously creates bursts of laughing gas in the room, lowering Stone’s ability to resist questioning. Baron has now returned and, again calling on his image projection and mimicry skills, enters the room as Harry Matsuzaka.

“You’re supposed to be dead,” a bleary-eyed Stone slurs. “You perfected the nanos. They work! Didn’t need you anymore, or your daughter.”

“Who are you working for?” Baron asks. “I and I alone am responsible!” Stone yells. He then goes on to tell Baron how the SENTINEL Program was approved by Congress, but was initially restricted to testing on captured villains. “I was the only one who had vision! Wasn’t that why they put me in charge of it in the first place! I saw the day when these private sector heroes went rogue, and we’d have no way to stop them. So I went off-book, for the good of the country!”

“So what was your next step? Say you managed to kill the Guardians tonight, what then?”

Stone cricked his neck and stared blankly for a few seconds. “Kill the Guardians. That’s all. That would make everything better. I and I alone am responsible for the program.”

Soon that’s all they can get out of him, just that last sentence repeated over and over. Baron leaves the room. “We might get more out of him if we had a more powerful Mentalist here. Can we bring in Psyche?”

Psyche, member of the FBI’s F.I.R.E. Team, a powerful telepath. LB calls Washington, D.C. and asks her to come to Indy in the morning. He also calls and arranges to talk to Admiral Keith Alexander, Director of the NSA.

THE NEXT DAY
Lightning Bolt flies to D.C., accompanied by Baron Mind (with Bantam shrunk and hitching a ride in Baron’s pocket). They meet with Admiral Alexander. After laying out the story, the Admiral furrows his brow. "Of course I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any classified program. But I can say that what you’ve told me is quite disturbing. I need to talk to General Stone.

“I need to ask that you remand him to my custody, along with any and all materials you’ve found in connection with this case. I’d like your interrogation recordings as well. All copies.” At this, Baron Mind sends a telepathic signal to Kid Green, and him alone. “Make copies of everything and put them somewhere safe.”

LB agrees, assured that the Admiral will handle the case and that the ordeal is finally over, except for one last thing: serving the federal warrants on the DeWitt Clan.

He and Baron thank the Admiral and leave. Unbeknownst to LB, Bantam slips from Baron’s pocket and stays in the office, hidden. He waits while the Admiral places a call and asks for a team to travel to Indianapolis ASAP to collect General Stone and the interrogation materials. After Alexander leaves for the day, around 6 PM, Bantam tries to hack into his desk computer, but can’t get past the password. He searches a file cabinet but finds nothing in it more recent than about 10 years ago.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN INDY
Pyche has arrived and sits down with Stone. She easily enters his mind and casts about for answers. After only a few moments, she exits the room and speaks to the team.

“I didn’t get much that you don’t already know. He referred to that shadowy figure as The Specialist, but he remembers no details about the man. They met just over two years ago, just before the SENTINEL Program was started. But Stone believes himself to be solely responsible for the SENTINEL Program and for going rogue.”

“Believes himself?” LB asks. “You put it that way for a reason.”

Psyche scowled. "Well…I reached into the man’s subcounscious. I found memories that he’s long-ago forgotten. But there are recent memories that have been psychically walled off, for lack of a better phrase, to keep Stone or anybody else from getting to them.

“There’s been another mentalist in his head. A powerful one.”

NEXT ISSUE
The Guardians head to Southern Kentucky to serve some warrants, and then it’s off to Seattle Comic-Con to promote the upcoming TV show!

View
Issue 29 - Country Cookin'
Revenge is a dish best served with greens and a side o' cornbread

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As a result of his help rescuing most of the Guardians from Camp Atterbury ( see last issue), Bounder is offered provisional membership on the team. As a result of his doing pretty much nothing during said rescue effort, Brigade was returned to his holding cell in the lower levels of Guardians headquarters. Bounder’s place on the team is contingent upon several things, notable among them that he is officially on probation, and that he refrain from sexually harrassing Fortress, who can unilaterally boot him from the team at any time. He reluctantly agreed.

New to the team as well is Torrent, also known as Lani.

Between the rescue and the next scheduled team meeting:
Lightning Bolt realizes he needs help running The Knockback, since Shannon was injured and then disappeared. After several disappointing candidates, in walks a leggy young blonde. Larisa Bolotnikov, 28 years old, is a Russian immigrant. She ran a restaurant in Kiev.

“I’m not sure you’re right for the job,” Lightning Bolt said. “Your name…there is no alliteration.”

“Ah,” Larisa replied, “but my initials are LB.”

“You’re hired!”

Darlene, in her day job as a defense attorney with a reputation for paranormal cases, has already been approached by Mr. Jensen, Kid Green’s father, about ensuring that he be allowed to serve his sentence at Stronghold, where his son Sam will eventually be taken.

Today she’s contacted by two of the villains who are scheduled to be transferred to Stronghold tomorrow, Microwave and Vulcan, and one still in the Marion County Jail, Ditty. Vulcan (businessman Muhammed Abdul) and Microwave (Bjorn Christensen) both assure her they have access to money.

Darlene’s other active case is the disappearance of Dr. Liefeldt. Her investigators have nothing new yet.

Babs Bennett, local TV newsbabe, airs a story featuring a crusading mother, Drusilla DeWitt, who claims that the government and the Guardians killed her boys. The woman scoffs at denials from the Army and the State Police. “If the law won’t hold people accountable, then it’s up to the people!”

After seeing this, LB contacts Babs. When she had come around asking about an alleged incident in Southern Indiana, he had told her to look into General Stone. She tells him that she’s hitting a wall, that the Army denies he even exists. Twice he comes close to divulging the truth, that the team’s bodies had been taken over by nanobots and four people ended up murdered. But he hesitates, instead telling her again that she needs to track down Stone.

The FOX producers attend the weekly team meeting to announce the episode lineup for the premiere season. There will be nine episodes, presented as such:
S1E1 – History of the team
S1E2 – Lucas Oil Stadium fight with PIPER
S1E3 – Security cam footage from inside the jail during the attempted jail break of Alyssia
S1E4 – The raid on Unicorn’s HQs and the battle with her team and Foundation
S1E5 – Fighting the giant Hedge that was Sam Jensen
S1E6 – The first battle with Conductor and her escape
S1E7 – The funeral of the people killed by Conductor, and their rising as electric zombies
S1E8 – The first raid on Camp Atterbury and the capture of the heroes
S1E9 – The return and rescue.

After the producers leave, team benefactor Arthur Donaldson enters, trailing lawyers. They’ve seen the news report and want to have a discussion. Most of the team believes they should track down Stone, to get concrete proof that they were not responsible for their actions. Lightning Bolt insists that the truth be told. “It’s dishonest, it’s not fair to Mrs. DeWitt! She’s asking questions about her dead sons, as she should, and we have the answers!”

The lawyers, of course, urge silence. “Say absolutely nothing. If they had any proof they’d have you in an interrogation room by now.”

“It’s not just you that we’re talking about here,” Alyssia speaks up. “It’s me and Kid who are in this as well. You can’t speak for us! We know we’re innocent, we need to go get the proof!”

LB is finally convinced, reluctantly, to remain silent. For now.

Kid Green, still in anguish over Amy’s brush with death and her persistent coma, blows up. “We need to stop all this talking and go find Stone NOW! We should be doing nothing else!” With that he stormed from the room.

The team has also been contacted by the Department of Homeland Security. They want to hire the team to provide escort to the Stronghold transport train tomorrow. On board the heavily modified Amtrak train will be: Miscountess, Brigade, Bulldozer, Microwave, Anti-Matter, Mortar, and Vulcan. The cars have been reinforced and provided with a dampening field that will suppress most paranormal powers. Each villain has also been fitted with dampening cuffs.

Lightning Bolt assigns himself, Fortress, and Bantam to escort the prisoners.


TRAIN TRAIN
________________________________________

The train moves Southwest out of Indianapolis. After a couple of hours, as it nears a trestle in Southern Illinois, and explosion up ahead rocks the cars. The train screeches to a hault just head of a chasm, filled with the smoking ruins of the track.

