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The !mpact of the Shields

Unfinished fan fiction. Works in progress.

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Post Tue Dec 18, 2018 2:58 pm
JoeSewell User avatar
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The !mpact of the Shields
Prologue & Chapter 1

[Author's Note: my first exposure to the Shield & the Crusaders was DC's !mpact line. I've learned so much about the rich history since that time, but this version remains my favorite. So much potential story was dropped when the imprint died. I'd like to fanfic it forward. Obviously no copyright infringement is intended, etc.]

Prologue:

The mysterious Shield was a star-spangled crime fighter in the 50’s and 60’s. Protected by an amazing suit of armor, the red-haired champion fought the good fight, until the day he lost confidence in what he was fighting for. Each victory became emptier and emptier, until one day the armor showed up, just as empty. Acquired by the government, even the best scientists and engineers couldn’t figure out how the suit worked.

So they remade it as best they could. Still bulletproof, still powerful with a force field enhancing both strength and protection, General Marion Higgins chose the man he thought best for the job: his son, Joe Higgins. The job, though, was to be manipulated into field testing the armor in exchange for a reduction in rank and protection from a court-martial he didn’t deserve. Eventually, Joe became known to the public as the new Shield, and he also realized he had to fight his father. With the help of the mysterious Roger DeLeihs, owner of a large security firm, and other enemies of General Higgins, Joe was found not guilty of all charges except stealing the armor. Rescued by DeLeihs, who was actually the original Shield and the brother of General Higgins, Joe Higgins left the military with an honorable discharge, replacing his prototype armor for a new one modeled after the original. General Higgins manages to escape to parts unknown.

The next person to wear the Shield armor created by the military was Michael Steven Barnes, a former candidate for testing the armor. He ran through numerous practice sessions for his first mission, a rescue of a scientist in enemy territory. His commanding officers, though, were skeptical of Barnes’ ability to handle the mission, so they requested help from Higgins and DeLeihs. In the process, Barnes’ helicopter is shot down. The two senior Shields find Barnes’ helmet among the remains. They carry out the rescue mission, though DeLeihs’ copter is also damaged.

Subsequent to this, Higgins disappears with the rest of the Mighty Crusaders, a team of heroes and operatives who disbanded after one of their own goes insane. As they leave their headquarters, they are teleported elsewhere, not to be seen again for 8 years. Meanwhile, Barnes is discovered barely alive, his body broken, burned, and battered. The discovery of a room-temperature semiconductor allows the military to enhance the Shield rig, allowing Barnes full mobility again. His face now covered and fake hair on top, the new American Shield fights with and against an operation involving the Crucible, an outpost outside of time that allows a secret cabal to manipulate events in the world. The Crucible is destroyed as Higgins returns to Earth, his rig more than a bit worse for the wear.

One vision showed the two Shields joining together as a new crime-fighting force for hire. With the Crucible gone and history repairing itself, though, who can tell what did happen, and what didn’t

Chapter 1: The First Impact
The dimly-lit stillness of the warehouse was broken by flashlight beams scanning the area. In spite of the place being a warehouse, the floors and walls were surprisingly barren. In one corner boxes of chemicals, alloys, and components sat opened, their contents rummaged and raided by their owners or those who wished to be their owners. The hooded holders of the flashlights checked the labels on the boxes, matched them with lists each one carried, and passed by them. We don’t need the parts, they thought. We need the final product.

The thieves skittered about the warehouse floor like two-legged insects, hunched and ready for flight. Box after box, palette after palette was searched and abandoned. A hushed voice alerted the rest of the crew. “Hey, this might be it.” The human insects skittered toward the voice, which belonged to one of them standing at the entrance to an alcove. A nearby sign showed the simple letters “RTS.” The leader of the thieves agreed that this was the most likely target.

The insect-thieves entered the alcove, their lights quickly scanning the area. “It’s empty!” one exclaimed.

“Not quite,” came an annoying loud voice from the corner.

The flashlights all aimed toward the voice, revealing a red, white, and blue costume that was recognized immediately by the malefactors. They were discovered by one of the new heroes, the American Shield.

The thieves returned to their insect-like behavior, except this time they were neither quiet nor organized. Some attempted to flee the alcove. Others replaced their flashlights with pistols, the flash of the barrels replacing the lights formerly in their hands. Still others tried to search for boxes of the treasure for which they were sent.

None of them escaped the flurry of motion that followed. Their bullets bouncing off of the patriotic-themed armor and its famous force field, the gunners were the first ones taken out by bursts of energy fired from white gauntlets. A blue cape distracted others trying to aim at what appeared to be a mop of blonde hair on the hero’s head, hoping that to be the one weak spot in an otherwise covered face. It wasn’t.

A short time later, after the would-be thieves are rounded up and tied up in a corner, the Shield tapped a star on his blue collar. “Headquarters, this is the Shield. More RTS customers, of the five-finger discount variety, ready to be picked up.”

“Copy that, Shield,” came a reply through his helmet. “Opening a door for you to return home.”

The thieves jerk a bit as a loud whine preceded a blinding light, through which the caped hero walked. They knew they’d be picked up by a similar crew, though they hoped it wouldn’t be the dreaded Web Centurions they had heard about.

Post Tue Dec 18, 2018 3:01 pm
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The Impact of the Shields
Chapter 2: The Impact of the Crucible

Cables and white-coat-wearing scientists swarmed around the immobile American Shield. Each tech noted several various readings to the others.

“Well, is the rig still OK?” asked a frail man seated nearby, with mere strands of singed hair and scarred & seared skin.

“All seems well, Michael,” responded the lead technician as he peered into the empty eye holes of the Shield armor, the only indication that its wearer was, indeed, not inside. “Did you notice any anomalies during your last run?”

