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).
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!”
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.
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.
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.”
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!