From the Art of War by Sun Tzu: “All warfare is based on deception”. General Jeremy Clarke likes that. He also likes: “Offer the enemy a bait to lure him, feign disorder and strike him”. Clarke believes it is a strict adherence to these teachings that have allowed him to attain the rank he has within the Canadian Military. From the safety of a booth, he watches as Heather McNeil Hudson codenamed Guardian, has been requested to unleash her suits energies to their fullest extent during this conversation. Clarke believes this is necessary to better gauge the abilities of her newly returned husband, James McDonald Hudson, codenamed Vindicator.
Clarke thinks that this is all made more interesting due to the fact that the husband and wife have had a less than tropical tone to their dealings in this. However, Heather is an ice-maiden and Mac is a cold fish. What they should be is a perfect match, but what Clarke has here is a psychological game as well as a physical one, and he likes that.
Guardian blasts Vindicator with a burst of plasma, and Mac tells her it was a very efficient assault, but blocks it with a field of charged electrostatic particles. Mac points out that Heather’s combat technique and use of the electromagnetic suit are far more physical in nature than his had been when he originally donned the armor. ‘Maybe so…’ begins Heather, before flying fast towards Mac and blasting him in the stomach at close range as she declares ‘I’ve learned to shut up as well as put up!’
Mac lands with a thump against the viewing panel, and Alpha Flight’s government liaison, Kerry Patrick, shouts ‘Watch out!’ before pointing out to Clarke that the Hudson’s are really going at one another. ‘That’s the idea, Patrick’ Clarke replies matter-of-factly. Standing over a monitor nearby, Mac and Heather’s scientific teammates, Shaman and Sasquatch, are also monitoring their status. Shaman asks Walt how Mac’s vital signs are, to which Walt replies they are almost too good to be true.
Clarke thinks to himself that he doesn’t like Michael Twoyoungmen, Walter Langkowski or even Kerry Patrick. Walt announces that Vindicator’s signs are so calm. Kerry Patrick points out that Hudson was never very excitable before he returned from the dead, and he always seemed to lack the killer instinct for fighting. Walt suggests that they shouldn’t count Mac out just yet, as a burst of orange fills the battle room and Heather falls to the ground.
Clarke watches as Mac nails Heather with an electromagnetic pulse and he can almost smell the crackle of ozone through the observation glass wall. As Heather lands with a fleshy, slapping sound, Mac has her, and Clarke wonders if he will put her out. Vindicator tells Heather that he may have over-compensated in his attempt to scramble her suit’s functions.
Mac lands near Heather and asks her if she is unhurt. ’Just dandy, Mac, nice of you to ask,’ Heather replies, obviously annoyed, before she points out that he just locked into her cybernetic signals and overrode her suits functions. Mac admits that it required more time and energy than he had anticipated to do so. Heather tells Mac that he operated completely contrary to the purpose of this exercise, and asks him how many opponents they will have to face where he had a hand in creating their powers or weapons?
Angry, Heather storms off, telling Mac that he fought her as someone he knew, while he should have approached her as an unknown. ‘Don’t take shortcuts. It’ll get you killed. Again’. Shaman calls down to Mac, telling him that the session is over so he can hit the showers. Mac calls back that he doesn’t need to shower, that his perspiration is rechannelled as electro-osmotic reaction, reinverting it into further electrical energy.
Walt and Shaman smirk a little before Shaman tells Mac to get changed and they will go over the results in ten minutes. Walt exclaims that Mac is the same as he always was and totally different at the same time, making it a little awkward.
As Clarke heads down to the locker room, he takes with him some of Twoyoungmen’s words: ‘Think how Heather must feel’. He rolls them around in his head, and like all good thoughts, they set up a chain reaction in his mind, for every bounce and tumble, a dozen new thoughts are created. It opens a veritable road map of possibilities in his mind…’which road shall I take today?’
Clarke calls to Mac, who gives signal to where he is. Mac takes off his costume, revealing a synthesis of flesh and cybernetics. Clarke tells him he made a cute comment about the perspiration. Mac replies that he wasn’t trying to be cute, and exclaims that he knew how odd it sounded as he said it, but for some reason he couldn’t stop himself - it was a statement of fact.
