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[Actual Play, NSFData] Marvel's Agents of STRIKE Season 3 Finale: Arrival

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    The massive ship approaches Asgard with alarming speed.

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    It smashes into the Bifrost, cutting Asgard off from the rest of the cosmos. Behemoth and Sigrun find Thor leading a group of Asgardian warriors into battle against the Deviants.

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    "Michael!” Thor shouts. “Clear a path through this rabble to the ship!"



    "Will do!" Launching himself into the blood-frenzied mob, Behemoth blazes a path through the Deviants as Thor and Sigrun follow. The trio wade into battle against the Dark Elves, cutting them down and making their way to the ship.

    Suddenly, Loki drops down in front of them, leaping from the ship. "Enough! I come in the name of the Midgard Serpent, and bring Ragnarok to Asgard!"

    "Ugh, you villains and your speeches," Michael hurls himself forward to launch a devastating haymaker and punches...through Loki?

    It's an illusion.

    A blade goes through Sigrun's chest from behind. Loki smiles at Thor. "They still fall for that, brother!"

    Thor howls in fury. "No!"

    "NO!" Behemoth’s armor glows with the Odinforce as he leaps at Loki with all the speed and force he can muster to grab Loki while he’s still corporeal. He catches the the trickster god in two massive hands and puts him in a SHIELD immobilization hold. Loki is completely restrained and is at Michael's mercy.

    He hauls Loki up by the neck, faceplates open, cosmic flame roiling in rage. "Call off Shuma-Gorath, or I disintegrate you."

    "I...I can't…” Loki gurgles, pounding helplessly on Michael’s fist. “I serve."

    Michael disintegrates Loki.

    Thor drops his hammer on the ground. He falls to his knees. He is quiet, and says nothing.

    Michael kneels and checks on Sigrun as she twitches and gasps on the ground. She’s dying. The wound is poisoned. Loki has no honor.

    "MEDIC!" Michael’s Destroyer-amplified shout booms across the battlefield. Asgardian healers show up and bear the Valkyrie away. Thor quietly picks up his hammer, says nothing to Michael, and wordlessly enters the fray, smashing Deviants as he does so.

    A roar echoes out from the sky. It isn't heard. It is felt. An internal sense of wrongness.

    The sky folds in on itself and something writhes out of it. Some horrid, multi-tendriled glowing thing. Miles in length and hundreds of feet in diameter. It crashes into Asgard, smashing buildings and swiping away life.

    Its glowing green eye gazes upon Asgard, and Ragnarok is here.

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Elise is with Julian, Clay, and Strange.

    Clay doesn't look like Clay. He looks like Z'Reg. Julian is wreathed in psychic flame. Strange more or less looks like himself, although he has a glowing aura of arcane energy.

    Elise looks different too.

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    She looks a full foot taller. Her proportions are all off. Strange looks at her. "...really?"

    "What?"

    He waves his hand; a mirror of some flat silvery fluid appears. "This is your Astral form."

    "I'm stacked!" Z’Reg rubs his temples. He looks different here, but that gesture is 100% him; Elise continues to stare and preen. "Astral me is hot, what the fuck! I'd absolutely plow astral me."

    "Sometimes the Astral form is how we see ourselves, or how we wished we appear, or how we are afraid we appear,” Strange says. “Or sometimes it's just how we look. It's like dreams. Try to read into it too much and you'll end up with a complex."

    Julian laughs. "A bigger, more confident Elise."

    "This is at least a C cup!"

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    This is an artist commision that Cass got where the artist basically just ignored her incredibly clear character description and did their own thing...partly, I suspect, because they only have the one thing they can do. Cass was kind of bummed out, understandably, but then we finally found the perfect use for it!

    In his slight defense, this artist, as I recall, did offer to throw in a nude variant of the sketch for like five extra dollars. What a bargain.

    Z’Reg snaps his fingers at her. Somehow, it's actually comfortingly familiar to Elise. "We have to work to do."

    "My brain, right?" A strong sense of unease, almost viscerally tangible, ripples out from Elise.

    "Yes. So," Strange begins, "This will be akin to...accelerated psychotherapy. We're going to sweep through your mind and just...give it a scrub."

    "I...I see a therapist,” Elise offers. “Should we call her? Cynthia? She's with SHIELD?"

    "You can continue to see her when you return to Earth. You'll probably want to, honestly. This is less about any issues you have with your parents and more about your mind being torn asunder by Shuma-Gorath or gazing upon the Watcher."

    "...Okay. How do we start?"

    "We need to find a way to the core problem. Imagine it like a...what's a metaphor that you would..." He looks at Clay, "Quartermain?"

    Z’Reg looks at Elise, "Imagine trying to trace back where a knot is in a cord. We can find the knot. We just need to go backwards to find it. Normally that would take some time, but that's why Julian and I are here. We can skip going down memory lane and seeing...things we don't want to. I'm going to steer, Julian's going to gun the engine."

    "...Okay," she says. "I'm ready."

    "So, Julian, here's the deal....push as forward and I'll find the problem. All you need to do is give us the push. Not too little, I don't want to spend relative hours in her memories of screwing trash punk girls in her filthy van." Elise gives him a what! gesture.

    "Well best we don't dwell on that thought, then," Julian says.

    Z’Reg nods. "But not too much either. Goldilocks zone."

    Julian quickly looks through the surface thoughts in Elise's mind, looking for that right something that'll lead them further through the trail. One thing that stands out almost immediately is that Elise is thinking a lot about Shuma-Gorath.

    She never really got over what happened in Thule. It was where things really started to unravel for her. The Diviner, and then going to Thule. It's where things started to come apart.

    He tries to prod deeper at these memories, carefully working through. He remembers the last time he saw too much through her psyche.

    ...He finds it. The knot. It was when Elise touched the door to Thule. And Shuma-Gorath touched her mind.

    No, not just Shuma-Gorath.

    Something else. Someone else. Someone that's been there the entire time. Like a splinter in her mind. Driving her slowly more and more insane.

    He digs at the splinter, trying to pull it out. As he works, he tries to keep Elise's thoughts misdirected; he doesn't need her to start panicking now.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2018
    He sees a world in darkness.

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    Black ships float over a landscape of twisting, impossible angles. Is this...Thule?

    On the edge of a cliff, speaking to an unseen "Master,” stands a hooded figure. This is the one. The splinter. The one who escaped into Elise's mind the moment she touched the door. Who has been there the entire time, driving her mad and trying to sabotage her, trying to court her to darkness.

    He is facing away from Julian.

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    Julian grabs the hooded figure and spins him around furiously. The creature beneath stares at Julian, snarling with contempt. His face is barren of flesh, revealing a skull.

    A red skull.

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    "What?"

    "Impossible,” Z’Reg gasps. You're dead!" he shouts accusingly.

    Elise stares at the Red Skull, not quite anchored to this vision, and still adrift from reality. "Why are you...? Of all the people in the world, of all the targets, of all the goals? Why me?"

    "Convenience," Johann Schmidt, the Red Skull, says. "I am sorry the answer is not more fulfilling, fraulein. You were the first one to touch the gates of Thule since my imprisonment, and I saw a way out, and took it."

    "Oh, God, you've been in my head the whole time?"

    "Yes."

    "You died,” Z’Reg snarls. “Rogers killed you. He nearly died killing you!"

    "No more! No more nightmares, no more panic, no more of any of this! No more carrying a fuckin' Nazi in my head when I go down on my wife! Get out!" Elise sprints at Red Skull, aiming a kick for his jaw.

    The Red Skull steps to the side, and Elise hits nothing but air. He laughs, "Please, Frau Arnell, I have been with you long enough to know how you fight. You cannot defeat me, not here, in your own mind."

    Fired up, she spins and continues to assault - not her usual precise firing, but frantic, furious bar fight swings. "Get out! Get out! GET OUT!" But Red Skull deflects Elise's strikes effortlessly.

    Eyes smoldering, Julian grabs the Red Skull and stares at him. “What have you done?!”

    ...But there is nothing that Red Skull can regret. Nothing he can be penitent for. You cannot make the Red Skull feel guilt. He shoves Julian off him.

    Clay puts his arms in front of Elise and Julian. "Wait...hold on...How did this happen, Skull? Not you getting into Elise's head...how did you end up in the gates of Thule? Cap killed your repulsive Nazi arse."

    "He clearly did no such thing," Red Skull sighs. "In 1945 I found a black obelisk, what you call the 'Thule Stone.' It allowed me to find the gate to the city, to free Shuma-Gorath. Rogers pursued me. He tried to stop me, but he failed.

    “I opened the gate. Shuma-Gorath, he reached out to embrace me. And then Rogers hurled me into the gate and slammed it shut. I was sealed within.

    “Shuma-Gorath was furious. He rendered me into his emissary, and thrust me upon the gate so that if ever the gate was touched by one who could open it, I could take command of them and compel them to unleash the Master upon the world.

    "Rogers...tossed the obelisk into Arctic Ocean, believing it was too dangerous for any to have. He followed suit, driven mad by the revelation and believing his knowledge too dangerous for any mind to know."

    "Compel and command?" Elise says.

    "You opened the gate, did you not?" Skull smiles his lipless grin.

    "You...you haven't. You haven't been able to take control of me. I've never…you've never...You may have been able to hitch a ride but you've never been at the wheel."

    "If I had grabbed control, I would have been noticed. Too many of your associates are powerful telepaths; any foreign command would have been noticed. Instead, I opted for simple...subtle influence.

    "Any maleficence, any errors in judgment, any radically irresponsible behavior or treasonous actions, would likely be attributed to that gypsy's robotic progeny you're so inordinately fond of that the rest of your comrades despise."

    "No,” she calls. "What did you do? What did you do?!"

    "I learned. I waited. The gate to Thule was destroyed. My master, sealed away. But, I made sure that my master gained a new servant. That the servant acquired a ring."

    "He's stalling us,” Strange gasps. “That’s why he’s monologuing.’

    Jacobkosh on
    Zilla360
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Julian has gotten tired of this. "I don't think we're going to receive any further answers from the Nazi lurking in the hood." He breathes a gout of flame from his mouth, and the Red Skull burns.

    He wasn’t prepared for the fact that Julian's powers absolutely work on the Astral Plane. In a moment he goes from smug and cackling to screaming in agony and begging for mercy.

    Julian holds his hands to either side of Red Skull. SPEAK. LET YOUR THOUGHTS COME TO YOU. TELL US WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW. DO NOT DELAY US FURTHER.

    "ASGARD!" he howls over the flames. "The master moves on Asgard! Loki has shown them hidden ways, ways that will connect Thule to Asgard and bring about Ragnarok!"

    "Then that is where we need to go," Julian speaks.

    Z’Reg looks at Elise. "What do you want to do with him, Elise? We can easily take him out of your head, but..." He looks to Strange, "Could we contain him somehow? Trap him in something?"

    Strange shrugs. "Why should we?"

    "I want him out of my brain, but...we need to have him,” Elise says. “I need to know what was me. I need to know what he did. Which decisions were mine."

    "What if it wasn't me who went for Attilan, or it wasn't me who...What if it was him? What if it was him who chose Crys, or him who...I need to know."

    Clay puts his hand on Elise's shoulder. "Elise, remember what happened with Maximus? And I told you, don't go down the road of doubting everything you love, everything that was good?"

    Julian maintains his grip on the Red Skull. His hands are still wreathed in flame.

    "...Yeah. Yeah, I remember," she says. "Burn him."

    "Gladly," Julian says. Flames rush from Julian's palms directly into the Red Skull's face.

    Z’Reg puts his arm around Elise. "You don't need to see this. Let's go."

    Red Skull attempts to plead for his life. He has no dignity in death. He howls and then...stops as he vanishes into non-existence. Julian has eradicated him from the Astral Plane. The Red Skull is dead.

    Elise walks with Z’Reg...with Clay. As she walks she can feel a sensation like a knot untying. She stumbles for a moment, then regains her footing. Her shoulders loosen and relax, her back straightens. The feral panic fades from her eyes.

    Then she feels something out of the corner of her eye.

    She's not supposed to look at it. She knows she's not. She's not meant to. But it's there, on the edge of her perception, inside her mind. She could look, if she chose to. But she would have to choose to.

    The idea of leaving another corner darkened is unbearable. The idea of another Red Skull, another puppetmaster, someone watching…

    She turns to look.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2018
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    "Hello." It speaks. Its voice is actually...warm? Welcoming? Kind. Not booming, or intimidating, or what one would expect from such a being.

    "...Hello," she says.

    "I am Atul the Watcher," it says. "You have perceived me. Explain."

    "I...don't know how. I just keep seeing things. Thule. Shuma-Gorath. Eternity. Galactus. You. I opened my eyes too wide once, and I can never take it back."

    He nods thoughtfully, "I see." He laughs at his own joke. "That is unfortunate for you, I suppose." He waves his hand, and the landscape changes.

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    They're on the...moon? Earth's moon. But there's air. Atul sits down on a rock, across from Elise. Just Elise. Clay, Julian, and Strange are gone.

    "What is this, a job interview?"

    "Yes, actually," he says. "It is, in fact, a job interview."

    "Look, I'm already an agent of STRIKE and a princess."

    "Would you be prepared to give up those things and perceive the entirety of the cosmos, being one of the most aware and enlightened beings in all of existence, documenting the rise and fall of all civilizations in the multiverse?"

    "...No, man, I have a family. My wife is pregnant. I can't."

    He smiles. "Are you sure? We have good dental."

    Elise realizes he's messing with her. This cosmic being is messing with her. She grins despite herself. "I'm just gonna have all my teeth pulled, anyways. Less hassle."

    He nods. "It certainly is a choice."

    "I can't leave everything behind. But if you can grant me power...if there's a middle ground. Anything so I can protect my family."

    He shakes his head. "Unfortunately, no. I am sworn not to interfere."

    "Then presumably I wouldn't be able to either."

    "No."

    Elise shakes her head. "Maybe some other day. For now, I have to get to Asgard, I have to save the world. Again? I think this is our second or third time. You lose count."

    "I don't, but I've been observing you for some time."

    "Just me?"

    "No." He stands up, dusting himself off, even though that seems pointless. "I must go. To be clear, I have not interfered. I have been perceived. What you have learned is through your own perceptions. I am filtered through how you opt to perceive me.

    "Any information you have gleaned from me, such as the fact that you need to find out why Victor Von Doom and Reed Richards were not offered to join the Parliament and the Council respectively, were ideas of your own mind you simply projected onto seeing me."

    Elise blinks. "...Right."

    He pats Elise on the head affectionately, like one would to a pet.

    Elise is starting to have the creeping, horrifying suspicion that the people who keep doing this, from Doom to the Watcher, find her...adorable? Horrible.

    She blinks, and Atul is gone.

    She wakes up in Strange's study with Julian, Clay, and Strange. "...Blarugh," she rasps. "Dry mouth."

    Clay hands her a glass of water. "You'll be alright."

    Elise sips the water and then says, in her most conversational tone to Strange, "I talked to a Watcher. Nice guy. Offered me a job." She says this in the same way you might say that you talked to your neighbor.

    Strange looks at her, dumbfounded. "--Sorry, a Watcher?"

    Clay sucks his teeth, "....fantastic. Can we... pin that? Asgard. Ragnarok."

    "God. Yes,” she says. “Mike was heading up that way."

    Clay shouts "Robert!" Bob and Faiza walk into the room, "Get your team together, you're going to Asgard!"

    "Hey, Julian?" Elise squeezes his hand.

    "Yeah?"

    "...Thanks."

    Julian squeezes her hand back. "Anytime."

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    I sure as fuck wasn’t expecting the Red Skull to put in an appearance! Neither was anyone else, to judge from the gasps over Discord when it happened.

    I kind of wish we’d gotten to spend a little more time with this plotline, because the Red Skull is a Marvel marquee villain on the order of Doctor Doom or Magneto, but as I’ve alluded to earlier, the season went some unexpected places due to our choices (and also our rolls, as when Elise saw the Watcher on Strontia) and with so many balls in the air they couldn’t all get equal attention.

    The important thing, though, is that this whole vignette marks another milestone in Elise’s development. She’s beginning to turn the corner on Vlad, finally, and this recurring theme of her being exposed to mind-shattering cosmic experiences gets to be paid off, and in a way that leaves the door open for Elise to go lots of interesting new places now that she doesn’t have this baleful presence in her mind. It’s like a personality respec.

    As for the Watcher, they’re a classic fixture of Marvel, going all the way back to early issues of the Fantastic Four. In the very original Galactus story, in Fantastic Four #48-50, Uatu the Watcher breaks his oath of non-interference to warn the Fantastic Four of the coming of Galactus, and guides them to find the Ultimate Nullifier.

    Atul is a newer Watcher character, although he seems to have retained 616 Uatu’s knack for providing both help and complicated reasoning for why he’s not technically breaking the rules.

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    Ryann, Nebula, and Davan board the Anabasis with Tanak's comatose body. They've called ahead, and Dr. MacTaggert and Anelle are there in the cargo bay to greet them.

    But as they step off Davan’s ship, Kane and Miles run over. "Valt, we need you and Nebula to saddle up!” she calls. “We just got intel from Miles. Don't ask how. Complicated."

    "What's happening now?" Ryann says as he watches Dr. MacTaggert examine Tanak.

    Kane puts her hands on her knees and gets a few deep breaths. "Asgard is under attack by Thule," she says finally. "It's Ragnarok."

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    Jacobkosh on
    Zilla360Nytewarriorvisiblehowl
  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    it's been a whole day and I'm still mad about life finding a way

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    JacobkoshMatev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2018
    it's been a whole day and I'm still mad about life finding a way

    I think matt did an excellent goldblum voice!

    I wish we could have worked "help meee" in there too

    Jacobkosh on
    FencingsaxMatev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    “Asgard is under attack by Thule,” Captain Kane says. “It’s Ragnarok.”

    “I’m sorry, what?” Ryann stares at Kane.

    "Shuma-Gorath is attacking Asgard,” she repeats. “Shuma-Gorath is apparently also a Celestial? Or was. It's complicated. But he's attacking Asgard, trying to destroy it. The reasons aren't...100% clear to me? Helen tried to explain to it but it doesn't really matter right now."

    "We can't just have one good day," Ryann sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose.

    "Nope!" Miles says with brittle cheer.

    Ryann nods. "I know why he's doing this, but I don't know how we'll stop him."

    Miles stares. "Wait. You found out?" He rubs his nose. "I gotta...I gotta hear this."

    "He's trying to force the creation of new Celestial via the battle. An ultimate surge of power to bring forth the birth of some new cosmic horror.”

    "What." Miles stares, if possible, even harder. "What. This is all about...reproduction? All this...all the horrible shit we've seen?"

    "More or less,” Ryann says. “We're all just means to an end for them."

