“Did you get anything useful from that computer, Ben?” asked an anxious Amanda Waller. She paced back and forth in her office, talking loudly to the speaker-phone on her desk.
Ben Turner, the Bronze Dragon, was camped out in a trailer ten miles from Brother Andrew’s compound. “Nothing useful for taking them down, though I do have information on some financial backers. I’ve stored that in our main computer banks for future reference. But one of the guys down here was able to tap into their main phone system. We had a couple of outside lines tapped, but now we have their internal communications as well. Mostly the usual stuff that goes with running a big encampment, but I have a couple of messages referring to something that some of them call ‘the angel,’ and others call the ‘big-headed monster.’ I don’t know what to make of those.”
“See if you can correlate it to something. We only have two days from what Kirk told us. Copy the tapes you have so far and send them up here via courier. I’ll have the lab here check them out.”
“Will do, chief.”
“Thanks, Ben. Waller out.” She tapped the disconnect button on the phone and sat down. Crushing her cigarette out in an ashtray, she turned to her own terminal. This was connected to the second most powerful anti-crime computer in the world. She started checking references for large-headed criminals.
“Andrew, you have a pair of meta-humans in your midst.”
“How can that be, my Lord? Surely we would have found them out by now.”
“Their powers are most subtle. They may not even be aware they possess them. This could be most providential.”
“Do you know who they are, O Mighty One?”
“Yes. Bring Paul King and Sam Wilson down here first thing in the morning.”
On Saturday morning, Al Rufus rounded up the disguised Manhunter and Deathstroke. “I knew there weren’t something right about you boys. Brother Andrew wants you down in his office. Now!” He waved the automatic rifle at them to get them moving.
Brother Andrew met them outside of his office. “Not in here, brothers. Al, thank you. I’ll handle them from here.”
“Are you sure, Brother Andrew? I could come along if you want.” Andrew shook his head, surprised that his initial order had not been followed without hesitation. He then pulled a pistol from his belt and took charge of the now-captive meta-humans. “After you, gentlemen. Down those steps, if you please.”
The steps led down two levels into an unused storage area. All was dark, except for one area that was walled off with heavy curtains. He directed them to that section. As they walked, he spoke. “You are being honored, boys. The angel Hector doesn’t talk to just anybody, but he asked for you. He’ll probably tell you things about yourselves that you never dreamed of.” He paused for a second, remembering his first experience. “He sure did with me.”
“Sounds like it was better than sex,” sneered the disguised Slade Wilson. He was rewarded with a rifle butt to the head. His combination of keen hearing and fast reflexes saved him from most of the impact, and he was already spinning to grab the weapon. Beside him, the genetically enhanced clone of the original Manhunter dropped low to kick Brother Andrew’s legs out from under him.
The command was not heard but felt in the mind. Manhunter and Deathstroke turned and looked into the curtained alcove. Within was a vision from a nightmare.
“You’re Brother Andrew’s angel?” asked an unbelieving Manhunter. “I know you from the files. You fought Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad late last year. (*) And, of course, you and Green Lantern have fought several times over the years.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: Suicide Mission.]
“Yes, but I’ve managed to avoid his notice thus far. And I discovered that he and the rest of his accursed Justice League have been asked to attend a banquet in Aquaman’s realm of Atlantis today, so they will not even be aware when I unleash Brother Andrew’s army on a helpless Washington, D.C.”
“Paul, who — or what — is that monstrosity?”
“He was an ordinary man once who exchanged his mobility for a hundredfold increase of mental power. Sam, the angel behind the Church of Determined Spirit is Hector Hammond, one of the most powerful telepaths on the planet.”
“Most glorious brethren of the Church of the Determined Spirit, the day has arrived! Today we shall go forth and spread the word of the new redemption to all the world! Today shall we bring down the hell-spawned government of the unbelievers and install our own system of government, one based upon the holy directives of God himself, revealed to me through his angel!”
Brother Andrew raised his hands up to the heavens. Each sentence was greeted with a roar of approval from his followers, a thunderous sound that echoed across the open fields around the compound. For some of these men, it was the first time they had been above ground in many weeks, and their relief at escaping the confines of the underground complex just fueled their enthusiasm for their leader’s message. Near the back of the crowd, however, two figures struggled to feign support as they worried about their missing comrades.
