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.
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.
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.
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.