“No, everything seemed perfect,” the frail Barnes replied. “I’m just…”

“Concerned about the rig’s room-temperature superconductors,” came the response from the other side of the room. Tanaka, Barnes’ boss and main tech guru, knew of the concerns. Even though Barnes’ first mission in the armor nearly killed him, it was now his only hope of unhindered mobility. Without the armor of the American Shield, Barnes needed two crutches just to get around. Tanaka knew Barnes was still a bit embarrassed about returning home to his lovely wife using them, but the rig had to be maintained.

The Room-Temperature Superconductor, or RTS for short, was the “discovery” of Jeremiah Jordan, a genius who appeared shortly after the Mighty Crusaders, including the second Shield, had disappeared. When Barnes, Higgins, and the other heroes discovered Jordan was actually Will Marcus, one of the time travelers who had tried to use the mysterious Crucible to bend history to their own will, they took steps to ensure that Jordan was stopped. In so doing, though, Jordan had been erased from the timestream as the Crucible was destroyed.

The fallout of that event was still felt. For some reason, some existing RTS units survived and remained fully functional, while others began to fail. In the 8 years from the time Jordan introduced his miracle discovery to the day of his disappearance, the room-temperature superconductors had, as Barnes himself once put it, enhanced all sorts of technology, from ATMs and appliances to his own Shield armor. The armor’s units, as well as their backup modules in storage, continued to work as if nothing had happened. Many banks, on the other hand, needed to return to “antique” technology using simple electronics.

The strangest effect of Jordan’s disappearance, though, showed in the inability to produce new room-temperature superconductors. Even though the formula was well-known and well-published, any attempt to produce new units resulted in blobs of standard conductors. Perhaps some law of science had been broken, and the Crucible’s destruction had reset that law. Perhaps Jordan knew something he didn’t publish, though that didn’t explain the ability of other manufacturers to produce the units. Whatever the reason, the surviving functional room-temperature semiconductors fetched a high price on any market.

Barnes knew that the factory raid he stopped earlier involved common thieves looking for functional RTS units or the magic secret behind creating them anew. What puzzled him was a concerted effort from certain countries in obtaining the units, specifically the type of units used on his own armor. The thieves refused to divulge the identity of their leader or the destination of the stolen units.

Post Tue Dec 18, 2018 3:09 pm
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The Impact of the Shields
Chapter 3: Second Impact

The storage facility was once again silent and presumed empty. The heavy footfalls, though, indicated otherwise. Unlike the previous invaders, though, one set of feet were heard. A beam of light emitted from his chest, searching the area. The individual knelt down to examine what appeared to be little more than sand or dirt on the floor. He obtained a sample, then moved on. The beam’s spectrum caused certain areas to shine brighter than others, revealing that this was more than a mere flashlight.

The mystery man continued, inspecting the storage area in detail, though with a manner that almost seemed to resemble familiarity. As before, the shelves and tables were empty, except for one table in an alcove. The contents of the container seemed of lesser importance than an examination of the security system in the area. The intruder had disabled the system, of course, though he knew there were backup systems. His inspection of the systems also showed some familiarity with them.

As before, a high-pitched whine and a glowing portal announced the arrival of the room’s security chief: the American Shield. Unlike the previous incident, though, no surprised reaction showed in the invader’s stance or manner.

“Again with the robbery? Didn’t you guys get enough of nothing the first time?”

“Don’t worry, Mike. It’s only me, Joe.”

The American Shield shined his own light at the voice. Instead of the black-garbed thief he had expected, he saw a tall, muscular man dressed in red, white, and blue, a variation of his own armor. The dark hair with ponytail behind the partial helmet confirmed his thoughts.

“Joe Higgins! What the heck are you doing?”

“Let’s go back to your base and catch up. I hope that box doesn’t contain real Room-Temperature Superconductors.”

“They’re part of a dead batch, unrecoverable like all the others.”

“Let’s get them to safety. But first…” Higgins touched a stud on his armor. “The security system will come back online once we’ve gone back through the portal.” Retrieving the container of unusable components, the two patriotic-clad men returned through the teleportation area.

In the headquarters, Michael Barnes recalled some of their shared history. Joseph Higgins had been the man to wear his armor first. The rig had been engineered to act like that of the first man to be called The Shield. An operative during the Korean conflict, that Shield disappeared, leaving behind most, but not all, of his armor; he chose to retain a key component to make reverse engineering the suit virtually impossible. As a result, the Army’s attempt to recreate the design had to include some original designs, and more than a few compromises. The story behind Higgins’ test run, his decision to go AWOL with the rig, and his rescue by the original Shield was quite familiar to Barnes, as he had been not only one of the potential wearers of the rig, but also one of the team assigned to hunt down Higgins and “bring him to justice.” That justice, as it turned out, was dispensed to his father, General Marion Higgins, who had manipulated his son from the start.

“So, Joe,” Michael commented, “you decided to return to the old design? Didn’t like the heater shield being on your arm?”

“Not really,” responded Joe. “It tended to get in the way. There were times I wished I could just throw it at someone, like a weapon. Or a Frisbee.”

Tanaka took note of that comment. “We had considered giving Mike an energy blaster that would shoot plasma discs, but he chose the original armament, enhanced by the RTS devices, of course.”

“You seem to be getting around well, Mike. I take it yours are still working?”

“So far. I keep having the scientists check out the ones in the armor and the spares, and they seem to show no signs of the degradation found in the other units.”

“Actually,” Joe interjected, “that’s part of the reason I was inspecting the storage room. Part of it was official business, of course, since you guys hired DeLeihs Security to install the security system in there. Thankfully we didn’t use any RTS’s. I knew you had kept a stockpile of them in there, though, and I had hoped to find a clue to the thieves.”

“They seemed to be ordinary crooks, probably trying to get operational units for the black market.”

“I thought as much, too, but I found something interesting. The thieves left behind some sand with some unique materials in it.”

“What kind of ‘unique materials’?”

“I’ll give you guys the details, but several other robberies show that these guys come from an area in the Middle Eastern desert region. I’m not sure why they’d want RTS units, since they never adopted them anyhow, but DeLeihs Security and a few other companies have reported break-ins involving warehouses that hold them.”

