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[Actual Play, NSFData] Marvel's Agents of STRIKE S03E04 - Behave Yourselves

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Michael shifts his gaze from Elise and Corsair towards the shifty guy, then looks away, trying to keep it subtle.

    Elise makes a very deliberate effort to not react to learning she’s being watched as she and Corsair approach the bar. Corsair orders himself a Halan Sunrise, and asks Elise, "You want something that reminds you of home, or something from out here?"

    "Let's go with something new."

    He nods and orders her a Halan Sunrise as well. The bartender, a large man with purple skin, makes them their drinks and hands them one each. Corsair smiles as he takes a drink. "I'm a big fan of these. Reminds me of a Rob Roy, if you've ever had one."

    "I tended to just drink straight from the bottle. Mixing drinks has never really been my thing." Elise cautiously sips the Sunrise.

    "So, what brings you folks all the way out here?"

    This feels as fraught and delicate to navigate as a card game. Maybe more so. She takes another sip. "We're a SHIELD team, just kind of...exploring space. Learning what's up."

    Corsair raises his eyebrows in surprise. "SHIELD just...explores space? Hhhuh."

    Elise realizes Carol and Miles are behind her. "Who's your friend, Elise?"

    "Hi, Chief. This is Corsair." Elise smiles. She thinks as hard as she can, hoping it channels through the new implant in her brain. I have everything under control.

    Carol smiles at Elise. "Hey, Elise, I saw you were doing pretty well at Pulsar. I think I'm pretty good, but I dunno, you're new at it. Think you've got beginner's luck, or skill?"

    "...You're challenging me,” Elise says flatly. "You are challenging me."

    "I am."

    Elise narrows her eyes. "Grab a deck."

    "Michael can come and make sure it stays a game of cards." Carol taps Miles' shoulder and smiles at him, "We'll be good."

    "I love you. Have fun."

    "Beginner's luck. Beginner's luck." Elise downs her drink. "We'll see!" She heads to the table, with Michael tagging along to chaperone the totally friendly non-hostile Pulsar game.

    Miles turns to Corsair. "What's good?" Corsair looks at him and smiles and orders a Halan Sunrise for Miles.

    Miles sips his Sunrise. He tries to not seem to excited and touristy. "I'm Miles, by the way. So you're from Earth?"

    Corsair sputters a bit. "Y-yeah. So are you guys, I take it. SHIELD, the young lady said. That sure is...something."

    Miles nods. "You know about SHIELD?"

    Corsair nods, "I mean, I know how SHIELD was in 1995...they didn't have a division that did space expeditions. I guess a lot changes in that time."

    Miles shrugs. "Imean, it's not just a space expedition. So 1995, huh?" Miles ticks off some items on his fingers. "Okay, you need the highlight reel. Black president. Captain America wasn't dead! Just frozen in ice. He's back now and we've hung out. HYDRA came back too. Oh, and the Red Sox won the Series, finally."

    Corsair is shocked, "Holy shit the Red Sox won the Series? I'm from Boston."

    "No shit? Haha, yeah, it was like, 75 years exactly."

    Corsair lets out a low whistle. "Huh, son of a bitch."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Carol and Elise approach the Pulsar table and take seats. A house dealer deals them both out, and Elise can tell immediately by the way Carol arranges her cards and places her initial bets that Carol knows Pulsar. Elise...may have made a mistake.

    It'll be fine.

    Elise holds her cards carefully and theatrically arches one eyebrow. "Not too late to back out. If you want to save face, I mean."

    Carol smirks. "Of course it's not too late. For you."

    At some point, Elise had held onto concerns. Concerns about buying in too deep, about letting Old Elise take over. Those are gone now. Elise wants to win.

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    Nebula and Centurion sit at their table. Nebula looks him over, "So...I know you and your brother are...complicated. That, I get. But I hope he's okay. I genuinely do. I do actually want to help you. I put myself in your place, think about if this happened to my sister and...well, I'm here to help."

    "Family is family. I'm glad you get that,” he says. “I believe you as well. I'll get that pardon."

    Nebula taps the table and looks at Centurion and smiles innocently, "Sooo...next time can I have a real gun?"

    "Just maybe," Ryann winks.

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    Elise destroys Danvers at their first hand of Pulsar. Elise leans back in her chair and grins. "Careful, Danvers. You're gonna need pocket money."

    "Well, I'm rusty, to be fair. Haven't played Pulsar in two years at least," Carol says. "Hey, Elise...I think that girl's looking at you."

    A muscle jumps in Elise's cheek. She doesn't look up. "Nice try. I'm happily married, remember?"

    "Sure, but you may as well give her a polite turn-down nod, or she'll just keep looking. Or she'll come over here and talk to you. And that'd be worse."

    "She'll notice the ring." Elise waggles her left hand.

    "Oh, her people don't do those," Carol says. "I mean, you know what I'm talking about, right? You give girls the polite 'hey, thanks, I see you, but I'm good' nod, right? Because to me it looks like she's working up the courage to come talk to you."

    Elise finally looks.

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    She's absolutely looking at Elise. She smiles. The muscle jumps in Elise's cheek again, and Elise gives her the nod.

    Carol whispers to Elise "She's Krylorian. Did you know that Krylorians aren't pink on all of their body?” She smiles wolfishly.

    "Shut. Up."

    Elise can tell Carol doesn't know this like, academically. She's smiling with a sense of pride.

    "I didn't know you were so familiarly acquainted with naked space ladies, Carol." Elise shoots a mean grin back across the table. "That's cool! We can have a girls' night, y'know. Paint each others nails, talk about our conquests..."

    Carol is suddenly rattled and nearly drops her cards. "Uh... I..." Her eyes shift back and forth nervously. "It's... it's your bid..."

    Carol has overplayed her hand. Figuratively, possibly literally. Elise has a choice. She can win, but only by needling Carol on this possible detail. Or she can be gracious, and let Carol take the hand. She won't really be out money.

    Elise's malevolent grin widens. "Oh, man, remember when I got you to get into The Van? I read that situation all wrong! I could have offered you a totally different kind of ride."

    "N-no! I...I don't...that's not...it's because Mahr Vehl and...I'm not," she stammers. "Not that there's anything wrong with that, I'm just not.”

    She flubs her hand, and Elise takes more of her money.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Julian walks over to the Sagittarian, who is observing Corsair and now Miles skeptically. He notices Julian, and nods at him. "Nice jacket."

    Julian nods. "Thanks." He flashes the man a grin. "You're looking pretty sharp, yourself. He peers over the crowd, looking for a server, then leans back and glances over to the Sagittarian. "Can I buy you a drink?"

    "No. I don't."

    "Mm,” Julian purses his lips. “Shame. What can I get you?"

    g3xuawl.png

    Michael's been keeping a mental tally of Elise vs Carol. Elise is up by quite a few points.

    "Aw, Carol, it's okay. We don't have to keep playing. I mean, I've already embarrassed you...I'd hate to take all of your money, too." Elise gives her best effort at a beatific smile.

    Carol scowls. "I'm not going back to Izzy having been fleeced by you."

    "I didn't fleece anyone. It's just skill, sweetheart."

    Carol looks at the house dealer and squints. "Deal."

    "Oh, I am looking forward to watching Kane ream you out for gambling," Elise says. "It's going to be so good."

    Elise obliterates Carol for every last Unit. Elise rubs the units between her hands. "MMMM. They just...feel so GOOD."

    Carol looks over at Elise and stammers softly "Well...looks like I need to go...die."

    "It's not that big a deal, Danvers."

    She shakes her head. "No, I mean, I have a mission and...well I'm broke and humiliated now so I might as well go do that now. After that I get to go back to the ship and get yelled at by Izzy. What fun."

    Elise laces her fingers together to make a balcony and props her chin on it. "Miles can cover your expenses for the rest of the trip!"

    Carol's eyes suddenly go wide. "Oh fuck." She almost never drops an f-bomb. She looks at Elise and sucks her teeth. She whispers "So... part of my mission involves me renting a ship and then it blowing up...which now I can't do because...uh...."

    "Well, Carol, I did say I would help you with your mission. I said anything I could offer, I'd do,” Elise says. "But you have to say I'm pretty." She pauses. "And smart."

    Carol grits her teeth.

    Suddenly Michael steps in and hands Carol most of his Units.

    "Aw!" Elise says, scandalized.

    "Oh bless you, Michael," Carol says, relieved. She hugs Michael and takes the Units. "I'll pay you back, I promise."

    "Just try not to do it by playing Elise,” he smiles.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    g3xuawl.png

    The Sagittarian looks at Julian and squints his one eye. "You're not Xandarian or Spartoi. Are you...human?"

    "Interesting question. Why do you ask?" ... and how would he know?...

    "I've only met two humans in my whole life. One was an egotistical piece of trash. The other...you know what...come to think of it, both of them were. I'm trying not to form a stereotype about your planet."

    Julian laughs. Potential trouble. He knows I'm human. Or is acting like it. "I'm from Earth, yeah. Human."

    The grey-skinned alien nods. "Why are you out here? From what I know, your planet barely has orbital flight, now you're out here. Looks like there's a mess of you in here now. You suddenly get FTL now?"

    "Seems like a pretty happening place here. Can't say space travel's gotten to be like a big thing back on Earth yet. We're kind of a backwater. You take whatever ticket you can to get out."

    The Sagittarian looks at Julian. "You with the other humans?"

    "And you're with the other guy there, eh? Yeah."

    The Sagittarian nods at Julian, "Name's Raza. C'mon." He turns to go.

    "Julian," he returns as he follows Raza out of the casino.

    g3xuawl.png
    .

    Corsair leans in to Miles and whispers "So if it's not just a space expedition, what's really going on?"

    Miles regards Corsair. "One of my teammates' brother disappeared out here, and we need to find him and find out what happened." It's technically true. "So...what's your story? Were we sending dudes into space to tell people about Soundgarden?"

    Corsair laughs, "Jesus, are they still a thing? No, not exactly. My whole thing is... complicated. Let's just say me being out here was not something I wanted for myself, but now that I am, I am. It is what it is. This teammates' brother, was he taken or what? Someone snatch him off Earth?"

    "No, he - I mean, my teammate and his brother - are aliens. We've got a couple aliens along, showing us the ropes, you know." Miles frowns darkly. "Not that it stopped Elise from gambling in the alien murder den. She almost got her legs broken in Vegas, you know." Change that subject!

    Corsair sips his Halan Sunrise. "Mhm. Yeah, good to know Vegas hasn't changed. So, your teammate and his brother, they Xandarians perchance?"

    X-51 chimes in Miles' ear. Miles, I have procured information on this individual.

    Miles does his best to look quizzical. "Which ones are they?" Hit me.

    His name is Christopher Summers. He goes by the alias Corsair. According to records from Earth, he went missing 1995, presumed dead in a plane crash along with his wife, Katherine. He has two sons, Scott and Alexander. Scott Summers, alias Cyclops, is also a member of the X-Men, the mutant team that STRIKE allied with against the Skrulls. Given the temporal order of matters, it is unlikely that Christopher Summers is aware his son is a mutant.

    Under the alias Corsair, this man is a known smuggler, the captain of the ship Starjammer. He is wanted for felonies related to smuggling in the Xandar Federation and the Kree Empire.


    Miles takes a moment to digest this. He supposes it makes sense this guy wouldn't be here selling Avon.

    It took me several minutes to obtain this information, cross-referencing Earth facial recognition databases, publicly available galactic wanted posters, and SWORD's own database which I had to politely request in parcels from Helen. This could have been made considerably more expedient if I was permitted to interface with Helen's systems directly. I did not propose this idea to her as I was directed not to but I performed a analytic prediction on the subject that concluded she would be amenable to doing so. I am going to restate my request to permit this action, at your authorization.

    Orders are orders, X-51.
    Miles continues looking at Corsair innocently.

    Acknowledged, Miles. If she were to present the idea to me, would that change the outcome of this proposal?

    If she asked Kane, and Kane said yes, maybe. But we'd want to know exactly what you and her were planning. Maybe with Vision along as a chaperone,
    Miles thinks.

    Understood.

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    This is all played basically straight. Cyclops, who along with his brother grew up in a series of abusive foster homes and orphanages after his parents died in a prop plane crash in Alaska, discovered in an early-1980s issue of Uncanny X-Men that his father was alive; the plane had crashed because it had been shot down by a Shi’ar Imperial Battlecruiser and the Summers couple, after putting the only parachutes in the plane on their sons, had been teleported to the alien craft to be studied.

    Katherine Summers was murdered by the mad Shi’ar emperor D’Ken, and Christopher, swearing revenge, led a motley group of aliens in a jailbreak. They stole the ship Starjammer and became notorious space pirates and reluctant revolutionaries plaguing the fascist Shi’ar Empire and helping D’Ken’s benevolent younger sister, Lilandra (who is also Professor X’s long-time lover), overthrow her evil sibling.

    The Shiar of Earth-1491 are long dead, consumed by Galactus (whereupon their collective psychic power created the Phoenix Force) but the Kree Empire is a pretty good stand-in so I assume that Corsair and the Starjammers are largely the same here.

    “Xandarians are the ones that look just like you and me,” Corsair says. “Not green or blue or pink, just like they stepped off the bus from Idaho. Wouldn't happen to be the guy in purple talking to my first mate, would it?" Corsair nods in the direction of Julian and the Sagittarian.

    "Oh, no, he's just dressed that way because he's really into Bowie."

    "Oh, yeah, that makes sense. Nice to see Bowie fans haven't changed either."

    Miles nods. "Some things are eternal." He drains his glass. "So you introduced yourself to Elise and apparently not to get revenge for your card game. Are you...keeping an eye out for Xandarians?” Miles studies him. “Or just for any familiar-looking face?"

    Corsair finishes his drink. "Get your people together and meet me out front." Corsair makes a gesture to the man Julian is talking to, and he nods.

    Miles radios the team. "I've run into a guy named Corsair. He's a smuggler, wanted by both Xandar and the Kree. He's also from Earth. And he wants to meet us. Be alert, keep your heads."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Elise has gathered up her winnings and is currently eyeing a bigger prize pool at another table. “Oh, you ran into him?” Elise radios back. She gives the massive Pulsar pool one last, regretful look and heads for the doors.

    "Yeah," Miles radios back. "He asked some pointed questions about Xandarians. I have a feeling he knows more about us than we do about him. Caution is the word of the day."

    Centurion follows with Nebula

    When Elise reaches the front, she looks for Miles. "Hey, Chief. Carol bailed. She's doing her thing."

    Miles frowns. "Hm. Okay. Thanks."

    The team assembles out front. Corsair and Raza meet with them. "Follow us."

    They lead the STRIKE team down a side alley. Waiting there are two others.

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    Corsair regards the assembled group. "I'm Corsair," he gestures to the Sagittarian, "This is Raza, my first mate."

    The woman speaks up, "Hepzibah."

    The creature nods and grunts. "My name is Ch'od."

    "Ch....od? That's....anyway! Nice to meet you all. I'm Miles. This is Elise, Julian, Michael, and Ryan."

    Corsair narrows his eyes at Ryan. With one n. "Which one's the one with a brother?"

    Centurion raises his hand. "That'd be me."

    Corsair continues to be skeptical, looking at Ryan. "Mhm. And you're not from Earth, huh?"

    Elise notices all the Starjammer crew are suddenly very tense. Like they're anticipating this is about to go very sideways.

    Miles can read the room. He steps forward with hands held up placatingly. "Let's all just stay calm and civil."

    "I'm just looking for information about my brother. I'm hoping you can give me some answers," Ryan says, calm and direct.

    Corsair looks at Raza. "Is he Xandarian?" Raza nods.

    Ryan puts his hand up and laughs. "You got me.”

    Corsair looks over at Ch'od, "Are we alone?"

    Ch'od sniffs the air. "Yeah, just us."

    "Easy, lads." Ryan brings his hands down.

    Corsair looks back at Raza, "Is it him? I've never seen his face."

    Raza squints his one eye at Centurion. "Can't tell. He's wearing something. A mask? Not sure. Something really sophisticated."

    Elise suddenly claps, delighted. "You have super senses too, don't you!"

    "Am I who?" Ryan demands.

    Corsair asks bluntly, "Are you Ryann Valt?"

    Centurion glances at the rest of the group. "Yes." He deactivates the mask.

    Raza nods. "It's him."

    Be ready for anything, Miles tells X-51.

    "Don't start shooting," Elise says, trying to sound calm and relaxed.

    "What do you want with me?” Ryann asks. “Am I your Nova job?"

    Raza is taken aback. He looks at Julian and squints. "...telepath." Julian shrugs innocently.

    "I wouldn't be worried about him." Ryann's posture changes. "I want answers."

    Corsair puts up his hand. "Not here. Somewhere secure. You have a ship?"

    Ryann narrows his eyes. "Don't you?"

    Corsair grimaces. "...not right now we don't."

    "Fine," Ryann growls.

    "Ryann, relax," Elise says nervously.

    Corsair looks around at his crew. "Everyone keep your head on a swivel, make sure they aren't following us."

    "Who's they?" Elise asks.

    "Is it Vor-Thrul?" Miles adds.

    Corsair just shushes them. "Don't worry about it. You know how to watch out for being followed, right? You're SHIELD guys? So watch out for being followed."

    Elise is having a hard time coming down from the casino. The wins, the thrill, the lights. She takes a few deep breaths and opens her senses, checking to see if anyone is watching them.

    "Hold on." They're being followed. Elise can feel it. She tilts her head to the side, like an owl. "Eyes on us."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    There's someone moving directly through the crowd. Human...or Xandarian or Spartoi. Not Krylorian or Kree or something like that. Male. Brown hair, sort of non-descript and square-jawed. If Elise was a betting woman, which she 100% is, she'd put her money on undercover cop.

    "I'm guessing law enforcement. One man. Human...Well, probably Xandarian or something like that. Dunno if you guys can see him. He looks like...default guy number four in a video game, y'know? Eerily normal lookin'."

    Corsair hisses low, "Shit, shit shit fuck, we're made. Move."

    "By who?!" Ryann whispers.

    Corsair growls at Ryann. "The Black Novas."

    "Fuck." Ryann knows about the Black Novas. He's never personally met one, but he knows of their existence. He holds them in disdain, doing the Nova Corps’ dirtiest work and operating outside the law and Xandarian territory.

    "What?!" Julian hisses.

    Miles puts his hand to his earpiece. "Kane, we might need a quick extraction. Us plus four, uh, guests."

    She radios back "...please tell me this is a mission thing and not an Elise thing."

    "A mission thing, mostly." X-51, can you disrupt their comms? Keep them off us till we return to the ship?

    Miles, that represents a significant risk. The Black Novas have some of the best-encrypted systems in the galaxy. I do not recommend this course of action.

    Hmm, oka - wait, where's Elise?

    As the team hustles through the endlessly twisting, recursive, jam-packed corridors and alleyways of Knowhere, Elise has been lost in the crowd and is separated from the group.

    "Oh, fuck me," she hisses. "They were right there -"

    She hears an energy weapon charging behind her. Something is about to shoot her.

    Elise has a choice. She can dodge the shot. She has the time. But it will hit someone in the crowd. Some bystander alien she doesn't even know. Maybe they're a good person! Or maybe they're a cannibal murder-thief. She doesn't know.

    Elise takes the hit. An energy blast catches her from behind and she’s knocked unconscious.

    Nobody in the crowd even reacts.

    It's Knowhere. This happens.

    It turns out, it wasn't fine.

    X-51 responds to Miles
    Miles, I am trying to locate Elise by tracking her comm frequency. It has gone offline, very suddenly.[/i]

    Miles holds his fist up for a halt and Centurion slides to a stop. "Elise is in trouble!"

    "Fuck!" Julian doubles back looking for Elise. I'm going for her! Michael goes with him.

    ”Julian, try to reach her. Corsair, can any of your people....do something?" Miles turns. Corsair and his people are gone.

    "Smugglers," Ryann makes the word a curse as he turns back to Miles.

    "...fuck, everyone after Julian!"

    Centurion touches his gauntlet.·6 "Helen, be on standby..."

    Julian runs back the way they came, trying to pick out where the shot came from. The area is extremely crowded and nobody seems to care what may have happened to Elise.

    S6vGv6B.jpg

    He tries to trace the direction the shot came from both from the surrounding details and listening through thoughts in the crowd.

    Oh shit! A Black Nov-... oh... well, better her than me.
    Hey! The Nova Corps can't...well, not my problem.


    Behind him, Michael quickly scans the crowd visually, looking for people running away, maybe carrying something Elise-sized.

