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[Actual Play, NSFData] Marvel's Agents of STRIKE - S04E09: "In From the Cold"

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited November 5
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    Sensate, Centurion, Kid Nova, Jentorra, Scott Lang and Arcturus Rann travel through the rainforest region of Antica. Or at least, what the Microverse has as an equivalent to the rainforest.

    Many of them are riding four-legged strider creatures native to the area that Scott rustled up. Elise and the two Novas are flying. Elise insists on flying.

    "Hey. Hey, Ryann. Hey."

    Ryann looks back.

    "You're a space dude, right? Do you know like, astral plane stuff? That's kind of spacey, right?"

    "Umm...not really,” he says. “‘Astral’ is kinda a romantic term for whatever that is. I've never been and I don't think you can get to it just by traveling through space."

    Elise loudly groans. "I was hoping I could dodge talking to Dr. Strange. Dude's a prick and a half."

    "Yeah, no. I doubt that," he says.

    "So if, when I was passed out, I maaaay have unknowingly entered into a bargain with some kind of like…” she gropes for a word. "Evil...broker… Would you be concerned?"

    Ryann sighs. "Yeah. I'm not even gonna ask how that happened, I'm sure it was out of your control. We should talk to Strange about that as soon as we're done with this."

    Elise sighs. "What if I told you it was like, hypothetical. It probably didn't happen! Don't worry about it! I can probably not talk to Strange for a while."

    Ryann looks at her. "Elise."

    Sam looks over Ryann's shoulder toward Elise. "Man, that doesn't even sound convincing. You're a spy?"

    "Shut up! You're like twelve!"

    Ryann puts up a hand. "We'll talk to Strange when we get back. I'll go with you if need be, but we need to follow up on it. It'll be ok." Elise groans loudly but doesn't otherwise argue. "For now, we know where we are going. Let's just try to stay on task." Ryann addresses this last to both Sam and Elise.

    "Scott, this intel better be fuckin' primo," Elise groans. "Because I am really putting my neck out for you."

    Scott looks up at her. "Intel?"

    "...You said you had info on the Parliament?"

    Ryann’s head swivels from Elise toward Scott.

    Scott snaps his fingers. "OH! Yeah, that's like, the whole reason we're doing this! Retrieving the sword, that is. Arcturus, can uh...can you explain?"

    From where he sits atop one of the striders, Arcturus Rann looks back. "The Sword in the Star grants the wielder mastery of the Enigma Force, a binding cosmic power that underlies all realities in the multiverse, including our own. It can reshape the Quantum Realm, and it can rend the barriers between realms asunder at the will of the wielder.

    "Lang tells us that you have an enemy who spans realms upon realms, a foe who commands cosmic forces beyond your reality, and that you know little of their true might or where their center of power is located. When I have found the Sword in the Star, I can use its power to assist you in your quest."

    Lang looks at Ryann and gives him a thumbs up. "See? We help Arcturus, and he helps us."

    "...Cool. Sounds good." Elise tries to keep her face neutral. Part of her feels a wild thrill. If she had that, she could make sure no one could ever exile them again. She could save Crys from the coup. She could...

    Ryann smirks at Scott, then his gaze travels to Arcturus. "You'll help us in our fight against the Parliament? Join us in an Alliance against them?" Miles is gonna love this when I tell him, he thinks.

    Arcuturs nods. "Absolutely. As we speak, the rest of your companions are helping ours defeat Baron Karza. We are already allies."

    "It's appreciated, Arcturus,” Ryann says. “We're going to need all the help we can get and with Ithaka as an ally our chances just got a little better. But we'll need more allies, more worlds. Will you help us in that mission too?"

    "Cool. Definitely the right call. Sounds like everyone is on board with this," Elise says, shooting finger guns at Arcturus.

    Arcturus simply nods at them.

    The group travels on. Elise gazes into the middle distance. If she had that sword, she probably wouldn't have to fulfil her side of the bargain with the guy in the astral plane. It'd solve a lot of problems, she figures. But Miles would be upset.

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    So not only do we have a magic kingdom and a fantasy Darth Vader in a volcano lair, there’s also a magic sword that grants the wielder fabulous secret powers.

    ...eh, it’s not ringing any bells.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The party moves down the trail, following Elise as she just knows the way. Eventually they come to a cliffside waterfall.

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    Beyond the waterfall lies nothing but an empty valley. It appears the trail is a dead end.

    Jentorra leans over to Scott, and Elise can hear their whisper. "I thought you said she was a peerless tracker. There is nothing here."

    Elise furrows her brow and tilts her head to the side. This can't be right. There has to be something else here.

    There's something there. Through one of the caves, under the falls. But she'd have to go on foot. Sighing, she lets her harness power down and slowly descends to the ground.

    "Scott, you owe me six ponies. And they gotta have braided manes." She begins trekking into the cave, which is actually a tunnel, and the rest of the group dismounts or lands and follows.

    The tunnel comes out...the other side of the cliff into the valley.

    But something's different. Something that wasn't there before.

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    Elise turns to Jentorra and sketches a slightly sardonic bow. "The peerless tracker, at your service."

    Jentorra is aghast that Elise heard her whisper, and bows slightly in return. "I apologize."

    "Alright, so, I guess we gotta just head in there? It's probably in there. I just have one question before we go," Elise says. She slings an arm around Sam's shoulder and grins. "Hey. Hey, kid. Have you ever kissed a girl?"

    His brow furrows. "Yeah?"

    "Oh."

    "I'm 17, by the way. Not 12."

    Ryann laughs.

    "I was...I was trying to dunk on you!" Elise protests.

    Sam shrugs off her arm. "Yeah, well, you bad at it." He dusts off his shoulder and keeps walking.

    "What the shit!" Elise hollers at Sam's back. "I'm a princess!"

    Sam makes jazz hands in the air without looking back at her.

    "Yeah, and the princess just got served," Ryann says with a smirk, turning to follow Sam.

    Elise hears Scott snicker. She glares at him. "Next time, I'm leaving you stranded."

    "...fair."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    The Quantum Ship soars over Antica. Michael, Miles, Julian, Acroyear, Janet, and Princess Mari are on board. Janet has informed Miles that she is able to trace a signal from Scott's gear, and they are using that to find Elise and Ryann's group.

    They come upon a valley over the rainforest, and spot the group travelling on foot towards...nothing?

    Miles squints. "Is there a place to land around there?"

    Janet points. "There. We can land next to them and..."

    The group vanishes.

    "What the..." Julian gapes.

    Michael furrows his brow and turns to Janet and the Micronauts. "Uhh, is that normal here? Just like, up and vanishing?”

    “An invisibility field, maybe?" suggests Miles, as he tries raising Ryann on the comms.

    Acroyear nods at Miles. "Something hidden behind a cloak of invisibility, yes."

    But there's no response from Ryann, or Elise, or Sam. Scott's signal has also vanished.

    Sitting in the copilot’s seat, Janet turns to Miles. "Well, we know where they disappeared, we can land nearby and figure out what happened?"

    Julian nods. "Makes sense."

    "Yeah. Bringing us down." Miles nods and lands the Quantum Ship where Janet indicates.

    They land the ship, and begin investigating the area where the other team vanished.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited November 5
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    Inside the castle, Ryann and Elise’s team find a vast and palatial space, with two hallways leading towards a main central chamber, sealed with a massive door. They enter from one hallway, and Elise feels confident that while the other hallway leads deeper into other parts of the castle, the central chamber is where the Sword is.

    "This is a pretty sweet place, honestly,” Elise says as she cranes her neck to look around. “Wonder who lived here before it became the sword holding place."

    "Wayfinder, King of all the Quantum Realm," Arcturus explains. "That is why Ithaka has no King, but instead a Prince or Princess. Wayfinder was the last of the true Kings. He placed the Sword in the Star here, and prophesized that the true and worthy ruler of the Quantum Realm would find the sword and only they could wrest it from where it was held. The sages were consulted for generations, and there was no-one who could fulfill that prophecy. Until now, when the sages stated that I, Arcturus Rann, would be the one to find and draw the Sword and become King."

    "Cool. Cool. Is it like an Excalibur thing?"

    Scott nods at Elise. "It's pretty much exactly like an Excalibur thing. Arcturus is their Arthur, basically. Their names even sound the same!"

    "So would anyone unworthy be unable to pull it?" she asks.

    Scott nods as they approach the door. "Yeah, I think it's like, Mjolnir rules."

    Ryann eyes Elise and sends a message to Sam via text. "Keep an eye on Elise, she has a history of trying to grab objects of power. Don't let that happen."

    Sam taps out a single letter. "k"

    "You know, I tried to pick up Mjolnir?” Elise is saying to the room. “And I totally moved it."

    "I bet," Ryann agrees blandly.

    "Man, I didn't get to try that, I was planning to see if I could shrink it and if that would like, make it easier?" Scott shakes his head ruefully. "Ah, well, we'll never know."

    "You totally saw me moving it, right Scott?" Elise wheedles. "Right?"

    He nods. When Elise looks ahead to the door, Scott looks at Ryann and Sam and shakes his head behind her back.

    Elise approaches the door. Her hands are slick with sweat. She's not going to grab it. That'd be rude! It'd cause so many problems.

    They approach the door, and glowing white fibres extrude from the doorframe, weaving themselves into a vaguely humanoid form. A shining blue sphere appears in its...hands?

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    "Halt," it says with an ethereal voice. "Who wishes to enter the chamber of the Sword in the Star?"

    "Uh, well, I'm Elise Arnell, and this is Arcturus..."

    The orb shimmers green when Elise says her name, and then does so again when she introduces Arcturus. "Why do you wish to enter?"

    Arcturus speaks up. "To retrieve the Sword in the Star."

    The orb glows green. "Why?" the creature asks.

    "...because it is my destiny?" Arcturus answers, puzzled.

    The orb glows green again. "Why?" it asks again.

    "Because I was told that I was to be the one to seek out the Sword in the Star, to become King of the Realms."

    The orb darkens and turns red. "This is a lie," the creature says. "Why?"

    Ryann squints at this. "Oh," Elise murmurs.

    Arcturus grumbles. "It is my destiny that I am to be the one to find the Sword in the Star."

    The orb turns green.

    "I was told this by the sages!" he shouts angrily.

    Green again.

    "Uh oh..." Scott mutters under his breath. Elise hears him, and tenses.

    Arcturus growls at the creature. "It doesn't matter that I wasn't prophesized, specifically, to be the one to take the sword. No one else may do so. The one who finds the sword is the one is worthy to be King! Stand aside, creature!"

    The orb turns red.

    "Arcturus, stop."

    Oh damn it, Elise, Ryann thinks. Your damn deal with the devil.

    "Why do you want the Sword in the Star?" the creature asks Arcturus.

    "To be King," he replies, getting increasingly agitated. "Why is that not obvious?"

    The orb is green. "Why?" it asks.

    Arcturus Rann is taken aback. "I don't...why...why would I want to be King? What kind of question is that?"

    "The only one that matters!" Elise cries.

    "Elise..." Ryann whispers. "What exactly did you ask for when you talked to the astral being?"

    "...The, the location of the Sword in the Star. I mean, I didn't ask. He kind of forced it out of me."

    Ryann sighs and steps forward. "Swordkeeper! Is it true that the one who finds the sword is the only one who can draw it?"

    "Who are you?" it asks Ryann.

    "I am Centurion Ryann Valt."

    The orb glows green, and the Swordkeeper asks, "Why do you wish to know?"

    "Because if so, I believe...I know who should draw it from its chamber."

    The orb remains green. The Swordkeeper looks at him and says, "No. Many have found the Sword. Only one may draw it."

    Thank the Force, Ryann thinks. Miles would have killed me if Elise wielded the thing.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "Then stand aside! I am to be King!" Arcturus shouts.

    The orb turns red. "You are not," the Swordkeeper responds.

    "Why not?!" Arcturus fumes.

    "Arcturus!" Ryann snaps.

    The Swordkeeper looks at Arcturus. "Why do you wish to be King?"

    Arcturus growls, "To serve the realm!"

    Red.

    "...to protect the realm."

    Red.

    "To use the Sword's power for the greater good of the cosmos."

    Red.

    Pursing his lips, Ryann looks at the Swordkeeper and then back at Arcturus.

    Arcturus snarls, "To have the power of the Sword to do whatever I wish, I do not have to answer to you or anyone else!"

    Green.

    Jentorra steps back from Arcturus. Scott steps back too and whispers "Yikes."

    "That's disappointing," Ryann says.

    "Swordkeeper!" Elise shoulders past the crowd. "The person who would draw the sword—should they be someone who wishes to protect those who can't help themselves?"

    Ryann roundhouse-kicks Arcturus. Arcturus dodges the kick, and Sam, diving in to try to help, gets grabbed by Arcturus in a headlock. "You dare!" Arcturus snarls at Ryann.

    Elise turns to look at the chaos and her harness briefly lights up. She vanishes. The Swordkeeper recedes into the door as the fight erupts.

    "Damn you, Arcturus!" Ryann cries, squaring off against the maddened scientist. "Was your plan to betray us as well?!"

    Elise appears behind Arcturus and wraps an arm around his neck. "Let the kid go!"

    But Elise isn't super good at headlocks. She's not sure how much pressure to apply. Too little and it's kind of a joke. Too much and it’s, uhhh, bad.

    Elise has a choice. She can release Arcturus and back off. Or squeeze and hope for the best.

    "I'm sorry! I'm really sorry!" Elise squeezes, hard, and without really realizing it, reflexively applies pressure to Arcturus's carotid artery, sending him down for a quick nap in a few seconds. Sam climbs to his feet, coughing.

    "Well done, Elise!" Ryann grins.

    "I absolutely meant to do that," she declares.

    The Swordkeeper reappears. And the orb glows red.

    Ryan helps steady Kid Nova on his feet. "Are you all right, Sam?"

    Sam nods. "Yeah, I'm good. I just feel dumb."

    "You did fine, you acted with your team and they had your back. The real lesson here is what we do with despots. We nip them right in the bud as soon as we find them."

    Sam nods.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Elise turns to face the door. "Swordkeeper! I'm sorry for all of that. That wasn't...what I intended.”

    The orb is green.

    "The person who claims the sword - they should want to protect people, right? That's a good thing?" she continues.

    "Why?" it asks.

    "Because it's a dangerous world, and there are a lot of people I love who can't...help themselves. And I've seen what happens if I'm not there. I want to be there. I want to help."

    The orb is green.

    Jentorra scowls. "Those are many first-person statements."

    "Hypothetically!" Elise protests over her shoulder. "I'm just trying to figure out the rules!" She returns her gaze to the creature. "So, like, hypothetically, someone with those benevolent intentions and access would be a really good candidate to hold the sword, right?"

