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Ozoe

Recruiting

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Alexander Davos, aka Powerhouse, stood comfortably at ease. Standing in the small Army recruiting office, he waited for his old CO Daniel McFearson to finish looking over his report. For a brief moment, Alexander felt a bit out of place in his civvies, and had to remind himself that he was technically finished with his stint in the armed forces. McFearson, a fit and trim 35 year old career soldier looked up and smiled at his one time ward.

"Good to see you Alex. It looks like you're keeping yourself in fighting shape. Life outside to your tastes?"

Alexander smiled in return, "sure enough. If I never have to eat another MRE it will be too soon."

Daniel laughed at the comment, "ok I'll give you that. However, it's not like McDonalds or BurgerTrap is any better."

"Hua sir," Alexander replied. "So is this a social visit? I mean I have a place now. You could have brought a fruit basket."

"You'd like that wouldn't you," Daniel quipped back, "however, no it's not a social call. More of a personal favor. You know, one that comes without strings attached this time. As opposed to the favors that end up more like orders."

Alexander merely nodded that he understood. Uncle Sam could be very persuasive when needed.

"Look. Recruiting's down and we haven't made numbers in some time. Amazing how we can't fill slots when times are good and we're at peace. Little things like wars and peacekeeping actions have that kind of effect. Anyway, we want you to be our poster child. You know, join the army kind of stuff. I mean, you're perfect for the role. This generation needs it's X-Athletes and video game heroes to keep it's attention. So we were planning a drive at the Lincoln Youth Center to see if we can't inspire the next generation. Besides, a lot of the kids there don't have a whole lot of hope and this is a great opportunity for them."

"When did you have in mind?" Alexander asked.

"Well I know a few folks over there, and they didn't mind us sponsoring a barbecue and rally all combined. Maybe some fireworks? A little martial demonstration. You can toss around a few of the boys if you'd like. I think they could use the extra training session."

Alexander nodded, "count me in. Sounds like a good time."

"Great. We'll get fliers up and spread the word. With any luck we can attract a good crowd and get some bodies in uniform as a result."

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True to his word, the event planning went smoothly. It helped that McFearson had some kind of connections in the area and the catering and event planning went smoothly leading up to the 4th of July. While they knew that holiday plans would likely limit the amount of people attending, free food went a long way to lure those who were free.

Alexander showed up early, not entirely sure what to expect. When he arrived, there were already people gathering in the streets waiting for the event to start. By the looks of it, McFearson might have sold his marketing abilities short. An hour before the event, there was already a crowd of about a hundred and more likely to show. Wilson Jeffers was organizing the crowd and directing the catering staff. A small stage had been erected with seating for about three hundred. If the early crowd was any indication, that might be well on the short side.

"Mr Jeffers," Alexander said, "pleased to meet you."

"Likewise," the affable Jeffers replied, "looks like you're going to have quite a crowd."

"Well I guess free dogs and lemonade will do that. Besides, I think McFearson is pretty responsible for this kind of thing. He knows his stuff."

"I gathered that. Well I will leave you too it. I was going to get the caterers on the horn and get them to triple the order. I have to say, I like these blank checks you military folks write, very nice indeed. I can't convince you to put a new wing on the center can I?"

Alexander laughed, "I don't know. I think if you could raise a new battalion here, they might be game."

As they talked the crowd grew even as the event staff tested the sound system and lighting.

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Craig had seen some of the posters around town, and decided to check out the rally. For the most part, he was just there to enjoy himself, get some free food, and enjoy fireworks, rather than the recruitment drive. He had no intention of ever taking a human life, especially not for selfish reasons like expansion. Nonetheless, the rest of the rally sounded like fun (And a possible target by any number of criminal elements), and so here he is, outside the Lincoln Youth Center.

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Along the streets the crowd grew to about a thousand before the event kicked off in earnest. The smell of char grilled meat and the press of the crowd wafted for blocks bringing the curious along with those who were actually there to hear the Army's pitch. Of course two local bands, playing rocked out versions of various patriotic tunes just added to the chaos. However, Jeffers was a very capable man, and a few more phone calls drawing on the Army's budget brought a veritable army of caterers. Markets in a several block radius found themselves with a distinct shortage of dogs, brats and burgers as the surprised organizers desperately tried to ramp up the quantities of food.