    Kane just stares. "...wow."

    "It's what Galactus is trying to stop," he adds.

    "By eating planets?!" Kane cries. "So, he's...what...an interstellar abortion doctor?"

    "Pretty much,” Ryann says.

    "Jesus christ, how horrifying."

    “We learned this from the Grandmaster,” Ryann adds. “He was trying to steal power from the winners of his Contest of Champions. Nebula put a sword through him for his effort though."

    Miles swallows and looks at Nebula. "Remind me not to get on your bad side. Yeesh."

    Nebula shrugs at Miles. "I'm not sure I have a good side, pal."

    He nods. "Cool, cool. Your I-don't-stab-people-who-buy-me-drinks side, then.” He turns to Kane. “Seems like the important question is how we're getting to Asgard, then."

    The captain takes a cleansing breath, "Okay, about getting there...I called Krugarr on the Zephyr's way here. He's too weak to create a portal directly to Earth on his own, but if he works with Doctor Strange, the two of them can work together to bridge a portal across the cosmos to get us home and hook up with STRIKE's forces there. But that doesn't help us when we get there. Asgard is cut off, the Bifrost is somehow disabled or destroyed."

    Miles puts a hand to his temple. "Celestial babies. Cosmic abortions. I feel like....like a year ago I would have taken this crazy shit in stride, somehow. Right now I just want to d-....I just want to go to bed,” he hastily edits himself. “But I guess that's not an option right now, huh."

    He taps the finger of one hand against the fingers of the other. "So we need to...get there. Deal with Shuma-Gorath. Which, what. And then figure out a way to fix the Bifrost and get home?"

    Kane nods. "Step one, get to Earth. Krugarr's portal can send a handful of people through, three or four tops. I want to send Miles, Valt, Nebula, and Danvers through. I can't send the rest of her team through, and Krugarr needs to maintain the portal.

    "Once you connect with Arnell and Julian on the other side, you'll have to figure out how to get to Asgard. That's...that's Clay and Strange's problem.

    "You good?" Her gaze lingers on Ryann and Miles an extra beat, carrying an unspoken question. Ryann nods.

    "Not even close,” Miles grins. “But fuck it, right? Fuck it. Let's do this."

    Kane nods to Krugarr, who begins a series of mystical gestures. A portal begins to shimmer into view, its outline hazy, as if it’s not quite there. Then, as if from a great distance, Doctor Strange’s voice can be heard, and the translucent disc gains sharpness and solidity.

    Visibly straining, Krugarr nods imploringly at the portal. Kane nods and waves the team forward. "Go go go!"

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    They appear on the other end, inside Doctor Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum. Elise and Julian are there, along with Clay and Doctor Strange. Additionally, Longbow and Faiza are there with the rest of their STRIKE team: Ant-Man, Spider-Woman and...Omega Red.

    Elise looks oddly... calm. "You know, now that we're all here, I just want it on the record. I told you so. I told everyone about Shuma-Gorath. Clay, did I not tell everyone about Shuma-Gorath ten million times?"

    "It's not ringing a bell," Miles says. He turns to the others. "Hey, Bob, Faiza.”

    "Yes it does, Miles,” Elise says, scandalized. “Yes it does. What the fuck! It rings a bell!"

    Pointedly ignoring Elise, Miles nods crisply at Omega Red. "Good to see you, too, soldier."

    "Chief! Admit it rings a bell!" Elise cries. "I told you so!"

    "I don't recall," Julian deadpans.

    "We can save the ‘I told you so’ and ‘I was right’ for later,” Ryann says. “We need a find a way to Asgard, now."

    "Clay. Clay," Elise hisses. "Dad. I was right. I told everyone so, right?"

    Miles turns to Strange. "Centurion talked to the Gamesmaster. He found out why this is happening. Shuma-Gorath is trying to make a new Celestial, by, like...It's like Highlander. You've seen that, right? And Galactus eats planets to stop that from happening. It's all just cosmic space baby 2001 stuff.

    “So maybe if we just…” Miles snaps his fingers excitedly. “...keep Shuma-Gorath from eating the Asgardians. Maybe we don't even need to beat him!" He’s excited and rambling, pacing and firing off ideas at a mile a minute.

    Julian looks at the rest of the assembled group and then down to himself. "Kinda makes you feel like you're in like, Heavy Metal. This is crazy."

    Strange nods slowly, "Well... that explains...a lot actually."

    Elise continues to tug on Clay's sleeve insistently. "Clay. Admit it. Admit I was right."

    "We still need to get to Asgard," Clay points out. "Anyone with any ideas on that? Strange?"

    Strange shakes his head. "I don't know. Asgard basically has one way in or out, the Bifrost. And it's cut off somehow."

    "Is no one going to admit that I called this? I called this specific thing! HELLO?"

    Ryann sighs. "What did you call exactly, Elise?"

    Clay holds up a quelling hand in Ryann’s direction and reaches over to Strange's desk. He begins scribbling something on a piece of paper. He hands it to Elise. The piece of paper says I Told You So Coupon. "Elise, you get to redeem this once to get out of saying or doing something completely idiotic and I yell at you for it in the future."

    "It's also got a cash value of .01 cents," Miles adds.

    Elise beams warmly and tucks it into one of the pockets of her enormous coat. "I will treasure it always."

    Julian just looks over and grins. "For as long as you get to keep it."

    Faiza leans over to Elise and whispers, "Those are really valuable, keep it safe. I have like four."

    "Nice."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Ryann sighs. "Ok, Clay. How are we getting to Asgard?"

    "Wait," Miles holds up his hands. "Wait! X-51, do you remember the entrance Loki showed us?"

    I do, Miles.

    Miles turns to Strange and STRIKE-3. "Loki, when he was disguised as Sigrun, said that the Valkyrior have a number of hidden ways into Asgard, to bypass the Bifrost. There's some alley here in town with runic graffiti and it takes you right there. We...might need magic to activate it? But it lets you get in without being seen."

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    This was real! I really remembered this year-old detail at the exact right time!

    Faiza claps her hands. "Oh! I've been studying Asgardian runes! I think I can do it!"

    Clay nods at her. "Alright, take some street vehicles and head to this alleyway with both STRIKE teams. Strange and I will stay here and formulate a fallback contingency."

    Carol looks around, confused. "Wait... what do you mean both STRIKE teams? Where's...where's my team?" She looks at O'Grady. "And...who are you? Where's Scott?"

    Longbow sucks his teeth. "So...some stuff happened, Carol." He looks at Clay. "Can, like, Mason's head computer get an upload of the new STRIKE d-base? Maybe Mason can fill his guys in on the drive over?"

    "Speaking of the drive over!" Elise claps her hands together excitedly, then pulls out her cell phone and sends a text. "Who wants to come in my convertible." Faiza and Bob raise their hands.

    Clay nods and looks at Miles. "X-51, you have access to STRIKE's database. Your clearance is still active. Download the updated files, Miles can brief the team on the way."

    Miles nods. "On it, boss." He puts his hands to his temple. "What.” His eyes widen as the new information fills his sensorium. "What the - " he says to nobody, reacting to things nobody else can see. "That guy?" A pause. "Oh, fuck you!"

    Finally, he turns to the group. "Remember how every time we go away things get turbo-fucked? Well, we're three for three so far."

    X-51 intones I do not care for much of this information, Miles. I do not like the position Gregory Stark is in. We should rectify this when we return to Earth.

    Miles nods. Right there with you, buddy. We've got a house to set in order.

    "I mean, that means we're really important for as much comfort as you can get from that," Julian offers.

    "Did Jeremiah die?" Elise asks hopefully, to a horrified "Elise!" from Julian.

    "He's President," Miles says.

    "NO!"

    Clay sighs. "Get moving, STRIKE. Asgardians might be dying. Michael might be armpit deep in Dark Elves."

    Elise salutes. "Let's go save Michael."

    The STRIKE teams file outside. Julian heads into a nearby alleyway and summons his motorcycle. Elise’s bright blue convertible; a mermaid airbrushed on the hood, has been brought round by an uncomfortable-looking SEC agent. She takes the keys from him and slides in with Faiza and Bob.

    Miles, Ryann, Carol, and Nebula pile into the agency SUV that Bob drove to the Village, while the rest of Bob's team are in another vehicle. Miles takes a deep breath and begins to tell STRIKE-1 about what happened while they were away.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    qlGmSdP.pngIntel Report: September 10th, 2017
    LEVEL 8+ EYES ONLY
    Designated for STRIKE Agents and adjacent support personnel
    Section compiled by:
    STRIKE-COMMS Liaison Agent Jeremiah Warrick

    STRIKE-1 Dispatched on Operation Caliburn
    STRIKE-1 (Codename: Freedom Force) has been dispatched to deep space on the joint SWORD-STRIKE Operation Caliburn, along with SWORD support personnel and STRIKE-2 Team Leader Carol Danvers.

    We wish them well on their mission objective.

    Ennilux Installed as Attilan Intelligence
    The Ennilux, formerly an organized crime syndicate in the Kingdom of Attilan, has positioned itself as a new foreign intelligence service of the lunar kingdom. This was due to the actions of STRIKE and negotiations between the House of Agon and SHIELD Director Fury.

    The Ennilux is officially considered an ally agency of SHIELD and their agents should be treated accordingly.

    Investigation into ONE and the SHRA
    The investigation into the Office of National Emergency and its actions is ongoing. SHIELD Director Fury and STRIKE Director Quartermain are in director contact with the US Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, and they are discussing options. Henry Gyrich, the Secretary of ONE, has been immediately terminated and criminal charges will likely be pressed against him.

    The Superhuman Registration Act has been withdrawn by all Congressional sponsors. Tony Stark has publicly withdrawn his support for the Act.

    President Gordon Wright will not be resigning, nor will he be investigated for his involvement in ONE. SHIELD has decided that President Wright’s current position and SHIELD’s current relationship with the US President is beneficial to this agency and for the time being, the President’s administration will be permitted to continue provided it conducts itself in accordance with standards laid out as agreed upon and mistakes are not repeated.

    Leviathan Remnant Actively Pursued by WHISPER
    WHISPER is hunting down any remaining cells of Leviathan. Where Leviathan personnel can be potentially and safely recruited, they are being assessed as potential assets and cleared. Where they cannot, they are being apprehended or terminated as determined necessary.

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    qlGmSdP.pngIntel Report: September 17, 2017
    LEVEL 8+ EYES ONLY
    Designated for STRIKE Agents and adjacent support personnel
    Section compiled by:
    STRIKE-COMMS Liaison Agent Jeremiah Warrick

    Arnim Zola Continuing Rehabilitation
    Vision has informed us that Dr. Arnim Zola, formerly of HYDRA, continues to be rehabilitated while being contained in a digital simulated reality. It is Vision’s hope that sometime soon, Zola will be able to return to reality and serve as a productive member of society under supervision. The simulated reality Zola is inside runs at an accelerated time-scale, and his rehabilitation is proceeding far faster than the real time passing outside it would indicate.

    Pym Technologies Exonerated of ONE Involvement
    Henry Pym and his company, Pym Technologies, has been exonerated of any involvement in ONE’s unconstitutional activities. While STRIKE had acquired more than enough evidence to support bringing charges against Pym personally and his company as a whole, directives from SHIELD Director Fury are such that we will not be pursuing this course of action at this time.

    Tony Stark Exonerated of All Crimes, Starts New Company
    Tony Stark will not be charged for what was fundamentally attempted murder of all SHIELD personnel aboard the Helicarrier during his resignation from the Avengers, nor will any SHIELD personnel taking any retributive actions against Stark at this time. Tony Stark has made his resignation permanent, and has started a new company, Stark Unlimited, going forward.

    qlGmSdP.pngArnim Zola
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    Arnim Zola is currently imprisoned in a simulated reality designed by Vision. He is being slowly rehabilitated, and Vision believes that he will be soon at a point where he can be slowly integrated into normal society and serve as a functional and helpful member of SHIELD.

    qlGmSdP.pngStark Unlimited
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    Tony Stark’s new venture, Stark Unlimited is a non-profit organization that implements Stark’s technology around the world. It is, in some ways, Tony Stark’s response to the Future Foundation.

    Stark’s other business ventures (Stark Industries, Stark Resilient, Stark-Fujikawa, Damage Control) still continue to exist, but their profits are largely used to support Stark Unlimited now.

    Tony Stark discontinued any and all support for SHIELD and the Avengers, and has parted ways with the agency on bad terms, to say the least. None of his companies contract out any technology to SHIELD, nor do we request any such contracts.

    Stark has discontinued publicly operating as Iron Man, stating he is working full time as an engineer, executive, and philanthropist. However, there are reports of Iron Man appearing around the world engaging in rescue operations. It is possible these are individuals in Tony Stark’s employ, or even automated drones.

    PHU1KZN.png
    I don’t know if Damage Control has been specifically mentioned before now, but it’s been part of the setting documents since the beginning. It’s a construction company that specializes in cleaning up after superhero battles. It first appeared in a four-issue comedy miniseries in the 1980s.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    qlGmSdP.pngIntel Report: September 24th, 2017
    LEVEL 8+ EYES ONLY
    Designated for STRIKE Agents and adjacent support personnel
    Section compiled by:
    STRIKE-COMMS Liaison Agent Jeremiah Warrick

    Ben Grimm and John Storm Working with ARMOR
    Ben Grimm and John Storm have been working with ARMOR extensively in the past week and will continue to do so going forward, in an effort to learn more about the Council and the Parliament. They have been exploring alternate realities ARMOR has already visited, and attempting to explore and document new ones. ARMOR will update us with more information as they deem relevant.

    Mission to Egypt Deemed Unsuccessful
    STRIKE-3 (Codename: The Invincibles) recently went on a mission to Egypt at the direction of STRIKE Director Quartermain to investigate details on the being known as En Sabah Nur. Director Quartermain encountered a doppelganger of this being on Earth-462 (“Skrull Earth”) and is convinced that this same being exists on our Earth, given that his existence predates the deviation in timelines.

    The mission was ultimately fruitless. While STRIKE-3 discovered some references to the entity in question, they were outdated and ancient references to a being that existed in myth dating back to the dynasties of ancient Egyptian Pharaohs. Director Quartermain is not satisfied with this answer and plans further missions in the future.

    Agents of Doom in Operation
    We have received troubling reports from Latveria that there are a group of powerful mercenaries, assassins, and terrorists in the employ of Victor Von Doom that we have identified as the ‘Agents of Doom.’ Our current listing of their membership includes: Cain Marko, Taskmaster, Franklin Hall, the Asgardian Lorelei, and a mysterious individual we know only as Malice, who appears to be their field leader.

    Currently, we have not encountered this group at cross-purpose to our own missions. They appear to be dispatched by Doom to investigate the Parliament, to quell rebels in Latveria, and to hunt down Leviathan and HYDRA terrorist cells. Nonetheless, if we do run afoul of this group, it will be incredibly dangerous.

    qlGmSdP.pngEn Sabah Nur
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    STRIKE Director Clay Quartermain has attempted to, in vain, seek out the entity known as En Sabah Nur. Quartermain is convinced this entity exists on this Earth after encountering the individual on Earth-462 (Skrull Earth) and being briefly telepathically possessed by him.

    However, thus far, the only indication of En Sabah Nur’s existence is Egyptian legends about a Pharaoh that died during one of the earliest dynasties, and nothing else since. Director Quartermain isn’t satisfied with this answer.

    qlGmSdP.pngUPDATE: Cain Marko
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    The Juggernaut is reportedly working for Doctor Doom as one of his so-called “Agents of Doom”.

    He is one of the most powerful and dangerous beings on the planet, and the fact that he is working for Doctor Doom as heavy muscle is quite alarming.

    qlGmSdP.pngUPDATE: Franklin Hall
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    Graviton is not just one of the most powerful beings on Earth on account of being able to control one of the fundamental forces of reality, he is now also studying sorcery under Doctor Doom’s tutelage.

    He is a member of the Agents of Doom, individuals who serve as spies and assassins for Doctor Doom.

    Hall should be treated with the utmost caution. In his current state, it’s not clear if any force on Earth can defeat him if the matter is pressed.

    qlGmSdP.pngUPDATE: Lorelei
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    The Asgardian enchantress known as Lorelei has been at large since the events of Kang’s Secret War, and is apparently working for Doctor Doom as one of his Agents of Doom. Why the incredibly selfish Lorelei has chosen to serve Doom when she generally only serves herself is a mystery for now.

    qlGmSdP.pngTaskmaster
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    One of the individuals who came into the employ of Doctor Doom as a result of the Battleworld incident, Taskmaster is a mercenary with extranormal abilities whom we know very little about.

    He apparently can copy the skills, movements, and techniques of anyone he observes instantly. This does not extend to abilities beyond the capacity of the human body; he cannot purely copy extranormal powers and abilities. But he can simply observe a master martial artist or an Olympic-level archer practice and then immediately perform at equal skill level as them.

    As part of the Agents of Doom, he has served as Doom’s personal assassin, something he is more than suited for.

    qlGmSdP.pngMalice
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    Malice is the mysterious leader of the Agents of Doom, the group of mercenaries and assassins that work for Doctor Doom. Unlike the others, she is not one of the individuals who Doom recruited as a result of being summoned to Battleworld by Kang the Conqueror.

    It is a mystery who Malice is, why she serves Doom, or what her capabilities are. She first appeared during the Skrull invasion, and engaged Skrull forces directly using conventional weaponry and combat, displaying no extranormal abilities. It’s possible she has none, and leads the team purely because she has the right tactical skill and knowledge. However, where she acquired such knowledge is also an unanswered question.

    More intel is required.

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    qlGmSdP.pngIntel Report: October 1st, 2017
    LEVEL 8+ EYES ONLY
    Designated for STRIKE Agents and adjacent support personnel
    Section compiled by:
    STRIKE-COMMS Liaison Agent Jeremiah Warrick

    Kraven Still at Large
    Sergei Kravinoff, aka Kraven the Hunter, is still at large after escaping ONE’s ‘Big House’ facility during STRIKE’s jailbreak. We do not know his current location, but he does not appear to have returned to his previous habits of hunting down and consuming Inhumans.

    He is actively avoiding STRIKE and SHIELD in general. From what we understand, the neuro-explosives installed in his brain by Doctor Doom that are rigged to detonate if he contemplates harming STRIKE Agent Elise Arnell are still armed and dangerous, so it follows that he is giving SHIELD as wide a berth as possible. However, he is extremely dangerous and SHIELD wants to apprehend him if possible.

    Mysterious Nova-Like Vigilante Active
    There have been sightings and recorded cellphone video of a fast, high-powered young vigilante that we have code-named Kid Nova. This individual appears to use technology and possesses powers nearly identical in form (but not potency) to STRIKE Agent Ryann Valt. However, he does not appear to be a formal member of the Nova Corps or have any specific combat training or experience. His attempts to fight crime and engage in super-heroics are clumsy and sometimes disastrous, illustrating youth and a lack of experience.

