FIRST PULSE-POUNDING ISSUE! Guest-starring BARON MIND!!
PREVIOUSLY, IN THE PAGES OF The NEW GUARDIANS
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and Seattle Chief of Police Kathleen O’Toole met with the Guardians a few weeks ago when they were in Seattle for Comic Con. After their meeting, the oil rig incident occurred but the villains got away. This cemented the idea the three of them had to form a special field team of paranormals, tentatively called TOPS: Tactical Organization of Paranormals and Supers.
The call goes out for recruits: people with special powers who are willing to join this new unit of the Seattle PD to take on paranormal cases. Baron Mind, already in town at the request of SPD to help locate three missing women, is asked to help evaluate the candidates, their own celebrity guest judge.
A large warehouse was rented and an obstacle course set up inside. Several hours before it opened a line began to form: everything from the blue skin or glowing auras of true paranormals to obviously normal cosplayers on a lark (and perhaps a LARP) was on display.
Across the street other groups formed. Protestors with the same general sentiment but split into two camps: those who opposed TOPS because they felt it would draw supervillains to the city, and those who opposed the program because of the tax increase pushed through to fund it.
Henry Yamamoto (Ripper) and Harrison Helms (Vanguard) find themselves in line. Immediately around them are a shapeshifting robot called Warlock, a normal-looking man with no discernable powers, and a very large whale-human hybrid calling himself Whale Man. Suddenly everyone turns to see a strikingly beautiful woman flying in to land among them. She fairly glows with charisma and power. “I am Ultra-Babe!” she exclaims, before settling in a the end of the line.
As the group finally enters the building, they see a cavernous space dotted with pillars and temporary walls and other obstacles. Immediately to the left is a row of tables, behind which sit a dozen uniformed police personnel. Applicants first sit to fill out preliminary paperwork, answer questions, then embark on the course. Each station is manned by a well-padded evaluator.
Toward the center of the room stands a group of four people: Baron Mind, Mayor Murray, Governor Innis, and Police Captain Ann O. Nymity. As candidates navigate the obstacles, these four share their impressions with each other. Baron takes special note of a tiny flying woman, currently attempting the “Rescue Normals” station. She struggles to lift a mannequin. Something about her nags at his mind, but he can’t quite name it.
Helms seats himself across from one of the police questioners and gives his name. “What are your strenghts and weaknesses?” the officer reads from a clipboard. Vanguard reveals a bit about what he can do (laser eye, armor) but says nothing of his weaknesses. “What sets you apart?” “I don’t know, I have no idea what these other people can do.” “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Helms laughs, “Five years closer to the goal.”
Ripper is asked, “Why do you want this job?” He replies that he wants to help people, then asks how much the job pays. He says he intends to continue his current employment as well as take on this job, as he sees this as an on-call, only in emergency type of gig. When he’s told he’ll get a full-time salary, he smiles and says he works on contract IT jobs anyway so the hours won’t be a problem.
They then move on to the first obstacle: the Wall Scale station. Candidates are expected to navigate their way over a wall. Ripper, three people back from the front of the line, freaks out when the first guy in line bursts into flames and takes to the air. “Is that normal?” he shrieks, “Is that supposed to happen? Holy crap!”
This draws the attention of Baron Mind, who sees something familiar in the flaming figure. When he then turns and sees another of the candidates in the Mud Pit station creating duplicates of himself, it clicks: these two and the fairy girl are aligned with The One, the mysterious villain the Guardians fought at the oil rig.
“We have a problem,” he says to the officials. He points out the three he suspects are villains, and then nods toward Vanguard. “I think that armored guy might be with them too.”
Teams of SWAT officers, stationed at various points around the building, begin to converge on the four targets. Baron lifts into the air. In the Mud Pit station the duplicates yell, “We’ve been found out, boys!”
Pixie drops the dummy she’d been trying to lift and rises further into the air. The flaming man, Hothead, flies toward the rising Baron. “Give me my brother back!” he screams.
Baron says, “This is how the conversation is supposed to go: You’re under arrest.”
Hothead flings spouts of flame toward Baron, but Ripper acts quickly. He opens a portal between the incoming attack and the Guardian, and another portal behind Hothead. The blast enters the first portal and emerges from the second; Ripper had intended to hit Hothead with his own attack but it misses.
Ultrababe levitates shakily into the air and stammers at the villains, “S-stop that! R-right n-n-now!”
Vanguard steps toward the 5-man SWAT squad that is moving toward him. “Is there a problem?” “We ask that you come with us, sir, for questioning.” “Questioning? I have nothing to do with these other people. I don’t know them. I don’t know anybody.”
Henry, a Seattle native, recognizes Multiple Man (M&M) from news reports of the oil rig disaster. He teleports himself beneath the levitating Baron Mind and introduces himself. “How can I help, Mr. Mind?” “Well, that guy is throwing flame blasts.” Ripper attempts to use his power to keep Hothead from flying, but he fails.
Pixie then flies over to hover above him. She sprinkles a mist of pixie dust over him, and his body floats off the ground. Ripper slowly rotates in the air, helpless.