Clarke replies that he understands, and declares that he is a firm believer of speaking plainly. ‘No, you don’t understand -’ begins Mac, before Clarke cuts him off, declaring bluntly that they want him to lead Alpha Flight again. Mac asks Clarke if that is because Heather doesn’t like him, but Clarke claims it is because Mac is more qualified. Mac disagrees, pointing out that Heather now has approximately three times the field experience he does. ‘I don’t ask this lightly, Mac…’.
(Flashback, takes place between the flashback sequences of Alpha Flight (1st series) #52 and Uncanny X-Men #120-121):
‘…I ask it for the good of Canada!’ a young General Clarke tells Mac who is dressed in a fancy suit, patting him on the shoulder. Gary Cody, leaning on a desk, tells Mac that Clarke is right. Clarke points out that Gary Cody agrees, to which Mac reminds Clarke that Cody is their government liaison and therefore he trusts his opinion, but still believes there was no call for Major Chasen’s outburst, and reminds Clarke that he already said he would talk to the others.
Major Chasen snaps at Mac, telling him that it isn’t enough, and asks if he didn’t hear a word of his “outburst”. Clarke suggests to Mac that he be a little more forceful with “them”, to which a hesitant Mac declares that he doesn’t know, and declaring that Chasen’s expectations for the biochip implants are more extreme than what they had discussed. Motioning to a large scan of the biochip, Hudson declares that Chasen wants his group marked and tagged as property of the State. He reminds everyone that the initial intention of the chip was as a communications implant, as anything else would severely compromise their privacy. Mac tells the officials that he understands their reasoning, he still has to bring this to the others and will try and explain the official’s position to them.
“The others” Clarke thinks that Hudson makes them sound so normal, when who - or what - are these people that he has gathered. From what he does know about Hudson’s group, they are Northstar and Aurora - mutant siblings, Snowbird - “some sort” of super natural being, Shaman - ‘An Indian mystic for crying out loud’ and Sasquatch - a self-created furry Frankenstein.
Mac enters the training room where the five super beings are practicing against one another, and Mac calls that they are taking a break as they need to talk. Sasquatch transforms to his human form of Walter Langkowski and asks what is up. Jean-Paul and Jeanne-Marie Beaubier land on the ground and Northstar boasts that he was just getting their resident gorilla to work up a sweat. Aurora tells her brother to stop teasing.
‘Headache pain gets in your way? Try Excederin!’ remarks Snowbird. Hudson just looks at the goddess confused, and addresses Michael “Shaman” Twoyoungmen a stern manner. Twoyoungmen replies that he knows, and asks Mac to give Narya time to assimilate. Walter seems to know what Mac wants to talk about, as he points to his head and asks him what the verdict is. Mac announces that the officials want to proceed with the Roxxon biochip model and he is supposed to discuss it with them all.
Jean-Paul asks what there is to talk about, to which Shaman declares that Northstar may be a little blunt in his approach, but he mirrors his sentiments exactly. Shaman points out that the government is worried about them, and he can understand that, even sympathize a little. He suggests that the government want to be able to keep watch on them, which is all well and good, as is the idea of alerting them to danger at a moments notice. However, speaking as a one whose mystic senses precludes the need for such an implant, he has reservations not only of the officials ultimate intentions, but of the fact that the technology is being created by Roxxon, and reminds Mac that he knows Roxxon’s record is less than sterling.
Mac turns from his team, assuming that Shaman is speaking for them all. He declares that he understands their position, but that Chasen, their Hitleresque military liaison is adamant, and the other officials are listening to him. He informs everyone that he will take their views to the officials tomorrow, but he knows they are going to push this.
‘Lousy nigh,t’ Mac mutters sometime later as he opens the door to his house. ‘Heather - I’m home!’ he exclaims as he walks in. ‘Your favorite super hero is exhausted and famished! What smells so…burnt?’ Mac’s wife, Heather McNeil Hudson calls from the kitchen, explaining that dinner died in the oven, she tells Mac to sit down and call for a pizza.