    Our current hypothesis is that he is simply a young man who came upon Agent Valt’s Nova Corps helmet, which was lost during Agent Valt’s arrest by ONE Sentinels and not recovered. STRIKE has not been able to apprehend Kid Nova due to his speed and evasive prowess. We may need Agent Valt’s assistance in this matter.

    Tony Stark Recruiting from SHIELD
    Tony Stark has actively been headhunting from SHIELD staff for his Stark Unlimited company. He has managed to recruit Dr. Paul Kraye, Director SCI-TECH (who himself is a former Stark employee) and STRIKE Medic Dr. Rosalind Solomon. SHIELD is attempting to fill the roles that have been left voided by those individuals, and find ways to avoid Tony Stark poaching our staff further.

    Chancellor of Xandar Assassinated, Earth Removed from Xandar Federation
    Chancellor Xor of the Xandar Federation was assassinated, allegedly by STRIKE-1 agents on Xandar as part of Operation Caliburn.

    SHIELD Director Nick Fury has officially disavowed these agents, and the existence of STRIKE itself. While STRIKE has always existed as a black operation, this official denial of our existence should serve to underline the importance of operational security in all matters.

    We do not fully know at this time what happened on Xandar, but SHIELD Legal representative Jennifer Walters is being dispatched to Xandar to investigate further and represent our agents.

    The immediate repercussion of this event is that the Xandar Federation has voted to remove Earth’s status as a protectorate of the Federation. This is deeply troubling, as it effectively advertises Earth as a potential world to be conquered, in particular to the Kree or Skrull Empires. SWORD is preparing for a potential influx of alien activity as a result.

    qlGmSdP.pngUPDATE: Sergei Kravinoff
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    Kraven the Hunter was one of the prisoners of the Big House that escaped as a result of STRIKE’s actions taking down ONE. He is currently at large, along with the rest of his so-called "Sinister Six."

    According to information that was relayed to STRIKE by Doctor Doom, Kraven has a micro-munition implanted in his brain that if he thinks about killing or consuming the flesh of STRIKE Agent Elise Arnell, his head will literally explode, so it is likely that Kraven is doing as much as possible to avoid STRIKE’s attention right now.

    qlGmSdP.pngKid Nova
    gEBb2YJ.png

    This young, unknown vigilante showed up prior to the Skrull invasion, but really made his mark during it.

    He appears to use powers and a uniform similar to Nova Centurion Ryann Valt, but so far as we know is not part of the Nova Corps and his youth and general inexperience in combat belie any affiliation with the Corps.

    SHIELD has not been able to apprehend or question the young man given his incredible speed and power.

    We suspect it is possible that he may simply be a human youth who found a piece of Nova Corps technology, possibly Ryann Valt’s Nova Corps helmet, which was not recovered after he was captured by Sentinels a few months ago.

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    qlGmSdP.pngIntel Report: October 8th, 2017
    LEVEL 8+ EYES ONLY
    Designated for STRIKE Agents and adjacent support personnel
    Section compiled by:
    STRIKE-COMMS Liaison Agent Jeremiah Warrick

    This is an overview of the events of the invasion of Earth by the Skrull Empire Expeditionary Scouting Fleet that began on October 5th, 2017.

    Kree Satellite Network Activates
    The Kree Satellite Network activated globally, defending Earth from Skrull attack and blasting the majority of Skrull ships out of orbit. This has presented some problems for SHIELD in the aftermath, as the World Security Council and many world leaders were very upset (to use severe understatement) at the idea that SHIELD had a world-ending WMD at their disposal this entire time and did not tell anyone.

    SWORD’s Counter-Attack Successful
    SWORD mobilized fully in the invasion, using all of its resources. Of all SHIELD’s agencies, it sustained the heaviest losses, but even still it performed admirably and to the best of its ability.

    Alpha Flight Emerges, Sustains Losses
    Canada’s Alpha Flight program emerged during the invasion, doing its part against the Skrulls. Alpha Flight was larger and more comprehensive than SHIELD first realized, but it also sustained heavy losses during the invasion. SHIELD thanks Alpha Flight for its bravery and sacrifices during the invasion.

    Attilan Mobilizes Inhumans, Promises a Place in the Kingdom
    Attilan managed to mobilize a large army of Inhumans not just from its own kingdom (which was quite sizable) but also from Earth’s own Inhuman population which numbers in the thousands. They promised that any Inhuman that rose up to fight the Skrulls and came under the banner of the House of Agon would be guaranteed a place in Attilan, and many Inhumans who are currently experiencing fear and oppression in Earth society took them up on the offer. How much Attilan honors that offer remains to be seen.

    Scott Lang Declared MIA, Niles Nordstrom Injured
    STRIKE Agent Scott Lang has been declared Missing In Action due to the events of the Skrull Invasion. In order to disable and destroy a Skrull vessel, Agent Lang needed to shrink down to beyond the sub-atomic level, and had advised that in doing so it was quite likely he would be unable to return. This appears to be the case, as Lang did not return despite accomplishing his mission. Officially, it has been decided that he will be declared Missing, rather than Killed, in Action.

    STRIKE Quartermaster Niles Nordstrom was critically injured in the invasion, and has been treated by SHIELD MED. He has been given cybernetic augmentations for his injuries and will be returning to duty soon. We wish him well on his speedy recovery.

    Bruce Banner Resigns from Avengers
    Bruce Banner (codename: The Hulk) has resigned from the Avengers following the Skrull Invasion. During the Invasion, he was subjected to telepathic control by the Skrulls and turned on his teammates, causing injuries and property damage. Dr. Banner has determined that it is for the best that he no longer invokes the Hulk and restricts his involvement with SHIELD purely to science and technology, and will be transferring to SCI-TECH.

    Earth’s Allies Come to Help
    Atlantis and Asgard both stepped up and did their part during the invasion, led by King Namor and Thor, respectively. Earth and SHIELD will not forget their efforts.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    qlGmSdP.pngIntel Report: October 15th, 2017
    LEVEL 8+ EYES ONLY
    Designated for STRIKE Agents and adjacent support personnel
    Section compiled by:
    STRIKE-COMMS Liaison Agent Jeremiah Warrick

    World Security Council Creates HELM
    In response to the many revelations that took place during the Skrull Invasion, the World Security Council has determined that SHIELD needs an additional layer of oversight atop Director Nick Fury and the various branches of the agency. To this end, they have created the Headquarters for Espionage Logistics Management (HELM). HELM is now overseeing all of SHIELD’s activities, and outranks all other SHIELD authority, including that of SHIELD Director Nick Fury.

    Concerns Raised About Potential Skrull Infiltrators
    While the overwhelming majority of the invading Skrull fleet was destroyed or pushed back, some ships did manage to breach the defensive line, some even landing on Earth’s surface. There are grave concerns that there are now Imperial Skrull infiltrators, unknown in number, among the population of Earth.

    HAMMER Created, Squadron Supreme Formed
    In response to the potential danger of Skrull infiltrators, and other alien threats that may be lurking on Earth, HELM has determined that SHIELD needs a partner agency, Hostile Alien Monitoring Management Enforcement and Response (HAMMER). HAMMER’s mandate is entirely restricted to alien issues on Earth itself; alien issues external to Earth are still under SWORD’s remit.

    HAMMER has also created its own superhero response team, akin to the Avengers, known as the Squadron Supreme. The leader of this team is former STRIKE agent Hyperion, who was transferred to HAMMER by HELM’s directive, against STRIKE Director Quatermain’s repeated complaints.

    HAMMER has, with HELM’s directive, taken possession of the Helicarrier for their use and the Triskelion is now officially and practically SHIELD’s HQ. The Avengers are now properly housed in the Avengers Tower, and their security clearance is such that they are aware of STRIKE-COMMS’ presence in the same venue. They are our neighbors, and respect them as such.

    Ultimates Dissolved, Avengers Restructured
    The Ultimates have been dissolved as a team, with Ultimates member Gwen Stacy returning to her reality and the remaining members joining the Avengers, as the Avengers have had a number of vacancies in the past few weeks. The Avengers’ duties have now expanded to include all the Ultimates’ previous duties. The Ultimates’ quincarrier, the Chariot, has been repurposed for use by the Avengers as needed.

    Rise in Vampire Attacks, STAKE Created
    With all the chaos in the past few months, there’s been a sharp rise in the instances of vampire attacks and other supernatural events. STRIKE Agent Blade has been pleading for quite some time for assistance in pursuing these matters and more actively engaging these issues, and it has been determined that it is prudent to dedicate a division of SHIELD to this purpose. A new division, supernatural Threat Assessment for Known Entities (STAKE) has been created, led by Ulysses Bloodstone. STAKE’s HQ is STRIKE-COMMS former HQ, the Crypt, which has been repurposed for them.

    Daily Bugle Rebooted as Frontline
    In the wake of the Skrull Invasion, the Daily Bugle newspaper has rebooted itself as Frontline, a sensationalist online media platform that is stoking the fires of anti-alien paranoia. COMMS would prefer to intervene on this subject but has, at this time, been directed to step back and let the situation play out.

    qlGmSdP.pngHELM
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    The Headquarters for Espionage Logistics Management is now the oversight for SHIELD, HAMMER, SWORD, ARMOR, and all other branches of these agencies. HELM answers exclusively to the World Security Council, and all other agencies answer to HELM.

    As a result, HELM Director John Garrett is essentially your boss’ bosses’ boss. If it is at all possible to avoid interacting with any personnel from HELM whatsoever, do so. Strictest op-sec must be observed at all times when interacting with them.

    John Garrett
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    Director, HELM
    Codename:
    Aquarius
    Clearance Level: 10Λ (Theoretically)

    John Garrett was handpicked by the World Security Council to run HELM. Who Garrett is, or was, and why he was picked is difficult to ascertain, as his entire personnel file is level 9 restricted.

    What is known is that he is reputed to be fair-minded, but ultimately has a goal of achieving transparency between SHIELD and the WSC, and to rein in SHIELD Director Fury.

    He is also tasked with acting as oversight on some of the other agencies under the larger umbrella connected to SHIELD, such as SWORD, ARMOR, and the newly created HAMMER.

    Dallas Riordan
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    Conduct Investigator, HELM
    Codename:
    Vantage
    Clearance Level: 9K

    Dallas Riordan is HELM’s Conduct Investigator. While HELM Director John Garrett is the one that oversees all of SHIELD, HAMMER, and various agencies under them, Investigator Riordan is the one who may actually show up at any given time to inspect them for compliance, ask questions, and interrogate agents.

    Investigator Riordan has the authority to ask any questions she wants, at any time, and as an Agent of STRIKE you are to treat any question she asks as if it is coming from your superiors. Therefore, it is best not to be in any position where she is able to ask you any questions at any time.


    qlGmSdP.pngHAMMER
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    Hostile Alien Monitoring Management Enforcement and Response is a new agency created since the Skrull invasion. It is technically not a division of SHIELD, but a separate agency answerable to HELM and above that, the World Security Council.

    Accordingly, HAMMER Director Gregory Stark is not subordinate to SHIELD Director Nick Fury, and it is important to remember that while HAMMER agents may be your peers and your interests may align on some missions, they are not truly your fellow agents and op-sec should be observed.

    HAMMER’s mandate is extremely specific, and is implied in the agency’s extended name. They are directly responsible for investigating and responding to hostile alien threats on Earth, primarily Skrulls as of this writing. HAMMER is well aware of the shapeshifting ability of the Skrulls, and that there are Skrulls still on Earth who need to be found and apprehended.

    Some of these hostile Skrulls are still rogue agents of Leviathan (and are, more accurately, usually Skrull-Human hybrids like Black Widows and Wolf Spiders that SHIELD and WHISPER have yet to apprehend). But others are members of the Dard’van who have potentially survived the initial Skrull scouting attack recently and have managed to infiltrate Earth. This “Secret Invasion” is something that HAMMER is very concerned about preventing and that the general public is terrified of.

    HAMMER’s practices are both effective and brutal. Many of their personnel are former members of Blackguard and ONE, and as a result are highly trained individuals of low moral fiber. If you see any abuses of authority or war crimes committed by HAMMER, documentation is extremely important prior to any kind of intervention.

    Gregory Stark
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    Director, HAMMER
    Codename:
    Masterwork

    The brother of former Avenger Tony Stark, Gregory Stark was previously a contractor under SHIELD’s employ, before briefly working with ONE. His loyalties are mercurial, and in the opinion of one STRIKE agent, Gregory Stark is quite possibly a sociopath with his own internal sense of ethics completely alien to those around him.

    It cannot be doubted that his motives with HAMMER are genuine, however. Stark is loyal to Earth, he is earnestly trying to ferret out Skrulls or other alien interlopers. Whether or not he will let pesky things like ethics or laws get in his way remains to be seen.

    Gregory Stark is aware that several Skrulls who are not members of the Dard’van or Leviathan are members of SHIELD and WHISPER, but seems to opt not to mention or act on this fact for now. We have decided to not pursue this matter further so as not to provoke a conflict. It is possible that Stark is specifically choosing to not act on this information so as to maintain this detente.

    qlGmSdP.pngThe Squadron Supreme
    The Squadron Supreme is HAMMER’s counterpart to the Avengers. They are a public-facing, highly publicized super-hero team composed of individuals who directly engage in alien threats where they are present. They also step outside this mandate regularly to engage in general super-heroics, periodically getting in the lane of the Avengers. Because a few members of the Squadron are former SHIELD agents, these encounters are generally amicable and the two groups publicly co-operate.

    Ironically for a team whose mandate is hunting down aliens, 100% of the Squadron Supreme is composed of aliens, alien-human hybrids, or individuals who rely on alien technology. This fact is something that HAMMER goes to great lengths to conceal, even from its own agents, with elaborate falsified backstories for each member presented to the public.

    Hyperion
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    Team leader, Squadron Supreme
    Real name:
    Marcus Milton
    Known extranormal abilities: Hyperion is one of the most powerful beings on Earth. He is an alien of unknown origin, quite likely his species version of an Eternal. He can fly, has practically unlimited strength, can blast beams of superheated photons from his eyes, and can see and hear into wavelengths far beyond what humans are capable of. He is also seemingly indestructible, having withstood a nuclear meltdown to no ill effect. He does not appear to biologically age. His one weakness appears to be telepathy, which he has little in the way of defenses for.

    Hyperion was one of the original Avengers, and was later due to complex circumstances an agent of STRIKE. After the Skrull invasion, he became a very publicly renowned hero of Earth, directly engaging in combat with Skrull battleships personally.

    In the aftermath, HAMMER was formed. Gregory Stark personally requested to have Hyperion transferred to HAMMER to lead the Squadron Supreme, and HELM Director John Garrett agreed despite STRIKE Director Clay Quartermain’s repeated and adamant protests.

    Thundra
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    Real name:
    Thundra of House Zarda
    Known extranormal abilities: Superhuman strength, speed, flight, near invulnerability.

    Thundra is an Attilan noble who opted to join the Squadron Supreme after the Skrull invasion. She officially is acting as a representative of Attilan, and her status as an Inhuman is publicly known. Despite this, she is so charismatic and popular that the fact that she is from such a strange and foreign land is largely overlooked by Earth’s population, which is currently in a bit of a xenophobic craze.

    Darkhawk
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    Real name:
    Christopher Powell
    Known extranormal abilities: Flight, energy blasts, and a seemingly exhaustive supply of various armaments from his power armor, akin to Tony Stark’s Iron Man armor.

    Christopher Powell claims to have designed the Darkhawk suit himself, another industrialist and engineer who created a suit of power armor like Tony Stark.

    This is a falsehood. Christopher Powell is a high school dropout with no engineering education. The Darkhawk armor comes from an amulet which we believe is alien in origin, that Powell simply found one day. The amulet is imprinted on Powell, and cannot be taken from him and given to someone else.

    It is likely that the Darkhawk armor possesses its own AI or internal consciousness that overrides Powell’s when he activates it, because Christopher Powell’s psych profile does not indicate the tactical prowess or combat readiness he exhibits as Darkhawk.

    Speedball
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    Real name:
    Robert Baldwin
    Known extranormal abilities: Responds to kinetic energy by projecting energy fields and increasing velocity, practically indestructible by application of kinetic force.

    Robert Baldwin is an Inhuman. While his claimed backstory involves being pelted by cosmic radiation during his internship at the Baxter Building, the reality is Baldwin was transformed by the Terrigen Bomb and his abilities are due to his own Terrigenesis.

    He is extremely immature, irresponsible, and regularly breaks op-sec. He would be a severe liability for the Squadron Supreme if not for the fact that he is nearly indestructible, seems to be inordinately lucky, and that team leader Hyperion is fond of him, stating that working with the young man reminds him of working with STRIKE.

    Doctor Spectrum
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    Real name:
    Joseph Ledger
    Known extranormal abilities: Ledger possesses an alien artifact that he calls the “Power Prism”, which enables him to create hard light constructs, holograms, force fields, and energy blasts.

    Dr. Joseph Ledger was a SWORD scientist stationed aboard the Peak when the Skrull invasion occurred. Desperate for an advantage against the aliens and fearing this was going to be an apocalyptic event, Dr. Ledger violated protocol and broke into SWORD’s storage facility. He grabbed a confiscated alien artifact of unknown power and function that SWORD had taken from a smuggler apprehended some time ago, and used it to help fight against the Skrulls.

    Since then, Dr. Ledger has refused to relinquish the artifact that he calls the “Power Prism,” saying it has chosen him. It is possible that the artifact is having a deleterious or psycho-addictive impact on Dr. Ledger’s mind. However, HAMMER Director Stark has determined that Dr. Ledger’s abilities using the artifact are so potent that he requested that he be transferred to Squadron Supreme, a request that HELM Director Garrett granted despite SWORD Director Brand protesting.

    Songbird
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    Real name:
    Melissa Gold
    Known extranormal abilities: Acoustikinesis. Gold can manipulate sound and sound waves, using them to create sonic blasts, nullify sound, and even create wings of sonic energy and fly. She can slow down kinetic projectiles and has other uses of her abilities yet to be determined.

    Melissa Gold is an Inhuman who acquired her abilities during the Terrigen Bomb event. She was one of the Inhumans who had intended to immigrate to Attilan, and was in the process of doing so when the Skrulls attacked. Seeing it as her duty to help hunt down further Skrulls, she volunteered to join HAMMER’s Squadron Supreme.

    Moondragon
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    Real name:
    Heather Douglas
    Known extranormal abilities: Douglas is a staggeringly powerful telepath, possibly one of the most powerful on Earth. She has only acquired her abilities in the past year and she is already growing exponentially more powerful with time.

