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The Guard #8: Big Time (September, 2003)

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  • The Guard
    THE GUARD #8 Big Time (September, 2003) [Outside Cinergy Stadium, Cincinnati…] Delroy Garrett walked out of the locker room for the final time in his all
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 3, 2003
      THE GUARD #8 "Big Time" (September, 2003)

      [Outside Cinergy Stadium, Cincinnati…]

      Delroy Garrett walked out of the locker room for the final time in
      his all too brief professional baseball career. Wearing
      sunglasses and an overcoat, he hoped that no one would
      recognize him. Alas, it was not meant to be, as a throng of
      reporters instantly swooped down on him.
      "Delroy," a reporter from XSN cried out, "What do you have to say
      to all of the fans you've disappointed?"
      "No comment," Delroy replied, ducking his head and trying to
      fight his way through the crowd.
      "Any thoughts on what penalties the Reds will face?" another
      reporter yelled to be heard over the din.
      "No comment," he replied.
      "Do you think that mutants should be allowed to play
      professional sports?" a third reported chimed in.
      "No comment!" Delroy screamed, getting into his limousine. He
      slammed the door shut behind him, and looked to his agent.
      "Bob, why weren't you there to deflect those questions? You're
      my agent, for God's sake-"
      "Not any more, Garrett." Bob Sugar handed a manila folder to
      Delroy and scoffed. "The minute you came out of the closet, you
      forfeited my services. I am just here today to give you all your
      files."
      Delroy gaped at his former agent. "Bob," he began, but was
      interrupted.
      "Don't `Bob' me. You've put me in a very bad spot, Garrett. Lucky
      I still have Wallace and Burnett in my stable, or I'd be finished as
      a sports agent. As it is, I've had to get them to submit to genetic
      testing to prove they aren't mutants." Bob looked at Delroy and
      shook his head. "They're talking about standardizing it for all
      professional sports. You'll never be able to cash a check in the
      sports world again. You're finished." He opened the door on the
      other side of the limo, stepped halfway out, and the reporter's
      questions erupted again. "I'll be holding a press conference
      today at three o'clock, at which point I will answer all your
      questions," he said to the gathered paparazzi, looking over the
      roof at them. "But I will say this; I am no longer Delroy Garrett's
      agent." He looked in at his former client, exited the limo, and
      slammed the door.

      [The Guard's Headquarters, Southampton…]

      Whirlwind pulled on his suit jacket and checked his appearance
      in a mirror on the wall. There were enough rooms in
      Murderworld for the entire team to live comfortably, with space to
      spare, in case any of them needed a place to stay. So far, only
      "So what did he say?"
      Stinger stood in the doorway, fiddling absently with her hair. "He
      accepted my apology, asked about The Guard, and then `BOOM!'
      the Horsemen attack." She moved over to him and straightened
      out the collar of the jacket. "And then Skin offered a spot to him."
      "He what?" Whirlwind said.
      "He asked him about joining. Well, not officially. Just said we
      could always use the help."
      Whirlwind grabbed his wallet from his dresser and stuffed it into
      his jacket pocket. "Hmm. I guess we could."
      "Why? Is that a bad thing?"
      "No," he replied, walking to the bed and grabbing his keys. "Just
      wish he'd asked me first."
      Stinger was silent for a moment, and then decided that changing
      the subject would be best. "So where are you taking Emily for
      dinner?"
      Whirlwind looked at her. "Dr. Parris and I aren't going to dinner,
      we're meeting up so I can get your medical files."
      "So you're going to a business meeting, is that it?"
      "Yes."
      "Wearing `Gravity?' " Stinger said, smiling as she sniffed the air
      and sampled the cologne that wafted off him.
      Whirlwind looked annoyed. "Shut up, kid," he said, and turned
      away.
      "And where is this `meeting?' " Stinger nagged, giggling.
      Whirlwind was silent, and then looked at her. "We're going to La
      Caravelle."
      "New York City's most expensive French restaurant?!? I thought
      this wasn't dinner?" Stinger laughed.
      "Shut up, kid," Whirlwind repeated.
      "Ha! That's okay boss, you're allowed to have a personal life!
      Have fun tonight! Don't forget to get my diagnosis!" she said,
      turning and laughing again as she walked down the hallway
      towards her own quarters. When she was near her door, she
      added "Use protection!"
      Whirlwind shook his head and sighed. He clicked the light off,
      and spun down the hall, racing towards the exit.

