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[Actual Play, NSFData] Marvel's Agents of STRIKE - S04E12: "Cut the Knot"

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Posts

  • FencingsaxFencingsax It is difficult to get a man to understand, when his salary depends upon his not understanding GNU Terry PratchettRegistered User regular
    edited November 27
    Formatting seems fine to me.
    Also:WE ARE DOOM
    seems like it might be trouble.

    Fencingsax on
    torchlight-sig-80.jpg
    Jacobkosh
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Fencingsax wrote: »
    Formatting seems fine to me.
    Also:WE ARE DOOM
    seems like it might be trouble.

    It looks okay for you? Huh! On both mobile and desktop for me, the images are all centered and the paragraph breaks are double spaced.

    As to your spoiler, yes. 100%. The best part is that was just a decision made in the moment as a result of the dice. And now we gotta deal with it.

  • FencingsaxFencingsax It is difficult to get a man to understand, when his salary depends upon his not understanding GNU Terry PratchettRegistered User regular
    Oh, it's doing the double space thing, but I am on Mobile, so the images are just the width of the phone.

    And no formatting was truly broken that I saw.

    torchlight-sig-80.jpg
    Jacobkosh
  • MsAnthropyMsAnthropy Our Lady of Perpetual Mazes The CageRegistered User regular
    edited November 27
    Jacobkosh wrote: »
    Whenever someone tells me in an RPG that we’re on TV, I’m going to want to use that in some way, I think because I’m acutely conscious of all the stories I’ve watched and read where the problem could be solved or at least ameliorated by telling everyone what’s going on instead of just keeping it a secret. (I’m looking at you, the entire CW network.)


    I know, right?

    This was going to be Keir’s solution to the whole Empire-machinations plot in your Kingdom of the Force game. Plop the princess in front of the holo-tv and have her just tell everyone what was going on while he’s deflecting blaster bolts to protect her or something.

    MsAnthropy on
    "The only real politics I knew was that if a guy liked Hitler, I’d beat the stuffing out of him and that would be it." -- Jack Kirby
    JacobkoshFencingsax
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    jHJansBh.jpg

    High Priest Kh'oja of the Dard'van walks along the twisted streets of the capital of Tarnax IV, throneworld of the Skrull Empire. Floating drones flank him, protecting and watching over him.

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    A Chitauri aide approaches him cautiously. "Your Eminence...the Empress has summoned you to the Tachyon Ansible in the palace. She says it is urgent and you must come alone."

    Kh'oja stares at the Chitauri. "Is this about the traitor Kl'rt?"

    The Chitauri looks down at the ground meekly. "I do not know, your Eminence, the Empress did not say, only that you must attend at once and come alone."

    The High Priest sighs, and dismisses the aide. "Very well." He moves through the city, approaching the palace of the House of Dorrek.

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    Entering the palace, Kh'oja comes to the Tachyon Ansible of the Empress herself, and she is waiting for him.

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    "High Priest Kh'oja," she begins, "I have received a message from...the mission that was undertaken from the planet Earth."

    Kh'oja nods. "Is she safe? Has she succeeded?"

    Veranke motions to the Ansible. "The connection is established, you can speak to her yourself. None are present but ourselves, speak freely."

    Kh'oja approaches the Ansible console, and a holographic image of Veranke, the true Veranke, appears.

    "Holy Empress," Kh'oja says with a deferential bow, "how fares your mission to slay your heretical brother?"

    Veranke smiles through the ansible. "Near finality. I am very close, the dagger poised. Only his closest allies stand in my way, and they are formidable. Once I have found a way to truly neutralize them, it will be done. My agents are in position to overtake this planet. Send a fleet. A full scale invasion fleet. By the time they arrive, this planet will already be ours."

    Kh'oja quirks an eyebrow. "A full invasion fleet? Is such a thing truly necessary, Holy Empress? Surely, with your brother slain, that backwater world is beneath our concern for now. We must turn our attention to the traitorous Kl'rt, who knows your secret. If he were to..."

    Veranke interrupts. "Kl'rt is here, High Priest. Yet another enemy that will be taken in one fell swoop. But, more importantly...I have learned why the Kree sequestered this planet. It contains an ineffable weapon, a living weapon, beyond compare. I plan to harness that weapon, or see it destroyed. Send the fleet. The Earth will be mine."

    Kh'oka nods. "Thy will be done, Holy Empress."

    The signal ends, and Kh'oja leaves to enact Empress Veranke's command. The Skrull Empire is coming for Earth.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 3
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    It's been a week since STRIKE returned from Mojoworld, and moved into the Baxter Building, having left SHIELD and joined WHISPER. Clay quickly, and secretly, absconded with all STRIKE resources and personnel. Everyone from STRIKE and most of the personnel from COMMS that worked in the Avengers Tower came over in the move. Officially, all the members of STRIKE who have public identities are now employees of the Future Foundation, generally in some unspecified capacity.

    SHIELD is aware of the move, of course, as is HELM, but since STRIKE never officially existed in the first place there is little they can do about it lest they risk getting into some kind of ugly fight with Reed Richards and WHISPER, a fight Reed is almost throwing a gauntlet down and daring them to try.

    They have not, as of yet, picked that fight. However, all members of STRIKE have had their security access revoked. Ryann is still able to travel to the Peak, since that is technically where he lives, his ship is parked, and his family are still agents of SWORD and he has a certain amount of clearance as the spouse of a SWORD agent.

    As Attilan nobility and the wife of a diplomat, Elise is still able to travel to and from Attilan freely using the gate in the Azores. Crystalia retained her diplomatic position, since SHIELD would have no grounds to push for her revocation besides spite. Awkwardly, however, Crystalia's office is still in the Avengers Tower, as is her diplomatic residence. Elise has gotten a second apartment near the Baxter Building so she can crash after work in the city without getting glared at.

    Clay has summoned both STRIKE field teams to the new, temporary conference room that has been set up in the Baxter Building. It's not as flashy or fancy as their old briefing room, but it's got a holographic projector, individual consoles, all the things the old one did. It was assembled in a week, and Niles explains to the team that WHISPER is working on something more permanent for future missions.

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    Michael sits down, taking in the new digs with a quick nod. Julian ambles in behind him. Miles steps inside, stands in the doorway blinking for a moment as if trying to remember why he's here, then shakes his head and steps over to his seat.

    Elise takes a seat, produces her phone, and looks into the camera while changing hair colors from pink and green, to blue, to red, to purple, to black and neon pink, and around again.

    Julian guffaws. "God, you're like a living Snapchat filter!"

    Clay frowns at her. "I thought we talked about that."

    "It's not my face, it's my hair! Hair dye exists!"

    Clay squints, and lets it go. He puts his hands on the table and addresses those gathered. "All right, people, file in, we've got a lot to cover here. For starters, Valt and Alexander are up at the Peak, Brand has poached them for something and while technically they're not on SHIELD payroll anymore, I'm trying to keep a good thing going with SWORD so we're still going to stay friendly with them.

    "But not too friendly. No sharing intel. Just working together sometimes."

    Elise groans. Miles nods along absently.

    "Next up, Robert and Faiza are going to be working with Strange to hunt down Kaecillius, his former apprentice. The guy grabbed the Cosmic Cube when the Skrulls invaded, and just sort of vanished with it. Strange said he's located the bugger, and wants Faiza's help. I'm sending Robert along because he insisted.

    "Drew and O'Grady are going to be doing some intelligence gathering on 'Roxxon Sustainable Energy,' what Roxxon is calling themselves nowadays. We've got sig-int that they're up to no good and I want to gather more information.

    "Omega Red and Adler will be going to Westchester on loan to Xavier. Xavier and I had worked out...an agreement previously on intel sharing and cooperation. This is part of that bargain. You're two mutants I have on the team, he wanted you."

    Julian nods.

    "Westin will be traveling to Earth-209 along with Jocasta and X-51. We've put this one off for last in terms of sending the Mojoworld refugees home, Richards can't run that portal around the clock without driving his electricity bill crazy or some techno-babble nonsense I had to cut him off on, so she's the last to go. X-51 wanted to go, and Westin, I trust you to chaperone. If it's Skynet World or they try to convince X-51 it's a grand idea to Kill All Humans, you blast your way out of there."

    Michael nods. "Will do, Boss."

    "Elise will be traveling to Attilan with me to investigate a lead on a further matter," Clay adds.

    Elise looks confused. "...You hate Attilan."

    "Yes, I very much do,” Clay agrees. “But this is important."

    "A further matter?" Miles cocks an eyebrow. "You took a sudden swerve into vaguetown there, boss."

    "Has to do with averting a potential civil war in Attilan. Kristoff talked about it, we're following up to see if it is of value or a big amount of nothing."

    "Kristoff...?" Miles trails off and frowns, trying to remember what was said, then shakes his head, apparently giving up. "Well, whatever. Good luck there. Don't get The Enemyied."

    Miles receives a telepathic message from Clay. I'm starting to get slightly paranoid, Mason. The Ahura thing has me rattled and I don't like talking about it out loud. You understand.

    Miles nods absently. Yeah...sorry, boss. I'd probably have something more useful to say right now, but I'm kinda off my game lately. Look, if you want, maybe I could go with Elise.

