Issue 1, chapter 1: First Impressions
Each of the men standing in the little room received a mysterious note over the past couple of weeks with only a location and a time on. The note has an official-looking government header, but other than that, there was no further information.
Although suspicious, each of the motly crew had their individual reasons for hoping that this wasn't a hoax. Now gathered in the unremarkable flat above a small shop, at the time specified, they are greeted by two people. One of them, a stern, buzz cut-sporting man, confident in a dark suit and standing at ease with his hands clasped behind his back, the other a young woman with white hair tied into a pony tail, wearing cargo trousers and some band tee-shirt with a punky looking logo. Her hands are wrapped in dark biker-style gloves. She's sitting lazily in the alcove of the room's window, looking out onto the street.
The man looks at each of the assemblage in turn and says,
"Good. I hadn't expected so many. Now I'm sure you're wondering who I am, and why you've been summoned here. There will be time for you to ask questions at the end of this briefing. I am Colonel James Piker, and this here is Switchboard." He gestures towards the woman.
"Hey" she says brightly, with a smile.
He continues, "I'm sure you're aware that the reputation of costumed vigilantes and masked 'heroes' isn't at the highest point it's ever been."
Everyone gathered is painfully aware of how hard it has been to keep trying to fight the good fight in the light of recent legal battles between heroes and non-heroes over damage to the cities, and to their people, whose tolerance for caped crusades has plummeted over the last couple of months.
"There are members of this government who believe that we could benefit from having a few more heroes around. The public needs to see that too. Lord knows the rate of super-crime is on the up, and non-powered law enforcement just don't have the resources to cope.
"You have been summoned here because you each possess unique gifts and abilities that can help further this cause. The Death's Head gang, a group of low-life thugs, junkies and dealers, have been causing an unusually high volume of chaos around the city. Usually these punks are brought in for vandalism and petty theft, but over the last two weeks they've stepped up their game. Arson, burglary, assaults, muggings and even a link to a murder. We need to know why. We've had no luck getting anyone on the inside, and being a CI in the Death's Head is a suicide mission for them.
"This is where you step in. We need information and we have none. Take to the streets and find a group of Death's Heads. Find out what they're up to. I'm confident you can handle it." He pauses briefly, before changing tack.
"Now. Introductions: You met Switchboard earlier; her talent is for communication." The woman stands up, takes her gloves off and says,
"Alright?" She has a disarming air about her as she moves across the room, shaking hands with each man in turn. Each man, except Piker, who she's clearly already met.
"That's better" she says, but this time, her lips don't move. Each man looks around, uncertain as to whether or not anyone else heard the voice. From the looks on everyone else's faces, it's evident that all present have heard. "It only works if we've had physical contact. They call me Switchboard 'cos I can connect people like this. If you need to communicate with anyone else in your team, but you're not nearby, just call out to me with your thoughts and let me know who you need. I'll hear, don't worry. I'm a walking conference call. It's not the coolest power in the world, but if it helps beat the bad guys, then it's all cool by me. It also means I don't get punched in the face by super bad dudes, so you know, bonus!" She winks.
The unusual cohort briefly introduces themselves: Rough Justice goes first; a tough looking man who seems disinterested in what the rest of the group have to say. Then comes Cass: his full first name is too long for anyone to catch – he's clearly not from round here; he's a tall man, and an intense face peers from above an out-of-date suit. Next up is Fade: a mysterious and quietly powerful man, who appears unwilling to divulge too much personal information. Tracer is next to introduce himself, tooled up to the teeth with useful looking gadgets and assorted items. Finally, Sledgehammer, a giant of a man whose sheer bulk seems matched by his lack of intellect, offers a gargantuan handshake by way of introduction.
"You won't find it too hard to find members of the Death's Head", Piker states, "they're not organised enough to have a uniform, but they all sport the skull motif in one way or another, which should be enough to track down some of them."
Piker radios for a large vehicle to transport the group to the rougher side of town, but Rough Justice has already left on his motorbike. Cass fixes his gaze on Piker and asks why Switchboard is needed when they clearly have access to radio communication.
"Two reasons", says Piker. "One, there's a lot of interference in the area you're headed, making traditional comms an unreliable choice. Two, stealth: you don't need to say a word to be heard, and you can relay messages to each other and back here."
Seemingly content with this explanation for now, the group fall back to an awkward silence, and presently a large black Hummer-style car pulls up outside, and those men still left in the room bundle in. As they travel through town, the state of the streets begin to deteriorate; boarded up windows, junkies and thugs skulking in back alleys, and a fearful law-abiding populous hurring on their way with single-minded purpose. Shortly, the driver pulls up at the side of the road, telling the group he can't go any further, that they can handle it from here.
As Rough Justice makes his way through town on his bike, he too notices the quality of living around the area dip, and as he cruises through the back-streets looking for sign of the gang, he hears a commotion coming from an alley.
A thug wearing a leather jacket emblazoned with a white skull has got a man pinned by the shoulders to the wall of the alley, whilst a second, mohawked thug lands punch after punch into the victim's torso.
"You ladies wanna play?" calls Rough Justice into the alley.