    "Why?" it repeats.

    "You're not taking the sword, Elise," Ryann says flatly.

    "I'm not --!"

    "Miles will kill me," Ryann adds. "Clay will kill me."

    Jentorra speaks up. "I will take the blade. I am the only one among you who is native to this realm, and clearly Arcturus is unworthy. I, however, have pure intentions to help the realms."

    The orb turns red in response to Jentorra. "What?!" she says in shock.

    "Listen, let's all stop lying to the Swordkeeper with the lie detector," Ryann looks at Jentorra, shaking his head.

    "I'm not lying!" Elise protests again. "You know what, let's just ask the Swordkeeper." She turns back to the door. "Swordkeeper, hypothetically, would I be a good candidate?"

    "I'm going to tell Clay and Miles about all of this if you don't stop," Ryann says, putting his hands on his hips.

    "You're threatening to tattle on me? Are you serious? Just wait and see what color the orb turns!"

    "I'm telling you I'll make my report on this a lot more detailed if you don't." Ryann folds his arms.

    The Swordkeeper looks at Elise and asks her, "What would you do?"

    "Don't ask her that." Ryann frowns at the Swordkeeper.

    "I would protect Crystalia. I'd protect my squad. I'd try to stop bad things from happening. I just want to keep people safe."

    The orb turns green. The Swordkeeper retracts into the door. The door opens.

    Elise looks at Ryann. "...Sorry." She vanishes again.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Calling upon the Nova Force, Ryann throws up a force field—but he isn't 100% where Elise is. He could project the field over the door to stop her, but she might be partway through the door when he does. And it might seriously injure or even kill her.

    Gritting his teeth, Ryann makes the field.

    Elise can see the shimmer of the force field as it forms. A normal person could not possibly have enough reaction time to respond, they'd just smack into the field like a wall. But Elise's reaction time is so far beyond that. Elise, if she's fast enough, can fly through the field and use her kinetic harness to counter the energy. If she's fast enough.

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    I’m not sure, but I think this may represent our first legitimate, actual PvP rolls of the entire campaign. Like, without mind control or other shenanigans, just two PCs at total cross purposes and willing to throw down for it.

    The mass field disrupts Elise's kinetic barrier and stealth field, causing her to appear...on the other side.

    "Again," Elise calls through the barrier. "I am really sorry about this!"

    "Damn it, Elise! No!"

    The door slams shut.

    Ryann hears footsteps behind him. Julian, Miles, Michael, Janet, Acroyear, and a woman he doesn't recognize are running down the hall.

    "You need to stop!" the woman shouts.

    "Yeah, I know!" Ryann throws up his hands. "Elise is in there! She went for the damn sword!"

    "Oh for fuck’s sake," Michael growls.

    Acroyear looks down at Arcturus’s unconscious form. "What happened?"

    Sam looks at Acroyear. "Elise choked him out."

    "Is this what Vlad was like?" Ryann says in frustration.

    Michael nods. "Pretty much."

    "By the Force."

    "Man, who didn't see this coming?" Julian asks the room.

    "I did!” Ryann grits out. “And she still got past me. I'm angry at myself. Not more than I am at Elise, but still."

    "Elise!" Miles calls over comms. "Elise, you need to stop. This isn't going to help the way you think!"

    But the comms aren’t responding.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Elise stands inside a colossal vaulted chamber. At the end of the chamber, there's a black, circular void, like a black hole. But nothing is being drawn towards it.

    Glinting points of light emanate from the dark void.

    Elise licks her lips and nervously approaches. Her hands are sweaty.

    She takes a few steps closer, then stops. What will Clay say? Or Miles?

    She can see a shape in the void. Glowing blue-white. It's...sword-like? She's not sure. She takes two steps closer.

    Looking into the void, she sees it.

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    The Sword in the Star.

    Hanging, suspended in the nothingness.

    She could reach into that void and grasp it.

    Elise lifts a hand, and then she stops. What would they tell Valeria? She thinks about Vlad, frozen in time, his cape flared around him. She thinks about his last words. "I am penitent." She thinks about Clay.

    She steps back.

    Elise sighs, gives the sword one last long look, then turns around and goes back to the door.

    The door is gone.

    "Oh, well, fuck me."

    There's a smooth, circular wall where the door once was. There's nothing in the room but her, the void, and the Sword.

    Elise approaches the void once again, and without touching the sword, peers into the void.

    It is starry nothingness, like looking into space. She takes off her coat and wraps it around her hand in several layers, then reaches out towards the sword, slowly.

    She grasps the sword, and then...she feels everything.

    The room begins to melt away.

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    She feels the stars of the black void join her. The Sword fuses itself with her being, and all around her, the energies of the Enigma Force crackle, black spheres of lightless void floating in crackling hot white energy.

    She stares into the cosmos, and it stares into her, as she changes shape.

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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 castle begins shaking.

    "...that seems bad..." Scott says.

    Mari kneels down next to Arcturus. "What have you done..."

    Miles puts his face in his hands.

    "Oh shit. Elise!" Julian runs to the closed chamber door.

    Recovering, Miles waves the group back down the corridor. "Everyone out! We need to get to a safe distance!"

    "She's still in there!" Ryann cries.

    The rumbling stops. Everything...stops.

    The castle peels away, in layers. Non-violently, no rubble, like the petals of a flower. Emerging, flying, from the center is...someone.

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    "It can't be..." Ryann breathes.

    "....whoa." Sam says, staring mystified.

    Julian shields his eyes from the glare. "Whoa..."

    Elise looks down at the peeled-away castle, and at her friends and the allies from the Microverse, staring up at her in awe.

    She's...flying? But her harness was busted. She knows this. She feels different. She looks different. She knows this.

    Elise looks at her own hand.

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    It bursts with the cosmic energy at her disposal. Her skin is made of stars.

    Ryann flies up to her, watching closely.

    She wants to force that power out of herself. It's too much.

    She sees, in her mind, Crystalia. Valeria. Attilan.

    She sees Clay and Faiza and Victoria and all the people in the Avengers Tower. Even Jeremiah, although she's disappointed that she does.

    She could protect them with this power. Keep them safe. Do exactly what she told the Swordkeeper she would do.

    If she gives this up, they'll never let her take it back. She knows that.

    Elise looks down at her squad on the ground. They look so small. Then, she looks to Ryann.

    He can see conflict on her face, even though it's seemingly made of stars.

    "You went and did it this time,” he mutters. “You still in there...Elise?"

    Of course she's still in there. Elise knows who she is. Right? She knows she's still the same person. It's not like when Julian goes full Phoenix...she's pretty sure.

    "I'm still Elise."

    She just has more power.

    "This is so much. I could save everyone. I could keep everyone safe. End the Skrull Empire."

    "Slow down, Elise. Slow down,” Ryann urges.

    "I... how do you feel, Elise?" Julian calls up.

    "...Powerful."

    "I know what it's like to have cosmic power that surges through you,” Ryann says in a calm voice. “But we need to figure out what happens next."

    Miles nods at Ryann. "Elise, the Princess warned me about that power. We came to stop Arcturus from getting it. It might not be safe. We're going to stop the Skrulls, and the Parliament, but I want to keep you safe too."

    Elise hesitates.

    "Tell you what, Elise,” Miles says, trying to keep his voice level. “We don't need to end anything. But maybe...maybe you can find the Parliament for us. And then you won't have...done anything that you can't take back. That sounds good, right? That's reasonable. You'd be helping, and doing something none of the rest of us can do." Miles' mind is racing. He doesn't want anyone obliviating anything. But this might be their chance to find out what they need to know.

    Michael adds his voice to the chorus. "Elise, I trust you with my life. You've proven yourself countless times to me and the team that you can be relied upon. What my concern is that this power is too much for anyone to handle without succumbing to its effects. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I told that to Vlad once, and he ignored me. I'm sure that you are wiser than he was."

    "How do you even relinquish that power?" Julian muses.

    "Usurper!"

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Elise looks down, and sees a woman in a formal red dress looking up at her, pointing accusingly. "What gives you the right?! You believe you can steal the crown of the realms, to rule over us, bid us to your will, simply because you rendered another unfit man low and grasped for it first? How dare you?!" Princess Mari cries.

    "I wasn't trying to...I was just trying to keep my family safe." Some part of Elise knows that if she holds onto this power, she wouldn't have to listen to this woman. She wouldn't have to worry about Ryann writing her up in a report. She could do anything. Go anywhere.

    Miles turns to the Princess. "Your highness, what in your life has convinced you that shouting 'usurper!' at people ever works? Calm down and think this through."

    Mari turns and glares at him, but her face softens. "You're...you're right."

    "Miles, I'm scared," Elise whispers.

    Miles extends an arm up into the sky towards Elise. "Hey. Take my hand. It's gonna be okay," he calls up. "We're going to figure this out."

    Elise hesitates, and then reaches out. Miles begins retracting his arm, and Elise lands near him and Princess Mari.

    "I am furious at you," the Princess explains to Elise. "Because I am Princess Mari, ruler of Ithaka. Our nation is a land of law, where as Princess I am no tyrant to our people and their will is equal to my own. To suddenly have a Queen is a violation of the society we have built. It is why we came here, to try to stop Arcturus from becoming King. Not because I do not love him, I do, but we do not need him as a King."

    "I thought I could protect people," Elise whispers. "Save my family. Save my world. But..." She focuses on externalizing her power, turning the cosmic energy inside her back into the sword. Can she do it?

    "Hey...can I uh..." Ant-Man—or Beast-Man, now—walks over and puts up his hand. "Can I say something here?"

    Elise's train of thought is interrupted, as it has been for days, by Scott Lang.

    "So, the rules are, if you get the sword, you're King or Queen, right?" he asks the group. Mari nods at this. Scott continues with a shrug. "Yeah, but, don't the Queen make the rules? So can't she just abacus and be like, no more Queens?"

    Julian squints. "...Abacus?"

    "Yeah, you know, when a king or queen resigns? Like they abacus the throne."

    Michael facepalms.

    Miles turns his face into his collar to hide his grin. "That...that actually seems like a good idea," he says, muffled.

    Mari scratches her head, "Do you mean…abdicate?"

    Scott snaps his finger in a finger gun. "Yeah, that's what I said."

    Mari shrugs, confused. "I...we haven't had a true monarch in eons, I...I don't suppose that...I mean, they have absolute power?"

    Scott nods. "Yeah, there we go! I mean, there ain't no rule a dog can't play basketball, so they made like ten of those movies. I've watched at least five with my daughter." Miles nods at this.

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    Miles is the exact right age to have strong opinions on the expanded Air Bud cinematic universe.

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    "I have no intention of changing the way you live your lives,” Elise says. “I just...I'm scared. I'm scared for my daughter, and my wife. Scared of the Skrull Invasion and the Parliament. If I can just...fix it all. I could fix it all."

    "Elise, think you could just like, manifest a sword that looks like the one you grabbed?” MIchael suggests. “It may not have any power but it could be a kind of symbol of the ruler."

    Of course Elise can do it. She rolls her wrist with a flourish and a Sword that looks exactly how she remembers the Sword in the Star appearing, suddenly manifests out of thin air. She has no idea what her powers are. But clearly they can do that.

    "I wouldn't want to take over the world or anything. I don't want to rule or be a Queen or an Empress. I just want to fix everything. How can that be bad?"

    Miles and Ryann trade nervous looks. Sam tugs his collar.

    Princess Mari looks at Elise. "I need you to give me that sword, and make a solemn declaration that you abdicate the throne of Queen and all of its authority to me, in front of these witnesses, for it to be legal."

    Elise gives Mari the sword and kneels. "I solemnly declare that I abdicate the throne of Queen and all associated authority. I make no claim to these lands, nor its people."

    Mari takes the sword, smiles politely, and says, "Thank you. I acknowledge this abdication, and accept the authority, in front of all gathered."

    Arcturus wakes up and pulls himself upright. He looks at Mari, holding the sword. He then looks at Elise, glowing with the energy of the Enigma Force. "...I have failed." he whispers to himself as he turns and walks away.

    Princess Mari watches him go, then turns to Elise. "He'll be fine, in time. We will talk. I believe Arcturus meant for the best, but did not fully understand power or what it meant to wield it. I hope that you do, and if you do not…” She looks at the rest of Elise's team, "That you have those who are capable of stopping you."

    Miles nods at Mari.

    "...I get to keep it?" Elise whispers to herself.

    "I would ask that you depart these realms forthwith. Carrying the sword, declaring myself queen, it will hold weight with my people. You being here, carrying the power of the Enigma Force, will cause too much uproar. We have instability in our realm. I thank you for your assistance, and you will have an ally here in the wars to come."

    "...I get to keep it.”

    "Elise," Miles says. "If that's the first thing on your mind, that's...kind of why people worry."

    "I can't speak for Clay or Fury, but I think it's fine just as long as you don't start asking us to Behold or nothin',” Michael adds. “We will be watching for that, for your sake as much as ours." Miles nods at Michael.

    "If you do use it for frivolous stuff like materializing food, I won't tell anyone if you share it with me," Julian declares.

    Elise tests to see if she can change her appearance. Clay will react badly if she shows up as a white-hot cosmic being of stars. She closes her eyes, and easily changes back to her normal self.

    Elise pauses, and then adds a few inches.

    And a few cup sizes.

    Ryann shakes his head.

    "...Really?" Julian laughs.

    Elise grins widely.

    "We're doomed," Michael sighs.

    Janet scoffs. "Oh like that's not what all of you men wouldn't do immediately."

    "Well I mean, yeah, but..." Julian stops and thinks. "Hrm."

    Miles looks down at himself ruefully. "...I can't say anything. I had Vision make a few edits in post."

    "Let's just go home, ya dorks," Elise laughs. "See? Same old Elise."

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    This is a real “toddler with a gun” situation as far as Miles and the other responsible members of the team are concerned. Right now he’s just grateful that the only thing that occurs to Elise to do is to mess with her boobs.

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    The team begin saying their goodbyes.

    Scott and Jentorra share a tearful embrace and a kiss, and they murmur something for each other. Elise can hear Scott say, "You knew this was going to happen as soon as I sent the message calling for help..." and she gulps down tears and nods.

    Poor Jentorra. Ultimately though, Elise doesn't feel too bad. Scott's a good friend. Maybe they can go out for tacos back home.

    Jentorra says to Scott, "When you see your daughter, hold her tight and never leave her again."

    Janet looks around the sky. "I never thought I'd be sad to leave this place. I'm...I'm not,” she says curiously. “I'm relieved. I just want to go home."

    Miles turns to Princess Mari. "You seem like you have a good head on your shoulders, Princess. Just watch that temper. And if you ever need help in the future, call; we'll be here."