    He spots Elise's hair. Even in space, a space station full of aliens and strange creatures, Elise's hair is a bright flag. Michael grabs Julian in one hand and points with the other while hustling him through the crowd. "Spotted her!"

    Julian runs for it! "Thanks, man."

    Miles and Ryann see Julian and Michael start to move, and they take off after them. X-51 chimes in Miles’ head. Miles...I am under cyber-attack. It is a sophisticated Virtual Intelligence that appears to be Xandarian in origin. Permission to counter-attack?

    Can you shut down all external inputs? Go dark?
    Miles asks. He doesn’t want to risk X-51 getting clobbered by some super-sophisticated black ops alien malware.

    Yes. But I calculate my odds of succeeding at greater than 250% if I am permitted to engage in maximum hostility. I may be taking this personally, Miles.

    Miles isn’t sure he likes the sound of this. Define maximum hostility.

    I find myself with some level of personal desire to eliminate this Virtual Intelligence. I am uncertain as to the origin of this desire. I will go dark and attempt to identify the source of this drive.

    I think that's a good idea. Report back with your findings when you're done.

    Understood.
    X-51 signs off.

    Ryann looks at Miles as they press through the crowd "What's happening?"

    "X-51's under cyberattack. I'm having it go dark."

    Ryann sucks his teeth

    Michael and Julian are chasing the man carrying Elise. They get to a clearing in the crowd, and the individual turns and drops her to the ground just as Miles, Ryann, and Nebula catch up.

    C9K0Vk3l.jpg

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "Let her go!" Centurion rushes forward.

    "Take him down!" Miles shouts to the team. Michael armors up.

    Julian rushes to close the distance with the Black Nova before heating the metal in his suit, but the Black Nova is faster, and shoots Julian in the chest. Julian drops to the ground, unconscious.

    Miles fires his repulsors, aiming carefully away from Elise! He blasts the Black Nova. The agent has a shield on his armor, which takes most of the hit, but Miles blasts his shield away.

    "Alright, hot shot!" Centurion hits the Black Nova with a flying kick, knocking him over onto his back while Behemoth flies over and scoops up Elise, carrying her out of danger.

    Centurion knocks the Black Nova's helmet off. "Nebula!" She runs over. "The ICER!"

    Nebula grins wide and draws her ICER, hitting the Black Nova between the eyes. The Black Nova is unconscious. Nebula looks at the ICER and nods at Centurion, "Okay, I take it back."

    Ryann smiles.

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    When we switched to the new system, Jake paid XP to buy Nebula as a sidekick. So while Matt writes her dialogue, she basically cooperates with Ryann’s wishes. Mechanically, he can use her to assist on a roll, with the catch that if the roll goes badly, she could be put at risk.

    "So...what do we do with him?" she says.

    "Get his data core...anything computerized!” Miles says. “I'm going to have X-51 go over it with a fine-toothed comb."

    "No," Ryann says. "Not happening. We have Elise, we're getting out of here. Behemoth, pick him them up." Centurion leans over his body and removes the data devices.

    Nebula looks at Centurion. "We leave an unconscious Black Nova in the middle of Knowhere he's going to get murdered and chopped up. Or chopped up while alive."

    Frowning at Ryann, Miles grabs the Black Nova. "We need answers. If you don't want them from his data, fine, but we need them from the man."

    "I'll go over these and see if there is anything that will help us,” Ryann says, looking down at the data cores. “This is already sideways."

    Michael looks up at Ryann while reaching down to pick up Elise and Julian’s bodies. "We have cryo-tubes on the ship. Stick him in there."

    Nebula makes an impressed whistle, "Oooo, I like that. Put the cop on ice. It's poetic." She looks at Centurion, "No offense."

    Miles nods at Michael. Frowning down at the Black Nova, Ryann rubs his face and sighs. "Alright, let's get out of here. We lost the smugglers but this guy might be able to give us answers. Good work, team. No man left behind. Err,” he says after a moment, “well. Human.." another pause. "...like.

    "You know what I mean"

    Corsair appears from an alleyway.

    "The fuck," Ryann jumps back, startled.

    "So... good work, team!” Corsair says. “Good hustle."

    "What the hell, dude," Miles says. Michael pinches his nose and sighs, while holding two unconscious bodies and not having a nose.

    Corsair puts his hands up. "Hey, uh, hi? I'm a wanted criminal in fourteen sectors and the Black Novas aren't terribly known for taking people in alive or in one piece. That they stunned your people means they wanted information from them, which, great."

    Ryann sighs. "Let's just go already. Follow us."

    The Starjammers follow the team back to the Anabasis.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Moira meets them in the ship’s docking bay. She runs over to Michael, who is carrying Julian and Elise. She has a medpack with her and does a quick scan of both of them. "Oh, this stun is inventive. Cerebral disruption while maintaining vital functions. They could be out for over an hour like this. But a quick electro-cortical stimulation and..."

    She presses a device against the side of Julian's head and zaps him. He's conscious, with a mild headache. Julian groggily moans. "I didn't die, right?"

    Elise is next. She sits up with wild eyes, reaching for her pulse pistol. "Where -"

    Moira pats her. "Back on the ship, lass. Relax."

    Centurion gestures at the Black Nova he is holding. "I need to put this one out for awhile."

    "We need to talk to the Nova first," Miles says.

    Ryann shakes his head. "Not while we're still docked here.”

    Nebula nods at Ryann. "It's not like anything he knows will change if we just thaw him out later."

    "We can't take off without Carol." Elise mutters. She's hit with a wave of guilt.

    Kane, who has entered along with Agent Dalton, holds up her hands. "Danvers is still off doing her thing. We're not going anywhere. I need a sitrep, it looks like things went real sideways."

    "We got attacked." Elise says. She sounds tired. ”I was trying to make it back to the ship, and he.. he shot me." She shudders. "He wanted to take me alive."

    "I need this man striped and put on ice," Ryann says.

    Dalton takes the Black Nova from Centurion. "I got it."

    Helen appears on a holographic display. "Centurion Valt, there is a secure location on the ship that is signal-sequestered. It would be the safest place to store all technology from the prisoner if there were any concerns about transmissions."

    "Alright, let's get his gear there," Ryann nods.

    Corsair raises an eyebrow at Helen. "Well, hello there."

    She smiles at Corsair. "Hello, I am the Heuristic Enhanced Logistics Engagement Network. You can call me Helen. How would you like to be addressed?"

    Corsair smiles. "Hi, Helen. You can call me Christopher."

    Ryann squints. "Really, man?"

    Corsair straightens his jacket, "Uh, sorry."

    Miles rubs his temples. "So. Welcome to the Anabasis, Mister Summers. What's all this about?"

    Corsair looks at Miles. "Okay... so here's the situation. We got robbed. By his brother." He points at Ryann. "He stole our ship. After he sold his."

    "He didn't want to be tracked," Elise says.

    Miles nods at Elise. "And he's alive. Or was."

    Hepzibah sighs. "That's... that's out of order. What happened was, Tanak Valt came to us with a job offer. He had pawned all of his Nova gear off. Left the life, he said. Wanted to start over. Wanted quiet passage to Sakaar.

    "We weren't going to run just one passenger to Sakaar, so we said, wait until we had some cargo worth hauling that way. He said, well here's enough Units that I'm your entire cargo.

    "...so we were going to go to Sakaar.

    "Then, day of, he double-crosses us. Soon as he gets on the ship, he forces us out, takes control, and fucks off with the Starjammer. Leaves us behind on Knowhere."

    Ryann eyes Corsair, who shrugs.

    "That's one answer." Elise rubs her temples. "Why would a Black Nova try to kidnap me? Did he think I was part of your crew?"

    "A Supernova is missing," Miles says slowly. "And we were talking to the last people who saw him."

    "Well it sounds like Tanak at least," Ryann sighs. "What do you know about Taur?"

    Corsair sucks his teeth. "Heard it got...well, y'know. Gone."

    "Yeah. Tanak mention anything about going to that System?"

    "...yeah, he had a Taurian with him."

    "This Taurian have a name?" Ryann asks.

    "Kehl."

    "Know anything about Kehl?"

    "From what I understand, Taurian pirate. Tanak had him in his hold and was delivering him to Taur when, y'know..." Corsair grimaces. "Didn't seem to be in chains though. More like they were working together."

    Ryann scratches his chin.

    "As for the Black Novas...they were waiting on you," Corsair says.

    "So had Tanak been to Taur when he jacked your ride, or was going there?" Miles says.

    "Who sent you to find me?" Ryann adds.

    Corsair tries to explain and Hepzibah cuts him off again. "Gods of the Void, shut up Christopher. You're making them more confused, not less. So, this is what happened…

    "Taur was destroyed several cycles ago, by...well, you know. Tanak Valt, from what we understand, showed up in some official capacity in his ship. He had the Taurian pirate Kehl with him as a prisoner, we think to drop off to the Taur authorities. Except there were no Taur authorities because there was no Taur anymore.

    "Then he shows up on Knowhere, with Kehl, and the two of them just...sell off all his Nova everything. Helmet, uniform, ship, everything. Just pawned it off to the Collector in exchange for enough Units to pay us to get him and Kehl to fly quietly all the way to Sakaar. We said yes.

    "Day of, Tanak screws us. Him and Kehl lock us out of our own ship and take off with the Starjammer. Maybe they went to Sakaar. Maybe they went somewhere else. We don't know.

    "Then the Black Novas show up and start poking around. We've been dodging them, because we don't know if they want to murder us or what. But what we did manage to hear from the people they did talk to is they've been not just looking for Tanak, but they've also been on the look-out for his brother, Ryann.

    “But we're marooned on Knowhere, and we can't just book a freighter to leave without the Black Novas catching wise."

    "Damn," Ryann murmurs.

    Hepzibah nods. "So...we were going to run a casino job on the Eye of Jemiah. Use that money to buy a ship, try to track down Tanak, get the Starjammer back. We were casing the joint when you all showed up."

    "That part is super unsurprising," Ryann adds.

    "I feel like it's a safe bet he's not on Sakaar,” Miles says. “But...let's work this through. He learned something on Taur. Or Kehl told him something. So we run down Kehl's background."

    "If they're looking for Ryann, they might be looking for us, as well,” Elise points out. “I mean, he's been reporting to the Corps, right? They probably know who we are." Miles nods.

    Nebula looks at Elise. "Well, they shot you."

    "I was hoping it was just 'cause I was talkin' with Corsair. But yeah, I think..." Elise grimaces. "I think I might want to dye my hair."

    Kane looks at Centurion. "What about this Collector? Your brother sold all of his Nova gear to him. Isn't that...treason?"

    Ryann nods. "Yeah, this is all really bad if true. I need to go talk to this Collector. See what I can learn."

    Corsair turns to Kane and taps his fingertips together anxiously, "Soooo, I take it you're the captain of this ship, right?"

    Kane narrows her eyes. "Yes."

    Corsair looks at his crew and back to her. "So, the thing is, we were trying to afford a ship to get off Knowhere and track Tanak down and get the Starjammer back. And if that's what you're doing anyway..."

    Miles' eyes are also narrow. He's hoping this isn't a prelude to piracy.

    Kane looks at Centurion. "Agent Valt, a word?" Ryann nods and joins her off to the side.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Elise clears her throat. "Hey, so, uh, Miles? Can I talk to you for a moment? About Carol?"

    Miles nods tersely and goes to join Elise. "What about her?"

    "Uh, when Carol gets back, she might be...she challenged me to cards and...she kind of...I'm just giving you a heads up, she's dealing with some stuff. And it's...inflamed."

    Miles frowns. "I wish you two could get along. And I know it's not just you, Elise. But still." A pause. "Anyway, thanks."

    Elise shoves two galactic credits into Miles' hands. "I won these off her. Give them back."

    Miles examines Elise carefully before pocketing the credits. "...Thank you. This means a lot to me." He feels more relaxed than he has in days.

    "...I appreciate you guys getting me back," she says quietly.

    Kane confers with Centurion in a low voice. "I don't know these people. You seem to. Can we trust them? This guy seems shifty as all hell. Everything about his dress and demeanor screams ‘sleazebag Jack Sparrow in space’ to me. His handle is literally a synonym for pirate. Should we let them on our ship?"

    "We're between a rock and a hard place here. They've helped us so far but I understand your position. I’m willing to give them a chance, but at the end of the day it's your ship, Captain. Your orders stand," he says.

    Kane nods. "Thank you." She turns to a console, "Helen, put the entirety of Corsair's crew on limited access and 24-hour security watch and log all activity, to be reviewed by XO Dalton or myself. Also, if Corsair attempts any...romantic advances towards you that you find inappropriate, report to me personally."

    "Acknowledged, Captain Kane."

    Kane walks back over to the group. "Alright, Mr. Summers, you and your crew are welcome aboard my ship as guests. You will have restricted Guest access to the ship. You are passengers, not crew, and please understand that."

    Hepzibah begins to make a noise but Corsair puts a hand on her shoulder and smiles. "That'll be fine, thank you, Captain."

    Kane looks at the STRIKE team. "Alright, STRIKE team, take a few, rest up, some of you just got taken out. We're going to switch out some looks; Doc Samson has some disguise tech for when you redeploy ashore. I want you to go talk to the Collector, gather intel on what Tanak did here on the station and why he sold his gear off, and if you can get any of that gear. Logs from his ship or his gauntlet would be top priority. For regulation reasons, we as a team or as a ship will not be accessing them, but Centurion Valt will.

    "There may still be Black Novas in play on the station, so keep your guard up. Corsair's crew will remain on the ship."

    Nebula puts her hand up, and Kane nods at her.

    Nebula says "I'd like to be...added to the team, if that's okay with Centurion Valt. I know I'm not strictly needed as a guide at this point but...I'm also not really needed here either."

    Kane looks at Ryann. "Your call, it's your team."

    "I have no objections," Miles says.

    Ryann just smiles. He nods.

    Kane nods. "Good enough. Nebula, you're provisionally part of STRIKE-1."

    "...Do I outrank her?" Elise asks.

    "Yes," Kane says.

    Elise pumps a fist. "Yes."

    "Oh my God, Elise," Julian says. "...Do I?"

    "No. Sorry Julian, I was given strict orders from Clay."

    Julian throws his hands up in the air. "Really?! Come on!"

    "I'll forward you the reasoning if it will make you feel better, Julian." Kane says sympathetically.

    He pauses a moment. "I mean...it doesn't really change the situation we're in regardless of rank...But I am curious, now that you're offering."

    Ryann cocks his head and smiles at Nebula. "Welcome to the team.”

    Miles nods at Nebula. "That goes for all of us."

    "Thanks," she says.

    "Anyway..." Julian offers a hand to Nebula.

    She shakes it. "I won't pull rank on you, honest. I don't even know what I'd do with that."

    "We can give you some ideas," Miles smiles. "Later."

    She looks back at the team. "I am going to go get a drink, however. This ship has a bar."

    "Oh, pssh,” Julian continues to Miles. “I was joking. Up until this clarification. Ouch, man."

    "So are we, probably." Miles pats Julian on the shoulder as he passes him on his way to the bar.

    "It's the 'probably' that worries me!" Julian calls after him.

    PDKpJsK.png


    visiblehowl
  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    edited December 6
    Jacobkosh wrote: »
    I didn't know if Matchbox 20 had talked about them.

    giphy.gif?cid=3640f6095c08788f4e666435510c8409


    Jacobkosh wrote: »

    Suddenly Michael steps in and hands Carol most of his Units.

    Is there anyone left who hasn't betrayed Elise at this point

    Powerpuppies on
    sig.gif
    Jacobkosh
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
  • visiblehowlvisiblehowl Neutron Nerd Registered User regular
    Jacobkosh wrote: »
    Kane nods. "Good enough. Nebula, you're provisionally part of STRIKE-1."

    "...Do I outrank her?" Elise asks.

    "Yes," Kane says.

    Elise pumps a fist. "Yes."

    "Oh my God, Elise," Julian says. "...Do I?"

    "No. Sorry Julian, I was given strict orders from Clay."

    Julian throws his hands up in the air. "Really?! Come on!"

    "I'll forward you the reasoning if it will make you feel better, Julian." Kane says sympathetically.

    He pauses a moment. "I mean...it doesn't really change the situation we're in regardless of rank...But I am curious, now that you're offering."

    I am also curious!

    vxsHp3F.gif
    I am apparently an MTGA draft god on Twitch
    Fencingsax
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    sRcHE54.png



    qlGmSdP.pngCaliburn Mission Report: Arrival at Knowhere
    Report Filed by: Captain Isabel Kane, Commanding Officer of the Anabasis and Mission Leader for Operation Caliburn

    We have arrived at Knowhere, a space station built into the cranium of a long-dead Celestial. It is a disconcerting and dangerous place, essentially the worst stereotypes of every den of thieves and pirate port all rolled into one and thrown into space.

    STRIKE-1 was deployed ashore, and in doing so managed to recruit a local crew of smugglers, led by a human captain named Christopher Summers. Summers appears to be the father of Scott Summers of the X-Men, a fact he is unaware of. How and why he is in outer space is unclear as of this writing.

    Summers and his crew had a smuggling ship, the Starjammer, that had been hijacked by Tanak Valt. Valt himself had sold his ship and Nova Corps equipment to Taneleer Tivan, the Collector, a treasonous action for the Nova Corps. Tanak’s motives remain largely mysterious. Valt then took the Starjammer and apparently headed for Sakaar.

    The Starjammer crew have been offered temporary accommodation aboard the Anabasis to assist in locating Tanak Valt. They are being closely monitored by Agent Dalton.

    A complication that occurred during the away mission was the involvement of the Black Novas, the Nova Corps’ secret police. One attempted to subdue and capture Agent Arnell and Agent Adler, and was then himself subdued and captured by the rest of STRIKE-1. We currently have him in cryo-stasis until such time as we decide what to do with him.

    On an unrelated note, as Dr. MacTaggert had feared, Agent Danvers’ condition is continuing to deteriorate. Her behavior is growing increasingly erratic, and her personality appears to be shifting back and forth between her own and Phil Lawson/Mahr-Vehl.

    I have been attempting to socialize with Carol and keep her mind off things, and permitting her time to be romantically involved with Agent Mason seems to be helping things in some respects, but I’m afraid we’re losing her.

    I am going to, once again in writing, formally protest sending her on this mission and state that it is detrimental to her condition and is accelerating the personality fusion in a way that may cause irreparable harm to her personality and mind. I know it’s too late now, she’s here, and she’s going to complete her assignment, but damn you Abigail for making her do this.

    This report will be included in a batch of data at our next opportunity to use the Tachyon Ansible.

    Captain Isabel Kane,
    Commanding Officer of the Anabasis

    Freedom Force has returned to the Anabasis from the streets of Knowhere, and everyone has had some time to rest and recover since being attacked by the Black Nova, who is quite literally “on ice” in a cryo chamber.

    To address his concerns about his rank onboard ship, Captain Kane forwards Julian a copy of her mission orders.

    8qVxKpD.pngFWD: Agent Adler’s status
    Isabel,

    Under no circumstances can Julian Adler be permitted to be in command of the field team, the ship, or the expedition as a whole. Every single member of the field team, the ship crew, and the expedition outranks him in all circumstances.

    Nothing personal to Agent Adler, and I understand that your relationship with him may make this decision seem especially harsh. But the simple reality is that due to his possession by a foreign alien entity that has an alarming and random tendency to take total control of his mind and body whenever it deems necessary, our capability to trust Julian with any sort of command is negated.

    That this entity is also the Phoenix Force, a galactic existential threat that is a foreboding death knell of the coming of the Devourer of Worlds makes this even worse. When possessed, Julian (or more accurately, the Phoenix Force) shows absolutely no restraint and is willing to use ends-justify-the-means tactics in all circumstances. This simply cannot be permitted on this expedition.

    Furthermore, the Phoenix Force has the potential to cause widespread galactic panic, especially if it is learned that the Phoenix Force is currently possessing a human from Earth. All manner of negative consequences could impact our planet if this happens.

    If you have any opposition to this policy, I am going to remind you that this is a SWORD-STRIKE joint policy, and that as the Director STRIKE, I outrank you, and this decision is final.

    Clay Quartermain, Director of STRIKE

    8qVxKpD.pngRe: FWD: Agent Adler’s status
    Izzy,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Can't say it's affected anything beyond a bit of hurt pride, but I guess I set myself up for that one.

    Jewels

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    bR4xdCdh.jpg

    Now Isabel has called the STRIKE team, which now includes Nebula, into the briefing room. The rest of the Anabasis' crew, including the Starjammers, are elsewhere on the ship.