Mac sits down, but mutters that he is too tired to reach for the phone. ‘I’m never leaving this sofa chair. Ever’ Heather walks up behind Mac and starts rubbing his shoulders, asking him if it was that bad and what happened today. Mac replies ‘The usual’ that it is the biochip mess, exclaiming that Chasen and Clarke don’t trust Alpha, Alpha don’t trust Roxxon and no one seems to trust him. Heather asks Mac what about him - who does he trust.
Heather sits on Mac’s lap as Mac replies that he doesn’t know. The chip…Roxxon… he exclaims that he doesn’t want to believe that scientists like Cary Albertson would create anything improper, as from an ethical standard that would be unthinkable. Heather asks Mac of corporate ethics and reminds him what Jaxon did to him, stealing the original armor designs, and suggests he may be dealing with more than scientists and technology. When Mac asks Heather what she means, Heather replies that he is dealing with corporations and politicians.
Heather explains to Mac that these people are genuinely afraid of those he is recruiting, and asks him how he thinks Chasen feels about super humans, reminding him that Wolverine nearly sliced off his throat a few weeks ago, ‘you expect him to trust your people now?’ Heather suggests that perhaps the officials are right, ‘Maybe your group can’t be totally trusted?’
Mac wishes he were certain, or that he could find out one way or the other what Chasen and Roxxon have planned. ‘Why don’t you then?’ suggests Heather, reminding Mac that he still has access to Roxxon’s Sault St. Marie facilities. Mac replies that he does, and he has the suit too!
Clarke compares Hudson to a roulette ball, spinning around, around and around, and while spinning, Clarke closes off each possible slot, until the only one left is the one that he chooses to leave open.
‘Midnight oil needs burning, eh, Mr. Hudson?’ asks the security guard as he opens the gate for Hudson at the Sault St. Marie facility. ‘Something like that, Eric’ replies Mac. As Mac walks through the facility, Clarke claims that Hudson doesn’t notices how much the Roxxon plant resembles a maze, and how much he resembles a mouse. Clarke wonders what is going through Mac’s mind, what he expects to find? Clarke decides that as Mac enters the research center quietly, he looks not unlike a curious dog, sniffing about the house.
Mac access the mainframe through his own research file and opens Roxxon’s private research menu. Clarke thinks that Mac is good to get into it, even though it takes him a bit of time. On screen, three files appear on screen: Bio-Synthesis Project 1-A; Weapon Alpha Bio-Chip Development and Nth Projector Research notes and opinions. Clarke thinks that right now, Mac must be seeing that the light at the end of the tunnel makes a dead end. Hudson opens the computer file and read what it says:
Super Human Biochip Program:
- Provide the people of Canada with protection from para human fallibility
- The creation of neurological implant which will allow frequency specific communication, tracking access and bio-function sensory systems manipulations
‘”Bio function sensory systems manipulations”?’ Hudson is shocked, and thinks that they are taking this project to an unnecessary extreme. Hudson downloads the information into his personal file as proof of Chasen and Roxxon’s illicit intentions. Hudson takes the disc out of the computer, nervously wondering how he is going to present this to Clarke, wondering how to use this to his advantage.
Watching from security cameras, Major Chasen thanks Cary Albertson for making this so easy. Albertson suggests it may be too easy and that Hudson may suspect. Chasen just grins, ‘No…I think not.
The next morning, Clarke suspects that all night Mac must have been tossing and turning, so much to think about, not a good nights sleep. Reading over the file that Mac downloaded, Clarke exclaims that this is quite a lot to think about. Mac replies that he realizes that, and Clarke tells Mac that this is obviously what he was afraid of. Mac declares that he cannot allow his people to be subjected to this, and adds that his decision should not affect their funding, or their relationship with the government. ‘I mean, is this what we had in mind when we started Department H?’
Clarke replies that it wasn’t, and declares that he wants the biochip program terminated immediately - and physically. Mac gives a half smile and informs the General that the Flight is ready for field work. Clarke replies that he knows, and tells Mac that he wants to handle this personally, adding that they will each take care of their own ends. ‘Chasen?’ asks Mac. ‘Chasen’ replies Clarke.