    Mari nods to Miles, and puts her hand on his shoulder. "I am sorry I defenestrated you. You are a good man."

    He puts his hand on hers and grins. "Are you kidding? It was fun. Good luck with Arcturus and...everything."

    "He'll get over it. Or I will exile him to the Deathlands and find a new man." She laughs. "Joking! But only somewhat."

    "No, it's fair. I probably should have been exiled to the Deathlands a couple times myself." Miles turns to Janet and claps. "Ready to roll? You've got like, a couple new Star Trek shows to catch up on!"

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    I like this beat. Arcturus Rann in the comics wasn’t a secret bad guy and I was glad that he wasn’t really one here, either. He just doesn’t have the temperament to be a king, and doesn’t really want the job anyway. Mari understands that and still loves him despite his limitations.

    Janet nods briskly. "Yeah, let's go." She and Scott join the rest of STRIKE-1 in the Quantum Ship, and it departs the Quantum Realm.

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    They appear inside the Quantum Tunnel.

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    Quantum Qanal

    Reed and Susan are there.

    Elise walks out and takes a deep, cleansing breath.

    Miles waves at Dr. and Dr. Richards. "I rescued a princess! Sort of! A cool princess, I mean," he adds, with a glance at Elise.

    "I'm a cool princess," she declares. Miles makes a waffle motion.

    "I killed a baron!" Michael adds.

    "I really wrecked that one chamber. That was alright." Julian nods in satisfaction.

    "I failed to catch a princess," Ryann chirps.

    "To Catch A Princess sounds like a cool name for a show, though," Scott points out.

    Sam looks at Scott. "So it seems like you had a crystal tiara in your bag. Would you like to take a seat over there?" They both laugh.

    "Do you think now that I have the Enigma Force, I can give Sam a noogie?" Elise muses to Julian.

    "I'm pretty sure you could give anyone a noogie," he says.

    Ryann squints at them. "Hey, Enigma Force or not, Clay is still going to kill you."

    "Shut up," she murmurs urgently. "Not in front of Reed."

    Susan interrupts. "I'm sorry, what's an Enigma Force?"

    "Ha haaaa, nothing," Elise smiles desperately. "It's nothing!"

    Reed squints at Elise. "Either she has a very specific side-effect of the re-enlarging process, or she has acquired some degree of shape-shifting powers."

    Elise looks down in a panic and shrinks a few inches. And a few cup sizes.

    Susan snickers. "Oh my god, Elise, you remind me of me when I was 16."

    Elise turns red. "I just wanted to see what it was like!"

    Susan tousles her hair. "So did I."

    "Nuhhhh!"

    Miles turns to the Richardses. "Elise grabbed an enchanted sword that confers cosmic power to the promised king. So...that's a thing that happened that I was not planning on happening."

    "Miles!"

    Ignoring Elise’s outburst, Reed nods at Miles. "That sounds like her." He seems entirely unsurprised. Miles just nods.

    "How do people get to keep pushing me around?" Elise grouses.

    Susan throws her arm around Elise. "So, are you still figuring out how much shapeshifting you can do?"

    "Uh, well, I think my new base form is..." Elise slips back into a form of stars and sky.

    "Holy shit!" Susan yells.

    "...oh my," Reed says dryly.

    "Please don't tell Clay!" Elise pleads. "I mean, I'm going to tell him."

    A console on Reed's workstation starts beeping. He looks over at it, and furrows his brow. "Hm. Fascinating."

    "It's called the Enigma Force, and it supposedly has the power to...cut through realities?" Miles says to Reed. "Potentially useful, if Elise doesn't kill herself, us, or Jeremiah in the process."

    Reed looks up from his console at Miles. "That...Enigma Force is cosmic and extra-dimensional in origin. I have incredibly sensitive sensors tuned to detect these sorts of things, to protect my home from the intrusion of the Parliament and Council.

    "When she shifted into...all of that, it set off my sensors like a Geiger counter at Chernobyl. It calmed down immediately, but it was equivalent to a portal opening."

    "I can fix that!" Elise offers. "I can fix everything."

    Reed looks at her. "Do you know what your powers actually are? What have you done beyond...enhanced yourself?"

    "I can make things," she says. "And fly. And manifest cosmic fire?"

    Julian's face lights up. "Cosmic fire five!" He raises his hand. Elise doesn't leave him hanging. Reed squints.

    Elise looks uncomfortable. "I should go. I mean. I should tell Clay. Uh. I don't want to get, like...scienced."

    Reed looks around his desk and picks up a wrench that he throws at Elise. She catches it easily, something she could do before she had the Enigma Force.

    "What the fuck!"

    "Copy that," he says. "Make a copy of that wrench."

    "What's the magic word?"

    "Please."

    Elise sighs heavily and stares at the wrench. She easily makes an exact duplicate. When she looks up, she sees Reed is holding a sensor pointed at her, taking readings. "Fascinating."

    "Can you stop that!"

    "He really can't," Susan sighs.

    Reed looks up from the sensor. "I believe you have matter/energy transformative powers. That is the core of this 'Enigma Force'."

    "Would it be more convenient for you if I scheduled a block of time for you to just poke and prod me and run sensors over me?" Elise snaps.

    "Yes, it would!" Reed says.

    "Reed, she..." Susan says, as she pinches the bridge of her nose.

    Looking at Susan, Janet leans over to Michael and whispers "Why do I feel like I understand this woman, on a spiritual level?"

    Michael leans closer and whispers "Yeah, Hank and Reed are cut from the same nerdy and socially inept cloth."

    Janet nods grimly. "You guys haven't...told Hank yet, right? Scott's words are he's a 'major league asshole' now."

    "No, we haven't really talked with him. He's kinda been on the opposite side of us, at least indirectly," Michael says.

    Miles steps forward. "I think studying this thing is a good idea," he says to those assembled. "My teammate has some bizarre power she doesn't understand. It can help us, but it could also be incredibly dangerous." He turns to Elise. "Being poked and prodded now might save your life, or mine, or Crys's or someone, later."

    "Fine. Fine! Schedule it for me, Miles. I am going to go wait in the car. And if I can't find a car, I'll make one."

    Miles nods at Elise. He arranges things with Reed. it's pretty easy since he assumes Elise's schedule is basically "?????" and "snoozing through the opera with Crystalia."

    Janet claps her hands. "Well, let's go see your boss, I assume he wants a debrief. I remember what SHIELD was like."

    The team takes off for the Avengers Tower.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    As the team crosses Manhattan in unmarked SHIELD vehicles to Avengers Tower, Scott leans forward in the car to speak to Elise. "Hey, so, I was thinking. You need a new code-name to go with your new powers. Sensate is cool but it's like, your powers are your sense things? But now you have phenomenal cosmic power!

    "So I was thinking, when I looked up at you, standing there, I was in awe. It reminded me of the first time I saw a Captain America movie as a kid. But like, you're kind of a bigger deal than Captain America! So...what about...stay with me here…

    "...Captain Universe." He spreads his hands theatrically.

    "But I've been in the universe! Gonna be honest with you, Scott, it mostly sucks shit," she says. "Like Xandar. Xandar is the worst."

    "No no no, that's space. That's a different thing."

    "I like that name, Scott," Michael says.

    Scott points at Michael with a finger gun. "Thanks, pal."

    "A new codename..." Elise rubs her chin in thought.

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    “The hero who could be you!”

    Captain Universe was a high-concept superhero idea that debuted (in a sense) in the eighth issue of Micronauts, in the late 1970s. The Enigma Force, a cosmic power that underlies the Microverse and seems to have a will of its own and which is, of course, 100% legally distinct from the Star Wars Force, emanates a power called the Uni-Power...Christ, this is so 1970s...and anyway, ordinary people are chosen by the Uni-Power to bear the mantle of Captain Universe temporarily.

    That was the big idea. You could have an anthology superhero comic where every month a different person received the power of Captain Universe. Which is a cool idea! DC did something similar in the 1970s with their oddball cult comic “Dial H for Hero.”

    Captain Universe appeared several times in Marvel Spotlight, a “try-out” comic where writers and artists could essentially pitch character and story ideas to the public and, if the response was strong, spin those stories out into full titles, but sales were never strong enough to merit a full Captain Universe title. However, the concept had its fans and various Marvel characters would get possessed by Captain Universe for the duration of a story or two all through the 1980s and 1990s.

    Most famous among these was a popular, goofy summer story arc that ran through the Spider-Man comics in the early 90s (I want to say 1990?) where Peter received the Captain Universe mantle after an accident at Empire State University’s physics lab, but had no idea what was going on; he was just suddenly way stronger and could fly and shoot lasers, and found himself inadvertently pitted against enemies way above his usual pay grade - like the Grey Hulk, who he accidentally punched into orbit.

    T08zClhl.jpg

    I wish I could tell Miles that the Captain Universe powers are usually temporary. He might be hyperventilating less right now.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The team arrives at the tower.

    1R3tXx1h.jpg

    They take the elevator to STRIKE HQ, where Clay awaits with Victoria Hand and Dr. Sofen.

    Elise nervously smooths down her hair and tugs on her coat.

    "Dr. Van Dyne," Clay says to Janet, "Glad to see you and Agent Lang made it back. This is Dr. Karla Sofen and STRIKE Deputy Director Victoria Hand. They'll be doing your debrief. Please follow them Deputy Director Hand's office."

    The pair walk away with Dr. Sofen and Victoria.

    "The rest of STRIKE-1, conference room for debrief." Clay waves them into the room.

    m2Ht4eEh.jpg

    "So, mission success, it seems. Any other issues to report? Overthrow any dictators, bring down any totalitarian regimes, make any pacts with cosmic entities or promises to help the locals in the future?"

    Elise laughs too loud and too long.

    "Oh good." Clay says flatly.

    "I'll let Elise go first," Miles says.

    "That seems like an excellent idea," Clay says with a nod.

    Elise gestures in her hands and produces something from up a sleeve. It's an IOU note. She offers it to Clay with a crooked, sickly smile.

    He squints at it. "Young lady, you understand I would remember writing you a second one, right? You can't gaslight me on these. Ask Faiza."

    "Oh."She blinks. "Oh, well, uh, the good news. Lots of good news. We made allies with the Microverse."

    Clay sits down and steeples his fingers, "Go on."

    Elise's mouth works soundlessly.

    "Well, you pretty much nailed it with you assumptions, Clay,” Ryann says bluntly. “That and Elise went directly against my orders knowingly and intentionally, grasping for power, and now possesses cosmic power."

    Clay is silent.

    "Let's be fair here. I also have some degree of cosmic power and I'm turning out fine," Phoenix volunteers.

    Ryann snaps and points at Julian. "Not now."

    "Adler, you're not helping her," Clay adds.

    "I was deemed worthy by the magical door?" Elise offers.

    "Oh, well if the magical door says so," Clay sighs.

    "That's not how it happened," Ryann adds.

    "Yes it was!"

    "I'll put it all in my very detailed report, Clay," Ryann says, folding his arms.

    "Come on, man," Elise mutters across the table.

    Miles holds up a hand. "The gist of this, Clay, is that the Microverse is Eternia, from He-Man. Two cities at war, a nice democratic place an evil one. There's a magic King Arthur sword with cosmic power that a guy from the good city was prophesied to wield, supposedly, and become King. It turns out the princess, who we rescued from the evil baron—that ruled, by the way—didn't want the dude, or anyone, to have the sword because he's a huge dick.

    "But Elise didn't know any of that, and decided to make a play for a magic artifact that we'd been told a whole other culture's politics depended on. So that happened."

    "I think Elise will be fine as long as us with cosmic powers help her deal with and develop hers," Michael says placatingly.

    "Thank you, Michael," Elise says. He finger-guns at her.

    Clay is silent for a moment and says to Miles, "How did you solve the political issue of her essentially becoming their Queen?" He pauses. "She's...she's not, right?"

    "Scott Lang actually had a good idea," Miles says. "Elise was technically Queen, but Scott suggested she...'abacus' the throne."

    "Which I did," Elise pipes in.

    "Which you did," Miles says.

    Clay actually half-chuckles. "Abacus the throne...I've missed that dolt." He looks gravely serious and tells the team "You are forbidden from telling him this. I'll fire you into space."

    Miles nods solemnly.

    "So, you know, everything is...fine," Elise says nervously. "We didn't, you know...cause any problems. And! I saved the kid!" She jabs a thumb at Sam.

    Sam shrugs. "I think I had him."

    "I did promise help to the Princess in future,” Miles adds, “but that just seemed polite after Elise jacked their sword."

    Clay nods at him. "That's fine. I don't have a problem with that."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Ryann clears his throat. "Well, there is one more thing."

    Miles turns and looks at him. "...There is?"

    Clay grumbles. "Of course there is."

    "Okay, but this one isn't my fault," Elise says. Ryann gestures for her to continue. "So, Scott was telling me we needed to find this, we needed to fulfill promises for him so we could get help against the Parliament. So, you know, I looked for the sword. And I kind of...over shot. Into the Astral Plane. And I...met someone?"

    Clay stares. "Who."

    "I don't know," she shrugs helplessly. "A dude really insistent on bargains. And I was like, no, I'm not agreeing to anything, but he kept pushing... I don't really know what that, uh, means."

    "Ugh." Clay puts up a finger and says. "One moment," he taps the table, "Faiza, come in here, please."

    After a moment, Faiza enters the room. "Sir?"

    "Faiza," Clay begins, "When you and Vladimir visited Strange the first time, and Strange tried to 'scare him straight', what was the name of the entity that Strange said Doom tried to strike a bargain with to get his mother back?"

    Faiza grimaces. "Dormammu."

    Clay nods. "As awful as this sounds, can you picture him in your mind?"

    Faiza frowns. "Why? Who here has..." She looks around the room, and sees Elise. "Oh." SHe sighs. "..yeah, fine."

    Clay squints at Faiza, grimaces, and then an image flashes in Elise's mind. It's the being she saw in the Astral Plane. The same one.

    "Same guy?" Clay asks.

    "Yeah."

    "Fucking splendid," Clay says angrily as he stands up. He turns to Faiza. "What can you tell us about Dormammu? I imagine you looked it up after that whole thing."

    Faiza nods grimly. "Dormammu is the personification of Entropy, the inevitability of all existence to fall apart into the stability of absolute nothingness. He himself is the 'event horizon' of pure Entropy, beyond which lies nothing.

    "He has motives, and can bargain for things, because for him everything is energy exchange. But because he is the personification of Entropy, all energy exchange is energy loss, so all of his 'deals' are lopsided in his favor."

    Elise winces.