As Fade, Tracer, Cass and Sledgehammer walk through the streets, they pass surprisingly few people. Those they do pass, avoid eye contact and hurry past with a nervousness which is infectious. They pass an empty basketball court, and a few more derelict buildings, without incident.
"I'm going see if I can get a get a better view…" says Fade, and promptly disappears. "…from up here", he continues from the top of a nearby building. A smoky purple and black residue in the rough form of Fade curls and dissipates from where he previously stood. As Fade surveys the surrounding area from his new vantage point, he hears a commotion from a nearby alley, followed by the words,
"You ladies wanna play?"
"Over there", Fade calls to the others on the ground, pointing to the alley, before disappearing again.
"BAD GUYS", thunders Sledgehammer, before running towards the alley with a speed that belies his bulky mass. Tracer and Cass look at each other briefly, before sprinting after the huge man.
Rough Justice swings for both thugs at once, dazing Leather Jacket with the force of his blow, but Mohawk is ready for him, and dodges out the way. The thug's victory is short-lived, as Fade coalesces into being behind him, and grabs the thug and begins to suffocate him. Sledgehammer skids into the alley, and barely slowing pace, launches a fist into the Leather Jacket's stomach, launching him backwards into a nearby dumpster. He slumps, unconscious, into the dent his body has made in the bin.
All at once, Tracer and Cass turn into the alley and four more Death's Head burst from a door leading into the alley. One of the new arrivals is taller and more muscular than the others, wearing a skull-motif bandanna and carrying an air of cockiness absent from the smaller thugs. He takes up position behind the others, shouting at his apparent subordinates, urging them on into the fight.
Two of the thugs, one with a shaved head and goatie, and the other sporting corn-rows and dark glasses pull pistols out from their trousers and each lets off a shot, one at Rough Justice, and one at Sledgehammer. Neither shot finds its mark, the gun-wielders aiming too wildly in the heat of the moment. Rough Justice rolls out of the way and tenses briefly before launching himself at the three goons in an attempt to take out more than one of them at once. He misjudges slightly as Goatie takes the full force of the punch, and staggers backwards dazed and nearly stumbling to the ground. The other two thugs flinch but the punch never makes it as far as them.
Meanwhile, Fade has started to emit more of the mysterious purple-and-black smoke, surrounding himself and the Mohawk-thug, whose attempts to escape Fade's grasp are noticeably weakened by whatever it is that the smoke is doing to him.
Sledgehammer, offended by being shot at, bellows "NO SHOOT IF NO ARM" and launches himself at Corn Rows, grabbing the arm holding the gun, and pulling it clean away from the thug's body. Corn Rows screams before he flickers out of conciousness, collapsing to the floor with a spasm.
The thugs recoil in horror at the fate that has befallen their comrade, their faces disclosing the fear that now sweeps through them.
The third thug, a squat man wearing a leather jacket over the top of a skull-teeshirt and jeans, squeals and pulls his own gun out, firing a shot at Tracer, who doesn't even have to dodge, the squat thug easily missing in his panic. Tracer retaliates by throwing his bolas at the man, but he misjudges the throw and the bolas lands wide.
The man in the suit, Cass, still stands at the edge of the alley, watching the scene unfold with calculating eyes, while Fade still suffocates the weakened Mohawk thug, who is still struggling, but his movements have gotten less frantic as the man slips towards unconsciousness.
Sledgehammer, who has just dodged a shot from the Bandanna-wearing ringleader, bounds over to the man and delivers a mighty clap to the sides of his head. The ringleader, thick-muscled though he is, doesn't stand a chance, crumpling under the blow, his eyes rolling back into his head as he falls to the floor.
With the ringleader down, the team quickly dispatch Goatie and the squat thug, leaving Fade's struggling victim the only conscious member of their cohort.
"Switchboard, can you connect me to Piker?", vocalises fade internally, feeling silly, half expecting her to not reply.
"Sorry, buddy he's not down with the whole mental communication thing, but he's here, what do you need?", comes the reply in Switchboard's voice, as clear as if they were right next to each other.
"Do you want us to send back these goons for interrogation?"
After a pause, Fade hears Switchboard's voice again. "No can do Fade, sorry. Something about plausible deniability. You're on your own with the Spanish Inquisition act".
"Looks like it's up to us to get this info ourselves." Fade relays to the rest of the group, and then tightens his grip on the Mohawk thug. "Where is the Death's Heads' base of operations?", he demands of his captive.
"I… I'm not telling you anything" protests the Mohawk, weakly.
"Allow me", Intones Cass calmly, stepping over the unconscious bodies strewn about the alley to the two men. Fixing his steely glare on the thug, Cass reaches forward mentally, prying into the man's consciousness, compelling the man to comply, comply, comply.
The Mohawk thug stops struggling, and becomes calm, and lucid. "Where is your gang's base?", repeats Cass.
"It's at the courts" the thug calmly articulates.
"Which courts?" Asks Tracer, before adding to the rest of the team "It could be law courts, tennis courts… we need specifics!"
The thug replies, "The basketball courts, but nobody will be there now."
Good enough for me, says Fade, allowing his grip on the now-still thug to render him unconscious. Fade unceremoniously drops the Mohawk thug to the floor, as Rough Justice enters the building previously occupied by their failed ambushers…