In which our heroes go public…

Over the next month or so, Leonard, Jim, and Vance — in disguise as Magnificent Man, The Detective, and Bulletproof, respectively — fielded thousands of potential candidates from around the state. They saw the strangest of abilities and powers. Some were super-human, others just crazy talents or skills. A wide variety of people showed interest in putting their gifts to use, but in the end, the three founding members of The Valor Society chose five others to join their ranks.

Vanessa Merlot made the cut, of course, and no one was entirely sure that she hadn’t swung opinion in her favor. She was an incredibly powerful and seductive woman, a bit of a loose cannon. But her knowledge of Rapid City’s upper-crust underpinnings vastly exceeding expectation. She attended private parties not even Leonard was invited to, knew the sorts of deeds the aristocracy had their rich little fingers in, had slept with countless people whose loyalty could be counted on. She was a female James Bond, sweet car and all.

Next there was Walter Green, the young man with x-ray vision, who possessed a genuine smile and a sort of wide-eyed optimism Leonard admired and had all but forgotten in himself. Walter also brought in a buddy from school, a junior named Judd Eyvindr. He was a bit cockier than Walt, but was amiable enough, and was determined by a couple of Jim’s tests to have almost no mass. He was solid, surely, but unconstrained by the worries of weight or gravity, so much so that if he focused right, he could float on the wind like a feather. It was no wonder he was the captain of the swim team; the kid could move like lightening. Leonard liked the idea of having another flyer on the team, and so Judd made the cut as well.

Then there was Vance’s vigilante, Renegade. Already an established presence by the moniker, Renegade refused to give his real name. He was a typical biker dude, dressed from head to toe in leather, with long black hair pulled into a ponytail. Tied around his head was a black mask that covered his eyes down to the tip of his nose. He was a sour dude at first blush, independent. But he seemed willing to give this team thing a try.

“Bulletproof invited me,” he said during his tight-lipped interview, shrugging. “I’d go anywhere with that big, black bastard. He’s a Southy. One of us.”

Then there was the actress Alexa Con, who came in weighed down by a large hat, big sunglasses, and a fur overcoat, two burly bodyguards flanking her. She introduced herself — though she really needed no introduction — and after seeing there was no press or public present, proceeded to show Leonard, Jim, and Vance her true colors. She told the group that her real name was Alexis Bell and that when she was ten years old she discovered that she could change her shape into any person she encounters. To prove it, the slender blonde bombshell, America’s newest sweetheart, provided a demonstration.

Before the panels eyes, Alexa’s entire body shifted and changed, molding and remolding, like clay kneaded by a potter.

When the brief process was over, Alexa Bell now looked exactly like Magnificent Man, orange suit and all. Everyone was blown away by her abilities. She made the team without question.

The team now assembled, Leonard worked out the details of naming and costuming each new member, including Jim and Vance who had never been properly uniformed. Leonard would describe what he was looking for, and Jim would draw them up. It was a fun process, actually, like being kids again, creating worlds and heroes in their minds. Jim, of course, was on cloud nine, able to stretch his sketch legs.

When all was said and done the team was as follows:

The team made its debut on a Friday afternoon, at a press conference on the steps of city hall. They stood dutifully in line, shiny new costumes hardly broke in. Renegade looked the most uncomfortable, standing there in brand new leathers, camera flashes popping off around him and an eighty-degree sun overhead. He leaned over to Jim, who stood next to him, and spoke through his fake smile.

“What the hell was wrong with my old jacket?” he asked under his breath. ”I love that jacket.”

Jim waved to the press as they took their photos. “You can wear that dirty old thing whenever you want, except for today. Today is special.” Jim looked at him from the corner of his eyes. “But don’t ditch the mask. I’ve installed some neat gadgets in that mask.”

“I look like a raccoon in this mask.”

“Well you looked like Zorro before, and you’re no Zorro. Besides, I know how much you like to eat garbage.”

Renegade bit the inside of his cheek, felt his fists clench. “You’re lucky there’s an audience, four-eyes.”

Jim chuckled, his mouth hid beneath his own mask, his expression unseen by the crowd. “Sticks and stones, Renny.”

But before the ribbing could escalate into something more severe, Mayor Morning took the podium. The gathered press took their seats; the shutterbugs slinked out of view; the general public lined the sidewalks and streets and filled the entire block.

Morning tapped the microphone and was rewarded with a howl of feedback. The audience groaned, but the Mayor just chuckled.

“Gee, you might think I would know how to do this by now.”

The audience laughed, forgiving their fearless leader, and the press conference was under way.