Weeks later, Mac puts on his battle suit for the first time since that incident with Weapon X in the States. The suit weighs heavily on him, though he seems to increase in stature every time Clarke sees it on him - and interesting contradiction, and food for future thought. Clarke thinks of Hudson in action and bites through his lower lip. The suit is a marvel of modern engineering. Flight, propulsion, gravity stimulation, electromagnetic manipulation and enhanced strength - he is a cybernetic God. Power to dream of. Clarke thinks that the suit is a veritable roadmap of possibilities, and if he were twenty or ten years younger, then he would peel it off Hudson with his own hands.
Mac, as Vindicator, enters the facility, ripping a skylight out of its fixture and dropping down into a large lab, ‘Stand away from that laser-welder!’ Vindicator demands. He declares that by the authority of the Canadian government and the province of Ontario, he is hereby rescinding their business license! Vindicator rips some contraption from its fixture and as bullets are fired Vindicator informs his assailants that he can demagnetize the bullets completely, skewing their polarity so the bullet’s wont touch him.
Mac suggests the men stop firing before they accidentally get hurt, but when they don’t listen to him, he shouts ‘I said stop!’ and blasts one of them with an electromagnetic pulse. However, it is only after the pulse is released that he realizes his suit pumped out twice the E-M charge that he accessed. Suddenly, Mac is airborne - but he never triggered the cybernetic flight response. As he crashes into a wall, he realizes he is no longer in control of the suit, then the inexperience shows through, and the panic sets in.
Vindicator holds his hands up, asking everyone to stay away, to back off, when suddenly he unleashes blasts which hit the roof and cause rubble to fall down on everyone. Mac calls to Albertson and asks him if this is his doing, when suddenly Albertson is struck by some of the debris. Mac runs over to him, asking Albertson if he didn’t realize what overriding his cybernet would do, while hoping that he is alive still. Reaching Albertson, Mac sees that he I alive. ‘Thank God, get an ambulance!’ exclaims Albertson.
Of course, Mac is scared now, and Clarke recalls how weeks back, a man named Weapon Alpha went into the United States to retrieve a Canadian agent named Wolverine. But mistakes were made, a civilian was injured and Weapon Alpha didn’t come back - a man named Vindicator did. Hudson had a lot to vindicate - inexperience, guilt, weakness. Tonight’s escapade certainly hasn’t helped Mac much.
As Vindicator flies out of the complex, Clarke decides that they will tell him the mission was accomplished, that the biochip manufacturing hardware was eliminated, but only Hudson and Clarke will know that the methods by which the task was completed were hardly the most professional. Mac feels that he has failed again in that civilians were almost hurt. Clarke thinks that all night long, Mac must have wondered “Will I end up killing someone in this suit, will the suit end up killing me?”
The next morning, Hudson meets with Clarke, Cody, Chasen and Kerry Patrick. Gary tries to give Mac some compliments, but all he can muster is ‘good work’. ‘Yeah, sure, Gary’ mumbles Mac. Clarke tells Mac that he wasn’t to have known that someone would provide Roxxon with his suit’s specifications, before turning to Chasen, and revealing to everyone that Chasen was responsible, exclaiming that what he did yesterday was not only unnecessary, but reprehensible.
Chasen tries to say something in his defense, but Clarke cuts him off, telling him there is nothing more he can say as he is finished, as of this moment is no longer liaison to Alpha Flight. Chasen storms out of the office, slamming the door hard. There is a minute of awkward glances, then Hudson thanks Clarke for his vote of confidence. ‘Yes of course’ states Clarke before asking Gary if he and his assistant would excuse them for a minute. ‘Certainly, let’s go, Kerry’.
With Cody and Patrick gone, Clarke tells Mac that Chasen may be out, but that the military, and the bureaucrats still believe the bare bones of the biochip program are essential. He explains that they are going to want to maintain some semblance of, not control, but accountability, of their super human personnel. Hudson starts to protest, but Clarke asks him what they do if one of Alpha Flight is subverted, or loses control. He points out that last night was proof enough that the potential for such an occurrence exists.
