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.”
“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!).