      [Camp Hero Mutagenic Research Center…]

      Highbrow, Persuasion, Pathway, Scione and Warlock appeared
      in a flash on a beach in Montauk. Highbrow instantly transformed
      back into Manikin, and Scione began trudging through the sand
      towards the ruins of the Research Center.
      "Tell me why we're here again," she said, her voice grating and
      angry.
      Pathway followed. "Whirlwind figured there might be a
      connection between this explosion and the one at Worthington
      Industries. Figured maybe Apocalypse's minions struck again."
      (1)
      "But he couldn't be here himself because he has a date with
      that insipid doctor," Scione reminded her.
      "Dr. Parris seems nice enough," Manikin said. "You jealous,
      Scione?"
      Scione turned to Manikin and frowned. "Not at all. But sending
      us to do his lackey work while he schmoozes with her makes
      me-"
      "Jealous," Manikin finished.
      "Look here, Knapp." Scione drew closer to him. "If you keep
      trying to provoke me, you'll find yourself split into four different
      parts in a way you've never experienced before. Understood?"
      Manikin chuckled. "Sure, Scione. Whatever you say."
      "Stop antagonizing her, Whit," Persuasion chided him.
      "Self-friends, look!" Warlock chimed in, scanning the beach for
      signs of what may have caused the explosion. He pointed to a
      spot that looked like any other patch of beach.
      "What are we looking at?" Pathway asked.
      "There is movement, down by the beach!" Warlock leapt into the
      air and began flying towards the spot.
      "I don't see anything," Manikin said.
      The sand seemed to rise in a small lump in front of where
      Warlock had touched down. By the time they all reached the spot,
      Warlock was digging his arms into the sand under the lump.
      "What, is someone buried?" Pathway asked.
      They all took a step back when Warlock pulled up the sand itself,
      and it clung together in a roughly human form.
      The sand lump spoke in a raspy scratchy sound, like a shovel
      digging deep, but none could understand what she said.
      "Self-friends and Self are here to help. Who are you?"
      "Ry- Ryson," the mound hissed.
      "Rising?" Manikin was puzzled.
      "Ryson," the form repeated, and shuddered, shaking particles of
      sand back onto the beach. The entire form seemed to flow, but in
      impossible directions, cascading off in small sandy streams,
      and flowing right back into the being.
      "What happened?" Persuasion asked.
      Ryson mumbled something that no one but Warlock understood.
      "Yes, you are in `serious' condition," he answered. "But what
      happened?"
      "No, Sirius," Ryson replied. "They called themselves Sirius."
      The others in the group grew quiet, and looked quickly at each
      other. Warlock looked at them quizzically. "Self-friends, what is
      it?"
      Within moments, Scione had scooped Ryson up in a bubble of
      energy and they were on their way to Elm Hill Hospital.

      [New York City…]

      "This is Mort Gibler, ZNN News, here at City Hall where
      prominent businessman and former Southampton Town
      Supervisor and Suffolk County Legislator Drayson Connolly has
      won the New York Senate election."

      "He took most of the districts by a wide margin, defeating his
      predecessor, Trent Hallis. We are live at his campaign
      headquarters, where he is about to deliver his victory speech,
      and we're told that there will be a surprise guest. Rumors have
      been flying rampant in the past few months that Drayson
      Connolly is somehow linked to the super hero community, and
      the current favorite theory is he has an Avenger in his staff. Wait, I
      think he's coming out now!"

      Drayson Connolly emerged from the back room to a thunderous
      ovation by his followers. He smiled, raised his hands in victory
      and nodded enthusiastically as he approached the podium.

      "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! My name is Drayson
      Connolly," he said, and the crowd erupted in cheers. "But you
      already know that part." There were a number of chuckles heard
      through the crowd. "Well, the time is here! We made it, and it is
      time to start changing the world for the better! I want to thank my
      staff, and to all of you who voted for me, I have heard your call for
      new, innovative leadership, and I am here to answer it!" There
      were more cheers as Connolly smiled. "Now, there have been
      rumors about a `Man in Tights' running around my offices."
      Another light chuckle surfaced. "Well, it's not true. He wears
      armor." The amassed crowd gasped collectively, and flash bulbs
      began popping faster. "I am also here to introduce you to that
      man." He turned, and pointed to a small stage that was set up to
      the left. "Ladies and gentlemen, members of the press, and
      concerned Americans, I am pleased to introduce to you…
      Paragon!"

      From the sky overhead, a glint of metal was seen. And then, like
      some falling star, the glint came rushing towards the ground, so
      fast that some of the reporters and supporters ducked to get out
      of the way. But the armored figure arced gracefully just a few feet
      above their heads, and hovered silently above the small stage
      before settling on the mark. After a few seconds of stunned
      silence, the press erupted with even more questions.

      "Now, now, you'll all be given press releases on my body guard,
      but he is here not only to protect me, but to protect the citizens of
      our fair state, and indeed, the whole world. His armor is state of
      the art, and his credentials are impeccable. He'll help clean up
      crime, and pollution, and the Republicans- just kidding, fellas,"
      he added. The crowd laughed again. "He will be the perfect hero
      for our new golden age!" Through it all, the armored guard just
      stood silently, sunlight glinting off his blue shell.