    "Doom wanted to rescue one life, his mother's. To do that, he was going to offer billions of billions of lives. Dormammu didn't accept not because he didn't like the deal but because Doom was writing a cheque he could not cash, so to speak. You can't make a deal with him that you cannot deliver on. Elise..." Faiza says, looking at her, "What...what deal did you make?"

    "I didn't agree to anything!" Elise bursts out. "I just asked what he wanted, because I thought he was going to wipe me off the plane and leave me like, a vegetable! So I asked if he wanted...knowledge."

    "And he agreed?" Clay asks.

    "Yeah."

    "Did he give you anything in return?"

    "The location of the Sword in the Star."

    "Oh no..." Faiza whispers. "That's so abstract! That's awful! He's a non-corporeal, non-linear being! 'Knowledge' could mean something you do know, or have known, or will know!"

    "Great,” Elise says. “Thank you, Faiza."

    "I'm sorry!"

    "Thank you, Faiza, that will be all," Clay says to her.

    Faiza frowns, and whispers "I'm sorry..." to Elise again as she leaves.

    "Oh, come on." Elise throws up her hands.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Clay grumbles. "Well, let's assume that Dormammu has written himself a cheque, to be cashed in the future.

    "Because to be quite frank, Elise, I can't think of anything you possibly know right now or knew in the past that is going to be of interest to a personification of Entropy. I'm sure such a thing already knows where to get the greasiest burgers in New York."

    "Well, maybe in the future, I can take him," she says. "Clay, I can do so much now."

    Clay picks up the IOU note. "Did you…make this?"

    "I did! I can make things, I can change things." Elise shifts into her astral, shimmering form.

    Clay's eyebrows damn near climb right off his forehead. "...okay. You can...you can dim the lights on that, please.” He takes a deep breath. “So, here's what we're going to do next.

    "I'm going to poach Moira MacTaggert from SWORD, she's an expert on extra-dimensional energy and transformative energy processes. Brand will protest but let's pretend I made a bunch of unprofessional comments and then told you not to repeat them and move on."

    "Oh. I know Moira," Elise says.

    "Yes, I think she'll jump at the chance to study your abilities and figure out how they work."

    "Oh, God. Not her and Reed."

    "Did you agree to let Richards poke around?" Clay asks. Miles nods at this.

    "He threw a wrench at my head!" Elise protests.

    "Did you catch it?" Clay asks.

    Miles nods again. Clay shrugs.

    Elise sets her jaw stubbornly. "Doesn't cosmic power mean that people shouldn't get to shove me around anymore?"

    Clay laughs mordantly. "Ha ha, no, ask literally anyone else here about that."

    "Nope," Michael answers primly. Ryann smirks.

    Julian laughs. "Dunks transcend status."

    "Mason, give me the time you scheduled for Reed and I'll coordinate it with MacTaggert, less having to have Elise poked and prodded the better," Clay says. "Furthermore, Westin, I want you to start training Elise in how to use her powers responsibly. She doesn't know how to live at this power tier. You do."

    "Will do, Boss." Michael looks at Elise. "It'll be fun."

    Miles shakes his head. "For the record, Clay and Elise, I'm not...against the idea of ultimate cosmic power. It could be a huge asset in what's coming. And if Elise wants to make unlimited cheeseburgers and grow her cans at will, great! Go nuts. But I absolutely think we should have all hands on deck studying it, and Elise, I would try not to go around...'fixing' things right away. Remember what happened with Silver? And that was just when you were royalty."

    "So I'm...not in trouble?" Elise asks hopefully.

    "No," Clay starts to say.

    "Well," Miles holds up a hand. "I'm cool with the cosmic power part? Sort of. But I am bothered that you just left Ryann in the wind and did something he specifically begged you not to do, Elise."

    "Bingo," Ryann nods, folding his arms.

    "I was going to hand that off to Dr. Sofen, but since Miles is bringing it up, yes," Clay says. He looks at Elise. "Elise, do you remember when we were on the big Cosmic Cube facility, when we were all kidnapped by Kang?"

    "...yes."

    "And you remember when, despite being told that's not what we're going to do, Vlad attempted to freeze time and take the Cosmic Cube for himself?"

    Elise shifts uncomfortably. "Yes."

    "I believe that was the moment we really lost him. I think he was on that road for a while, but I think that was the turn. Right there. He was told no, and got his hand slapped hard for it.

    "Everything that happened after that, all the lies, everything with the Parliament, all the decisions he made that led right up to him...well..." Clay pauses delicately, not belaboring Vlad’s ultimate fate. "That started because he believed he knew best, and didn't listen to his team, and thought he could do what he thought was right with power."

    "Yeah, and Vlad was a magic robot who could do all kinds of things! I have—had—the power of smell and gun! Clay, people are coming for my wife. They're coming for you. I can't...not...be ready for that. I have to be."

    "I understand what it is like to feel powerless and afraid. You might not think I do, but trust me. I do. I was marooned on an alien world. All of the people I thought were my friends, people I thought loved me, turned on me and tried to kill me. I was scared and alone and could do nothing but run and hide until I figured things out. And I found the best way for me to survive, to get that sense of power back, was to find people I could trust and trust them."

    Miles nods. "Elise, we all care about those things just as much as you do. We worry just as much. Your family is our family too. Your world is our world too. But it's like...it's like you think you'll have to do it all alone. You won't."

    "When we all watched Vlad go down that road, Miles kept saying to himself, 'he can't keep doing this!'" Clay sighs. "His reports would contain formal complaints, recommendations for reprimands or retraining, all kinds of suggestions of what to do.

    "We don't need to find ourselves saying 'Elise can't keep doing this!'"

    "...I'm sorry, Ryann," Elise whispers. Her shoulders slump. "And everyone."

    Miles puts his hand on Elise's shoulder and squeezes it. "Thank you, Elise."

    "What's done is done. Just make sure you're committed to that apology," Ryann says.

    "And make sure you don't vaporize me in our first sparring session," Michael chuckles.

    "I can apparently rend realities now!" Elise says cheerfully.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "So, another thing," Clay says, "Which is op-sec. Elise, you cannot tell any more people about your new powers or where they came from aside from the people who already know and those who will be specifically written in, like Dr. MacTaggert, with one exception.

    "Crystalia. You can tell your wife."

    "...So I can't give myself six inches of height and a pair of tits out to here?"

    Clay’s mouth makes an ‘o’ shape. "...no."

    "But --!"

    "You can use your shapechanging abilities on missions."

    "Clay, I have wanted a rack since I was twelve years old."

    "Then show it to your wife, your bedroom is your business," Clay says. "Just don't walk around the tower knocking glasses off shelves. Jesus."

    "God you're a tyrant."

    Clay folds his hands behind his back. "How good is your shapeshifting, anyway? How much have you tested it?"

    "Uh..." Elise concentrates for a moment in an attempt to look like Julian.

    She not only assumes Julian's exact form, perfectly, she also transforms her clothes into the exact clothing Julian is wearing. She has a dick in her pants and it feels weird. "Jesus," she gasps.

    "Whoa!" Julian jumps back.

    Clay whistles. "Wow. Impressive. It takes Skrull children years to get to that accuracy. You also changed your clothes."

    Elise stares at Julian in mingled wonder and horror. "How do you walk around with this thing?"

    "With...?" He tilts his head. "Oh."

    Clay laughs. "To be fair, Julian wears tight pants, it doesn't make it easier."

    "Somehow, I manage," Julian shrugs.

    Elise shifts uncomfortably and makes a face. "Do you know how much time this is going to save me in Attilan, though? No more makeup, no more dress-up, no more corsets..."

    "Exercise caution. You can't be the gossip of the court," Clay says. "Because if people know you're a shapeshifter in Attilan they're going to assume you're the Enemy."

    "...Oh." Elise blinks. "There's one more thing, Clay. I uh, need a new code name. Considering."

    "Right," he nods.

    "Scott suggested 'Captain Universe', which I liked," Michael says.

    Elise makes a face. "Noooo, it sucks."

    "Captain Universe is tits," Miles says.

    Ryann nods. "It fits."

    "I was thinking...Astro...Astrolo..."

    Clay taps on his console. "Captain...Universe… Done."

    "No!"

    "Practically all-powerful except where it really counts," Julian laughs.

    "...At least I can big dick Captain America," Elise grumbles.

    "Please don't. Steve's a nice guy," Clay says. "If you need training on shapeshifting you can...ask Susan."

    PHU1KZN.png
    I love that Clay didn’t volunteer.

    Elise kicks the floor dejectedly. "I'm a demigod. And I still get bossed around by everyone. This fucking sucks."

    "As it should be," Miles nods.

    Clay sighs. "So what was this whole business Lang was saying about help against the Parliament? I'll read his report later but I imagine he told you lot?"

    "Uh, that's the thing," Elise says. "That's...me now."

    "Hm. How?"

    "The Sword in the Star,” she says. “It can control dimensions and realities. It's something that can really take a dump in the Parliament's cereal, you know? I just have to figure out...how."

    "Princess Mari said it can 'cleave space and time' and 'travel anywhere,'" Miles explains. "I want to use it to find the Parliament's HQ."

    Clay nods thoughtfully. "Elise, can you create portals or teleport?"

    "I dunno,” she says. "Let me test it." Elise focuses on teleporting to the Baxter Building. She disappears.

    Miles checks to see if the Baxter Building is still there. It is. But Elise is...gone.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Elise is in the Avengers Tower. But everything...looks different.

    Ben Grimm is there. He spits out his coffee. "...'ey! Who're you?!" he shouts.

    "Uh...Elise Arnell? I'm, uh, sorry, I'm trying out teleporting and I think I made a fuck up somewhere in the math..."

    "Well then two plus two equals scram, kid, before I tell you the time instead!"

    "Okay! Okay, cool, bye, sorry!" Elise concentrates on the meeting room, on home.

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    She realizes immediately where she is. This is the world where STRIKE disappeared, where Master Mold took over.

    "No, no! Fuck! My world!"

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    "Oh, FUCK no, no, no! MY Earth! With Clay! And everyone!"

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    This all "really" happened, by the way. She kept trying to make teleport rolls and the dice kept going LOL NOPE.

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    She reappears in the conference room, everyone looking confused and startled.

    "Oh Jesus! Is this our Earth? Does it rain donuts, or is Clay a Kree, or any weird shit?"

    Clay looks at her. "Where did you go?"

    "Three different fuckin' dimensions! We...we can't get exiled again. Guys! We can't get exiled again! I mean, it might take like, some detours. It was Fantastic Earth, then Master Mold Earth, then HYDRA Earth..."

    "Jesus.” Miles exhales. “I'm glad you're back in one piece."

    "It was kind of like that one TV show. You know, the one about the people stuck out of time, trying to get back to their reality? I think it was called, like…’Timecop’."

    "Sounds cool," Ryann says.

    Clay rubs his chin. "Hm, I think that's our in. That's our secret weapon. Once you master this power, we can hit the Council and the Parliament where they live. To quote John Dillinger, if we could hit any bank any time, they'd have to guard all the banks, all the time."

    "So what you're saying is I don't get to go home and plow my wife for two weeks straight with a whole, like, arsenal of new freaky things to try."

    Clay makes a sour face. "Elise, you don't even know what you are doing. You just traveled to three different dimensions. What if you turn into something you didn't plan?"

    "...Oh." She swallows. "Oh."

    "Did you know that young Skrulls, when they are learning to shift, can accidentally change into something they don't mean to if they do not clear their subconscious mind?" Clay explains. "You could imagine what kind of terrible things could happen if you introduce that sort of element into your sex life before you're ready."

    Elise looks nauseous. "I'm gonna puke. I'm gonna puke, and it's gonna be fractal puke. That goes into seven dimensions."

    "So what did you turn into, Clay?" Miles grins evilly.

    "Lou Gehrig. I was with a woman before the war and I had just watched a Yankees game that afternoon," he says. "Could've been worse."

    Elise audibly gags. Miles' grin threatens to split his face.

    "Did you get to third base?" Michael chirps.

    Clay laughs. "You know I've told that story to like eight people and literally nobody has made that joke? Good show, Westin."

    "I'm going home," Elise declares.

    Clay nods. "Alright team, fall out. File some written reports. Elise, try not to travel to other dimensions unless you go to one that makes the best kebabs in the multiverse, in which case it's your duty to bring them back with you.

    "Oh, one more thing..." He holds up a hand. "Good job. All of you. I don't get to say it enough. Even with...all of that..." He waves in Elise's vague general direction.

    "You love it," she fires back.

    Michael nods. "That's nice of you to say, boss. Thanks."

    "Thanks,” Julian says. “It's good to hear."

    "Thanks, boss," Miles says. "Honestly, I can't wait to go back. Next time I'm bringing a sword."

    Clay nods. "Now, get out of here. I have some calls to make." The team files out of the conference room.

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    Clay is on a video call with Reed and Susan Richards.

    "So, it's decided, then?" Reed asks. "Everything's in place?"

    Clay nods. "I don't think there's another way around it. It's inevitable, really. We have to put Contingency 1 into play immediately. We're running out of road rapidly."

    Reed nods. "You do this, Quartermain...there's no going back from it."

    Clay sighs. "Yes, well...I don't think there's any way forward. You have my authorization. Start Contingency 1.”

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    NytewarriorMsAnthropyMatev
  • NytewarriorNytewarrior Registered User regular
    Contingency 1, that doesn't sound ominous at all. Nope, not ominous at all.

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    3DSFC: 4828-7889-8155
    JacobkoshFencingsaxMsAnthropyMatev
  • FencingsaxFencingsax It is difficult to get a man to understand, when his salary depends upon his not understanding GNU Terry PratchettRegistered User regular
    Everything's fine

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    JacobkoshNytewarriorMsAnthropyPowerpuppiesMatev
  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    Sometimes in life you just gotta wander around knocking glasses off shelves

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    FencingsaxJacobkoshNytewarriorMsAnthropyMatev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited November 11
    v4rp9N4.png

    It's been a few weeks since STRIKE-1 returned from the Microverse with Scott Lang and Janet Van Dyne in tow. Elise Arnell, now code-named 'Captain Universe' (to her grudging acceptance) has had some time to attempt to get used to her new transformational powers. The team is now assembling in the STRIKE conference room for their latest mission.

    m2Ht4eEh.jpg

    Clay is there to lead the briefing. Also present are Jessica Drew (codename: Spider-Woman) and Eric O'Grady (codename: Ant-Man), as well as Carol Danvers (codename: Captain Marvel), now an agent of SWORD and leader of the SWORD field team, Alpha Flight.

    PHU1KZN.png
    For those who may have lost track of our increasingly Byzantine supporting cast, Eric O’Grady is the replacement Ant-Man, an OPS agent who took over the role after Scott Lang “died” during the Skrull invasion that happened offscreen while we were in space. He’s been present in scenes, IIRC, but hasn’t really featured yet.