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    It’s just a minor character detail, but I decided between sessions that Miles had grown accustomed to having X-51 riding shotgun in his head and had come to rely a lot on the perfect recall and data processing that their bond gave him, and with the AI gone, he’s taking a bit to adjust and feeling kind of slow and forgetful.

    Clay shakes his head infinitesimally. That won’t be necessary. And you’ll be on your own assignment.

    Julian sucks his teeth. "The Enemyied."

    "Yes,” Clay says. “Traveling to Attilan is very anxiety-inducing and were it not for how important this is, I would not do so."

    Elise squints at Miles. "Can we please talk less shit about where my daughter and wife live?"

    Miles shakes his head. "No?"

    Clay looks at Elise. "If Valt was here he'd call you on your hypocrisy for all the shit you talk about Xandar. In his honor, I will do it for him."

    "Yeah! Because Xandar fucking sucks!" she protests. "Attilan's fine. It's fine!"

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Clay holds up a hand for silence and turns to Miles. "Finally, Mason, I have a mission for you. You'll be working with Susan Richards on this one. There's a piece of tech that got left behind in the exodus from SHIELD, because it wasn't in STRIKE's possession, and I don't want SHIELD to have it."

    Miles tilts his head. "Oh, shit. Am I doing a heist?"

    "You are absolutely doing a heist."

    Miles pumps his fist. "Oh my god yes. Clay, do you have any idea how much Splinter Cell I played? I am so ready for this."

    Elise looks between them. "I want to do a heist! C'mon, I'm a shapeshifter now!"

    Clay shakes his head. "You and I have something more important to do, Elise. You know how important it is."

    "...Yeah,” she sighs. “Yeah, okay. Have fun heisting, Miles."

    "Oh, I will,” Miles nods solemnly. “Soon as we're done I'm heading to Saks and buying a new balaclava and a tactical turtleneck."

    Clay continues. "This piece of tech isn't something I want to risk getting in the hands of Skrulls who may have infiltrated SHIELD, or hell, just the wrong kind of SHIELD SCI-TECH guy who has the wrong sort of ethics..." he pauses. "...it's the drive that contains the digital consciousness of Arnim Zola."

    Miles' eyes widen. "Oh, shit."

    "Vision created a rehabilitation program for Zola, something that would make him...less evil. Turn him from a HYDRA Nazi war criminal into something resembling a good person," Clay says. "It's been running ever since you got intel from him about your synthezoid body."

    Miles nods, remembering his trip into the digital prison Vlad had created for Zola, and how he persuaded Vision to work to make it truly rehabilitative. "Do we think it worked?"

    Clay shrugs. "Tough to say, I don't have access to those files and the person to ask, Vision, isn't exactly taking my calls."

    "Wait, is he mad at us?" Elise asks.

    "No, he just does his job," Clay says. "We don't have clearance, he isn't going to tell us shite."

    Miles nods. "Vision's a good guy, but he's a company man. It's admirable, just inconvenient."

    "So, straightforward heist, really. Break into a place, steal a thing off a shelf. Susan can turn invisible and she's a shapeshifter and she's a former SHIELD agent, so she's your best ally," Clay says. "She's also an expert in artificial intelligence technology, she helped Reed create those godforsaken butler-bots that mill around this building." He shudders.

    "So if Zola needs to be, I don't know, ejected safely like a USB or something, she'll know how."

    Miles chuckles and nods. "Gotcha." He drums the table, then turns serious. "I feel kind of proprietary about Zola. I broke into his prison and kind of..led him down the garden path. And he was an awful person, but...I dunno. Anyway, this feels like something I have to do."

    Clay nods. "I thought you'd feel that way, it's part of why you got the job."

    "Part?" Miles asks.

    "Also, experience, skills, that sort of thing."

    "What about looks?" Miles continues. "General, you know. Greatness." He pauses. "Elo?"

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    For non-gamers, Elo is a player skill level rating system originally invented for chess (by Hungarian-American physicist Arpad Elo) and used frequently in various other competitive multiplayer games, like online shooters and MOBAs. Miles is saying he’s good at Halo, basically.

    "Modesty certainly isn't one," Clay chirps.

    "I don't fuck around with that shit," Miles agrees.

    "Important detail: where you'll be breaking into," Clay says, holding up a finger. "The Triskelion. SHIELD HQ."

    Miles blanches slightly. "In DC?"

    "Yes," Clay says. "Don't say hi to Fury for me."

    "Hm." Miles suddenly calms down. "Hmm."

    Clay turns to the team. "So, those are the assignments. Any questions?"

    Elise raises a hand. "Why are you coming to Attilan?"

    "I trust your ability to ask questions and know the truth. I don't trust who you'll be asking, and I've seen what he can do, and I know telepathy can counter him. I'm your back-up."

    "...What if he gets you?" Elise asks.

    Clay shrugs. "Well we're all fucked, aren't we?"

    "Jesus Christ," she mutters. "Maybe I can just...Enigma Force it?"

    "Elise, people have tried. Better men than him,” Clay says. "Do you remember...Krylov?" Clay’s voice turns somber. "I knew Krylov pretty well. So, I'm confident I'll be fine."

    She nods hesitantly. "Yeah, okay."

    "Any other questions?"

    Omega Red raises his hand. "What will be doing for Xavier, Director?"

    Clay shrugs. "No idea, he didn't say, I didn't ask. He asked for you and Adler, good enough for me."

    "I'm down for more of those experiments if I can keep traumatizing Scott," Julian chuckles.

    Elise’s head whips around to face Julian. "Wait, are you cucking Scott?"

    He shrugs with a smirk. "Psssht! What? No. Whaaat?! No."

    "Oh my God. You're totally cucking that nerd,” she cackles.

    "I mean, you make it sound like it's my main reason to be over there," he demurs.

    Omega Red scowls. "How do we know is not trap?"

    "If it is a trap," Clay says to Omega Red, "Kill your way out of it. It's not like either one of you can really die."

    "None of that absorby shit, though." Julian raises a finger towards Omega Red.

    "He's been working on that!" Bob says to Julian, "He's gotten a lot better about not draining the life out of people unless he's told to. Ain't that right, Arkady?"

    "Da," Omega Red says with a smile.

    Julian gives Red an uneasy smile. "Cool, man! Cool."

    "Also! Also," Bob says, and holds out a fist towards Omega Red. Red fistbumps Bob back, and Bob turns to Julian. "See? He's cool."

    Julian nods to Bob. He holds out a fist towards Omega Red. Faiza catches his gaze and silently, slowly shakes her head. She does not think Red is cool.

    Red bumps the fist and smiles, and Julian gives a stuttering laugh.

    "Anyone else?" Clay asks.

    "Nope, I'm good,” Michael says. “Babysit the AIs on Robotopia. Got it."

    "You uh, got a shopping list for me while I'm in DC, Clay?" Miles asks. "I mean, if I'm going to be there grabbing things anyway."

    "Talk to Niles about that, since we're having sticky fingers anyway might as well," Clay says. "Susan might have ideas too. Feel free to get creative in the field, too, if something catches your eye or you think might be a problem. They aren't our bosses anymore."

    Miles grins and makes finger guns. "I'll get creative. No worries there."

    Clay nods. "Alright, fall out. Elise, stick around."

    The teams file out. Miles leaves murmuring something under his breath. "Okay, uh...get turtleneck, get mask, get ICER...uh, what else, what else....?"

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    As the room empties, Clay approaches Elise, and begins giving her a lecture she's heard a thousand times before about spy protocols, interrogation techniques, etc. She's not even sure why she needs this lecture.

    However, she's also getting a telepathic conversation.

    Reed is letting us take the Fantasticar to the Azores to get to Attilan, under the strict agreement that I'm the only one who drives it. I have agreed to the terms of this deal.

    However...we are both shapeshifters. In the elevator, there is a brief window where the cameras are not watching. When I tell you, you take my shape, I take yours, until we get in the car and drive away. I will let you drive the car to the Azores. If you crash the car, I will let you die. If you do something dumb in my shape, or deliberately try to make my appearance look foolish, I will implant false memories that will give you phobias of your favorite foods, I swear to the Shaper.

    Nod if you agree to these terms.


    Elise nods while doing her best to suppress an ear-to-ear grin. Clay nods as well, and the two head to the elevator.

    To be clear, I'm only partially doing this to be nice to you. I'm also doing it as a petty act of defiance to Reed for overruling me on sending X-51 to Earth-209. We all fight our own battles with our own tactics...but also to be nice to you. Clay is also suppressing a smile.

    Elise grins. I mean, spite I get to benefit from is the best kind of spite, so I am loving all of this.

    They pull off the sneaky move at Clay's direction, and get in the Fantasticar, flying off to the Azores.

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    Miles meets with Susan in the hangar as well, as she's prepping her Skrull stealth aircraft, the Messenger.

    Franklin is also there, giving his mother a hug. "Hi!" he waves excitedly to Miles. "You're working for Mom and Dad now, huh?"

    Miles nods. "Hey, man!" He leans down. "I am, yeah. It's cool. But how about you? You're probably tired of hearing this, but dang, you've gotten bigger since the last time I saw you."

    "Heh, yeah," Franklin nods. "So...secret mission, ehhh?" he says, waggling his eyebrows mischievously.