From the woods surrounding the tracks step several figures, each wearing dark clothes. A male figure is flanked by three hulking dogs, slavering and growling. LB and Fortress disembark, Bantam zips on top of a train car. He shoots electricity at the dogs, but misses. They respond by making an incredible standing leap onto the top of the car, on either side of him.

A small female suddenly whooshes into view. Fortress grabs her and holds on. The girl then begins to vibrate violently, causing Fortress to not only lose her grip but to be sent flying back into the side of the train car. No sooner does she hit the ground than a cloud of insects flies from the woods, swarming her face.

The third dog, still beside its master, flings itself at LB. He tries to get his shield up to block it but the beast is too fast. Fortunately, it’s also got lousy aim: it sails past LB and slams into another train car.

On top of the car, Bantam tries out a new trick: from his tiny size of 1/15" he suddenly grows to his full six feet, directly beneath the jaws of the dog, and then shrinks again. The result is a violent uppercut which sends the dog tumbling end-over-end past the engine and out of sight, landing with a thud and a whimper.

The girl Fortress had tangled with says, “I’ll be right back.” She gets very blurry for a second but is still standing there. “You can get up now so I can knock you down again.” LB flings his shield at her but misses. Referring to LB, she says, “Joe-Bob, yours is gettin’ squirrelly.”

“I’m on it, Daisy, you worry about your’n.” Joe-Bob, the one with the dogs.

Fortress jumps up and swings at Daisy but misses. Daisy responds by pointing her hands at Fortress and vibrating them until they’re nearly invisible. LB throws his shield, attempting to deflect away from Fortress whatever is coming next, but his aim is errant; the shield wings off the ground and bounces into the treeline. A shockwave erupts from Daisy’s hands that slams into the hero, driving her back into the same train car. This time the force is enough to punch her through the side of it, and then send it toppling over.

Fortress glances up from the floor of the car (actually the other side of the car) and sees tossed about, still in their dampening shackles, two unconscious guards, along with Bulldozer, Brigade, and Miscountess.

LB dashes over to Daisy and punches her, knocking her back into the dirt. She vibrates and is suddenly standing upright. LB feels a tap on his shoulder and turns to see another woman. Her face is mostly concealed under a hood, but what he can see appears to be scaley. He can also see fangs. She hisses into his face, spraying a foul-smelling mist, and says, “Go down to the last car and open it. Let those people out.” LB is filled with a sudden urge to do just that.

Daisy dashes into the treeline and tries to grab LB’s shield. Unfortunately it weights 400 pounds and she can’t budge it.

On top of the train car, Bantam is dodging huge canine fangs. He uppercuts another one, sending it flying away like it’s brother, just as the first dog, now recovered, returns. “Hey, stop hurtin’ my dogs!” Bantam hears their master yell.

Inside the upended train car, Fortress pauses and looks around very carefully. Miscountess, or rather the demon inside of her, shrieks to be let free so it can kill everybody. Brigade gets to his feet. “Well well, how about this? Looks like I’m gettin’ out after all, I didn’t need to join your stupid team.”

“Sit down, Brigade.” Fortress stands. “Make me,” he says. So she does, giving him an elbow in the face which drops him to the floor.

The fog in LB’s mind clears as he starts toward the rear of the train. So instead, he turns and tries to grab snake-girl. “What’s your name?” he asks as she slips away from him. “Penny McCoy,” she spits back. “What’s your code name? You’ve all got code names, right?”

“Pygmy. For the snake. But the name you need to remember is McCoy, and DeWitt! We know you killed those boys! Alpha’s dogs seen it happen, and told him everything! And you’re gonna pay!”

“The dog didn’t know what he was talking about.”

Bantam is again facing off against two dogs on top of the train car. He uppercuts one, again sending it spinning away into the woods. “I’m gonna kill you!” he hears, and sees the dogs’ master moving away from the tree line and toward the car. Bantam dodges another set of fangs and fires off an electrical bolt at the man. The smell of ozone fills the air as he’s struck and is knocked back into a tree. The dogs stop and lift their muzzles to the sky, howling plaintively.

Just then the heroes’ signal devices go off. “Oi, mates, this is Bounder…is this thing on?…we’ve got a problem ’ere…” An explosion is heard. “’ey, knock it off!” Bounder yells to someone. “Wanker! That’s it then…” and the transmission goes dark.

Pygmy, still facing down LB, calls out. “Gnat, secure that shield!” Another person emerges from the trees, this one a male. He stands over the shield, and LB flings himself at him. The hero slams into Gnat, sending him flying back into the trees. He picks up his shield and sends it flying at Pygmy. It connects with a “CLANG” and she’s sent sprawling.

Daisy appears at Joe-Bob’s side, trying to rouse him. One of his dogs have joined them, frantically licking his face. Bantam dispatches the last dog on top of the car and then fires a bolt at Daisy, knocking her out.

Inside the train car, Bulldozer has risen to his full height, towering over Fortress. He looks down at her, then up at the hole in the car, then back down at her. Sensing that he’s preparing to jump out, she latches on to one of his legs. As Fortress she weights close to 12 tons. With the dampening cuffs on, Bulldozer’s strength is gone. Try as he might, he can’t budge. But he doesn’t give up. After a few minutes she gets tired of hanging on and punches him hard right in the berries. He sits down.

Outside, LB is about to advance on Pygmy when he hears buzzing in his ears and a thick swarm of wasps surrounds his head. It persists for only a few seconds, but when it disperses, Gnat is gone.

On the other side of the train, Daisy has recovered from Bantam’s blast and zips away. Pygmy has moved over to Joe-Bob and is lifting him up. Bantam takes a shot at her and she drops. The heroes collect Pygmy and Alpha and try to get back in touch with Guardians headquarters.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT HQ…

Gathered at HQ are Bounder (he lives here now), Torrent (learning her way around), Vapor (he still lives here), and Dark Witch (just hanging out). Torrent is asking the others’ impression of being a Guardian.

Vapor says, “We work about 14 seconds a week. But those fourteen seconds are punctuated by extreme terror. Otherwise, not a bad job.”

Ernest calls up to the meeting room. “There’s some scraggly guy out front taking pictures.” The quartet move out to the front porch, where they see a man walking up the driveway. “Can we help you?” Lani asks.

“Hi, my name is Bentley McCormick. I run TruthTeller.com. I got an anonymous call to meet some people here, they said there was some bombshell story about excessive force? You guys know anything about that?”

Sid mutters, “We are about to be attacked.”

Just then a van screeches to a halt at the end of the drive. Four people emerge. Two adults, a man and a woman, are clad in jeans. A larger figure emerges behind them, who seems to be covered in all black, from head to toe. Finally a young boy steps out, wringing his hands and muttering to himself.

The woman starts to yell. “We is here to get the story out that the Guardians are murderin’ bastards! They killed the DeWitt boys on orders of the US government!”

Sid sighs. “So, what do you call yourself?”

“You ‘bout to find out, boy. I’m Wildfire!” Flames sprout from her downturned palms and she lifts into the air.

The large black figure steps away from the van, toward Bentley. Dust wafts from him with every move. “So, what’s your name,” Vapor asks. “I’m also obligated to ask why none of you wear costumes.” The figure says nothing. The other adult male gives a rebel yell and then grows before their eyes, topping out at about thirteen feet.

Bounder speaks up. “So, I’ll just be going inside, right? To coordinate the attack plan.” To which the others respond in unison, “NO.” He bounces off the porch, into the driveway moving toward the van.

Dark Witch teleports to the top of a parked car and points her wand at Bentley. His eyes go wide as he’s enveloped in writhing dark energies. “Relax,” she croaks, “it’s to protect you.” At the same time, Vapor transmutes the air in the car she’s standing on to propane, just in case somebody needs a bomb.

Torrent runs off the porch to the fountain in the center of the driveway. She beings filling her body with rocks. Wildfire sees her and flies toward her, shooting a flame blast. The force of the blast slams Lani to the ground and knocks her out.

Bounder’s about to land just in front of the van, but as he’s coming down from his bounce the small boy says, “Scary. Scary shit. Go away.” He flicks his hand at Bounder almost imperceptibly, and the large round erstwhile villain is struck by an invisible force. He careens backwards as if smacked with a giant baseball bat, arcing across the driveway and smashing through the front windows of the HQ. “Scary man gone now.”