Leonard listened as the Mayor introduced the team and laid out The Valor Society’s plans for the city. Leonard breathed it in — the sun on his skin, the citizens of Rapid City gathered around, the new chapter of his life opening wide for the world to see. He had never felt like himself standing in front of a crowd as Magnificent Man. But all that washed away in the light of that day. He was himself, living out his calling, on his way to finally making a difference.

Leonard Kennedy finally felt whole.

When the press conference was over, the team, flanked by Mayor Morning, was invited to a luncheon at Bigg Industries. Located in the heart of downtown, Bigg Industries’ corporate headquarters stood taller than any other building in Rapid City, a shiny glass and steel obelisk longing for the heavens; a man-made monument to the god of capitalism.

From the banquet hall window of the twenty-ninth floor, Renegade looked out on the city below and audibly scoffed.

“Talk about your ivory tower,” he muttered to himself. He had never wanted anything to do with these corporate pricks and now he found himself a guest of honor at one of their silly soirées. Renegade spit out the toothpick he was chewing on and returned to staring out the window.

“You mind picking that up?” ask Magnificent Man as he approached. “We are guests, you know.”

Renegade rolled his eyes. “Sure thing, Captain,” and he bent to retrieve the toothpick. As he stood, he spotted a nearby waitress, her skirt too short and her blonde hair pulled back too tight. He whistled for her attention.

The waitress arrived, two lone mimosas on her tray. Renegade helped himself to both before Mag — if he had wanted one in the first place — could partake. He downed them hastily and bit on the sweet-sour taste of it.

“Damn, who the hell actually likes these things?” he asked no one, not caring about the answer.

Magnificent Man shook his head, a smile hinting at the corner of his mouth. “You know why you’re here, don’t you?”

Renegade looked at him. “Because I foolishly listened to Vance about your little help wanted ad?”

“Because you’ve been staring out this window for the last half hour. Your mind is there, in Southtown, even now. It’s a testament to your character.”

Renegade rolled his shoulder, uncomfortable with the compliment. “Yea, well, we could be doing some real good finally and here we are sipping on noon-day cocktails and twiddling our thumbs.”

“This is just a special day,” said Mag.

Renegade laughed. “Yea, people keep telling me that.”

“It won’t always be like this,” said Mag, chuckling himself, “I promise. Just a day of rubbing elbows, greasing palms. A little bit of diplomacy with people like Stanis Bigg can go a long way.”

Renegade nodded. “Spoken like a true politician.” Mag looked at him then, hard, but Renegade just smiled and raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Don’t worry, cowboy, your secret’s safe with me.”

“How’d you find out?”

“I’m a Southy, remember? We know everything.” And he winked at the big man in orange. Mag just slapped the man good-naturedly on the shoulder.

“You should’ve been a cop, Renegade,” and he started to walk away.

Renegade called out after him. “Who says I’m not?”

Mag smiled as he left his leather-clad comrade behind. “That guy’s is something else,” he commented to himself.

“Who’s that? Renegade?”

Leonard looked up to see Stanis Bigg approaching. “I like the guy. He’s got a lot of fire in him, you can tell.” Stanis shook Magnificent’s hand. “Plus, who doesn’t wanna ride around on a motorcycle all night.”

Mag nodded. “Nice work if you can get.”

Stanis agreed with a smile, then shifted the subject to diplomacy. “Thank you so much for accepting my invitation. It’s great to finally meet you.”

“Likewise,” replied Magnificent. “Thank you for having us.”

Stanis was a tall man, as tall as Leonard, and he carried himself with exceeding confidence. He was a man of power as well, though of a different sort than Magnificent. Stanis Bigg had social power. Leonard respected that. He knew from experience that such power could come in useful.

Stanis adjusted his tie. “So what do you — “ But before the conversation could continue, a commotion came from the doorway.

Magnificent spun to see the doors burst open. A man in a black suit — head of security, from the looks of it — came toppling through the doorway, tossed inside like a kid might toss a newspaper onto a front step. The man who had evidently done the tossing came storming in after him, his face red and his eyes wild. He was on the short side but stocky, built like an ox, his huge arms etched with purple veins.

Only, they weren’t purple… they were silver. Metallic.

In his meaty paw his held a metal hatchet.

The crowd of party-goers fell silent, stunned by the man’s sudden entrance.

Before anyone could say or do anything, the man opened his maw and bellowed.

“Magnificent Man?”

Mag caught the man’s eyes, saw the recognition flare therein, saw the twisted rictus erupt on his face.

“You and I need to talk!”

to be continue next week…

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