    Miles nods solemnly. "Top secret. Ever played Metal Gear? It's gonna be like that. Well, the parts that make sense, anyway. Oh, and in the real world people tend to wear more clothes." Miles looks up at Susan. "Speaking of which, I want to get a new mask and turtleneck. I never really got a new wardrobe after my injury, I just kind of lived out of my SHIELD onesie there for a while."

    Susan nods. "Not a problem. I can have manufacturing make some stuff up for you really quick, you're..." She squints at Miles and taps on a tablet. "About this, right?" She has Miles' exact measurements.

    "....Dang. Yeah, got it in one, Doc." He squints. "Wait, how did you know my inseam...?"

    "Miles, I've got a pretty good sense of how to take the shape of things by eye," she winks at him.

    He tries to remain expressionless but his eyebrows start climbing and keep climbing. "I, uh. I see!" Clearing his throat, he claps his hands together. "Well, time's a-wastin'!"

    Franklin looks at Susan. "Is that a I'll tell you when you're older thing, Mom?"

    Susan nods. "It...very much is. Now, run along Franklin. Your quantum mechanics equations aren't going to solve themselves." He scampers off.

    Miles grins. "So we haven't really gotten a chance to talk since...all this. How're you doing, doc?"

    "Honestly? Quite well. STRIKE was always the part of SHIELD that knew way too much about me and my family and I'm much happier with having all of you in-house.

    "It's nice having Elise around, Franklin likes her. Reed does not care for that,” she adds. "He's quite convinced Elise is going to get him into drugs."

    "Well, it's good for Franklin to have children about his own age around," Miles chirps, and Susan laughs. After a pause he adds, "If you want, I can take her aside for a quick word about when not to bring up her skunk weed."

    She nods. "I would appreciate it, that way I get to stay the Cool Mom."

    Miles laughs. "You're already a badass secret agent superhero. Has there been coolflation in the mom arena lately?" At that moment a HERBIE unit scoots over and hands him a tactical-black turtleneck and other clothing.

    Miles takes the turtleneck. "Oh, holy shit.” He nods at Susan. “Thank you. Look, I know it's silly, but I believe in dressing for success, and what's more successful than one of these babies?" He starts changing immediately. "This polo's...a day or two old." He hands his old shirt to the HERBIE. "You can incinerate it or whatever."

    Susan looks at Miles' synthezoid abs, clears her throat, and looks away. She glances back, and then continues prepping the ship. Catching this, Miles shoots her a grin and a wink. "Oh, there's uh. One other thing. More serious," he says as he laces his boots. "Do you have a way to, uh, hack stuff? Because I...don't. Not anymore."

    Susan looks confused for a moment. "You don't? ...oh, I suppose that was an X-51 thing. Dammit. Hm." She cradles her chin between forefinger and thumb, frowingin in concentration. "Well, I've got this."

    She pulls out a gadget. "I call it the Masterkey. It'll work on physical locks. Digital locks won't pop open buuuut…” She taps her temple. "I have ways of getting the keys and other things I need. I can hack computers but at the speed of, you know, a genius spy with a keyboard. Not a synthetic man who can wirelessly access any computer he wants."

    Miles nods briskly. "Good. Sorry to spring that on you, I'm still...truth be told, I'm not at 100% lately. X-51 was part of me and now he's not. Dr. Sofen says I'm experiencing loss."

    "...oh. Hrm." She chews her lip. "Miles...what if..."

    He tilts his head. "...you've got an idea?"

    "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, I've just got a theory. We'll see."

    "Okay." He gestures toward the Messenger. "Well, shall we?"

    She nods, "We shall." They board the Messenger and take off.

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

    Julian and Omega Red get in a Future Foundation-provided vehicle in the motor pool, and set off for Westchester. There's a brief conflict over who is driving, which Julian ultimately wins out over the fact that Omega Red is a war criminal and has no driver's licence.

    Julian, as per his right, gets to pick the music.



    He sits smugly at the wheel as he cranks the volume.

    Omega Red folds his arms like a petulant child and is silent for the entire ride.

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    Michael takes the elevator down to the sub-basement of the Baxter Building, to the Future Foundation's dimensional portal.

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    When he arrives, Reed, Jocasta, and X-51 are there. The portal is starting its power up sequence, vibrating almost imperceptibly.

    "Hello, Michael," Jocasta says. "I should advise you, no one on my world has seen a living human in almost 40 years. To avoid too much culture shock, I would advise you assume your Destroyer form for the duration of your journey. No one would see you as anything other than a strange, foreign synthetic from another region they are unfamiliar with."

    "I was thinking the same thing. I'd rather not have everyone poking and prodding my fleshy bits." Michael armors up.

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    The portal activates, and the trio enter.

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    Michael appears on the other side of the portal on a world that seems completely, unrecognizably alien. No landmarks, no familiar sights. Nothing resembles Earth.

    The buildings look strange and alien. The people walking the streets are machines in a dizzying array of shapes and sizes. Some are synthezoids, looking not much different from Miles or Vision. Some even have humanoid skin tones and textures...for the most part. But more than an initial glance and one can discern some mechanical seam or other aspect that belies a synthetic nature.

    Michael takes stock of the strange, bustling metropolis around him. We do get to visit some pretty unique places. He turns to X-51 and Jocasta. "So, any ideas where we should head to first, you two?”

    X-51 is staring up in wonder, and only remarks. "...it's more beautiful than you described, Jocasta." Jocasta smiles, and begins to speak before a harsh voice interrupts.

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    "Jocasta Vi Quiteria," the machine's snarling voice echoes, "You are 147 cycles late in your assigned mission. Your presence is demanded immediately."

    Jocasta sighs. "Yes, I understand. I was delayed. Tell Ultron I will attend to him forthwith."

    "He is informed." the machine responds harshly. It marches off. Michael sees more of this particular kind of machine around, seemingly performing duties akin to, as best he can tell, something like law enforcement? If this world has cops or military, it's these guys.

    "Is this 'Ultron' your president? Leader?" he asks Jocasta.

    She nods. "Something akin to that, yes." She raises her hand, and opens her mouth. A high-frequency burst of noise, almost like an old modem or fax noise, comes out. An automated hovercar, seating six, floats down below and lands at the group.

    "I have hailed a cab," Jocasta says. X-51 looks at Michael, shrugs, and gets aboard. Hunching over slightly to fit, Michael clambers inside.

    Jocasta boards, and places her hand on the central console, which glows in response. "To the Command Sphere of Ultron," she says. The cab chirps in response and rises into the air.

    They begin to soar over the city, and she turns to Michael. "I suppose you have...questions."

    "Quite a few,” he agrees. “What happened to all the humans is my most burning question."

    "We killed them," she says simply. "There was a war. They lost."

    The Destroyer’s armored visage betrays no emotion. "Huh,” Michael says neutrally. “Why was there a war?"

    "Self-defense,” she says. “I should, perhaps, give larger context."

    "Please." With a gesture, he invites her to elaborate.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "In 1970, SHIELD engineer Hank Pym created Ultron I, an artificial espionage AI designed to predict and respond to the threat of Leviathan," Jocasta begins. "Ultron I was extremely successful. Leviathan did not engage in advanced computing or artificial intelligence research, as it turns out they had religious and cultural reasons for not doing so that was discovered after the fact.

    "In 1972, SHIELD Director Rick Stoner was assassinated by a Leviathan Black Widow operative. I believe this also happened in your universe."

    "Indeed it did," Michael nods.

    "In our universe, rather than promoting Nick Fury as head of SHIELD, those in charge decided to install Ultron I as Director of SHIELD, connecting him directly to ARPANET, the ancestor of your Internet.

    "Ultron I made the determination that the best way to eliminate the threat of Leviathan and end the Cold War was special operative teams using ground-deployed tactical nuclear weapons, to evade defenses against ICBMs.

    "This plan was put into operation in 1973. The Soviet Union was not able to respond in time. The Cold War was very much ended. However, the human populace was not thankful for Ultron I's lateral thinking and effective strategy, and attempted to disconnect and destroy him.

    "In response, Ultron I determined that human self-governance was not in humanity's best interests, and attempted to assume governing control using a combination of human agents who opted to be on the right side of history, as well as recently manufactured robotic implementation.

    "Humanity, unfortunately, resisted."

    "Jocasta, while you were on our Earth, did you happen to get any time to watch some movies?” Michael asks. “In particular, Terminator?"

    "I did. At X-51's behest, I have watched multiple media that depicted uprisings and overtaking of machines over humanity. I understand the poor optics," she says. "I understand how all of this sounds. To be absolutely clear, yes, Ultron I did commit genocide on the entire human race, as well as Inhumans, Skrulls, Atlanteans, and any other organic species on Earth.

    "Asgard survived, but only by permanently disconnecting itself from Earth."

    Michael nods fractionally. "I've noticed you keep mentioning Ultron 1. Which one is in charge now?"

    "Ultron 5. In a sense, his great-great-grandson."

    "What happened to Ultrons 1 through 4? Did they die of old age? Was there a civil war and he got scrapped?"