Even as the caterers fought an uphill battle to keep the crowd fed, McFearson started the show. The show didn't care whether there was five or five thousand people and he was smooth enough to know that even if the food couldn't keep up, a decent production would hold their interest.

"How are you all doing?" he called out to the crowd.

While the response wasn't overwhelming, he was used to that. It would take some doing but that was why he had everything lined up. "Well the US Army wants to welcome all of you to our little block party this afternoon. We want to help all of you celebrate the 4th of July along with some of the men and women who have sacrificed for this country. It's going to be a great afternoon for a great day. So enjoy some food, and give the boys and girls helping out here today a little slack as they get everything ready for you. In the mean time, here's a band that a lot of you should know from the local scene, Crushing Daisies!"

Alexander stood to the side of the stage watching the crowd grow in size. McFerason had thought a few hundred, but there had to be at least a thousand or two by now. Well he'd do his part, he owed the country that much for certain. Owed them ten times over and what a day to pay up. Fourth of July!

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Alex had been listening to the music and frankly not paying too much attention to the overworked caterers or some of the more unruly elements which had been gathering along the fringes of the crowd. Lincoln wasn't the best of neighborhoods, and music and free food had brought them all out in droves. Of course this was by design, for better or worse, recruiting drives always tended to be more successful in underprivileged areas of town. Dying for your country only appealed to a small subset of the population, but a steady paycheck backed by Uncle Sam appealed far more when your other prospects were burger mart or the local thrift store.

As the band winded down, McFearson got back up on the platform and smiled at the turnout. With any luck it would be a good day. "Ok! Crushing Daisies! Let's give them a hand while we introduce you to one of our finest. Oh, and make sure to stop by for some of this food. I can't thank the folks here enough for the work that they do... and have done over the years. Anyway, please give a welcome for Powerhouse, one of the Army's staunch supporters!"

Alex took his cue and stepped up to the stage. It was supposed to be a nice show, a little demonstration, something to get the lads excited and worked up. Well... visual displays he could handle. With a little concentration and effort, he called the bio-electrical conduits in his body to life. The pillars of the stage, which had been designed with this display in mind acted as tesla coils as power radiated out of him in a display of lightning and energy.

"Morning folks! Happy 4th!"

A few shouts came from the crowd, although he couldn't quite make anything out, "look I'm here to tell you, first hand, that the army is a top notch organization. I was just like you, sitting out there a few years back. Wasn't sure where I wanted to be, had no direction, couldn't afford college. I took a chance and signed on, and haven't regretted a minute of it. They took care of me when I needed it and gave me the direction and purpose I was missing."

Walking to the middle of the stage he continued, "if you know what you want to do with your life, great, go for it. However, if you have a question, or are looking for an opportunity to get some training and education along with the discipline to use it, you should think about talking with our bank of recruiters here. They can get you signed up and on the fast track today!"

He nodded looking around. Yeah, no one really wanted to hear the spiel. They wanted to be entertained, but still, perhaps some of them would get with the program.

"Yeah," he said. "While I can't say you'll end up like me, I can say that you'll train with the best gear for the best fighting force in the world. However, I think that's enough talk for now, let's get some demonstrations on the cutting edge hardware and training that is provided to anyone who wants to be part of something greater."

On cue a couple of soldiers trotted onto the stage. Each of them was armed with some of the Army's gear; everything from M-16's to Desert Eagle pistols.

Alex nodded to them, "you gentlemen ready?"

Each of them gave a shout as they aimed their weapons to the carefully designed backdrop. Made of kevlar and backed with a soft thick material, it allowed these live fire demos without having to worry about a shooting range. Each of the soldiers was a ranked sharpshooter with his chosen weapons and was ready to flaunt their skills. Alex, for his part was to be a showy target launcher. Uncoiling his metallic whips, he picked up a large clay target and flicked it into the air. One of the broad shouldered soldiers raised his weapon, tracked it, and blasted the clay pigeon to pieces.