The black figure aims a hand at Dark Witch, atop the car. Thick coal dust shoots forth, scouring and blinding the hero and pushing her off the car and across the drive. At the same time, Vapor moves toward the center of the drive and manifests a dense white fog across the area.

He then causes the air in front of the tall male to become tear gas. He starts gagging and flailing his arms about, nearly striking the young boy. “Mule, calm down!” Wildfire says.

Inside, Bounder picks himself off the floor and activates his brand-new Guardians signal device. “Oi, mates, this is Bounder…is this thing on?…we’ve got a problem ’ere…” At that moment, outside, Wildfire hits Darlene’s car (the one filled with propane that she’s standing near) with a flame blast. It goes up in a brilliant fireball. Dark Witch is sent tumbling across the grass.

“’ey, knock it off!” Bounder yells. “Wanker! That’s it then…”. He slams down the signal device and heads back outside. He sees the boy, now hovering several feet in the air. “There you are you little sot!” He bounds into the air, swelling one fist to gargantuan size, ready to pummel the child. The boy gestures slightly and Bounder is suddenly caught in mid-air, giant fist raised. Immobile.

The dark figure again points at Dark Witch, and again fills her face with coal dust. This is more insidious, however. It works its way into her nose and throat, choking off her air. She struggles to stay conscious.

The giant is still flailing around, blind. He manages to make his way to the center of the driveway and kicks through the side of the fountain. Water and pieces of concrete flow everywhere.

Wildfire and Vapor trade attacks, both missing. She does manage to set a concrete pillar on fire. So rather than continue to miss her, Vapor concentrates and draws the oxygen from the air in a 60’ radius around him. The flames on the porch and those eating what’s left of Darlene’s car die quickly.

Dark Witch turns the tables on the black figure, blasting him in the face with a shot from her wand. Dark energies swirl around his head. This doesn’t seem to slow him down, though, as he fires back with more coal dust. She teleports away.

The boy, still holding Bounder immobile, now wiggles a finger and sends him flying away, toward Vapor. Sid dives for cover as the large round Bounder sails over his head and slams into the ground. Vapor stands and takes aim at Wildfire, bursting a cloud of poison gas in her face.

Mule, eyes now clear but temper still stoked, reaches out and grabs the nearest car (Lani’s). He picks it up and flings it toward the headquarters building, smashing in the front doors.

Torrent, conscious again, fires one of her projectiles at Wildfire. Between Sid’s gas and a rock striking her forehead, Wildfire drops from the air in a heap.

Instantly, the young boy beings to cry and scream. “Becky hurt! Becky hurt!” He glares at Torrent and pain erupts in her head. She drops, unconscious again. Vapor moves quickly and blinds the boy with gas in his face, then hits him with a second dose and he drops.

Dark Witch reappears near the black figure, who punches her. She fires her wand but misses. He swings again, knocking her out.

Mule and the black figure are now staring at Vapor. “I take it all back.” The black figure sends coal dust flying at him, but misses. Sid moves quickly to Dark Witch’s side and heals her, but she remains out. Torrent flings a piece of concrete at Mule, missing.

Just as Wildfire begins to get up and it looks bleak for Vapor and Torrent, crashing down onto the van comes Kid Green! He whips out a stalk and grabs the black figure, pulling him back violently and delivering a mighty punch, knocking him back into the ground. He gets up, looks around briefly, and then moves toward the unconscious boy.

Kid Green moves on to Mule. He does a leg sweep that knocks the giant villain onto his butt. He tries to kick Kid but misses. Kid launches himself straight up into the air and comes down in a piledriver on Mule. That does it.

Wildfire is back on her feet, and both she and the black figure are menacing Torrent. “I fried you once, you best git before I do it again!” The black figure swings a backhand at Torrent, but it splooshes right through her. Wildfire lights up her hands again, preparing to take to the air, when another burst of knockout gas hits her and she collapses.

The black figure again moves toward the boy, picking him up. Dark Witch, now recovered, teleports near him and shoots him with her wand. “Jeremiah is scared!” the boy cries, and in that instant, the villains all disappear in a flash of light.

Kid Green looks around to make sure everybody’s okay, then leaps away. “I’ll be back when I find Stone. Stop calling me.”

Darlene is hurt and is taken quickly to the medical bay.

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Issue 28 - A Motley Crew
Assault on Camp Atterbury

Guardians_Number_28.jpg

We start with Baron and Bantaam

Then Dark Witch/Darlene gets involved. We contact the prosecutor to discover our plan: to offer to mitigate charges of Brigade and Bounder if those two villains decide to help.

Before this… you presented a LONG list of potential/incarcerated villains and there was a long list of empathic “no”s from the heroes. We didn’t take ANYONE there wasn’t unanimous agreement on (between our little group.) We originally thought we might get Brigade to wear three suits of armor but he wouldn’t fit into the Unicorn’s armor. The Dark Witch would be the only person who would fit into the Unicorn’s armor… and as it turns out, the Witch’s power set mirrors the Unicorns in most ways, only its obviously magickal instead of tech-based. So the Witch wouldn’t benefit from the Unicorn’s armor… meaning Brigade would wear Diddy/Piper armor and also (originally we thought) Chopper’s armor.

We talked to Earnest about wearing the Diddy/Piper armor but he adamantly doesn’t want to go into the field.

The Witch, Baron Mind, and Bantaam talk to Bounder and Brigade. Baron Mind steps up and does most of the talking, speaking as the leader of this diminished group of Guardians.

When Brigade is told the situation: Guardians captured, small group wanting to augment numbers to launch a rescue mission, Brigade says, “So what I’m hearing is you will owe me a favor?”
Bounder agrees instantly because of opportunity to rescue Fortress. Brigade demands the deal is put in writing.

Part of the original reasoning for using Brigade was to use one person for multiple suits of armor but that doesn’t turn out to be viable when we talk to him. He 1) can’t wear the Unicorn armor designed for a smaller woman and the heroes decide 2) he can’t be TRUSTED to wear the Chopper armor. Chopper’s armor is a killing machine and the heroes rightly decide that entrusting that to Brigade is a bad idea.

Earnest suddenly reports to the few remaining Guardians that there is “paranormal activity” going on, which, this time, translates into “crazed robot attack.”

MEANWHILE….

(I left with Rick and you and Katie roleplayed some opening stuff with her character…. And when I came back….)

There is a smoking hole and a skeletal robot with a blade for one hand. Lani is there. She screams and tries to get her interns out of the room. Talk of “My room” and “my engine.” Lani uses hydraulics – sucking up a ball bearing into her arm and then expelling it at the robot, doing 10 dice dm, hitting it in the crotch for 9 body. The robot then swings a blade at his water girl and discovers she is a water girl when the blade passes harmlessly through her water. (desolid) Lani picks up another something and shoots it for 12 body. The chest shot to the robot- KLANG!- does 3” KB.

Security guards arrive to shoot the robot. Robot spins around its blade to cut a hole in the floor, dropping down through it.
“The containment control is shattered!”
Robot smashes a machine to bits.
There are guys in lab coats and on the table is an unconscious green man. The guy is (Kid Green’s vegetable brother): “the hedge man that got lose downtown”  how Lani recognizes him/It

The water girl grabs up a wrench and sends it flying right through the robot’s head.

Sam starts to grow.

JUST THEN…

Baron Mind and Bantam arrive on the scene and learn from a security guard that a robot is
“going nuts.” From the guard’s perspective, only a single Guardian is here. He can’t see a shrunken Bantam.

(The Dark Witch… and Bounder and Brigade have not responded to this Emergency since they are about to mount a rescue mission and don’t want to tip their plan to the villains. From the perspective of any outsider, ONLY Baron Mind has responded to this robot attack… and General Stone already knows Baron Mind escaped him.)

INSIDE (whatever place this is)….

Lani is gathering debris into her water body as she talks to Sam, who is screaming and growing.

Baron Mind comes through the afore-blasted hole in the robotics lab and he and Lani talk…

Baron Mind: “Who are you?”
Lani: “Really? Now?”

She identifies herself as an employee here. He asks for ID. She produces it.
After this dialogue (which, because of physics, takes no time), Baron Mind creates an image of Sam’s (mad scientist) dad. This image urges Sam to calm down and it works, slowing Sam’s growth.