“Where the hell are Kirk and Wilson?” muttered Floyd Dalton under his breath. “Boomer and I can’t carry this out by ourselves.”
George Harkness, the Australian Captain Boomerang, watched for any sign of suspicion among those around them. So far he had spotted none, so he edged closer to Dalton.
“Doesn’t look like they’ll show. I don’t know what happened to them, but we’ve got to bring this freak show to a halt. How’re you fixed for armament, mate?” he whispered.
“You mean a weapon? I rigged a crossbow from some of those struts we were working with yesterday. The parts are under my shirt. I’ll need about two minutes to assemble it.”
“How about arrows for it?”
“You mean bolts? I’ve got a dozen steel rods taped around each leg. Not too accurate, but enough to shakes things up. How about you?”
“Got a half-dozen ‘rangs taped around me chest. That, and the control for the podium.”
“Figure we’ll blow that first.” Deadshot grinned as he contemplated the odds. “Then, when all hell breaks loose, we’ll see how much of this mob we can put down.”
“You both possess above-average minds, so you should be able to appreciate the events that are to unfold today.”
It was Paul Kirk who reacted to the unsolicited compliment. “Above-average minds? What are you talking about?” Like his companion, Slade Wilson, Kirk sat in a rigid metal chair, bound tightly at the wrists, ankles, waist, and neck. Once awakened by Hector Hammond, Brother Andrew had tied them up while Hammond held them in his psionic grip.
“Surely, Manhunter, you must acknowledge that the, uh, enhancements introduced into your physiology by the geneticists of the Council have made you a form of Hominus Superior. Your reflexes, your cognitive abilities, your ability to assimilate new languages and skills all set you apart from the rabble of humanity. I daresay that is why a startling number of your brother clones have shown an annoying propensity for turning to the side of the so-called heroes of your world.”
“You mean there are more than one of you running around?” said a startled Slade Wilson.
“That is what he would have you believe, Terminator. His claim to be the same Manhunter who served with Captain Comet in the Secret Society of Super-Villains is false. That particular clone died a noble death opposing the galactic despot known as Darkseid. This one found out about the deeds and death of his ‘brother’ from one of those who witnessed the events and has been posing as that same being.”
Wilson turned to the Manhunter. “Is this true?”
The clone of Paul Kirk hung his head. “It is. I was at a small Council outpost in New Zealand when their island headquarters was destroyed. I took the opportunity to eliminate the other operatives there and remained there alone for many years. It was only when one of the former Society members took refuge there for a few months that I found out about the other clone. So I came to the U.S., claiming I was he. Harkness even vouched for me, and he told me about the Meta-Human Rehabilitation Agency.”
“You know what? They may give you a hard time about it when we get back to headquarters, but as far as I’m concerned, you are the Manhunter.” Wilson’s eyes held a hard glint.
“When we get back? You have a miracle hidden on you somewhere?”
“Not exactly.” With that, Deathstroke worked his jaw back and forth, then spat a small capsule onto the hard stone floor at Hammond’s immobile feet.
On his podium, Brother Andrew glanced at his watch and prepared to wrap up his sermon.
“The moment is upon us, brethren. Within the hour, we will start our march to glory. To clear the path for us, the angel of the Lord shall draw upon our strength, our determination, our very will, to hurl these–” Andrew paused to gesture behind him as two members of his elite guard pulled tarps off a stack of barrels. “–at the nation’s capitol. When they strike, the nerve gas within will spread for miles. The assembled Senate, House of Representatives, and the President and Vice-President, shall be brought down at a single stroke, powered by the will of the people! The will of the Chosen! They shall be brought down by the Determined Spirit itself!”
The roar of the assembled throng was louder than it had been before. As Andrew exhorted them all to concentrate on throwing the barrels across half a country, the noise reached a fevered pitch. Then, just as Andrew felt the power of all those focused minds swelling, Captain Boomerang touched a button on a small box hung from his belt. Without warning, the section of the platform on which Brother Andrew stood cut loose, and he flew high into the air and over the outer fence of the compound. This was followed by the muffled sound of an explosion somewhere below them.
“Sweet Jesus, Boomer! How much force did you rig that for?!” exclaimed Deadshot as he hastily assembled his makeshift crossbow.