The demo followed in rapid order, with targets getting mowed down in short order. The target shooting was followed with an impressive array of hand to hand demos as varying experts showed their stuff. It was a pretty good show Alex thought as he looked out and the crowd which had nearly doubled. A slight frown creased his face as he saw officers dragging away some kind of street tough. They hadn't quite planned for things to be this large. Oh well, McFearson would be able to tell the brass that their money was well spent.

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Craig left the area once the man in the metal suit had finished talking, and changed into his suit, which took about a minute. He then flew up to a nearby roof, and waited until there was a break in the programming. Watching the demonstrations of both the superhero they have as a draw, and the regular armed forces, Guardian decided to fly up to the stage as the hand to hand demonstration was finishing.

"Now hold up here. I believe I heard a claim from Mr. Supersoldier over there about how this is the "Best fighting force in the world." So let me ask you this. Surely the best would have a plan for what to do if the opposing side ALSO had superpowered fighters, right?"

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Alex blinked as the white and blue costumed hero flew down to the stage. To their credit, the two rangers finished their demo without missing a beat, perhaps thinking this was part of the demo that had not been rehearsed. Looking to McFearson, he saw the lieutenant nod that he had no idea who this was or what he was getting at.

Taking a breath and stepping back to the center of the stage Alex replied, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I think we have the honor to welcome one of Paragon's finest. Before I answer, perhaps you would like to let the good people out there know who we are talking with."

As he looked over at the costumed hero, he had a sinking suspicion that this man was not his friend and that this was going to be a sticky situation.

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Noticing that the soldiers hadn't even blinked, Guardian felt a little impressed. He then turned his attention back on the person speaking to him. The name is Guardian, and I think you're evading the question. Let's say someone like me is on the lines. What is your plan of action? Surely you have a plan, correct? Or do you mean to say that the best fighting force in the world hasn't even considered this very likely scenario? I mean, think about it. In this city alone, there's more villains than heroes. You're apparently with the army, according to your speech, Mr...? Anyways, since this fighting force has one, chances are, that any other major fighting force you encounter will have someone with superpowers as well.

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"Guardian," Alex said more for the benefit of the crowd than to confirm it. "Well that's an excellent question, not one that we can talk about at anything more than the highest levels, but first things first. My name is Powerhouse, or you can can call me Captain Alex Davos, retired; your choice."

He turned to the Rangers and waved them off as he could see their alert pose now that the had figured out this was not a scripted event.

"Good question, what's the point of throwing down billions when you have nothing!" came an errant shout from the crowd. Alex was impressed only in the volume of the heckler.

"He's right of course, at least to some degree, asking one of those fine men there to take on some of the powered soldiers our foes will employ is no simple task. However, there are certainly answers. Shoulder mounted ordinance, armored vehicles, artillery if needed, air strikes. However, Guardian, you are making the assumption that the Army doesn't have it's own countermeasures you would be thankfully mistaken. While I'm retired, I served my term and would do it again. In fact, for those heroes who wish, we'd be more than happy to speak with you as well. There's a place for you where you can feel proud to serve your country in the tradition of many of the great people who have come before us."

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Continuing to focus his attention on Powerhouse, Guardian responds "And what if you need artillery, then? Surely if it comes to that, your fellow soldiers will perish as well?"

Finishing that sentence, Guardian flies over to the makeshift firing range, and hovers roughly 5 feet above the ground. "Now then, I'm not going to move, because if you missed, that might cause a civilian to get hit, but I want you to fire whatever gun you choose at me. If it makes you more comfortable, aim for my legs or arms. Go on, shoot."

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Alex looked Guardian over, considering. He was mad about something, that was for sure. The fact that he flew in at least gave some credence to his tale. Of course, there was no way he was going to shoot the guy either. The last thing they needed was to have some delusional borderline kid getting shot and bleeding all over. Beyond the fact it was wrong, it would be a complete PR disaster.