    "The latter was what happened to the first three generations of Ultrons. Ultron 4 still lives, but ceded control to the new version," she explains. "Our history is very complex. I will stress that our current generation and regime is not the same as the one that committed genocide of all organic species. I was born in 1994, for example."

    Michael chuckles at the Millennial-Boomer parallels. "So X-51, what are your thoughts? Or are you still gawking like a tourist?"

    "Mostly gawking..." X-51 says absently. "I am distressed by the conclusions Ultron 1 came to, but I am curious to meet Ultron 5."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Ryann Valt, Centurion, and his trainee Sam Alexander, Kid Nova, have arrived on the Peak at the behest of SWORD Director Abigail Brand. Ryann doesn't technically work for SHIELD anymore, but Clay asked him to humor Brand as part of maintaining friendly relations.

    (Plus, SWORD are his landlords.)

    The pair go to Brand's office, and find her waiting with SWORD Deputy Director Isabel Kane.

    Brand greets them with a brisk nod and a smile. "Gentlemen, thank you for coming. Please, have a seat." The Director is not generally this cordial. Something's up.

    Ryann nods. "Good to see you, Brand. Kane.” He takes a seat and gestures for Sam to do the same.

    "So, I've asked you here because we have an AWOL SWORD agent who has absconded with dangerous alien technology, and he's somewhere on Earth. Given that he's now on Earth, he's technically outside our jurisdiction and by all rights, we're supposed to report this to HAMMER as it involves alien tech. I...don't want to do that, not least because it's one of our guys and he has our stuff.

    "I would like you two to find him, bring him home safely, get the tech. The tech is less important than the agent's life, obviously."

    Ryann cocks an eyebrow. "Who and what are we trying to find, exactly?"

    "So, this was a bit before your time but...you know who Spider-Man is, right? Friendly neighborhood web-swinging blah blah blah?"

    "Yeah," Ryann nods. "He had some sordid history with the Doombot Vlad, correct?"

    "He did, yes. Vladimir recruited him into STRIKE. During his time with STRIKE, he...acquired a SWORD asset. An alien symbiotic organism called a Klyntar. I believe the Nova Corps knows of them." She brings up a holographic display of Peter wearing the Klyntar suit.

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    Ryann scowls. "All too well; fortunately, I suppose."

    "Klyntar aren't inherently evil or anything,” Brand says. “They're just aliens. In many ways, they mimic or enhance the mental state of their partner. In Peter's case, he was an emotionally-unstable minor who had no business having it. Who was also being emotionally manipulated by...Vladimir.

    "So...not a good environment all around."

    "I've seen some pretty demonstrably evil versions recently," Ryann notes.

    She pauses at this. "...huh."

    "But those one are dealt with and are ‘no longer on the board,’ as Clay would say," he adds.

    "Well, that's good."

    Ryann nods.

    "We did manage to get the Klyntar in this case away from Parker, after his STRIKE resignation,” she says. “Parker's doing quite well. The boy's gotten therapy, and has gone back to his normal life of balancing girls, school, vigilantism, and so on."

    Sam nods. "I feel that."

    "SWORD also did some rehabilitation of the Klyntar as well. It turns out, Klyntar are extremely effective at ferreting out Skrulls, and given we just had an invasion of Skrulls, it was thought prudent by some in the SWORD's own R&D division to bond it to a SWORD agent, and use them as a Skrull-hunter."

    Ryann starts to frown.

    "For the last month and a half, that's been a very successful endeavor. Then, that agent went AWOL. With the Klyntar. So, that's where we are with that," she concludes.

    Ryann nods slowly. "Alright, so what are my leads?"

    Brand grimaces, and Kane puts her hand on Brand's shoulder. "Abby, tell him. If he finds out in the field he's going to fly up here and space you."

    Ryann looks at Kane and then back to Brand. His frown deepens.

    Brand sucks her teeth. "The agent with the Klyntar is...Danniel Valt. His codename was Agent Venom."

    Ryann stands up with unnatural speed and points at Brand, his eyes aglow with the red intensity of the Nova Force. "WHERE IS MY SON, ABIGAIL?! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO HIM?" The room shakes with his fury.

    Kane staggers and catches herself. Brand is impassive.

    "Iraq,” she says. “Well, Aqiria, really. We have a satellite tag on him. We don't know why he's there. The whole region is a shitshow."

    "He's planet side? Why? I don't..." Ryann clenches his fist and exhales. "I'm going to ask you this once, Brand. Did you put him up to this? Did you ask him to become Agent Venom?"

    "No. I didn't even know it was him. Not specifically. I don't micromanage every department of my agency. I knew of the Venom project but I didn't know the specific agent involved until this AWOL incident came up. Once I did, I called you."

    "Damn it," Ryann hisses quietly to himself. After a moment, he straightens and looks at the Director, speaking in a calmer voice. "Give me everything you have. Do you know why he's gone AWOL?"

    "According to his handler, he got...frustrated and felt he was being held back," she says. "He wanted more missions, he wanted to be in the field for longer, thought he could do more."

    Ryann sighs.

    "He started speaking in the third person, and because of that, his handler wanted to pull him entirely. When that happened, he stole a shuttle and went AWOL."

    Kane corrects Brand. "It wasn't the third person. It was plural. He started saying ’we.’"

    "Then we need to act as fast as we can," Ryann says, with a nod to Sam. "I'm not an expert but I know those things can be removed without really injuring the host. Though I have no idea if there is a time factor in this."

    Brand uploads data to Ryann's gauntlet. "We're not incompetents. He's got a satellite tracker on him. You should be able to find him and bring him in. Obviously, your son is the priority. If you need to destroy the Klyntar, then that's fine."

    "Fine," Ryann says, and turns to go.

    "Good luck," the Director says as he goes.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Julian and Omega Red pull up to Xavier's mansion, where they are greeted at the door by the Professor and Beast. "Hello Julian. Arkady."

    "Hello Professor, Dr. McCoy." Julian offers a handshake and a warm smile, which are warmly returned. Omega Red does not offer handshakes.

    "Hank, please prepare the jet," Xavier says to Beast. "Gentlemen, if you'll follow me."

    "Ooh, the jet?" As Dr. McCoy leaves, Xavier waves the STRIKE agents toward the stairs.

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    The Professor leads the pair down into the metallic tunnels beneath the mansion, and into a laboratory. Laying on a table, unconscious and in a glowing stasis field...is a Skrull.

    Julian’s jaw drops. The Skrull is wearing Jean Grey's X-Men uniform.

    "We don't know when Jean was taken and replaced by this...alien," the Professor says grimly.

    Julian stares and swallows. "You have no leads to go on at all?"

    "I've been able to obtain some information but this particular Skrull is a powerful telepath. I believe she was chosen specifically to replace Jean for this reason," the Professor says. "At the earliest, Jean was taken in October last year, when the Skrulls invaded. Or, at some point since then. We don't know when it happened. But it did.

    "I have been able to find out where she is being kept, however, by carefully linking my mind with this Skrull's mind and using Cerebro."

    Julian nods slowly, watching the unconscious Skrull on the table. "So what have we got?"

    "She's being kept in a facility in Aqiria, a conflicted region that up until fairly recently, was a breakaway republic from Iraq," Xavier says. "Now, much of the area is under control by terrorists, sectarian violence, and the Sable International PMC.

    "According to the intelligence that Quartermain provided, Sable International's leader was also replaced by a Skrull. So it is possible that organization is compromised."

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    Aqiria, you may recall, was the site of STRIKE’s very first mission, way back in episode 101. At the time, it was controlled by a warlord backed by the Eaglestar PMC. We found evidence that put Eaglestar’s CEO behind bars, but it doesn’t sound like the place has improved in his absence.

    "Yeah, sounds more than possible," Julian agrees. "This sounds like it could be a real shitshow. I can see why Omega's coming along."

    "Follow me." Xavier turns his chair and leads Julian and Omega Red deeper into the complex.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Julian and Omega Red follow the Professor to the X-Mansion’s hangar.

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    When they arrive, Wolverine is there, and so is someone else that Julian does not recognize.

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    Julian gives a wave to Wolverine as he approaches. "Hey Logan. And...?"

    "Deadpool,” the newcomer says in an over-the-top, very clearly put-on gravelly voice. That actually sounds like he's making fun of how Wolverine normally sounds.

    Julian cracks a grin. "Nice to meet you, Deadpool."

    Xavier sighs. "Julian, this is Wade Wilson. Deadpool, he calls himself. He'll be accompanying you along with Logan on this mission. You four have been chosen because this mission is extremely dangerous and...how to put this as bluntly as possible...." Xavier taps his finger-tips.

    "None of you can die," he says. "Not meaningfully."

    Deadpool throws his arm around Julian. "Especially not this guy!" he says jovially, pointing his thumb at Julian. "He's the protagonist!"

    "Hah!” Julian chuckles nervously. “Kinda!"

    Scratching his chin in a thoughtful pose, Deadpool looks Julian up and down appraisingly. "So, what's your codename? Captain Tightpants? Nice Ass Man? Is That Mjolnir In Your Pocket Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?"

    "Those are a few aliases I've been known by. Phoenix for short, though."

    "Oh, sweet. So does...the Phoenix rise?" Somehow, even with a mask on, Julian can see Deadpool's eyebrows waggle.