    Jessica Drew, Spider-Woman, is another former OPS agent and an Inhuman, and second-in-command of Bob’s team. She was last seen in the season 3 finale, “Arrival.”

    Elise's hair is now blonde and bubble gum pink. Some of her features are slightly different - her nose is just slightly thinner at the bridge, her lips just slightly fuller. Miles nods thoughtfully at Elise's lower-key changes, then shares a smile with Carol.

    Clay begins. "All right people, we've got a lot to cover. We're going to be working divided assignments, with some different team set-ups. I'm going to be issuing multiple briefings here, so pay attention and hold questions until I address your bit.

    "First up, the simple one. Elise, you're going to Wundagore. Mikel Fury is flying you in the Dagger to rendezvous with a Wundagorian who has intelligence we need. From what our own contact with him has been able to ascertain, the Wundagorian believes there's a Skrull infiltrator inside the Symkarian royal family. He won't disclose who unless we bring him in and offer him protection."

    "Thanks! I hate it," she says.

    "You, as you, are famous in Wundagore, so you're going incognito. Photostatic veils or even MASCs aren't going to cut it with Wundagorians. Many of them have enhanced senses of smell close to your own, and quite frankly... they know your scent from the last time you were there. You were a different person back then.

    "Fortunately, your new abilities should let you 'go native' pretty easily. Practice before you leave, find something that suits you."

    "Oh, no. No no no, dude, are you kidding me? What if I fuck up and my head..." Elise gestures wildly around her head. "I just get stuck with a slurry?"

    "Fortunately, there's an expert on that sort of thing, who is also going to be your partner on this mission, because he's the one who established the mission contact and has done the legwork on this op. He fits right in with Wundagorians." Clay pauses. "Agent Warrick."

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    That’s right, true believers - it’s the team-up you demanded!

    "No!" She stares, horrified. "No!"

    "Yes."

    "I - I can't go! I'm sick! I have pinkeye!"

    Clay scoffs. "You have cosmic shapeshifting powers. I sincerely doubt you have pink-eye."

    "I am begging you to not make me go on this shitshow of a mission. I haaaaate this."

    Miles guffaws. "Permission to come along and watch, boss?"

    Clay waves him off. "Denied, you have your own important mission." He returns his attention to Elise. "You're the most qualified. You will be able to instantly tell if the contact is lying, especially if they themselves are a Skrull."

    "I will give you five hundred dollars," she pleads.

    "I make significantly more than that to be an appreciable bribe, young lady,” Clay says. "You're going. That's an order."

    "Nuhhhhhhhh." She looks around for sympathy, but finds none. Ryann, Michael, and Miles trade smirks, while Julian shrugs helplessly at her.

    Clay snaps his fingers. "Okay, next up. Westin." Michael sits at attention. "You're being transferred. Clear out your office in the next hour."

    The room goes quiet. Michael stares. "Uh, what?"

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "That is your mission. You're being transferred," Clay emphasizes with air quotes, "to HAMMER.

    "Gregory Stark came up with the idea, all on his own, to poach you from my team and put you on the Squadron Supreme. This idea came to him while he was sleeping. Possibly after a night with Moondragon, who is to say?"

    Michael nods slowly. "Hmm, that does seem like an unlikely scenario."

    "Oh, okay, so when you fake a transfer for Westin it's 'mission-critical', but when I faked a transfer for Jeremiah by photoshopping forms and he almost cried, that's 'go to HR'." Elise sets her jaw stubbornly.

    Clay looks at her. "Yes, because when I do things, it's important, when you do things, it's pranks. It's called a double-standard."

    "Nuhhhhh -"

    Frowning, Miles cuts in. "Boss, Michael, be careful with HAMMER. They're dickbags, but they're on their game. If something seems too easy, that's because it is."

    Clay nods. "Moondragon has also learned, somehow, that there's some kind of dubious project running on the Helicarrier called 'Intelligentsia.' Stark has insulated himself from the project, it's Hank Pym's baby. He literally keeps himself on a need to know basis and has plausible deniability, so it's impossible to know fully what it is. But given it's Greg Stark and Hank Pym, and their previous shenanigans with Master Mold and Arsenal, and the project has the god damn on-the-nose name Intelligentsia I can only assume it's some kind of evil artificial intelligence.

    "If it's not evil yet, I'm sure it will be. Hank Pym goes around churning out Skynets like he's a deadbeat dad rawdogging truckstop girls."

    Elise makes a face. "You're gross."

    "I'm a little annoyed," Clay says. "Forgive the vulgarity."

    "So while I am being an upstanding member of the illustrious Squadron Supreme, if I were to learn about and potentially stop/reconfigure this Intelligentsia, that would just be in the course of my new duties," Michael says.

    "So, about that. By the time you get there for your orientation, the Squadron will conveniently be on assignment, so you'll be the new guy who won't even interact with them. This will, nicely, keep any suspicion away from Moondragon. You also won't have to do anything yourself. Because you're just the deliveryman. You'll be bugged.” Clay points at Drew and O'Grady.

    Michael chortles. "Oh my god."

    Drew tsks at Clay. "Really? A bug pun, Director?"

    By way of reply, Clay just scowls at Elise. "She's rubbing off on me."

    Elise grins. "You love me."

    MIles’ frown deepens. "Surely Hank Pym of all people has a way to detect shrunken spies."

    Michael’s expression turns pensive. "That's a good point, Chief."

    "Regular shrunk, yes," Clay nods at them. "But not as small as they're going to go. We still have the Quantum Ship."

    "Oh, shit." Miles nods approvingly.

    "It's going to shrink down to not quite sub-atomic, but extremely small. It's going to cling tightly to your metal arm, Michael, and we believe that between the Uru metal and the energy signals given off by the power within, it'll toss off any of Pym's sensors until the ship breaks off and goes its own way."

    "The Quantum Ship was designed by Janet Van Dyne, not Pym, and to be frank...she's more of an expert on being very small than Pym is."

    "Ouch, quantum burn." Michael inclines his head in the direction of Spider-Woman and Ant-Man. "So in effect I'm just the Bug Mule?"

    "Yes," Clay nods. "Also the back-up in case everything goes wrong."

    "Of course." Michael smirks.

    "But that has to go substantially wrong," Clay says with an upraised hand. "At that point we're now throwing hands with HAMMER. I'd rather not." He purses his lips. "We have a plausible deniability plan, Westin, but you're...going to hate it."

    "I'll try and not shoot the Helicarrier out of the sky on my first day," Michael says. "What is it?"

    "Say for example, you find out the Intelligentsia is something really horrific, as in, you need to destroy it right now, you need to take a drastic measure like kill Pym, or Stark, or you find out the whole outfit is rotten with Skrulls, or something that bad, and you have to blast your way out of the Helicarrier?" Clay snaps his fingers. "You were mind-controlled by Skrulls. They made you do it. It's happened before, it's a believable story."

    "You're right. I do hate it." Michael sighs heavily. "But it would work, unfortunately."

    "Yeah, hopefully it doesn't come to that!"
    ---SCENE---
    "So, that's you," Clay nods at Michael, then turns. "Next up, Mason. You're going to space, mate. I’ll let Danvers explain."

    Carol grins and moves to the head of the table. Miles snaps and points at her. "Fucking sweet. I love it. I'm in."

    She begins to explain. "You know those therapy sessions with Dr. Sofen? It's helping me like, reconcile the memories, and clarify stuff. I'm remembering things. Less of a tangled mess of me and Mahr Vehl, and more just, two clear paths. And I remembered some very clear stuff recently.

    "Mahr Vehl was part of a group called the Starforce. They're like an intelligence agency/commando unit. Basically like the Kree Empire equivalent to something like STRIKE or the Black Novas?"

    Ryann holds up a hand. "I can confirm all of that, Starforce are serious business. The Nova Corps had a standard non-engagement policy when it came to them."

    Miles nods. "Okay, yeah. I'm with you so far."

    Carol nods. "And like any good spy, he had safehouses. Places only he knew about, where he stashed his stuff. He had weapons, armor, tech, and a computer access point to the Starforce intel network."

    A slow grin spreads across Miles' face. "You mean...?"

    "I remember where some of them were, and one of them is close. Like, Beta Centauri close. We can go there in the Anabasis and take some of his, well basically my, stuff. Modern, state-of-the-art Kree technology. And we can theoretically access the Starforce intel network, get up to date intelligence on what the Kree Empire is doing."

    Miles runs his hands together gleefully. "It's like Christmas. I can't wait." He pauses. "How much relativity is this going to involve? If it's gonna seem like minutes but actually a week goes by, I'm gonna want to DVR Empire. And polish off the Haagen-Daaz in the freezer "

    "It's Beta Centauri, so it's really close. Like, a day each way," she says.

    "I'm so happy you love your mission, Miles," Elise mutters.

    "And I'm so happy you hate yours, Elise!" he fires back.

    Ryann sighs. "It wouldn't be your mission if you would have listened to me on the last one, Elise." He folds his arms.

    Clay holds up a hand. "Normally, this would 100% be an Alpha Flight op, it's off-planet and it's Carol's bailiwick, but there's a complication. Danvers?"

    Carol nods. "Even though nobody would know about Mahr's safehouse but him, it's extremely likely that none of his passwords or other stuff for the Starforce intel network will still work. The Kree think he's dead. I mean, he is, right? But I made a show of his death out on Knowhere. So, when a spy dies, you don't exactly leave their login info lying around. That's just bad infosec.

    "We need you to hack their network." Carol grins at Miles. "Are you a bad enough dude to hack an alien spy network?"

    He pumps a fist. "Hell yes. Also, I love you." She gives him a thumbs up. Elise mimes throwing up in an invisible bag.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Clay sighs. "Finally, Valt and Adler.” He returns to the front, and Carol takes her seat.

    "We've received a message by tachyon ansible from the Black Novas on Xandar. An official from the Skrull Empire wants to defect.” He pauses to let that sink in. "They're requesting political asylum on Xandar, and have contacted the Black Novas through back-channels to make that happen.

    "Thing is....the Black Novas don't...really want him? That would create a potential diplomatic fuckfest for them and possibly trigger a war.

    "They don't even know who this Skrull is. It might be a trap, it might be a ruse to be casus belli for the Skrull Empire.

    "But, since we have a Black Nova right here on Earth, and the Skrulls have already attacked us once and will likely do so again, so really we have nothing to lose from such a potential trap, and if legit it could be potentially useful...the Black Novas said to us, hey, do you want this guy?"

    Ryann strokes his chin and nods. "Yeah, sounds like we have to at least investigate it." He sighs. "Where are we going?"

    "Contraxia, small ice-ball of a world in the Elidra system. You'll meet up with the Skrull, interrogate him, see if he's legit, and if so, exfiltrate. If he's not legit, kill him on the spot and dispose of the body. Don't fuck about.

    “Adler is going along to telepathically confirm he's on the level."

    Ryann frowns at Clay. "I'll get to the bottom of this, sir."

    "Additionally, take Alexander along with you, he'll help sell the idea that you're Black Novas and it'll be good experience with him.

    "Furthermore, if you have another solution than greasy smearing some Dard'van shit-bag, then use your own judgment. But I have no tolerance for genocidal maniacs that turned my homeland inside out."

    Ryann nods. "Noted, sir."

    "If this Imperial legitimately has had a change of heart or wasn't on-board with The Party in the first place, then fine. Path to redemption is open. If he's part of a ruse, he can be atomized for all I care."

    "I will, Director, but with all due respect, I'm not sure the kid is ready to go off-world yet. The Micro-Space or whatever was one thing, but if the Nova Corps catch wind of his existence we could have more political issues on our hands. I have not informed the Black Nova of anything. I have not even spoken to my contact in over 3 months."

    "Fair point. You will have other back-up. I'm sending Nebula along with you, basically as muscle and she's also been to Contraxia before."

    Ryann smiles. "I'm sure she has."

    "Additionally, I'm sending the SWORD agent Chimera with you. You recruited Chimera when you lot were imprisoned on the Kyln. She's not Mantis, or Jocasta. She's the other one. Chimera is her SWORD code-name now. You will only refer to her by her SWORD code-name from here on out. There's reasons." Clay looks over the table. "Clear on that, everyone?"

    PHU1KZN.png
    Chimera, you’ll recall, is the codename taken by Clay’s/Z’Reg’s daughter and rightful heir, Annelle, who joined the team in the Kyln and is now part of Alpha Flight.

    Elise raises her hand. "Even when we're just hanging out? Because, like, we're not on duty when we're watching Friends on Netflix."

    "Yes," Clay clarifies. "She's started going by 'Kimmy' in those instances. She's started a new life here. New life means new name. You don't refer to me by my old name in conversation, don't do it to her either."

    Michael nods. "Understood, boss."

    "Clear as crystal, sir." Julian says.

    Drew and O'Grady look confused. "Who is she?" O'Grady asks.

    Clay scowls at Eric. "What did I just say?" Ant-Man slinks down in his chair a bit.

    "If we were the Friends, I think I would be Rachel," Elise notes.

    "Or Ross..." Ryann murmurs.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Clay claps his hands together. "Carol's going to fly Adler, Valt, and Mason up to the Peak on the Zephyr. Mason, Danvers, and Alpha Flight will leave on the Anabasis. Valt, Adler, Chimera, and Nebula will leave on the Corona. Elise and Warrick will leave on the Dagger with Fury. Westin, a HAMMER Quinjet will come down to pick you up in a bit to fly you to the Helicarrier.

    "Any questions that are not general complaints about going on your mission?"

    Elise's hand lowers. "I just want it on the record I could be having, like, insane, mindbending sex with my wife right now.

    "And it's not fair that I haven't been able to do anything fun because I'm either training with Michael or getting prodded by Reed."

    "Or you could lose your concentration and accidentally remember an episode of Frasier and turn into Niles mid-coitus," Clay scoffs.

    Elise turns scarlet. "Yeah. Uh. Something like that already happened. It was weird."

    Julian mimics Frasier's voice. "This is the worst idea you've ever had, Niles!"

    Ryann peers at Clay. "Has that happened, Clay?"

    Carol nods at Michael and leans forward. "That seemed like far too specific an example, Director Quartermain."

    Clay clears his throat. "Are there any mission questions?"

    "I'm clear on my mission, boss," Michael nods briskly.

    "Good. Everyone fall out."

    Still red-faced, Elise shuffles off with a sigh. Julian nudges her as they go. "So...what did you turn into?"

    "Shut up."

    Julian grins and feigns a supervillain-y mind reading pose, provoking a punch from Elise. "Maybe I deserved that," he muses, rubbing his shoulder.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    As the team files out into the hallway, they find Jeremiah Warrick waiting for Elise. "Hey," he says, curtly.