      "There you have it, Senator Drayson Connolly and his guardian,
      Paragon! This new armored hero is said to be the next step, the
      guardian of the new golden age, and you were here watching it!
      This is Mort Gibler, ZNN."

      After taking a few questions from the press, Senator Drayson
      Connolly merely stood for some photo ops with the gleaming
      warrior, who never spoke during the conference.

      [La Caravelle…]

      Whirlwind had began to tap his fork on the table cloth so quickly
      that the individual reports were indiscernible, and only a steady
      roll was heard. Emily looked at him and laughed, and he
      stopped, having realized what he was doing. He laughed
      nervously. "Sorry," he said. He was even more uncomfortable as
      David Cannon, ordinary man, than he was twirling into action as
      the Whirlwind.
      "No need to apologize," she replied. "Why are you nervous? I'm
      the one who should be nervous."
      Whirlwind smiled weakly and nodded. "What person wouldn't be
      nervous, sitting across the table from a former super-criminal?"
      he thought.
      Emily leaned over and whispered to him, "I mean, not everyone
      gets to go out to dinner with a super hero."
      Whirlwind smiled a little bigger. There was an awkward silence,
      which Emily broke up by returning to business.
      "So it's like I told you, Stinger seems to be metabolizing energy.
      So she may need to get sustenance from electricity, rather than
      food. Nothing in our research indicates anything like this, so we
      don't know how to reverse it." She slid the folder back to him.
      "Sorry."
      "No need to apologize," Whirlwind said, smiling. "Your help is
      greatly appreciated."
      "Well," she said, spooning in the last of her white chocolate
      mousse cake, and gently dabbing the corners of her mouth with
      her napkin, "we'll have to think of some way you could possibly
      repay me." Her eyes narrowed slightly and she turned on a
      wicked smile.
      Whirlwind smiled yet again. Suddenly, being a super hero was
      paying unexpected dividends.

      [The Guard Headquarters…]

      Stinger and Skin sat on a sofa in the executive office of their
      purloined headquarters. Arcade, it seemed, really knew how to
      relax. The multiple screens on the wall were all attuned to create
      a large single image, and currently they were watching the latest
      broadcast of X-Statix. They had sat down next to each other,
      ignoring the extra room on the couch, and over the past hour,
      Skin's arm had crept slowly along the back of the couch until it
      rested gently against the skin of Stinger's shoulder. The hair on
      his arm stood up from the constant static discharge Stinger gave
      off. In the weeks since they had met under such terrifying
      conditions, Skin had grown quite attracted to his teammate. He
      looked at the screen, and glanced at her. He wanted to kiss her,
      and he didn't know how long he'd be able to keep this up before
      he had to do something about it.
      Suddenly, she turned her head, leaned forward, and attacked
      him, shoving her tongue into his mouth and drinking him in like
      she was dying of thirst. He was startled for just a brief second,
      and then started to kiss her back. He felt tiny licks of electricity
      arcing off his fillings, and her kiss tasted a little like a nine volt
      battery, but he didn't care. After a few seconds, she pulled back,
      licked her lips, and said, "Now that we got that out of the way, can
      we finish watching X-Statix?" She turned her head back to the
      screen, smiling.
      Skin merely smiled himself, and turned back to the screen. Life
      was getting pretty good.

      [New York City…]

      Hydro Man arrived at the location he had been given by his
      underworld contacts. He didn't know for sure who had requested
      his services, but the list of guesses was pretty short. When he
      saw the craggy form of Barnacle, former Acolyte of Magneto, he
      was mildly surprised, but when he saw the floating form in the
      shadows next to him, his surprise turned into disgust.
      "Geez, you look like crap," Hydro-Man said.
      The floating figure spoke, his voice sounding like pebbles
      rattling in a paper bag. "And we both know who is to blame. He's
      going down. Join me."
      Hydro Man considered for a moment. "Yeah, sure, he's a
      turncoat, anyway. Let's take him!"
      The floating figure smiled in the darkness.