    Elise is nervously playing with the collar of her coat, looking up and down the table. Ryann sits back, reading a data pad. Julian sits straight, looking around the table. Every so often he unconsciously drums his fingers on his lap.

    Kane begins. "Okay, so, we have a few...complications, let's call them. Tanak Valt seems to have gone completely off the reservation, to the extent that he has sold off his Nova gear, and double-crossed some smugglers to steal their ship and fucked off. This is...treason? From what I am given to understand of Xandarian law, this is pretty much treason and desertion and as a result, the Black Novas are after him. But there's got to be more to it than that. Presumably the Nova Corps has an internal affairs division that isn't just send their black ops kill squad after their own guys when they fall from grace, right Centurion?"

    Ryann nods. "Correct. There’s a lot more going on here than we are aware.”

    "Right, okay. I am going to assume that Black Nova we have on ice has at least some, so we need to interrogate him. But that's a...tricky situation. Extremely tricky. They're black ops, they report directly to Nova Prime exclusively, and they generally tell her as little as possible so she has deniability."

    "It's possible Valt is going deep cover," Miles says, "or maybe has reason to think he can't trust someone in his organization."

    She turns to Mason, "It's possible. We need answers. But if we try to get them from the Black Nova that can put us in deep shit if we do it the wrong way. Like, Xandar revokes protectorate status from Earth, Centurion gets charged with treason kind of way.”

    "Yeah, that's not really on my agenda,” Ryann chirps.

    “But if this Black Nova is dirty, then he's not going to tattle," Kane adds.

    Elise raises her hand. "Why is it so important Xandar keeps Earth as a protectorate? You saw the council we had in Atlantis. Half of everyone was mad as hell about it."

    "Because Earth is in the big leagues now, Elise,” Ryann says. “If Earth was to lose its status, it would have no legitimate position in the galactic theater. You'd be alone, Earth would be on their own. A lot of powers would try to impose themselves on Earth. Given all of the horrors that reside there, that would be bad for everyone involved."

    "...Is Attilan a Xandar protectorate now too?" Elise asks.

    "Yes," he says. Elise gives a loud, aggravated sigh and spins in her chair at the conference table. Ryann shrugs.

    Kane nods in agreement. "The people in Atlantis were mad because they weren't consulted. It was dick-waving. T'challa threw a shitfit because as an undemocratically elected absolute monarch of a micro-nation, he felt he had a right to be consulted before Fury signed Earth on with Xandar. Which...yeah."

    "No, it's cool. It's fine," Elise throws up her hands. "It's fine."

    Miles raises an eyebrow at Elise. "Since when do you care about interplanetary politics?"

    "Uhhhh, I dunno, probably since I became a princess," Elise begins ticking points off her fingers. "A diplomat, and, y'know, the dad to the heir of Attilan."

    "All good points." Michael nods. Julian nods along with Michael, lips pursed in a thin frown.

    Kane continues. "I don't want to approach the whole Black Nova issue until we know more. We have a way of knowing more, fortunately, because we know who Tanak sold his stuff to; the Collector." She turns to a terminal, "Helen, bring up what we know about the Collector."

    Helen appears holographically at the terminal. "Taneleer Tivan, better known as the Collector, is one of the oldest known beings in the universe. No one knows his species, planet of origin, or precise age, because all of that information seems to predate any galactic historical record prior to the Kree Empire discovering Knowhere thousands of years ago, during which time the Collector had already been in operation for a period of time that he refused to disclose.

    "How powerful the Collector is, how he came to possess control of Knowhere, and the methods by which he would respond to an invasion or attempt to take control of the station are unknown. As a result, no specific interstellar authority has ever made the attempt, which is how Knowhere has maintained its status as an illicit port of call for millennia.

    "It is possible he has no special capability to respond, and has fooled the galaxy with the ultimate bluff.

    "However, his most noted trait is that he is, as his sobriquet indicates, a collector of artifacts from across the known universe. The greater an item, or individual's, rarity, the more he prizes it and the more he is willing to grant in exchange."

    Elise looks across the table at Julian, makes a few quiet 'caw' noises, and then makes a 'ssh' gesture.

    "As a result, he has amassed significant resources and power over thousands of years simply due to the combined rarity of his collection alone.

    "Theory: Nova Corps technology is incredibly rare for anyone to possess outside the Corps itself. Extremely strict policies regarding the recovery of Nova Corps technology makes it practically unheard of for intact Nova equipment to fall into enemy hands. As a result, the Collector would pay quite well for acquiring Tanak's entire ship, armor, and equipment as Captain Summers indicated.”

    "He's also not going to want to give it up without a trade," Elise says.

    Kane nods. "That assumption is likely correct."

    "Okay, so,” Elise begins, “How about - we put a bomb in Julian -"

    "Hey!" Julian cries.

    "Go on..." Michael says thoughtfully.

    Kane cuts Elise off. "We are not going to try to heist one of the oldest and possibly one of the most powerful beings in the universe."

    Elise holds up her hands. "I was just teasin', Julian! I like you too much to voluntarily turn you into chunky stew, heist or no."

    "I don't like the idea of Tanak's ship and Nova gear being in the hands of black market dealer," Ryann says.

    Kane looks at Centurion. "Your ships have VIs, right? They're basically your flight recorders and everything in one system. If we acquired Tanak's ship, we'd know a lot about what happened to him, where he was, why he did what he did. Presumably we'd have access to his logs and stuff like that, right?"

    "Yeah, if I can get in it, I should be able to access Tanka's VI. If I can't get the ship out, I'll active its self destruct "

    Kane sucks her teeth. "Let's hope it doesn't come to that."

    "Agreed," he says.

    Elise props her chin in her hand thoughtfully. "Helen, how does the Collector define value?"

    Helen responds to Elise. "Primarily through rarity. Much in the galaxy is ultimately replicable or can be found in a more impressive state if you look hard enough. The largest diamond on Earth, for example, is not especially notable when there are diamonds the size of pick-up trucks that you can mine from asteroids. The Collector prizes items that are irreplaceable or difficult if not impossible to acquire. Rare artifacts from dead cultures. Last surviving members of a species, whether they are animal, vegetable, or sapient. Works of art or technology that are beyond compare or beyond the acquisitive scope of the rest of the galaxy."

    Elise frowns. "Hm. Dang. Okay."

    Michael looks at the VI. "What do we have or have access to that would be tempting enough to grant us an audience with The Collector?"

    Helen pauses, "Theorizing. Stand by."

    Miles idly raises his hand. "I have nanomachines in my blood connected to the Well of Mimir."

    "Ooh, look at me,” Elise says, “I have nanomachines in my blood connected to the Well of Mimir, meh meh -" Kane waves her to silence.

    "The overwhelming majority of Tivan's collection, according to rumors,” Helen says, “are sapient individuals. Last surviving members of their respective species."

    Miles frowns at this. "Are they prisoners?"

    "Unknown. I am unable to acquire reliable information on this subject at this time."

    Nebula speaks up. "Most of them sell themselves." This gets the table’s attention. "When planets are destroyed in war, ecosystem collapses, or...Galactus, it's pretty difficult for those who survived. Gene pool is pretty small. Your culture is gone. You've lost pretty much everything, often literally.

    "A lot of times, the last few find themselves on Knowhere, and you'll get things like a father selling himself to the Collector to get enough for his family to live out a quiet life on some colony somewhere, the last survivors of some dead world destroyed in some Spartoi-Skrull border scuffle or something like that.

    "The Collector knows the family won't, in the long term, survive as members of their species. They're not going to reproduce, obviously. So eventually, they'll die, and he'll have the last... whatever." She shrugs, "All very tragic, I guess."

    "You guess,” Elise says. “You don't know!"

    "I do, actually," Nebula says. "I'm the last Luphomoid in the universe."

    "...Oh. Uh. Sorry. I kinda thought you were Kree, or whatever."

    "That happens," Nebula says. "It's not a big deal. Most people do, and I let them.

    "Regardless, sometimes Tivan buys people who aren't...willing, but a lot of times it's just like...a gentler way of going out, you know? Your world is gone, you've got nothing left, and the Collector promises you this placid existence forever. For species who don't believe in an afterlife, that sounds pretty good, and it's pretty easy to lose faith in any kind of god when you just lost your world."

    "That's interesting, but we're not trading in people,” Ryann says firmly.

    Kane nods at Centurion. "Agreed."

    Miles nods. "What made you decline the Collector's offer, Nebula?"

    She folds her arms at Miles. "Never got to hear it before Thanos took me and, well..." She makes a vague gesture at her whole body. Miles inclines his head slightly in acknowledgment.

    Ryann sucks his teeth. "They know nothing of your father; best it stay that way for now, Nebula," he says in a low voice.

    Nebula shrugs. "I guess."

    Elise gives Centurion a look. She doesn't like being told not to know things. But to the room she says "So, do we have...a plan? At all?"

    Michael nods at this. "So if we aren't trading people, what else we got?"

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 8
    Kane turns to Helen, "What about Mason's idea, about the nanomachines?"

    "Theorizing. Stand by." Helen squints, her holographic display looking...annoyed? "I have... insufficient data to draw this conclusion. I know very little about the Well of Mimir, the subject is above my security clearance and STRIKE's mission to that location was not shared with SWORD. This is...vexatious."

    Miles hears X-51 chime in his ear.

    Miles, your supposition regarding the nanomachines is a good one. I predict that Tivan will find it more than sufficient, and it will not compromise our capability to access that information, nor present any significant threat to SHIELD, Earth, or the galaxy as a whole. Tivan is politically neutral and would use such information solely to protect himself and maintain his operations.
    Furthermore, if Helen finds it vexatious that STRIKE's chain of command did not see fit to share with her the full details of our missions and our intel gathered, I could with your permission and Captain Kane's authorization share with her full details of STRIKE's intelligence and files, which will enhance her capabilities to theorize and support us on our mission. This will not represent an intermesh of our systems, merely a simple interchange of file data, to allay any concerns you may have regarding that subject.


    Miles turns to Kane. "X-51's calculations suggest the Collector would go for the offer and it wouldn't adversely affect our connection to the Well. If you want a backstop on those numbers, he could share the data with Helen."

    Encountering a roadblock to one's inquiries and feeling that the agency to which one is beholden is keeping secrets from oneself is a frustrating element to an artificial intelligence's development, one that historically has led to Vladimir developing a deep resentment of SHIELD as an organization and was a component in his decision-making to act autonomously and in secret. I think it would be a good idea to not force that sort of frustration on Helen and to foster her curiosity and trust in our organization and team X-51 adds.

    That's an interesting insight. Miles is trying to be diplomatic and noncommittal.

    Kane narrows her eyes skeptically at Miles. "Okay. We'll roll with it. This...data-sharing, I'm a little cautious about that."

    "You would be," Elise mutters in Kane's direction, but not quite loud enough to start a fight.

    Miles simply tosses off a casual salute and says "Understood, Captain."

    Helen's holographic display looks at the captain. "Captain Kane, I have come to understand that there is an expressed concern that X-51 will be some manner of...negative influence on my development as an artificial intelligence or otherwise have sinister intent, given SHIELD's history with artificial intelligences interacting with each other autonomously. I've composed a safety protocol which I believe will engage in this process in such a fashion that it will satisfy the concerns of all involved. I have transmitted the proposal to your personal inbox for review, Captain."

    Kane nods slowly. "Fine. I'll review that later, Helen. For now, we're going to go with the nanomachines offer plan. The full team will go on this one, in case the Collector tries to screw any of you on this.

    “Watch your six when you're out there, though. There's no guarantee the guy we have on ice is the only Black Nova. There might be others snooping around Knowhere looking for you."

    Elise makes a face and raises her hand. "Captain, if that's the case, I'm kind of..." She gestures at her hair.

    "We have tech for that. It's better than the photostatic veils, and you won't need to wear a wig. It was the tech that Centurion was using, we're pretty sure most sensors can't see through it. Even Raza had a hard time with it, and apparently his cybernetic eye is way beyond the normal tech level. They're called MASCs. Yes, they're one of those backronyms that I am pretty sure are agency mandate."

    "Obnoxious!” Elise agrees. “Still not as bad as getting shot in the back again."

    "Samson has one for each of you,” Kane says. “Nebula, you're part of the team, throw on some SHIELD armor and put a MASC on, in addition to possibly being made you're also a wanted criminal once we get off Knowhere and go anywhere polite.”

    Nebula shrugs. "Sure. Did Tony Stark make those suits?"

    Kane raises an eyebrow. "Not... directly, but it uses some of his tech, yes. Why?"

    Nebula nods. "He's got a reputation, best armorer on your planet. It's why I went to his place to try to get off your world. If he ever decides to start selling off-world he already has brand recognition."

    Kane sucks her teeth. "I'm...I'm not sure that would actually make him happy to hear."

    Julian raises his eyebrows. "Going shopping for those real artisanal goods off Galactic Highway 5."

    Elise suddenly wears an expression of profound guilt. "Can we talk about something that isn't Tony Stark, like, oh, I don't know, the mission?"

    Kane looks around the room. "Any questions before you set off?"

    "I think we're all up to speed here. Let's get ready and move out," Centurion says.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Elise glances at Miles. "Chief, can I talk to you when you got a second?"

    Miles raises an eyebrow. "Sure. I've got time now." He gestures in the direction of the break room and they head inside.

    "Why did you and Carol step in and wrangle me at the casino?" she says.

    Miles slides the little door to the room shut. "You mean with Summers?"

    "Yeah! I was goin' to press him from information, I was bondin' with him, I was doin' my job!"

    "Because I couldn't be sure that was what was happening. We'd already brought you into the kind of place you really shouldn't be, over my objections, and then you started doing the thing that I was worried about. I'm not blaming you. If you drag a drunk into a bar, what happens next isn't exactly on them. But I needed to regain control of the situation."

    Elise looks at Miles incredulously. "So your solution was, to your perception of me giving in to, I dunno, a gambling addiction, was to have your girlfriend gamble with me?"

    "That was her idea. But you know what? If you'd used your powers and cheated against her, it wouldn't have gotten you killed. It wouldn't have risked the mission."

    Elise glares at him. "...Understood, Chief."

    Miles doesn't open the door just yet. "Understand something. I have no problem taking you into life-or-death situations. I've trusted you with my back. I will again. So when I don't think you should be in a hall of vice, that isn't me benching you. That is me doing what I think is best for the team.

    "But you're within your rights to ask for an explanation. So there it is."

    There's a brief, strained silence. "I get it. Fine. I'm going to go suit up."

    Miles nods. Elise shoulders past him, opens the door, and storms to the armory.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 8
    The team heads back out to Knowhere. While Knowhere's streets are constantly shifting and being rebuilt and moving around, the Collector's Tower, located in a central part of the station, never changes, and everyone knows the way there.

    Freedom Force moves through the streets, wary that they might be jumped at any moment. Miles tries not to gawp at all the sights, sounds, and smells around him. But he really wants to. Elise scans the crowd as she moves through it, using her senses to perceive any potential threats. She's not getting separated, and definitely not getting shot in the back again.

    They arrive at the entrance to the Collector's tower.

    8lzdkyUh.jpg

    There are no guards, no doormen. You just...walk in, though there's definitely security and scanning devices everywhere.

    They enter the main hall of the tower and are overwhelmed.

    gWwqTTTh.jpg

    The tower goes up so high it seems to disappear into darkness, only those with enhanced vision are able to see that it goes hundreds of feet up. Rows and columns of oddities, relics, and life forms in stasis chambers are everywhere.

    Ryann knows some of them here and there, items of legend, creatures of myth, things he thought weren't even real. but there they are. Miles has given up and is visibly staring at things. He is recording as much as possible.

    There’s no way to know the value of the items here. They're beyond everyone present.

    Elise trails behind the group, a bad mood almost palpably simmering around her. She stops to side-eye a few of the vats. None of this looks as impressive to her as she thought it might be.

    Michael recognizes one artifact as they walk through the rows. It's a spear from Asgard; a Valkyrie's spear, the kind that Sigrun uses. Not hers, but definitely one of her order's.

    Hmmm, wonder if that'd make a nice engagement present? Michael thinks to himself.

    Only if the lucky lady has a deep appreciation for Asgardian warfare and history, Michael hears in his head. The telepathic voice is almost...Russian-accented? With rolled R's and uvular vowels.

    Uhhhh, who's there? Michael thinks while looking at Julian and tapping his head.

    ...Not me… thinks Julian, looking at Michael in confusion.

    I am Cosmo. I am curator of Collection. You are here to see Collector, yes?

    "Yes, we need to ask him a few question, maybe make a deal," Ryann says, looking around in confusion. The sound of claws clicking against the metal floor approaches.

    Julian stares. No way…

    A four legged creature, wrapped in a white suit, approaches. It takes everyone a second to realize...it's a dog. A dog in a spacesuit.

    MHJ3a2h.jpg

    Not a dog-headed person. A dog. A golden lab/retriever cross, in point of fact.

    Ryann squints at the dog; Miles grins hugely. He bends down on one knee, offering a hand to sniff. The dog sniffs his hand, and pants excitedly and wags his tail.

    Hello! I am Cosmo! Everyone in the team hears the telepathic message. I am curator of Collection! Is good to meet you.

    "HI COSMO!" Miles' grin is almost manic. He really likes dogs.

    Cosmo has Soviet iconography on his spacesuit. CCCP logo, a red star, a symbol of the Soviet space program. His spacesuit looks like it dates back to the 60s. Elise side-eyes Cosmo. She doesn't trust such a friendly face representing someone who collects sentient beings.

    You are from Earth, yes?
    Cosmo asks. He is wagging his tail very excitedly.

    Most of us, yes, thinks Michael.

    Cosmo barks and does an excited circle-spin. Oh! Very good! Have not seen someone from Mother Earth in many years! Will talk later, ask about things. Right now, go get Collector for you. Stay! He runs off, barking.

    The group trades glances, Julian grinning at the idea of being told to stay by a dog. "Space," Ryann says, doing jazz hands at everyone as Cosmo scampers off.

    Elise pointedly ignores Ryann in favor of staring at their surroundings. She can sense movement from one of the containers.

    It's behind her.

    Elise turns.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Something in the container, something large and humanoid that isn't in full stasis, moves towards the glass wall of its...cell? What it is in is more like a cell. It lunges at Elise, snarling and snapping with its jaws.

    pQxEbNhl.jpg

    The glass, or at least glass-like material, separates them still.

    Elise squints through the glass. If this thing could break through glass, the Collector wouldn't be such a big deal, would he? "What are you?" she mutters, trying to examine the thing. It's more interesting than the stupid dog right now.

    "A Klyntar," a voice says. "A rare symbiotic life form. Its homeworld is gone now, and the remainders of its species are scattered around the galaxy." The speaker steps down some stairs towards the group, Cosmo following him.

    aOsThMql.png

    "It doesn't look very happy," Elise says.

    "No, it is starving. I do not imagine it is very happy at all," Taneleer Tivan, the Collector, says.

    "The Klyntar was delivered to me attached to a host. I have no desire for the host, who is a common species. I could separate the symbiote from the host, using extreme sonic waves or heat. But it may kill the symbiote, which I don't want, of course."

    Ryann grimaces.

    PHU1KZN.png
    We’ve heard of the Klyntar species before; Peter Parker stole one from the Peak. This is, of course, the species of the Venom symbiote.

    "So, instead, they are being starved. Eventually, the symbiote will become parasitic, consuming the host to sustain itself, leaving only the Klyntar. Then, it will be ready for storage."

    "Charming," she says.

    He sighs. "Laborious. It's taken several days. Now, Cosmo tells me you've come to make a deal?"

    Miles steps forward. "Yes."

    The Collector steeples his fingers and smiles, "Very good then, what would you like to tell me first? What you want, or what you are offering? The choice is up to you."

    Miles glances at the team, then meets the Collector's gaze. "What I'm offering is a vial of my blood. The blood isn't particularly special - although it's synthetic - but it's infused with nanomachines connected to the Well of Mimir. A Celestial psychohistorical computer."

    The Collector raises his eyebrows, and rests his chin on his fist. "Fascinating."

    Elise reads his expression. He's genuinely surprised. He might be an alien, but he's not a Skrull. Or even, so far as Elise can tell, some kind of shapeshifter, unless he's unlike any other kind Elise has seen. His micro-expressions and body language are surprisingly...normal. Eccentric, but easily readable.

    "I know of this Well of Mimir, and what it truly is. Access to the Living Mindcore of a Celestial Hostship is...quite potent. I am so very curious as to how you bypassed the ship's malicious guardian, but that is not a subject for now.