“Did they get any?”

“A few groups got some units that were already degrading, and we know that making new ones doesn’t happen anymore. I’m wondering, though, if there’s more to it.”

“What does Roger think?”

Higgins paused for a moment, breathed a heavy sigh. “Roger disappeared again during the 8 years the Crusaders were stuck on that alien planet. This time he took his own rig, but I haven’t been able to locate it or him. Since I was family, and he had drawn up the papers while I was gone, DeLeihs Security is now mine. I’ve tried to be busy keeping that place going, but I also decided to recreate the armor he and I had designed when you took over for the Army.”

“I’m sorry, Joe. I know he was your uncle. I’ll see what people on my end can do.”

“Thanks, Mike, but you know Roger. He hid from my dad and the Army for decades. He can do it again.”

Tanaka returned from his call and announced a discovery. “We have some fairly good coordinates based on the analysis of that sand sample you gave us. It might be a little rough, since it had been contaminated by the dirt on the floor, but it might give you a lead, Mr. Higgins.”

“Call me Joe.” Higgins glanced at the report. “This is where our research had indicated, though you’ve got a tighter focus on it. Any recon?”

“Technically that’s classified,” replied Tanaka, “but I’ve already gotten authorization for you.” Tanaka pressed some keys on a nearby keyboard to bring up a variety of information on the map showing on the wall screen next to the assemblage. “We’ve noted some activity in the area shown, but they seem to have enough know-how to keep hidden from satellite reconnaissance and radar runs. We had the Air Force fly a Joint STARS mission or three as near to the area as we can. One of the planes took a hit. We had to tell the contractor and the press that it was a refueling accident, but it wasn’t.”

“What was it, then?”

“It was a small … missile is the best we can call it. It did minimal damage, little enough for the bird to land safely, but enough to cause them to boneyard it. We also suspect sabotage in the field.”

“Sounds like a good excuse to travel,” Barnes crowed. “My armor should allow movement even with all that sand, right?”

“Of course.”

“I want to come along too, Mike,” said Joe. “I’ve been tracking these guys for a while. I’ve got an interest in it, too.”

Barnes made no reply, though both Higgins and Tanaka noted the silence.

Post Tue Dec 18, 2018 8:23 pm
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The Impact of the Shields
Chapter 4: Impact Crater


The sands of the desert rarely remain still. If lizards don’t scurry by or scavenging birds swoop down on the scurrying lizards, the winds can stir up sand storms, even dry tornadoes of sand. Rarely, though, do the desert dunes succumb to a teleportation portal opening up in their midst, dropping off two red, white, and blue clad men in their midst.

“Where did the recon say that strange place was?”

“Over this way, Joe.”

Higgins caught Barnes’ shortness, and understood to a point. Even though it had been 8 years since Michael Stephen Barnes had taken over his old armor from him — the armor he had stolen from the military — Higgins still understood that Barnes had lost out to him to be the first wearer of the rig that mimicked the suit worn by the original Shield. They all knew that Higgins had been chosen so that his father, Marion, could continue to wield tight control over his son to avoid being tried for a crime for which the general had framed him. What Joe Higgins did not know, though, was that the mysterious Roger DeLeihs was not only the missing Shield of the Korean War, but also his uncle, Roger Higgins.

Then again, on Barnes’ first mission as the new Shield, his superiors were uncertain he could perform the rescue mission for which his abilities were needed. Higgins and his uncle witnessed his helicopter crash, leaving all aboard seemingly dead. Higgins didn’t know until later that Barnes had survived, barely, and that his rig had to be updated with the new Room-Temperature Superconductor technology that allowed him freedom of movement again as long as he wore the armor. By that time, though, another use of the RTS devices would be used against Higgins and his partners in the fledgling Mighty Crusaders, sending them off to an alien planet for 8 long years, fending for themselves as they matured, mutated, or just cobbled things together until they worked. Only after they were rescued did Higgins find out Barnes was still alive, that the inventor of the teleportation “doors” and the RTS tech was behind their exile, and that all of time was in jeopardy due to the Crucible.

Higgins had hoped all that was behind both men, especially since they had discussed a partnership together. Was it really Roger’s second disappearance leading Higgins into taking charge of DeLeihs Security that ended that deal? Or was it something more between the two of them?

It didn’t matter now, Higgins thought. We’re still both soldiers at heart, and we’re on a mission to see what’s going on in the former neighborhood of the likes of Osama Bin Laden and Sadaam Hussein.

Quickly but quietly the two men approached what intelligence had indicated was unusual activity in this hot desert. Higgins’ dark hair made the environment slightly uncomfortable, but the environmental controls in his newer-model rig compensated quite well. He knew that both his armor and Barnes’ were insulated from both climatic temperature extremes and the sand. Higgins found additional proof of that on the alien planet, and made sure his newer suit would be up to the unwanted possibility of a “next time.” He assumed Barnes’ condition would require similar updates to his old rig.

“I think I found something, Joe,” Barnes’ voice came over their shared headpiece radio system. Higgins approached, and used the vision enhancers added to his own headpiece to zoom into the darkened patch of sand ahead. Higgins knew Barnes had done the same thing, since he fitted his headpiece with the same technology before they left.

The “dark spot” was level with the surrounding sand, though from the ground an even darker area showed up. The spot appeared more like a hidden entrance to an underground bunker to the Shields’ enhanced vision. A few guards in desert camouflage could be seen near that entrance, but no other activity. No other markings were visible on the part of the bunker not covered by sand. The pair continued observation for a minute, when they saw a bunker door open and a curiously clad figure emerge. His garb resembled a colorful costume, intriguingly similar to their own, but with green and black where they had blue. The chest had a shield with two crescents surrounding a star and sword; additional stars were nearby. Otherwise the outfit closely resembled the original pattern of the armor now worn by Barnes.