“How should I know, bloke? I was working without instruments, with unknown materials, and under a damned bloody rush, to boot. But what the hell — it worked, didn’t it?” Captain Boomerang reached under his shirt and pulled the first of several ordinary boomerangs out. “Now, let’s cause a little chaos, and see if we can’t break up this party, eh?”
“Best idea I’ve heard in weeks.” Deadshot pulled a steel rod from the elastic band around his calf, fitted in his crossbow, and fired. Before it reached the guard by the gas barrels, he was already loading another and seeking his next target.
In the confusion following Brother Andrew’s unexpected departure, most of his followers had no idea what they were supposed to do next. The sudden flurry of primitive weaponry in their midst, along with the return fire of semi-automatic rifles, scattered the crowd. Several ran for the edges of the compound, unable to cope with the sudden loss of their leader. Others attempted to join in the fight, but didn’t know exactly who they were fighting against. Many followed the shouted orders of Deadshot and Boomerang, turning on the higher-ranking guards of the church.
The explosion that had followed the launching of Brother Andrew had nothing to do with the events occurring above the compound. It had come from the capsule launched by Deathstroke the Terminator. It struck the base of Hector Hammond’s life-support chair, destroying part of its delicate circuitry. It thrust the chairs holding Deathstroke and Manhunter back into the darkness of the storage bay. On their sides, they struggled to loosen their bonds. It was Deathstroke who escaped first. He spared a glance for their foe, who appeared to be unconscious and half-buried in rubble.
“Go ahead, Wilson. After that blast, this place is likely to either collapse or be overrun with Andrew’s followers any second. You’ve got a better chance of getting out of here if you go now. I’ll work myself loose and try to catch up.”
“The hell you will. Hammond was right about one thing — you’re thinking too much like the damn heroes.” Wilson bent down and snapped Manhunter’s bonds. “And it must be catching, too. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
“We’ll call for help with him,” said Manhunter, indicating the paralyzed psychic. “Headquarters should be able to find someone who can handle him. Speaking of which, how did you manage that little stunt?”
“Look, you don’t run up against a team with a resident empath like Raven without learning how to shield your thoughts and emotions. I spent six months working with a Pakistani mystic to build up my defenses. As for the nitro capsule, that’s part of my standard tool kit.”
“If that’s standard, I’d hate to see what you consider unusual.” Wilson glanced over to see a grin splitting Kirk’s craggy features.
They worked their way up to the top level and stopped short as they saw a small group advancing toward them. They were just about to try heading back the way they came when Deathstroke recognized the duo leading the charge.
“Harper! Dawson!” he yelled, remembering to use his teammates’ cover names. “What’s going on?”
“All hell’s breaking loose! I just raised the Tiger — he’s bringing the ‘copter in! Come on!”
As the team ran back out into daylight, they spotted a large black helicopter bearing for them. Kirk gave Boomerang a puzzled look as the larger group continued to follow them.
“I told the Wall that we had some unexpected help who could use a lift out of here. I guess she agreed.”
A week after the events at Brother Andrew’s compound, the members of the Task Force X team were gathered around a table at the Meta-Human Rehabilitation Agency.
“All in all, gentlemen, this first mission was a success. Brother Andrew was located several hundred feet outside of the compound.” Amanda Waller favored Captain Boomerang with a withering look. “He will recover, though he may never walk without canes. Considering the method used to take him out of the picture, we’re lucky he didn’t disappear in the confusion.”
“Bloody hell. It’s not like we went in with much to work with. I thought the whole idea was that we had to improvise.”
“Yes, Boomer, and it did succeed.”
“What about Hector Hammond?” asked Slade Wilson. “He was the real problem.”
“Yes, well, we requested aid from the Justice League through the United Nations, and they recovered him from the wreckage of the compound. I guess the bosses of the Green Lantern Corps have disappeared since the Crisis, so I’m not really sure where they took him. It isn’t on Earth, though.”
“Amanda? If you don’t mind my butting in, what about the followers?” asked Rick Flag, who had been watching the proceedings. “Don’t they pose a serious risk?”
“Well, nobody wants to put a thousand citizens into the Federal Penal system. Besides, I think the civil rights folks would come down on us with a claim of religious discrimination if we did. Except for a few who we could charge on criminal counts, the rest have been sent home. Nobody says you have to like it, but there it is.”