Bantam runs to position himself better to blast if necessary and Lani asks, “Where did he come from?”

Baron Mind hold a finger in front of his lips and says, “Ssh!”

Lani starts questioning fellow employees about what’s going on here. She is told that Sam/the Moss Monster was shipped here by Homeland Security and that he was kept from growing by being gassed unconscious (Standard Operating Procedure for every kind of monster that spontaneously grows above 18 feet tall. Duh!)

Security arrives and Baron Mind tells them, “We’ve got this under control.”
Security guard radios back, “A guy in a turban says he’s got this under control.”
“Don’t forget the alligator skin shoes!”

Bantam is clinging to the ceiling while the talking continues. (“He says ‘they’ are the Guardians but I see only one.”) Guys finally arrive with gas. Baron’s image of Sam’s dad tells his monster son that they are going to help him… but when a guy with gas approaches him, the monster instinctively flails out and sends the guy flying. Lani then approaches with the gas tank and mask. Baron has the image say, “The strange water lady is going to help you, son.”

There is more flailing but this time Sam’s arm passes right through Lani.

She gets the mask on.

Crisis Averted. Teammate Acquired.

Baron Mind goes into Recruitment Mode and learns quickly is the famous “water baby” who has (laughingly) decided to live a “normal life.” Heh. Baron Mind first clarifies that his image, would could be seen by all, was an image. Then he says to Lani, “You seem nigh invulnerable.”

Lani: “I would’t say that.”

More talk of the need for her to help and Baron tries to entice her (unsuccessfully) by mentioning our reality TV show. (SIDE NOTE—Season 1 ends with Guardians utterly defeated, with Bantaam and Baron Mind in flight…. And Season 2 then will open with the big daring rescue mission, including our first International Guest Star! Ha!)

Bantam urges thriftiness. Lani’s initial response, upon hearing Guardians are captured, is, “No, no, no!”

Baron Mind then points out that the reason the Guardians lost is because the villains knew everyone’s weaknesses…. And that it would help in this rescue mission to have help from people who’s weaknesses aren’t known.

Lani goes to see “Mark” who designed the robot. He lets slip that “General Stone is going to kill me.”

Two conversations take place simultaneously. Lani and Mark are discussing his involvement with Stone… and also Lani’s water powers… and also Baron Mind’s desire to have Lani help in the rescue mission. Meanwhile, Baron Mind whispers to Bantam that he should try getting into this guy’s computer files. Bantam zips off to another room to do exactly that.
In another room, Bantam grows, hacks into computer first as a user, then as an Administrator to dig through files about Stone. He finds financial records first for the robotics department then digs deeper and finds information on the Sentinel Program/combat robots. He eventually discovers that Stone has sent an Email saying that the time table has been moved up and they need to send “whatever they have.” CONVENIENTLY (because Luck Favors the Brave), some German Dr. Conrad is shipping stuff to Stone that very night.

A conversation then takes place among the Guardians and Lani, with the Dark Witch also becoming involved thanks to Baron Mind’s telepathy. We emphasize to Lani that General Stone is a super villain mastermind working for a dark organization within the government. He injected nanobots into the bodies of the Guardians, taking them over and causing them to commit murder. He learned their weaknesses presumably through the same method (nanobots) and defeated most of the team… but those that remain will now go in to rescue the others, hopefully with Lani’s help. She is skeptical of Stone’s involvement at first but is eventually convinced and agrees to help.

So the assault rescue (ragtag) team is Bantaam, Dark Witch, Torrent/Lani, Bounder, Brigade dressed in Ditty armor—led by Baron Mind.

“Ship whatever you have. Time table moved up,” is the message from Stone. Instead of the shipment, the van will contain the (ragtag) group of six, with Lani driving the van.

On the drive to the rendezvous with destiny, Bounder and Lani talk. Lani asks, “So you and Fortress are an item?”

“Of COURSE we are,” is the response.

The Guardians (and villains) come together and discuss the plan. Piper has tapped into satellites to give view of Camp Atterbury.

MEANWHILE…. Kid Green is in a shipping container filled with herbicide. Vapor is in a hermetically sealed container. LB finds himself in a magnetic field (that suppresses his electricity), his shield gone….

And General Stone comes to see LB to gloat. Stone, “You are under my complete control.”

LB agrees, “Yes you are.”

“At my mercy.”

“Yup. Which means you can now safely tell me your nefarious plan” LB smiles.

Stone’s plan: he heads a Top Secret project called SENTINEL, put in motion as a plan to deal with all paranormals, even the good guys. Kid Green was infected with he nanos (way back in Issue 15), which then infiltrated the bodies of everyone else.

LB repeatedly calls him a super villain once the plot is laid out. They talk about “Perspective.”

Stone mentions “The Specialist” who is coming to wipe our memories. He also mentions he plans to blow Atterbury. Numerous massive explosions are coming.

He also divulges he has superiors… he’s a mid-level super villain who hasn’t yet been fully promoted to world conqueror (from LB’s notes.  )

LB points out to Stone that while he SAYS the Sentinel Program was designed to be used against “anyone with super powers”—the people he CHOSE to use it on was HEROES. Stone is confident LB won’t remember any of this, thanks to ‘the Specialist’ (“some mentalist without any movement powers” <- from LB’s notes)… but LB remains forever the optimist. Despite being utterly defeated, he predicts the Guardians will ultimately win.

SIMULTANEOUSLY….

Bounder: “Are we there yet?”

Torrent drives them in, getting past the guards, who are expecting a shipment from her company. The rescue team drives behind another vehicle to a cluster of buildings deep within the compound. Baron Mind immediately does a mind scan of the area and finds Fortress, who is in a heated container that drains her powers. Mentally, Baron Mind tells her, “We’ll find you.” She explains that “Heat drains my powers.” Baron Mind: “I did not know that.”

Dehydrated, Fortress muttered “Water” to which Baron Mind replies, “We brought water but you can’t drink it.”

Baron Mind then finds LB, then Kid Green, establishing a mind link.

Bounder: “Tell them I said ‘Hi!’”

The Jeep that the heroes are following eventually arrives at a big hanger. The soldiers in the Jeep ahead of the heroes get out and go up to the hanger. Baron Mind has determined the location of the captured heroes is directly behind them, not ahead of them in the hanger. (see map) The Witch, Bantaam, and Baron Mind quickly discuss options (Stone is likely ahead of them and the rest of the Guardians are behind them) and decide to go for their friends. Torrent peels out, turning around, and driving to a place down the road that is the place where the Guardians were defeated. There is debris from the earlier battle. And there are numerous cargo containers containing captured Guardians inside.

Knowing the captured heroes are here, the (ragtag) rescue team piles out: Ditty/Brigade, Bounder, Torrent, the Dark Witch, Bantam, and Baron Mind.

Baron Mind immediately uses his telekinetic power in conjunction with his lock-picking skills on one of the containers. The tumblers roll; the lock opens; and the door opens. A greenish fog (herbicide) pours out. Inside, of course, is Kid Green.

Torrent moves up to a second container and blasts the lock. A wave of heat emanates from the container holding Fortress.

Bantaam goes to a 3rd container, shrinks, and moves the tumblers in another lock. This container is empty, with a big hole tore into the back of it.

Dark Witch teleports 10” (1/2 move) and pulls Kid Green out of his container using a telekinetic arm/hand projected from her wand.

Brigade in Ditty armor moves forward.

Nearby, an elevator comes up out of the ground and out of the elevator step three sentinels.

Bounder bounds forward saying, “The jig’s up!” He is looking for Fortress (and didn’t see what Torrent saw.)

Screaming down the road come three “deuces”.

Bounder: “OH Fortress! I’m coming for you!”

Sentinel 1 steps forward and shoots an electric blast that misses.

Sentinel 2 moves toward Bantaam and tries to punch him but Bantaam shrinks under the punch.

The third Sentinel is faced with Bounder and shoots him with more electricity. Bounder laughs it off. “How well does rubber conduct electricity?” (They, of course, had no knowledge of what Bounder could do.) In his British accent, Bounder goaded Bantaam and Baron Mind, “And these things beat you before?”

The Dark Witch uses her TK to yank the door off another container, shorting out the magnetic field inside. Inside this one, of course, is Lightning Bolt.