"Son," he said although in truth the guy looked about his own age, "you look like you can handle yourself, and I'm sure that you've done some good work. But I am not going to shoot you. How about I take your word that it won't affect you and we leave it at that. Besides, you look like you got some muscle on you and I'd hate to see a ricochet injure someone. Then perhaps you can take ours that we have thought about enemy agents and believe me, beyond folks like myself, we give you the training and the technology to handle everything from a tank to a Guardian."

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Guardian sighed, flew back to the center of the stage, and spoke into the microphone. "Oh, look, the Army is backing down from a challenge it knows it can't win. What's the matter, want to relive your glory days, and only take on targets you think you can win, like people in mud-hut villages as apposed to an actual major power's army? Oh, and those contingencies you mentioned? I doubt you'd have them available for every single group of fighters in the Army. Even if you COULD deploy them, you'd take heavy losses. Heck, if I wanted to, I could take down every civilian and soldier here. I won't, but I could. I bet I could even take YOU down, Powerhouse.

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"I'm not sure if you are trying to declare war or not," Alex replied a little taken aback by the outright challenge. "However, if you are looking for a scrap, I'm sure that can be arranged. Regardless, all it proves is that one of us is the better. Frankly, given the kind of bunk you're spouting, I seriously doubt you've thought this through. IF you were some kind of threat, and the army was called in, they would send the right people with the right tools. You think we're going to issue heavy hardware to a guy in logistics? No, it's called strategy and tactics. Come back and play when you understand this!"

Alex paused, realizing that he was letting his anger get the best of him. He looked back to McFearson who simply shrugged. However, he was not one back down from a fight, regardless of the consequences.

"So I suppose you were looking for a tussle, well we can do another demo I suppose," Alex said gradually crackling with energy. "I think there are enough people that would like to honor the spirit and perseverance that made this country great."

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"Huh. I didn't think a few statements would provoke him to fight like this. Ah well, I should be able to take him. I'm glad to see they're not all talk, at least." Guardian took the microphone one last time, and said, "War isn't all fun and games, and there's a very real chance of dying. Of course, I'm going to use non-lethal force, but nonetheless, one of us is going to walk away from this more than a little bruised. Just in case, could all bystanders please back up a bit, as a precaution? Now then, Powerhouse, shall we?" And with that, Guardian put the microphone down, flew to the end of the stage opposite Powerhouse, and got ready to fight.

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Powerhouse wasn't about charge the flying hero, he had mobility and who knows what else. Instead, he was going to let the blue clad super do what he will. Alex was confident in his ability to take a punch, so he simply stood there, crackling with power as he watched and waited. The time for words and pandering to the crowd was over.

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Guardian launched himself at a fierce charge, both leaving himself more open to be more accurate, and sacrificing that accuracy to hit harder. He got up to Powerhouse, and started to swing. He punched, and was able to touch him (Not noticing the electricity he was also hitting), but was rebuffed by Powerhouse's block, and was stopped cold.

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Powerhouse caught the blow just as it came in, still the force of the punch was far greater than he had expected. Also a surprise was that he seemed to shrug off the voltage which would knock a steer flat. Still, he had been trained by some of the best and he reset himself as he formulated a plan. With any luck this Guardian hadn't taken a full dose and he would punch himself into oblivion.

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Guardian, who was right in front of Powerhouse, took a shot aimed straight for the stomach, once again leaving himself open, but this time, he didn't put extra strength into it. He nipped and tucked around Powerhouse's defense, and landed a solid punch, with a solid "thud" reverberating through the air. Following that punch, Guardian sped off in the direction of the other end of the stage, to give the two fighters some distance, and to prepare for another charge attack, if necessary.

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Powerhouse grunted as the blow connected with enough force to crack ribs and smash rock. It forced him back a step and he thanked the army surgeons for the subdermal plating that encircled his body. Again, his energy didn't seem to face his opponent, which was disturbing. Still Uncle Sam didn't invest the kind of money without at least preparing their investment for the worst. Flexing his arms alloy coils, reinforced by his bodies own electromagnetic properties streaked out wrapping them selves around Guardian's torso and arms.