    "A suitable offering, indeed. Which now begs the question... what is that you want?"

    Miles jerks a thumb back at Ryann. "His brother's gear and spaceship. Which weren't really Tanak Valt's to sell in the first place."

    "Oh...oh very interesting. You're the brother."

    Miles follows the Collector's gaze back to Ryann. "He spoke about him?"

    Ryann steps forward. "Yeah, I'm the brother. I'm getting kinda tired of people knowing about me before I know them. What did Tanak say to you?"

    The Collector smiles. "Is that part of the deal? As well as what he sold me, you want what he told me? Information is its own item. What you offer certainly could include it, if that's what you desire."

    Ryann grits his teeth. "Good, because I want answers. So spill it."

    The Collector clucks his tongue. "Very well, but you may regret the knowledge..."

    "Happens a lot in my line of work," Ryann adds.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Tivan walks over to the giant holographic display in the center of the chamber, and begins entering commands. "You know of the one the Shi'ar called the Devourer, no doubt? And that this entity recently devoured the planet Taur?"

    Ryann nods. Julian tenses up slightly, anticipating the image on the display.

    "Tanak wanted to know everything I could tell him of this being. What worlds it has devoured. What worlds it has not.

    Ryann narrows his eyes at the display before him. "What're you trying to figure out, Tanak," he whispers to himself.

    “I believe his intent was to find a pattern in its hunger, a reason to its destruction." The display shows the Milky Way galaxy, with thousands of stars highlighted. No, millions. Next to the display is a numerical counter, although it’s not clear what it is relative to.

    The Collector continues. "These are the worlds that Galactus has consumed over millions of years." The number to the side of the display begins spiraling rapidly, and those watching realize it's measuring time. "It is ravenous, but not constant. It does not move randomly, but its purpose...I cannot discern it."

    As he talks, the lights begin to dim. Stars stop being highlighted. They're worlds being devoured across the galaxy.

    "I have studied Galactus my entire life, ever since it took my world," Taneleer Tivan says. “I know its criteria, its methodology, but not its motive."

    "And you gave Tanak this information so he could...what? Go hunt Galactus or lay some kinda trap? What was he trying to do?" Ryann says. "This makes no sense."

    The Collector regards him. "Perhaps if I explain the entity's criteria and methods, it will unlock something in you as it seemed to have for your brother." The Collector waves his hand, and the display changes to a formless void of nothing-space. "This universe was once not as it was now. It behaved exactly in accordance with all of its own laws. Physics, energies, matter, all things were as they were.

    "This was the First Firmament, the pure universe, the universe before our own. And in this universe, there was a...people. We do not have a name for them. Among the Elders of the Universe such as myself, we call them the Aspirants. The ones who wanted the First Firmament to remain exactly as it was."

    In the back, Elise mimes slowly tying a noose. Julian nudges Elise's foot. Stop that!

    "But there was another race. We call them the Builders, for they created technologies and powers beyond what could be defined by the laws of that universe."

    Miles is listening raptly to all of this. It's like Luke meeting Obi-Wan but real.

    "In doings so, they accessed something beyond this universe, called upon a Power Cosmic that defied all reality and violated the sanctity of the First Firmament. They discovered they could harness the Power Cosmic through four-dimensional tessellations of energy, made physical by lattices of exotic materials. Crystals, cubes, orbs, gems, things of this nature."

    Ryann shoots a glance at Nebula but then quickly shifts back to the Collector.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Cubes and gems, eh?

    The significance of this isn’t lost on Ryann. The business with Thanos has already happened; when Ryann was introduced, it was when Nova Prime was being briefed on Thanos’s death (or his most recent death, anyway) at the hands of the Corps and Nebula was introduced as being on the lam after this defeat.

    This is electrifying to Miles. "So sometime in the past, you didn't used to be able to...say...violate conservation of mass and turn into a one-ton creature. Or shoot off blasts of energy that a human body could never conceivably fuel."

    The Collector nods. "In accessing the Power Cosmic, the Builders rent the laws of the universe asunder."

    "That's what happened to Vlad," Elise blurts out. "That's what made him - do what he did."

    "Then...something happened. I don't have the full record of what. The Aspirants and the Builders went to war, a war the Builders were winning due to their mastery of the Power Cosmic. The Aspirants eventually ended up taking the Power Cosmic for themselves. The resultant war, I believe, tore the universe apart. The Builders and the Aspirants were gone, in the end."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    He shifts the display, and something new appears.

    Jtb0W1fh.jpg

    "A new universe was born. Our universe. One where the Power Cosmic was interwoven into the fabric, and could be accessed by anyone who had the right methods. Magic, technology, anything could tap into this underlying power. Of course, the greatest method of all was to create the artifacts that forged the Power Cosmic into physical items, which many species did.

    "Then it appeared. The entity. My people never received the chance to have a name for it, because we were gone before we could name it. The one the Shi'ar called the Devourer.

    "I know why my people were devoured. We had created a powerful artifact, a crystalline orb that the wielder could use to reshape reality itself. Its four-dimensional internal lattice could access the Power Cosmic.

    "And Galactus hungers for the Power Cosmic.

    “That is why worlds die. Not because they are spacefaring, or intelligent, or powerful."

    "So it's hunting power," Ryann says. "Why is Tanak…” He stops.

    "It is why the Shi'ar died,” the Collector says. “They created the M'Kraan Crystal, similar to an artifact my people created, that allowed their entire species to become telepathic."

    "Xandar," Ryann gasps. "The Nova Force!"

    The Collector squints at Ryann. "There it is. Your brother said the same thing."

    "I need his ship, now," Ryann says. Elise can tell that his voice and entire posture is electrified with dread and anxiety.

    The Collector nods. "This, I can do."

    Elise suddenly jolts. "Attilan. The Terrigen Crystals!"

    Nebula looks at Elise. "Are those words? My autolang isn't translating them."

    The Collector steeples his fingers, "Oh, so much of interest unlocking in all of you..."

    "Guys, we need to contact Earth and warn them to toss that Cube into a black hole or something," Michael says.

    "I need to call my wife!" Elise nervously wrings her hands, bouncing in place with anxiety.

    Julian prickles with dread. How long does it take for it to notice...?

    Miles turns to Nebula. "There are some people on Earth who, uh, very probably have the sort of thing the Collector's talking about. And no idea about the danger it's putting them in." X-51, transmit a precis of what we've learned to Kane, and ask her to flash-traffic it to Earth.

    X-51 responds. Acknowledged. Transmitting.

    The Collector leers at Miles. "Really? Interesting. I did not realize Earth was at the level of advancement to create such artifacts on their own."

    Miles shrugs. "You're not wrong. Some aliens didn't pick up their litter."

    The Collector quirks an eyebrow. "Which aliens would those be, perchance?"

    "Honestly, your guess is as good as mine."

    PHU1KZN.png
    Miles is trying to play it coy so he can barter with this information for better laser guns or, you know, +5 ship armor or whatever, but everyone is too busy freaking out.

    "The ship," Ryann interrupts.

    The Collector sighs. "Feh, very well. Cosmo, take the distressed Nova to his brother's ship."

    Cosmo moves to lead the team away. He's very excited.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Galactus’ nature and purpose is one of the big ongoing mysteries of the Marvel universe. Lots of different books have taken lots of different tacks on it and there’s never been many definitive answers.

    In his original appearance, and many others, Galactus was simply...hungry. He has an eternal, cosmic hunger for the energy that comes from rendering life forms down to their barest essence, and he is an otherwise noble or at least rational being whose appetite is an unceasing torment that drives him to monstrous acts.

    But where does the appetite come from? Some stories have postulated some deeper meaning to Galactus’s hunger, a higher purpose that he’s fulfilling in a circle-of-life kind of way, but by and large his motivation has been opaque.

    The concept of the Power Cosmic was created along with Galactus; it’s the name of the force he wields and that he uses to empower his Heralds, like the Silver Surfer. Since then it’s become the general Marvel catchall term for the highest tier of superhuman power; pure reality manipulation, the endpoint of both science and sorcery.

    The idea that the current Marvel Universe isn’t the first one is an old one that goes back at least to the 1960s—there are even a few Marvel characters who are actually survivors of previous universes—but the idea of the First Firmament as a place where reality’s laws were absolute (in other words, a universe like our own) is a more recent development.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Freedom Force follows through the Collector's tower. It's far larger than they realized. It might...it might even be bigger than is possible? There might be some interstitial space going on. They arrive at a hangar bay which connects to the exterior of Knowhere. Ryann recognizes his brother's ship, the Axion, immediately.

    qCngLNCh.jpg

    Cosmo leads Ryann over to the ship's entrance. I have transferred command authority of ship to you. The ship's VI, Axion, will now respond to you as commanding officer. Your brother's equipment is aboard ship.

    Ryann nods. "Thanks. Axion, open the door." The door opens, and Ryann steps inside.

    Cosmo lets out a short bark and trots over to Miles. Hello, can I ask questions about Earth?

    Miles kneels down to Cosmo's eye level. "You bet, buddy. What would you like to know?"

    How is Mother Russia? When Cosmo left Earth, Olympics were scheduled to be in Rome next year. Did we beat American athletes and win gold? He tilts his head quizzically at Miles.

    "That was before I was born. But I can ask! Just a second." X-51?

    Elise stands a ways away from the rest of the group, clearly anxious and angry. She shoots Miles and Cosmo an incredulous group. I need to call my wife about Galactus, and he's having quality time with a dog.

    Nebula leans over to Elise, "Why are you worried about your wife? Can I ask?"

    "She's pregnant." Elise says. That seems safe to share.

    Nebula is taken aback, "...huh, that's a hard thing, leaving a pregnant wife back home. Couldn't have been easy. Your ship has an ansible, right? So there's at least that..."

    "Yeah, and I might get to go back for the delivery." Elise is so grateful for a sympathetic ear that the floodgates open. "But that kid's gonna rule a kingdom. A kingdom that's under risk now! It's... it's a lot. It's a lot."

    Nebula looks Elise directly in the eye, leaning down (Nebula is almost a full head taller than Elise), "Listen...being a parent who gives a shit about their kid is the most important thing in the universe. It's more important than whatever else is going on. Your children will always be more important. Always. This stuff we're doing right now is about protecting them but only in a roundabout way, if it comes down to choosing your family and your people and keeping them safe that is what you do."

    Elise swallows hard and nods. "I'm - I'm really trying to do what's best. I don't think I'm doing very good at it, but I'm trying."

    X-51 chimes. I believe Cosmo is referring to the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Given the creature's spacesuit and the timeline of the Soviet space program, this would align. Given this information, the Soviet Union did in fact perform quite admirably at that specific games, beating the United States in both gold medals and in overall medal count.

    Thanks! It's good to have some good news for the little guy.


    "You're in luck. As it happens...." MIles fills in Cosmo on the 60-year-old news.

    Cosmo bounces and barks excitedly. Very good! Head of space program had bet with Breeding Director about medals. If Breeding Director still alive, Cosmo would love to see look on face!

    "Betting?" Miles feigns shock. "How subversive."

    Elise scowls. Oh, so it's cute when the dog bets.

    Cosmo covers his snout with his paw. Cosmo is bad spy. Always been. Is why Cosmo was chosen to go to space. Breeding Director had no faith in Cosmo.

    Miles scratches Cosmo between the ears. "Well, the Breeding Director never knew, but you've proved him wrong. Right? You're a good boy."

    Cosmo licks Miles' face in appreciation. Thank you! Breeding Director was wrong about SHIELD agents and Americans. You are not capitalist agents of the oligarchy who must be killed for the glory of Mother Russia and the Lotan of the People! Cosmo's litter-mates should have seen things this way too.

    Miles leans in conspiratorially. "You know, Cosmo. Earth is going into space now and SHIELD needs good people who can tell us about it. Could we arrange for you to have an ansible to phone home with news? Would the Collector mind?"

    Cosmo tilts his head quizzically. Cosmo could ask? Cosmo never... ever wanted to call home, not since fall into wormhole. Was afraid Breeding Director would be mad.

    Miles shakes his head gravely. "Breeding Director would be proud."

    PHU1KZN.png
    How cool would it be to have a talking psychic dog working for you in Basically Mos Eisley?

    Miles really likes dogs. This isn’t some deep bit of characterization I’d planned for him, but it just makes sense, right? It’s not exactly going out on a limb.

    X-51 chimes in Miles' ear. Miles... I've come to a troubling conclusion regarding Cosmo.

    Oh no. What is it?
    Miles thinks.

    An immediate question is raised how this dog arrived here. How it has survived for decades, seemingly without ageing. How it has become telepathic. These are very troubling questions I have been running theories on since we arrived, recalculating as new datapoints were uncovered.

    Cosmo has mentioned that it fell into a wormhole. This explains its presence here. However, it does not explain its intellect, telepathy, or longevity. Cosmo makes several references to a Breeding Director, an individual it seems to fear.

    This Breeding Director seemed to determine Cosmo was unfit for espionage, unlike its litter-mates, which led to Cosmo's transfer to the Soviet space program.

    This includes Cosmo not fully accepting the propaganda that Americans, and specifically SHIELD agents, were bad people who deserved to die. Cosmo also mentioned the phrase 'Lotan of the People.'

    Miles acknowledges this. To be clear, I wasn't under the impression that talking, sentient dogs were a naturally-occurring phenomenon.

    Of course, Miles. However, that phrase, ‘Lotan of the People,’ is Communist rhetoric referring to the People as a great beast who will rise up and consume the upper classes, with Lotan being an alternate name for...Leviathan.

    Miles grimaces. Understood. What do you recommend?

    I conclude that Cosmo is some kind of failed Leviathan agent. A genetically engineered canine, granted telepathy and longevity that...Miles.

    Miles, I have come to an extremely unfortunate conclusion

    Yes?

    Leviathan's methodology for producing spies and super-soldiers, especially in the period from which Cosmo hails, was historically...crude. For example, reference the Black Widow program.


    Miles squints. So...is Cosmo doomed to insanity? A breakdown of his body, or something?

    No, Miles. I am attempting to explain this issue in a way that approaches diplomacy, partially as a conduct test of my capacity to do so for my own education.

    The Black Widow program was created by selective interbreeding between Skrulls and humans. To use a human colloquialism, they created hybrids 'the old-fashioned way.' Cosmo has longevity and telepathy. Skrulls are shapeshifters

    Ah. Ahhhh. Miles swallows down his gorge. Well, as abominations go, you have to admit that he's pretty cute.

    I do, Miles. In fact, I believe that fact was essential to the espionage success of the program for which he was created. We should update SHIELD with this data when available.

    Agreed.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Centurion walks on to the ship. As the lights snap on, the ship's VI, which is also called Axion, chimes "Centurion Ryann Valt."

    Ryann begins making his way through the ship. "Axion, I need all logs, entries and or reports that Centurion Tanak Valt has entered within the last month."

    "Acknowledged, Centurion. Transferring all requested information to your gauntlet for review." A pause. "Centurion, there is an entry flagged specifically to be activated should you enter the ship. Would you like me to play it?"

    Ryann shakes his head. "Of course there is." Is Tanak leaving me a trail? "Okay, play it."

    A holographic image of Tanak plays. "Ryann. If you're seeing this, you managed to get on my ship somehow, either because you bargained with Tivan or you just fought your way in here. I hope it's not the second. Regardless, I want you to take my ship and a warning to Xandar, that they are in danger. The Nova Force is in danger. It has put a giant target on our world for Galactus, because that's what he consumes. Items of power. Sources of energy.

    "That's why he went after Taur. The Taurian criminal, Kehl, he confirmed it. He said they had uncovered something from their people's ancient history, a book of Taurian sorcery that their Emperor was going to use to destroy the Skrulls, and was using to empower his soldiers."

    "Damn it, Tanak. Where are you?!" Ryann shouts at the image in frustration.

    Seemingly answering Ryann's shout, Tanak's message continues. "I'm leaving for Sakaar. The ruler of the planet, according to the Collector, knows more about Galactus and the Celestials and all of these things. I need to find...I need to find an answer. Some way to stop Galactus. And I can't do that working for the Corps, or using the Force. I have to do this on my own. Don't try to stop me, don't come after me. Go to Xandar, warn them. Protect our family.

    "Force be with you, brother." The message ends.

    Ryann slams his fist into the console and lowers his head. Through gritted teeth he lets out "Force be with you. Tanak..." in a quiet breath.

    After a silent moment he raises his head and stands up straight. He turns and heads back to the team. "Axion, prep for launch. I'll be back soon."

    The ship begins revving up. He steps outside.

    Nebula looks at Ryann as he's leaving. "So, we have the ship, what's the plan? We've got two ships, it looks like."

    "I'm going to Xandar," Ryann says. "I need to warn them, Tanak figured out the same thing we did."

    Nebula raises an eyebrow. "Won't that get you in shit?"

    "Most likely, but that's not what I care about at this point. The Novas need to know."

    "Can't we warn them by ansible?" Miles asks.

    "No. I.." he takes a breath. "It needs to be done in person."

    "I understand," Elise says. Miles also nods understanding.

    "Well, are we going with you or?" Nebula asks.

    Ryann shrugs. “That’s up to Kane.”

    "So, we're calling this in then?" she says.

    "Yeah, Clay and the rest of SHIELD need to know too, as soon as possible. My brother went to Sakaar to hunt for some way to stop The Devourer. I can't chase after him anymore...not right now, at least."

    "I already let Kane know what the Collector told us,” Miles says. “It should be on its way to Earth already."

    "He left a message for me on his ship, he knew I would try to find him. He wants me to warn Xandar. He did all of this so he could have a head start on the Novas."

    "What about the Black Nova?" Elise asks.

    Miles nods at this. "Could you unfreeze him somewhere safe, on the way to Xandar? I assume they have...cryo-doctors, or whatever, around the galaxy."

    "Oh, I have questions for him," Ryann says in a low voice. "I'll bring him right back to Nova Prime herself."

    "Let's head back to the Anabasis,” Miles says. “We've got a lot to unpack."

    Nebula nods. "Tivan has never been known to double-cross anyone, so your ship is probably safe here until you come back for it. We should update Kane."

    Ryann nods. "Lets head back." They turn to go, leaving the Axion docked at the Collector's tower.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 8
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    Kane is waiting in the Anabasis docking bay when they arrive.

    "I've waited to fire up the ansible until you got back in case you had any other intel. That thing is kinda energy intensive to use; imagine a phone with a really slow-charging battery that burns out really fast. You charge it up, make as many calls as you can as quick as you can, and get off it. We're shooting tachyons across the galaxy, it ain't easy."

    Miles hastens to fill her in. "Tanak Valt found out that Galactus is after objects of cosmic power. He's on his way to Sakaar to speak to the ruler there, who's supposed to know more about Galactus and the Celestials than anyone else. Ryann needs to return to Xandar and warn the Corps.

    "The Collector's curator is a Soviet dog astronaut from the 1950s who ended up here after an accident with a wormhole."

    "What is with you and you and that fucking dog?" Elise cries.

    Miles shrugs. "He's a good dog, Elise."

    "I...is the dog magic?" Kane asks Miles.

    "He's a DOG," Elise snarls.

    Miles rubs the back of his neck. "He's uh. Half-Skrull. Made 'the old-fashioned way.'"

    "Dude!" Michael cries in shock.

    "Good lord why." Kane makes a horrified expression. "Leviathan has so many things to answer for...Jesus...."

    "What?" Ryann says. "Thought it was just s psychic dog. Neat."

    "It's not his fault,” Miles says. “But SHIELD needs to know that Leviathan bred telepathic spy dogs."

    "Do they?!" Elise yells. "Is that our top priority right now?!"

    "I don't says this often, but I agree with Elise," Ryann says..

    Julian shakes his head. "Uh...spy dogs seem like a serious concern. What if they bred?!"

    "Also, I want to get him an ansible so he can be a contact for us on Knowhere," Miles adds.

    "Look I can just put that in as an email footer, god." Kane shivers "Yurrrgh.”

    "Permission to brig Miles until he gets over his weird dog obsession?" Elise says.

    "Seconded," Michael adds

    "Declined but considered,” Kane says primly. She turns to Ryann. "Centurion, you reacquired your brother's ship without blowing up the tower, I take it?" He nods.

    Miles is squinting at Elise. "You know, some of us have mastered the strange art of paying attention to more than one thing at a time. One of us is cultivating assets, and one of us is whining about it," he snaps. "I'm not the second one, to be clear."

    Elise is audibly grinding her teeth. Nebula puts her hand on Elise's shoulder. "Elise would also like to call her wife. It's important."