    Elise gives a shaky smile. "...Hi."

    "Come to my office." He turns and heads toward COMMS.

    "Uh...okay." Elise follows Jeremiah into his office. She never had her own office when she worked in COMMS! it was one of those dreadful "open floor plans." Now he has his own office?

    He shuts the door and turns to her. "You need to change your shape into something suitable for the trip, and you need to do it before we leave and you need to stay in it the whole way there. It looks like you've made some...touch-ups, so it doesn't seem like maintaining any changes requires any effort on your part.

    "Which means...pick an animal.

    "And then shift into that. And keep in mind how Wundagorians look. You can't just...you know, look like you with cat ears and a tail or something. You have to give yourself essentially an animal head. You've seen them. They look basically like...." He gestures at himself. "Just don't be an owl. We can't be two owls. It'd be suspicious.

    "You can't be an owl."

    "Uh, shit. Okay. I don't know. I've never had a fursona," she scoffs. "Any suggestions?"

    "Ugh, don't use that word. Don't be Vaughn."

    "Oh, gross." She makes a face. "Did he ever come back from deprogramming? Did they not invite him back because he's a furry?"

    "Yeah he works in one of the signals intelligence bureaus. Not in HQ," Jeremiah explains. "We still DM sometimes."

    "Oh. Uh, cool." Elise feels a sting of hurt that no one from COMMS DMs her. "Well, uh, how about… A raccoon? Is that fine?"

    He nods enthusiastically. "Yeah that's perfect. They're garbage animals that eat garbage."

    She scowls. "I'm fond of the little fuckers. I used to give them my pizza crusts from The Van."

    He nods. "Yep. That sounds very you."

    Elise closes her eyes and focuses. This is going to be very unpleasant. She's transformed a few times, but her teeth always...stayed where teeth should be.

    She changes shape, but she can instantly feel that something has turned out wrong.

    She gets a raccoon body with an Elise face.

    "OH JESUS LORD WHY!" Jeremiah shrieks.

    Elise gives a shrill shriek and tries again, and this time she nails it. She even manages to nail a balance of looking hot, but not...weirdly hot. "Jesus! Christ! Okay. Okay." She runs her new tongue over her teeth and grimaces. The sensation of fur bunching on her face is new and unpleasant. "Hurgh."

    "You get used to it," Jeremiah sighs. "At least you don't have a beak."

    "Uh, sorry. By the way.” She pauses awkwardly. “Sorry I was such a relentless dipshit."

    He’s silent for a moment. "It's okay. It's not your fault.

    "If I had your abilities I don't think I'd ever stop screaming. When I changed, my eyesight got dramatically better. Like, I could see people's pores. I could see all the filth on their skin. The way we didn't get along was kind of a two-way street."

    "Oh."

    "I've learned how to...filter it? I'm a lot more balanced now," he says.

    "Well, how about a fresh start?" she offers.

    He nods.

    "Hi, I'm Elise. I'm looking forward to working with you on this one."

    He extends his hand, and Elise shakes it firmly. "Also, being honest? Crystalia was a huge help in getting me to not be a jerk," he says. "Fact: your wife is an amazing wing-woman."

    "She's an amazing everything," Elise says. "Oooh, are you seeing someone?"

    "Ehhhhh..." he makes a see-saw gesture. "Let's just say Attilan is very non-judgemental about appearance and it was extremely refreshing as an experience. It gave me the confidence to fly to Wundagore with Vaughn a couple months ago and meet people. I'm not Wundagorian but they don't care about the difference. It's how I met the guy we're going to go see."

    "Oh! Okay, cool." Elise does not mention Vaughn, because she has just made a new friendship with Jeremiah, and her scorn would probably shatter it.

    Jeremiah steps forward and opens the office door. "Alright, let's go see Mikel." Elise nods and follows him.

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

    Agents Mason, Valt, and Adler take off in the Zephyr with Carol Danvers, bound for the Peak. Over an hour later, a HAMMER Quinjet arrives to pick up Michael. Niles walks over to Michael before he leaves, and asks him to lift the sleeve on his metal arm.

    When he does so, Niles says, "I'm going to run this device over your arm. It's going to deposit the Quantum Ship with Drew and O'Grady in it. They've got a special sub-atomic frequency emitter that uses a cypher language that Janet essentially made up. Nobody could possibly understand it...unless of course, they had the Allspeak.

    "They'll be able to communicate with you in a way only you can hear, but you communicating to them you'll have to basically whisper to yourself. They'll hear you."

    Michael grins. "Good thinking. Before I go, how's your metal arm treating you?"

    Niles nods. "Not bad. I made a few upgrades since Mason had it."

    "Nice." Michael holds his Uru arm out for a metal fist bump. Niles smiles and metal bumps metal with an audible clang.

    "Welp, gotta go make nice with our benevolent superiors," Michael winks. He turns and boards the Quinjet.

    A few hours pass, and they arrive floating over some...city? Michael's not 100% sure. The pilot didn't specify.

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    The Quinjet lands and Michael disembarks. There to meet him are a small group of HAMMER agents, led by Gregory Stark.

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    "Agent Westin, welcome to our Helicarrier."

    "Glad to be here, Mr. Stark."

    He smiles. "No, you're not, but it's polite of you to lie. You've been absconded from your team to work for me. Still, I think you'll like working for the Squadron even if you don't like working here or for me personally.

    "You know Marcus Milton personally, and you rescued Heather Douglas, and the rest of the team are good people."

    "I gotta say, if guys have Milton, then why do you need me?"

    "The Skrulls are going to be back," Stark says, his smile replaced with a grim set of his jaw. "The force we fought back was a scouting party. We haven't fought a full invasion fleet. STRIKE misuses your considerable talents, sending you off-world, off-dimension, when where you are needed most is here, defending our world.

    "I'm not trying to denigrate the work STRIKE does. It's important, to be sure. But they don't need someone like you to do it,” Stark says. "We need you more. They're a SWAT team with an Abrams tank. I'm fighting a war, son. I need my tanks."

    Michael nods slowly. "Ah, I can't really fault your logic there. Protecting the Earth from a Skrull invasion is top priority."

    He nods, "Thank you." He turns toward the bulkhead door. "I'll show you to your quarters, let you get set up. The Squadron is on assignment right now, you missed the boat, sadly."

    "Ah, well I look forward to going out in the field with them next time.”

    Michael hears a sub-atomic frequency from O'Grady. We're going to break off here, we'll let you know how it goes. You can hear us anywhere in the carrier, we'll signal if we need help or an exfil.

    Michael quietly mumbles an "Uh-huh" to Agents O'Grady and Drew.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Stark leads Michael into the Helicarrier, and pauses when he walks by the armory, "Oh, that reminds me!" He snaps his fingers. "I should show you this, you of all people."

    Michael raises an eyebrow.

    Stark opens the armory door. "Come on." He leads them into the armory, and opens a case that requires a bio-imprint from Stark himself. "We just got these back from Trask's fabrication facilities. They were able to create them from data they gathered from the Sentinel program. Whole thing was shut down, of course, program was a failure. But a good scientist learns from failures..."

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    He gestures to the open case. "The current chassis is a bit overdesigned. Needs to be streamlined. But that will come later."

    Michael squints. "You made a big gun. Why is it important that I see it specifically?"

    "Well...take a look..." Stark taps a few buttons on a nearby console, and some target drones appear on a shooting range. He picks up the gun, grins at Michael, points at the targets, and fires.

    The orange-yellow beam with the thunderous boom is identical to the one Behemoth emanates.

    It destroys the targets utterly.

    Stark stops firing and puts the gun down.

    "What the fuck..." Michael stares.

    "During your fight with the Adaptoid Sentinels, they were able to mimic your abilities. We obtained that data, and found that we were able to tap into the same energy source. We call them Destroyer Cannons, after their namesake," Stark gestures to Michael and smiles. "They're not as powerful as the real thing, of course, but still pack a serious punch."

    Michael is trying to keep calm as Gregory keeps saying things that make him angrier. "Well I'm glad that I'm not being totally replaced."

    Stark nods. "I mean, we only have this one. It's the prototype. They're exceedingly difficult to make, as you can imagine."

    "Oh yes, harnessing extra dimensional sources of energy is very taxing, and dangerous. You never know what kind of damage you might do if you misuse the source."

    Stark narrows his eyes. "You know, Agent Westin, I'm very well-trained in reading micro-expressions. Is that a veiled threat?"

    "Yes. Would you like me to make a more bald-faced one? You might want to grab a parachute then."

    Stark grins. "I knew we were going to have some friction. It's good to be open about it." He picks the gun back up. "This offends you? Fine." He reaches over and pulls a piece of it, and the orange light from it stops glowing.

    He hands the piece to Michael.

    "This core cost billions of dollars and thousands of man hours to create. Destroy it, and we won't go down that road again."

    Michael looks at the core in his hand, and clenches his fist. The core crushes, an orange light briefly flickering before vanishing.

    Stark sighs deeply. "Well, you win some, you lose some. Sometimes shows of faith are expensive."

    "But I think that they are worth the cost, to know the true measure of a man," Michael says. Stark nods.

    Westin, we have a problem. It's Eric O'Grady on the sub-atomic frequency. We've found the Intelligentsia, whatever that is. Or, where we think it's held. But the whole area is sealed off with energy fields. Stuff we can't bypass, even in the ship. We could try to sabotage the field, but that's got a risk of tripping an alarm and we get made. Or, you could try snookering Stark or Pym into telling you about it or something.

    As it stands, we're locked out.


    Michael clears his throat. "Say, since you showed me this impressive piece of tech, got any other fun things to show off?"

    He knows Stark is a genius, and an expert at reading micro-expressions. If he tries to baldly lie and pretend he's not asking anything suspicious, Stark will see right through him.

    Instead, Michael goes for a more challenging tone, trying to come off like he doubts Stark’s prowess, hoping to play on the man’s ego. "I mean, a big gun is impressive, but not exactly a game changer. Your brother could make something like that without being all bulky and garish. What else ya got to show me?"

    Stark scowls. "Hmph. You're right. Big guns are Anthony's entire style." He waves imperiously. "Come."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Stark leads Michael out of the armory, and elsewhere in the Helicarrier, explaining as he walks. "Pym and I have been working on something. Something that will change everything. Not just for the war, but for humanity in general. I'll let Pym explain the details of it."

    They go to an office labeled Dr. Henry Pym.

    Stark presses a button on the door, and a growly voice barks "Who is it?"

    "Gregory."

    There’s a resigned sigh. "...enter."

    Stark and Michael walk in, and see Pym sitting at his desk in a neatly decorated office.

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    "What is this? What is STRIKE Agent Westin doing here?"

    "HAMMER Agent Westin now," Stark corrects, grinning with pride. Michael nods at this.

    "That's nice, Greg. Why do I give a shit? I'm busy. The field agents are your thing," Pym bristles.

    Stark scowls. "I wanted you to tell Westin about Intelligentsia."

    Pym sits back in his chair, staring at Stark with barely restrained annoyance. "Are you fucking kidding me? Why the blue fuck would I do that, Greg? We don't even tell your weird bald girlfriend about that, why should that uptight limey shithead's toady get to swim in our soup? How long has he been here? Have you vetted him? Have you had Heather vet him? How do you know he's not just going to run back to Fury and the Brit and blab about the whole thing, you idiot?"

    Stark looks at Michael, and looks back at Pym. "Recruiting Westin was...was my idea, Hank. He's a good agent and..."

    "Fine, fine, he's a good agent, that doesn't mean we tell him a god damn thing. I don't tell you a god damn thing except what you need to know. You're a mushroom, Greg. I feed you shit and keep you in the dark. That's how this works."

    "Seems to me like Hank doesn't appreciate either of us, Mr. Stark. If he really knew me, he'd know that I'm a company man through and through. I would never do anything to endanger humanity or this agency. If you've made something to help either or both of those things, I'd like to at least see it, that way I can protect it."

    Stark gestures to Michael as if to say, see.

    Pym sighs. "I'm sorry. My attention is... divided. You know how I get when I'm like that, Greg." Stark nods.

    Westin! It's Drew. Her voice is panicked. If you're talking to Pym right now we have a problem!

    We're flying around the Helicarrier's ventilation system trying to find another access point for the Intelligentsia and we buzzed the men's room and...we flew past Hank Pym taking a piss. He's in two places at once, Westin!


    Michael narrows his eyes at the "Pym" before him, but keeps his voice civil. "Say, will this Intelligentsia really help against the Skrulls? We've had some success against them but we need a better way to defeat them."

    Hank nods. "Yes. It will. I tell you what, Michael, I think there's a way we can both learn a lot. Stark, you can go, I'll show him everything, but you still need to maintain your lack of knowledge."

    Stark nods, and leaves. Pym stands up and waves Michael behind him. "Follow me."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    They walk through the Helicarrier. "Now, what I'm about to show you is... going to look very familiar, but I need you to keep your cool, and understand that it isn't what it looks like, alright? I need you to keep an open mind, and let me explain."

    They walk over to a sealed door is completely unmarked, and has no console of any kind to it. Pym places his palm against it, and a blue light appears to scan it. The door opens, and there's a bright green light from inside it.

    Spider-Woman’s voice comes back on over comms. The field just dropped, we're following you in. Whatever happens next, you have back-up.

    Michael and Pym walk inside, and the door closes behind them.

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    It's a Skrull Cradle, like the kind Michael saw in Russia. Modified, it seems, and being tended to by scientists wearing HAMMER uniforms.

    One of those scientists is Hank Pym.

    "Hello, Dr. Pym," the Hank that was with Michael says to the one in the lab, and he responds in kind. They turn to face Behemoth. "Now, Michael, remember, I need you to not freak out and start blasting everything."

    They both turn into Skrulls.

    They both gesture to one of the Cradle cells, where Michael can see Hank Pym slumbering. One of the Skrulls turns back into Hank Pym. "So, here we go... the explanation," one says. "Intelligentsia...interface."

    A feminine voice that sounds a lot like Janet's responds. "Hello, Dr. Pym, how can I help you."

    "Explain to Agent Westin how you operate."

    The AI intones, "Very well. I am identified as Intelligentsia. I am a Virtual Intelligence mainframe based on the Skrull operating system for their Cradle technology. Dr. Pym reverse-engineered this technology after it was obtained by the combined efforts of STRIKE, the Avengers, and other individuals in Russia.

    "Human individuals entered into my Cradle are able to control connected Skrulls through a telepathic link, asserting complete command over all biological and mental faculties, effectively becoming those individuals."