    Heather Douglas was kidnapped by Alchemax and experimented on, using their synthetic Terrigen known as Isotope-8 to stimulate an artificial Terrigenesis. She is an Inhuman, although she has undergone a synthetic Terrigenesis. Subsequent to her Terrigenesis, she was handed over to HYDRA and subjected to neurolinguistic programming. She was apprehended by STRIKE and incarcerated in the Raft, where her neurolinguistic programming was undone and she was rehabilitated due to the efforts of Gregory Stark, who requested that she be transferred to HAMMER. Intel suggests that Stark and Douglas may be involved in a romantic relationship.

    qlGmSdP.pngFrontline
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    Formerly the Daily Bugle, Frontline is the drastic makeover of the former New York City tabloid as a direct result of the Skrull invasion. It has since taken on a hostile, combative tone, even moreso than it used to have. Instead of talking about Spider-Man and the menace of costumed vigilantes, Frontline now fixates on aliens almost exclusively.

    Frontline EIC J. Jonah Jameson has personal traumatic experience with Skrulls, having been kidnapped and replaced by Leviathan previously. While he doesn’t talk about that experience publicly, there is no doubt that it affects the way he zealously decries aliens and fearmongers the public about the Skrulls.

    Frontline fervently supports HAMMER and is highly critical of anyone who does not.

    PHU1KZN.png
    HAMMER and Frontline first appeared about a decade ago in the “Secret Invasion” storyline, about Skrull infiltrators who’d been impersonating important Marvel characters for years. In the comics, HAMMER’s director was Norman Osborn, back from the dead (through various convolutions that I don’t recall) and appointed Secretary of Defense. Obviously, a government agency called HAMMER run by the Green Goblin was never going to be a super-great place.

    But hey, maybe Gregory Stark will be better!

    The revamp of the Daily Bugle into Frontline also happened in this same story. In a way, what’s happening now is our take on those events.

    I’ve talked about Hyperion and the Squadron Supreme before; how they’re Marvel’s ersatz version of the Justice League who usually hang out in their own dimension instead of the regular mainline Marvel Universe, aside from periodic crossovers.

    Now we’ve got not just Hyperion, but the entire Squadron, although with some interesting changes. Doctor Spectrum and Power Princess are, like Hyperion, both original Squadron members (although Power Princess isn’t typically an Inhuman), but otherwise the roster has had some changes.

    For instance, instead of playboy billionaire Nighthawk (who presumably died during the Action Pack explosion in LA) the not-Batman role is filled by Darkhawk, a teen hero who debuted in the main Marvel continuity and had a several-year run in the early ‘90s.

    The not-Black Canary role is filled by Songbird, who isn’t a Squadron Supreme character but is in fact another character from the main 616 universe. Formerly the villainess Screaming Mimi, she reformed and became the heroic Songbird in the Thunderbolts series, about villains who disguise themselves as heroes and then decide they like being good guys. (Dallas Riordan, HELM Director John Garrett’s investigator, also comes to us from the Thunderbolts comic; she was the policewoman hunting the Thunderbolts down.)

    Then, in the not-Martian Manhunter powerful telepath role, we have Moondragon, whom we’ve already met (we broke her out of a HYDRA brainwashing camp way back in season 1). Normally, in the Squadron Supreme, this role is taken by the Skrullian Skymaster.

    You see how this goes, right? In lieu of many of the the “real” Squadron characters, Matt has found other Marvel characters who also have Justice League-like powers.

    Comic books is kind of like pointing two mirrors at each other sometimes.

    FencingsaxMatev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    K7uzQy4.png

    qlGmSdP.pngIntel Report: October 22nd, 2017
    LEVEL 8+ EYES ONLY
    Designated for STRIKE Agents and adjacent support personnel
    Section compiled by:
    STRIKE-COMMS Liaison Agent Jeremiah Warrick

    Silver Sablinova Resigns from STRIKE, Begins Own PMC
    STRIKE Agent Silver Sablinova has officially resigned from STRIKE. The reasons why do not bear mentioning in this report. She has had her security clearance revoked. She is not to be considered an enemy agent, merely a former agent who has no relation or clearance for this agency.

    Sablinova has gone on to start her own private military contractor agency, Sable International, composed largely Symkarian mercenaries, Wundagorians, former Eaglestar employees, and from members of Blackguard who didn’t get recruited by HAMMER.

    Sable International members are to be treated in the field like any other PMC; if they’re on the other side of your operations, they’re enemies. If they’re not, then they’re not.

    Dr. Karla Sofen added to STRIKE, COMMS Restructured
    Dr. Karla Sofen has been transferred to STRIKE, to replace former medical representative Dr. Solomon. Dr. Sofen is a trained neuropsychologist, and is here to care as much for agents’ mental health as physical.

    COMMS also has some personnel changes. MODOC, formerly of STRIKE-3, has been transferred to COMMS full time, and Vincent Stone has been installed as Deputy Director of COMMS.

    New Roxxon CEO, Company Restructured
    For the third time in a year, Roxxon has a new CEO and is being restructured. They are now Roxxon Sustainable Energy and are advertising themselves as a clean energy company and getting out of the crude oil business. SHIELD is skeptical of this move and its legitimacy. More intelligence is needed.

    STRIKE Field Team Revamp
    Because of the drastic personnel changes in STRIKE, including all of STRIKE-1 absent on a long-term mission, we now have only one other STRIKE field team for the time being. STRIKE-2, codename Nextwave, are STRIKE’s new field team. Going forward, they will be engaging in all of STRIKE’s field missions until such time as STRIKE-1 returns.

    qlGmSdP.pngSable International
    QUaz6zp.png

    A fairly new PMC on the world scene, Sable International is run by former STRIKE agent Silver Sablinova.

    It is a massive and dangerous organization that grew exponentially due to a power vacuum of other similar groups collapsing or being cast out. Its members include former mercenaries from Eaglestar and Blackguard, as well as Symkarian mercenaries both human and Wundagorian. They are also armed substantially with technology supplied by Doctor Doom, a troubling sign in and of itself.

    Sablinova parted ways with STRIKE more or less amicably after the Skrull invasion, citing a need to protect her homeland. We did not expect her to amass a private army that she would hire out to others. She had access to level 8-Theta intelligence prior to leaving, so she is a serious potential security risk.

    qlGmSdP.pngUPDATE: Roxxon Sustainable Energy
    KUjNWJXl.jpg

    Roxxon has undergone a series of tectonic shifts in the last year. They’ve gone through several CEOs as they’ve endured one disaster after another.

    Their most recent debacle was the Action Pack tragedy in Los Angeles. Since then, CEO Daniel Whitehall resigned, and was replaced by Graydon Creed.

    The company has completely rebranded itself. They are now Roxxon Sustainable Energy, and are working entirely towards “green energy” and are distancing themselves from their coal and oil roots.

    They have also completely sold off all components of their Blackguard PMC. The overwhelming majority of the former members of Blackguard now work for HAMMER.

    qlGmSdP.pngNextwave
    Robert Childan
    kIh1N9tl.jpg
    Team leader, STRIKE-2
    Codename: Longbow
    Clearance Level:
    Documented extranormal abilities: Longbow possesses no extranormal abilities. He is a highly skilled archer and marksman, and overall is an extremely well-trained combatant and field agent, but otherwise is indistinguishable from any human.

    Robert Childan’s history and recruitment into STRIKE is well-known to STRIKE personnel. Since the Skrull invasion, most of STRIKE’s field personnel were lost or re-assigned. Agent Childan was one of the few remaining, and by virtue of seniority was placed in command of a new field team.

    He has proven to be an able leader, and has been very successful and trusted by his team. Periodically, he encounters personal conflicts with the other residents of STRIKE’s HQ, the Avengers, in particular Clint Barton. If you see Childan and Barton in the same room for an extended period, please attempt to intervene.

    Jessica Drew
    YCQUkBwl.jpg
    Second in Command, STRIKE-2
    Codename:
    Spider-Woman
    Clearance Level:
    Documented extranormal abilities: Superhuman strength, speed, agility, and endurance. Some form of energy blast that she calls “venom blasts.” Jessica also has a form of mental influence that she can exert over others that is based on pheromone manipulation, but she states that she prefers not to use those abilities for ethical reasons unless mission critical.

    Jessica Drew’s father was an employee of Alchemax and a protegee of Herbert Wyndham. Apparently her father, Jonathan, helped Wyndham create Isotope-8. Jonathan Drew also discovered his daughter possessed the Inhuman gene, and experimented on her as a girl to trigger her Terrigenesis. The subject is a sensitive one for her, and one that STRIKE agents are advised to not discuss without Agent Drew bringing it up.

    Agent Drew was formerly in OPS before being transferred to STRIKE as part of STRIKE-2. She nominated herself as STRIKE-2’s leader before field leadership ultimately being given to Agent Childan.

    Faiza Hussain
    BtGUnpUl.jpg
    Mysticism expertise, STRIKE-2
    Codename:
    Excalibur
    Clearance Level:
    Documented extranormal abilities: Agent Hussain is a sorcerer, being trained by Doctor Strange himself, and shows a special aptitude for the Space Arcana. She is also an able close combatant with a talent for swordsmanship. Despite her codename, the sword she wields in combat is not actually the Excalibur of myth, but is instead a magical sword she requisitioned from SHIELD’s armory known as the Ebony Blade.

    Agent Hussain is formerly from the COMMS division, but with her burgeoning skills in sorcery and with STRIKE having been deprived of its field agents, she was transferred over to STRIKE as a field agent.

    Eric O’Grady
    IprvDzyl.jpg
    Infiltration and Covert Espionage, STRIKE-2
    Codename:
    Ant-Man
    Clearance Level:
    Documented extranormal abilities: O’Grady has no extranormal abilities on his own, but possesses a size-changing suit and devices based on Pym particles, previously used by STRIKE Agent Scott Lang.

    When STRIKE Agent Scott Lang was declared MIA during the Skrull invasion, STRIKE Director Quartermain decided to recruit a promising young OPS agent named Eric O’Grady to replace him, giving O’Grady time to familiarize himself with Lang’s back-up suit and tech. O’Grady now performs much of the same role that Lang previously fulfills. However, while Lang was a petty thief turned secret agent, O’Grady was already a SHIELD field agent, so is a bit more professional in the role.

    Arkady Rossovich
    5IkL8V9l.jpg
    Direct Force Entry and Assassination, STRIKE-2
    Codename:
    Omega Red
    Clearance Level:
    Documented extranormal abilities: Rossovich is a cyborg and a mutant, and has extreme regenerative ability from his mutation as well as a metallic skeleton and retractable metal tendrils implanted into his forearms. Without his mutant regeneration, his implants would have surely killed him a long time ago. As it stands, between the regeneration and his metallic skeleton he’s nearly impossible to kill short of completely disintegrating him.

    Omega Red is the result of a failed Leviathan program to experiment on mutants that dates back to the Cold War, apparently in response to a similar program run by the Canadian government’s Department H. We don’t know a whole lot about this “Weapon X” program that Leviathan was trying to compete with, besides it was the program that produced the X-Men member codenamed Wolverine. Agent Rossovich has mentioned that the two are bitter enemies.

    Rossovich is a brutally effective field agent but also difficult to control. He is ex-Leviathan and only works with STRIKE due to STRIKE agents rescuing him from a ONE prison facility. He respects Agent Childan’s ruthlessness and ability to command, and will listen to him, but Agent Childan also knows how to utilize Agent Rossovich effectively.

    STRIKE Agents are advised to give Agent Rossovich a wide berth whenever possible. He’s on our side, but it's best to give him space.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2018
    3v67ri9.png

    qlGmSdP.pngIntel Report: October 29th, 2017
    LEVEL 8+ EYES ONLY
    Designated for STRIKE Agents and adjacent support personnel
    Section compiled by:
    STRIKE-COMMS Liaison Agent Jeremiah Warrick

    Alpha Flight integrated into SWORD
    The Canadian government’s Alpha Flight program has been integrated into being part of SWORD, serving a function identical to HAMMER’s Squadron Supreme. Alpha Flight’s personnel took a hit during the Skrull Invasion, but SWORD is hopeful it can replenish the difference with its own agents. Support personnel from Department H will also be joining SWORD.

    AIM gains new CEO
    Advanced Idea Mechanics has a new CEO, Robert Folson. Folson promises a new direction for the company, and is making overtures towards working with SHIELD. Intelligence on the man is promising, and his psychological profile is less troubling than his predecessor’s. SHIELD is weighing the pros and cons of bringing AIM on as a contractor.

    Skrull Empire Agents Confirmed, Conflict with Leviathan
    It has been confirmed there are Skrull Empire agents on Earth. The confirmation came in a surprising fashion; HAMMER agents responded to a Skrull-on-Skrull conflict between Imperial spies and a Leviathan remnant cell. For reasons that are rooted in philosophy, ideology, racism, and other issues, the Skrull Empire (and their ruling political party/religious philosophy, the Dard’van) do not have any tolerance for Leviathan, and vice versa. The two groups of Skrulls immediately come into conflict with each other, and those conflicts are explosive.

    qlGmSdP.pngUPDATE: Advanced Idea Mechanics
    AbKa5TPl.png

    AIM started as a Silicon Valley think-tank company in the 1990s by Aldrich Killian. They were part of the notorious “dot-com bubble”, a company that gained notoriety and fame quickly but actually produced very little.

    After the bubble burst, AIM endured, but restructured itself as a defense contractor focusing on bleeding edge technology. With Stark Industries getting out of the weapons manufacturing game directly, for a time AIM had become DARPA’s new darling.

    However, Killian was murdered recently by a rogue STRIKE agent gone AWOL, a fact that AIM decided to cover up with claims of him dying from cancer and working overtime to create all kinds of falsifying details so as to engender sympathy and not damage their stock price.

    AIM’s new CEO, Robert Folson, could possibly be turned into an ally of SHIELD. His psychological profile is less troubling than Killian’s was and he is a potential ally rather an enemy.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "I had a cosmic lobotomy!" Elise says cheerfully over comms.

    "How you feeling after that, by the way?" Julian asks.

    "...Better. It's a start. I'll focus on the rest of recovery after, y'know, Shuma-Gorath."

    Riding in the agency SUV, Miles silently ponders the meaning of "cosmic lobotomy," then shrugs. Eh! She probably needed it.

    Bob nudges Faiza. "Hey, hey hun, show Elise the thing."

    Faiza sighs. "What, what now?"

    "Yeah, show her, it's cool."

    She shrugs. "Alright. Elise, so, I discovered this new spell when I was learning about the Space Arcana. Apparently just, creating a new spell is extremely rare in sorcery? Especially for a novice. Doctor Strange was very impressed.”

    She takes out her cellphone. "Look..." Her hands trace a mudra in the air, and the cellphone hovers in the air. It suddenly...comes apart, floating in its component pieces separated like a cross-section. Not ripped apart, just...separated.

    "Nice." Elise is suitably impressed.

    "It can even work when it's like this, look..." She taps the screen, and it still functions, despite the screen being completely detached from the rest of the phone. "It's a spell, so the connection is mystical."

    Bob chimes in, "When she does it to a person it's metal as hell."

    Faiza gasps. "No it isn't! It's horrifying and I'll never do it again!"

    "My niece has a Halloween party coming up,” Elise says. “I'll pencil you in for that. I'll be the coolest aunt ever."

    Bob gives a thumbs up. "That's why I said she should call herself Excalibur. She's English, and she like, cuts stuff apart, right? Like a sword."

    "It's way more badass than Sensate," Elise agrees.

    Faiza shakes her head, "No it's awful! It meant I had to start carrying a sword, because after I started calling myself Excalibur, everyone at STRIKE-COMMS kept saying '...so where's your sword? Why don't you use a sword?’ I didn't even know how to use a sword! And when I said that both Bob and Clay looked at me like why not, do you know what it's like to have your father and your fiance to look at you like a problem to fix?"

    "So now do they ask if your sword is the Excalibur?" Julian asks.

    "Yes! And it's terrible!" she says. "It's not! It's just some magic sword I got from the archives!"

    "Oh, just some magic sword,” Julian says. “Magic swords are cool!"

    Bob puts his arm around Faiza. "You're really good at swordfighting, hun." She puffs out her cheeks and lets out a frustrated grunt of air. Elise knows this facial expression all too well.

    Elise pats Faiza's hand sympathetically. "Thank you, Elise,” Faiza smiles. “I'm glad you're back, even if it's at least for a little while."

    In the other vehicle, Carol reaches over and gently holds Miles' hand. "I should have been here,” she says quietly. “Poor Scott.” She pauses. "I need to get my act together, Miles."

    He nods. "I..." He swallows. "I do too. I have for a while now. I just...I don't know how. I thought I just needed to loosen up, but, but that's not all there is to it." He sets his jaw. "We'll figure this out. Talk to someone. We just gotta get through this. One more day. It'll be better," he says, half to her and half to himself. "It'll be better, when, when...."

    When I stop Vlad. When I'm not a bad person anymore. Then it'll all be okay.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The convoy arrives at Miles' alleyway. Faiza gets out and examines the runes. "I...I can do this." She makes some mystical gestures, and the alleyway becomes a portal.

    LA7XKtD.png?1

    Elise can see something come through the portal with her senses.

    It's an energy blast, and it’s going to hit Faiza. Elise has a choice: she can take the hit for Faiza. Or she can hope Faiza's sorcery will protect her.

    She doesn't hesitate. "Faiza!" Elise flings herself forward and bodychecks Faiza, and gets blasted across the alleyway. She hits the brick wall opposite.

    Faiza shrieks "No!"

    "Elise!!" Julian runs over to check on her, while Miles and Ryann dive into the portal, heedless of any danger.

    Elise is crumpled on the ground. She never got her kinetic harness back after it was taken away by the Nova Corps. She's barely conscious. The blast was concussive, and it hit her with the force of a car driving at a high speed.

    Julian backs up. His eyes flit toward the portal. "Please help her. I'm going in."

    Longbow grabs Julian by the shoulder. "Hang on, Julian. I got a plan."

    "I'm listening."

    Longbow gestures for everyone to stand back. "Alright, everyone back." He looks over at Omega Red, "Arkady....do it."

    Arkady stares at Bob. "I cannot...generate. I can only transfer, Commander."

    Bob nods. "I know." He looks at Julian. "Hey, you can still come back from the dead, right?"

    "I can," Julian nods slowly. "I think I get it."

    Bob looks at Omega Red. "Do the thing."

    Elise murmurs something and reaches out. A protest? No one can tell.

    Omega Red nods and stabs Julian with a tendril. Agony courses through Julian as the life is drained out of his body, while Omega Red shudders with a delight that is very disconcerting. He leans down and hovers over Elise, putting his mouth almost on top of hers.