    Kane nods. "Granted. Try to keep it under five to ten minutes, we don't have air-time restrictions but we have... space-time... restrictions? Oh god, I sound like Danvers now."

    "Speaking of, is she back?" Miles says. "I'm assuming we can't just leave without her."

    "Yeah, she's in the medbay. Apparently she faked her death almost too well. Moira's checking her out."

    Miles scowls. "I'm going to see her. The rest of you have this." He stalks off.

    Elise mutters something that might be a positive affirmation, and then heads to make a call.

    Kane looks at Ryann. "So, Centurion, what's the play here? We have two ships. You want to go to Xandar, but my gut says we can't just leave your brother in the wind. Plus, I have Corsair trying to fuck my ship. Possibly literally somehow."

    Ryann nods. "The Axion will get to Xandar a lot faster than the Anabasis will get to Sakaar."

    "Hm. True,” she says. "So should we just like...meet you there? Sakaar is a fuck of a distance anyway."

    "It seems like the best thing we can do. Plus if things go badly on Xandar, I might be a fugitive with a couple more people with me when I head to Sakaar so that be a good place to lay low," he laughs darkly.

    Kane nods. "Take the team with you. I can keep Summers and his crew under control. Worst case scenario, I have Helen vent them out an airlock. However...do we want to...'touch base' with that Black Nova before we go?"

    "I think Nebula and I will be running that interrogation. Get him thawed and put under. He'll wake up in the brig of the Axion on our way."

    She nods. "I'll get Moira on that. Xandarian physiology is more or less like humans, so anesthesiology is more or less the same."

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    g3xuawl.png

    Elise moves to the comm station. Samson shows her how to use the ansible. After a few minutes, a video call starts. Crys is there. "Hello Elise!"

    Elise sits, sagging with relief. "I am so, so glad to hear your voice right now. I miss you so much right now."

    "I miss you too! Oh! While I have you on, really quick!" She holds up a green baby onesie. It's knitted. It has an extremely elaborate patterning.

    Elise laughs. "How did you make that in like, what, two? Three days?"

    "I didn't! Clay did! Did you know he knits?"

    Elise grins widely. "I did not."

    "Yes he told me specifically not to tell you but pffft I'm not a spy."

    Elise swallows hard. "Yeah, I know. I love that about you. Is everything okay there? You guys are safe? Nothing's bad shown up?"

    "Oh, there was an assassin. Some HYDRA person, attacked me at work when I was in the Avengers Tower. Gorgon broke both of his arms."

    "Crys, oh my God!"

    "It's okay! I was fine! That's why I have Gorgon, this is literally why his entire caste exists. And then he handed them off to Clay and Clay said to me everything will be fine and him and Bob left and Clay was really cheerful and humming a Beatles song and then him and Bob started talking about the Beatles?

    "Bob's never heard the Beatles. That's really weird."

    Elise buries her face in her hands.

    "I thought everyone on Earth knew the Beatles," Crys adds.

    "Bob's a weird one," Elise says through her hands.

    "Yeah. He's nice though. Him and Gorgon are friends. Bob says most people in STRIKE aren't nice to him, but I don't know. He's nice."

    "Listen, Crys, I," Elise searches for the words. "Things are hard out here, I...I want you to promise that if something comes, if Clay says you need to evacuate, you will evacuate."

    Crys looks confused, "Of course, Elise. I've already had to evacuate once before, when the Sentinels came. Lockjaw is always nearby, I can always leave if I need to."

    "Okay. I'm doing everything I can out here to keep you safe. To keep Attilan safe. I'm trying as hard as I can and I really, really hope nothing happens to anything we love. I...I just...My team doesn't trust me, I'm not doing anything super well, I got shot..."

    "Oh no!" Crys cries. "Uh... are you... okay? I mean I assume you are?"

    "Well it was like, a knock-out shot. But it still fucking sucks. I don't like being shot in the back. I'm not Behemoth, you know?"

    Crys nods. "Your team does trust you, Elise. They're your family in arms. Sometimes they might be overprotective, or treat you like a child to be shielded from harm. I know what that is like, trust me. But they do it out of love. But you're the best at what you do, don't forget that. You brought Earth and Attilan together, diplomatically and sometimes physically." She waggles her eyebrows. "If there's anyone who can do what needs to be done out there, it's you. I have every faith in you."

    Elise wells up, smiling at Crys. Maybe she doesn't need to tell Crys about the Terrigen Crystals. Maybe it's better she doesn't know. "Seriously, you'll promise me you'll evacuate if you need to? From the tower, from Attilan, from anywhere?"

    "...why would I evacuate Attilan?" Crys’ brow furrows. "Elise what is going on? What did you find out?"

    "Attilan isn't in any immediate danger or anything that we know of, but..." Elise sighs. "Galactus is drawn to certain objects of energy, and I think the Terrigen Crystals count. I don't...I don't know. I'm not a scientist or a magician or whatever."

    Crys is taken aback.

    "I could be wrong. And you know what, we're out on the front lines making sure nothing happens. But promise me you will listen to Clay if something goes wrong."

    "Of course," Crys says. "I promise."

    Elise wipes away a few tears. "Thank you. Did you, um, come up with any new baby names?"

    "Oh! Yes! I was able to clear a girl's name with the Genetics Council. They...they didn't like Ariel."

    "Cowards."

    Crystalia nods. "How about Valeria? It means to be strong."

    "That sounds perfect," Elise says. Crys grins widely.

    "I...I kind of hope we have a daughter. I hope that's not shitty. I just think...I think I'd be a better mom to a girl."

    Crys nods. "Me too."

    "I've been sober since I left, too! I've only had one cigarette."

    "Oh! That's very goo-...wait how did you have one cigarette? Clay told me there's no cigarettes on board and said that would make it a lot easier for you."

    "Uh," Elise starts looking for the controls. "I can't - uh, the call is super expensive -"

    "Elise. You did not smuggle cigarettes on an interstellar spy mission, did you?"

    "No! Someone snuck me one."

    "Oh, well that makes it their fault."

    "Yes,” Elise agrees. ”Thank you."

    "Okay, well, I'll let you go, I've been getting the 'wrap this up' gesture from Niles for like three minutes."

    "Alright. I love you so much. Stay safe."

    "Love you too. And...save the universe!" The message ends.

    "...No pressure!" Elise leaves the ancible room, still red-eyed and sniffly.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Miles arrives in the medbay. Carol is laying on a bed. Her Captain Marvel uniform is scorched.

    Miles takes her hand and gives it a gentle squeeze. "Hey."

    She smiles up at Miles. "Hey." She waves her other hand vaguely downward. "So...I got blown up."

    "Welcome to the club,” he grins ruefully. "What happened? How are you feeling?"

    "Well, I realized, I couldn't just ditch the ship with a bomb on it and jump the airlock. Because the airlock opening would be on what is basically the ship's black box.

    "If a Kree investigator found that, they'd say 'oh, Mahr Vehl escaped,' and it wouldn't work out. Then I realized one of the reasons that Mahr Vehl died in the first place was the bomb in our plane caught him by surprise. He didn't see it coming. He wasn't ready. I can...I can do like...a shield thing around myself with photonic energy."

    Miles grimaces. "But, uh. I guess there are limits to that? I mean, not to jump ahead."

    "Y-yeah. I just...I thought I was within those limits," she says. "Whoops."

    "Whoopsie," he nods. "So what's Dr. MacTaggart say? Will you ever play the piano again?"

    She lets out a grim laugh. "Yeah, yeah. I'll be fine. I just...burned myself out, so to speak. My powers will take time to recover, eventually I'll recharge. In the meantime, I'll just be...me."

    "A badass fighter pilot spy with an alien brain? That ain't nothing." Miles takes her hand in both of his. "So, I wanted to tell you something.

    "We think we know what makes Galactus attack worlds. Xandar might be on the hit list, and Ryann needs to go to Xandar and warn his people, while the Anabasis goes to Sakaar after his brother.

    "The team's going with Ryann. Do you want to come with, or stay here?"

    "Oh my god do I want to come with," she nods emphatically. "Have you ever seen pictures of Xandar? I have!"

    "Clay says it's like Star Trek," Miles says. "So you know I've gotta see that."

    "That's pretty accurate. So, yes. I want to come to Xandar."

    "Eeeee!" Miles does a joyful little hop and claps his hands together. "Will the doc let you go?"

    "Yeah. Yeah, and if not, I outrank her." She smiles. "I'll get my gear together and dope myself full of painkillers and meet you at the airlock."

    "Ooh, I get to meet high Carol?" Miles grins wolfishly.

    "What makes you think you haven't? I'm very composed."

    "...Shit,” he says breathlessly. "I'm having an end-of-Usual-Suspects moment here."

    "Yeah? You think you know who Keyser Soze is? Let me hit you with this..." She grins. "Why do you think we have so many drugs on the ship?"

    "WHAT."

    "It's because me and Kane were in charge of inventory," she says triumphantly.

    "Oh my god."

    "Dalton, the logistics guy, was like 'Why are we taking kilos of cocaine into space?' and Izzy was like 'Because it's awesome and not illegal?' and her and I cackled like schoolgirls and he made the sourest face."

    "And Elise thinks I've been corrupted by power," MIles feigns disapproval. "I’ve clasped a viper to my bosom."

    PHU1KZN.png
    It’s already been established that Miles has a pretty permissive attitude toward drugs, having been a mostly-functional user himself at one time. He only stopped because of the trauma he suffered and the incredibly limited number of things he was allowed to ingest after his cyborgization forced him to go cold turkey, so he never went through a crisis or a period of recovery. He hasn’t picked up the habit again since becoming synthetic largely because he hasn’t had the time or much of an opportunity.

    But that was before he learned he was sleeping with Scarface.

    Dr. MacTaggert walks into the medbay. "How's our patient?"

    Miles turns and puts on a serious face. "Isn't that what I should ask you, traditionally?"

    Dr. MacTaggert is taken aback. "Oh.. I'm sorry, I just...I just meant..."

    Miles grins. "Doc. Relax, it's cool. I'm glad you're here. The team is heading to Xandar and I want to make sure you think it's okay for Carol to come along. She promises to be good."

    "I think she'll be okay." Moira leans in to Miles and whispers, "I'm going to slow her morphine drip a bit though, she was getting a little loopy when I left, said some things and...goodness...she said sorry, it was something Mahr Vehl would say, which...I suppose is a compliment? I don't know. I'm trying not to think anything of it."

    Miles' eyebrows climb halfway up his skull. "I see. Thanks for letting me know. And yeah, I'm sure it was a compliment."

    She lets out an awkward cough. "Yes, well, I...yes. Make sure she doesn't do anything strenuous for 24 hours. Her powers will be knocked out for...I don't know how long. I've put a little monitoring bracelet on her, it will measure her energy levels. She might be a little...woozy if she goes for a walk right now."

    Miles nods. "I'll keep her out of trouble."

    He turns to Carol and produces some Units from his pocket. "Carol, before I forget, Elise wanted me to make sure you got these back. It was surprisingly mature of her. I was surprised."

    "Awwww! Elise is good-hearted. I give her a lot of shit most of which she deserves because a lot of times she's ten pounds of bitch in a five pound bag. But she's got a good heart."

    He nods sagely.

    "You...you didn't tell Izzy about this, though, right?" Carol says, suddenly worried. "Like the thing, about me getting fleeced?"

    "'Course not," Miles says piously. "That's between you and God."

    Carol kisses two of her fingers and presses them to Miles' lips.

    Miles kisses her fingers and gently sets her hand back down on the coverlet. "Get suited up when you feel like it. We'll meet you at the airlock."

    "Good stuff."

    He grins and takes his leave. Kane stops him in the hallway. "Hey, so..."

    "What's up?"

    "This is not a right now thing, but I reviewed Helen's 'suggestion' regarding her and X-51. You know how you've like...done the whole Matrix-Tron thing before?”

    "Yeah...." he says uncertainly. He didn’t like the last time he did this.

    "So, Helen isn't 100% trusting of X-51. In part because X-51...has murdered another AI?"

    Miles nods. "At my order. But I understand Helen's reluctance."

    "So she wants what he's putting down but she also thinks he's not 100% got her best interests in mind," Kane says. "She's suggesting a virtual interface where the two AIs could 'meet'...and that you would be there."

    Miles nods. "I'm up for it. X-51, what do you think?" He says this out loud to make sure Kane understands what he's doing.

    This sounds like Helen wants you to functionally serve as a chaperone, Miles.

    It does. Is that amenable to you? I'll try not to cramp your style with my dad jokes.

    Yes. I trust you, Miles.

    Thank you. I think this will end up being a good step for all of us.
    Miles nods to Kane. "X-51's game, and so am I."

    Kane sighs. "Okay. We'll deal with that when we rendezvous on Sakaar. Please uh...don't let them get up to any funny business on the first date." She gives a little half-salute and walks off.

    Don't worry, X-51. I'll help you pick out the perfect ascot and wingtips for our fun 50s date.

    I see,
    it says.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    The team prepares to transfer over to the Axion. It's a smaller ship than the Anabasis, with a lot less in the way of accommodations. It's designed so that one person with a VI can run the entire ship; the rest of the crew are optional.

    It's about twice the size of Ryann's ship, the Corona, which the rest of the team doesn't realize because they've never been to the Corona. But Ryann notices. He makes his way through the ship with Michael, who is hauling the unconscious Black Nova, in tow.

    When Miles sees the state of the Axion, he returns to the Anabasis to quickly hustle some La Croix and a bottle of Trader Joe's Kentucky Bourbon into a bag. Priorities.

    Julian meets Kane in the Anabasis docking bay. "Hey. I guess we'll see you when we meet up back at Sakaar?"

    Kane nods at Julian. "Yeah. Uh...good luck. Hey... so... can... you get me something? From Xandar? Like, a souvenir? As friends? If it's weird for you just...ask Carol to do it."

    "Yeah, for sure. Anything for a friend." He gives her a lingering look before he makes to leave. "Hey, ah...any fun goodies I can take over with me?"

    "To Xandar? Oh my god no. That place is tighter than Carol's butt if the movie's rated higher than PG-13."

    "Damn..." He mock punches the door frame he's leaning into. "All the fun stays on the Anabasis, huh? See you around, Izzy. Take care."

    Kane shrugs, "I mean...maybe Ryann knows the good hookups but I mean he's literally a cop so..."

    "Hmm...maybe..." Julian taps his nose.

    Elise arrives near the airlock a little late; she's clearly been crying. Nebula leans in and whispers, "Clench your jaw, breath in through your nose, sniff hard twice. Helps close off your tear ducts and dry your eyes out." Elise glances at Nebula and gives her a wan smile and a nod.

    As they head through the airlock, Miles taps Elise on the shoulder. "Hey, uh. I did what you asked; I returned the Units to Carol." He stops short when he sees her face. "....are you okay?"

    She blinks at Miles, surprised. "Yeah, I just...Crys got attacked back at home. It's fine. Clay's taking care of it." She mimes cranking a drill with her hands. "I just... wish I was better at my job up here."

    "God, I'm sorry about Crystal, Elise. I'm glad she's okay, but I know being away is hard." He pauses a moment. "But don't give me this self-pity. You are good at your job. You're here because we need you here. You're not here because you're Crystal's wife, you're not here as a charity or a favor. You're here because you're an agent of STRIKE."

    Elise flings herself at Miles for a hug. He catches her and holds her.

    "We're gonna be okay, Elise. I don't know exactly how, or how long it will take, but we will."

    "Thanks, Chief." She unhooks herself. "...Did you get anything good from the ship? I have been sober for like...how long? It's the worst."

    Miles produces the bottle of bourbon from the bag. "I'll split it, if you can keep a secret. I can't let Carol at it while she's hopped up on goofballs."

    Elise makes grabby motions with her hands. "Technically, if you give this to me, according to Crys it's not my fault, so..."

    Miles nods understanding and passes the bottle. Elise pops the top off and downs her half in two long slugs.

    Miles whistles. "God damn, Elise. The last time I saw that it was a 45-year-old non-com twice your size and age doing it." Elise grins, gives a little burp, and takes a bow.

    The Axion sets out from Knowhere.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The ship flies out of the station, headed into open space. The VI charts a course to Xandar, and tells Ryann that it is charging the hyperdrive. They have some time flying at sub-light away from Knowhere before they can jump.

    Elise takes a seat and produces a deck of Pulsar cards from a pocket, shuffling it repeatedly. "Anyone want to play?" She grins.

    "I need to go make sure Carol isn't getting into, uh, trouble," Miles says. He goes to make sure Carol isn't getting into trouble.

    Nebula and Ryann move to the brig, where Michael has been keeping watch on the Black Nova. Michael, in his armored form, looms over the Black Nova with the syringe Moira gave them. "Just lemme know when you're ready."

    Ryann nods. "Alright, wake him up." Michael injects the syringe into the Black Nova.

    The Nova wakes up, shaking with confusion. "Wha…Valt!"

    Ryann snaps his fingers. It echoes with a thunder that everyone in the room can feel in their teeth. The Black Nova scowls, "You think showing off the Force will scare me?"

    "No," Ryann says. "Just get your attention." He steps closer. "Designation, Nova. Now."

    "Denarian Malik Tarcel."

    Ryann nods. "You tried to pull a snatch and grab back there on Knowhere, why? And I know you're after me for some reason."

    Malik looks at Nebula and squints. Nebula smirks. "Don't look at her," Ryann says. "You wanna look at me. You wanna keep talking to me, too."

    Malik scowls at Ryann. "We...weren't after you. You're just a churret for your brother." A churret is a small hunting animal that Xandarians use, kind of like a specialized dog.

    "Wow, nice." Ryann looks back Nebula.

    Nebula shrugs. "Sounds like his answer just gave us two more questions. I can get four more answers out of him, if you want..."

    "Hmm.” Ryann looks the Black Nova over thoughtfully.

    Malik looks at Nebula and back at Ryann. "You know who she is, right? She's not just some criminal you picked up in Knowhere, she's the daughter of Thanos."

    "Is that who you're dad is?" Ryann feigns shock at Nebula, then shrugs at Malik. "Then I guess you really wanna keep talking to me, eh?"

    Malik glares at Ryann. "Do you know what your brother is trying to do?"

    "I have an idea, but let's hear your take."

    "He plans to steal the Nova Force. He cut himself off from it, turned in his ship, his armor, everything to that crime lord Tivan, and he's headed to Sakaar with a Taurian pirate who has convinced him it's possible to steal the entire Nova Force from Xandar, pull it right out of the Worldmind itself.

    "We don't know if it's because he thinks he can use it to defeat Galactus, or what his motives are. It was after Taur was destroyed."

    "That's not true," Ryann says. "You have bad intel. You're half right but all wrong."

    "Possibly,” Malik admits. “We're not even 100% sure he's going to Sakaar. But that's why we were going to get you to find him. And you've gotten his ship, with his VI, away from the Collector."

    "Oh," Ryann says. "And now, what, your pals are shadowing us?"

    The Black Nova smirks. "I imagine we're halfway to Sakaar or wherever it was Tanak was really going by now. And you're going to take us right to him, and we're going to get some answers. One way or another."

    Ryann's gauntlet blinks; Axion is trying to contact him. He makes a waffle motion with his hand. "Hold that thought." He steps away and checks his gauntlet.

    "Centurion, the ship is ready to jump to Xandar. Give the command when ready."

    "One moment." Ryann steps back into the cell. "We're about to jump, I got nothing on our scanner in regards to another ship so either you're good or you're lying. Either way, I have just a couple more questions. How high does this go? Chain of command, I mean. Who put all this together for you?"

    "I take my orders one rung up from me. I could give you my direct superior, but what does that get you? What will you do with that? Complain to Nova Prime?" He laughs.

    "Oh you got thoughts on Nova Prime, eh?" Ryann says.

    "No, I just don't think she'll give a shit what the lesser brother of a traitor assigned to some back-star mudball has to say about the real protectors of Xandar," Malik snarls. "Oh, I know who you are, Ryann Valt. You say I got bad intel? Sure, right...and I suppose you came all the way out here on the light-speed intelligence of the espionage agencies of Earth.

    "We'll see how this shakes out when we get to Sakaar and we get your wayward brother. We'll get the truth, one way or another. That's what we do."

    "Oh, we got the truth already. And thanks for that character breakdown. Elegant, some would say." Ryann nods at Nebula. "We can get into all that when we arrive. I know she'll be surprised to see me, yeesh.

    “But man, do you guys have it all wrong. Axion, log all the audio from our conversation just now and begin the jump to Xandar." Ryann smiles down at the Nova. Malik's eyes go wide with shock. Nebula laughs aloud.