Torrent is thinking that we will get our teammates and leave. (Other Guardians have no intention of retreating; now that the team is reassembling, the goal is to Get Stone.) Torrent basically ignores the Sentinels and concentrates on the containers, opening another, this one containing Vapor.

(Discussion now about altering Fortress’s serum, which heretofore seemed ? to only boost stun? Determined it boosts both? I was out of the room for part of this.)

Bantaam shoots the Sentinel that tried to attack him, doing 42 stun and 11” KB. This Sentinel slams into vehicle and takes another 11 dice dm = 35 more stun.

Baron Mind raises his force field and saves a phase.

LB’s speed allows him to recover twice in opening phases (and still keep pace with most everyone else, except Bantaam).

Bounder blows up his fist and hits a sentinel from 4” away, stretching his arm. This punch does 4” KB. “Where is my beloved?”

Vapor crawls out of his container; Torrent helps him. The Witch cocoons a Sentinel in a darkness magical entangle (hoping that the Sentinels don’t know her weaknesses.)

A sentinel swings at Torrent and the swing goes right through Torrent, startling Sid/Vapor. They introduce themselves and, of course, Sid says, “Nice to meet you.” (Standard Operating Procedure when rescued by an unknown paranormal.)

Fortress gets out of her container and, hearing Bounder, she hides from him, going around to the far side of her container. She injects herself. (This is phase 4; the second phase LB recovers.)

There are still two unopened containers and one hero remains missing: Graviton.

Flying 2” into the air, Baron Mind telekinetically stands Kid Green up. Fortress gets on Guardian signal device (which now works since they are outside containers? Mind link? Confused a bit here.) “You brought BOUNDER?!?”

Baron Mind explains, “We were desperate.”

(That was mentally between Baron and Fortress, I believe.)

Fortress sees Diddy moving on the army cars headed their way. She picks up container and throws it to block those vehicles. Bounder, facing the other way, still doesn’t see Fortress.

Bantaam, tiny, zips over to Kid Green and aids him, giving him 11 stun back.

LB sees his shield in the rubble and runs over to retrieve it.

(phase 6) The Witch’s entangle on a Sentinel is blasted apart by a light blast, confirming for the Witch that these Sentinels also know her weaknesses.

A sentinel picks up car and throws it at Bounder. Bounder allows the car to hit his rubber body and he rebounds it right back at the Sentinel.
The Sentinel that had been hit by a Bantaam Bolt gets up and sees Torrrent in front of it. Torrent is hit with electricity = 57 stun. She is knocked out!

Discordant music rings out as Diddy attacks.

Bantaam hits Kid Green with more aid.

Dark Witch aborts her next movement phase (8) to dodge as Sentinel shoots a light blast at her.

Another Sentinel steps up to Vapor, grabs Vapor by the neck, and picks him up. He starts to squeeze Sid’s neck. 29 stun- rendered unconscious

Baron Mind uses TK, flings door (??) 13 stun to Sentinel who drops Sid.

Fortress is at the rear of the battle and sees Brigade has flipped a truck over. She picks up a second container and throws it directly at soldiers. Her aim is badly off and she hits the second truck directly, 10 dice = 39 stun – smash truck. “INCOMING!” Nimble soldiers jump out of it.

Lightning Bolt directs Bantaam and the Witch: they coordinate attacks on a single Sentinel. LB does a move through. Bantaam throws a Bantaam Bolt. The Dark Witch is the only one of the three who misses with a dark blast. LB does 29 stun physical. Bantaam does 31 stun energy. There is 1” KB into container… resulting in an explosion of silver. (One down, two to go.)

Seeing this, LB confirms his suspicion based on previous experience with nanobots; these Sentinels aren’t robots but instead are sophisticated suits of armor.

Kid Green leaps forward to do a whiplash, hitting a Sentinel with a stalk from 5” away. 16 dice attack that does 5” KB.

An unconscious Sid recovers. Torrent does too (??)

LB tells Baron Mind to try to find Matsuzaki. Baron Mind scans and locates Amy’s mind… directly below the heroes. Amy is unconscious and dying. Startled, Baron Mind asks, “Can you make a hole?”

Kid Green laughs. “Can I make a hole?”

Fortress sees a soldier signal other soldiers to head toward third (last remaining) truck. Fortress decides then to pick up the van that the rescue squad came in and throw it at the truck. Soldiers again dive for cover. Meanwhile, Brigade is cursing and has taken off his “Shit armor”, stomping on the keyboard in anger.

LB, Kid Green and Bantaam all rush into the elevator that the Sentinels came up in. A Sentinel is getting up. LB tells Baron Mind to scan for Stone. LB uses communicator to talk to Piper back at the base. Knowing Stone talked of blowing this location up and knowing that they no longer have an escape vehicle (thanks to Fortress), he has TF scrambled in the Guardians copter “for Evac.”

TF won’t make it there before the bombs go off.

Baron Mind scans for Stone (at beginning of phase 12) and detects he’s with other soldiers who are hauling ass out of here. Baron Mind asks Fortress, “Where’s our escape vehicle?”

She avoids answering by asking, “So what do you need me to do?”

Brigade gives Fortress crap about throwing the van. He also talks about how his “junk ass armor” only “got off one shot.”

Torrent and Vapor recover.

Three heroes go down into the subterranean complex. When the elevator doors open, the heroes see blinking explosives on the walls which are now down to a ten second countdown.

Dark Witch, LB and Bantaam run to three different doors along the corridor, opening them on three empty rooms. Kid Green opens a door and discovers Amy and her father… both submerged in water!

Kid Green breaks the plexiglass tank, causing Amy and Harry to splash out. LB tells everyone to flee.

Above, Torrent shoots at lock of container, misses, and then Fortress yanks off the lock. They expect Graviton inside but he’s not there. (The two empty containers were obviously meant for the two heroes that got away: Bantaam and Baron Mind.)

9 seconds to detonation.

Baron Mind asked by Fortress, “Can you scan for Graviton?” “Yes.”

Bantaam zips up wall to try to disable timer. LB goes to another door and opens it, confirming no one else is here.

Baron Mind determines there is no sign of Graviton on Camp Atterbury.

Dark Witch grabs up two innocents (Amy and Harry) and safe blind teleports them (and herself) straight up,

Torrent tries to pull Sentinel out from under car and does so easily. The armor atomizes, revealing, yes, a man in skivvies. The armor has become gray dust.

Torrent slides the guy out as Sid asks, “Where’s the escape vehicle?”

It, of course, is a smoking ruin, thanks to Fortress.

LB, Bantaam, and Kid Green get into elevator to go up.

Bounder sees Fortress for the first time. “Baby!” He drops Sentinel, who’s armor disintegrates, revealing another guy in his underwear.

Bounder bounds over to Fortress and tries to hug her. Fortress tries to dodge the hug like an attack but FAILS. Bounder hugs her, saying, “I will never let you out of my sight again! I promise to kill anyone who looks at you!”

When Fortress looks angrily at Baron Mind, he explains, “We needed someone who was motivated.”

LB, Kid Green, and Bantaam quietly ride up in the elevator.

The heroes determine Kid Green will be there means of escape, since Fortress destroyed the escape vehicle. Baron Mind teleports into a container and uses TK on one of the unconscious sentinel soldiers, bringing him inside the same container.
Bantaam and Dark Witch both go into same container.

LB and the other heroes arrive on site again in the elevator. LB grabs up another sentinel soldier and goes into the container. The Witch grabs the last of the three unconscious Sentinels.

Brigade is still bitching. “This is shit! You guys are nuts!”

Fortress tries to break out of Bounder’s hug and manages to do so. “Don’t touch me again!”

“So good to see you again!”

Baron announces he will use TK to reinforce the container. All enter the container now but Bounder, Fortress, and Kid Green. 4 seconds until detonation.

Bounder and Fortress decide to “race.” Kid Green leaps 48” noncombat. Fortress leaps 34” noncombat. Bounder is way faster than both, having mega-scale leaping.

Camp Atterbury goes up in flames, destroyed by massive explosions.

When the Guardians are clear, Fortress asks, “Who’s idea was it to bring him?” She points at Bounder.

The Witch, Bantaam, and Torrent all point at Baron Mind.