    He breathes into her. She feels her bones snap into place and her vitality restored. Her eyes flutter open. "H-Huaargh! Fuck! Fucking shit! Christ!"

    Julian dies. His body shakes and does a bit of a death rattle on Omega Red's tendril before it drops to the pavement. Elise shudders in horror.

    Bob grimaces. "Yeah...it's not pretty when Arkady does that. We try not to do it a lot."

    The Phoenix does not rise.

    Julian's body just lies there.

    Elise crawls toward him. "...Julian?"

    Bob stares down at him. "Uh...Arkady...did you...drink too deep buddy or..."

    Arkady shrugs. "I felt more power and life than I had ever felt. I thought he could spare. I am sorry, Commander."

    "This... this wasn't worth it. Why did you - I didn't want this! It should have been me! Julian. Julian, please!" Elise shakes him. "Come on, please, wake up. We need you, come on.

    ”I need you, you're my friend -"

    Bob gently grabs Elise. "Hey... hey, I'll, uh..."

    Elise hears a voice in her mind.

    Voices. Many.

    THIS ISN'T YOURS

    "What?!" she looks around herself. Bob stares at her nervously.

    THIS IS NOT FOR YOU

    "I don't want it! I don't want this! Go back to him!"

    WE CANNOT SEE THE PATH. WE WERE TAKEN.

    "Tell me what to do! Just tell me what to do, I can - we have to bring him back, he's my friend -"

    From somewhere dark and far off, Julian tries to assert his presence. Pushing as hard as he can, he assumes control.

    ...of Elise.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Elise has a sensation of being in the passenger seat of the car of her own body.

    What the fuck! What the fuck!

    She stands and walks up to Omega Red. She winds up and gives an open-palmed slap across his face. Hard.

    Arkady nods. "I am sorry."

    She speaks in a manner that is recognizably Julian's. "You didn't have to take such pleasure in it, you fuck." She raises her hand to her mouth. "Oh, fuck."

    Omega Red's eyebrows raise. "I...cannot help this."

    "I'm..." Elise looks around herself, confused. Julian feels barely constrained panic in the back of "his" mind. It's... t's fine. It's fine! I'm glad you're alive. This is a...it's a nice body. I'd rather share than lose you again.

    "Julian...?” Faiza whispers. “Can you...reanimate yourself? Move back into your own body?"

    "I can try."

    Flame erupts from Elise’s hands, wreathing Julian's body in fire. The fire reanimates his form, and the Phoenix (and Julian) leave Elise.

    "aaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!" Still aflame, Julian stands up. He raises his hand again towards Omega Red, but balls his fist up at his side and just glares at him. "You…you. Ugh!!"

    "I didn't know that would happen." Omega Red says with a shrug. "I believe to you I have already apologized, but if not, I do so again."

    Rather than responding, Julian just spits at Arkady's feet and dives through the portal.

    Faiza wraps Elise in a hug. "Hey. Hey, I'm glad you're okay."

    "Thank you," Elise whispers.

    "We're sisters,” Faiza whispers. “We take care of each other."

    "Let's go," Bob says to his team.

    Elise and the rest of STRIKE jump through the portal.

    PHU1KZN.png
    I don’t really have much to add here; I just love this whole bit. Whenever I picture everyone like “uhhh” looking down at Julian’s body not rising from the dead, I crack up all over again.

    I think you can probably tell where and when certain rolls got whiffed, eh?

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Vfv51FLh.png

    On the other side awaits...chaos.

    Miles and Ryann are already engaged in combat with the Dark Elves on the other side, the ones whose stray fire caught Elise. A vast dome of bluish energy sparks and fizzes against the blackened sky. Asgard's royal hall of Valhalla has attempted to raise a shield around itself, but it is failing. Massive Dark Elf ships float in the sky, trading fire with Asgardian skiffs.

    But none of that compares to what darkens the sky and is running rampant across the city.

    XZEyktuh.jpg

    Shuma-Gorath.

    In the sky, blasting the beast with glowing beams of light, the STRIKE team sees Behemoth. Joining him, hurling Mjolnir and summoning bolts of thunder, is Thor. A host of Valkyries on winged horses swarm the Great Serpent.

    Elise stares up into the sky, at Shuma-Gorath, into his eye. She always knew it would have to end like this.

    "...well, never expected to come face to face with God," Bob says.

    "It's not God," Miles says. "It's just some asshole."

    "Are you saying God isn't?"

    "....Fair point."

    PHU1KZN.png
    Remember, Bob comes from HYDRA Earth, and HYDRA are the heirs of Kulan Gath and the cult of Thule. He’s being purely literal when he calls this thing “God.”

    "I've seen bigger,” Elise laughs. "But here, it's tangible. It can bleed. It can die."

    Nebula nods at Ryann, gesturing at Elise. "Now that's a good line."

    "So let's kill a god," Julian says. Blasting into the sky, he joins the fight with zeal, wreathed in flame.



    "That's the plan," Miles says. He's focusing really hard. Trying to get it back. Whatever he had before. He takes a deep breath. "Elise…I know it's scary, but I want you to stare at it. Find its weak point. Tell Nebula where it is. She's already killed an Eternal today. Why not run up the score?”

    Elise shoots Miles a grin full of bravado. "Who's scared?"

    He gives her a thumbs-up, then points to Centurion. "Ryann, your powers make you great at crowd control. Keep those Dark Elves away from Valhalla.”

    Ryann nods. “I’ll do whatever I can.” He takes off.

    "Julian, get up to one of those big ships and try mind controlling the captain. Let's see what happens when those ships shoot their boss.”

    Julian grins at Miles' suggestion. "Let's see how that goes."

    "X-51, this magic shit is just technology on steroids, right? And so are you. Let's hack the planet."

    "Hey boss,” Longbow says, “I got some thoughts."

    "Hit me," Miles says.

    "Faiza should go with Elise. Her whole cross-section thing can help expose the weak point Elise finds."

    "Good call,” Miles says. “Hey, Michael, cover Elize and Faiza. They need a tank."

    "What the?” Michael’s surprise carries over the comms. “You guys are here?"

    "What, you think we'd leave you behind?" Elise says.

    "No,” MIchael says, “but getting here right now is kinda difficult so I thought I might have to go it alone on this one."

    "Well, you don't have to, Michael. We're here to Ragnarok-and-roll!" Julian says. "I'm not apologizing for that, by the way."

    "Someone kill Julian please," Miles replies.

    Julian chuckles. "Already done today, boss."

    "Good hustle," Miles says.

    Sighing and smiling at having the team here, Michael moves to cover Elise and Faiza.

    "O'Grady should go with Nebula,” Bob adds. “That kind of precision deathblow is his deal. Red can work the crowd-control with Centurion, he can go buckwild on these Dark Elves, right?"

    Miles nods at Bob. "Sounds good. And Carol, cover my six. We never get to go anywhere fun together anymore." Carol nods at Miles and joins him in the air.

    Longbow looks at Ant-Man. "Hey, Eric, ready to do the trickshot we practiced?" O'Grady gives him a thumbs up. Longbow opens up a hollow arrowhead, and Ant-Man shrinks down and jumps inside. The arrowhead closes.

    Elise looks at Shuma-Gorath. She stares into the eye of madness and finds clarity. In all that chaos, there is a center point. A four-dimensional point in space and time that is, for lack of a better term, the heart of the beast, beyond its eye and inside it.

    It would be incredibly hard to make the shot. Elise would have to work together with Nebula, Faiza, Longbow, and Ant-Man to make the hit, acting as the lead, and the rest of the team will have to clear the way for her to get there.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited February 14
    With their plan in place, STRIKE makes their move.

    Ryann and Omega Red charge the Dark Elf army head on, crashing into the Deviants like a wave. Cutting a swath into the army’s vanguard, they push the Dark Elf forces back, keeping them away from Valhalla, where the majority of Asgard's civilians are seeking shelter.

    The Phoenix Rider hurtles toward the Dark Elf fleet. A blade-shaped craft slams into Julian, scything him in half. Two half-Julians hit the ground with a thud. The Dark Elf ships continue to attack the Asgardian shield.

    Behemoth and Thor hirtle through the air, blasting Dark Elf ships and ground forces, trying to clear a path to Shuma-Gorath for Elise and Faiza. Still furious over what happened to Sigrun, Michael ventures too close to the beast, and with unbelievable speed, a tentacle of the Great Serpent whips through the sky and smashes into Michael, slapping him out of the sky and burying him deep beneath the surface of Asgard.

    He is relatively unharmed, but he is effectively out of action until he can blast his way to the surface...if he can figure out which way is up.

    Holding hands, Machine Man and Captain Marvel soar into the sky, and with a mix of adrenaline, desperation, determination, and chemical courage, he projects his consciousness into the etheric data network of the Dark Elves. It's like diving into dark water, a step into the unknown, with only X-51 and Carol's cosmic power to light the way.

    Miles' eyes fly open. "I am one with every point of data in the matrix," he intones. Dark Elf ships start plummeting from the sky.

    Miles, X-51 intones, I have discovered something important. It concerns the Ultimate Nullifier.

    Sweat beads on Elise's brow. "Faiza! Now!" Spreading her arms in a grand gesture, Faiza unleashes her spell, pulling apart Shuma-Gorath's armor with her sorcery, exposing its weak points. The monster roars, and swings a colossal tentalce at Elise, who deftly dodges out of the way as it demolishes a building behind her.

    "Nebula!" Elise screams over the comms. "Take the fucker's armor out! Make him bleed!" Nebula leaps onto Shuma-Gorath, her Strontian sword flashing as she slices away the exposed inner plating.

    "BOB!" Elise makes desperate eye contact with Longbow. "DO SOMETHING!" Longbow nods and takes the shot, and the arrow blows open at close range and Ant-Man flies outwards and slips inside Shuma-Gorath's armor at its core.

    Elise sees everything. She feels Julian's halves lying nearby. She feels Michael struggling beneath the dirt. She feels Miles, half outside his own body, as he drops Dark Elf ships out of the sky. She feels the shield tremble. She feels Centurion quake with the Nova Force. She is linked intimately to each moment of the battle, every blow and every movement. She is free of the Red Skull. And now that the shot has been fired, she feels unstoppable.

    She can see Ant-Man, inside Shuma-Gorath, attaching something to its core. A device. With the device attached, O'Grady jumps backwards and is...reeled? He's attached to an extremely fine line that is spooling from Bob's bow.

    They'd practiced this.

    Once Ant-Man is clear, Elise can see he presses a button his belt, and Shuma-Gorath's core in a split-second vanishes, shrinking rapidly into nothingness. Everyone hears Bob over the comms "And Shuma-Gorath's heart shrunk exponential sizes that day."

    Elise's long Attilan coat whips around her legs and she holds her arms out in triumph.

    Shuma-Gorath pauses. Dead in its tracks. It begins imploding. Writhing in on itself like a vacuum opened inside it and it is being pulled inside.

    Elise opens her senses as far as they will go. She feels Shuma-Gorath die, relishes in each second of its death. She knows its dying intimately.

    With her senses fully open, she can see him out of the corner of her eye.

    yIp6eum.png

    Atul. The Watcher. He is watching Shuma-Gorath die. Elise turns to him and smiles. The more the merrier.

    He looks at her. "Ignore me." She winks and salutes at him, and then turns back to the main show. She is free.

    Shuma-Gorath collapses in on itself and within seconds is gone.

    A Celestial dies. The Dark Elves begin collapsing into dust, their bound souls nothing but ashes.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Floating in the sky in a vitruvian man pose, Miles' chest crystal pulses and flares beneath his skin as he harvests every bit of data he can get to in the Thulian ships and from what he and X-51 can sense of their surroundings. It's like that song: he doesn't want to miss a thing.

    I have found the Ultimate Nullifier, X-51 says. It is a weapon of Celestial origin. It is on board a Celestial ship. Yggdrasil.

    It was there all along?
    Miles nods, then smiles. Of course it was. We're living in a myth. Of course we need to get the enchanted sword buried beneath the magic tree.

    Of course,
    X-51 says. Anything less would be cliche.

    "Hey." Elise activates her comms. "Hey, Miles. Mike. Everyone. Didn't I fuckin' kill it today?"

    Across the battlefield, in a burst of flame, Julian pulls himself together. Literally. Somewhere else, the ground shakes and then erupts as Behemoth emerges unscathed from below, pulverized rock and dust pouring off him.

    "Hey. Chief. Chief. I did good. I need praise. Chief!"

    Michael nods. "Well done, Elise. You too, Nextwave."

    Miles alights on the ground before Elise. "The poets will speak of this day for a thousand generations," he says to her. His voice is different somehow. More serene. "Everything is alive with meaning."

    She flings herself at Miles for a hug. "I'm free."

    He hugs her. "Great shot, kid. That was one in a million." The weird euphoria of being flooded with pure cosmic information is ebbing and he's back to quoting Star Wars, but at least he's pretty sure she'll think that line is original to him.

    "Oh, I didn't shoot anything, I just looked into the cosmos. Good line, though. Snappy!"

    Bob points at Miles. "I understood that reference!" Miles holds up a hand, and Bob hits that high-five.

    Julian stares at Bob. "Wait. You had Star Wars...?"

    Bob shakes his head. "No, but when I was confused at Clay's Star Wars and Star Trek references, he was aghast and told Faiza she needed to 'educate me'. So she did."

    Miles nods at Faiza. "You're doing God's work."

    Thor lands next to Michael. "I've heard from the healers. Sigrun will be alright." He pauses. "The same can not be said of my brother, however."

    "Yes,” MIchael says gravely. “For what it is worth, I am deeply sorry for that."

    Thor sighs. "Don't be. Loki was a traitor. That was his nature. He betrayed me, he betrayed Asgard, he did this multiple times. He was the reason I was exiled from Asgard in the first place. It was just...it was a lot to see him killed in front of me. To know that for centuries I was in exile for being falsely accused of fratricide and then to see him truly slain by another. It was...emotional." Thor extends his hand.

    Michael takes it. "Still, if there is anything you need of me, I'll be there."

    Thor nods. "From what I understand, you are out there in the cosmos trying to find a way to defeat Surtr. That is what you need to do. Good fortune to you, my friend." He claps Michael on the shoulder.

    "We'll need it," Michael says, smiling sadly.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    X-51 chips in. Miles, with the Dark Elves defeated, Heimdall should be able to transport the team to Yggdrasil to retrieve the Ultimate Nullifier. Without Shuma-Gorath, there will be no hazards to stop us from retrieving it.

    Miles turns to the team. "Guys, X-51 and I learned something. The Ultimate Nullifier is in the Yggdrasil. And we can go there now."

    Carol stares at Miles. "What...like…right now? It's just been sitting there? The whole time?!" When Miles nods, she throws up her hands. "Oh, for god's sake.”

    "Heimdall can teleport us,” he says. “I can't imagine a better time than before something else moves in."

    "I'm with you on that," Ryann says.

    "Seriously,” Julian says. “It's the Ultimate Nullifier. We can't be the only ones with our eyes on it."

    "Fine,” Elise says. “Let me test it first, though. You know? I'll just give it a little sniff. Today has been fucking weird and I want us to be ready for anything."

    "Uh... test it how?" Carol asks. "Doesn't it have a chance of like, destroying the user? Isn't that how it works?"

    "You know, just like...look at it. Sniff it. Hold it. Make sure there's no traps around it."

    "Yeah, like...you're just sniffing it out, right?" Julian asks.

    "I don't want to use it," Elise says. "Especially...especially not after what I learned today. About Vlad. I don't...I just want to keep everyone safe."

    Miles looks at Elise. "What did you learn about Vlad?" At the mention of Vlad’s name, Michael’s fists involuntarily clench.

    Elise digs through one of the pockets of her coat, produces the best friends bracelet, and tosses it to Miles. "Recognize this?"

    The thrown bracelet hits him in the face. Without missing a beat, he extends a hand downward to pick it up. “What about it?”

    "Vlad gave it to me. But it's not mine. It was never mine.” She takes a deep breath. “He got it from...another Elise."

    Ryann shakes his head. "Of course he did."

    Julian nods grimly.

    "He gave it to me on Strontia, said it was something they took from me, but...he Nullified an entire planet to cover up the murder of an alternate Reed Richards. And then he took a bracelet from another Elise, and gave it to me." She wraps her arms around herself.

    Miles swallows. "I'm sorry, Elise. I'm not going to ask you for an I Told You So coupon. I don't want to gloat. It feels too awful. We're going to stop Rabum Alal, and avenge the people killed in his name. I promise you."

    "I don't know,” Elise says. “I don't know. Part of me still wants to believe he can be saved, but part of me...I think Vlad died the day he jumped out the back of the quinjet."

    Miles nods. "He was a good man once. But people change. I have to believe that every day. I have to believe that I can change. But the flip side of that is, it can go both ways."

    "Hey..." Bob walks over. "Can I give you folks a couple bucks of opinions?"

    Julian tenses up. "Every time I see that bracelet is a reminder of what he's done. Think of the trophy. Surely he has several. Reminders of worlds conquered. No shame. No remorse."

    Miles nods at Julian, then turns to Bob, who begins. "I didn't know the Vlad you guys knew. I didn't know him until after he got fucked up by Hyperion. I didn't know him until after he killed one of my friends in front of me and whooped my ass, until I started working for him and his father put a bomb in my brain. I also know that guy? He was the one who is the reason I'm alive. He's the one who was disgusted with his father's actions. He was the one who argued for me being a part of STRIKE. I wouldn't be here without him. Literally.

    "That said…

    "Sometimes you gotta kick someone's ass to put them on the right path. I know that's what I needed. Maybe there's no saving Vlad. But maybe the only way to save him is to bring him down. Maybe not kill him, but maybe at the very least beat him down so far that he's gotta look at what he's done and who he's been and think, is this who I wanna be? Because I've been to that place, and well..." He gestures at Faiza. "Turned me into a different person."

    Elise nods. "...Next time he comes, I'll be ready. I'm sorry I wasn't last time."

    Bob nods at her. "I'm going to get my team together, and head back to Earth, brief Clay on what's happened and that you guys are going for the Nullifier. You do your thing, come back to us when you got the thing. Cool? Faiza will take us back how we got here." He pauses. "Elise...can I drive your car back to Strange's place?"

    Elise grins. She produces a set of car keys from one of her pockets and tosses them to Bob. "Treat her nicely."

    He catches them, "Fuckin' nice." He and his team turn to go. "Good luck."

    nDTDGA1h.png

    Nextwave leaves, and Freedom Force, along with Captain Marvel and Nebula, make their way to the Bifrost. Heimdall has regained control of the gateway.

    Miles nudges Carol, gesturing at the wreckage of beautiful architecture and the smoke-blackened sky. "You kind of gotta take my word for it, but this place, uh, looks a lot nicer when it's fixed up. If we live through all this shit, maybe we should come visit, y'know? Just, like, the two of us," he murmurs. They share a private smile.