Mac turns away, but Clarke explains that he is only asking for a communications chip so that they can contact each other in case of emergency, and so that the government can be made aware of their location. Mac replies that Alpha Flight may not see the difference between this and Roxxon’s version. Clarke tells him that they will if Mac is the one to build the chip and maintain complete control over its design and implantation. Clarke assures Mac that it will be done with the strictest code of ethics and privacy possible. ‘I don’t ask this lightly, Mac…I ask it for the good of Canada’.
Clarke leaves the office and walks into the brisk Ottawa air, finding his car waiting for him. All the right pieces in all the right places. The look in Mac’s eyes, the haunted tenuous look, he will always treasure it. It was the same look a fish has when its mouth closes around the hook. ‘Well?’ asks Chasen from inside the car. Clarke gets into the car and replies that Hudson is going to do it himself and he is talking to Alpha Flight, telling them about it, right now.
Chasen smiles, ‘So the good cop / bad cop routine has worked like you thought it would?’ Clarke pats Chasen on the shoulder, ‘And all it cost you was a prestigious assignment’. Chasen tells Clarke he is more than welcome to it, ‘You can deal with these freaks until Department H collapses under its own weight! Which as we both know is only a few years away!’ Clarke points out that at least now they will have constant access to the whereabouts of these para humans as long as they live, which is what they wanted all along, right? The two men shake hands, on a job well done.
‘…And a job only you can do well’ Clarke tells Mac, seeing a glint in his eye, reminds him of a similar moment from years ago, but the moment passes. Clarke asks Mac if he will talk to Heather and tell her their decision. Mac replies that he doesn’t know about this, and admits he is not sure it would be beneficial to the cohesive functioning of this unit at this time. Clarke exclaims that Heather has proven herself to be too independent, and too radical time and time again.
Clarke points out to Vindicator that he doesn’t know the kinds of trouble Heather has gotten herself into while he was…away. Clarke reminds Mac that he should understand how these things work, and understands the compromises which have to be made for the good of the country. Mac admits that Clarke is right, that he does, and Clarke smiles. ‘Roulette ball spinning around; mouse in a maze; fish on a hook; an on/off switch with my finger calmly poised’ Clarke thinks to himself.
Mac opens the door to the female shower room, and Heather quickly pulls her towel around her, ‘What do you think you’re doing in here?’ she asks before asking him where he presumes to barge in here while she is showering, pointing out that they may have been married - may still be - but she couldn’t tell it from his cold-fish demeanor. Mac, still wearing nothing but his briefs, walks over to Heather who has turned her back to him, and informs her that he has been asked to supplant her as leader of Alpha Flight. ‘”Asked” - by whom?’ Heather mutters.
Hudson reveals to Heather that Clarke doesn’t feel she is capable of handling the responsibilities. Heather puts her glasses on and tells Mac that it isn’t really news to her, before asking him what he told Clarke. Mac replies ‘I told him I would talk to you’. ‘And you are. Now what?’ asks Heather. Mac heads towards the door, replying that there is nothing else, all he wanted to do was warn her - to protect her.
Mac informs Heather that he didn’t want Clarke manipulating her like he had done to him in the past. Heather runs after Mac, telling him to wait she grabs him by the neck and he turns around. ‘I don’t need you to protect me anymore’. Heather declares. ‘I know’ replies Mac, ‘But I think I may need you to protect me’. With that, James and Heather embrace, kiss passionately, and Heather’s towel falls to the floor.
Manhattan, home of Four Freedoms Plaza, headquarters of the world famous adventurers the Fantastic Four. In one of his labs, Reed Richards a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic discovers something peculiar, and believes that these readings of such intensity and duration are unprecedented. His wife and teammate, Susan Storm-Richards also known as the Invisible Woman asks Reed if everything is all right. Reed replies that everything is fine, but that some electroencephalographic analyzers that he has in orbit are reporting an alarming increase in psychometric activity coming from a remote region of the Yukon Territory.
‘Does that mean I should start packing the parkers then?’ asks Susan. Reed replies that he had been planning on calling Alpha Flight to have them download a report on their skirmish with Doctor Doom into their shared datanet, but figures that they may as well ask Alpha Flight permission to investigate this matter personally. ‘Alert the others, darling. Tell them we are going to Canada immediately!’