      [Elm Hill…]

      "I've been declared legally dead?!?" Angela Ryson was furious.
      "Apparently," Highbrow, Manikin's advanced self answered.
      "Just heard it over my receivers. They found some skin and
      blood in the explosion, and identified it as yours."
      "And I can't just show up like this." Angela wanted to cry, but was
      unable to make tears appear from her new sand based form.
      She was able to adjust into a roughly human shape, shifting the
      sand that now composed her body, but couldn't transform it back
      to flesh. "It must have been the explosion, the chemicals, the
      radiation. I was losing my form, and the combination of the three
      has given me the ability to change into sand! But why can't I
      change back?"
      "I don't know why, but we're here, so we need to get you inside,"
      Manikin said. "I've worked in the medical profession, this place is
      one of the best hospitals for meta-human-"
      "No, I feel fine," Ryson interrupted. "In fact, I feel better than I
      have in almost a year! And I'm going to use this form to make
      those bastards pay! I'm going after Sirius!"
      "We've been after them for a while," Scione said. "What makes
      you think you'll be able to find them?"
      "You guys know these people?" Ryson looked at them.
      "They are responsible for us joining forces," Manikin answered.
      "Well, I am going to find them, and destroy them!" She looked
      away at the night sky. "Now that I am 'dead,' I have nothing except
      revenge."
      "Why don't you come with us?" Pathway said. "We can at least
      give you a place to stay while you adjust to your condition."
      Angela considered this for a moment. She had no desire to
      become one of these super heroes, she only wanted to find
      Sirius and bury them in a sandy grave. But at the same time, she
      had no options. She had no money, no home, no life. Maybe
      these people could help her regain her humanity, so she could
      regain her life.
      "Thank you," she said. "I guess I will."

      [The Guard Headquarters…]

      Skin walked quickly from the kitchenette back to the office, which
      had become a de facto lounge. His left hand was wrapped
      around a bottle of Cuervo he had found in Arcade's bar. Yeah,
      Stinger was a fine girl, alright. She was tough, but unlike the girls
      of the barrio that he grew up in, she didn't feel the need to try and
      show off her toughness at every moment. They were going to
      have some fun tonight.
      The lounge was empty. He frowned, looked around, and turned
      back towards the kitchenette. As he rounded the corner, he
      heard voices from the common room of the living quarters. As he
      walked in, he saw Stinger and the others standing in a rough
      circle. Skin caught her eye, and she winked at him. "Okay," he
      thought, "the fun is just postponed."
      "This is Dr. Angela Ryson," Scione was saying. "Where is
      Whirlwind?"
      "He's still out on his little date," Skin replied.
      "Okay, it was NOT a date," Whirlwind replied, swirling to a stop
      in the doorway. "And I'm back now."
      "Whirlwind, my name is Dr. Angela Ryson. Your team found me
      at Camp Hero today. My lab was attacked by Sirius."
      Whirlwind's heart sank. He had hoped that Sirius had been
      destroyed in the desert, but knew that that hope was slim at best.
      "She has no place to go, and we offered her sanctuary here,"
      Persuasion said. "With your approval, of course."
      Whirlwind smiled. "Sure, why not? It's not like we don't have the
      extra room. Did you take her to Elm Hill?"
      "I refused treatment. They can't do anything for me. I'm a freak
      now. I just want to find Sirius before they kill someone else."
      "Well, then you can stay here, if you'd like, until we find Sirius."
      "Thanks," Ryson replied. "But I don't want to be any super hero. I
      just want to find Sirius, and stop them."
      "Staying here isn't contingent on you joining us, Dr. Ryson. We're
      here to protect people. It's what we do. We're The Guard."
      Skin's cell beeped, and he looked down at it. The voicemail light
      had lit. He had turned the ringer off, so he and Stinger wouldn't
      be disturbed, and had forgot to turn it back on. He pressed the
      button, and listened to the message.
      "Angelo, hi, it's Warren Worthington III. I wanted to thank you and
      Stinger and the others for your help yesterday. My business
      ventures may take a bit of a hit for a while, but at least all my
      employees are alive thanks to you guys. And speaking of
      business ventures, I'd like to meet with you and Whirlwind to
      discuss a proposition. I see you guys are doing some fine work,
      and I know you could use some help, so I want to get together
      and discuss what kind of P.R. and funding I could provide. Let
      me know, kid. And say hi to Stinger for me."
      Skin smiled, and closed his phone. "Hey guys, get this…."

      [Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky International Airport…]

      Delroy sat in the chairs, awaiting his flight to New York with a
      paper towel crushed in his hands. The final straw had been
      added. On his way back to his home, a group of angry Reds fans
      recognized him and attacked him, hurling whatever was handy at
      him. One had hit him in the face with a large cup of soda. That
      was it. Not only was he done in professional sports, but
      Cincinnati in general. He didn't even bother to pack all his
      belongings. He could come back for them. His family had owned
      a house out on Long Island, maybe Delroy could buy it back from
      the man who had bought it, and he could start over. He looked
      up at the board, waiting for the sign to tell him that deliverance
      was at hand.

      [End]

      Next Issue: [Stinger goes wild! Manikin goes ballistic! And guess
      who's coming to dinner?]

      1. But not Apocalypse himself, who is brewing something in the
      pages of AMU's X-Factor!
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