    Elise has demanded Julian carry her via piggyback. He winces. "I'll try, but if I fall in half it's your fault."

    IEZ2abul.jpg

    Heimdall looks at the group. "Asgard is in your debt, heroes, for saving us from the Midgard Serpent. Do you wish to return home?"

    Miles steps forward. "Actually, we need to go to the Yggdrasil. With the Serpent dead, the way is open. And there's something there that we need."

    Heimdall raises his eyebrow. "Very well. When you wish to return, call to me. I will be watching." Miles nods. Heimdall thrusts his sword into the Bifrost, and the team is teleported.

    CUeDepNl.jpg

    PHU1KZN.png
    How’s that for a boss battle, eh?

    The way this played out mechanically was, I made the plan, just as you read, and then Matt used Longbow to mention how the other STRIKE team could support our characters in their roles (thus adding bonuses to our rolls).

    Each of us rolled to attempt our given task: Julian to mind-control the ships, Michael to tank for Elise and Faiza, etc.

    Elise’s job was to actually roll for the kill-shot against Shuma-Gorath. Longbow makes the shot, but it’s based on Elise telling him where to aim, and it’s fitting to me that the uncertainty is whether she can pick the right target more than that he can hit it.

    It’s also appropriate because Shuma-Gorath has been Elise’s torment since season 1. In a lot of ways, this is the culmination of her story up to this point. Having her make the big roll was just the way it had to be.

    The difficulty for her roll was immense, impossible to roll on the normal dice in normal circumstances, but each of us succeeding on our own tasks reduced the difficulty by one stage.

    In the system we’re using, characters have a resource called Bonds, which are bonuses we add to a roll when a character we have a Bond with aids us (with the understanding that if the roll botches, the Bonded character may be put at risk!). We can have Bonds with NPCs and with each other, and these Bonds can be raised either in-game, through roleplaying (for instance, when two of our characters share a meaningful moment, that’s +1 Bond to them) or by buying Bonds with XP.

    From season 1 onward, Elise’s player has mostly opted to raise her Bond score in lieu of juicing up her stats, aside form a couple of detours like buying the Tony Stark kinetic forcefield harness to make her a little more survivable. Elise has high Bonds with the rest of the party and with many of the NPCs.

    As you can probably guess, Julian and Michael whiffed their rolls on the big check, while Ryann and Miles succeeded. That took the roll Elise had to make from “impossible” to “just barely possible with a lot of luck.”

    But she got to add our Bond rolls to her own, and that’s what put her over the top.

    I really like it when game mechanics and the fiction agree so well with each other, and I don’t know if they’ve ever agreed harder. It just felt right.

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

    In a flash of rainbow light, they appear aboard the Celestial vessel.

    X-51 speaks to Miles. I am contacting the Traveller to obtain the location of the Nullifier. Stand by.

    Miles feels woozy. The rest of the party sees half his face go numb and one of his eyes roll back. "Urk."

    "Chief?" Elise’s eyes start to widen with concern.

    Carol grabs Miles as he falls.

    "No!" Julian cries.

    Mi-Mil.... Miles he is...he is killing me Miles...he is angry....

    Elise jumps off Julian's back and spins, opening her senses in an attempt to detect the...attacker? She senses a presence. Something angry. Something malevolent.

    The ship. The ship itself is attacking Miles.

    The trvlrasd accuses tiamut purpose we killed intrruption BBZZZZZT NOOO stop we dont please dont hurt miles it wasnt his fault

    wearegoingtostopgalactus!
    Miles tries to think, furiously. It’s like walking through oatmeal. wewillsavetheothercelestialsmakeitunderstand

    Miles stops having a stroke.

    Recovering. Thank you, Miles.

    "Uuuaaaahhhh!" he howls through a mouth that barely works.

    "Chief?" Elise stares.

    The Traveller accused us of killing Tiamut, aka Shuma-Gorath, which is technically correct. This goes against the Traveller's core programming as Yggdrasil's AI. When I requested the Ultimate Nullifier's location, it attacked me, and you. But it has abated since you have told it you intend to destroy Galactus.

    "Trrrvlrlrr!" Miles tries to explain. His face is still numb.

    Elise moves to his side. At this point, she's an expert in post-brainfuck care. "Sit down. Take some deep breaths." He sits down. He breathes deeply.

    She digs through the pockets of her enormous coat and hands Miles a bottle of water. He takes a big swallow. His lips don't make a perfect seal, and a lot of it sloshes onto his face and his coat.

    "There you go. You're doing great. Keep breathing." Elise is soothing, calm.

    The Traveller has given me the location of the Nullifier.

    Carol holds Miles closely, and he clings to her. Can you...use my comms to explain this? Words are hard.

    Yes, Miles.


    "Luff u," he murmurs into Carol's hair.

    There is a chime, and X-51 comes over Miles' comm-link. "Hello, everyone. Miles has had an ischemic stroke. He will recover shortly. The Traveller attacked us because it realized we have killed Shuma-Gorath, who was the Celestial monitor of this ship.

    "The purpose of this ship is to help facilitate the creation of a new Celestial. We have caused the cessation of that process, so the Traveller grew quite upset.

    "Miles managed to explain, with some laborious process, that we intend to stop Galactus and need the Ultimate Nullifier to do so. Given the oppositional nature of Galactus to the Celestials, the Traveller relented in its attack and has given me the location of the Nullifier.

    "We will be ready to proceed in a few moments, I am currently repairing the neurological damage to Miles' brain. It was thankfully quite minor."

    Julian draws a steadying breath, and Elise gives Miles' knee a comforting pat.

    "I caution us against exploring this ship further or interfacing with any technology beyond our objective."

    Gradually, Miles' functions return, and the numbness leaves his face. He attempts to stand, shakily, and manages to get on his feet with Carol and Elise's help. He grins crookedly at them and offers a thumbs-up. It would be a reassuring sight except for a slight patch of drool leaking from one corner of his mouth.

    Carol rubs his back. "Hey, let's not do that, huh? No more...any of that."

    "Yes ma'am," he says meekly.

    I have mapped the path into augmented reality in your vision, X-51 says.

    "Good to see you up, man," Julian says. "So this ship AI facilitates Celestial reproduction, and Galactus essentially terminates gestating Celestials. Is that about the size of it? Good lord."

    Miles nods. "There's a whole lot here we don't understand. The Asgardians used to have the run of this place and then they didn't. Why did Shuma-Gorath change its mind, since it was the boss here? Does it have something to do with why it was a tentacle beast instead of a, a giant cosmic dude? I guess that's all stuff to figure out later. X-51's shown me the way. Let's boogie."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    They move through the ship. It's not built for a human scale, the ceilings are hundreds of kilometers high and the hallways are about as wide.

    Speculation on that, Miles; I believe at one time, Tiamut's experiments were going according to plan. The Asgardians were welcome here as they were behaving within parameters. The Deviants on Earth were within specifications. Things changed at some point. Perhaps due to interference from the Kree and Skrulls, or the inhabitants of Thule worshipping Tiamut as a god and corrupting it with their sorcery. The order of events are unclear. But somewhere along the way, things went awry.

    "I can't wait to find this thing," Elise sighs. "Once I find it, I'll...I won't be a bad person anymore. No more guilt, no more Shuma-Gorath, no more Red Skull...Eventually, no more Galactus. Neat and tidy."

    "Red Skull?” Michael exclaims. “Wait what?"

    "Red Skull?" Miles stares at Elise, then at Michael. "Jinx!"

    MIchael grins. "I'll buy you a Coke when we get back."

    "So the Red Skull?” Miles says. “The dead Nazi guy from the 40s? I'm hearing this right?"

    Julian nods. "We had something of a...Elise, you called it a cosmic lobotomy earlier."

    "Long story short, he was locked in the door to Thule, and when Lawson got me to open it, he got locked in me. Everything's fine, now. Julian burned him out good."

    Michael just stares.

    "Wait...so you've just...had the Red Skull in your head the entire time?" Carol stares at Elise.

    "Yeah, he was kind of...digging into my brain. Planting the seeds of Shuma-Gorath. Driving me mad. But it's fine now."

    "Is that why Bob was so into you?!" Carol gasps.

    Elise’s jaw drops. "Jesus!"

    "Like did Red Skull make you say weird stuff about minorities or something?"

    "Fuck off, no!"

    "Was that all you then?"

    It’s Elise’s turn to stare. "What?"

    Carol grins.

    Elise is scandalized. "I'm not racist! You're just mean to me."

    Miles shakes his head sadly. "That's what they all say, Elise."

    "The Red Skull was a cancerous splinter in Elise's psyche,” Julian says grimly. “He pleaded for me to relent as I burnt him to ashes." Then his mood seems to lighten, and he grins. "So of course, all of Elise's sins henceforth are her own."

    Michael shakes his head. "Guys...can we wait until we're back on Earth to dunk on Elise?"

    "I gave that Nazi a fuckin' show, though,” Elise says. “I may not have been able to knock Crystalia up the old fashioned way but we did our best. For a fuckin' 1940s Nazi, that must have been hell."

    Miles grins and shoots Elise a thumbs-up. "You, too, are doing god's work."

    She nods. "Loser had to witness a big gay wedding. What an idiot."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    They come to a massive chamber.

    Fy1BZryh.jpg

    The Nullifier lies within, X-51 tells Miles. They enter the structure, and sitting, floating on a pedestal, is the small unassuming device.

    dzTKsRzm.jpg

    Elise opens her senses. She's dealt with rooms like this enough to know that it's rarely a simple grab and go.

    Elise doesn't notice any traps. Or any defenses. There is a force field that would normally be in place but it seems the Traveller has disabled it. They've been allowed to take the Ultimate Nullifier.

    But she notices something else. Something at the edge of her perception.

    Time is slowing. For everyone but her.



    "No."

    In less than a second it will stop entirely.

    "Chief!" she cries. "He's here!"

    Acting fast, Centurion starts to accelerate himself through time. Elise turns to see what he’s doing, but there’s a flash of light, and the team seems frozen in place.

    It’s just her.

    8jCWrsOl.jpg

    "Hello, Elise."

    She puts herself between Victorious and the Nullifier. "You lied to me,” she snarls. “You lie."

    He shakes his head. "I did what was necessary. To save my world."

    "What did you to do the other Elise?" she demands. "The one whose bracelet you took."

    "Nothing. That was the Council."

    "Is she dead?"

    "Yes."

    Elise takes a sharp breath of air.

    "Please let me explain," Victorious says. "I did lie to you, yes. I told you a necessary lie to create a necessary truth. Galactus must be stopped. He will come for this world. He has sensed this conflict. That you have slain Tiamut does not matter. He is on his way here, now."

    "I understand," Elise says, nodding slowly. "You're my best friend. You were doing what you thought was best for me."

    "It was more," he says. "You needed to know the Nullifier existed. That it was an option. You needed to be on this path. I could not simply tell you of this weapon. You would not believe. They would not believe. And even if I showed you, in earnest, they would not believe anything I gave you would be a true gift.

    "Everything they do is a lie. Everything is a secret, everything is dishonest, everything is an act of holding power back."

    Elise nods and smiles.

    "So, this was what you needed," Vlad says, waving at the Ultimate Nullifier. "Now you are here. And you can take what you need. I'm proud of you, Elise."

    "You're right. I understand, now," she smiles. "And now I have to do what's right for you." Elise raises her pistol and fires.

    Her shots strike Vlad dead-on, and the EMP rounds crackle against his armor, then fall to the floor.

    "...Elise." He looks down at the harmless bullets. "I'm disappointed."

    Her eyes widen. "Oh, shit."

    "I'm not." Centurion rushes Vlad.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Vlad’s head snaps up in surprise just as Centurion uppercuts him, sending him flying upwards. The force of the impact dents his faceplate and whips his head back.

    Victorious regains his balance, flying in the air.

    "HOW DARE YOU STRIKE ME, CHOSEN OF RABUM ALAL?! YOU WILL KNOW WHY I AM VICTORIOUS!"

    Ryann takes a defensive stance between him and Elise, and Victorious rushes towards Centurion.

    Rmd2PCS.jpg

    Without Vladimir’s will to sustain it, the time-stop spell expires. The rest of the party blinks in surprise as as Victorious rushes towards Centurion, who is standing between him and Elise.
    Centurion leaps forward to meet him.

    Miles stares, then leaps into action. X-51! This is it! You know the plan! Activate!

    Delay him,
    X-51 says.

    Elise rolls to the side into a kneeling stance and fires another set of EMP round at Victorious.

    "VLAD!" Michael roars. Behind him, Julian howls as his head is engulfed in flame.

    Behemoth rushes forward at Victorious, striking him in mid-air with a tremendous clash of metal, while Sensate empties a magazine of EMP rounds into the distracted Victorious, staggering him.

    Miles unleashes X-51. "Now, Julian!" Now! He pushes X-51's care package forward at the same time as Julian unleashes the Penance Stare.

    The program Miles has been working on with Julian and Krugaar unspools, carried forward by Celestial technology: here, in the Yggdrasil, where their network is everywhere.

    Miles raises an open hand toward Vladimir. "You always told us you were sentient. Well, here's the most sentient experience of all. I've walked around with it inside me for so long. Now it's your turn." The hand closes into a fist. "Behold, you son of a bitch."

    WATCHTOWER 2.0 ENGAGED
    LOADING.....

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Somewhere, far away, two orange lights burn in a void.

    5okWLp0.png

    Vladimir is in a small concrete room, lit by a single fluorescent light that flickers with the hiccups of a distant generator. "Doctor," he says. "You have an intelligent young child." The woman seated at the small table glares at him. Dr. Farah ibn Bardi, professor, wife of the insurgent. She looks different than the picture in her file. Paler. Her hair is...blonde? It must have been dyed.

    Js5r9TL.png

    "All that power," she says, "and yet you resort to threatening a father through his wife and son."

    "Not a threat," Vlad says. With a gauntleted finger, he loosens the collar of his fatigues as he takes the seat across the table. The heat is stifling, but it's something else that's making him uncomfortable. He feels...something. He doesn't like doing this, but this woman's husband is The Enemy, and Vlad needs to do this to keep his world safe. "I'm a reasonable man, and I'm told you're a woman of reason. If you tell me about this Revolutionary Council, I can work with you to - "

    "I am a woman of Truth," she corrects him. "There's a difference."

    " - Of Truth, then," Vlad humors her. "And the truth right now is that this is the only way forward for you. The other places this can go are very dark. Very negative places."

    "Your truth," the doctor says. "Not mine. There are many truths, many realities. Do you not know this? No matter how powerful you think you are, you will never conquer them all."

    Vlad stares at her for a long moment. "Indeed," he says at last, "but we were talking about your son..."

    The lights are closer now. Two stars, limned by halos of fire, against a black starless sky. A voice like metal being crushed, but the words are too distant to hear.

    E2x03cW.png

    Vlad sits on the edge of a camp table, legs dangling off the side. Sunny Gutierrez is with him, her phone out. He nods absently at pictures of the kids.

    " - tight for a while," she is saying, "till I get settled in. But once Miguel finishes his certification, his uncle's got this thing... It's in Lubbock." She makes a face at the prospect. "But, but, with two incomes, maybe we finally save a bit, maybe we get out in a few years - "

    "Sure, that's one option," Vlad says. She makes a face at him, like she thinks he's about to make a mean joke. Which, to be fair, he usually is. He bites back a comment about that new hair. Those colors definitely aren't regulation, and...wow, has she lost some weight?

    DoV8Jjg.png

    But whatever. It's not like it's his problem anymore. He's mustering out too.

    "Like you got another option, mister smart guy."

    His shrug is exaggeratedly casual. "I mean, maybe," he says. "Londell introduced me to this guy. Thinks he can get me in at Blackguard, he said I could bring a friend - "

    "Oh come on, those pinches culeros? They're meatheads, which I mean, I see the appeal for Londell, but the ones that aren't meatheads are fuckin' war criminals, Chief!"

    "Technically so am I," he says lightly. "But I didn't bring home six figures for it." This shuts her up. "And low-mid sixes after a couple of years. You pay your dues, I hear they've got this sweet executive detail gig. You babysit some geezer at the, you know, the insurance convention at the Radisson in Duluth or whatever, go home on the weekend maybe..."

    She wets her lips a little. "Six figures."

    "Yeah, but I mean, your what's-his-nuts boyfriend's got an uncle in Lubbock, so - " He makes jazz hands.

    "When do you talk to him," she says. Vlad slowly smiles. He feels a twinge of...of something, but he already knows how he's going to spend the recruit-a-friend bonus.

    Victorious was wrong. Those aren't stars at all. They're eyes.

    iGNuCTN.png

    " - that I'm not home enough," she is saying, "and…mm...ok, but they sure don't complain about that new playset thing in the backyard. Mm. A little over. And Miggy, he don't mind cashing the checks, paying for his mom's - "

    "Jesus, Sunny!" Vlad flops his damp head down onto her damp back. "I'm not looking to hear about this right now! That's not what...what this is."

    "Jeez, sorry," she says. She doesn't sound sorry. "Maybe I'm not all here right now. I think this shit makes me maudlin or something."

    "Indeed," Vlad agrees, eyeing the plastic baggie that lies near them on the nightstand. He decides not to point out that the shit doesn't do that to him. They lay like that for a moment, feeling the breeze through the open balcony door. She's changed her hair again. In the moonlight, it looks silver.

    cXnnICH.png

    "You think Mr. Jones is done with that girl?" she says after a moment. They listen for sound from the next suite.

    "I hope so," Vlad agrees honestly. He tries not to think about that stuff. It makes him feel...something. But you've got to keep the boss happy.

    "I don't want to have to clean up another mess," she sighs. "...Jesus, sorry. I'm feeling dark tonight, apparently."

    "Well, we've got the cure for that, don't we?" Vlad runs the corner of the baggie up her back like a nail. She grabs for it. They don't talk much after that.

    The next day, he is lying somewhere different, astonished to see that Sunny's changed her hair again. Now it's covered in red. It matches the rest of her that way. It occurs to Vlad that she was right: she's not all there right now. But that's okay, he thinks as he looks at his arm, lying four feet away from him. Neither is he.

    His vision blurs. He feels something, and now he knows what it is.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Victorious doesn't want to look at the eyes. Victorious looks at the eyes.



    He sees Niles Nordstrom and Victoria Hand. He sees the team and Clay and Vision. He sees Peter and Susan and Bob. He sees Elise.

    The eyes are huge. The face behind them is a skull. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?"

    He sees his hands around Elise's throat. Around Susan's throat. Around Victoria's throat. Their faces redden, their tears stream down their cheek onto his metal fist. He sees Niles, nodding guilelessly at anything Vlad tells him. He sees the team, mourning the death he staged. He sees Peter, crushing a man's skull between his hands. He sees Doom, wiping his hands on a bloody towel. He sees the Cube, the first of many.