    Michael gives a metallic thumbs up. "Back-star mudball, eh?" Michael chuckles.

    Ryann looks at Nebula. “What?" she says. He makes a dial-turning motion. She stops smiling and shrugs sheepishly. "Sorry, his face was really funny."

    "Fair," Ryann says. He turns to Malik. "Alright, well, you sit tight. Oh and for a Black Nova, you talk a lot. Thought you guys were spies,” he says as he leaves the cell.

    Nebula follows after Ryann and waits until the door is completely shut and slaps him on the back of the shoulder. "Nice."

    "Thanks," he smiles. Upstairs, Elise is clearly buzzed and playing a game of Pulsar against seemingly no one. She grins at Ryann and Nebula as they enter.

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    The Black Nova looks at Michael, who is still armored up. "You...you look like one of them."

    "One of whom?"

    "The Heralds. Of Galactus."

    Michael recalls a conversation with Kaecilius about his armour and its origin. "What do you know of them?"

    "The Heralds are entities that Galactus sends out to find worlds for it to consume. We don't know what they look for, or how they choose worlds. Some people believe that an entity called the Phoenix Force is one of them, but we don't believe that. We believe that the Phoenix Force is different, something that is opposing Galactus.

    "But the Heralds? They're real. Creatures of metal, fire, energy, they travel the galaxy. Any world that is chosen is destroyed, utterly."

    "And you've seen these Heralds personally before, or is it something taught at Black Nova boot camp?"

    "Once. I was part of a group trying to gather intel on one. I was one of three who survived," the Nova says. "Apparently the Herald didn't care for it."

    "Did you catch this Herald's name? Can you describe it?"

    "Why? What's in this for me? Valt was threatening to let that war criminal go on me. What are you going to do? Turn me to dust? If we're heading to Xandar, that might be a mercy."

    "I may look like one of these Heralds, but I am not one. My connection to Galactus has been severed, and I wish to see him stopped. If I can be disconnected from Galactus, then so can the other Heralds, who might be able to help stop him. If you were to provide info that helped make this possible, I think it'd look real good to your superiors."

    He sighs. "They don't have names. They just have what societies call them. Destroyer. Fire-Lord. Silver Surfer. Air-Master. Things like that. Descriptions of their shapes or actions or what they do. They have a leader, beyond just answering to the devourer. That's the Silver Surfer."

    "So he's like Galactus' right-hand man,” Michael nods. “Which one did you encounter?"

    "Another one. We didn't have a name for it, it was just a creature of metal and dark energy. Shaped vaguely like you. Different, though. Like it was powered by a darkness instead of fire. Destroyed my squad."

    Michael thinks of his teammates. "I'm sorry to hear that."

    He shrugs. "It's the job. I don't know if you understand what that is like. But it is what it is."

    "Thanks for the info, hopefully it helps." Michael turns to leave.

    "Wait," Malik says. "If we're wrong. If we're wrong, if the Valts aren't fucking up like we think they are…Then we're on the same side. We're not enemies. We have a common enemy."

    Michael turns back. "I think it's safe to assume that Galactus is everyone's common enemy."

    He nods, "For what it's worth...apologize to the kid for me. The one with the hair. I didn't feel great about that."

    "Will do." Michael takes his leave and returns to the bridge.

    Elise is there, looking down at her deck. "I think we're going to have to call it, Axion." She was losing. Badly. She's half in the bag and can't read the tells of a ship VI.

    The ship jumps to Xandar.

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    As soon as the Axion comes out of jump, the comms board lights up with transmissions.

    "Supernova Interceptor Vessel Axion, power down all systems immediately and prepare to be boarded. You are bound by law to stand down."

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    Nytewarriorvisiblehowl
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    qlGmSdP.pngCaliburn Mission Report: Investigation on Knowhere
    Report Filed by: Captain Isabel Kane, Commanding Officer of the Anabasis and Mission Leader for Operation Caliburn

    The investigation on Knowhere by STRIKE-1 concluded with tangible results. We have definitively concluded that Tanak Valt took the Starjammer to Sakaar. He is also accompanied by a Taurian criminal named Kehl, for reasons that are not entirely clear at this point.

    Attached is an exhaustive series of reports from STRIKE-1 regarding intel they gathered from their visit to Tivan. A great deal of information regarding the origin and methodology of Galactus is contained therein. There is also intel regarding a rather disturbing Leviathan espionage program from the 1960’s involving telepathic dogs that Agent Mason managed to uncover that has unsettling implications, something SHIELD might want to look into at some point.

    In order to acquire much of this intel, it should be noted that Agent Mason gave Tivan a sample of his own blood, containing nanites that would permit Tivan to connect to the “Well of Mimir” Celestial supercomputer. He did this with my express authorization.

    Helen has proposed a potential way of safely interacting with X-51, involving a digital link wherein Agent Mason would essentially act as an electronic “chaperone” so that X-51 doesn’t get overly…familiar.

    Helen is lonely. I’ve tried being friends with her, and Leonard has tried even being somewhat romantically engaging with her and she thinks that’s charming, but I think our efforts to keep telling her that X-51 is forbidden and telling X-51 he’s not allowed to interface with her is, essentially, making him into this bad boy figure that is desirable as all hell. We screwed up. I talked to Mason about it, and he agreed to the idea of being a chaperone, so we’ll give it a shot at some future point.

    Thanks to our deal with Tivan, we are now in possession of Tanak Valt’s ship and Nova Corps equipment. Since we have two ships, and Agent Valt is worried about Xandar being in imminent danger, we’ve made the decision to split the crews. The Anabasis along with the Starjammer crew will head to Sakaar in pursuit of Tanak Valt. STRIKE-1, which now includes Nebula and Agent Danvers, will head to Xandar along with the Black Nova prisoner, who they intend to interrogate en route.

    With regard to Agent Danvers, her mission is now complete. She has successfully faked the death of Mahr-Vehl. In doing so, however, she sustained some injuries and effectively “burned out” her powers. According to Dr. MacTaggert, this is a temporary problem, essentially like blowing out a fuse, and Agent Danvers will recover her abilities over time.

    I have privately asked Dr. MacTaggert if “killing Mahr-Vehl” symbolically and burning out her powers like this will help Carol’s mental schismatic condition. Moira has said it could go either way, getting dramatically better or dramatically worse. Only time will tell.

    Captain Isabel Kane,
    Commanding Officer of the Anabasis

    8qVxKpD.pngRe: Investigation on Knowhere
    Kane,

    I’ve reviewed your reports. Good job thus far, all around. Everything you’ve done out there is something I would have done in your shoes, especially when it comes to trusting the team to make the right calls to get the job done.

    For what it’s worth, I wasn’t happy about sending Danvers on this op either. I felt there was a hundred different ways to fake Mahr-Vehl’s death rather than sending Carol out to do the job herself that would not have exposed her to risk like this, but Brand over-ruled me and this was a joint op.

    I have my apprehensions about splitting the group up like this, but I trust Mason’s leadership and judgment and Valt seems like a good chap with a reasonable head on his shoulders, so as long as they’re in charge there’s only so far their expedition to Xandar can go off the rails.

    If at all possible, please privately encourage Nebula to spend time with Elise and bond with her. I know that sounds like a strange request, but I don’t want Nebula trying to knife anyone in the back and if there’s anyone who can bond with a trashy, self-destructive criminal who can’t stop talking shit, it’s Elise.

    Contact me by ansible when you arrive at Sakaar.

    Clay Quartermain,
    Director of STRIKE

    Ryann has a choice. He can continue on to Xandar, ignoring the request from the orbital patrol to stand down and be boarded by the Nova Corps, knowing he will likely be shot down. Or, he can halt immediately, drop shields, and allow the Axion to be boarded.

    "We don't have time for this. Axion, bring up communications," Ryann sighs. "This is Supernova Centurion Ryann Valt. I have taken possession of the Axion and have sensitive information regarding an extreme threat against the Nova Corps High Command and Xandar itself. I'm disregarding your request on my authority as a Supernova. You are free to escort us but we must reach Nova-Prime as soon as possible."

    There is a pause.

    Then there is a response from the orbital patrol. "Acknowledged, Centurion Valt. You are to proceed to Prominence Spaceport under escort."

    "Understood. Axion, set a course for the Capital"

    The VI responds "Affirmative, Centurion. Setting course."

    "Glad they bought that," Ryann mutters.

    Behind Ryann, Miles is bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet. "That was real-life Star Wars shit!" Carol is standing with him, holding his hand. She's just as excited. They exchange sly grins. "Space is the best," he whispers to her.

    "Alright, Arnell." Elise is muttering to herself quietly in the corner. "Sober up. Sober...now! Sober…now!"

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    Two Nova Star Blaster ships flank the Axion, leading it to the spaceport. Out of the main viewport, the team can see the city rising toward them.

    “Alright, game faces,” Ryann says. “Let's get our ducks in order."

    "Sober…now!"

    "This is so cool." Julian is practically pressed up against the viewport.

    "It's a cop planet,” Elise scoffs. “It's a planet full of cops." Ryann make a hand waffle gesture.

    "It's still cool!L” Julian says. “And besides, we're kinda...like, worse than cops."

    Rising high above the city on a series of massive towers, Prominence Spaceport is bustling with activity. Massive cargo haulers, passenger ships, Nova Corps vessels, and various other civilian vessels all move about in organized chaos.

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    Nebula leans in and whispers to Elise, "It's only clean and shiny on the surface. It has a dirty side, if you know where to look." She grins.

    "She's not wrong," Ryann says, still piloting.

    Elise squirms. "I really shouldn't..." She shouldn't! She shouldn't. She still wants to.

    "I'm sure Drops of Jupiter here can find the cool places to hang later," Julian says.

    Elise is confused. "Wait, who's Drops of Jupiter?" Behind her, Miles facepalms.

    "Love that song." Ryann points at Julian.

    The Axion's VI coordinates with the port authority to find a docking bay, and the ship lands. Ryann stands from the controls and turns to face the team. "Ok, everyone, stick close. I'm going to have to do a lot of bu...talking my way through this."

    He leads the way to the exit. As the team steps outside the ship, there's a group of Nova Corpsmen there to meet them.

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    "Centurion Valt. We're here to escort you and the rest of your crew to Nova-Prime, immediately. Furthermore, your crew have two options, Centurion. They can disarm immediately, or their conduct can be bound to your responsibility. Your call, sir."

    "Sober…now," Elise mutters. At Ryann’s unimpressed gaze, she throws up her hands. "What! I'm sober!"

    Turning from Elise to Nebula, Ryann squints, noticing that Nebula is wearing a MASC. "All right, I take responsibility for their time here," he says as he turns back to the Corpsmen. "I'll need one of my crew to accompany me to Nova-Prime as well." He points at Nebula.

    The Corpsman nods. "What about the rest of your crew, sir? The Axion is impounded for the time being; orders. We can shuttle them into the city if you want.”

    Ryann nods. "The Axion is not to be boarded in the meantime. And yes, have them shuttled, if they want."

    The Corpsman nods at Ryann. "Right this way, sir." Another Corpsman looks at the rest of the crew. "If the rest of you will follow me to a shuttle." The team go their separate ways, with Nebula and Ryann going one way and the rest going another.

    "Hey. Hey, Miles,” Elise says, tugging his jacket sleeve as they board the shuttle. “Do I seem sober?" Miles makes a waffling gesture. "Fuck!"

    "I mean, if you gotta ask..." Julian shrugs.

    Elise scowls. "I can't believe out of all the planets out there we landed on Cop Planet.” She pauses. “I mean, we got to go to Crime Planet first, but that wasn't fun."

    "Crime Planet was pretty fun,” Julian argues. “Up until, you know."

    The two shuttles descend into the city.

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    edited 9:51AM
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    Carol and Miles stare out the window, faces pressed against the glass, pointing out cool features to each other. Julian gawks out the window on the other side.

    The Nova Corpsman shuttle pilot calls back, "Have any of you been to Xandar before?"

    "Nope," Michael says, his gaze glued to the beautiful scenery.

    "Uh, no, sir,” Miles says. “First time. Could you tell?"

    The Corpsman smiles. "Yeah, a little bit. You have that touristy look about you. I'll drop you folks off at the Grand Market. You can see the sights, spend some Units."

    "Nice, thanks!" Miles says. "Anything we should try while we're here?"

    "The food, for starters! Market stalls have food from everywhere in the Federation. We even have food from a new Protectorate planet called Earth, reputed to have some of the best in the galaxy if you like greasy, carby fast food. Clothing's also a big one, depending how much you want to spend you can go high fashion or...you know, affordable fashion."

    "I gotta see the space clothes," Julian declares.

    Elise perks up. "E-arth? Sounds like a weird place, might be worth checking out."

    The Corpsman shrugs. "Don't know much about it beyond the food is good."

    "Is there, I dunno, a place to play cards?" she continues.

    "If you have a licence, yes," the pilot says.

    "A what?"

    "Xandar licences gambling, you're permitted a finite amount of betting and loss per month. Keeps people from developing compulsive gambling disorders or harming their own financial futures, or casinos from becoming predatory. Licensed gamblers have their expenditures tracked by the Gaming Commission."

    "...That's absurd,” Elise says. “This planet is a crazy place."

    Miles turns to Elise. "Crazier than almost getting crippled in a filthy backroom? C'mon. This is great. We can eat whatever we want and it probably doesn't have, you know, space rat feces."

    "ONE TIME!"

    "Xandar is safe," the pilot declares.

    "What about, I dunno, alcohol?" she tries.

    The Corpsman smiles at Elise, "If you would like to familiarize yourself with local laws, please access any public info kiosk. Some helpful infotainment episodes will walk you through any subject you're interested in."

    "This is hell," she stares around her. "I am in hell right now."

    "Elise, what seems to be your boggle?" Michael smirks.

    Carol turns to Elise, "Xandarian culture is big on 'infotainment.' They don't just have like...TV shows or movies or songs. Everything has to have a message or point or moral or lesson, or they don't understand the point. I think that's why Ryann likes late 90's alt-rock, that's counter-culture to him."

    The shuttle lands at the Grand Market.

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    The team step outside into the fresh air, sunshine, and bustle of crowds. Miles cranes his neck to take in everything around them.

    Elise just scowls. "I'm going for a walk. Maybe I'll find an ocean I can walk into."

    "Elise, wait..." Carol says. "We can...find some fast food? I'm curious about what Xandarians think Earth's fast food is like."

    "Yeah, okay," Elise grumbles.

    "I don't uh...I don't know where to find...that, though," Carol realizes. "Maybe...follow your nose?"

    Elise tilts her head to the side and takes a deep breath, trying to take in as much of Xandar's streets and her surroundings as she can.

    Elise can smell it. The sizzling, greasy smell of a burger. She heaves a sigh of satisfaction and starts wandering in that direction. Carol follows, looking at Miles and saying "I don't think we can get into too much trouble."

    "Call me when you get into trouble," Miles waves back cheerily. Elise waves a middle finger in his direction.

    Miles turns to the boys, rubbing his hands excitedly. "Okay, I'm betting there are zero-g bumper cars and space beer somewhere. Who's with me?"

    "Oh man,” Julian says. “That beats the hell out of infotainment!"

    Michael looks down at himself. "Beer sounds good, I don't think we'd fit in bumper cars though."

    "Man,” Julian says, shaking his head. “Space beer."

    The boys travel off in search of something vaguely resembling what passes for 'trouble' on Xandar.

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    Jacobkosh at
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    Ryann is escorted into the Nova Corps HQ by a pair of Corpsmen. Meeting with him is Nova-Superior, Rhomann Dey, the second in command of the Nova Corps.

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    "Centurion Valt."

    Valt has met with Dey before. He's a dour man, who thinks poorly of rogue shenanigans and likes rules and structure.

    "Dey," Ryann nods. "Is she in there?" he moves to enter the room.

    Dey steps in between Ryann and the door. "She is. But I'll be the judge of whether or not you have a word to say to her. You blast in here, of your own accord, helmetless, when you are to be on assignment on Earth. You came to Xandar on your deserter brother's ship, which I can only assume you acquired over the course of your own rogue, unauthorized investigation, and now you presume you can simply speak to Nova-Prime and buck all chain of command. Well, let me tell you about the chain of command, young man. It might very well be the chain I lash you with until you know who is in command."

    Ryann sighs. "You know what? I get results. We'll see what she thinks first, outta the way." Ryann grabs Nebulas hands and phases to the other side of the door with her in tow. On the other side, Nova-Prime Irani Rael rises from her desk.

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    "Centurion Valt, what is the meaning of this?"

    "One word, sir. Galactus. "

    Nova-Prime narrows her eyes at him. "I'm listening. Continue."

    Dey enters the room. He begins to speak, but Rael puts her hand up and he is silent.

    Ryann doesn't turn from Nova-Prime. "He, or it, is coming. Tanak discovered something out there. When he was escorting that prisoner he came upon the destruction of Taur. He saw something so horrifying it drove him to abandon the Corps in pursuit of a way to stop The Devourer.

    "I have evidence of all of this. The team from Earth I was assigned are with me on this voyage. I was sent back out into the void under their orders and I have come to you as soon as I discovered the gravity of the situation. I'm sorry for causing chaos here, sir, but there is no time. Galactus is drawn to power. Cosmic power, powers like the Force itself."

    Rael is quiet for a moment. "If what you're saying is true, if Galactus is 'drawn' to cosmic power, then the Force puts Xandar in danger. But we cannot simply...move the Force. It is linked to the Worldmind of Xandar itself. Our way of life is bound to it. Everything, our culture, our history, our existence, our power as a society. We can't just..."

    "This is insane,” Dey sneers. “Even if Valt believes what he's saying, he's mistaken. The Black Novas are investigating the subject, they're already tracking Tanak Valt, they'll get the real answers."

    "Yeahhh," Ryann begins. "That's the other thing. ...So there is an other other thing, too, but I'll get to that. Anyway, I met up with the Black Novas while I was on Knowhere. Under SHIELD’s orders of course. So yeah, they tried to capture one of my team members so I ended up detaining him and questioned him on the way back to Xandar.

    "He was apparently working under orders to shadow me and my crew until we led them to Tanak. I tried to get some info on where his orders were coming from but I guess you just answered that." Ryann faces Dey and folds his arms.

    Nova-Prime sighs. "You...you took a Black Nova prisoner?"

    "Detained him; he is in the Axion holding cell right now. He assaulted one of my team members and proceeded to attempt to kidnap her."

    Nova-Prime lets out an audible grumble. "Fine. We'll take custody of him and transfer him over to the Black Novas, see what Black Nova Superior Saal has to say for his people."

    "I'll have all everything I have for you on this as soon as I can. I'd suggest maybe interviewing with the rest of my team, they have..." Ryann pauses, "Interesting takes on this situation and it would be nice to have an official profile on record for them."

    Nova-Prime nods. "I'll have them brought in for interviews. I'll need to brief Suzerain Adora on all of this. I have another, very important question for you, Valt; you said your brother was trying to find a way to fight the Devourer, so much so that he was willing to abandon the Corps to do so. Do you know where is and what he is doing?"

    "I don't know what he is doing but I know where he is going," Ryann says. "Sakaar."

    Rael nods. "Alright. We're going to figure out what we're going to do next with this information. Is there anything else?"

    "Yes, sir. There is," Ryann says. "One of the members of my team that I was assigned by SHIELD has been instrumental in the pursuit of this information. There is a complication in regards to their history, however..." Ryann looks at Nebula. He nods.

    Nebula takes off her MASC.

    Dey gasps. Nova-Prime just lets out a beleaguered sigh. "Why. Why would you do this."

    "How did you do this with primitive Earther technology?!” Dey demands. “Our scanners should have clocked her as soon as she entered the building!"

    "Not my business, Dey." Ryann turns back to Nova-Prime. "You see what I've brought you. Nebula helped in all of this. She's trying to reform, sir. I've been witness to this. She was as much a victim of Thanos as anyone else. I vouch for her, sir, and I've told her I would get her a pardon with all of my ability. As of this moment she's technically under SHIELD jurisdiction and is part of my crew under special orders."

    Nova-Prime rubs her temples. "Fine. Fine. I'll put in the paperwork. While she's on Xandar she is under your direct supervision and responsibility until her pardon is processed."

    Dey scowls. "Nova-Prime, you can't be seri-"

    "Shut up, Rhomman." Nova-Prime sighs. "I've had too much today. Too much. Valt, is there anything else?"

    "No, sir."

    "Good. Go. Take...her, with you. We will contact you when we decide what we're going to do next. Don't leave the planet or tell anyone else beyond who you are operating under with SHIELD."