M&M extricates themselves from the Mud Pit and advance on the floating Baron. Hothead also flies closer to Baron, still hollering about his brother. He shoots more bursts of flame at the Guardian but misses. Baron gestures grandly, pretending it was his mighty mental energies rather than the villain’s poor aim that was responsible.
The SWAT Team lead senses that Vanguard is telling the truth. “Well, we sure could use your help with this.” Helms nods and ignites his jetpack. At the same time he spins and fires a rocket at Pixie. The concussive explosion stuns her; both she and Ripper drop to the ground.
Baron places his fingers to his temples and projects an image of Hothead’s brother, the captured Brick Wall, in the Water Tank station. “Your brother’s right over there,” he says. He then mimics Brick Wall’s voice (“Help! I’m a-drownin’!”) Hothead yelps, believing the image is real.
Suddenly bursting through a window into the building is the villain known as The One, carrying the murderous woman known only as Red Edge. She clutches a stack of leaflets. The One flies a circuit around the warehouse as she flings the papers into the air. They float to the floor like snow. “We’re done here!” The One cries as they smash through a window on the opposite side of the building and fly away.
Three of the four M&Ms produce knives and stab themselves in the heart. As they die, they vanish, leaving only one. He makes haste for the nearest exit, yelling at Hothead as he passes, “That’s not your brother.”
Vanguard now moves on Hothead. A glowing beam lances from his bionic eye and sizzles past the villain. Refusing to be distracted, Hothead zips over to the image of his brother. When he reaches out to help Brick Wall from the water, his hand passes right through it. He turns back to Baron, seething. “You’re dead meat!”
Baron responds by lifting a huge volume of water in a telekinetic fist and attempting to douse the flaming bad guy, but he misses.
Pixie shakes it off and flits into the air, speeding for an exit. Ripper stands and again asks Baron what the plan is.
Vanguard unleashes another blast at Hothead, hitting him this time. The villain spins backwards through the air and slams into the ground near the far wall. Instead of heading to the exit as the others have, he stands up, bellowing incoherently. He ignites and flies into the air, speeding back toward the heroes.
Baron again scoops water into a giant fist and slaps Hothead with it. The liquid douses his flames and he drops into the pool. Ripper teleports him out of it when it becomes obvious he can’t swim.
The heroes gather around the gasping villain. Warlock, Ultrababe, Whale Man, and the normal-looking gent are all that remain of the applicants; everyone else has fled.
Several of them pick up flyers. The pages offer jobs to paranormals, working under The One. What appears to be an abstract map, and a mathematical equation, appear at the bottom. While the others discuss what it might mean, the Normal seems absorped in it, muttering to himself.
Baron leaves with Hothead in custody. The nondescript Normal finally speaks up. “I’m Cypher. I’ve figured out what this flyer says.” He claims it is a map of the Pacific Science Center, in the shadow of the Space Needle. Specifically, the famous Singing Flower sculpture is highlighted. The equation resolves to “next Tuesday at 3 PM.”
Captain Nymity congratulates each remaining applicant. She thanks Whale Man but decides his skill set is too specific to be of much use. He leaves, dejected.
She tells the rest that they are hired and she wants to meet them back at police HQ in an hour.
There, their statements are taken and they’re given a tour of the department. They notice the stinkeye from several police as they pass; rumor in the station has it that these untrained newbies will rank equivalently to detectives, which irks more than a few of them.
Concluding the tour, the Captain tells them to report bright and early on Monday morning to being their training.
OVER THE WEEKEND -
– Baron spends hours using his retrocognition to locate one of the three missing women. Her body is found, viciously stabbed.
Six AM comes early, and the rookies assemble just down the street from the police station, in front of the training facility. They notice that Cypher isn’t there. “He won’t be training with us,” Captain Nymity explains. “His skills are better utilized behind a computer.”
Inside they find the space filled with obstacle stations, similar to last week’s recruitment. The walls, pillars, and swing-ropes ring the outer wall of the vast room, so that just to the right of the entrance, but at the end of the circuit, was a small house made of plywood.
“It’s not enough that you each have special powers,” the Captain begins. “We must put those power to the most efficient use. We must communicate and operate as a single, cohesive unit. So today’s goal is to navigate these obstacles as a team. At the end of the course, if you haven’t failed it by then, we have a hostage situation. I’ll brief you on that if you get that far.”
Using his mutant powers, Ripper simply teleports the team members around each obstacle, and they’re all standing before the makeshift house in a matter of seconds.
Nymity smiles. “Okay then. Next we have a tactical situation. An unknown number of armed perps have taken a hostage. Your job is to rescue the hostage and apprehend the kidnappers.”
Vanguard’s police training kicks in before he even realizes it. “Ripper, slip over there and peek in the window.” It’s covered by a drape, so he opens a portal into the room. Through it he sees a mannequin standing by the front door, a rifle slung over it’s shoulder. Through a doorway he sees another seated at the kitchen table.
Vanguard moves to a side window and peers in through the curtain using his X-Ray vision. He sees a female mannequin on a bed, two rifle-toting dummies standing on either side. At a third window on the other side of the house, Ultrababe spies a dummy on the toilet.