    "This essentially is an inversion of the normal function of the Cradle technology. Dr. Pym realized that the normal signal processing of the Cradle could be inverted, and used this method on captured Skrulls to act as agents.

    "Specific individuals, such as Dr. Pym, are mentally capable of operating multiple Skrull-sleeves simultaneously, at great mental strain."

    One of the Skrull-Pyms shrugs. "Eh. I'm adapting." He looks at Michael. "Really, it's basically the same thing as the film Avatar, when you think about it.

    "The good one, with the blue people. Not the bad one."

    The other Pym-Skrull laughs at his own joke.

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    This is how you know he’s gone too far.

    MIchael stares. "So let me get this straight. You salvaged a Skrull Cradle that we tried to blow up in Russia, reverse-engineered it, and made it so that you can mind-control your Skrull prisoners into working as slaves. And this is a benefit to humanity how?"

    Pym looks at Michael. "Think about it, Westin! Not only does this completely neutralize any Skrull we capture, but we can turn their own agents against them! What's the most dangerous part about the Skrulls?"

    The other Pym-Skrull answers his hypothetical question. "Their ability to become people, to be the ultimate spies and sleeper agents. Nobody can do that back to them. Now we can. We take their own people and use it against them. See, the thing is, I'm not just controlling these things, I have access to their memories. This one?" he waves at himself, "His name was Bartak. I know all his access codes, his response-handshakes, everything the Empire would use to confirm it's really him.

    "When they come back, we can send all of these things back into their own empire, and destroy it from the inside. Some of these infiltrators? They're some of the Empress' closest spies and assassins. They could get close to her. They could take her out."

    Drew's voice comes over the sub-atomic communicator. This is monstrous, Westin. He used the term 'things.'

    "This a lot to take in,” Michael rumbles slowly. “The ramifications of this are far-reaching. It certainly is a game changer. Do you mind if I use the restroom?"

    "Go ahead." The two Pyms point at a nearby hallway.

    "Thank you, Doctors Pym."

    Did you want us to stay in here? Sigh deeply if yes. Grunt if no. Otherwise we follow you. Michael grunts. Roger that. Following you.

    Michael tries to find a quiet place, knowing he might have ears on him everywhere, and whispers as quiet as he can. "Call Clay."

    We can run a patch line through from the Baxter Building, stand by.

    A few minutes later, Michael hears Clay's voice. Westin. Drew gave me the rundown. Fucking horrifying. The ship has recorded data on everything. I want to take this to HELM but I have no guarantee they won't just give it the thumbs-up and say the ends justify the means. But just blowing the thing out of the sky is out of the question, collateral damage is too high, we don't even know who else is inside the machine or if they're even willing and conscious participants or how that all works.

    If we just shut the thing down, sabotage it, then we're unchaining god knows how many Skrulls in the field, in sensitive positions, all at once, and they'll be angry about it.

    So, here's what I need you to do... I need you to...tell Stark about it.

    All of it.

    Pym's keeping him in the dark for a reason and it's not just deniability. Stark knew damn well about all the bullshit they were doing with Master Mold and the whole lot and didn't give two shits.
    But this is something he needs a buffer for? It's because Pym knows it's a bridge too far even for Stark.

    I think the only reason he showed you is because this whole multiple bodies nonsense is making him mentally unstable.


    Michael whispers "Will do."

    Drew comes back on the comm. We've found Stark, he's in his office. Michael heads that way.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Michael enters Stark's office. Stark is busy...filling in reports finalizing Michael's transfer. "Westin!" he says with a smile, "How did seeing Pym's project go? Non-specific, I don't want to her details."

    "Uh, boss? Can we talk? Privately?" Westin moves his eyes around the room.

    Stark nods. "Of course. My office is a safe place. No listening devices or anything of the sort. Even Pym's tiniest little bugs couldn't be listening in." He squints. "Something's bugging you. Is it about Pym's project?"

    "Yes, and you are not going to like it. Pym reversed-engineered a Skrull Cradle to mentally enslave Skrull prisoners, justifying it with the idea that we could use them as spies inside the Skrull Empire. He's controlling multiple at once himself, and it's fracturing his mind."

    Stark sits back in his chair, eyebrows raised and his fingers steepled. "I saw his duplicates around the carrier. I assumed they were LMDs."

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    LMDs, you’ll recall, are Life Model Decoys - SHIELD android duplicates used to fool assassins, or get up to shenanigans.

    "So did I, at first," Michael agrees.

    "Hm." Stark frowns. "This is problematic. Presumably, if we shut down the Cradle, that's going to unchain many Skrulls that he's inserted doing whatever."

    "Yeah, having loose Skrull spies around the world would be a bad thing," Michael says.

    "Yes." Stark purses his lips and scowls. "How are we certain I'm not a Skrull? I could be in one of those tanks. I might have just gotten ether'd one day and put in a tank and linked without my knowledge or consent."

    His eyes begin shifting back and forth rapidly. Michael's seen this look before from Miles. It's spy paranoia.

    "Calm down for a moment, Greg." Michael thinks for a second. "Well the only ways I know of to detect Skrulls outside of Elise, are to almost kill them so they revert back to their normal state, or have a telepath scan them."

    "Heather!" Stark snaps his fingers. "Heather is a telepath." He pauses. "...unless Heather is a Skrull...Some Skrulls are telepaths...." He starts cradling his chin.

    "Do you trust Heather?" Michael hastily interjects.

    "Yes."

    "Then follow your gut and trust her to help you figure out if you are a Skrull or not," Michael says.

    Stark nods thoughtfully. "Alright." He stands from his desk. "We need to be very careful about this. I've got a plan, Westin.

    "It's a crazy plan, but it's going to work, I think." He puts his hands on Michael’s shoulders. "You're going to tell Quartermain. Everything."

    There's a bark laugh over the comm. It's Clay.

    "I'm going to fire you and send you back to STRIKE, citing that it's not going to work due to personality issues. You're an asshole, quite frankly, and you broke my cool gun.

    "And then I'm going to tell Heather everything. And she's going to convince Pym, telepathically, that there's problems with the Cradle and they need to recall all their Skrull agents and disconnect them all carefully."

    Amazing, is all Clay has to say.

    "We'll shut the whole Intelligentsia project down and re-imprison all the Skrulls in the Cube," Stark says. He breathes a sigh of relief.

    Michael nods. "What about Pym?"

    "Honestly? After all this is done, the Cradle's properly disconnected and shut down? I'm going to have something done. Best not to ask. The man's gone too far." Stark reaches over and tears up Michael's transfer papers. "Agent Westin, you're fired. Get out."

    Michael smiles and nods. "Sorry it didn't work out, Mr. Stark. I'll see myself out."

    He smiles. "You had a hell of a first day, son."

    "Never been fired before, so that's a first." WIth a laugh, MIchael turns and heads out the door.

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    This mission went a lot more sedate than it could have gone, but I think that’s cool! Michael’s a spy, after all. Spies should get some smooth missions sometimes. There was definitely the potential for a big ruck, but Dave, Michael’s player, roleplayed him cannily and had good luck with the rolls he made.

    Matev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Elise is flying over the volcanic Wundagore Valley in the Dagger with Jeremiah and Mikel Fury. She hasn't been to Wundagore in some time, since they freed the valley from the High Evolutionary.

    They land in the valley, and head into the city on foot.

    "So, who's this buddy of yours?" she asks.

    "His name is Bashenga. He's a smuggler. He's uh...trying to adapt to a new economy?

    "Smugglers used to be a big thing before Wundagore went public. Now, they don't so much need smugglers anymore. He wants to go legit. Wundagore has actual cops and stuff now. He's still plying his trade, which puts him on the wrong side of things sometimes because one of the few things people still smuggle is drugs."

    "Gross. Cops are the worst."

    Jeremiah looks at her. "Elise...you work for a global espionage and legal agency, you're like...an ultra-cop?"

    "...Yeah, but I don't come after a guy for smoking a blunt."

    He shrugs. "Fair."

    They walk through the city. It's still largely in ruins.

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    But it's slowly recovering.

    "We're going to meet him in the Labyrinth nightclub,” Jeremiah says. “You've been there before. It's part of why you had to come in disguise, you'd definitely be recognized."

    "God. That's so weird. Last time I was here, I was just..." Elise trails off, and then shrugs. "Really different."

    "Yeah."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    They pick their way through the blasted streets to the Labyrinth bar. The bouncer recognizes Jeremiah, grins, and lets them in. They enter the bar, where there's a live band. A leopard-man wails away on a guitar. If he's doing an original song or a cover of one, Elise can't tell.

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    Jeremiah turns to her. "Alright, grab a drink or something while I look for Bashenga, I'll come find you."

    "Uh, okay." Elise heads to the bar. "I'll have a...uh...water?"

    The bartender, a large equine woman, nods at her. "You driving, honey? If so, soda is on the house."

    Elise nods. "Soda's good, thanks."

    She smiles, and pours Elise a soda.

    Elise sips her drink. Looking around the bar, she largely sees Wundagorians with the occasional human, largely Symkarian mercenaries with the odd individual who looks like a tourist. However, she spots a familiar face in the crowd.

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    It's Dempsey, the Wundagorian she bonded with over a love of fries. Elise sighs. Probably best not to break cover and go say hi. She watches him from afar while she tries to figure out how to drink with a raccoon mouth.

    But out of the corner of her eye, she notices him approach. He sits down on the stool next to her. "H-hey," he says, nervously, "haven't seen you around here before. My name's…

    "Uh." He freezes, looking at her.

    Elise knows what being checked out looks like. He's checking her out.

    "...my name's Dempsey."

    JEREMIAH WHERE ARE YOU. "I'm, uh, Roxie. It's nice to meet you, Dempsey. I'm a bit of a homebody, ha ha."

    "Yeah, me too…” He pauses. "I used to come here with my buddy Church but then he joined the Pack, so..."

    "The Pack?"

    "Oh, gosh, yeah, you don't get out much at all, huh?" he says. "The Wild Pack, Silver Sable's bodyguards."

    "Oh no." Elise hasn't thought about Silver since that awkward, tear-soaked conversation on the Quinjet.

    Jeremiah walks over. "Hey, I found the guy we were looking for. Unless uh..." He leans in and looks over at Elise and Dempsey.

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    "Unless I'm interrupting."

    "Sorry! Sorry!" Elise inclines her head at Dempsey, grabs her Coke, and scurries off. Dempsey looks at Jeremiah and Elise can hear him say, hurt, "Are you guys like...a thing?"

    And she hears Jeremiah laugh. "No, man, she's gay. You didn't have a chance."

    Crystalia better be grateful that I didn't get him to buy me a drink and instead drank soda like a loser.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Jeremiah joins her and the pair walk over to a booth in the side of the club.

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    Waiting for them is a feline Wundagorian.

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    "Hey, Jerry," the feline, presumably Bashenga, says to Jeremiah.

    Jeremiah nods. "Bashenga, this is my friend..." He pauses for Elise to introduce herself.

    "Roxie."

    Jeremiah sits and indicates for Elise to do so as well. She slides into the booth and twitches her ears. She's still getting used to having ears she can twitch.

    "So, where's the STRIKE agent you promised, Jerry?" Bashenga asks. Jeremiah tilts his head towards Elise, and Bashenga squints at her, and sniffs. "No. She's like us. Or you. That's not a disguise. Is this for real?"

    "Yeah, it's for real," she says. "I'm Elise Arnell of STRIKE."

    "Wait..." He leans in close. "The Elise Arnell? The one who took down Wyndham?"

    "Yeah, see, that reaction is why I have to have a raccoon head right now. Spies don't work well when they walk in and everyone immediately notices them."

    He nods. "Alright. Good. I believe you. And I believe Jerry, more importantly. Alright. Cool. Cool cool cool." He drums the table. "Let's get down to business, then. You guys are here to move me out, right? That's the deal. You take me with you, I point fingers at who the little green man in King Stefan's court is, right?"

    "That's the deal," Elise says. It's time for her to size him up. She squints at him. He's not a Skrull. And he's quite certain he knows who the Skrull in Stefan's court is. He believes it. "But you don't get exfil until you give me a name," she adds.

    Bashenga nods. "Alright. Alright alright alright. We're talking about..."

    "Weeellll, if it isn't our old friend Bashenga." A voice interrupts.

    Two figures approach the booth.

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    "Oh....hey...detectives...." Bashenga says, nervously.

    The simian Wundagorian looks at Bashenga, then Elise, who he smiles at, and then back to Bashenga. "Going to introduce us to your friends?"

    Bashenga growls. "Roxie, Jerry, this is Detective Monck and Detective Reynardo with the Wundagore Special Crimes Division."

    "Uh...hi.," Elise offers. Monck lowers his sunglasses, which he is both wearing inside the club and at night, and winks at her. Elise gives a little raccoon smile and hopes it looks natural. God damnit this is the worst.

    "So, we know what our old pal Bashenga does for some scratch," Reynardo says, laughing at his own joke. "But what about you two? I don't think I've seen you two around here before."

    "I like to, uh...read,” she says.

    Monck grimaces. "Reading doesn't pay, Roxie. That wasn't the detective's question."

    "We're from Attilan!" Jeremiah blurts, "We're not Wundagorians. We're tourists. We just come here because we look like... well...." He gestures to Elise and himself.

    Elise nods. "And I read about it, and I thought it sounded amazing."

    Monck turns back to Bashenga. "Is that your new gig, Basher? Smuggling stuff to the Inhumans? Getting stuff from them? Getting that fancy moondust?"

    "If I were a smuggler, would I be drinking soda in a rad club?" Elise asks impatiently. "Besides, the Inhumans are cool! Elise Arnell is their princess!" She pauses. "Our princess."

    Reynardo tilts his head. "Is she?"

    Jeremiah nods. "It's true. I was even at the wedding!"

    "So was I!" Elise adds.

    Monck tilts his sunglasses down and narrows his eyes at each of them. "Alright. But keep your nose clean here in Wundagore. It's not like the old days when Tabur was in charge. We're an orderly society now."

    The two walk away, with Monck making an I'm watching you gesture at Bashenga.

    "..You know, stuff like that isn't nearly as scary now that I can just teleport out," Elise mutters.

    Bashenga leans forward and gasps "You can teleport?"

    Jeremiah makes a see-saw hand gesture. "It has...glitches. You could end up on an alternate Earth where something horrible happened, like there's no such thing as omelettes."

    "God, yeah, last week I fell asleep cuddling Crys and woke up on a totally different world in a dumpster,” Elise shudders. "It's been, like, a week. I'm still figuring it out."

    "So basically like back when you were single?" Jeremiah says.

    Elise grins. "Basically."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Bashenga sighs. "So, like I was saying, the alien mole in King Stefan's court, it's his cousin, Countess Katarina."