Baron Mind scans the city for Stone but can’t find him.

LB has paramedic skills that he uses to determine Harry is dead. Amy is nearly dead.

Bounder and Fortress have long exchange about how he could have “gone anywhere” but he didn’t. “Even a rough and tumble guy like me,” said Bounder, “has a heart.” Fortress assumes he’ll want to join the team now. Bounder disabuses her of that notion. “Thank God,” she responds.

Bounder suggests they release him into Fortress’s custody.

LB surmises from little evidence that Graviton has been rescued by his brother Magnus. Graviton’s container has been broken into from the outside, with what might be a magnetic power signature…. And when LB asks himself, “Who has the motivation to rescue Graviton?”—Magnus immediately comes to mind.

We go back to HQ. Lots of official stuff.

Baron Mind then returns to the scene the next day, when the fires have cooled someone. He hovers over the scene of the explosions where the containers were located. He then uses retrocognition to see backwards in time… and confirms that Graviton was, indeed, rescued by his brother.

Magnus talks of how “blood is thicker than water” and how he “needs your (Graviton’s) help.” Graviton agrees to go with Magnus.

AFTERMATH—DISCUSSIONS—

Okay, so again augment here…. Because as we talked afterwards, I did NOT take notes so I’m totally going by memory.

Stone escaped. Stone worked for the government with some superior. Dark organization with no oversight…. So we expose them.

You mentioned Arrow and Damien Darhk. Yup. It’s like a trope, I’m sure, man. LOL. But it makes sense story-wise. Villains operate in darkness and thrive in darkness so you expose them to light.

A reminder—there was that thing with Babs Bennett. IF she can come up with part of this story—if she can add something to it- then I’m inclined to give this huge story to HER. IF she can add something. She was going to check sources inside.

Right now, we need more evidence of this secret Sentinel program. We need evidence of mind controlling nano-tech…. which really isn’t MIND control at all…. More like Body controlling. Usurping the neuro pathways.

“Our” reality TV crew already knows a LOT about this Stone deal. I say the BIG thing we need to do ASAP is get ahead of the story about us murdering people in Kentucky. LB needs to do an interview and lay out this entire diabolic plot… deluded assholes who attack HEROES and make them instruments of murder and justify that with the words “national security.” I’m good with my own particular brand of spin, don’t you think? LOL

The team, obviously, needs to be consulted thoroughly on this. I volunteer to do the interview but if others want to be involved, the more the merrier. I’m not going to do anything if someone has major objections. At this point, I don’t know HOW to track Stone but I figure he’s basically crawled under some secret Area 51-ish rock and, again, best way to flush him out is to turn a spotlight… a searchlight on him. If his superior comes to the conclusion that Stone righteously fucked up—once we draw some hot public heat/attention—maybe someone Within will give him up.

Regardless, the World Needs To Know What Happened.

And it’s best it come immediately from me/us… because it’s basically going to come out anyway when our reality TV series debuts.

The Specialist. No idea which mind-washing villain that is but will see if Babs or any of OUR liasons in the government knows who that might be. **Will need to question the soldiers in the Sentinel armor too! These patsies who were left to die in the explosions.

Mustn’t forget the part where Stone DROWN the Matazukis too (or whatever their names are.)

Our weaknesses were known and we lost because of it. The villains knew us better than us. LB strongly believes everyone should basically volunteer ALL the crap on our respective disadvantages sheets. We need to SHARE. LB and Baron Mind both suggest we work on some maneuvers. Perhaps train vs the Champions. LB suggests perhaps each person has an assigned role…. And also perhaps we might try a buddy system. We ALSO need to think about how we can change ourselves so these weaknesses that nearly got us killed are no longer so detrimental. If Stone and his Sentinels return, as villains are wont to do, then we need to be DIFFERENT. Perhaps find ways around (lessening) our disadvantages with tech…. like a suit for Fortress that shields her from heat.

Basically we need to WORK on some things as a team… a brainstorming/planning session followed by a practice session. As LB, I have several ideas.

We need to check all known associations of Magnus to see if we can track him to find Grav. We’ll use the fuck out of Baron Mind’s retrocognition if possible, so be forewarned of that.

I THINK that’s about it but, again, augment based on your memories.

You talked about Jessica and how much of it is about proving mind control… how difficult that is. Less difficult by far in OUR situation because this is NOT mind control. It’s body control. And we know the cause/source: nano-technology. It was nano-tech that allowed these villains to defeat us also…. AGAIN something I want to divulge ASAP. Big News Story. Guardians Defeated… but then Guardians Escape (Uncovering Secret Government Agency Responsible for Mass Murders.) Again: the reality TV show will come out, what, 8-9 months later or something and the world will then SEE us being defeated. Best to come out NOW and admit, yes, we got our asses handed to us but, as usual, we ultimately prevailed and now a big time super villain is on the run. The explosions at Atterberry make for some great CNN live (and recorded) TV.

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Issue 27 - Enter SENTINEL!
Knowledge is power

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When Lightning Bolt relays news of the distress signal he’s receiving in his head courtesy of the nanobots that are still there, Kid Green wants to leave immediately to rescue Amy (see last issue). Fortress thinks it’s a trap. The rest of the team talk Kid Green into waiting a minute, and they regroup at HQ to come up with a plan, first threading their way through the throng of media who’d been covering the funeral.

There, LB tasks Ernest with coming up with another EMP emitter to knock out LB’s nanos as soon as the team reaches its destination. He doesn’t want General Stone taking control of him again, but he needs the nanos for now to point them the way to Amy. She’s stopped transmitting, but the nanos have the location, occasionally taking control of LB’s arm to point south. Ernest spends an hour crafting a helmet for LB to wear which will allow Ernest to track any nano tramissions that might come in or go out. Into the helmet he’s placed a one-off EMP emitter (in the form of a big red button on top, at Baron Mind’s request).

Ernest also discloses that the nanos received the distress transmission on a rarely-used military frequency, which LB takes as a clue that they’re coming from Camp Atterbury, where Bantam had tracked General Stone’s soldiers after the encounter with the DeWitt Brothers (see Issue 24).

Bantam climbs into Kid Green’s pocket and he leaps toward the South. The rest of the team, along with four reality show floating cameras, pile into the helicopter and T.F. takes to the air. LB hands Graviton his shield, in case his nanobots take over before they arrive.

With Lightning Bolt’s nano-assisted arm pointing the way, they fly toward Camp Atterbury.

MEANWHILE
Darlene Weiss receives a call at her office from Dr. Douglas Jensen, Kid Green’s father and recent arrestee (see Issue 25). He knows she represents paranormal-related cases and he’s got one: he wants to be with his son. Currently Sam is in a government lab under the security of the DHS. Douglas is extremely concerned for his safety, convinced that he’s the only person who can help Sam. She agrees to take his case.

CAMP ATTERBURY

The team crosses the outer boundary of the camp. After a minute or so LB’s arm begins to move, pointing toward a sizeable clearing. A gravel road bisects the area, in the center circling a water tower and surrounded with ramshackle buildings and steel cargo containers; a makeshift urban assault training range.

Kid Green and Bantam come to rest behind the treeline just East of the clearing. T.F. slows the chopper to a hover just above them and the rest of the team drop to the ground and being to move forward, toward the tower. Bantam jumps to the ground and speeds toward the south, intending to circle around a grouping of shipping containers. Fortress reminds Graviton that he can fly, and he sails several yards above the group.

Baron Mind begins to scan the immediate area with his mind, searching for General Stone. Not having mentally encountered Stone before, Baron still manages to sense that he was nearby, a bit North of their location.

LB’s arm, which had begun to swing slowly toward North, suddenly drops to his side, back under his control. At that moment two pole-mounted loudspeakers squawk to life. The gravelly bark of General Stone echoes over the range. “It’s about time you people showed up. You’ve forced my hand.”

“That’s what we do,” Lightning Bolt yells back.

“But like a good soldier, I’m always ready. Welcome to the SENTINEL Program!”

From various cargo containers and makeshift buildings step eight figures, gray and featureless, shining like polished steel in the late afternoon sun.

“Grav, drop my shield,” Lightning Bolt calls out, and slaps the big red button on his helmet. It hums to life, vibrating rapidly. A dull WHUMP is heard and it is still. LB tears the helmet, now beginning to smoke, from his head and then reels from a sudden dizziness as the nanobots in his body die.