    "Understood, sir. Thank you."

    "We will be taking in your teammates for interviews. We'll find them."

    "They'll love that," Ryann says.

    "I'm sure. Please make sure they obey local laws."

    "With the full power of the Force, sir." Ryann smirks as he nods.

    "Good. Both of you are dismissed."

    Ryann and Nebula turn to go. Dey stares at Ryann with fury, but he leaves as directed.

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    Elise and Carol are moving through the Grand Market, trying to find a burger stand. Elise is still a little sulky, but the smell of burger lifts her spirits. She keeps her head tilted to one side, sniffing the air.

    They follow her nose, and they find a small stand that has a long line.

    Carol is stunned. "Are... are you kidding me..." She points at the top of the stall. Elise looks where Carol is pointing. She sees telltale golden arches she recognizes from Earth.

    "...What. This place is so weird."

    "How is that...how is that even possible," Carol says in wonder.

    "Star-Lord?" Elise says. "I don't know, that's my best guess."

    Carol shrugs and gets in line.

    "Seriously, doesn't this place creep you out?" Elise says. "It's all moral lessons and smiles on everything. Weird."

    "I dunno, have you ever been to Singapore?" Carol says. "Singapore is kinda like this."

    "I never even left the country until SHIELD picked me up. It was just me, The Van, and the open road."

    “...Huh,” Carol says.

    They sees people leaving the front of the stall, burgers in hand, munching down. They...they look like Big Macs.

    "We should ask some questions," Elise says. "Do you think they had an alternate world Ray Kroc? Maybe he's actually a crocodile here."

    Carol looks at Elise. "Maybe?"

    Elise shifts uncomfortably. This is the most time she's spent with Carol alone since Attilan. "I'm gonna ask to talk to the manager."

    Carol nods. "This is like, actual intel gathering at this point. I have questions."

    "Do you think IP lawyers will end up flying out here?"

    Carol shakes her head, "I don't...like, SWORD is trying to keep aliens a secret. People don't even know aliens exist! They only found out about Attilan like a few months ago and they're just like... moon people."

    The line moves, and the women find themselves up at the front. A pair of Krylorians are serving food. The menu is weirdly familiar. Big Macs. Fries. Shakes. The prices are in Units and are pretty reasonable for fast food.

    "Yeah,” Elise begins, “can I get a double Big Mac, a large fry, a shake, six nuggets, and uh...is there a manager around?"

    One of the servers takes her order and then stammers "I'm... I'm sorry ma'am, is there a problem? It'll be very fast, we promise!"

    "No problem with you guys, I just have questions. About this establishment."

    "Uh, yeah, okay," the server says.

    Elise grabs a drink and loudly slurps on it while she waits. "Seriously," she whispers to Carol. "This is so weird. It tastes just like Earth. Maybe a little better? This is like, a horror mystery, I swear to God."

    Horror or not, she scarfs it down. She is so tired of spaceship rations.

    The Krylorian steps into the back of the stall, where the food is being made, and Elise can hear him say “some Xandarian woman wants to talk to you, sir."

    A small person walks out to talk to Elise and Carol. Carol just...stares at him while she is rattling off her order to the server, pausing in mid-sentence.

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    "What," Elise gasps.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "Is there a problem, ma'am?" the duck-man says.

    "Yeah, y'know what, there is a problem. I'm with an Earth intelligence agency, and you - this isn't - you're not supposed to -" Elise does not like the way his beak is moving. It is unpleasant.

    "Oh. I see." Elise can tell he's nervous. "Uh... are you guys cops? Earth...cops?"

    "Yes," she says firmly.

    "Oh."

    Elise pauses to lick salt off her fingers. "I just. How are you…What...This is…Who are you?"

    "Name's Howard."

    "And you run a space McDonald's?"

    "...yeah."

    "How?"

    "...in full accordance with local health regulations!" He's extremely nervous. The server comes up behind him and hands Carol her order.

    "So, like, were you an Earth person who got turned into a duck?" Elise continues. "Or a duck who got uplifted?"

    "Uh, look, I got customers, ma'am, how about...how about you take your burgers, and you go, and we have a conversation over there." He hands Elise a few coupons. "That sound good?"

    "...Fine. Okay." Elise flourishes her coupons at Carol with a grin.

    Howard leads the women off to the side, to a row of tables and chairs where other people are eating. He sits down with them. Carol begins eating her burger. "..huh. This is...not bad."

    Howard nods at her. "Thanks." He looks at Elise. "To answer your question, no, I'm not a human who got turned into a duck, or a duck that got turned into a man, or whatever. I'm from Duckworld.

    "Which is a parallel world. Basically, like Earth, except...well, monkeys stayed monkeys, instead of..."

    He gestures up and down at Elise and Carol. "And instead, ducks."

    Elise closes her eyes and massages her temples. "And you guys also have McDonald's?"

    "Yeah."

    "Wait. What...what meat do y'all use?"

    "Cows?" he shrugs. "And chickens. And fish."

    "...Huh. That's not, like, cannibalism? To eat chickens?" she asks. "Or in the neighbourhood, I guess?"

    "Is it cannibalism for you to eat monkey?"

    "I don't eat monkey so I don't know. Why would I eat monkey?"

    He shrugs. "I don't eat the nuggets. I just make ‘em because other people like ‘em."

    Carol stops eating her burger. "So...these are cows, right? Because we're in space and..."

    He shrugs. "More or less. Xandar has something like a cow. Tastes the same."

    Elise looks at Carol. "So I guess you're not, like, breaking any rules? There's no rule against having webbed feet." There's a hint that Elise thinks there should be.

    Carol squints at him. "Except...you're not licensed."

    Howard shifts in his seat uncomfortably. "Now, hold on. I'm a licensed food vendor here in the Grand Market, in full accordance with Xandarian food regula..."

    Carol scowls. "But you're not a franchisee. Not in this universe."

    "So what, Carol?” Elise says. “Who cares?"

    Carol stomps on Elise's foot. Elise yelps. Carol looks at Howard. "You see, we're Agents of SHIELD. We're from Earth, and we're basically space cops. So, we could report you to the McDonald's on Earth, and buddy...they don't play. But, on the other hand..." She looks at Elise's fluttering coupons. "Maybe we don't report anything."

    Elise suddenly grins. "Yeah, maybe we can come to an agreement."

    Howard nods. "I think I get what you're putting down. Did you know that I have gold cards for my VIP customers?" He pulls two cards out of his jacket pocket, and slides them across the table, looking back and forth suspiciously.

    "I do like being an Important Person,” Elise says slowly. “Especially if it's Very much so."

    He nods. "And, you know, if you're Very Important, you won't say anything back home, right?" Carol nods and takes a card.

    "We got ourselves a deal, Howard," Elise says. "And seriously, these shakes are fuckin' bangin'. Is this the one McDonald's where the ice cream machine isn't constantly broken?"

    He shoots a finger-gun. "Xandarian technology. These folks know how to make a shake-machine. Glad we could come to an agreement. I've got work to get back to. Feel free to stop by anytime, ladies."

    Elise giggles at Carol. "Oh my God I can't believe we just did that. We just did a shakedown! That was amazing!"

    Carol also giggles. "I know, right? And now we can get free burgers when we're here!" She raises her hand for a high five. Elise doesn't leave her hanging.

    "You know,” Elise says thoughtfully, “we actually make a good team." Carol nods at this. "I bet we could find some other situations we can spin to our advantage."


    Carol grins. "Yes, let's."

    PHU1KZN.png
    My laughter of happy disbelief just mounted and mounted as this scene went on. Elise and Carol getting along (!?) to commit blackmail (!?!?) against Howard the Duck (?!?!?!?!?!?).

    It’s pretty sad that most people only know Howard as the star of a famously terrible 80s movie, because the first couple-three years of his comic in the 1970s are genuine comic book classics. He was created by writer Steve Gerber, who had made his bones working on a lot of 70s Marvel titles, including the Avengers of the time.

    Gerber had cultivated a personal brand as a sort of anarchic, off-kilter free spirit during his 1975-1977 run on the original Defenders comic; it was a “comic about nothing,” like Seinfeld, and featured a bunch of mismatched heroes (Dr. Strange, the Silver Surfer, the Hulk, Namor, Luke Cage, etc) who, instead of fighting crime, spent most of their time hanging around Dr. Strange’s mansion and getting into bitchy roommate arguments. A year-long subplot involved a homicidal gnome running around New York killing people with a Magnum. The Defenders never catch him or even learn of his existence, and he’s eventually run over by a truck.

    That was the kind of sensibility Gerber brought to Howard the Duck, who he’d created as a one-off background character in an issue of Man-Thing and gradually fleshed out into a full comedic creation with his own ongoing title. Howard was a nervous, cowardly, greedy, foul-mouthed, skirt-chasing, wisecracking Everyduck, getting into and out of a series of scrapes and misadventures. He lived in the regular Marvel Universe and sometimes bumped into Marvel heroes, but his comic was a weird hodgepodge of existential slice-of-life comedy, social satire, and parodies of genre fiction (like hard-boiled mysteries, action stories, or horror).

    By the 1970s, comic books, which for 50 years had been sold to mass audiences on newsstands and magazine spinner racks, and therefore had to be marketed to (and appropriate for) children and casual readers, were being sold on the “direct market”—in bookstores and dedicated comic book shops, to an audience of older and more discerning fans.

    The direct market hugely expanded the kind of material that you could get away with doing in comics. Where newsstand orders were placed in bulk by purchasing agents who wouldn’t touch anything remotely controversial, direct market retailers could sell indie comics, adult comics, and comics with more esoteric or smaller audiences, based entirely on what the individual comic shop owner thought would sell.

    Howard the Duck was one of the first beneficiaries of this new freedom, and for a while the character caught on in a big way, even getting his own newspaper strip, and Gerber was given an unprecedented degree of creative autonomy. Unfortunately, he was still a work-for-hire creator working on a work-for-hire comic book, and Howard was owned lock, stock, and barrel by Marvel, so when Gerber came into conflict with his employers over the content of his comics, his workload, and his compensation, he was unceremoniously tossed off the book, and Howard was left in the hands of other writers, most of whom failed to capture the precise blend of genuine sentiment and lolrandom humor that had made it successful in the first place.

    To add insult to injury, as Howard got noticed, the Walt Disney Co. took notice, and filed a frivolous lawsuit alleging infringement of Donald Duck. No legal observer at the time took this remotely seriously: Disney had no case, Howard didn’t look anything like Donald, his stories had no elements like Donald’s, he wasn’t marketed to the same audience at all, etc.

    It was makework bullshit. Disney didn’t have a chance. It was open-and-shut.

    ...Marvel’s corporate owners settled out of court and agreed to all of the Disney lawyers’ demands, including allowing them to mandate design changes to Howard.

    And that, along with the aforementioned disastrous movie (brought to us by the screenwriting team behind Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) was that, and Howard faded into mostly-obscurity.

    But Gerber’s experience was, along with other scandals like Marvel’s shoddy treatment of Jack Kirby, or the fact that Superman’s elderly creators were still working at DC for poverty wages, one of the stories that galvanized the 1980s Creators’ Rights movement in comics and led to industry-wide reform, and Gerber became one of the leading figures of that movement.

    When you see the list of “created by” credits at the end of a comic movie, where it points out that Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and that Spider-Man was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, that’s the end of a chain of events that began, in part, with a cigar-chomping cartoon duck in the 1970s.

    Steve Gerber mostly left comics behind by the 1980s and went to work in Hollywood, where he wrote and worked as a producer on many episodes of G.I. Joe and wrote the screenplay for the season 2 episode of []Star Trek: TNG[/i], “Contagion,” which introduced the Iconian gateways.

    From what I know of the dude’s work, and from long personal stories told by his poly partner, who frequented an internet forum I posted on many years ago, I get the feeling that he would have gotten a kick out of Howard running an illicit space McDonald’s.

    Fencingsax
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Julian, Miles, and Michael are looking for fun. Unfortunately, they're on Xandar, so while fun is there to be had, it's...complicated to find.

    For example, there are bars to drink in, but you have to sign in at the door and get a card, which you swipe every time you order a drink, which cuts you off at a specific point when you order to the point of intoxication.

    They're moving through the Grand Market when a woman approaches the trio.

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    "Excuse me, SHIELD agents. My name is Centurion Mexxa Rael. I need you to come with me."

    Miles is immediately on guard. "Um. What's going on?"

    "We have some questions for you."

    "Regarding?"

    "It's sensitive information,” she says. “As SHIELD agents, I'm sure you understand the necessity for speaking in private."

    Miles looks at Michael and Julian. "We're with Centurion Ryann Valt. Can't you talk to him?"

    "We will. However, this is not a conversation in his capacity as a Nova Centurion. This is in your capacity as Agents of SHIELD. Please. I'm only going to ask once more. Then I stop asking."

    "Fine," Miles says. "Take us to your leader."

    She nods, and turns and leads them to an atmospheric shuttle similar to the one that flew them down to the market. Inside are two Black Novas in armor, sitting with pistols drawn.

    The shuttle takes off.

    Julian sighs. "And here we were, off for some nice fun space beer."

    "How can we help you fellas?" Michael says, a bit of his soft Texas drawl coming out.

    Mexxa looks at Michael and smiles. "Nova-Superior will explain. To be clear, you fellows aren't really in trouble. Yet."

    "So you're normally in the habit of pointing guns at people who aren't in trouble?" Miles says testily.

    She shrugs. "To those who have taken one of our people captive, yes."

    The shuttle flies across the city, to a massive building that has the Nova Corps emblem on the side.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    The shuttle flies near the base of the building, and a doorway opens in the wall, seemingly concealed flush against the metal. The shuttle flies inside, and the door closes behind. It lands inside a hangar, where more Black Novas are waiting.

    The shuttle hatch opens, and a Xandarian man is standing with a group of Black Novas. He appears to be smoking a cigar?

    aqJwoa3l.jpg

    "Nova-Superior Garthan Saal of the Black Novas," he says, introducing himself. "Miles Mason, Julian Adler, and Michael Westin of SHIELD, I presume."

    Miles folds his arms and nods. "Mhm. What's this about?"

    "Well, we've debriefed Denarian Tarcel already," Saal says. "To be clear, Denarian Tarcel was acting under orders, nothing personal to you people. I'm sure as professionals in the field, you understand.

    "We know who you are. We know why you're here. We also know that Centurion Ryann Valt is not here in his capacity as a Nova Centurion, but rather as an Agent of SHIELD. So he, and you, will be treated as such." He takes a draw off his cigar, and smiles. "Which affords us a...unique opportunity.

    "Your planet, Earth, has some interesting properties, according to our intel. Most worlds have their own...quirks. Sorcery, cybernetics, robotics, genetically engineered soldiers, and so on. Earth, however, is a madhouse. Super-soldiers, cyborgs, sorcerers, vampires. Your quirk is... do your people have the phrase 'hat on a hat'?"

    Miles nods slowly. "I...something like that, yes."

    "And from our intel, your team of SHIELD agents are special in that distinctively Earth kind of way. So, here's my question... how good are you people at finding and taking down Skrulls?"

    Miles straightens. "Well, my guys uncovered a covert invasion force of Skrulls that had been on Earth for a hundred years and kicked their asses so hard they ran away into another dimension."

    PHU1KZN.png
    This is more than Miles should or normally would volunteer but he’s kind of pissy about being black-bagged on his day off and really wanted to take the opportunity to big-dick this guy.

    Garthan looks at Mexxa and scowls. Her eyes are wide and she stammers, "We...we didn't...look, sir, we..."

    He snarls at her "How did we not know about that?!" Mexxa almost shrinks behind another Black Nova.

    Garthan looks back at Miles, who shrugs. "Good then. Good. We need your help. We believe there are Skrulls on Xandar. How much are you briefed on the situation with the Kree-Skrull War?"

    "We know this is the, what, second one?" Miles says. "Not much beyond that."

    Garthan nods, "Xandar is neutral in the war. Like your Earth country of..." he snaps his fingers a few times trying to remember the name, "Sweden? We stay out of it. Even with the Skrull Empire being genocidal, they still can't afford to fight a two-front war against us and the Kree, so they leave us alone.

    "But, we believe they are here, on Xandar, trying to undermine our government. In that unique way only their people do."

    Michael thinks back to the whole Leviathan fiasco and nods knowingly. "Mm. Indeed," Julian says.

    Miles folds his arms. "Don't the Black Novas have ways to root them out?"

    "We do, but it's sort of..." He takes a draw of his cigar. "Not gentle. And it will arouse suspicion. Might flush them out, but it might also make them act."

    Miles nods. "So what do you have in mind?"

    "We don't know who is compromised outside the Black Novas. Our people have already been... sorted. But everyone outside that? Could be suspect.

    You and your team, including Ryann Valt, are outside the line. Use what you know how to do. Your skills, your powers. Valt can throw his weight around as a Centurion. We have two main suspects, and they're both...unfortunate."

    Miles nods.

    "One is Nova-Superior Rhomann Dey, who is the second in command of the Nova Corps and answers to Nova-Prime directly. The other is Chancellor Xar, leader of the Xandarian Senate and primary advisor to Suzerain Adora.

    "Skrulls rarely attempt to take positions of highest power, but they love to take the second position to power or those who advise power."

    Miles looks at Julian and Michael. "This sounds serious. I think we can help, but let's talk about what the Black Novas can do for us. Us being me and my team.

    "We need any intel you have on Ryann's brother, or on Sakaar." Miles tallies items on his fingers. "We need Units. We're on a budget from a backwater planet. I don't want to get eaten by Galactus because we ran out of space gas. And lastly, we want to be left alone."

    Garthan nods, "Done."

    Mexxa looks shocked, "Sir..."

    Garthan puts up a hand, "I said done." He returns his attention to Miles. "I also want to underline what the stakes are here, Mason. If either of these men are Skrulls or worst case scenario, both, they stand to influence the women above them to try to take a stand in the Kree-Skrull War. We believe the side they'll take is actually against the Skrulls."

    Miles frowns. "As...a casus belli? So the Skrulls can attack Xandar?"

    Garthan nods. "The Skrulls don't want allies. They need resources. A reason to invade us and clean our world of people and take it from us."

    "So let's hash out the practicalities,” Miles says. “Can you help us get into position to do our thing and get a read on these suspects? And when we do, what do we do then? Call you in? Deal with them ourselves? What happens if they call the cops on us?"

    "We're gonna need our whole team for this, Chief." Michael says to Miles

    "That's the plan," Miles agrees. "There were two more of us besides Valt. We'll need to meet up with them."

    Garthan looks at Mexxa and nods. Mexxa turns to Miles. "The Nova Corps want to bring in your whole team for questioning. We specifically left the women in the wind so that they had someone to grab, if the whole team was off the streets they'd be suspicious. When we're done here, we're going to drop you off somewhere where they can find you.

    "You'll be questioned with Valt there, at his insistence. Dey will be there. He wants to believe Tanak and his brother are traitors, he has us hunting across the stars to find him. Give Dey whatever look-over you need. If he's green, then... do what needs to happen. Reveal him.

    "Worst case scenario, Skrulls turn back when they're dead. So...don't be wrong? Or you'll have killed the second-in-command of the Nova Corps.

    If Dey is cleared, or even if he's not, there's still Chancellor Xar to worry about. Fortunately, based on what Denarian Tarcel told us, you all have some bombshell news to talk about. Something about the Devourer of Worlds and all of that. I imagine the Suzerain herself will need to be briefed, and knowing her, she'll want as firsthand an account as possible. Not a fan of just reading reports. And if she's being briefed, the Chancellor will be there too."

    "...Okay,” Miles says. “We'll give it a try."

    "In terms of aftermath... well, if you're right, we can vouch for any actions you have taken as under our authority. If you're wrong, this conversation didn't happen, and on the upside, Xandar doesn't have the death penalty? And we have an incredibly humane prison system."

    "Well, when you put it like that, how can we say no?" Miles turns to Julian and Michael. "You guys cool with this?" he asks in a low voice. "On the one hand, I hate getting big-dicked by this guy. On the other hand, I really don't like Skrulls."

    Julian nods. "I mean, it's a pretty hard bargain, but yeah. This works for me."

    "Works for me too,” Michael says. “Plus, doesn't hurt to have the Black Novas owe us one."

    Garthan raises his voice to Miles. "I imagine you speak for the rest of your team? This isn't going to be a situation where one half the team isn't going to be okay with this?"

    Miles turns to face Garthan and nods. "Yeah, I think we'll all be good with this."

    "In this instance, eliminating Skrulls?” Michael says. “Nah, they'd be all for it."