“I’m going to try to get a closer look, Joe.” Before Higgins could respond, Barnes was on the move, swift but silent, stirring up as little dust and sand as possible. Higgins acknowledged that the cape added to the armor did help keep such a trail from being noticed. Turning back to the bunker, though, he thought he saw the man look toward Barnes’ general direction before racing in the general direction.

Higgins was about to raise his partner on their shared radio when his ears were filled with a high-pitched squeal. That shouldn’t happen, thought Higgins, unless … unless they know what frequency they used.

Higgins chose to run after Barnes, noticing a second cloud vectoring to the same destination. Higgins wondered how this newcomer could run so fast. Before he could think further, though, he noticed the newcomer fighting Barnes. Accelerating his own steps in spite of the sand, he raced to the fight, only to have the mystery man leap up, then landing behind Higgins, pulling his ponytail down in the process.

The two Shields turned toward their attacker, who announced in a moderate Middle Eastern accent:

“I am Operative: Desert Shield. You are the prisoners of the Major of the Dunes.”

[Design of Operative: Desert Shield by the author and Jay Piscopo]
Image

Post Wed Jan 02, 2019 11:06 pm
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The Impact of the Shields
Chapter 5: Impacted Sand

The two heroes stared for a second at the newcomer. He appeared to be a Middle Eastern version of themselves. He was definitely strong and swift, and it even seemed that his suit — if that, indeed, bestowed his abilities to him, as their own rigs did to them — may be adapted to the sandy environment they found themselves in.

“Who is this ‘Major of the Dunes?’”

“Prisoners are allowed no questions. You are required to obey.”

Barnes pointed to his stars-and-stripes and yelled, “This is what we obey!” More than merely demonstrating his loyalty, though, the motion activated Barnes’ enhanced force field. Powered by the Room-Temperature Superconductor technology that seemed to bless Barnes alone, a wall of almost invisible force projects from the front of his Shield outfit, tossing the Desert Shield a few dozen meters backward.

“We really need a tech exchange discussion sometime, Mikey.”

“You’ll have to take it up with the brass. You’re not persona non gratis anymore, but it’s still their design work.”

Before the banter could continue, Operative: Desert Shield was back on his feet and moving away from them. Higgins indicated that he would investigate the bunker while Barnes agreed to keep their newfound counterpart otherwise occupied.

Barnes sprung into action, managing to land near his green-and-red-clad opponent in spite of the launch from shifting sands. While the landing was not so near as to tackle the Middle Eastern man, he stopped and turned, ready to face his American version head on. Barnes noticed that Desert Shield turned his force field to maximum, giving him an advantage in strength and defense. Barnes projected his enhanced force field again, but this time into the sand beneath Desert Shield. Desert Shield stumbled, obviously not completely ready for this upgrade added after the accident.

Barnes’ mind wandered back to that day. General Regal, his commanding officer, had indicated doubts regarding Barnes’ ability to complete the rescue mission. The exercise had him continuing to risk his own life and that of his fellows in the rescue helicopter even though the target had been “killed” … or at least by simulated gunfire. Barnes had overheard that Regal had contacted Higgins and his uncle to shadow him on the mission. Barnes resented the lack of confidence, but was later grateful for their presence, as without them the weapon that brought down his own helicopter would’ve killed him, even with his armor. The damage left him physically impaired without the armor, but he managed to fight on for his family and his country. The “discovery” of the Room-Temperature Superconductor technology allowed his new tech unit to upgrade the armor to allow him freedom of movement, enhanced abilities, and even fake blonde hair on top.

The RTS technology was valuable to many, which caused a panic when they all began to fail after Jeremiah Jordan was revealed as one of the masters of the mysterious Crucible. It seemed that time was somehow correcting itself, removing the future technology before it was ready. Only Barnes’ own devices, along with the space-warping device known as the “doors,” continued to operate at peak efficiency.

Higgins noted that the RTS technology also figured into the plans of those who created and occupied the bunker. He had made short work, of course, of the unarmored guards defending the main entrance, and had started his recon inside. Although he had been tempted to use the RTS technology to repair the armor he had lived with for 8 years on the alien planet to which Jordan had sent him and his fellow Crusaders via the “door” mechanism provided them, he chose instead to rebuild the upgraded armor based on his uncle’s original Shield designs. He never asked, though, from where he got those.

Higgins understood Barnes’ resentment of him, or at least he liked to think so. He had imagined the two of them joining forces after the Crucible incident, going into business together. When he discovered that his uncle had disappeared, as he had done at the end of the Korean conflict, he realized that DeLeihs Security still needed a leader. That had to be him.

Higgins’ reverie was cut short by the sight of an unusual device in a room he examined. It appeared to be an upgraded force field, much as he imagined Barnes’ armor contained. Unlike Barnes’ force field generator, this one was completely non-functional, its RTS components as dead as every other such component. What shook Higgins a bit, though, was the generator’s design. It resembled the chest plate of the original Shield armor.

Higgins was now familiar with the design of the original rig and the chest plate Roger had not included in the delivery of his armor to the military and General Marion Higgins. Roger knew that his brother would attempt to reverse-engineer the armor without success, as the chest plate was a vital component in its operation. A similar plate powered Higgins’ own rig now. But how did these people know about it?

Higgins was again interrupted by soldiers for this Major of the Dunes. Grabbing both chest plate and force field generator, he plowed through the hail of bullets, using the convenient plate as a shield in itself. He chose not to adopt full-head protection, but times like this made him wonder if enhancing the force field around the open portions of the headpiece might be a wise idea. Vocalizing “reconned” into his radio, knowing full well the enemy was still tuned in, Higgins made for the door location, hoping Barnes would follow.

Barnes did indeed follow, having left his foe dazed but functional. Before Operative: Desert Shield could respond, Barnes triggered the door and the two heroes lept through it, the portal closing behind them.

Back at base, Tanaka examined the devices Higgins had delivered. “Indeed, this is very much like the enhancements we developed for the American Shield armor. Both are logical extensions of the version made for the original armor.”

