pagenumberMelah and Dale can stick around and report on the local angle if they want. As far as you’re concerned, superheroes from outer space trump anything that’s happened in the entire state of Ohio, ever. You hazard a guess at where the Cosmic Guardian — if that was the Cosmic Guardian — might have landed based on the erratic flight path and miscellaneous crashing noises. It’s not an exact science, but after canvassing a few blocks you spot a thin column of smoke wafting out of a broken window on the fifth floor of an apartment building. That’s a pretty good bet.

Some teenaged stoner is standing in the front entryway as you approach it, so you scoot past him and head up the stairs. The building isn’t in great shape, and is apparently the kind of place where you can crash through a plate glass window without making a stir, because when you arrive on the fifth floor (panting and sweating, thank you very much), you don’t see a single concerned tenant milling about in the hallway.

Okay, the smoke was coming from the third window, so … apartment 503 or 505? You take your best guess and knock gently on a paint-cracked door. “Uh, hello? Is everything all right in there?” The door shudders violently, as if someone on the inside had smacked it with a baseball bat. Or … unlocked it with an energy beam? You gingerly test the knob and find that it’s open.

Lying by the window is an armored figure with one arm stretched toward you, still smoldering. The battle suit is bulkier than you remember from the posters in your childhood bedroom, but from the gleaming blue metallic polymer and pattern of circuits on the arms and chest, there’s no question: this is the Cosmic Guardian. His helmet is open, revealing a pale, emaciated face crisscrossed with blue veins.

“Keep it … secret,” he says in a whisper. There’s a flash of light, and the man inside the suit literally dissolves into smoke before your eyes.

His empty armor remains frozen in position. Then its arm suddenly stretches toward you. You try to leap out of the way, but it strikes you in the chest, knocking you to the floor. Struggling to get up, you feel the suit envelop your entire body. For a moment, everything goes black. Then the room in front of you crackles into view, tinted green and overlaid with a horizon line and various digital prompts and readouts.

Before you can get your bearings, the suit launches you off the floor and out the broken window. You’re flying! And utterly out of control! You don’t feel any sense of motion inside the armor, but the city quickly disappears beneath you. A voice pops into your head — it seems to be bypassing your ears and streaming directly into your mind, and yet somehow has the feeling of an educational film from the 1950s.

In respect 197, rather you can get selection sector galaxy ‘delicious,’ and this is called brown,” it says.

What? It’s gibberish. And it’s not audio, exactly, but nevertheless you can almost hear the announcer’s booming, cheesy tenor, and the crackling of an old projector. You half expect it give you a stern warning about auto safety, or syphilis.

Not easy task,” the message continues. “And if you do there is only a great life you congratulations, you and the mercy of the universe.

Whatever translation software this thing uses clearly needs a lot of work. You continue to rocket skyward, breaking through the Earth’s atmosphere, traveling onward until the entire globe is within your field of vision, crisp blue oceans and the contours of continents visible through a swirl of clouds.

Holy crap. It’s magnificent. And you’re not at all sure what the suit is trying to tell you, but if it’s asking if you want to be the new Cosmic Guardian, the answer is yes.

With that thought, you feel something click. You wiggle your arms, and discover that you can move them effortlessly, as if … well, as if floating in space. You concentrate on changing course, and slowly the Earth starts getting larger on your helmet’s viewscreen.

You’re pretty sure you just became a superhero.

What now? You happen to know that a villain just held up a bank somewhere down there in Cleveland. Stopping that sort of thing is what superheroes are supposed to do. But you consider the dying words of the suit’s previous owner. Keep what secret? Your civilian identity? The entire existence of the Guardian armor? Should you try to keep things on the downlow, and stay out of the public eye until you have a better handle on what’s going on?

Onward to battle! If you charge ahead and stop the Ox before he gets away with his nefarious scheme, turn to page 18.

That would be impulsive and irresponsible! If you retreat to safety and use your skills as a journalist to dig up some information on the Cosmic Guardian before doing anything rash, turn to page 46.

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