Bantam continues slipping through the short grass, around the containers and behind one of the metallic figures, stopping in front of the tire of a junked trunk.

The figures then shimmer…the gray melts into colors, features appear…and they each appear as a Guardian! The faux Bantam isn’t shrunk, and the phony Kid Green isn’t quite as tall as the real thing, but otherwise they’re identical.

Graviton takes the first shot, firing a Gravi-pulse at the nearest one, at the full-sized Bantam. Instantly its arm reshapes into a duplicate of Lightning Bolt’s shield. Evil Bantam raises it and reflects the pulse right back at Graviton. He grunts with pain as he’s slammed backwards through the air. Before he can plummet to the ground, Fortress leaps up and catches him, landing deftly and cradling him like a baby.

“They’ve got our powers!” Lightning Bolt realizes.

Kid Green leaps to the top of a nearby cargo container. He then whips both stalks out, which zip across the intervening sixty feet and grasp the rusty struts of the water tower. Tugging mightily, the tower creaks and bends and begins to fall toward two of the villains.

“Bantam, Graviton, coordinate on my lead!” Lighting Bolt cries as he flings himself toward the phony Graviton. Bantam’s electrical bolt misses, and it sidesteps LB’s move-through. He slams into the truck just behind it, as it is knocked to the ground by a Gravi-pulse.

Vapor moves a few feet away from the team and sees a firetruck, with the windows apparently intact, sitting next to the base of the felled tower. He concentrates and begins to turn the air inside of it to propane, intending to ignite it somehow. As he lifts above the ground to glide closer to it, the phony Dark Witch gestures with its wand. His body shudders violently as he’s teleported six feet back toward the ground. “They know our weaknesses too!” Sid cries as his body is wracked with pain.

The sagging tower’s struts finally give out and it slams to the ground. The tank smashes to pieces and water explodes, dousing the faux-Fortress. It beings to waver and spasm, and the holographic facade vanishes, leaving a featureless, glimmering form.

Baron Mind lashes out at his villainous counterpart with a Brain Blast. He senses a human mind beneath a thin layer of mental static. It seems to return the favor: the gem on its turban glows and a yellow beam lances out, striking Baron. He can tell it’s an attempt to disrupt his mental energies, but his defenses are more than adequate.

Fortress launches herself at the phony Graviton. It raises its arms which quickly sprout small nozzles and flames spew out. Reacting with the speed of his namesake, the real LB flings his shield and intercepts the blast. Fortress slams into it, smashing it through one side of a steel cargo container and back out the other.

REST OF FIGHT FILL IN LATER

Baron Mind grabs the unconscious Bantam with his telekinesis and flies them both into the woods, as fast as he can.

Fortress is the only hero still conscious. Confined inside metallic coils, she feels herself being moved. Minutes pass and her metal trap comes to rest with a CLANG! She feels her restraints soften, then they disintegrate around her, nothing but dust. She’s inside of a steel cargo container, and it’s blazing hot. Her powers are gone, dispelled by the heat, but she touches her belt and is relieved to find she still has three vials there.

Each hero eventually awakens in a similar container and, like Fortress, they soon discover their cells are tailored to their particular weaknesses.
Kid Green’s is arid, and filled with a fine mist of herbicide. He can feel it slowly killing him.
Graviton’s is generating a powerful magnetic field.
So is Lightning Bolt’s , preventing him from generating electricity. His shield is gone as well.

MEANWHILE
After being picked up by T.F., Baron Mind and Bantam return to HQ to plan. They contact Dark Witch and ideas are kicked around. Then Baron suggests that they strike deals with some of the villains that are awaiting transfer to Stronghold in exchange for their help rescuing the team.

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Issue 26 - The Shocking Dead
Conductor's continued Mommy issues

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Where was Baron Mind last issue, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

A few hours after the news breaks of a fiery murder at a Chicago nightclub (see last issue), Baron is contacted by his agent, D.B. Springfield. D.B. tells him that Anthony Scarpelli wants to talk to him. When Baron calls him, Scarpelli asks for his presence in Chicago. He dispatches a car to take him to a private plane.

In the Windy City, Scarpelli’s limosine meets Baron on the tarmac. When he climbs in, Scarpelli is waiting for him.

“So, you may have heard,” he begins," of a small altercation that happened at a nightclub a few hours ago. The club was run by one of my associates. I’d like to know if you can use some of your mumbo-jumbo to find out what exactly happened. I don’t trust the cops to get this one right."

“I’m not sure I can help you,” Baron replies. “I really don’t have any ‘mumbo-jumbo’, I’m a stage magician.”

Scarpelli considers this. “Yeah, well, my sources tell me there’s more to you than that.”

“Well…I can, sometimes, see visions from the past…”

“Ah! Now we’re talkin’!” Scarpelli tells his driver to take them to the nightclub.

The club is a burned-out husk, still smoking. Police tape marks off the property. Scarpelli’s bodyguards hold up the tape as their boss leads Baron inside. They head straight toward the back, where Scarpelli enters what used to be an office. A safe stands open behind the remains of a large desk.

“This was Vinnie’s office, this is where it happened.”

Baron says, “I’ll need complete isolation and quiet, maybe for a few hours.” Scarpelli nods and leads his men out.

Baron settles into the center of the room and taps into the Mind Gem in his turban. Slowly, time begins to reel backwards for him. He sees a team of EMTs, walking backwards, wheel a draped body into the room on a gurney. They swing it around, unzip the body bag, and remove a charred husk. They place it on the floor next to the open safe, and then moonwalk back out of the room. Hours pass in the vision while only minutes tick by in the real world; soon firefighters fill the room, then quickly they are gone, replaced by smoke, then fire. The fire eventually dies out. [ The rest of Baron’s vision will be recounted as it happened, rather than in reverse sequence, to avoid confusion. — Ed ]

Vinnie Pestano, club owner, is alone in his office. Suddenly he hears gunfire in the club itself, but before he can react his office door explodes inward in a gout of flame. Standing in the smoking doorway is a hulking figure, blazing with fire. His broad shoulders heave with rage. His head sports huge, curling horns and he’s brandishing a flaming sword.

The creature advances to the desk. Baron’s visions grant no sound, but he’s adept at lip reading. “Vinnie,” the flaming figure says, “you’re gonna pay for what you did to Adrienne, but first I need that stone.”

“B-Bobby? Is that you? Hey, you gotta know I had nothing to do with that unfortunate — " The creature snarls and brings the sword down in the middle of the desk, cleaving it in two. Vinnie’s legs kick out and send his chair scooting backwards where it slams into the wall and dumps him in a heap next to his safe.

“I know you were behind it, Vinnie, and you’re gonna pay! Hand over the stone!”

“Yeah, yeah, right, the stone, okay, okay!” Pestano reachs over and opens his safe, removing a heavy golden medallion attached to a chain. The medallion contains a glowing yellow gem. Bobby snatches it from his hand and in an instant, brings the sword in an arc through Pestano’s upper body. His body immediately bursts into flames, he barely has time to scream before he dies.

Bobby turns and leaves the room, flinging flames from the end of his sword, igniting the rest of the room.

The Baron emerges from his trance and describes what he saw to Scarpelli.

“Bobby and Adrienne? Must be Bobby Lucese. His wife was involved in an unfortunate matter recently. Died, poor thing. So Bobby blamed Vinnie, but…what’s with the flaming head? He didn’t used to do that.”

Baron shrugs. “What would he want with that stone?”

“That was Vinnie’s lucky charm,” Scarpelli explains. "I don’t know where he got it, but Vinnie was a no-good loser until he found that thing. Suddenly his whole life turned around. He swore it was that medallion, but I think he just needed an excuse to focus.

“Lucese has always been a loser too, I guess he wanted Vinnie’s luck too. Sure didn’t help Vinnie last night, though, huh?” Scarpelli shakes his head, then explodes with laughter.

“You did good, kid! I was thinking this attack was ordered by a colleague, but apparently not. Thanks for clearing that up, coulda been messy. I owe you one.”


