Issue 1

Prologue

At her small Baltimore apartment shared with her roommate, former acrobat and current dance teacher Elmira "Ellie" Drew Snodgrass receives a letter from her old friend and trapeze partner Romano. He told her to meet him at the Provident Savings Bank of Baltimore. He had gone missing several years earlier, presumably run off with a boyfriend of his, or so Ellie Drew thought.

Exploring the streets of New York for his lost identity, the mutated martial artist known as Penumbra received a summons from a mysterious woman to go to an address in Baltimore, MD where someone with information he was looking for could be found.

At his position at the Pentagon, Sergeant Mark Thompson receives an order to appear at the Provident Savings Bank of Baltimore from his old compatriot Sgt Jack Pfeifer. The thing was, Sgt Pfeifer had been presumed dead for many years.

While investigating leads in the mysterious murder of her father, the daughter of a former ambassador and current street urchin Sheikra received a message through a criminal contact of hers from a long lost friend of her father's, Ajani. She was told that he had information of vital importance to her and that he was holding it in a safety deposit box at the Provident Savings Bank in Baltimore, MD.

Four disconnected mutants, four mysterious summons, all to one singular place in humble Baltimore, Maryland.

The Action

2006 October 16 - Monday

The four of you arrive one by one at the Provident Savings Bank of Baltimore, each not yet knowing the other. Almost immediately after the last of you arrives, a group of heavily armed thugs storms into the building, followed casually by an unarmed man and a woman pair. Their family resemblance is unmistakeable, as is their intention once they announce that they are about to rob the place. When you spring into action, the woman immediately raises her hand and the entire world around you shatters into a kaleidoscope image in front of your eyes. Despite your inability to see clearly, you eventually subdue the thugs and the brother/sister pair who call themselves Rant and Rave.

Epilogue

Rant and Rave are both battered and bruised, with Rave definitely down for the count and Rant not that far behind her. Rant looks like he's about to continue the fight, but suddenly police sirens blare in the distance.

"All right, I give up," he says, seeming downtrodden. Dozens of police cars pull up to the bank. Just as they do, the rest of the ceiling finally gives way in a colossal crash. The police officers approach to apprehend Rant and Rave as the four of you attempt to melt into the bystanders.

This is obviously impossible as several of those bystanders motion energetically in your directions as they give their statements to the officers. All of you start to move into the alleyway next to the bank, as it is the only place without any other bystanders around.

Suddenly, a black limosuine squeals onto the scene. Another black luxury car follows on its heals. The limo stops on the road that the bank is on. The car behind it apparently didn't expect the limo to stop, and nearly rams into it.

The limo door opens and out steps Dr. Michael Swords, the United States Secretary of Extraterrestrial Affairs. Several DXA agents unceremoniously exit the limo and the black luxury car to surround the Secretary. Ever since the Cosmic Wave crashed into the earth over a year ago, his Department has been the President's front line agency to deal with the new Superhuman phenomenon. That means that the Secretary's profile has grown to that of a high ranking person that is in danger of going out in public alone and unprotected.

Dr. Swords doesn't seem to realize that. He looks right towards the four of you as you try to hide in the alley. Confidently, he strides towards you, ignoring the scene of destruction around him. It doesn't even occur to you to flee, so powerful his force of presence is. It wouldn't seem that way at first. Appearing closer to sixty than fifty, with thinning hair going gray, large thick glasses, and a slightly pudgy body, the Secretary could hardly be imposing just with his looks. Somehow, something more seems to surround the man.

"Greetings," he says to you, quite jovially. "I'm sorry for the, uh, distraction. I had not planned for that. I am, however, glad that you came out of the encounter, um, relatively unharmed."

He stops to look at you, as if sizing you up.

"What are you doing here?" Penumbra asks, getting right to the point.

Dr. Swords blinks at the six-foot-four, four armed martial artist. "Why, I'm the one that sent you the letters," he answers, as if that should be obvious.

"I thought Romano sent me the letter," Ellie Drew asks, confused.

By this time, most of the DXA agents had gone to support the efforts of the police officers at the scene of the crime. A handful of others fanned out in front of the alleyway, blocking off access for both civilians and police.

With nobody looking in, the air around Dr. Swords seems to shimmer. Suddenly, it isn't Dr. Swords you are looking at. It's a young effeminite Italian man. In leotards. "You see, my dear," the man who used to be Dr. Swords says, "I am Romano." Ellie Drew looks dumbfounded. He turns to Sergeant Stonewall. His form shimmers again, and this time he looks like a grizzled military man. "And I am Sergeant Pfeifer," he continues. He turns to Sheikra and his form becomes that of an elderly African diplomat. "And Ajani." Finally, he turns to Penumbra, who has all four of his arms crossed across his chest. Dr. Swords' form blurs one more time to reveal someone only slightly taller and thinner than the form you are used to thinking of as Dr. Swords'. "And I don't even know if you remember me, Penumbra. That's what you go by now, isn't it? I was one of your parents' closest friends when you were young. You used to call me 'Uncle Joe'." Penumbra looks mostly unimpressed, but doesn't disappear in a puff of shadow, which says something at least. "I have every intention of helping you find your family again."

