Sirocco opens her eyes and finds herself in her the Medbay of the Clubhouse. Mercy appears from her office, and hurries over to check Sirocco’s vitals before letting her up. When Sirocco asks, Mercy tells her it is the next morning, and that any dizziness she experiences will wear off over the next hour or two. After making sure that Sirocco is otherwise fine, Mercy lets her out of Medical. Out in the hallway, she sees Proteus, out of costume, sipping a cup of coffee, with Gargoyle behind him with a bag of chips. Both are staring into the Briefing Room, watching something. As Sirocco shuffles down the hall, and peers through the windows of the room, she sees Doppler is shuffling madly though folders and papers, scattered about on the Briefing table, and reviewing maps of the city on the screen.
“What’s he doing?” She asks.
“Not sure.” Proteus replies, before sipping his coffee.
“I think he’s researching the Minute Men, but we don’t know.” Gargoyle responds, a tone of worry in his voice.
“Why haven’t you asked him?” Sirocco asks, bewildered.
Proteus looks at her, then takes a step into the Briefing Room, turning to face her as he does so. He opens his mouth, speaking the words “this is why”, but no sound comes out. He steps back out of the room, and the silenced area.
“Tech thinks he’s been in there all night.” Gargoyle adds.
“I tried to get his attention earlier when I came in. He lowered the zone of silence, but started giving me some inane rambling about the location of the attacks in parallel to the sign of trimarxes and the Minute Men’s clear association with…”He looks at Gargoyle for help with the term. “…Heberan?”
“Haberashan, I think.”
Proteus shrugs and sips his drink once more. “I left him in there at that point, thought he might wear himself out. That was an hour ago though.”
Sirocco gives a groan of disapproval, and marches into the room. She picks up a handful of papers that Doppler is reviewing, which immediately grabs his attention. He looks up at her and goes to speak, then realizes that the sound barrier is up. He concentrates a moment, and lets it drop, then speaks to her brusquely.
“Give those back. I need them.”
“No. You need sleep.” She throws the papers on the desk, scattering other pages. She grabs him by the shoulders and begins to turn him, pushing him out of the room, despite his protests. As she pushes him past Gargoyle and Proteus, both smiling, she shakes her head in disapproval at them before continuing to push Doppler down the hall.
As Proteus turns to leave, Gargoyle catches his attention. “Hey, um, Proteus? I was wondering if we could talk?”
“Of course Gargoyle. What can I do for you?”
Gargoyle looks nervous, but continues speaking, fidgeting with his tail. “So, you know Glitch left, right? Well, I was thinking, that maybe with her gone, you guys had a spot on the team free.”
Proteus nods slowly, sensing where this is going. “Yes, that’s true.”
“Well, I was wondering if you had anyone in mind to fill it yet?”
“No, not really. I haven’t really put much thought in to it yet.” He eyes Gargoyle carefully, then looks around to make sure they are alone in the hall. Gently he takes Gargoyle by the elbow and moves both of them closer to a wall and whispers to him. “You haven’t had another dream, have you?”
Gargoyle looks confused. “What? Oh, no.” He shakes his head emphatically. “No, I was thinking that maybe… well, I was hoping that I could maybe…. fill… in?”
Proteus relaxes then looks at Gargoyle with some hesitancy. “Have you spoken with your father about this?”
“Not exactly.” Gargoyle shrugs, then begins to shrink under the stern gaze that Proteus is now giving him. “Or… at all. But I’ve been working hard in the Training Room. And my flying has gotten better, and I’m really good with a bow. And I was thinking that maybe you could talk to my dad for me?” He tries to smile, but the muzzle only seems to make it look like a sneer.
Proteus takes a deep breath and sighs heavily. “Well, Sukis has said that he trusts me in decisions around the team. I’ll talk to him about it, but for the moment, it’s a tentative yes.”
Gargoyle fist pumps excitedly. “Yes! This is gonna be awesome.”
“But!” Proteus interrupts the exclamations. “You disobey once, and I’ll bench you. I can’t be giving warnings out in the field.”
“You won’t. I mean I will. Absolutely!”
Proteus nods towards the engineering bay across the hall. “Go check in with Ron and make sure you have a suit ready. If this ‘Hatemonger’ shows up again, we need to leave at a moment’s notice.”
