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
Delroy gaped at his former agent. "Bob," he began, but was
"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
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?"
"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
"And where is this `meeting?' " Stinger nagged, giggling.
Whirlwind was silent, and then looked at her. "We're going to La
"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
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."
"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 turned to Manikin and frowned. "Not at all. But sending
us to do his lackey work while he schmoozes with her makes
"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
"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
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
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.
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
"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?"
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.
"No need to apologize," Whirlwind said, smiling. "Your help is
"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
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
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.
"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
"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
"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
"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.
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!