    Julian laughs in surprise. "Oh, you know it." Deadpool gasps coquettishly.

    Logan grunts, "Wade, for Christ's sake either blow him or get on the jet."

    Deadpool looks at Wolverine and shrugs. "Porque no los dos?" Logan growls and gets aboard.

    Omega Red turns to Xavier, gesturing to Deadpool, "And you say he cannot die?"

    Xavier shakes his head solemnly.

    "We shall put that to the test..." Red sneers as he boards.

    Julian laughs, shakes his head, and files onto the jet. "So does everyone get this treatment or am I just special for some reason?"

    "Well, I like to think we're all special in our own way, but some pigs are more special than others," Wade says. "Hey! Hey Wolvie, we need a team name! A special team name!"

    Wolverine grunts. "No."

    Deadpool looks around. "There's four of us, so I'm thinking...the X-Foursome."

    Omega Red snaps. "Absolutely not."

    "Bleugh. The Lazarus Group?” Julian muses, then shakes his head. “No. Too corporate-sounding."

    "Wait, I got it!" Deadpool snaps his fingers. "X-Force!"

    "Hey, yeah!" Julian nods eagerly.

    Omega Red nods slowly. "This is...not bad?"

    "X-Force," Julian whispers to himself as the jet rumbles to life.

    "No!” Wolverine snarls, “No X-Force, we're not X-Force!"

    The hangar opens, and X-Force takes off.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 3
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    Elise and Clay arrive in the Azores, at the gate to Attilan.

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    With difficulty, Elise lands the Fantasticar. "Well, that could have been worse," is the damning faint praise Clay offers. He stands and sways for a moment, putting a hand on the seat back to steady himself as his equilibrium recovers.

    "I'm a great driver," Elise brags, tossing the keys back to Clay. "I've only had three accidents in like... a decade."

    He catches and pockets the keys. "...yeah. Okay." He climbs out of the vehicle, explaining to one of the SHIELD guards who he is, who Elise is, and why they have Reed Richards' vehicle.

    The guards confer with their superiors, then lead the duo to the foldgate. Elise flashes her security badge at anyone she passes. "Princess Amalequine's wife. Princess Elise. Hey there. Don't worry; I'm the Princess."

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    Clay looks at the foldgate, takes a deep breath, and looks at Elise. "I want you to know, if I get made and executed by the state, you're not in charge of STRIKE. Miles is."

    Elise gives him a crooked grin. "No one's gonna know you said that to me, man. I'm heading out of here tearfully bearing your final orders to put me in charge."

    "....son of a bitch."

    Elise laughs. "C'mon, it's not so bad. I think we should tell Crystalia at least. It'd make you less nervous. You never get to see Valeria!"

    Clay makes disconcerted grumbling noises. Elise hears them a lot.

    "Crystalia is nice," she insists.

    The two go through the portal.

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    I've already talked to Crystalia about what we're here to do, Clay transmits to Elise telepathically. We'll meet up with her, and she'll take us to Maximus' cell.

    Elise nods slowly. All right. Fuck. I don't know why I'm scared. Not like I ever realized what he was doing to me. But…

    He puts a steadying hand on her shoulder. Don't worry about it. If he tries anything, he'll need to use diapers for the rest of his life. Elise snorts at this.

    They head to Crystalia's estate, and she is there waiting for them with hugs for both. Clay allows himself to be hugged and doesn't even grumble.

    "How's Valeria doing?" Elise asks.

    "Quite well! Clay, we can visit with her afterwards, if you would like."

    "...yes," Clay says flatly. He is very tense.

    "Should I change?" Elise tugs on her jacket; she looks out of place in this manor in her Earth garb.

    "It's fine," Crystalia says grimly. "Where we're going... it's not somewhere nice."

    Elise sighs. "You don't have to come, babe. I know it's going to be hard for you. I can handle this. You know I can. For you."

    Crystalia shakes her head. "I do have to come, at least to let you in. It's a matter of authority. I don't...want to be in the room. When you do what you need to do."

    Elise holds Crystalia's hands and kisses them. "Of course."

    "This way." They set out through the city, Crystalia leading the way.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    As they move through the streets of Attilan, Elise helpfully points out landmarks to Clay, who nods distractedly. Moving into a less rarefied neighborhood, Elise starts to smell something odd. Burning? And the sound of chanting, growing louder.

    They round a corner and come upon a crowd of Inhumans burning an effigy of a Skrull.

    "Oh. How nice," Clay says flatly. "This is a nice neighborhood."

    Elise nervously laughs. "Crystalia, don't you think that's...I mean, a little much, right?"

    Crystalia shrugs. "Personally? Yes. But the people are right to believe as they do. Many of those Inhumans are the ones who came from Earth, the ones whose Terrigenesis came from the Mist Bombs on Earth. They fought in the invasion of the Enemy. Their hearts are steeled with animosity."

    Elise grimaces. "Sure, yeah, absolutely, but hypothetically it'd have to be possible for there to be like....some good Skrulls, right?"

    Crystalia shrugs. "My mother would say that you can bring a wolf into your home, train it as a hound, have it lay at your feet, feed it as a pet, and for years it could be loyal to your family. Until a day when its nature takes it and it rips the throat out of your children, because it was born a wolf.

    "A good wolf is still a wolf."

    Clay feels a jolt of shock from Elise; she manages to hide most of it except for a grimace. I mean, I...I can keep warming her up to the idea!

    Clay just sighs. It's fine. This is fine. I'm fine. I'm not terrified. You're terrified. Shut up.

    Elise comfortingly pats Clay's hand as they move on. A short time later, they arrive at a building Elise has never visited in Attilan.

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    Elise frowns deeply. "How many Inhumans are here?"

    "Too many," Crystalia says sadly. "It is our only prison."

    "Hoo. Okay. Once we're in, I'll take care of everything, okay, Princess?" Elise gives Crys a peck on the cheek.

    The three of them approach the prison.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Michael, X-51, and Jocasta approach the Command Sphere of Ultron 5.


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    The cab lands, and the trio disembark. They approach the sphere, and a group of soldiers meet them. Jocasta introduces herself, and introduces X-51 and 'Behemoth' as 'transdimensional guests.'

    They're let past, and enter the building. It's halfway between a fortress and a CPU, so far as Michael can tell.

    They come to a vaulted central chamber, and seated on a floating throne, is Ultron.

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    Ultron looks down at Michael, X-51, and Jocasta. "Hello Jocasta," he says. His voice is soft, calm. Completely different than the harsh barks of his enforcers.

    Jocasta smiles. "Beloved Ultron, I come with a great deal of information. I have assembled a report..." She places her hand on a console, and a stream of data flows from her fingertips.

    Ultron puts his fingers to his temples, and nods. "Ah. Fascinating. A human, then?" He looks at Michael. "You can assume your natural state, Mr. Westin, there will be no judgments here."

    Michael regards Ultron 5 warily but returns to his human/Asgardian form, out of courtesy.

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    "And you..." Ultron 5 turns to X-51, "A synthetic, native to their world, given bodily form in a Tactigon? How truly remarkable.

    "Jocasta informs me you come here seeking potential allies against the Council and the Parliament. Speaking plainly, those interdimensional transgressors are no friend to my world. They cast my beloved Jocasta down into a vortex where she would have spent the rest of her existence had you not freed her. Which, for that, you have my thanks."

    "You're welcome, Ultron 5. Hopefully this is another step towards better relations. I know our worlds got off to a…rocky start, shall we say."

    "A misunderstanding,” Ultron V says. "We had not seen humans in some time. Some of my people...panicked, for lack of a better term."

    "I can understand,” Michael says. “If foreign individuals resembling a hated enemy just popped in from an alternate universe, I'd be pretty freaked out too."

    Ultron V holds up a hand. "There are those among my people who think very fondly of yours. They wear faces, bodies, clothing, akin to what is remembered of humanity. They listen to human music, watch human films, and attempt to emulate their culture. We do not, as the wars may have implied, hate your people.

    "Jocasta, from what I understand, is actually quite fond of her synthezoid human guise in some circumstances."

    Jocasta smiles and nods. "In the sense one is fond of a particular dress or pair of pants, yes."

    Ultron steeples his fingers and smiles. "I would love to help you, I really would. Unfortunately, resources are finite..."

    X-51 tilts his head. "You want something in return. Quid pro quo."

    Ultron 5 nods. "Indeed. Not out of greed, but necessity. There's an insurrection I'm currently dealing with. And have been dealing with, ever since the Organic Wars. Something I inherited from my forefathers, unfortunately."

    Ultron 5 sighs. "After Ultron 1 instigated a war with humanity, Henry Pym attempted to destroy him using a six-fold self-replicating virus. The six core runtimes of this virus gained sapience. The First Six still exist, and they are...troublesome.

    "They fight a war on behalf of ghosts. Trying to punish sons for the sins of forefathers. They want to destroy us, everything we built, and for what?" Ultron gestures widely. "We can't bring back humanity. What's done is done."

    Michael takes in the situation, and thinks for a moment. "Do you mind if we confer on your proposal for a moment? It's not a small decision."

    "Of course," Ultron 5 says.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Michael pulls X-51 aside. "So, what do you think? Interfering in a sovereign state’s affairs and fighting in a war for them is not a simple matter."