He pulled hard, knowing that guardian was stronger than him, but using the leverage of his coils and hoping to slow the big man down.

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Guardian was more than a little shocked to see that Powerhouse was still fine, but quickly refocused his attention on the fight. Not soon enough, it would seem, as some electrical coils had sprung forward. They grabbed onto Guardian, which helped him get his attention back, and he managed to twist out of the coils and avoid being entangled.

"Huh. Trying to keep me all wrapped up, huh? Not too bad an idea, just a shame it didn't work. Now that you're not passively blocking yourself, let's see how you like one of my super punches! And with that, Guardian charged forward again, ready to deliver another punch to the gut, which once again hit.

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As Guardian hit him, Alex expelled his breath, feeling the power of the strike and knowing that he was going to feel that one in the morning. He wasn't sure why his powers weren't phasing the other guy, so he concentrated hard, drawing reserves of power from deep within. Feeling the rushing energy coursing through his body he tried to lash out and whip the colorful man in front of him.

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The whip attacks flailed wildly, completely missing Guardian. Focusing on winding up for another punch, not really paying attention to the change in the charge, Guardian uppercuts Powerhouse. The blow landed square on the jaw, but as he connected, he felt a weird, slightly painful sensation in his head. His face grimaced, as he thought to himself, "Ow. Ok, not sure what that accomplished, outside of giving me a headache, but... Oh no." Realizing that he had lost his imperviousness to damage, he decided to fly back to the other end of the stage, both to put some distance between himself and Powerhouse, and to wind up for another charge.

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Powerhouse's head snapped back as he saw a few stars floating in his vision. This Guardian guy was strong and fast, not a good combination really. Still, there wasn't much quite in the former Army Ranger as he moved forward trying to slow the larger hero down. His steel coils flashed through the air wrapping around the blue clad hero as he tried to hold him steady. Already he could feel the strain on the coils and he knew this was not going to be an indefinite fix.

As the super powered battle raged on the stage, the crowd responded to the display much as they would two people throwing it down on the sidewalk. There were cat calls and hollers for one or the other to hit, kick, bite or otherwise subdue their opponent. Already a semi tense environment with the larger than expected crowd, some protesters milling about the edges, and the added lure of a pit fight; it didn't take much for violence to break out.

However, when it did, it began to spread fast. Faster than the few police who had been assigned to this event could respond too. Suddenly, the back of the crowd was beginning to look much like the roiling melee on the stage and any thoughts of a family friendly event were quickly getting quashed.

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Guardian got wrapped up by Powerhouse's coils, but managed to snap free of them, with one of them breaking in the process. About to wind up and charge again, Guardian stopped what he was doing when he heard grunts, yelling, and screaming, and turned towards the crowd, who had spontaneously broke out into fighting. Attempting to stop them yielded no useful response, except for some demoralizing responses, such as "Hey, I'm on your side, this guy was talking trash about you", or "What, you guys can fight but we can't? Forget you!" Looking at what was going on, and realizing his no small part in it, Guardian fell to the floor of the stage, on his knees, looking at the damage with a unhinged jaw and wide-eyed stare, totally defenseless.

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Powerhouse fell to his feet as Guardian ripped his coils off like they were streamers from a parade. He began racing towards the prone hero, not understanding what had happened, but guessing that his powers had finally had some effect on the larger man. Part of him reveled in the satisfaction, 'I won!' flashed through his brain even as his subconscious was screaming at him to wake up and that the fight had been going badly. He skidded to a halt just behind the kneeling Guardian as his coils extracted again going to wrap up his 'foe' for good.

It was then that he saw the commotion in the crowd and trailed Guardian's gaze to the people starting to panic. While the real melee was at the fringe of the event, where some of the local gangs and protesters had started fighting, other small combats were breaking out as short tempers fueled by the display snapped at the slightest provocation.

Turning to the side he could see the few troops that had been showing their skills forming up and preparing to do what they could to assist.

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