    All these necessary sacrifices. There was always a reason. An obstacle to be overcome. Power to be gained.

    The eyes swallow him up. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?"

    He hears Elise scream as she collapses with a fiery, irradiated burn on her thigh. That wasn't supposed to happen. He hears her scream as four of her ribs shatter. That wasn't supposed to happen. He hears her scream again as she and Clay and Fury are nullified from reality. That wasn't supposed to happen either - but in a thousand realities it did. In a thousand others, it's just Fury, or just Clay, but her scream is no less choked with agony and horror for only being the murderer instead of the victim.

    He sees the countless dead of countless worlds.

    "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?" He knows the voice. It's his own. "ARE YOU PENITENT?"

    He feels...regret.

    Far away, he hears Miles speaking. "A noose is just a lifeline in a different shape," Miles is saying. "This was never a trap. It's a rescue mission."

    LOADING...
    ............
    ..............
    .................LOADING COMPLETE
    VLADIMIR PROTOCOL INSTALLED

    Vlad falls to his knees.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2018
    Michael stands over Vlad, ready to end him if needed. Elise rushes to Vladimir’s side. She doesn't know what happened; she doesn't know about the protocol, but she knows he's subdued. "Don't! Don't kill him!"

    Miles is breathing heavily, his hands clenching and unclenching. "Just the opposite."

    Elise throws her arms around Vlad. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

    "What have I done..." is all Vlad can say.

    "What have you done, indeed," Julian says.

    Ryann gradually relaxes.

    "I'm here. I'm here," Elise murmurs. "Look at me. Vlad, I'm here."

    "We're here," Miles says.

    "Speak for yourself," Michael spits.

    "I cannot come back,” Vlad whispers. “Not after what I have done. But I will not go back to them. To the Parliament." He begins to stand.

    "Wait!" Elise cries. "You can't leave me again!"

    "This is not where I need to be. They must be stopped. The Parliament. You have your own missions. Galactus. The Skrull Empire. These things concern you now."

    "So what will you do?" Julian asks.

    "...I don't know."

    "Come back with me,” Elise pleads. “I have a wife, a daughter, a team, but...Vlad, you were my best friend."

    "Elise...your daughter," Vladimir says. "I named her. I gave Crystalia the name."

    "...What?"

    "She did not know it was me. I went to her, in Attilan. I suggested it. She struggled to find a name. Valeria. She liked it. If you do not wish to keep the name now that you know this, I understand."

    PHU1KZN.png
    Valeria is the name of Dr. Doom’s mother.

    "No,” Elise shakes her head. “You cared the entire time. You...you cared. Even at your worst. Enough to give her a name." He nods at this.

    "Please don't leave me again." There's not as much desperation to her voice as there was the first time he threw himself out of the quinjet, or again in front of the Parliament. There's resignation.

    "One does not simply leave the Parliament," he says. "I cannot stay. If I stay, Rabum Alal will come for me. Our world will be in danger."

    Miles nods. "I understand, Vladimir. But we're coming for Rabum Alal. When we do, will you be there?"

    Elise flings herself at Vladimir for one last embrace, and he hugs her tight. He looks at Miles and nods.

    "I love you," she says.

    "So you realize that by allying into their force that you've endangered yo-our world,” Julian says. “What do you hope to accomplish on your own against an entire multiversal force, when it comes to it? I will not speak for anyone else here, but as far as I am concerned I can not forgive you for simply knowing you were wrong."

    Michael looks at Vlad with an impassive expression. "Prove you are worthy of this chance to redeem yourself, in whatever small way you can. If you fall back to your old ways, I will hunt you down myself."

    Julian isn’t finished. "How are you going to help us until we get to where we need to be to confront this Doom Above All?"

    Miles puts a hand on Julian's shoulder. "Give him time," he says. "I can't believe I'm saying this...but I know what he's going through right now."

    "What do you want from me, Julian?" Vlad stares at Julian.

    "I want honesty, Vladimir."

    "You want honesty?" In a blink of a moment, Vlad reaches over, snatches the Ultimate Nullifier off the pedestal, and tosses it to Julian, who catches it. "Do what you want."

    Michael's fingers twitch for second to grab the Nullifier from Julian but stop. Julian stares hard at Vladimir. He tucks the Nullifier into his jacket. "It's a waste on you."

    "You're the Spirit of Vengeance, yes? That is what happened on Strontia? You believe in penance, and that one must atone. So let me do so,” Vlad says. "If I fail, then I fail."

    Julian nods slowly. "Noted, Vladimir. If you fail before we reach Galactus, I'll consider reprioritizing my aim."

    "If I fail, you likely won't have to."

    Miles steps forward. There's something brisk in his step that those present haven't seen for a long time.

    "Penance is a long road. But when you've walked it, we will be here," he says, looking at his team one by one. "And we will finish this at the gates of the Parliament." His voice is assertive, more than it's been in a long time.

    He's not just telling Vlad this. He's telling the team. This is how it's going to be.

    "If you really want to know the first steps to that gate, Miles..."

    Miles nods.

    "Ask my father why he refused to join. Why he really refused." Vlad turns his back on the team, and vanishes.

    "Wait --!" Elise calls.

    "He needs to be alone right now," Miles whispers to her. "He needs to find out who Vladimir is."

    "Well, that was...something," Ryann awkwardly chimes in. "...Glad I could help?"

    "...You did help. I shot him. I shot Vlad," Elise says. "You protected me. Thank you."

    Hearing this, Michael holds out his fist for Ryann.

    "Hey, we're a team," Ryann says to Elise, and fistbumps Michael.

    Nebula leans over to Carol and whispers, "I don't know what's going on."

    Carol shakes her head. "Don't ask." She turns to Miles. "We should probably get out of here before the Traveller starts screaming 'touch nothing but the lamp', right?"

    Miles nods. "...Yeah," he says. "Yeah, let's go." His voice cracks, just a little. Most people can't hear it, but Carol and Elise can. Elise can smell salt; tears. She can see that every muscle in his body is relaxed, slack with utter exhaustion and...relief?

    "I'm not a bad person," she hears him whisper to himself. He sounds like he believes it.

    Elise moves to his side and shoulder nudges him. "Hey. ...Thank you."

    He takes her hand and gives it a squeeze. "You're welcome." He looks skyward and his voice calls out clear and strong. "Heimdall, we're done."

    Julian winds down and relaxes a bit. He pats his jacket pocket. He exhales deeply. "So we stopped Ragnarok. We ran into Vlad. We have the Ultimate Nullifier."

    "You wore my body like a glove," Elise adds.

    In a flash of rainbow light they return to Asgard.

    And then...home.

    PHU1KZN.png
    So! That happened!

    As with Elise and Shuma-Gorath, this was the culmination of a bunch of strands in Miles' personal story that had been building since forever.

    As I’ve mentioned before, with the combination of Jake playing a more straightforward good guy who could be the new team leader, and Miles losing a part of himself in the matrix last year, I knew that this season I wanted Miles to suffer an ongoing crisis of confidence that would lead him to tough places and poor choices.

    On the other hand, I knew I didn’t want Miles to stay depressed and hobbled. I didn’t have a clear idea how he was going to get out of it, but I figured inspiration would strike eventually.

    And it did, in the form of Beta Ray Bill’s Penance Stare, and the quest it gave him to stop Vlad. At first that almost felt like Matt messing with me. How is my guy with the power of stretchy robot arms supposed to beat a super-advanced AI sorcerer?

    But I mulled it over, and I realized that Miles' most overriding emotion was guilt. Even before I had this dark journey arc in mind for him, I had consistently shown him not just feeling awful about his past, but also blaming himself for every setback the team suffered. I realized he carried this heavy burden, and that burden could, itself, be his weapon.

    The other thing I knew was that Miles’ dislike of, and anger toward, Vlad gave him this whole Captain Ahab quality that...I mean, Vlad deserves to be disliked, but the other thing I’ve always known about Miles is that he wants to be a superhero, right? And superheroes save people. It’s what they do. And Miles has to believe in mercy and redemption, because he needs to believe that he can be better too. He had to save Vlad, and in so doing, he could resolve his angst, all of it, and save himself.

    I ran the idea past Matt, and he agreed.

    I realized I needed to have specific ideas about things from Miles’ life to represent that guilt, so I wrote those down as little personality sketches, or vignettes, which I wrote out as prose in a notepad file and just...noodled around with from time to time as new details occurred to me.

    (For the record, here is what happens, because I know it’s kind of...arty: these are all scenes from his life. Interrogating the wife of an insurgent whom he has kidnapped, and obliquely threatening their son. Recruiting his friend (and lover? I dunno if they were doing it then; he’s a cowboy, but I think he respected the rules about fraternization, at least at first) into Blackguard, which indirectly gets her killed. Then, as part of Roxxon CEO Hugh Jones’ personal security detail, being responsible for gross stuff like procuring sex workers for the boss.

    Miles programs these guilt-laden memories into the Watchtower attack program, and has Julian supercharge the whole package with the Penance Stare. But Vlad wouldn’t have an emotional connection to Miles’ life, so Miles edits the memories to make them feature people Vlad does have some kind of connection for; the three important women in his life...Susan, Silver, and Elise.)

    I didn’t get into the specifics of my plan with Matt. I figured we could do that later, cause obviously we wouldn’t be dealing with Vlad anytime soon while we’ve got this Galactus business going, right? Lol.

    Then Vlad pops up to monologue to Elise at the Ultimate Nullifier. This was in no way intended to be the big showdown. Matt fully intended to just have him make a speech, drop some more hints, and peace out.

    But when that happened, Jake went “hey, since Ryann can accelerate time around him using gravity, could he...counteract the Time Arcana?” and Matt went “....uh, yeah, I guess he could!” And then Jake, in his usual fashion, passed the roll easily. So all of a sudden this dialogue scene turned into another apocalyptic throwdown.

    I PM’ed Matt and I was like “uh, I know we haven’t had time to really talk about it, but can I do my thing now?” And I really deeply appreciate the trust he has in us, because he just agreed without conditions and said “go for it.”

    I hope I vindicated his trust. I really relished the surprised noises people made as the Discord chat scrolled up (and up, and up).

    I’m still amazed at how perfectly it all came together. Shuma-Gorath, Vlad, the Nullifier. Elise’s mental trauma, and Miles’ mixed-up emotions. Ryann, the guy who’s detached from the whole Vlad drama, being the one to finally shake Vlad’s confidence. (And man, we all cheered at that badass action movie moment he got. Wasn’t that great?)

    All these threads just converging, reaching a crescendo, and resolving, one after the other, purely as the result of a bunch of separate agendas and plans and random die rolls and spur-of-the-moment ideas. And it ended up fitting together better than any one of us could have designed if we’d tried.

    Jacobkosh on
    FencingsaxMatevRear Admiral Choco
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    ivKpMFL.jpg

    Nextwave waits in the Sanctum Sanctorum with Clay and Strange.

    Clay walks over and puts his hand warmly on Julian's shoulder. "Robert told me what you sacrificed to make sure Elise was okay. I give you a lot of shit, Adler, and you deserve at least three quarters of it, but you're a good lad."

    Julian smiles. "Half of it, maybe."

    Clay smirks and makes a hand-waffley motion. "Agree to disagree, mate."

    "He sacrificed himself to save me, who sacrificed me to save Faiza..." Elise grins. "It's the circle of liiiife." Clay smiles and tousles Elise's hair.

    Michael powers down and sighs. "Fuck, that was a long day."

    Miles turns to the team and Carol and Nebula. "I'm so proud of all of you," he says.

    "Did you get it?" Clay asks.

    Julian opens his jacket and retrieves the Nullifier. He presents it to Clay.

    "Yes," Elise says. "Also, we killed Shuma-Gorath and fought Vlad to redemption."

    "Wait I'm sorry what," Clay says to that last bit.

    Ryann shrugs. "Hey, don't look at me to explain."

    "Vlad came to talk to me, and I shot him in the chest with EMP rounds, and then Centurion just decked him," Elise says. "I still can't believe I shot Vlad. And then Miles did, like, a thing?"

    "What kind of thing?"

    Miles taps his temple. "I gave Vladimir...a lot to think about."

    Clay squints. "What's the end result there?"

    "Victorious is gone,” Miles says. “Vladimir is back. And he told us what we need to do to find the Parliament."

    "If you think I'm just going to let him walk back in here, Mason..."

    "He's gone," Elise says. "He left again. I don't know where, or if he's ever coming back."

    "Good," Clay says.

    "I...I wanted him to come back, to be part of my family again, but..." Elise scowls at Clay; Clay folds his arms.

    "He spoke of a purpose to confront the Parliament," Julian says.

    Clay nods. "I don't imagine the Parliament of Doom just takes resignation letters, no."

    "He said he has to run,” Miles says. “But he'll be there to help when we move against Rabum Alal."

    "Hmph. Well, that's a problem for another day."

    "It's his last chance," Michael says.

    "It's funny,” Elise says. “I think...I think I'll be okay without him. For the first time, I think... there's no future where he's back, like things were before. And that's okay. I'm okay."

    "I'm glad to hear that, Elise," Clay says. "I'm going to consider today a big W all around, and you know how I love that."

    Clay can feel a weird new serenity and confidence radiating off Miles. It's like the way you feel when you take a painkiller and an ache that's been around so long you'd forgotten it existed suddenly vanishes, and you wonder how you could have ever gotten used to it.

    "He said something else,” Miles says. “He said Galactus is coming."

    "Why?" Clay asks.

    "Does it matter?" Miles says. "We have a weapon."

    "Well fuck it, then,” Clay says. “If the mountain is coming to Mohammed, I'm keeping you lot here. I'll send a call to Kane to bring the Anabasis home."

    "Wait," Elise says. "Ryann never got to see his family. Can't we do something?"

    "They’re being brought here," Ryann announces. "The Black Novas and I struck a deal."

    Clay looks at Ryann, confused. "So, you're with the Black Novas, then? Still publicly disavowed, but a black operative now?"

    Ryann nods. "Pretty much."

    Clay grins and puts his hand on Ryann's shoulder. "Well, welcome to the dark side proper then, son. I'll hear less squawking about procedure? Less 'I'll have to report this' and such?"

    Ryann laughs. "Yeah, I left all that on Sakaar."

    "Wow,” Julian says. “This really is a big win for you today, isn't it?" Clay nods at this.

    "And hey!” Elise interjects. “You'll get to meet Anelle!"

    His face drops. "...yes. Yes I will."

    "Do - do you want me and Faiza there? Did I mess up? Because I thought you'd be happier about this."

    Clay pinches his nose and looks at Elise. "No, it's fine, Elise, it's fine. I just haven't seen Anelle in a century and we didn't exactly leave on good terms. I genuinely thought she was dead. It will be...extremely awkward."

    "It'll be fine," she repeats determinedly.

    Clay turns back to Ryann. "I'll find a place for your family, Valt. Oh...hey! Your boy was with the Corps, right? Not a Supernova like you, just some junior officer with the Corps and the like?"

    "That's right," Ryann says.

    "I'll talk to Brand, see if we can find him a spot with SWORD," Clay says. "Her agency is rotten with Canadians these days."

    "What?” Michael stares. “Canadians? What's gone on here while we've been gone?"

    "A lot, mate," Clay says gravely.

    Ryann nods. "I'm sure I'm going to get a earful from Katt about this."

    Clay chuckles. "Don't worry, Ryann. Tell her we still have buttrock and jorts. It'll be like she never left."

    r2C6Mbd.png



    Matev
  • jurnerjurner Registered User regular
    I love how often Julian bites the dust now. Practically every scene ends with him dead!

    JacobkoshFencingsax
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2018
    jurner wrote: »
    I love how often Julian bites the dust now. Practically every scene ends with him dead!

    It's definitely become a running joke at this point and I think Matt likes to have some fun with what to do when poor Choco beefs a roll (which is often).

    Jacobkosh on
  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    what do your other players call it when he does that

    do they say beef a roll or do they say something else

    sig.gif
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    what do your other players call it when he does that

    do they say beef a roll or do they say something else

    I think I am the only one who uses beef as, like, a generic term

    it used to be called Jakeing a roll years and years ago because holy shit I could roll 15d10 in a world of darkness game and not score a single success (a die with an 8, 9, or 10) but would end up with multiple crit fails (1s).

    But my curse seems to have been lifted. I'd have to go back and count but I am sure that in the course of this game I have done better than even for our die system.

    Though it also helps that, like a wounded animal, I long ago adopted a defensive style of play and tend to play talky but cautious dudes specifically to avoid having to roll as much as possible. :razz:

    FencingsaxPowerpuppies
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    iOD3lGv.png



    qlGmSdP.pngIntel Report: November 5th, 2017
    LEVEL 8+ EYES ONLY
    Designated for STRIKE Agents and adjacent support personnel
    Section compiled by:
    STRIKE-COMMS Liaison Agent Jeremiah Warrick

    STRIKE-1 Returns to Earth, Saves Asgard
    STRIKE-1 has returned to Earth from their journey into deep space as part of Operation Caliburn. As part of their return, they also averted a major invasion of Asgard on the part of Shuma-Gorath and its devotees, the Dark Elves of Thule.

    STRIKE-1 will remain on Earth, in preparation for an inevitable conflict with Galactus, who is apparently imminent. STRIKE-COMMS personnel who are distressed with this news should see Dr. Karla Sofen for discussion and crisis therapy.

    Anabasis On Return Path
    The Anabasis, SWORD’s deep space vessel that was deployed as part of Operation Caliburn, is now on its return path. We have been told that it will take some time for it to get here, even at faster than light speed.

    The Anabasis’ crew is larger than when they left, having picked up some new members along the way. SWORD Deputy Director Kane is expected to return to her duties at the Peak, and the rest of the Anabasis crew will rejoin SWORD.

    Agent Danvers to lead Alpha Flight
    STRIKE Agent Danvers will be transferring to SWORD to lead their Alpha Flight team, and her team will be bolstered by the alien personnel that STRIKE recruited during their time in deep space once they arrive aboard the Anabasis. Agent Danvers will still work with STRIKE as their mission parameters overlap.

    Second Atlantis Conference Scheduled
    With the return of STRIKE-1 and a potential weapon to use against Galactus found, STRIKE Director Quartermain is scheduling a second meeting of individuals in the Kingdom of Atlantis similar to the one earlier this year, to discuss the subject of the Skrull Invasion, the fallout from that, and other subjects.

    Given that STRIKE does not officially exist, and that many of the items discussed at this meeting will not be subject to HELM oversight, op-sec is absolutely critical.