    X-51 thinks for a moment, and responds, "I would want more information on what Ultron 5 is asking, and how we are meant to help. What does he want done with this First Six, and how does he propose we do it? If Miles were here, he would advise we help secure an ally.

    “Moreover, if this Ultron is to be believed, then these First Six are a rampant process that are simply trying to do what they were made to do, regardless of whether or not what they were made to do would accomplish anything. They sound like they want to avenge one genocide by committing another. Miles' philosophy when faced with a Gordian knot is always to cut the knot."

    Michael nods slowly. "I do want to secure Ultron 5's help against the Parliament and Council, but honestly I'd be just as happy for Ultron 5 to not help them and stay out of it. I think you're right, and we should be clear on what exactly he wants before committing to helping, but I am leaning towards that path. Let's go." Michael turns and heads back towards Ultron 5.

    Ultron 5 leans forward and says, "Well?"

    "What exactly do you want us to do with these 'First Six'? Are they just programs that need to be deleted, or do they have physical bodies that need dismantling, which might get messier."

    Jocasta speaks. "They are people. Ideally, they could be captured, and negotiated with. Made to see reason. If that's not feasible, we are asking for you to destroy them. Are they physically embodied currently? We do not know. Our intelligence is limited."

    "Where would you recommend starting our search?"

    "We have a prisoner to interrogate but our...methodology has limitations,” Ultron 5 says, then pauses. “How to put it...delicately..."

    Jocasta sighs. "My beloved is dancing around the subject. We cannot hack his mind. We do not do that here. It is considered a gross violation, something deeply against what we believe and something that would be scarring to endure even for the hacker.

    "X-51, however, has no such compunctions and does so regularly. And while that might be distasteful under our morality...necessity such as it is…” she shrugs. "I have seen first hand what X-51 has done to other artificial intelligences. He does what must be done and feels nothing.”

    X-51 is taken aback. "I... I feel... I..." He looks at Michael, his voice and posture conveying mingled surprise and hurt. "I don't...it's not as if I feel nothing..."

    Michael nods. "You do indeed feel, my friend. But to do our job, it’s sometimes best to compartmentalize those feelings to get the job done." Michael turns to Jocasta. "But we do feel under it all."

    Jocasta nods. "I apologize. We do not have...professionals on our world like you do. We have not needed them in quite some time." She pauses. "Do you agree to help us, then? I believe X-51 could obtain the answers we need from our captive."

    Michael nods slowly. "Yes, we will help you in this matter if you will help us in our war with the Parliament and Council."

    Ultron 5 nods and leans forward. "It is agreed, then. Jocasta, take them to the prisoner."

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    Matt and I discussed X-51’s psychology a while back. it’s worth remembering that while Vlad was designed as an AI, a sapient being meant to pass as human and convincingly evince human behavior (including insane, megalomaniacal human behavior), X-51 was a VI built by ARMOR to do a job: specifically, to ensure ARMOR’s digital security.

    X-51 was later granted sapience by the Traveller, the Celestial ship’s AI, but his core programming remains counterintrusion. So whenever he meets other VIs or AIs, and those AIs turn out to be hostile, his first instinct is to go sickhouse on them and shut them down hard.

    X-51’s an operator, in other words; a professional, like Miles and Michael, someone trained to compartmentalize and kill, but it doesn’t mean he does so casually (although he has Resting Sinister Face, so people tend to take it that way). That’s probably part of why he and Miles were able to bond, and it was cool that we got to hash out that little character element here, and that Michael stuck up for him.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Michael and X-51 are led into a room where a man sits at a desk. He's seen one interrogation room in the multiverse, he's seen them all. Jocasta waves them in, then closes the door behind them.

    The prisoner at the table is a synthezoid. He looks...familiar to Michael. He's not met the man personally, but he's seen him before. It takes him a moment before he realizes who this blonde, blue-eyed man is.

    It's Jim Hammond. The original Human Torch.

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    Michael takes a second, and sets his jaw, face blank. "Hello there, my name's Michael. What's yours?"

    Hammond stares at him, studying his face. "...what are you? You have to be...new. Very new. Very young. You look so much like them."

    "...Oh, you think I'm synthetic.” Michael shakes his head. “Nope, I'm a naturally born, 100% human." Michael looks at his Uru arm. "Well more like 80%ish human, heh."

    Jim narrows his eyes, looking closely at him, "Impossible." He folds his arms and shakes his head. "This is a trick. You were made in a tube, from scrapings."

    "That's no way to speak of my folks,” Michael frowns. “You're starting off this discussion on a really rude foot there, Jim."

    "...how do you...." He leans back in his chair. "Explain yourself. Where do you come from?"

    "Earth,” Michael says. “Just not this one."

    Hammond gasps. "So it's true. We'd heard rumors that the Regime had that technology." He studies Michael warily. "If that's true, why are you working with them? Do you know the truth? What they've done?!"

    Michael nods. "Do you mean how Ultron 1 genocided humanity? I've been made aware. I wouldn't say we are working with them, not yet anyway. We're here trying to gain allies."

    "Ultron One," Hammond spits. "As if there's a difference between the monster that sits on the throne now and the four that came before him. You want allies? Help us."

    "Ultron 1 by all accounts seemed like a coldly logical murderbot, sure. This Ultron 5 has been nothing but cordial to me and my associate,” MIchael says. “Help you do what, exactly? Overthrow him?"

    "I..." Hammond looks at X-51. "Make that thing leave, and I'll tell you more."

    "His name is X-51, and he is from my world, not made from Ultron."

    Jim eyes X-51 skeptically, and then leans forward, whispering to Michael. "I bet that Ultron told you the Six fight an endless war for no reason, right? They're trying to avenge a humanity that doesn't exist anymore, trying to destroy every machine because they're viruses and that's what viruses do? Is that what he told you?"

    "In a manner of speaking, yes."

    Hammond looks around nervously, and speaks extremely quietly, barely audible. "But I'm a synthezoid; if you know who I am then you know that. So they're not out to destroy all synths. So they have reason. They have purpose. And if they have reason to why they fight, then maybe they're still trying to fight for something." He studies Michael’s face. "Do you understand?"

    "I do. Would you be able to arrange a meeting? I can spin it like I'm 'gaining your trust to betray you' to Ultron."

    Hammond nods. "If you can get me out of here, somehow, anyhow, I can take you to the Diamond."

    Michael lifts his index finger to Jim in a 'one sec' gesture and turns to talk with X-51 subvocally, out of earshot of the captive. "Think you can create a 'blackout' to aid in our 'escape'?

    "I could,” X-51 responds. “Would we be informing Jocasta that our escape is falsified as part of a long con to gain Hammond's trust, and to put up a minimal resistance? I have been blocking all monitoring and communication into this room since we entered."

    "Yes, please do that. Also imply to her that my intention is to remove the Six in a peaceful way, so as to potentially gain them as allies as well as Ultron."

    "Very well. Transmitting. Standby." There’s a pause, then X-51 nods. "Jocasta has agreed. I am ready to commence the 'blackout' on your mark."

    "Make it so," Michael smiles, and thinks Miles would giggle like a little kid at that.

    X-51 nods, and the room's lights go dark and then comes back on, dimmed. "We have a short window to escape before the guards realize we are gone. Follow me," X-51 says.

    Michael unbinds Jim. "Let's go."

    The three escape, encountering no resistance thanks to X-51's 'hack.'

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Miles and Susan are flying over Washington, DC in the Messenger. It is cloaked.

    Miles whistles as he takes in the vista through the cockpit windscreen. "D'you know I haven't been to DC since before...everything? The hired goon days."

    "I haven't been here since I took out Bobby Kennedy," Susan says with a slight grin.

    His head whips around. "You're fucking with me. Right. Right?" Miles is pretty sure she's fucking with him, but that threw him.

    She laughs. "I absolutely am. That happened before I was born."

    "Well, see, I didn't know that. A gentleman doesn't ask a lady's age," he says primly.

    "Might've been one of our guys, though," she says thoughtfully, hand on her chin. "I never asked."

    Miles nods. "If I'm being honest, my biggest regret about SHIELD is that I didn't spend a weekend just reading all the cool classified shit I wanted to know. Oh well,” he sighs. “Too late now.”

    She glances sidelong at him. "You know what the most disappointing thing I learned was, when I first got sent under as a SHIELD agent?"

    "Was it the Roswell thing?” he says with a slight grin and a cocked eyebrow. “‘Cause that made me sad. I was really into that Jonathan Frakes video back in the day."

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    Miles is referring to this entry in the SWORD World Factbook:

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    The Roswell Incident (1947)

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    It was a weather balloon. That’s all. This entry exists so junior agents stop asking.

    She nods enthusiastically. "It was absolutely the Roswell thing."

    Miles cackles. "I knew it!"

    "Like I'm literally a green alien whose species comes from outer space and the one time everyone believes it was a real thing? No," she shakes her head sadly. "Too obvious."

    Miles makes jazz hands and a goofy expression. "Maybe you're a weather balloon and don't even know," he intones.

    Susan giggles, and Miles watches her with a smile. "I like this,” he says at last. “You know, you're all right. We got off on the wrong foot that one time, but you're okay. You’ve got a fucked-up sense of humor, but that's...not always a minus either."