Immediately after the events of last issue, Ernest continues to work on building more EMP emitters, to fry the nanobots that remain in all of the Guardians except Fortress (on whom his first EMP Emitter had been tested) and Bantam (for reasons unknown, he seems to have never been infected).

The team is contacted by team benefactor, Arthur Donaldson, who suggests that they attend the mass funeral planned today for the six victims of the first church attack. They were all killed by Conductor. The Fox TV producers agree that it’s a good idea, they’ve been wanting footage to show the human side of the heroes and feel this will fit the bill.

Sid calls his girlfriend/parole officer, who tells him there’s a rumor going around the office that the body of the electrified goon Conductor killed yesterday on the church steps has gone missing from the morgue.

Kid Green’s father has been officially charged with a handful of counts such as public nuisance and confinement, with more to come as the police and the DA sort out the story. Jake’s mother posts bail and drives her husband home. She calls Kid and tells him to talk to his father, because she’s still too angry to talk to him, but he needs someone. Kid agrees to call him later, still fuming himself at the breadth of his father’s deception. Meanwhile, he still can’t reach Amy or her father Harry.

Lightning Bolt drafts a press release, again urging citizens of the city to step forward and get the antitoxin to counter-act the electrical mutation serum placed in the water supply by the Unicorn (see Issues 23 and 24).

When Ernest announces that his EMP Emitter is ready, LB decides that he’ll remain infected, to give Ernest a chance to trace the signal. So far he’s failed. “Whoever behind it is good, I mean super-good, they’re bouncing and masking the signal all over the place. I can trace it, I just need more time.” The remaining heroes undergo the EMP treatment and puke up gobs of dead nano.

THAT AFTERNOON
SECOND PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, INDIANAPOLIS

The scene is somber. The pews of the huge sanctuary are filled with people. The focal point, on a raised stage, are six black coffins draped with flowers. Behind these and a lectern are seated Indiana dignitaries: Indianapolis Mayor Ballard, Governor Pence, Representative Andre Carson, and both Indiana Senators, along with the Chiefs of IPD and the Indianapolis Fire Department. Six grieving families fill the front row, hundreds of kindred mourners move slowly to their seats, and television cameras ring the vast room transmitting it all to the world. The Fox TV crew is among them, and their two remote cameras hover in the rafters above the assembled.

Lightning Bolt orders Vapor to remain with him outside the building to act as security. Baron Mind takes a seat in the balcony, while Graviton, Bantam, and Fortress spread out among the crowd. Kid Green plants himself in the foyer, just outside the sanctuary doors.

After a hymn from the choir, Senor Pastor Louis Galloway approaches the podium. “We are here today to mourn the loss of six precious lives in a senseless tragedy. But we are also here to celebrate the lives that they led, and the lives that they touched, in the short time God permitted us to know them.”

Just as the choir director rises to begin a Psalm, the lights throughout the room flash, then go out. The caskets rumble, tossing flowers to the floor, as sparks begin to flash from the seam of their lids. With a crack of thunder they explode, sending shards mahogany and shrapnel of brass everywhere. Several people are struck, including the governor.

Rising to their feet where the caskets once stood are six glowing, spasming creatures, dried-up husks in the shape of human beings, adorned in their Sunday best. The material on their bodies smokes as a field of electricity dances across and around their bodies.

Before anyone else can react, Baron Mind reaches out with his telekinesis and heaves one of the creatures out the nearest stained glass window. It lands in a heap on the grass, a few yards away from where Vapor has stationed himself.

The team discusses strategy. LB suggests they get the creatures outside, away from the crowd. He runs onto the stage. Fortress leaps there as well, grabbing at one of them but it twists away, snarling.

Bantam, from his position beneath the corner of the front pew, fires a bolt at one of the creatures. It blows a hole in its belly, but it also causes the electrical field around its body to double in intensity. It howls, not in pain but with exhilaration.

Graviton takes to the air, hovering several feet above the pews. He tries to manipulate the gravity of one of the bodies, but misses. Kid Green rushes in from the foyer.

The crowd is screaming and crying hysterically. Lightning Bolt urges them to stay in their seats, assuring them the heroes have the situation under control. It’s clear that at least half of them aren’t listening, but he can’t wait around to see. He turns toward the creature on the end and flings himself at him. Surprisingly fast, it twists to avoid his attack and he slams into, and through, the wall into a bathroom.

Bantam, aware that his Bantam Bolt only served to empower his target, racks his brain to come up with some way to take these things down. Finally he tries something he’s never done before: he completes a circuit between himself and one of the zombies, and begins to siphon off its bio-electrical energy. Behind his mask he smiles when he sees the creature’s glowing aura dim considerably. Its body even begins to crumble, raining dust on the floor.

Fortress solves the problem rather quickly, grabbing two adjacent bodies by the heads (one of them charged up by Bantam) and slamming them together. The head of one caves in, but it continues to snarl and spark. Her family in the front row erupt in howls of anguish.

Kid Green, from halfway down the aisle, shoots a stalk up to the rafters and swings onto the stage and right through one of the zombies. The impact utterly destroys it in a cloud of dust and sparks, covering Kid with ashy powder. All that remains of the creature is his suit, which settles, empty, to the floor. It’s his family’s turn to shriek the breaking of their hearts.

LB emerges from the hole in the wall to face one of the zombies, which grasps at him, but he knocks its arm away with his shield. Another creature, this one in a dress, shambles off the stage and across the aisle between the stage and the first row of pews, heading toward the broken window.

The two creatures Fortress is clutching claw at her arms. Electricity spits and dances across her forearms, shocking her severely.

Outside, the zombie Baron initially tossed out the window is on its feet and heading across the lawn toward the parking lot. Vapor follows, curious as to where it’s going. He also figures his powers are useless against the undead, or whatever these things are. Just then another one sails through the window and lands in a heap, also courtesy of Baron Mind.

Inside, Graviton has given up on hitting anything and has turned to the crowd, hovering above them with his arms outstretched, imploring them to evacuate the sanctuary in a calm and orderly fashion. Since most are already scrambling for the exits, it takes little urging for the rest to follow suit.

Fortress drags outside the two zombies she’s holding, while they continue to claw at her and send brutal jolts of current through her body. She’s weakening fast. Lightning Bolt is right behind her, carrying his own creature. Kid Green and Bantam follow.

They see two zombies ambling away from them, across the lawn and nearly to the parking lot. There sits a Channel 13 news van. In the passenger seat sits a young man, his face frozen in wide-mouthed wonder. From the back of the van scrambles another young man, this one holding up a video camera in shaky hands.

One of the approaching zombies raises its hand and electricty blasts forth, barely missing the nervous cameraman and blowing a large hole in the side of the van.

Fortress, critically weakened by the continued zapping of the zombies she’s holding, drops one. At the same time, Baron Mind levitates it in front of her, and she swings the second like a baseball bat. The two bodies explode in a dust cloud, covering her in it.

Bantam continues to exploit his new-found ability, hitting one the fleeing zombies. One of its legs weakens and snaps off at the knee, and it drops. The other is still moving straight toward the smoking news van, and the trembling cameraman between them.

Lightning Bolt hears, or perhaps more accurately, feels, a voice in his head, weak but urgent. “Help…help us…”

As LB struggles to locate the source of this plea, the other heroes dispatch the rest of the bodies, save the one still heading toward the parking lot.

Baron Mind has an idea. He levitates straight up into the air, looking in that direction. Across the parking lot, next to a retention pond, stands a sparking female figure in tattered clothing. As he spies her, she disappears with a flash of lightning. Baron recognizes her as Conductor.

The instant she disappears, the remaining ambulatory body stops in its tracks, turning its head to and fro as if sniffing the air for a lost scent. Kid Green doesn’t give him time to find it, crushing its head.

Again the voice in LB’s head: “Can you hear me? We need help!”

“Who is this?” he asks.

“You can hear me! You must still have the nanos active…please, you have to help us…the nanos in your body can follow this signal…hurry…”

“Trace the signal how?”

“Please hurry…and tell Jake I love him…”

LB then recognizes the voice as Amy Matsuzaka. He also feels his head moving of its own accord, turning to the south.

“Okay, heroes, we’re not done yet. We need to rescue Amy.”

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Issue 25 - He's Not Hedgy, He's My Brother
Kid Green gets Daddy issues

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Coming soon…

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