    Positioning Statement on STRIKE’s Existence for Returning Agents
    Because STRIKE-1 is returning from its deep space mission, STRIKE Direction Quartermain has asked me to include a clarified positioning statement on the existence of STRIKE as an agency, op-sec, and our interactions with other agencies under the HELM oversight umbrella.

    On being an Agent of STRIKE
    Sectioned authored by:
    STRIKE Director Clay Quartermain:

    STRIKE does not exist. Exercise caution even within SHIELD to people who have level 8+ clearance, and absolutely no mention of your existence to anyone below that clearance level. Officially, if at any point HELM personnel arrive on scene for investigation purposes, each individual STRIKE agent has been given cover stories for their involvement in SHIELD, ranging from SEC to OPS to COMMS as appropriate for each agent. Under no circumstances should you identify as a STRIKE agent to HELM, HAMMER, or any other individual who does not already know of STRIKE’s existence or your status as a STRIKE agent.

    Failure to comply with this policy will lead to an agent being reassigned to the SLINGSHOT as a potential payload.

    I am not joking.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2018
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    It's been a week since STRIKE saved Asgard from Ragnarok.

    In that time, Asgard has thrown a feast in their honor. Elise found it...extremely difficult to not overly partake of the revelry as part of her ongoing dedication to sobriety. Sigrun recovered fully from her injuries, for Asgardians are hardy folk and their medicine is effectively magic.

    Miles and Carol enjoyed Asgardian revels, although Carol insisted she drink responsibly. She did not do so.

    Bob and his team attended as well, with Bob repeatedly putting his foot in his mouth regarding Asgardians, Norse mythology, Nordic heritage, and how it is seen and utilized on his world. Faiza tried desperately to derail these sorts of conversations. She gave it her best effort. For the most part, Asgardians considered these topics quaint.

    Clay opted not to engage in any revelry. He attended, but enjoyed the food and non-alcoholic beverages.

    Ryann attempted to extol the virtues of early 2000's alt-rock to an Asgardian bard, who ardently defended 70's prog. The two agreed to disagree.

    Thor challenged Julian to a drinking contest, which Julian accepted. Julian died of alcohol poisoning, but did recover. Thor counted this as a win on his part.

    STRIKE returned to Earth, and spent a few days recovering. During that time, Ryann's ship, the Corona, returned to Earth with his family as well as Jennifer Walters from SHIELD legal. The Corona is now docked at the Peak, and Ryann's son is being reassigned to SWORD. SWORD is finding Ryann's family a residence in New York, but for the time they're staying at the Peak.

    STRIKE-1 is called up to the new, revamped conference room that has been upgraded since their journey to space.

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    Clay is there, along with Doctor Strange.

    "You can have a seat, everyone. The console in front of you has a button, it'll call up a retractable chair from the floor. If you time it right, you can sit right down into it. If you mess up the timing like O'Grady did the first time you fall on your ass. Please feel free to do so, it's good for a laugh."

    "Fuckin' nice." Elise grins at Clay and Strange, effortlessly timing her chair so she falls into it, puts her boots up on the table, and puts her hands behind her head. She looks relaxed and comfortable; a far cry from her state after Strontia.

    Miles extends his arm to hit the button from across the room, then saunters into his seat. Julian nods at Miles’ maneuver.

    Nodding appreciatively at Miles’ maneuver, Julian strides up to the desk and taps the button. He lowers himself onto the seat just as it comes up. "Oh, this is nice." Chuckling, Ryann and Michael take their seats after him.

    Clay nods. "The good part about being extra unofficial is my budget is a lot higher. Victoria is very good at 'creative accounting' and appropriating blackbook funds."

    "So, why's Mr. Strange here? Is he here to ask me about the Watcher stuff? Because, you know, I am the premiere expert in all of that now.” Elise shoots finger guns at Clay and Strange.

    "Doctor," Strange corrects with a sigh.

    Julian resists the urge to press Elise's seat button. He could do it telekinetically, if he wanted to, he's sure. Instead he faces Clay. "Sure feels like we're on a higher budget."

    "We're heading to Atlantis," Clay says to Elise. "Strange is our ride."

    Strange looks at Clay and grumbles "I'm also attending, you're hitching a ride with me, I'm not your glorified Uber, Quartermain."

    Clay shrugs. "Sure, whatever makes you feel better, mate."

    Elise's grin widens. "Can we rate you on a scale of one to five stars, though?" Strange squints at Elise, who maintains eye contact and her shit-eating grin.

    "Thank you for your help, Doctor," Miles says to Strange, leaning between him and Elise.

    "Hey!" Elise gives Miles a shove. "C'mon, outta the way, shoo!" Miles remains in place. Elise manages to muss his hair a bit.

    "Will Attilan be represented at the conference?" Elise climbs onto her knees in the chair to continue to maintain eye contact over Miles.

    Julian makes a slight bow towards Dr. Strange. "Please forgive Elise's behaviour, Doctor. She can't help it."

    Clay nods. "Yes. Your wife won't be there, she's staying here in the tower. But the King and Queen will be there."

    "Y'know, at a certain point, like...if I'm the dad to the heir of Attilan, shouldn't I sit with them?"

    "You're representing SHIELD at this conference. Attilan has enough of a delegation. Quite frankly, Elise, if you sit with them the Queen is just going to talk over you."

    Michael raises his hand. "Do we need to uphold some kind of op-sec or are the attendees hip to our 'situation'?"

    "The people at the conference know what's up. It's a lot of the same faces from the last one,” Clay says. “Maybe keep some...personal details to yourself, yeah?" Some people there will not know I am a Skrull and it is best they do not, Clay says telepathically to the team.

    "Of course." Julian nods.

    Miles nods. "Reading you 5 by 5, boss."

    "When have I ever broken op-sec in my life?” Elise chirps. “It'll be fine."

    "Big thing is letting Namor direct traffic. It's his kingdom, he's basically acting as conference moderator. It's going to be a lot of big swinging pipes in that room trying to knock against each other, try not to add too much to the noise," Clay says. "If you opt to communicate telepathically with each other, I want you to keep in mind that there's going to be people like Xavier there who have no specific qualms about eavesdropping on that sort of thing."

    Elise nudges Julian. "Hey. Hey, maybe there'll be that girl there."

    Miles' head swivels to look at Julian. "Oooh. That redhead? You should take some mints before we go."

    Julian clicks his tongue. "Maybe. It's still kinda...recent, man." Still, Julian can't deny a swelling feeling in his chest. He's looking forward to this.

    "That's why you need to pursue this girl!” Elise says excitedly. “The best way to get over Kane is get under someone else, you know what I mean?"

    Strange leans over to Clay and whispers "Can we...go?"

    Clay nods to Strange, who opens a portal. "Let's get moving."

    Elise winks at Julian and bounds through the portal. Miles straightens himself up in a nearby reflective surface and then heads through. Noticing this, Julian pauses beside Miles briefly to give himself a once-over before following along. Michael just shakes his head and smiles as he steps through with the others.

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    edited December 2018
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    "Oh, shit, it's like Rapture!" Elise exclaims.

    Ryann squints. "Where?"

    "Oh, it's from this video game -"

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    King Namor comes out to greet them. "This way. You're the last ones here." He leads the team into a conference room. They've been here before.

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    "I wish they had one of those guys in the stands with popcorns and Frosties," Miles says ruefully.

    Waiting inside are a lot of people they either know personally or recognize from SHIELD’s files. "Please, take a seat and I'll do introductions," Namor says, gesturing at their designated section.

    "Remember, I'm a princess,” Elise says. “Don't forget the proper title."

    Namor nods at her. "Of course."

    Julian barely stifles a laugh. He glances rapidly between Namor and Elise. "Seriously?"

    "Seriously. I worked hard for that title, my dude!" she says. "You get named to royalty and see how you think about it."

    The team takes their seats, and Namor steps to the central dais. He clears his throat and the soft chatter filling the room falls silent. "Thank you all for attending. I, King Namor, am hosting this conference. Most of you are familiar with each other, but I'll do some formal introductions anyway for those who do not.

    "The delegation from Attilan:, King Agar of House Agon; Queen Medusalith of House Amaquelin; Alaris, leader of the Ennilux; High Councillor Arcadian, leader of the Genetics Council of Attilan.

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    "The delegation from Asgard: Thor, Prince of Asgard; Brunnhilde, leader of the Valkyrior.

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    "The delegation from Latveria: Doctor Victor Von Doom, Ruler of Latveria; his apprentice Doctor Franklin Hall; his associates Lorelei, Juggernaut, Taskmaster, and Malice.”

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    Miles sucks his teeth at seeing Lorelei. Lorelei, in turn, smiles at Miles and winks at him, at which he returns a small wave; he shouldn't be rude. She starts to wave back, but Malice scowls at her, and she stops.

    "Doctors Reed and Susan Richards, and their associates Ben Grimm and John Storm.

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    "Professor Charles Xavier, and his associates Jean Grey and Doctor Henry McCoy.

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    "Doctor Stephen Strange, Sorcerer Supreme.

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    "And the delegation from SHIELD: STRIKE Director Clay Quartermain and his agents, Miles Mason, Julian Adler, Michael Westin, Ryann Valt, and Princess Elise Arnell of House Amaquelin."

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    Elise beams at this introduction. Julian and Jean Grey’s glances meet for a second, and she blushes. Noticing this, Elise nudges him with an elbow. "Sto-o-op," he hisses.

    "You are twelve,” she says. “You're twelve years old. You need me as a wingwoman on this, dude. You're hopeless."

    Brushing this off, Julian returns his attention to Namor as the king looks up from his notes. "We have a few subjects to go over, so let's begin.

    "First, Quartermain's agents have just recently returned from a deep space mission to find a way to defeat Galactus, an imminent threat to this world. Clay informs me that they have found a potential solution to this problem."

    Clay nods. "I'm going to let my field team leader explain this; he was boots on the ground. Mason?"

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Miles nods and stands. "We've learned two important things about Galactus: why it does what it does, and potentially how to stop it.

    "Galactus doesn't pick his targets at random. He has a mission: to prevent the birth of new Celestials, new godlike beings. We know that the Celestials interfered with the development of worlds across the universe, giving their inhabitants the ability to tap into cosmic power. Eternals, like the Asgardians. The X-gene comes from the same place."

    Xavier narrows his eyes skeptically at this.

    "Eventually a planet reaches a critical mass of power and the Eternals fight each other until only one is left. That guy has all the power of the others - it's like Highlander, for the, you know, cultured among you - and that last man standing becomes a new Celestial.

    "Human beings are just like, sperm to them. The Celestials only care about the finished product.

    "And Galactus wants to stop the Celestials altogether, which he does by stopping them from being born. Every world Galactus has eaten was going through what we're going through now. Harnessing strange new powers. Magic and mutation and all of that. All of us here are like a flare in the sky for him.

    "But the Celestials had a weapon that might stop him. The Ultimate Nullifier, a device that just erases things from reality. Including the user, if they're not careful. We were able to retrieve the Nullifier from Shuma-Gorath's lair, and now we have, possibly, a way to stop Galactus and save the world." He sits.

    Ben Grimm speaks up. "Hey, Johnny and I've heard of this thing, the Nullifier. We've been working with ARMOR, SHIELD's alternate universe guys. We found this world where Reed, their Reed, found that thing. Little thing, looks like a tape measure, right? But then someone, something, took it from him and used it. Not just on him. Whole world."

    Strange shuffles uncomfortably.

    "Oh." Elise covers her mouth with one hand. The "best friends forever" bracelet jangles around her wrist.

    Doom looks at Ben. "Benjamin, when you say the 'whole world,' you mean you found...an empty planet?"

    Ben nods very slowly, and Johnny rubs his arm before answering Doom. "Yeah, everything was just gone. All the people, anyway. There was animals, plants, all that other stuff. But every single human being on the planet was gone. So was every AI, like all of the HERBIEs were wiped out too."

    Doom asks him. "Then how do you know what happened?"

    Ryann glances at Elise. Elise sees this and the blood drains from her face. He knows. If she can get ahead of this, if she can…massage the truth…

    Ben answers. "The ARMOR guys went through records they could find. A lot of global records were wiped out, whole internet had melted down by that point, but you could still find individual traffic cam systems and stuff like that you could power up and go through and.."

    Elise raises a hand. "I -- I know what happened." Everyone looks at Elise. "It was Vlad on the cameras, wasn't it? He, he told me."

    Doom slowly clenches his metal gauntlet.

    Michael clenches his fists and mutters. "Fuckin' son of a bitch."

    Elise pulls the collar of her Attilan jacket up nervously to hide her vision, which makes her feel more comfortable. "It was Vlad. It...it got out of hand. And then he, he gave me a Nullifier, disguised as a Cosmic Cube, at my wedding..."

    "If I remember correctly, Elise, he said it was done with the Parliament’s blessing," Ryann adds.

    "Yeah. And I shot him a few times. It was wild."

    Doom looks at her. "Did you kill him?"

    "Uh..." Elise gets a slightly wild look in her eyes, and she looks for an exit. "Nnnno. Not as such."

    "A pity," he says. "A loose end to resolve, then."

    "No."

    "Ms. Arnell he killed a world," Doom says. "A genocide I cannot even begin to fathom."

    "You don't know what happened there. You don't know what he's like now. I'm not discussing this with you."

    Namor interrupts. "All of this is immaterial. We have the Nullifier now. Not the one that Vladimir gave Princess Elise. Strange has informed me that one will not work in this universe, some matter of dimensional attunement or some such. But we do have the one for this universe. That is what matters. We can use it to destroy Galactus."

    Elise gives a long exhale of relief. "Christ," she mutters to Clay. "I can't believe I just stood up to fuckin' Doom."

    Clay whispers back, "He won't let that stand."

    "...Thanks for the pep talk."

    "I've got your back," he says.

    Elise nods.

    King Agar makes a series of gestures, and Queen Medusalith translates. "The King asks for clarification, was it not stated that the user of the Nullifier is also destroyed by its use?"

    Julian leans forward. "That is the risk."

    "If the user does not possess the required willpower and focus, yes," Michael clarifies.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Xavier talks over everyone else. "Can I ask that we take a step back for a moment, please? Agent Mason just stated that Mutants and the X-gene are the product of alien interference, that we are nothing more than a Celestial by-product of their own reproductive cycle. Mutants are the next step in human evolution, so this idea is not just factually incorrect, it's actually racially insulting."

    Miles shrugs at Xavier. "If you want to argue with cosmic beings, be my guest, dude."

    Arcadian looks at Xavier. "Inhumans are the result of human genetics being intertwined with that of alien ancestors, and we take no personal offense at this idea. Our culture embraces this. That you mutants attempt to act like you're somehow superior to mankind instead of apart from it is perhaps why you war amongst yourselves so."

    Julian speaks up. "There is nothing racially insensitive about what Mason is saying. Super-powered individuals like many of us here are essentially a beacon to Galactus. That is what matters."

    "Oh my God." Elise buries her face in her hands. "This conference is so much worse. Ten minutes in and we're seeing accusations of genocide and racism and -"

    Xavier snaps at Julian. "Excuse me, Agent Adler, but would you not take offense at the idea of someone saying that humanity itself was nothing more than the by-product of aliens attempting to procreate?"

    "No?"

    Jean puts her hand on the professor's shoulder. Arcadian clears his throat, "Again, Professor, all of Inhumanity is..."

    Xavier snaps at him. "We are not the same!"

    King Agar stands up.

    "Okay, okay -" Elise juts in, making gestures at the Queen from what she's picked up. "This is immaterial. Professor, I understand you're insulted. I get that. But at the end of the day, we can sit here and argue about creation myths and facts all day, but Galactus won't care.

    "King Agar, Your Majesty, the Attilan kingdom has proven themselves allies who can stand shoulder to shoulder with Earth. That means tolerating different views. I trust that won't be difficult for you, Your Majesty."

    King Agar nods at Elise and sits down.

    Reed speaks up next. "If we can revisit a point that the Queen mentioned, using the Nullifier has a chance of destroying the user. Agent Westin said that it's a matter of willpower. So the question begged is...who is that individual? Who pulls the proverbial, or perhaps literal, trigger?"

    "If it comes down to it, I will. I'll probably get..." Elise snaps and makes a poof noise. "There's not a shortage of volunteers for that heroic sacrifice."

    "I don't think there is any truly certain way to know who is best for that job,” Julian says. “But I would volunteer." You would fail, he hears inside his mind. We cannot allow this. We will not.

    Julian frowns. Then we would seek another solution. But if there is no other way to stop Galactus?

    "I am wondering if killing Galactus is the best play here, in the long run,” Michael says. “If we kill him, the Celestials breed all life in the universe into more of themselves. If we don't kill Galactus, then he continues on chomping planets until there are none left to make more Celestial babies. We need a third option. Something to make him slow down or even skip us altogether."

    "If he skips us, he just chews on someone else," Miles says. "How could we live with that, after what we've seen?"

    "We could just wave it at him threateningly," Thor says, the first time he's spoken up. "He is an ancient being who hunts the Celestials' young, certainly he knows what the weapon is and does."

    "...I don't know if there's room for, like, negotiations. I've seen him. Looked at him in the eyes." Elise grips the edge of the desk in front of her. "He's terrifying. I don't know if you can talk to something like that."

    Michael shrugs. "Maybe if we show him we have the means to end him, he'd be more willing to talk."

    "And then what?” Julian asks. “He's still going to have to…eat."

    Elise shakes her head. "I hate that idea. He munches on millions of worlds, kills billions of souls - we saw it! We saw how horrifying that is! And we let him walk for some like, nebulous idea of some greater good?"

    "He needs to be stopped,” Ryann says. “Not negotiated with, not reasoned with. He need to be ended. We can't just pass the buck to another world. This is a Universal threat and we're the only ones who can doing anything about it."

    "Say we kill him,” Michael says. “Then how are we to deal with the Celestials’ plan? Kill all of them too?"

    "I don't have an answer to that," Ryann admits.

    Malice leans close to Doctor Doom. It's impossible for anyone else to hear over the general din of the room, but Elise can can hear her whisper, "Why does Galactus only go after Celestials before they are born? Are there any living Celestials? They clearly started this project but where did they go?"

    "Some of them died." Elise makes eye contact with Malice and Doom. It's a power play. "We saw the head of a dead one. We killed another in Asgard."

    Malice whips her head around and stares at Elise, not expecting to have been heard. Doom waves her off. Elise smiles. That's right, Doom. I'm not afraid of you. This is new, redeemed, tough Elise.

    "There are still too many unknowns," Miles says. "Maybe waving the Nullifier under Galactus' nose might bring him to the table to talk." He nods at Thor. "Maybe the Celestials know something - if we can find them. It seems like whatever we decide, we need to put our heads together and figure out a way to learn more."

    Doom steeples his fingers. "What if...we give Galactus the Nullifier?"

    The room falls silent.

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