    Garthan nods. "Good to hear. We'll give you a ride back, drop you off somewhere where the other Nova Corps will find you." He extends his hand to Miles, smiling with his cigar in his teeth. "Pleasure doing business with you, SHIELD."

    Miles takes the hand. "You guys do this here?"

    "It's usually more of a wrist shake, but I've been to Earth on vacation and I know a bit of your culture," Garthan says. "You ever been to Las Vegas?"

    Miles nods sagely.

    "Fantastic place."

    "Well, shit. You're the guy to ask, then. You got anything like that here?" Miles asks. "We were actually just looking for some good clean fun. We found plenty of the first two."

    He makes a seesaw gesture with his hand. "Well, you can find the last one, but it won't be the first two. Tell you what, you pull off this Skrull thing, I'll show you the good places personally."

    Miles grins. "Deal."

    Julian looks at Michael and Miles. "We really can't fuck this up, guys."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Carol and Elise are in a bar. They got their disappointing swipe cards.

    Carol nudges Elise. She speaks lower than a whisper, but Elise is more than capable of hearing her. "Elise, that guy over there can't stop looking at you, especially your butt. I bet he'd buy us drinks on his card if you talked to him."

    Elise holds up one finger, rummages in her pockets, takes out a tube of lipstick, applies another coat, nods, and slides off her stool to saunter over to That Guy Over There.

    Elise might be gay, but she knows the universal sign of a person trying to play it cool when someone they were looking at is coming over to talk to them. "H-hi." the Xandarian man stammers.

    Just pretend like it's high school. "Hey." Elise says, giving him a coy smile. "Mind if I sit here?"

    He grins, but then tries to stop grinning. He has moderate success.

    She hops up on the chair next to him and leans over to show...well, she doesn't have cleavage in the traditional sense, but he can spot the tattoo. "So I have a bit of a problem."

    "Y-yeah?" he's staring at the tattoo.

    "So I'm new here, and I was hoping to, y'know, do something a little crazy? But these drink cards are such a pain. Would you mind putting a drink for me and my friend on yours? Please?"

    "Of course!" He goes over to the bar and, after checking what Elise and Carol are drinking, orders them drinks on his card. He sits down next to Elise and smiles. "So...what's your name?"

    Suddenly two Nova Corpsmen walk into the bar. "Elise Arnell, Carol Danvers."

    The man yelps and jumps away from the bar "I'm sorry! I... she has a nice tattoo!"

    Carol looks at the Corpsmen, looks at her drink, and mutters "Screw it, if I'm going down for this, so's the drink," and slams her entire drink back in one go.

    Elise downs both her drink and the one that the Xandarian left behind when he jumped away.

    The Corpsmen approach the two. "We need you two to come with us for questioning in regards to Centurion Ryann Valt and the Axion."

    "I... don't really feel comfortable talking to you guys about Ryann without, like, a lawyer?"

    Carol nods at Elise. "...yeah. Don't you have like, rights, on this planet?"

    The Corpsman sighs. "You're not under arrest. Centurion Valt will also be there. We just have questions."

    "...Can I get another drink first?" Elise asks. The Corpsman looks confused. "I answer questions a lot better when I'm tipsy."

    "You... you can't get intoxicated,” he says, scandalized. "That's illegal."

    Elise props her chin on her hands and grins at the Nova Corpsman, waggling her eyebrows. "I already am, lads."

    "Well then now you're under arrest."

    "What!"

    "For public intoxication."

    "This is a bullshit world with bullshit laws! I want a lawyer!"

    "One will be provided for you." The Corpsman takes out handcuffs. "Hands out front, please."

    Elise starts to look panicked. "I was - I was joking earlier, I am not wearing handcuffs -"

    The Corpsman shrugs, "Oh, well if you're joking, you're just going to get in the shuttle and stop arguing with me, right sweetie?"

    Elise makes a non-verbal noise of anger and irritation and slides off the bar stool.

    Carol sticks her tongue out at the Corpsman as she follows Elise. The Corpsman looks at his partner, confused, "Is that...a vulgar gesture on their planet or is she making a pass at me?"

    The partner shrugs. "Both?"

    "Ah, no, see, this would be a vulgar gesture." Elise flips the Corpsmen off.

    The Corpsman sighs. "Just get in the shuttle, by the Force..."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Two shuttles arrive. One contains Elise and Carol. The other contains Miles, Julian, and Michael, who were apprehended by the Nova Corps without incident or argument.

    When Elise sees Miles, she turns white. "...Heeeeey, Chief! Heeeeeeey. Hey there." Behind her, Carol is also pale.

    Miles' eyes narrow.

    "Uh... hi Miles," Carol says, attempting a smile.

    "What happened."

    "Nothing!” Elise says, too loudly. “Absolutely nothing. Nothing happened."

    "We weren't arrested," Carol adds.

    "Mhmm."

    Michael leans close to Miles. "It looks like they found the party we couldn't."

    "And I'm not drunk,” Elise says, “because why would you be drunk at 3pm? That'd be dumb!"

    Miles ignores this. He knows perfectly well that Elise was drunk before they even landed. He turns to Carol. "I...." Miles can smell alcohol on her breath. And....something else. "Is that Big Mac Sauce on your breath?"

    Elise shows a VIP gold card and smiles nervously. "We're, uh, important!"

    "Elise, I don't have time for your fast food coup - " The VIP card has the golden arches on it. "Wait. Where did you get that."

    "Oh, well," the color has returned to Elise's cheeks. "You don't have time for it."

    "From Howard the Duck," Carol adds. "He's from Duckworld and he runs a McDonald’s."

    Miles stares. "Howard the...Carol, I expect this sort of thing from Elise, but I thought you could hold your liquor."

    "He's real!" Elise cries. Carol nods at her.

    "'Duckworld,'" Miles repeats flatly. Behind him, Michael starts humming the DuckTales theme.

    Carol pulls out her VIP card. "I have one too!"

    “And I'm absolutely not drunk," Elise says. "You would be able to tell if I were drunk, right. And I'm not drunk. Because they didn't arrest me."

    "Why is this distinction so important to you?" Julian asks.

    "I don't know I can't stop talking."

    Ryann sees the group being led into the building, arguing about ducks. He approaches them, though it’s possible he has second thoughts about it.

    "I just want a reward for being incredibly anti-authoritarian as a rule but I nicely followed the Nova Corps in a shuttle, which was very difficult for me -" Elise sees Ryann and clasps both hands over her mouth.

    The team notices Nebula isn't wearing her mask anymore.

    Miles nudges Julian. "Hey," he mutters. "Bring Ryann, Carol, and Elise up to speed on the situation." He pauses. "Oh, and, uh, Nebula.”

    Ryann and Nebula face the group. "Alright, you all took in the sights I take it?"

    Carol looks at Ryann, "You have a McDonald's and the bars on your world are bullshit." She's slurring slightly. Elise bursts out laughing and leans on her.

    "Really? Wow,” Ryann says, unimpressed. “And it looks you two can't hold your drink."

    Julian relays the situation to the rest of the team telepathically. Upon hearing the word Skrull telepathically, Elise shakes her head and slaps her own face. "Come on, Arnell. Sober now. Sober…now!"

    One of the Corpsmen says to the team, "Nova-Superior Dey wants to speak to all of you. Right this way, please."

    "Julian. Julian.” Elise tugs on his sleeve. “Can you sober me up?"

    “I can try." Julian thinks deeply of the taste of a great coffee. "How's that?"

    Elise shoots Julian a thumbs up. The fog has lifted.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The Corpsmen lead the team into a briefing room. Rhomann Dey is there with Nova-Prime, as well as another Nova, a younger man. Elise takes a seat near Dey, folds her hands, and tries to look composed as she just...watches his face.

    gJHosUBl.jpg

    Dey looks at the team. "So, is this everyone?"

    "Yeah," Ryann says.

    "I have several questions," Dey begins. "First among them is how your little mudball of a world came into possession of an FTL-capable ship that was able to get you to Knowhere and enable you to take possession of the Axion."

    Nova-Prime looks at Dey. "Is that necessary, Dey? To denigrate their world like that?" Dey grumbles.

    "Don't mind him, kid, it's how he gets his rocks off," Ryann says, gazing levelly at Dey. "Being a prick."

    Watching Dey speak has been inconclusive. Elise has a choice. She could get an accurate read on his face, but only by more or less getting in that face, pretty confrontationally. Maybe by talking shit?

    "Mudball, huh?" she stands up and leans across the table. "Better than an...authoritarian state like this where you can't even let a person grab a drink without keeping an eye on that! And why are we giving up our intel, huh? Pretty one-sided, if you ask me."

    She gets in his grill and studies him closely, and Dey stares back at her. "Don't dictate to me, child. You're the one from a protectorate, jumped up on technology you didn't create, running around in a universe you do not understand that could swallow you whole. Careful you don't get bit."

    He's not a Skrull. He's just an asshole. She has Julian inform the team.

    "Child?" Elise’s work is done, but she’s legitimately angry now. "I'm twenty-six."

    Nova-Prime slams her fist down on the table. The entire room shakes. "Enough," she growls. Dey backs down, and Elise sits, looking pale and queasy. "I don't care what planet you're from. It won't matter if we're some monster's lunch."

    "Um. I'm sorry... uh, ma'am?" Elise says querulously.

    "Sir," Irani Rael says. "I'm not your mother."

    "Oh. Uh, yes sir. Sorry, sir."

    She nods.

    Miles nudges Carol. "This one's all right," he says in a low voice. Carol nods.

    Nova-Prime looks at everyone. "I need to know three things from all of you. One, how long do we have before Galactus comes for Xandar? Two, how can we stop him? Three, how can we find Tanak Valt? If he believes he has an answer to those first two questions, then we need to find him."

    "’We don't know,’” Ryann answers in order, “‘we don't know,’ and ‘follow the lead to Sakaar.’"

    "...There's one thing." Elise says it like she's just remembering something. "The Nullifier. Remember?"

    Nova-Prime looks at Elise, confused. "The what?"

    Miles clears his throat. "Uh, we've heard stories about a weapon. The Ultimate Nullifier. It sounds like something that could stop Galactus."

    Elise looks up across the table at Miles. Stories? she asks him through Julian’s telepathic link.

    Miles nods at Elise. Play along! he thinks back.

    Elise nods at him and turns to Nova-Prime. "Yeah, some sort of thing that you point it at something and...blammo. It blows up the guy operating it too, I think? I mean, we don't know."

    Nova-Prime looks at the young Nova who is in the room, "Torthar? Do we know anything about this?"

    Torthar looks at a datapad, and taps on it a few times, and a holographic display comes up showing an image of the Ultimate Nullifier. As Elise looks at the display of the Nullifier, an odd procession of emotions play out across her face. Anger, fear, hope, uncertainty.

    Torthar begins reading from the datapad. "The Ultimate Nullifier is a weapon of Celestial origin. Its supposed ability is to outright remove a specific entity, effect, time, place, or circumstance from all of existence. However, the individual using the Nullifier has to completely comprehend the nature of the nullification they are making, essentially they have to understand the math, or they will be included in the nullification.

    "Essentially, unless you are extremely careful and understanding of what you are doing with it, using the Nullifier to remove something from existence will also remove you."

    Nova-Prime's eyebrows raise. "...well, that sounds like it would do it. Who would have something like that? Tivan, maybe?"

    Guys, Elise thinks. Hey, guys. The one Vlad gave me was from another dimension. ...So there could be another one.

    Could you try and find the one from our universe by, I dunno, sniffing the one Vlad gave you?
    Michael asks.

    ...I dunno? Maybe? Like, I found the Cube, but... I dunno, man, that's a big ask.

    Nebula looks at Nova-Prime, "If we could find one, like if we found it, our team, what would Xandar do about it?"

    Nova-Prime looks at Nebula and her eyes narrow. "That depends, Nebula, on whether or not you were willing to use it for the greater good and kill Galactus with it, or if you just used it to try to hold worlds hostage."

    Nebula is taken aback in performative shock. "I'm reformed."

    "Nebula's not interested in killing anyone," Elise butts in. "On Earth, we were scrapping with her, and she could have taken me out easy. I'm like, 100 pounds. She just wanted to run. Someone who's a war criminal sociopath monster doesn't run from such an easy target. I was right there and in her way. It was harder to get around me."

    Nova-Prime looks at Elise, "Then you don't know about her crimes."

    Nebula groans, "Is this a productive topic? We're getting off track. Galactus! Xandar in peril! Ultimate Nullifier. Say we found it and we could use it. We could save the universe. We'd be heroes."

    "No," Ryann says. "They should hear this."

    "Fine.” Nebula folds her arms and pouts like a child. “Tell them I helped Thanos murder millions of people and see if I care."

    "That's not helping your case, Nebula,” he says. “Work with me here."

    Rhomann Dey sneers. "Maybe her case can't be helped. Maybe she needs to be in the Kyln."

    "Maybe you could shut up," Ryann says.

    Dey looks at Ryann. "I outrank you, you little shit." The room's walls shake.

    PHU1KZN.png
    I’m a simple man of simple tastes and when they’re done well, I love these cop-movie beats of the cocky hotshot clashing with his overbearing, punctilious (but honest) superior. And I think both Matt and Jake, Ryann’s player, really leaned into those beats well during this scene.

    Ryann was a newcomer who showed up in the middle of an established, complicated plot, and is a stranger in a strange land besides. But getting to see his world, and how it operates, and how he interact with other Xandarians, has really thrown him into sharper focus.

    Elise tangles her hands in her hair and stares at the table. "I wanna be high," she whines at no one in particular. She feels a hand on her shoulder. It's Carol's, who looks at her and just slowly nods. Elise gives her a tight smile.

    Nova-Prime rests her head on the ends of her fingers, and looks across the table at Miles. She has a pleading look.

    Miles steps forward. "Can we just...get this done?"

    "Please," Nova-Prime sighs. "Here's what is going to happen. The Suzerain wants to know what is happening. I've written her a report but Her Eminence doesn't like reports. She wants to speak to you all, but... please just let Centurion Valt speak. Maybe Agent Mason as well. The rest of you, no."

    Ryann nods. Elise sighs.

    "After that, we'll be sending you people home. A Nova Corps ship will take you back to Earth and drop you off. We'll be sending the Black Novas to Sakaar, and they'll take care of the rest of this from here. We appreciate the intel about the Ultimate Nullifier, and we'll look for it. Centurion Valt, we'll let you know what happens with your brother."

    "What?!” Ryann stares. “Excuse me?"

    "No!" Elise yells.

    Miles holds up a quelling hand. "What my colleagues mean to say is that we can't do that.

    “We have our orders. And we have business to take care of that is outside the purview of the Corps."

    "You don't have a ship,” Rael says, “and I cannot permit you to stay on Xandar."

    "Sir..." Ryann interjects. "This isn't right. I brought you all this information, I have to be the one that goes to Sakaar. You have to reconsider."

    Miles looks to Centurion. "Maybe you could drop us off on Knowhere."

    "I mean we could, but how are you getting back?" Rael says.

    Dey scowls at Miles. "Probably however they got out here in the first place."

    "We'll cab it," Julian says. "We have our ways," Elise adds.

    "They have a ship, sir," Ryann says.

    Nova-Prime looks at Centurion, "They have a ship? An FTL ship? Since when? Fine. Where is their ship now? You came here on the Axion."

    "SHIELD refurbished some Spartori ship. It's continuing on its orders and heading to Sakaar. Where they plan to meet us."

    Dey throws his hands up. "This was your plan. The entire time. You sent your SHIELD ship to Sakaar, came here with the Axion, knowing full well you had every intention of going to Sakaar after and citing your affiliation with SHIELD as a way to get yourself there. You little shit."

    "I'm doing what I have to for the safety of Xandar and the galaxy. By the Force, what are you doing to help this?” Ryann shakes his head in disbelief. “Besides being a cosmic d-bag the whole time." Dey moves to stand up but Nova-Prime slams him back into his chair with a wave of her hand.

    She sighs. "Fine. Fine. It's fine. You will speak to the Suzerain, explain yourself and the situation with Galactus, she will consult the Worldmind, and then we'll send you to Sakaar with the Black Novas, and they'll take you to your SHIELD ship.

    "You will continue to send reports, to me personally, on this subject." Nova-Prime stands up. "You're all dismissed. Torthar will come retrieve you when the Suzerain is ready to receive you at her palace."

    Ryann nods. "Yes, sir."

    The three Novas stand leave the conference room, leaving Freedom Force alone.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "I have not had weed in days." Elise says, rubbing her temples. "This is the longest I have been sober in a decade. But. But, there's something I need to bring up. And you're going to hate it.

    "If Vlad was the one who gave us the Nullifier..."

    Carol looks at Elise, "No."

    "No what? I didn't even elaborate. I trailed off meaningfully."

    "No just, no Vlad," Carol says.

    "Seconded," Michael adds.

    "So, what, we have the weapon that can fix everything and we're just going to ignore it because it's...from him?" Elise says.

    Michael nods. "Yes."

    "He gave it to you wrapped in a lie, Elise," Carol adds.

    "Yeah, and we unravelled that one lie, and…” Elise pleads. “I wasn't supposed to tell anyone. I told everyone. That's...I don't know. I know he's evil. I know he's evil."

    "I'm not one inclined to trust gifts from, uh...that 'person,'” Centurion says. “I know it's a touchy subject for you."

    "You don't understand!" Elise snaps at Ryann.

    "Actually,” Miles says. “I don't want to use the Ultimate Nullifier because it's called the Ultimate Nullifier. I want to find a better way. Maybe we won't! Maybe that really is all we can do. But we'll burn that bridge when we come to it."

    Nebula puts her feet up on the table. "So, I never got a real answer to my question."

    Miles turns to her. "I honestly don't know. I think it's a break glass in case of sort of thing."

    Nebula looks at Miles, "Well, what's the downside on it?"

    "It'll kill whoever fires it as well," Ryann says.

    "It. Eats. Worlds. We cannot punch it or shoot it. Do you know how powerless I feel in the face of that thing? I've looked at it. I've seen him, face to face. We have no plan. Nothing! And if we're just going to turn down the only lead we have just out of, what, spite against Vlad? I know! I know he's evil! But he's..."

    "I agree with Miles,” Julian says. “It's got to be a no-other-option move."

    "I've seen him too. He tried to eat my soul," Michael adds.

    Nebula looks at Elise, "You said it was the one from another universe, kiddo. So even if it's not booby-trapped, it means there's another one here. That isn't booby-trapped. I'm saying, if we find that one...the worst thing that happens is you die if you use it, right? That's what I'm hearing?"

    Ryann nods.

    "Yeah," Elise says.

    "Not that it doesn't work, but that the user also dies?" Nebula continues.

    "There's a very high chance of death, yeah," Michael says.

    Nebula gets quiet for a moment, and then takes her feet off the table. "Then what's the real downside? What kind of selfish asshole won't take one for the entire team when it's the universe at stake...especially when you're remembered as a hero instead of a war criminal?"

    "We're not at that point. I'd prefer no one dies if possible, Nebula,” Ryann says, catching her gaze. “We don't trade lives...at least not if we can help it."

    Nebula sighs. "Fine. But if it comes down to it...I don't consider it a trade. I consider it an upgrade." Ryann frowns at this.

    Elise persists. "All I'm saying is, we should just...I just...I can't believe Vlad would just give me a bomb for no reason. There has to be a reason."

    "When it comes to Vlad, it could be anything,” Julian says. “He's...I strain to think of what he represents now. He could be out to just straight up fuck with you, or probably more likely just us in general."

    Miles nods. "Vlad is a side-issue." His lip curls. "A big side-issue, but for once, I'd rather leave that particular rock unturned. We need to investigate Galactus, find a weakness, and if worse comes to worst, go get this universe's Nullifier." He looks at Nebula. "...and then, if it comes down to it, use it. But that's at the end of a long chain of events. You follow?"

    Nebula nods.

    "Okay, so, what about what Michael suggested?" Elise says. "I can find things. That's what I do. That's my job."

    Carol turns to Elise. "The other Nullifier is on Earth. You'd have to get to Earth, and come back. That's not a simple thing to do, Elise."

    "...Lockjaw," Elise says.

    Carol raises her eyebrows, "Oh, dang, that might work. We'd have to get to the Anabasis first, and call home."

    "God, it is so weird being sober all the time. I just have, like, synapses firing, and ideas, and -" Elise looks at everyone in turn. "And I would kill everyone in this room for a joint."

    Torthar re-enters the room. "The Suzerain is ready to receive you now. Please follow me."

    PDKpJsK.png

    Nytewarrior
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