“I remember it well,” Higgins responded. “Too bad it doesn’t work.”

“What do you mean, Joe? It works just fine,” Tanaka said with surprise.

“I mean the ruined RTS components. I noticed they were as dead as almost every other one.”

“No. They work just as well as our own.”

Higgins and Barnes both closed in on the display in front of Tanaka. It did indeed show, to their surprise, that the RTS components operated perfectly in both the force field generator and the chest plate.

“How could this be,” Barnes inquired. “Ours are the only ones still functioning.”

“And they were, Mike, until we brought them back through the door.”

Barnes and Tanaka stared at Higgins for a moment, then their jaws dropped simultaneously.

“The door may somehow heal the RTS ‘rot’ you see in everything else. Since both are Crucible technology, maybe somehow they work together, restoring one another.”

“We’ll have to run some tests to confirm that, but I believe you’re right.”

“Just the force field generator, though. Sorry, but until I find Roger, I’d like to keep the chest plate for examination.”

Barnes bristled, and Tanaka sighed, but both agreed to the deal.

“I just hope we can track down this Major of the Dunes and Desert Shield again. I doubt they’ll keep that base operational for very long.”

Back at the bunker, the last of the equipment stored there was indeed loaded into trucks. Operative: Desert Shield stood before a screen showing a silhouette. “You failed to take down either of those two,” came the electronically garbled voice. “I am disappointed in you, Operative. Do I need to put someone else in that rig?”

“No, Major,” replied Desert Shield. “I was a fool to underestimate their enhanced powers. I will be ready next time.”

Post Sat Feb 02, 2019 12:05 am
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The Impact of the Shields
Chapter 6: Low Impact Day


“Daddy!”

Barnes loved spending days with his “girls:” his wife, Sharon, and his daughter, Becky. Becky was growing up so quickly. Even though she didn’t understand completely what her father’s job was all about, she welcomed his time home. Michael didn’t try to overdo things anymore; even though his armor still kept him going, he still felt twinges of pain when he tried to keep up with his young lady.

Sharon noticed it, too, and remained concerned about him. She probably had good reason, even before the accident, but he did wish she would relax a bit. Then again, maybe it had to do with the fact that they couldn’t have another child without adopting. His job didn’t lend itself to being a good candidate for a foster father, or even adoption. His physical condition was a concern even when they tried to see if adoption was a possibility.

The “twinges,” as he came to call them, would likely worry Sharon more if he told her what was going on. Some of them were obviously the result of his injuries in the crash, and he knew he would have to live with them for the rest of his life. It was the other kind, though, that would likely worry her more. These were closer to migraines, but the doctors couldn’t find any neurological evidence of migraines. Everything checked out, in fact. His rig monitored his vitals constantly. Some of the upgrades afforded him by the advanced technology of the Room-Temperature Superconductors also allowed some subvocalization commands to features like his pressure field. They weren’t quite ready to try full mental control, but his helmet monitored his brain function as well, just in case.

Thankfully the headaches and other discomforts occurred only while he was out of the suit. Having one in the middle of a mission would not be a healthy reaction.

Thoughts of his health drifted away, though, as he watched his blonde-haired daughter riding her bicycle around the area. Had it really only been a few months ago that he was helping her learn to balance? Chuckling to himself, he wondered if he could even keep up with her in his rig.

In the CEO office of DeLeihs Security, Joe Higgins thought about Mickey’s health as well. He had his own “twinges” … twinges of guilt at not being able to rescue his successor to the army’s Shield rig before the crash. He knew there was little he or his uncle Roger could’ve done, but he also knew that one of the reasons the brass had them shadowing Barnes and his mission was the off-chance of something going wrong. Higgins thought it would be a failure to perform, not a failure of his old suit to protect Barnes. He knew that his updated rig, fitted with the advanced systems found in his uncle’s original Shield armor, would’ve likely protected him. Both men were still loathe to trust the military with the closely-guarded secrets of the armor and its chestplate. Even though Higgins’ dad was no longer around, even though the men in charge of Project: Shield were fighting General Marion Higgins, it was still hard to determine just who sided with whom.

Another man wearing Shield armor was finding it difficult to determine if his leader was on his side or not as well. The mysterious Major of the Dunes shamed Dire al-Sahrah with mentions of his failure to capture either man and the technological marvels they wore. Al-Sahrah’s own Desert Shield armor was supposed to be a match for the golden-haired man’s armor, but the Major failed to take into account the improvements made to it after the discovery of the RTS technology. The same technology failed at every try, as they did all around the world, but the Major blamed Al-Sahrah for it.

While Al-Sahrah was a skilled engineer in several fields, the systems in his Desert Shield armor remained a bit of a mystery to him. He understood most of the details, of course, but some portions remained a secret to him. He added the capabilities to perform better in the sand surrounding their bases, but that didn’t satisfy his leader.

Al-Sahrah didn’t like the Major, even though he never saw his face nor heard his un-disguised voice. The Major’s attitude was too similar to that of the military leaders of the countries he was forced to serve, countries that were at odds with the United States of America for various reasons. He was a loyal, dedicated man, though. He didn’t need the added “encouragement” the Major felt was necessary by keeping his own family at the main base, away from where he was stationed. Al-Sahrah didn’t even know where this “main base” was, which did not brighten his mood. Still, his enemies would need to fall before he could start to seek his own peace.

A man, wrapped in garments not quite correct for an Arab, but comfortable enough for a Westerner, passed by Al-Sahrah’s prayer room. Al-Sahrah noted the passage, but chose to remain in prayer. The man passed on, down the hall, and neared a door at the far end. He removed the cloth covering his hand, revealing a red glove with a slightly metallic glint to it. The mysterious red-gloved man manipulated a control panel, unlocking the door quickly but quietly. He entered the room, noting it devoid of personnel. The room contained the failed RTS devices and a few components intended for the Desert Shield armor. He made a few adjustments to ensure they would not work as expected.