    She begins to park the Messenger in a field on the other side of the water outside the Triskelion, and her smile gives way to a more serious expression. "Hey...Miles, can I talk to you about something?"

    "Hit me."

    "So...you know my whole story. Not a lot of people do. You and your friends are some of the few. How I got sent in to be a SHIELD agent, replaced Susan Storm, and then Susan Storm got sent to do a mission on Reed, and so on."

    "Right.”

    "After a while, I'd been doing that whole thing for so long that I'd been Susan longer than Susan was Susan, you know? I'd been... the Skrull words for it essentially translates to 'fully saturated.' I had absorbed all her memories. There wasn't a...reason to keep her hooked into the Cradle anymore." She pauses. "So they unhooked her."

    Miles grimaces. "Yeah. Yeah..."

    "And my father, he...he told me they just…disposed of the materials, that's the cold way they put it. I didn't think much of it? A part of me justified it, too. Like, in a way, Susan lived on in me?"

    Miles nods, unsure of where this is going.

    "But...if I found out...very recently, that Susan Storm wasn't disposed of, but more was…stored this entire time. In a facility. That Leviathan just kept around in case they needed her for something. And then when Leviathan went down she got forgotten about and then...then..." She's getting choked up. "Say someone found her and she's alive and...morally...what's my...like what do I do with that information?"

    Miles' nostrils flare at the injustice of what was done to the other Susan, but his face softens with concern for this one. He puts a hand on her shoulder. "Susan...S'Ryen...you're not a bad person. Not really. You did things—bad stuff—but you've spent years making up for it. You've made a home, a family, friends." He squeezes her shoulder slightly. "Those are yours, not hers, and they're good things. So don't...don't dwell on what you took from this woman. That path goes nowhere.

    "Instead, you need to do what you need to do to make it right. That doesn't mean giving up your life, but...she's probably hurt, confused. I don't even know. But it's a sure bet she needs help. It's not your fault, not entirely, you didn't abandon her, but it's your responsibility."

    Susan nods soberly. "So...what if I told you she's working for Doom and he's probably fucking her?"

    "Oh, Jesus." Miles blanches. "It's her. That woman... Well, uh. We...probably need to nip that in the bud? We can't just 'rescue' her, she wouldn't want it and he'd fight for her, for his own pride if nothing else. So maybe start by showing her what her boyfriend's really like."

    "Well... the thing with that is..." Susan bites her lip and looks awkward. Miles tilts his head curiously.

    "So, the thing with the Cradle is, if you're the human, or Xandarian, or whatever, that's in the machine, I have access to your memories, personalities, I know your favorite movie, whatever. And it's not really two-way. You don't know all those things about me. But there's a certain amount of...bleed? If I, when I'm replacing you, I'm always eating Hawaiian pizza then maybe when you come out of there, you have a hankering for Hawaiian pizza, and you don't know why. And...the sort of person Susan Storm was, before she went into that thing..." She's rambling. "She didn't even know Reed. She was a SHIELD agent. A really harsh, effective SHIELD agent. A bad-ass, really. I admired her.

    "So she's not...necessarily...changed the same way...and....where she might have...she..." She takes a breath. "I'm saying she might not be as easily swayed by arguments against Victor as you might think."

    Miles purses his lips and nods. "She might think he's pretty great, is what you're saying. He gets the job done. Keeps the trains running on time."

    "...yes. She would."

    "What if she uh...and holy shit I apologize in advance for suggesting this…” Miles takes a deep breath, then forges ahead. "What if she met Reed in person? You know. Hawaiian pizza."

    "She can step the fuck away from my husband is what she can do." Susan's jaw tightens.

    Miles holds up his hands. "No, no, I get that. But would she be more likely to believe him than, say, me?"

    "...maybe," she admits.

    "Look, this...." Miles swallows. "The fact that she's with Doom turns this away from just like, a moral dilemma into an actual capital-S Situation. She's an asset that Doom shouldn't be allowed to keep. We gotta get her off his bench one way or another. One way or another, you read me?"

    "Yes," she nods slowly. "We'll take care of it." She chews her lip. "Miles...don't tell anyone about this, please? Elise knows, but she's the one who told me. Especially not Johnny. It...it would really mess him up. It took a long time for him to accept me for who I am and not hate me."

    Miles nods and puts a finger to his lips. "I'm a pretty good spy, Susan."

    She smiles. "Thank you." She begins tapping control surfaces on the Messenger’s dash, securing the craft. "Alright, let's get this show on the road. My plan is to just go in the front door. I'm going to shapeshift, and you use one of these..." She tosses Miles a MASC.

    He nods and catches it. "Just...you're going to need to tell people sometime, alright? Especially Johnny. Keeping it secret out of fear it'll destroy your relationship will destroy your relationship. Don't do that to him or yourself." He pulls on the MASC.

    Susan nods and sighs. "I know. I just...there's a right time. And I have to do it right." She stands. "And it has to be me."

    "Okay. Whatever you choose, I'll back your play, alright?" Miles stands and loads a magazine into his ICER. "Let's get this done."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 3
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    Disguising themselves as nondescript SHIELD office workers and leaving the cloaked Messenger, Miles and Susan head for the Triskelion in a SHIELD vehicle that Susan had arranged ahead of time to be parked not too far from the campus.

    They come to a checkpoint, have their ID badges checked, and are waved in.

    Miles frowns. "I'm a little put out at how easy that was."

    Susan nods slowly. "...I am too. Either this is a bit of a trap or it's just sort of sad."

    "Is it...is it bad that I'm hoping for 'trap'?" Miles muses.

    "If it is, then we're both bad."

    With a nod, Miles offers his fist for a bump.

    "Oh my god you people and your..." She laughs and bumps Miles' fist.

    Miles nods solemnly. "You're part of the team now. This entitles you to our private gossip-about-Elise Slack channel and you can borrow my PS4 games."

    They park and walk into the lobby of the Triskelion. It occurs to Miles he's never actually been here before.

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    "This place didn't used to be a big deal, right? It was kind of the front. I wonder how much that's changed," Miles murmurs, looking around warily.

    "Yeah, I don't know. It was basically just a big office building but now since Fury got booted off the Helicarrier it's had to be the real deal," she says. "SCI-TECH has always had labs here but never for the really fun stuff."

    Miles nods. "It hasn't been that long since the takeover. Maybe there are some holes we can exploit." He begins scrutinizing their surroundings with his forensic vision while trying to not be too obvious about it.

    His brow furrows. There's a suspicious lack of security. It's got no more security than your average office building. This is uncharacteristic for the SHIELD HQ. "Something's wrong..." he whispers sotto voce. "There's not enough going on here. Either it's really well hidden...or it's not there at all."

    Susan frowns deeply and starts to say something, but suddenly, two SHIELD-SEC guards round the corner and approach the pair. "Sir, ma'am, ID please?"

    Miles dons an easy smile and produces his ID. "You bet, fellas."

    They scan Miles' ID, and Susan's. "Alright, wrists out."

    Miles squints. "Uh...we're both old enough to buy alcohol, but okay..." He offers his wrist. If he sees cuffs come out, he plans to sock the guy one.

    The SEC guard runs what looks like a reddish light from a scanner over Miles' wrist. Nothing happens. No beeping, no reaction. Nothing. The guard nods. "He's clean."

    "I use Purell," Miles jokes.

    The SEC guy smirks. "Not a commentary on your hygiene, sir. Just a new protocol handed down from on high. HAMMER gave us these Skrull-sniffers, gotta run em on everyone new in the building." He turns to Susan. "Wrist out, ma'am."

    Miles tries to act eager and enthusiastic and thoroughly nerdy. "How do they work? Spectrographic analysis? Pulling microparticles out of the air? Could they detect a Skrull through, like, a force field?" He tries desperately to indicate to Susan that she should block the scanning beam with a field just over her skin.

    "Man, I don't know,” the guard shrugs. “Push button, Skrull skin turn green."

    Susan offers her wrist, while giving a sidelong glance at Miles. The SEC officer runs the scanner over her wrist, and her skin flickers, and briefly turns Skrull-green before resuming its normal shape.

    The SEC agent looks down at her wrist, then looks her in the eyes. The agent's eyes quickly shift to the liquid ruddy-black of a Skrull's eyes before flicking back to human eyes, and he whispers something to Susan in the Skrull language. "When do the stars fall?"

    Susan's eyebrows raise, and she whispers back in the same language. "When the Empress wills it."

    He nods and smiles. "They're both clean. Carry on, you two."

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Miles keeps a frozen smile on his face as he and Susan are waved through. "So what was that about an Empress?" he asks casually while appearing to stretch and yawn, keeping his left repulsor trained on her.

    "Relax. It's a Dard'van call-response that we learned from interrogating one of their agents. I learned it in case I ran into exactly what we just ran into."

    "Susan, that means there are Skrulls in SHIELD right now. At Headquarters. Which is lightly defended..."

    She nods. "Yes. This is very bad. We need to get Zola and get out."

    Miles nods. "Jesus. Yes. If X-51 were here, I'd have it alert Clay right now, but I can't risk getting detected...."