    Elise squints at him again. He believes what he’s telling her, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. "How'd you find this out, anyways? That's quite a find."

    "Servants in the castle," he says. "Servants always see everything. If you're nobility, your servants know everything you do.

    "Everything."

    "Even turn into a Skrull?" Elise is skeptical.

    "Yeah, she slipped up at some point," Bashenga says. "She got drunk. Apparently these things get fucky if they drink."

    Elise acknowledges that's true. "And the servants got to walk away from that and tell people about it?"

    "So it seems. The servant who saw it was a guy I sell stuff to, he comes into the valley to buy shit off me." Elise gives him another once-over. Bashenga believes his source, but can Elise believe a servant who is also a drug addict, effectively selling info for more drugs?

    Bashenga does. Should she?

    While she's pondering that, she hears the music stop.

    Five canine Wundagorians in suits walk into the bar.

    MRS3uJbl.jpg

    Churchill is one of them.

    "...The Pack," she says.

    Following them is someone Elise recognizes.

    baPgDmql.jpg

    Silver Sable.

    Elise leans into Jeremiah. "If shit starts to go down, get Bash out of here. He's earned his ticket home." Jeremiah nods.

    PHU1KZN.png
    First appearing in 1980s issues of Spider-Man, the Wild Pack are indeed from the comics - they’re Silver Sable’s hand-picked team of mercenaries - but they’re usually humans of the ordinary or superpowered variety, and minor Marvel characters, like Deathlok, often rotate into and out of their ranks. The idea to make them literally a dog pack of Wundagorians is, as far as I know, original to this setting.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The Wild Pack clears a booth for themselves, and Sable sits down with them. They order drinks from a waitress.

    Elise notices Bashenga sitting up straight, smoothing out his jacket and straightening his shirt, trying to look a bit neater, then she returns her gaze to the mercenaries’ table. She keeps staring at Silver. They were on good terms the last time they spoke. She's not on bad terms with SHIELD. But she runs a PMC now. She's likely full in with Doom.

    Silver meets her gaze. She then beckons Elise over with her finger.

    Elise wrinkles her raccoon nose. Amateur mistake, Elise. She stands and walks over to Silver's table, and pulls up a seat.

    "Your friend. The panther," Silver begins. "Is he with you?"

    "We're talking business," Elise says neutrally.

    Silver raises an eyebrow. "Is he with the owl?"

    Elise squints. "Wait, what do you mean with."

    "With."

    Elise gapes. "Jesus! No!"

    Silver smirks. "So is he single, then?" The Wild Pack laugh, and Churchill lets out a bit of a howl.

    "I mean, I guess? You'd have to ask him. Don't know why you're asking me." Elise glances at Jeremiah and hopes he gets the cue. Get him out of here, Warrick, I don't want our contact getting mulched.

    Jeremiah nods at Elise, looks at Bashenga, and gives a side-ways head nod.

    Silver grabs Elise's arm. "Are they leaving?"

    "Might be. Don't know. Hands off."

    "Oh, that's disappointing."

    Elise’s raccoon eyes dart from Silver to Bashenga and back again. ...Do the Wundagorians have regular people dicks, or...?

    Silver points at Jeremiah and Bashenga. "Churchill, tell the panther I want him to stay. The owl can go." Churchill nods, and stands up.

    "Is this about Stefan's court?" Elise asks.

    Silver looks at her, confused. "What are you talking about?"

    "Oh, uh, nothing. For a second I thought you were...I thought you might..." Elise stammers. "Haha, I've just had too many drinks."

    Silver looks over at Elise’s table. "Yes. It seems to be very hard soda you are drinking."

    Churchill stops the pair, and Bashenga and Jeremiah turn and follow him back to Silver's table.

    Silver smiles at Bashenga. "You're very handsome. What is your name?"

    "B-Bashenga, Lady Sablinova..." he says bashfully.

    "Oh, please, it's just Silver. Now, sit, and tell Churchill what you are drinking so he may fetch you one. You too, both of you," she says to Jeremiah and Elise.

    "Uhhh...Coke?"

    "Manhattan," Jeremiah says. Churchill nods and leaves.

    Silver smiles at Bashenga. "So, I will confess, I do know who you are, and this is about King Stefan's court." She winks at Elise.

    "Oh, motherfucker," Elise mutters.

    The Wild Pack laugh until Silver shushes them with a gesture. "You've been naughty boy, Bashenga, dealing drugs to Countess Katarina's servants. She doesn't like that."

    "He's under my protection," Elise says, more loudly.

    Silver chuckles at her. "Your protection, raccoon? And this matters to me, why exactly?"

    Elise's jaw works with frustration. "I can't say it without causing a huge thing."

    Silver folds her hands and rests her chin on them playfully. "Oh no, not a thing...."

    "Hey, remember that time at a wedding where you got put in a jail cell?" Elise says in a low voice. "And everyone forgot you were there?" Silver squints at her. "Wasn't it Hand who had to show up and bail you out?"

    The Wild Pack look between them, confused. Silver looks directly into Elise's eyes, focused. "...Elise?"

    "Keep it down! Like I said, I don't want this to be a thing."

    Silver gasps. She looks at the Pack. "Stay here with Bashenga and the owl. The raccoon and I are going outside for a smoke."

    One of the Pack speaks up, "But Silver..."

    "Do as I say." Silver gestures for Elise to follow her. Elise sighs and stands.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    They walk outside, and Silver lights up two cigarettes, handing one to Elise.

    "I'm trying to quit," Elise whines, but she takes the cigarette. "I've only had one in months."

    "Admirable, the effect your wife has on you." Silver takes a long drag. "I am jealous of such things." She laughs. "You know, you still owe me a promise. To be wing-woman."

    "Oh, I remember." Elise takes a drag on her cigarette. "I'm lucky. Crys is good, we have a daughter together now, Valeria's great. It's...different than I thought it'd be. I mean, I don't think I can get you a spouse, but I can try my best."

    Silver leans forward, trying to touch Elise's face. "How is this possible? This isn't one of SHIELD's veils. This is...something else..."

    "Oh, God, it's this whole thing. I, uh, kind of grabbed this magical sword, took on this power called the Enigma Force."

    Silver’s eyebrows raise. "Never heard of such a thing."

    "Yeah, it's from this crazy place, we had to quantum tunnel our way there. You could be in on this stuff! I don't know why you quit."

    She shakes her head. "Everything to do with the Skrulls. It was madness.

    "SHIELD had so much bureaucracy afterwards. Choked with levels of control. I could not stand it. I needed to stand on my own, with the only ones above me were men of vision.

    "Men like Doom. I know you feel the same way, I know you have worked for him."

    "...I like STRIKE," Elise says.

    "I wanted to like STRIKE too! You were as family to me! But when the Skrulls came that changed. HELM came, took people. People died. Scott died. They took many of our people. People left. They broke us apart."

    "...Scott's back, by the way,” Elise says. “He's alive."

    Silver gasps.

    "You want his phone number?"

    "...no. He...there is another woman," Silver sighs. "Also he can be quite grating."

    How the fuck is Scott juggling so many women? "Oh, yeah, for sure. He suggested my new code name and it's awful. Captain Universe. It's awful!"

    She laughs. "It's adorable. It is like child's drawing!" She begins laughing really hard. "Like, pa-pa, look, I have made hero, she is Captain Universe! Then there is lightning bolts in yellow crayon...and..." She's holding her knees.

    "I can rend realities apparently and I still have to sit here and get dunked on by everyone." Elise grouses, finishing her cigarette. She is not laughing.

    Silver reaches over and hugs Elise, and tousles her raccoon hair. "I have missed you, you strange imp."

    Elise allows herself to be hugged. "One day, I am going to be the badass spy who walks into the room and the music stops."

    Silver shakes her head. "You will regret it, it is a lot of work."

    Elise finally laughs. "So, you know what? I bet the two of us, we could check out this Countess thing."

    She looks at Elise. "What thing with the Countess? Aside from Bashenga is dealing drugs to her servants. I have been paid to eliminate him quietly. Now you and Jeremiah are meeting with him, and I am second guessing."

    "He had some intel about a member of Stefan's court. Says one of them's a Skrull. He told us it’s the Countess."

    Silver squints.

    "He thinks it's true," Elise says.

    "Hm."

    "And he's not a Skrull, either. I checked that."

    Silver nods. "I was about to ask."

    "Who paid you to snuff him?"

    "The Countess."

    "Well, isn't that convenient."

    "She considered it an embarrassment. I did not question." Silver sets her jaw. "Let's go inside. We'll go confront the Countess together, like old times. Is your team with you?"

    "No, it's just me solo today. I'm totally down. Let me just call dad so he doesn't worry when Jeremiah shows up back home alone."

    Silver nods. "I have the Pack, and I can call in more mercenaries if need be."

    "...I kinda wanna run this low-key. See what I'm capable of. I haven't had the chance to test drive this whole Enigma Force yet," Elise says.

    "You can change shape, is there anything else you can do? Are you bullet-proof, super-strong, energy blasts?" Silver looks her up and down appraisingly. "Can you fly?"

    "I can fly!" Elise grins. "I can teleport, too, and make things. Like, say a thing."

    Silver nods. "Die."

    Silver draws an energy weapon from her hip and blasts Elise.

    It's not like any weapon Silver normally uses. It's a Skrull energy pistol.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Elise stares down in shock as the beam hits her square on...and she fully absorbs the hit.

    With a hiss, Silver shifts into her Skrull form, and tackles Elise, trying to completely overpower her with brute alien strength. She rams into Elise and hits her like a brick wall.

    The ground shakes. Elise feels the hit. If she was a normal person, normal Elise, that hit would have likely been fatal.

    This isn't just a Skrull. This is a War Skrull. But it did absolutely nothing to Elise in her current state. Elise yelps and activates her comms. "Hey, dad!" Meanwhile, she grabs Silver and attempts to force her down into a pin.

    Elise has a choice.

    She doesn't...really know her own strength? She doesn't how much force to apply. She could try to apply a small amount of force, and risk not applying enough and the Skrull wriggles free. Given they're shapeshifters, they can be pretty wriggly. But, she could apply a lot, and potentially crush the Skrull into paste.

    It's a War Skrull. Elise sets her jaw. Burn away the rot. She forces the Skrull down as hard as she can.

    "Silver" slams into the ground, and squeals as she's pinned. E;lise hears bones pop and snap, but also reminds herself of a Skrull's incredible regenerative powers. She's also shot Skrulls to death before. Furthermore, given how comprehensive this Skrull's knowledge of Silver's memories and personality is, it means Silver is Cradled up somewhere, connected to this Skrull.

    "Stay down." Elise looks around desperately. "Hey, Clay. STRIKE. Come in."

    "Quartermain. Go."

    "So, uh, I have a War Skrull here crushed half to paste," Elise yells. "Can you come...get her?"

    "All other STRIKE personnel are on deployment and I sure as hell don't want to send HAMMER. Stand by." After a few moments, during which the Skrull shrieks and struggles futilely against Elise, Clay comes back on the comm. "Elise, stay where you are. I've got an MI-13 team en route to collect the Skrull."

    "Doesn't this fucking own, though? I just fought a War Skrull. And won!" Elise crows. "I didn't even try!"

    Suddenly, the Wild Pack, Jeremiah, and Bashenga burst out of the club. They see Elise holding a struggling War Skrull against the ground. The Wild Pack draw their guns, and Churchill barks "Skrull!"

    "I got it, I got it. Just keep your guns on this fucker," Elise says.

    One of the other Wild Pack looks around. "Where's Silver? Where is she?"

    "This is Silver," Elise grunts. "She's alive. Silver's alive and safe somewhere. This is just a copycat."

    "You'll all burn!” the War Skrull spits. “The Empire is coming for your filthy world and will cleanse it of you and all the half-breed cross-spawn that inhabit it! Glory to the Empress!"

    "Okay, that's enough, back to shutting up." Elise closes her hand around its throat. "You hearing this, Clay?"

    "...yes." Clay says over the comms. "This means the Dard'van know about Leviathan. That's deeply troubling."

    "I feel like the fact that I just fucked up a War Skrull isn't getting enough notice here."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Jeremiah leans down to the struggling War Skrull. "Can you let her speak for a second? I want to ask something, and you can tell if she's lying."

    Elise nods and lifts the pressure slightly.

    "Is the Countess a Skrull?" Jeremiah asks calmly. It growls.

    Jeremiah sighs. "Listen, you might have realized there's a lot of different groups on this planet. Some are better or worse for your people than others. We're the ones who are not as bad. You want to be in our custody. You keep being useful, you stay in our custody. You're a useless growly shit, then we hand you over to the bad guys."

    "I could hand you over to Doom," Elise muses. "Oooh, I bet he'd be super mad about the whole stealing his kind-of-daughter's skin thing."

    The Skrull looks at her, wide-eyed. "No." It looks back at Jeremiah. "I don't know. If the Countess is a Skrull, she's not one of us. She's one of the filthy cross-breeders that we found here."

    "Oh, man. You must be so mad that I'm rooting all you little fuckers out. You couldn't even take Elise Arnell, the shittiest STRIKE agent!"

    "It doesn't matter," the Skrull grins. "Because Silver knew his secret. You knew. Which means others know. And it's only a matter of time before she knows."

    "What secret?” Elise demands. “Who's ‘she’?"

    "Z'Reg's secret," the alien whispers. "And when the Empress finds out...your world is glass."

    Elise grabs the War Skrull's head and smashes it into the pavement. There's a crunch as it turns into green paste.

    Jeremiah backs up. "Yikes." He blinks at the alien’s body. "Elise I'm sorry I ever called you the stank woman.

    "...and I'm sorry about the Facebook group.

    "...and the memes."

    "You had a GROUP?" Elise is scandalized.

    "I need to stop talking, I'm sorry."

    "Clay, did you hear all of that?"

    There's silence. "...yes."

    "I'm sorry," Elise says.

    "Did you kill her?" Clay asks.

    Elise looks at the paste on the pavement. "Maybe?"

    "Blowtorch the body."

    "Yeah, okay," Elise sighs. "One more thing. I...I'm gonna call Doom. He should know. About Silver."

    "Okay. He'll find her, Elise. He will. He genuinely cares about her. We all do, but he definitely does."

    "Yeah. I know." Elise exhales. "I'll be home soon. Bye, dad."

    "Quartermain out."

    Elise turns to the Wild Pack. "Can you guys handle the blowtorch thing? I gotta call Doctor fuckin' Doom with some bad news."

    Jeremiah nods at Elise. "I'll handle it. A real friend will help you move...a body."

    Elise laughs. "You're alright, Jeremiah, even with your Facebook groups."

    He laughs.

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