Gargoyle nods excitedly. He scrambles off to find Ron, and Proteus watches the lad leave.
The scene cuts the interior of an abandoned church. Slivers of light filter in through broken stained-glass windows, and long white sheets spray painted with the logo of the Anti-Mutant League hang from old construction scaffolding. Meanwhile a collection of League members are gathered around the pulpit where Hatemonger stands giving a speech.
“My friends, yesterday we showed this city that no one is safe while mutants walk our streets. Now, they act as police! Now they threaten to use their powers in acts of unlawful, unregulated violence. The media may not be showing the sand monster that the so-called Protectors are harboring, but we all saw with our own eyes. Not even they could control the creature. How are we supposed to feel safer with these *things* protecting us?” The crowd before him cheers as Hatemonger continues. “Tonight, we bring this fight to Bowden Island itself. Tonight we strike at the heart of where these abominations call home, and we *will* show the world the real danger these creatures are.” An even louder cheer erupts, and this time, as they raise their arms to shout, they reveal the torches and blunt instruments in their hands. Hatemonger continues with his speech as a voice-over to the following action:
The camera cuts to a reporter’s desk where she finds an envelope. She opens it and a sliver of paper with an intersection on Bowden Island typed onto it along with a time.
“The Protectors will show up. They will show up and we will be ready. Our allies in the media will be waiting,”
The camera cuts once more to a group of men and women, some mutants, others human, who are coming out of a ‘town meeting’ at a community center. One of the men points down the street, and immediately, several others move past the man, who smiles with dark satisfaction.
“And our allies embedded on the island will harness the crowd to action.”
The camera cuts back to Hatemonger, who is grinning with rage.
“Tonight, there will finally be *true* justice for these mutants! Tonight we will show them the truth!”
The scene cuts to Tech sitting in front of his screens and work-space. He sighs as he cycles through screens looking for some sign of Hatemonger, or other action. Doppler enters in from behind, carrying a cup of tea, and looking slightly groggy from his long nap. “Any news?” He asks softly.
Tech shakes his head, frustration obvious on his face. “Nope. Nothing. It’s like this guy just disappeared.” He spins in his chair to face Doppler. “You know Proteus’ drone idea is starting to look pretty good right now.”
Suddenly, one of the monitors beeps, and catches the attention of both men. Tech swings back around, and pulls the alert up to the main screen. It shows a small mob of people over street corner security cam. The men are armed with weapons and torches, and appear to be marching. The camera zooms in slightly to the man in the front, and the resolution clears slightly.
“Hatemonger?” Doppler asks, moving in closer to the monitors. He reaches up and covers his mouth, whispering something.
“Yeah. We better call the others.” Tech answers, reaching for the alert button for the team.
“Already done.” Doppler says with a smile.
The scene cuts to Proteus and Sirocco sparring in the Training Room, when Doppler’s voice manifests in Proteus’ ear. “Hatemonger’s back. Better get to the monitor room.”
Proteus blink, then looks to Sirocco. She is scowling with displeasure, then rubs her ears, as though there was something in it.
“Did you-?” She starts, but Proteus cuts her off.
“Yeah, we better get up there.” They both hurry out.
As they both rush into the Monitor Room, Gargoyle is already there, dressed in his leather Protector’s outfit. Proteus looks at him and nods, then moves over next to Tech.
“Looks like they’re doing a march down Bowden Street.” Tech explains.
“What? Are they insane?” Proteus exclaims.
Tech raises an eyebrow, then nods slowly. “I think the answer is probably a hard ‘yes’.”
“Point.” Proteus nods, then looks back to the screen. “We have to get out there now before this gets someone starts wrecking things.”
“I can fly you out there.” Sirocco pipes up. She narrows her eyes and flexes her knuckles. “I have been looking forward to rematch.”
“You can’t carry both of us.” Proteus objects. “And driving will take too long.” He looks over at Gargoyle, who sees his gaze and stands at attention. “Can you carry Doppler?”
Proteus hesitates, then nods and looks to the others. “Let’s suit up and get out there.”
The scene changes to Bowden Island at night. The main street is lined with tenements and apartments with some commercial space on the ground floors. The shops are all closed up, and a variety of older model cars are parked along the outer lanes of the streets. The AML members march loudly down the street, brandishing their lit torches, and weapons, along with signs on wooden poles. The marchers are on the edge of frenzy, as Hatemonger leads them on.