Thankfully, the man in front of you turns into the more recognizable form of Dr. Michael Swords, United States Secretary of Extraterrestrial Affairs. He turns towards his limo, as if expecting you to follow. "We've got a lot of work to do," he says. "I wasn't lying to you when I signed those letters with those names. I really was all those people. I still am. I wasn't lying when I said I needed your help, Stonewall and Ellie. I also wasn't lying when I said I could help you, Sheikra. And Penumbra too. Please, for the sake of humanity, follow me."

The four of you look at Dr. Swords, then at each, then all around you. One by one, you shrug, and follow him into his limosuine.

The limousine is amazingly extremely spacious. Except for one DXA agent and the limo driver, Dr. Swords made all the other bodyguards take the other car or stay behind. The limo begins to roll with a low purr of its electric motor. Technology has become so much different since the Grays landed six years ago.

"Wait, what about the security deposit box?" Ellie asks, breaking the silence of the car ride.

Dr. Swords slowly turns his head from looking out the tinted windows at the streets of Baltimore. "Mostly, they were just proof that I was who I said I was, and instructions for how to meet me. You see, I didn't initially plan to meet you at the bank. Think of it as sort of a test. Unfortunately, it turned out to be more of a test than I expected. Thankfully, you all passed with flying colors."

The remainder of the trip passes uneventfully. Finally, you find yourself at a nondescript office building in the middle of Baltimore. "Not exactly what you expected, is it?" Dr. Swords asks, grinning widely as if he made a joke. The Secretary leads you into a freight elevator and pushes a button indicating a floor near the top of the building. The door closes and the elevator lurches upwards.

Sergeant Stonewall, who has been almost completely silent since the battle with Rant and Rave, turns to stare at Dr. Swords. After a moment, Dr. Swords returns the stare. "Are you REALLY Sergeant Pfeifer?" Stonewall finally asks.

Dr. Swords' form becomes that of the grizzled military man again. "Boy, you remember at the military academy, when there was that string of vandalisms around campus? Not nobody could figure out who was causing them. Then, finally, after more than two weeks of it, three boys were finally caught and expelled?" Stonewall nods hesitantly. "Those three boys could never figure out how they got caught, and not nobody else in the school knew how, neither. But you know how, don't you?" Again, Stonewall nodded. "Because you came to Sergeant Pfeifer here, and after swearing me to an oath of secrecy, you confided in me that you knew who the three boys were who were comitting those vandalisms. Not nobody else knew about that. Til now." Stonewall looks simply astounded at the revelation.

"So… you're really Romano, too?" Ellie asks. Dr. Swords' form shifts again to the young effeminite Italian man, and nods. Ellie squeals, and wraps her small arms around the tall but equally thin man. "I thought you'd run away with a boyfriend, and I would never see you again!" Then she looks at him sternly. "Are you really gay?"

Dr. Swords shifts back to his normal form. "I am… a lot of things," he responds cryptically. "Most will be revealed as soon as we… ah, here we are," he announces, and the elevator door opens.

A vast room filled with all manner of gadgets and gizmos appears in front of you. The only light in this windowless room comes from the LEDs and computer screens dotting the floor and tables. The room looks completely devoid of any other person.

Or maybe not. "Techno!" Dr. Swords shouts. "Hey! Techno!". A small, wiry young man peaks out from behind a pile of what appears to be junk. His skin and hair is almost as white as a Nord's. He's definitely spent too much time in this room. His hair goes in every direction all at once, as if he had only recently stuck his finger in an electrical socket. Perhaps he had. His eyes are covered by opaque goggle-like glasses that glint in the false electrical light. He grins stupidly and waves at the four of you. "Ah, there he is," Dr. Swords says. He beckons the young man to come forward. Techno bounds towards you almost like a puppy.

"YessirwhatcanIdoforyou?" He talks like he's permanently over-caffeinated.

"Have you got everything prepared for these four?" Dr. Swords asks.

"Justoneminutesir," Techno replies, and bounds towards the elevator.