Moving on to a rack of chemicals, he poured several select liquids into separate bottles hidden under his cloak. He was careful not to mix them, handling them as if they were volatile enough to destroy at least the room and himself. From there he examined other racks, then inventory sheets, searching for a few specific items. His search was efficient, but fruitless; some of the components he needed could not be found in this room. Carefully securing the vials he had filled, he exited the oom as silently as he had entered, choosing this time to take a different route to avoid the praying man.

Post Sat Mar 09, 2019 10:32 pm
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[FYI, I've chosen to change these from "chapters" to "issues," since they seem to be turning into something a bit more comic-book-like.]

The Impact of the Shields
Issue 7: Blue Ribbon Impact

Normal people get days off, Michael Barnes thought. Why shouldn’t I?

Even though he enjoyed greater mobility as the American Shield, spending time with his family was just as important. Becky was growing up fast. Wasn’t it just a few years ago that she was learning to ride that bike? Okay, it was, but it sure seems like she grew up quickly. He watched from his chair, shaded by a tree in the front yard, as she and Shari rode their two-wheeled vehicles of power around the neighborhood.

Barnes thought of the skinned knees Becky had endured, and how Shari overreacted, just like any other mother would. Well, perhaps not. Was she afraid of having two family members that couldn’t get around like normal people? No, don’t go there, Mikey.

As the Barnes girls dropped out of sight around the corner for the umpteenth time, Michael had the strangest feeling. It was as if he had been lifted out of his chair, suited up in full uniform, and battled alongside his predecessors, Joe Higgins and his uncle Roger, as well as several other Joe Higginses, a Simon N. Kirby, and even the mysterious Dire al-Sahrah … wait, how did he know that name? It quickly came to him that it was a literal translation for Shield of the Desert, referring to the mysterious Arabic counterpart he and Joe recently discovered.

But who was Hans Martz?

Stretching a bit, he realized it was obviously a dream. He could hear his ladies the next street over, chatting with one of the neighbors as usual. Obviously, there hadn’t been time for …

OUCH!

Barnes was used to the “twinges” he’d feel off and on, assuming it was the result of the accident. Usually, they didn’t happen while he was just sitting down, though. He knew better than to tell his wife, as worried as she’d become. But Tanaka might want to know.

His body tensed as he saw the mysterious Operative: Desert Shield run across the street toward where he heard his wife and daughter. His heart pounded as he heard screams from the other side of the street. Was that mysterious man threatening them? Visions of his family being taken entered Barnes’ mind, but there was little he could do about it. The twinges continued as he struggled to his feet, grabbed his crutches, and ambled between houses to get to the sounds he heard. His rational mind knew he didn’t have a chance without his rig, but his emotional mind also recognized he didn’t have time to get it and have it assembled around him. Damn this body! The hobbling and shambling across dips used for drainage slowed his progress, but he was determined to see this mission through! His family needed him now!

His breathing was difficult as, panting, he arrived to see Shari and Becky riding away, as if nothing had happened. The neighbor with whom they chatted had already walked down the street in the opposite direction. He saw no sign of panic, no indication of confusion, nor any sense of a mysterious armored person intruding nearby. He was glad to be saved the embarrassment of having to explain what must’ve been another dream as he turned himself around and angled clumsily toward the chair he had tipped over in his sudden start.

Barnes stopped short yet again, though, as he saw Operative: Desert Shield standing in the street, directly in front of his house. This time he saw no threat to his family, but he couldn’t be sure. The mystery man pointed at him, as if to fire a bolt of energy from his glove, but turned his hand around and gestured, as if to say, “come and get me.” Or was it “come help me?” Barnes had no idea why he’d think that. Barnes blinked his eyes, and for a fraction of a second saw, or thought he saw, that Agent Kirby he had imagined earlier, standing next to Desert Shield. A literal blink of an eye again, and the men were no longer there.

“Mikey, are you okay?”

The sound of Shari’s voice, even with its typical concern, brought him back to reality. He was still standing in the yard, chair still tipped over.

“I’m fine, Shari.” He certainly did not want to tell her about the visions he had just experienced, nor the twinges that seemed to come from them. “I just tried to catch up with you and the neighbor.”

“Oh, Doris,” Shari let loose with a sigh of relief. “It seems we don’t get a chance to chat much anymore. I’m surprised,” as she looked at the chair, “you thought it was so important to get over there.”

“Well,” Barnes resigned to admit, “I did have a weird dream or two.”

“I’m glad you’re taking time to rest,” Shari expressed with even greater relief. Her worry about her husband was ever-present, from the day he joined the military through the tragic accident that almost cost his life, to his current state. “I’m also glad we didn’t get a visit from the American Shield.”

Barnes heard the chuckle in her voice but understood the serious aspect underlying her statement.

“That would’ve been cool, getting to see a real hero!” came Becky’s response. One day they’d tell her of her daddy’s occupation, but just the unusual means of transportation was hard enough to explain, even to a pre-teen.

A quick discussion of lemonade redirected the family’s attention to refreshment indoors.

Post Thu May 02, 2019 6:50 pm
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The Impact of the Shields
Issue 8: Blue Ribbon Impact, Part 2

Barnes still couldn’t shake the anxiety from his vision. He wondered, though, if the thought of talking to Tanaka about it was worse.

Ryan Tanaka is a good guy, thinks Barnes. After the Crucible incident, Tanaka took over maintenance of the American Shield rig. While Noguchi resigned as “intelligence officer” after the repeal of the Superhuman Registration Act, Tanaka took over Shield operations. Barnes was comfortable with his technical expertise, especially since he had assisted in the design of the original Web armor and, to some degree, the Web Centurion armor. Though the latter still sent shivers through Barnes’ spine, he realized that the person inside the armor is what counts.

Tanaka kept reminding him of that.