Nearby, Proteus and Sirocco land on a rooftop, observing from above, while Gargoyle, with Doppler on his back, lands on the building opposite.
“What’s the plan here?” Doppler asks over the radio.
“Doppler, you and Gargoyle get back in the air, and try and contain them from there. Doppler, I want you to pop a Silence Bubble around them, Gargoyle, use your bow if necessary, and keep Doppler out of harm’s way.”
Doppler grabs hold of Gargoyle’s back as they both acknowledge their orders, and return to the sky again.
“What about me?” Sirocco asks, a mix of apprehension and excitement in her voice.
“I want you to come down on the other side of the street. I’m coming down on this one, and we’ll flank the outer ones. I want you focus on the minions, and let me deal with ‘Hatemonger’.” Sirocco nods, and flies across to the other side of the street. Getting a nod from Proteus to engage, she lowers herself to the ground, while Proteus leaps down, absorbing the kinetic energy of the fall to power himself.
They land without a sound, and each quickly take out one of the anti-mutant protesters thanks to Doppler’s bubble. However, Hatemonger has prepared for this, and quickly realizes the quiet that has engulfed he and his men. Using hand signals, he gestures to the others, and they quickly form up in a ring around him, brandishing their signs and torches.
Not wasting any time, Sirocco coalesces her sand into a block and strikes one man across the face, before using the same sand to then encase another man’s head and haul him across the hood of one of the cars. The impact knocks the man limp. Meanwhile, Proteus has advanced on the circle, his attention set on Hatemonger. Two men try and attack him, but he discharges the kinetic energy he saved and with a touch to each of them, sends them flying away in either direction. Confidently, he strides forward. As another henchman moves forward to swing, he is struck down by an arrow from Gargoyle. The camera cuts to Gargoyle and Doppler in the air, and Gargoyle is clearly having trouble staying aloft with Doppler on his back, and managing to use his bow.
“I can’t keep flying and shooting with you on my back.” He exclaims.
Doppler points down to the street. “Set me down there.”
As the two land, the camera pans back down the street. Sirocco has encased another henchmen in sand and gravel, and is furiously smashing a second with a block of compacted sand. The camera continues past her to Proteus and Hatemonger are taking swings and deftly dodging each other. They trade several swings then Proteus lets one land on his chest, but instead of taking any damage, he uses the chance to suck all the kinetic energy out of the attack, and then draws enough out of Hatemonger to paralyze the man. Hatemonger grunts several times as he tries to move, then narrows his eyes fiercely at Proteus, who shakes his head, then shakes it again. Sirocco looks over and recognizes the rage-inducing effect on her team mate, and cries out to him. As Proteus begins to clutch at his head, trying to fight back building anger, Hatemonger’s paralysis begins to wear off. Sirocco whips up a small sand cloud under her and charges across the street, lifting herself up and over Hatemonger, and landing in front of the team leader. He lifts his head, his attention focused squarely on Hatemonger, but Sirocco grabs hold of him, gripping him tightly in a hug.
“NO!” She screams. “You can’t! You can’t let him fill you with hate! You can’t let him win!” Proteus looks down at her sharply, then shakes his head again, clutching at his helmet.
Behind Sirocco, Hatemonger flexes his arms, now free of Proteus’ effect. He storms towards the two of them, and Proteus lifts his, straining against his emotions. A hard punch to the head knocks Proteus aside, and Sirocco turns around, determined to not let herself get out of control again. Hatemonger gives her a predatory smile, and she begins feels her hatred beginning to swell again, but this time instead of the terrifying protest in Cairo, when she closes her eyes, she sees her mother’s face, comforting her, and calming her as a child. She opens her eyes, and they gleam with defiance now, as she returns Hatemonger’s smile. “Not today. Not again.”
Hatemonger reaches back to swing at her, but his fist is caught by Proteus, who has now also shaken off the effect.
Nearby, Gargoyle and Doppler have landed and are fighting off the other minions, when a collection of voices catch Doppler’s ears. Looking behind him down the street, he sees a mob of people, armed with their own tools and furious at the protesters.