Watching the guy go, Dr. Swords shakes his head and laughs. "What a great kid. Absolute prodigy, you know. Even before the Cosmic Wave fused him with his laptop. Now he's permanently halfway in cyberspace, and he thinks about as fast as any CPU you can cook up. It takes such effort for him to slow down enough to talk to us." Dr. Swords ambles over to a stray desk chair sitting in the middle of the floor with no desk in sight. He sits in it and turns towards the four of you, rolling slightly on the chair's wheels. "Now, where were we?" He asks.

"Why not getting to what this is all about?" Sheikra demands. The strain of patience obviously shows on her face.

"Of course, of course," Dr. Swords says, waving his hands as if shooing away an annoying gnat. Then, he settles in for a lengthy explanation. "Now, as you all know, the Grays left planet Earth in what most people these days are calling the Exodus. That happened, what is it, over two years ago now? And many assumed that the Nords went along with them. They thought that the Grays had given up on humanity after the Super War and were leaving them to their own devices." All of you nod knowingly. This is all common knowledge. Why is he bothering to tell you this? "However," he continues, "the reappearance (again) of the Nord named 'Champion' brings a lot of this to doubt. Why would the Grays take all of the Nords, and leave Champion behind? That doesn't make sense." Again, all of you agree, but nobody really gives it much of a thought. The Grays always were hard to understand.

Then, suddenly, Dr. Swords' form shifts again, but not to any person that any of you recognize. However, you all recognize the telltale features: the chiseled marble-like skin. The icy-metallic hair. The dull gray eyes. The being seated before you is a Nord. "And finally," the Nord continues, "there is me. I am not one of the Nords revealed to the humans in the last decade. In fact, none of the other Nords know me, not even Champion. For all they know, I'm just Dr. Michael Swords, head of the DXA." He pauses dramatically. "You see, Champion wasn't actually the first Nord on earth. As far as I can tell, I was. Over five thousand years ago." He stops to let that sink in.

After giving you a few moments to mull that over, he continues. "Most of the Grays that were here these last few years didn't even know what I was. Only some of the highest ranking ones did. Grays have a lifespan similar to humans. Comparatively shorter, in fact. That's why they're so interested in human biology and medicine. And possibly why they created the Nords, as a melding of human and alien. I don't know for certain. That was millenia ago, and none of the Grays around today have any sense of what went on back then. I mean, how much do humans know about what happened five hundred years ago, let alone five thousand? The Grays, despite their advanced technology, aren't much better."

He turns towards Ellie Drew, his head and shoulders becoming that of her old friend Romano. "Five thousand years is a long time. You get a little bored, you know? That's what I meant when I said I'd been… a lot of things." His form reshaped to the Nord's, and continued.

"Something spooked the Grays there at the end of the Super War. Something big. That's, of course, why they left. They left in such a hurry that they didn't tell me. I also know now that they left in such a hurry, they didn't take their pet Nords. That's why Champion is still here."

At this point, Techno returns with an unmarked CD. He puts it into one of the computer drives lying around, humming an odd tune. A picture that looks like a blown up image of a security badge photo appears on the screen.

"Sergeant Thompson here was easy to find, of course. Solid and dependable as always. The rest of you provided a bit of a challenge. Luckily, Techno here was up to it." An image of Ellie Drew comes on the screen. "It wasn't that much harder to locate Ms. Ellie Drew, since she wasn't actively trying to hide."

The image on the screen changed to one of Sheikra caught on a security camera. "Young Juji, so determined and resourceful, but inexperienced. I found her next. I was Ajani when I needed to be away from the limelight of being Dr. Swords but still needed contact with the Grays, and so I got to know you. I'm glad you're still all right. And believe me, now that I've found out what happened to your father, I will do what I can to help you in your investigation."

The next picture shows only blackness. "I actually have no pictures of Penumbra here, which I suppose isn't that surprising. I had to resort to other means to find the elusive shadow. Believe me, when you and your brother were kidnapped by the Ghost Shadows, I tried what I could at the time to recover you. But I was facing a force almost as old as myself, and far more sinister. I fear that they may be involved in the disappearance of the rest of your family as well." The image on the screen changes to one showing a Chinese man swathed in dark fabrics. Penumbra's features immediately go deadly serious. "I do however have this picture. You recognize him, don't you, Penumbra? It's Yao Mo – the Demon. As far as I can tell, he's the head of the Ghost Shadows. He's the one that orchestrated your kidnapping. I have a feeling that, if we work together, we may be able to bring him down."

The screen goes blank, and the Nord that was Dr. Swords stands up from his chair. "I was able to find you, but not the other Nords? Why? I don't know the answer. I'm hoping you could find out. I have complete control over Eon Force, so why don't I use them? I knew each of you personally. I'm just quirky that way. You get that way at my age." For that last sentence he turned back into the more comfortable visage of Dr. Swords. "So, help me out for old times' sake, or help me out and I'll help you out. What do you say?"

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