Mechanical engineer, electronics whiz, physics hobbyist, and a knack for knowing what to say and when to say it … that was Ryan Tanaka rolled up into a fairly good curriculum vitae. “Trustworthy friend” was climbing the ranks in Barnes’ mind as well, if he’d just stop being such a pain about … well, about the pain.

“I think I know what’s been causing the twinges, Mickey.”

The words popped out of Tanaka’s mouth just as Barnes exited the gate. A bubble of anxiety popped softly in his mind, then swelled again. “Huh?”

“I know you’ve had some difficulties with the rig, especially since the Blue Ribbon incident. I think I know what’s going on.”

“Blue Ribbon incident?” Barnes was getting a different kind of headache now.

“Oh, sorry. You don’t remember it? Neither did Joe when I talked with him. The armor recorded it all, though. The Crusaders, about a dozen different Shields besides you three, other heroes … it’ll take some time to watch even the highlights, but it might jog your memory.”

“Maybe later. What about the twinges? I haven’t mentioned anything about them … have I?”

“No, not lately, but the rig records some of that, too. I looked into the MMI -- the Mind-Machine Interface, as I like to call it -- and found a couple of interesting bits in there. It seems first that it was tuned to Joe’s thought waves, not yours. That was probably his father’s doing, because it also made Joe a bit more receptive to orders. I’ve removed that part and recalibrated the rest, which should make operating the armor a bit easier for you.”

“Well, I should also tell you that I saw something. It wasn’t an hallucination, I hope, but maybe a daydream. I saw that red-and-green guy, Desert Shield, waving me to come after him.”

“Hmm. That could’ve been a side effect of the interface, or that Blue Ribbon thing, though he wasn’t in the group. Maybe we should do some scans … but later.”

“What’s up?” Barnes could tell it was mission time. He became a bit excited to have full mobility again, even if it was mechanical.

Tanaka pulled up an image of Desert Shield, this time near Israel. One of the local heroes, Judah Macabee, engaged him, and he could almost make out someone wearing yet another rig, but with a Star of David on its chest. How many more Shields are there, for Pete’s sake? Macabee, though, was a good guy. When Barnes was tasked with carrying out the Superhero Registration Act, he had to track down Macabee before the Centurions did. The blasted things (Barnes had to stop and remember that there were still people in those “tin cans”) engaged both of them, but Macabee’s hammer made short work of them. While he wasn’t keen on registering, Barnes knew that he couldn’t enforce the American act on a foreign citizen … or that’s what he chose to record as the result.

“This is all we have. Macabee, of course, doesn’t return calls, but the fight seemed similar to what you and Higgins went through a few weeks ago.”

“It’s almost as if he doesn’t want us to capture him, but to find out something.”

Tanaka sniffed a bit, but agreed that Barnes was more the “expert in such things.” “We can drop you near where this was taken, but there hasn’t been any sign of him in 24 hours.”

Barnes pointed to a spot on the map that was close to the Israeli border, but outside of the country. “If this guy’s smart, he’s going to avoid those two for a while. I’ve got a hunch he’s nearby, but not too near.”

Tanaka didn’t understand, but he relented. As Barnes suited up, he set the gate coordinates to land him nearby. “Higgins isn’t able to join you this time, so it’s one-on-one this go-round.”

“I think that’s what we both want,” Barnes said just as he locked the helmet down. As it started up, he noticed that the usual ache in the back of his neck didn’t show up this time. Maybe Tanaka was on to something?

Post Mon Jul 29, 2019 5:48 pm
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The Impact of the Shields
Issue 9: The Jewish Impact

Two eyes surveyed the damage in the area near one of many disputed areas near Israel. When it comes to that nation, of course, just about every plot of land is disputed. This particular dispute, however, dealt with three highly skilled, powerful men, two of whom wore armor.

Michael Barnes, the American Shield, was somewhat used to such carnage from his military training. The fact that this wasn’t caused by two armies fighting, but three men, was only slightly less familiar. Judas Maccabee was a powerful Jewish hero covered by briefings he had received during his military days and his time in the rig. The other one, with the Jewish star on what otherwise appeared to be a Shield armor, was more of a concern. Along with him was the other armored man whom Barnes had battled before. Calling himself Operative: Desert Shield, he proved to be almost a match for his own abilities.

Barnes’ current rig had been enhanced since his accident during his first international mission. At that time the rig was the same one used by Joe Higgins, who edged Barnes out as the official wearer of the rig. (Okay, Barnes thought, that was before everybody learned that General Marion Higgins, Joe’s dad, had forced the choice to keep his son under his thumb.) Desert Shield’s rig was almost identical to that iteration of his own, with a few enhancements for work in the desert sand and heat. It enhanced the wearer’s agility and strength, but it didn’t seem to support an injured, burned body such as Barnes’.

Barnes worked some hidden controls to bring up image enhancement technology. If the brawl left behind any clues to any of the three fighters’ whereabouts, he wanted to find them. Maccabee was less of a concern, but any connection he might have to his Israeli counterpart would be intelligence worth having. More to the point, any information leading to Desert Shield would be critical as well, especially after those visions he had.

To Barnes’ regret, though, the imagers were picking up nothing but debris from the surroundings. No handprints, bootprints, soil out of place, not even paint chips were being detected. Damage caused by Maccabee’s hammer was evident, but those were plentiful at sites of battles wherein he was involved.

A glance away from the scene before returning to normal view produced an unusual site. An image of Desert Shield appeared. Near him, floating in the air, an Arabic phrase floated.

العائلة هي كل شيء


A quick Google Translate check showed him the English phrase, “family is everything.”

Barnes somehow understood. His counterpart had appeared to him in a vision, rather than the current augmented reality view, while he was with his family. He sensed, somehow, that this wasn’t a threat to his wife and daughter, but something more personal to him. Was it possible that this man’s family was in danger?

Barnes looked around, wondering if there were any other messages left behind. After turning 180° from the first view, the man with the Star of David on his suit appeared, with the caption:

המשפחה שלך תהיה מוגנת.


“Your family will be protected.” was the provided translation.