“Guys, we’ve got a problem. It looks like some of the residents have banded together into a mob.” He strains his hearing, trying to get more information, then abruptly changes the direction of his focus, looking back in the direction of where Hatemonger and his rioters had previously come from. There, a little over a block away, he sees a news camera crew filming the fight. “…and we have reports now too.”
“We have Hatemonger. You two try and disperse the mob approaching.” Proteus replies over the comm.
As he says this, several of the previously unconscious rioters get up, and pull out zippos. Each runs to a different nearby vehicle and prys open the gas tank cover, tossing the lit flames into the tanks and running for cover. Sirocco sees one of them, and immediately tries to cover the vehicle in a sand bubble, muting the explosion.
As Doppler turns to face the marching residents, Gargoyle sees another of the rioters drop his lighter, and he turns to grab Doppler. The car explodes throwing debris everywhere as the two tumble to the ground.
The camera shifts to Doppler’s shoulder as the two are lying on the ground. Doppler looks up to Gargoyle, who is laying on top of him, blinking and wide-eyed.
“Gargoyle!” he exclaims. “Are you alright?”
Gargoyle blinks several times at Doppler, as though he is trying to make him come into focus. “I…dunno. I feel kind of…cold.”
The camera switches to a top view, and pans down Gargoyle’s back, revealing several large pieces of glass and metal embedded in his lower back. Underneath him, Doppler struggles to roll his friend off him, who tumbles to the side. He sees the shrapnel and immediately calls for help.
Proteus, still keeping his hold on Hatemonger looks over with concern. He looks back to Hatemonger, obviously caught in the dilemma of releasing the villain to help his friend, or holding Hatemonger and hoping for help from another source. Looking back to Hatemonger, he sees the man concentrating hard in the direction of the residents.
The mob of residents see the explosion and begin running forward, shouting and jeering as Hatemonger’s rioters scramble to their feet and charge towards the residents. He releases Hatemonger, then taps his comm. “Sirocco, get him out of here!”
A swirl of glass and sand encase Hatemonger, save for his head, and Sirocco takes to the air with him, landing on a nearby rooftop face down in the block of glass. As she turns to leave, he calls back to her.
“You’re too late! Now they’ll all see how dangerous you are!”
Sirocco pauses, then looks over her shoulder. “No. Today they see we are Protectors.”
The camera cuts to street level where the rioters have come face to face with the residents. Several of the residents have rushed to Gargoyle’s side to help with first aid, while the others brawl with the rioters. Finally, one of the residents engaged in the fighting get struck across the face by a rioter,sending him to his knees. The resident twists back to face the assailant, his eyes now glowing a bright orange. He screams at the rioter who struck him, who is now backing away, and a large blast of bright orange energy streams from the resident’s face. It knocks back the rioter, then obliterates the upper half of him and continues on. Everyone ducks as the blast flies overhead, striking the top corner suite of an apartment building. Part of the wall to the suite crumbles in, and the suite catches on fire. Police fire truck sirens are already sounding in the distance, and the violent and lethal blast seems to have shocked the fight out of everyone. The resident responsible for the blast stands up and stares in horror at what he’s done, and turning to flee he steps right in front of Doppler, who grips his shoulder tightly and shakes his head. The man hangs his head and nods, obviously filled with regret, and remorse.
Sirocco arrives on the ground and falls in line with Proteus who is approaching the building on fire. Without even looking back to her, he starts his next directive to her. “We have to get people out before that fire-”
Suddenly, the burning unit explodes out and up. The sound of ammo firing fills the air, and everyone ducks down once again, afraid of being struck by the stray bullets.
Across the street and several buildings over The Mysterious Man, garbed in a mockup of Blackjack’s costume, watches with a wry, pleased smile on his face. “There really isn’t anything prettier than a well placed explosion, is there.” The camera turns slightly, revealing that he is on the same roof as Hatemonger. He turns to face Hatemonger, and speaks with a tone of disappointment.
“Well, enough watching for now. We still have so much work to do.”
Reaching into his pocket, the Mysterious Man places a stocking over his head, obscuring his features. He pulls out a phone and turns to Hatemonger, who is now struggling against the glass prison. “Let’s get started shall we?”
The camera cuts to black as Hatemonger shouts and screams to be let go.