The future-cop tells Ripper to get the hostage. He opens a wider portal in the hostage room, reaches in and pulls out the dummy. Immediately the mannequin kidnappers begin to move.
Warlock pries open the front door and whacks a kidnapper. Vanguard slices a hole in the wall with his laser eye, then fires rockes through it which take out the other three.
They adjourn to a meeting room at police HQ. They, and Cypher, are presented special badges, identifying them as Detectives in the TOPS unit. Baron Mind adds his congratulations to the Captain’s.
Talk then turns to the flyers left by The One. The address turns out to be the Pacific Science Center in downtown; specifically, beneath the Sonic Bloom sculpture (40-feet high flower sculptures that ‘sing’ as the wind blows through them).
Vanguard decides they’ll surround the place and stake it out, with police establishing a wider perimeter around the complex. The attractions, including the Space Needle, are closed early and evacuated.
THREE PM -
At the time specified on the flyer, the only approaching figure is a young boy. As he gets closer to the flowers the heroes can see he’s sporting a coruscating aura of what appear to be ghosts. The boy whispers something and one of them peels off and flies away.
A moment later The One flies in, holding Red Edge as he had last Friday at the warehouse, along with the ghost. They land next to the boy, the ghost re-entering the swirl around him.
The One swings around, arms outstretched. “What do you mean, there’s nobody here?”
From a copse of trees, Baron projects an image (a rather shaky one) of an approaching paranormal.
“Finally!” The One smiles. “Somebody shows up!” The image says, “Yes, um, I deciphered your ingenious mathematical message. Really impressive, uh, how you did that.”
Vanguard leaves his spot among the trees and flies to the roof of the adjacent Pacific Science Center.
The boy says of the image, “That’s not real.” So Red Edge throws a knife at it. Baron dispels the phantasm and tries to reform a better one but the illusion is broken.
Seeing that the jig is up, Vanguard goes on the offensive, firing off three tiny rockets. Each hits its mark, but they appear to have little effect.
The One dashes away from the others, onto the grassy edge of the treed area. His gaze darts around, looking for more attackers. He zips past Baron Mind’s hiding place, so the Guardian hits him with a mental blast. The One stops and smiles. “Ha! I came prepared for you!”
Red Edge moves toward the lawn area as well, past Warlock shape-shifted into a bush. He doesn’t budge. She flings a knife at Baron with deadly accuracy, but at the last second Ripper tears open a portal in mid-air which swallows it.
A plasma beam erupts from Vanguard’s bionic eye and slams into The One. He tumbles backwards several yards but ends up on his feet.
The boy takes to the air and comes even with the roof, staring at Vanguard. One of his ghosts zips away from his body and shoots toward Vanguard but he leans out of the way. He answers with a plasma beam which sends the boy spinning backwards through the air. The ghost boy recovers and sends another ghost speeding at Vanguard. This one slams into him and sends him careening across the roof. He pops up to his feet.
Seeing Ultrababe squatting behind a tree, whimpering, Baron tries to snap her out of it with a mental projection, trying to get her to see the villains as silly and weak. She continues to cry.
The One, still smiling, gestures at Baron, who feels the energy draining from his body. Red Edge presses the advantage, moving in to stab him. Again one of Ripper’s portals opens, this one a horizontal hole above Baron’s head that drops over him. He instantly emerges from another portal several yards away.
Levitating into the air, Baron slaps The One’s brain again, and again the villain smirks. “I feel you tickling me again!”
Red Edge turns toward Ripper and crouches as if to leap. “W-woah, hold on! One move and I’ll teleport you into the heart of the sun! I mean it! The sun!” She doesn’t buy it. A knife flies at him, only partially deflected by the field of shifting portals that surround him. The blade doesn’t cut, but the impact is felt.
The One turns from Baron to Ripper. “Don’t you dare hurt what’s mine.” The warning is punctuated with rapid-fire bursts of energy which pummel into the hero and send him sprawling across the pavement.
Red Edge then throws a knife at the floating Baron, who mentally deflects it right at The One. The blade sinks deep.
Vanguard sees the opportunity and fires a plasma beam at The One but he misses. That provides an opening to the ghost boy. One of his ghosts slips from the aura and wraps itself around one of the Sonic Bloom flowers. It tears from the ground, turns and then swings at Vanguard, knocking him off the roof. He again manages to land on his feet.
With a sigh Ripper rises and moves forward, attempting to teleport Red Edge away from everybody else. He fails. The move becomes doubly brave when he realizes he’s left himself wide open to both villains. The One chuckles and slams the hero with a tremendous burst of energy. His forcefield is able to shunt some of the attack into the Energy Dimension, but not enough. The impact knocks the wind out of him; he slams into the ground and tumbles for a few yards before stopping, unconscious.
It’s suddenly quiet, save for Ultra-Babe’s crying. Warlock remains motionless and ignored as just another shrubbery. Gravekeeper, Red Edge, and The One all turn toward Vanguard and the hovering Baron Mind, the only good guys still standing.
How can this fledgling hero team deal with The One and his powerful villains? Find out next issue!