Barnes felt reassured that Desert Shield, whoever he was, might be coerced into the fight here, and perhaps their own earlier one. Several questions remained. Where was his family? Who was holding them? Where are these two new Shields now? And why is he somehow connected to them?

Unless…

Barnes remembered that his rig was a prototype, inspired by the armor of the original Shield of decades ago. It was never supposed to be the only one. An image of the design specs appeared in his mind’s eye, noting the communication system that had been intended for use in quick communication between the wearers of multiple copies of the rig. It had included an early version of augmented reality!

This meant that Desert Shield and “Hebrew Shield” could be wearing versions of the same design!

Barnes realized the additional questions this brought up. He knew the original Shield, Roger Deliehs, had abandoned his armor to the military when he chose to give up his heroic identity. Deliehs had retained one key component, though, without which any attempts to use or examine the armor would lead to little more than a hunk of metal. Barnes breathed a sigh of relief that they couldn’t have included the upgrades added to his own rig, as they were based on the now-useless room-temperature semiconductor technology that only he and his group could still use. That meant that these new rigs were, at best, enhanced versions of the original model.

The bigger question, though, was how these two men obtained copies of the rig’s design.

Barnes then remembered that Roger had disappeared during the time between the disappearance of the Crusaders, including Joe Higgins, and the Crucible incident. While these new rigs didn’t seem to have the same characteristics as the two suits Higgins and his uncle now possessed, that didn’t leave out the possibility that the enhancements may have come from Roger.
Was Roger part of the family that needed to be protected? Or was he the Sand Major from whom families needed protection?

Too many questions, too few answers.

Barnes decided to take a risk. Opening the communications channel, he broadcast to anyone who was able to hear. “If you need help, tell me where to meet. If you want trouble, you can have that, too.”

Barnes continued to inspect the area, hoping someone would answer.

Post Sat Sep 07, 2019 5:49 pm
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The Impact of the Shields
Chapter 10: The Impact of Family

The alarm goes off, alerting a blond young man to another day. He stretches, looks over at his lovely wife, and wonders how she can sleep through that blankety-blank alarm. As always he considers working his fingers through her strawberry-blonde hair, but as always he realizes that his sweet redhead wouldn’t appreciate being awoken out of that deep a slumber

Michael Barnes swings his legs off of the bed and begins his typical morning ritual: shaving, combing his hair, brushing his teeth, and so forth. Today would be the typically busy day at his new job leading Deleihs Security. Paperwork! Meetings! Financial reports! Did he seriously think civilian life would be any more glamorous than military life?

Most soldiers wouldn’t think that. Then again, too many soldiers never make it back alive.

Like Joe Higgins.

He shakes the memory of that tragedy out of his head. No time to dwell on that now. Duty calls. In this case, the duty is managing the huge firm left by Roger Deleihs, formerly Roger Higgins, when he and his nephew …

No, stop it, Barnes! Don’t think about that.

Sitting for a few minutes in his plush office, though, the thoughts return. Thoughts of how Higgins and his uncle made one final mission together, rescuing somebody. Their helicopter crashed, leaving behind only smoldering rubble of their vehicle and their unique uniforms.

Barnes, like the rest of his crew, knew the secret behind the two men. The Shields. He himself had been up for the job, but General Marion Higgins insisted that his own son, Joe, be the test pilot. Joe had gone AWOL with the army-engineered suit, but the army forgave him and allowed him to perform this one final mission. Since everyone involved with the project now knew that Roger had been the original Shield back during Korea, they allowed both men to undertake this mission.

The catastrophic failure surprised everyone. Oh, they knew that the army’s version of the Shield rig was inferior to the original because Deleihs had withheld a vital component of his invention when he left it with his brother. They assumed that Roger’s original rig would’ve allowed him to complete the mission, though. Nobody could’ve imagined that it, too, would fail.

Or did it fail? Roger was a fine specimen, but he was older now. Could even that amazing invention protect someone his age? Maybe the General had damaged the rig while trying to reverse engineer it. Maybe the shell had hit just right and compromised everything.

Remembering this always sent a chill up Barnes’ spine. It could’ve been him. He could’ve been wearing one of those rigs. He could’ve been crippled or killed, broiled alive in metal armor. He could’ve come out of it injured, barely able to walk, barely able to protect his family.

Barnes shook his head fiercely. He should know better than to think this way, especially while he was on duty. “On duty,” he chuckled. “On the job” was more like it. Deleihs and Higgins had left the company to him for some reason. He earned an honorable discharge, even though he never did much to deserve it except go after the AWOL Shield. Still, for some reason, he could imagine himself in that accident. He could imagine himself depending on the Shield armor for most of his mobility. He could imagine it almost as though it were real.

It couldn’t be real, of course. He had a loving wife, a beautiful daughter, and another child on the way. Joseph Roger Barnes was the name he had decided upon if it was a boy. Of course, it had to be a boy this time. Becky was one of the loves of his life, but he wanted a son. He wanted a balanced family.

Family!

How precious his family was to him. How precious their security had become to him. His devotion to his job came naturally when he thought about them. Family needed protection, security, safety. His family and all the families of the Deleihs Security customers and staff needed security. Barnes chuckled again, thinking how natural the company slogan came to his mind. He took it seriously, though.

Family.

-----

Somewhere else, another man thought about his own family and the safety they deserved. He regretted ambushing the American Shield. He regretted removing the armor when he discovered the burned, frail body inside. He regretted the drug-induced stupor this Michael Barnes was in. But the Major of the Sands demanded it. The armor of the mighty American Shield was his now. Would the Major improve his own rig from its secrets? More importantly, would the Major finally release his wife, son, and daughter from their captivity in a location unknown to Dire Al-Sahrah? He doubted it. The Major was still out to take his revenge on the three men who operated under the name and the legend of the Shield.

Operative: Desert Shield would continue to serve the Major. His family deserved the relative protection, safety, and security it provided for now.


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