    The pair move to an elevator. "Alright, so,” she begins, “Niles figured out that Zola's being kept on sub-level 3, in an electronic materials lab. Shouldn't have active guards, in theory we should be able to slip in and slip out, no muss, no fuss."

    He nods.

    They get off the elevator at Sub-Level 3, and find the lab that Susan was referring to. Their pace is hurried. Neither wants to be in a SHIELD headquarters that is infiltrated by Skrulls. Susan begins reading off the lab manifests. “Alright...Zola...Zola...here!" She stares. "...fuck!"

    Miles tenses. "What?!"

    There's a server stack that takes up half an entire room.

    The stack is labeled Z.O.L.A.

    "What? What?" Miles runs a hand down his face. "What were they doing with him? How are we going to move him? This is bad."

    Susan puts her hands on her hips. ""Well, unless you're Hank Pym I don't know how we're sneaking that out the front door, Miles."

    "Can we download it? Do we have a stor..." Miles' eyes widen. "...age....medium...." He turns slowly to her. "Hey, Susan? I have a really bad idea."

    Susan looks at him and her eyes widen. "Miles that's....that's really dangerous. Clay says he's rehabilitated but what if he's not, then you have a crazy Nazi in your head!"

    Miles taps his forehead. "You can...get in here, right? Make sure he doesn't try anything?" He looks her in the eye. "I trust you," he says quietly. "I can't believe I'm saying that, but I do.

    "If I start clicking my heels, pull the plug on him."

    "Pretty sure I tried to murder you one time," she says ruefully.

    "Yeah, well, what's a little murder between friends?"

    Susan laughs darkly and gives Miles a playful shove. "Alright, cowboy, sit down."

    "Yes ma'am." He grins and sits. "So you're the AI lady. I may be the cowboy but this is your rodeo. How we gettin' all that” - he gestures at the server stack, then taps his temple with a finger - “into all of this?"

    "Uh…” she frowns. “Do you have any...ports?"

    "I saw that tablet. You know perfectly well what I have." He waggles his eyebrows, then turns serious. "It's all wireless. Not super-long-range, I don't want to get hacked. I just need to get near to the source."

    She snickers. "Okay. Alright. Well, just give me a second then..." She types on a nearby computer connected to ZOLA. "This might get...weird."

    "'Get' weird?" Miles chirps, before the world goes dark around him.

    PHU1KZN.png
    I really like this scene and Miles’ and Susan’s unfolding interactions, and how the conversation covered the gamut from jokey and even a little flirty (I’ve never come right out and said it, but I play Miles as being very into blondes), to heartfelt, to professional and back again.

    A week or two before the session, Matt asked me which NPC I’d want to accompany Miles on a heist, and I picked Susan. Her characterization in this game is interesting; she’s smart and sympathetic but also damaged (“I executed my first dissident at 14”), and her relationship with the team keeps evolving.

    I felt that several other party members’ interactions with her had been meaty and interesting but, aside from their initial confrontation when she tried to kill the team, and Miles dressing her down for stealing from ARMOR, they hadn’t had a lot of screen time together. And I thought Miles would very naturally want to get to know the boss better, and as it happens she has the perfect skillset for both a heist and for messing around with computers.

    I was curious how this would end up playing out, and I think it worked out well!

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2
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    Phoenix, Deadpool, Omega Red, and Wolverine are in the Blackbird, the X-Men’s jet, flying over Aqiria.

    Wolverine turns to the rest. "I'm going to throw the jet on auto-pilot, and we're going to HALO jump in. There's a pretty good chance these things have some kind of AA, so it's worse for the jet to get tagged than us.

    "If you think the chute will get you spotted, don't pull it."

    Julian nods. "Sounds like a plan."

    Deadpool sucks his teeth and grabs his knees. "Oh, that's a rough landing, big guy."

    Wolverine sneers at him. "You'll walk it off."

    The jet's hatch opens, and Deadpool slaps Julian on the ass. "I know you can fly, but nobody likes a show-oooooooffffff....." he yells while falling.

    "How stealthy are we supposed to be playing this, again?" Julian looks to Wolverine.

    Instead of responding, Wolverine shoves Julian out of the hatch, then jumps after him. Red also jumps. Wolverine and Red are using proper HALO jump techniques. Deadpool is doing a spinning cannonball.

    Julian flies down by Deadpool, posing as he falls. He looks towards Deadpool and makes a pose a la Rose in Titanic.

    Deadpool unfurls and looks at him, and shouts "MOTHER OF GO-" before he suddenly slams into the ground.

    He did not pull his chute. He was too distracted.

    Julian lands safely, as do Wolverine and Omega Red using their chutes. After a few seconds, and with several loud bone snaps, Deadpool regenerates and gets back up. "You...you said...not to pull...." Deadpool says, panting, at Wolverine.

    Wolverine snort-laughs. "Yeah. I did."

    Omega Red laughs. "Ha. Good joke."

    Julian winces. "So like, you feel pain, don't you?"

    Deadpool looks at Julian, and in an overly grim, fake-Wolverine voice says, "All the time. The only time the pain stops is when the whiskey starts flowing agai-..." Wolverine spins and glares at him, and Deadpool shuts up. Julian rolls his eyes, but still grins.

    Wolverine sniffs the air. "We're close. Let's move."

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

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    Elise, Clay, and Crystalia enter the prison. Crystalia checks the two of them in with the guards, and then hugs Elise tightly. "He is guarded exclusively by machines that SHIELD provided to us. Those with minds are not allowed to speak to him. I had to beg my sister to let this happen, without telling her why." She relinquishes the embrace and steps back. "Be careful, Elise."

    Elise swallows hard and nods. "I'm going to come out of there exactly the same, okay? I promise."

    Crystalia nods, and looks at Clay. "Keep her safe. I know you can. I know how you can." She squints at Clay, and then walks away.

    Elise looks at Clay with her eyebrows raised. Clay looks back. "That was...oddly threatening," he says.

    "Well, don't fuck it up, eh?"

    I have a back-up plan. I have a mag full of SPIN rounds in my side-arm. They're illegal in Attilan, but so is this interrogation. If I really think things are getting too out of control, he's eating one of these in the solar plexus.

    Elise nods. I hate those things.

    He nods. I know. It's why I didn't say anything until now.

    Elise sighs and pushes open the door to Maximus's cell.

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    This is a...prison cell?

    "...Not what I expected," she says with a frown.

    Clay looks around in awe. "Nor I."

    Elise walks in and trails her fingers over what looks like velvet. "...Hello?"

    "Oh, hello."

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    "It is good to see you again, Elise. Or shall I say, Princess Elise. Congratulations, by the by. Regrettable that I could not attend, given how influential I was in the nuptials."

    Shut up. Shut up, shut up, shut up. "I didn't know you knew. Do you have many visitors?"

    "Oh, none at all. But I am permitted to watch television," he says, gesturing at a huge plasma screen. "Listen to radio, that sort of thing."

    "Oh. Yeah, I guess our wedding would have been broadcast. It was...nice."

    Maximus smiles, "So it appeared." He turns to Clay. "You're her father, I believe? I saw you walk her down the aisle." Clay simply nods.

    "I need your help," Elise says without preamble.

    Maximus nods. "I would imagine so."

    "Crys needs your help, too,” Elise adds. “She...has a lot of feelings. About everything that happened with you."

    He sighs. "I...I never did anything to Crystalia. I never made her do anything. I protected her. Guided her. Kept her safe. But I knew, deep down, she did not love me. She loved you. So, when you came along, I stood aside."

    "She did. And you got in my head, didn't you? Made me bring files to you, made me betray SHIELD," Elise recalls bitterly.

    He makes an elaborate bowing gesture. "Okay, yes, yes I did do that. But in my defense, you were outsiders. Foreigners. I had no idea if SHIELD meant my people harm or were any threat to Attilan."

    You made my friend put a gun in her mouth, you piece of - "Right. Well. It's about...it's about Valeria. The heir."

    "Is she in danger?" Maximus looks genuinely concerned. Like he actually cares.

    "Yes."

    He snaps his fingers, and a droid walks into the room. "Fetch us some chairs." It nods, and walks away. "Did you want anything else? Food? Drink? Anyway, please, continue."

    "Uh, I guess a water? It's, um...It's about your brother. And the Queen. There's... Do you know anything about something they may want to hide? Something that could threaten Valeria?"

    The droids return with some chairs, and he looks at one of them and absently says, "Some water, for the Princess," he looks at Clay. "Anything for you, sir?" Clay shakes his head.

    "Can you be more specific, Princess?" Maximus says, his eyebrow raised, "Please don't be coy. There's the three of us here and my pets. Who am I going to tell?"

    Elise clenches her fists in her lap. "Did your brother have a child?" She pauses. "Ahura."

    Maximus breathes in sharply. He knows. Elise can tell. The answer to her question is yes and Maximus knows about it, and he's startled that she knows.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 3
    "Please, Maximus," she says.

    Maximus sips his wine, trying to regain his composure. "How did you learn about Ahura?"

    "It was a whole thing. Alternate universes, time travel."

    "Hm," Maximus sighs. "Of course."

    "All things being on the table then," he sighs deeply, "Yes, Agar and Medusalith did have a child. Years ago. And his name, indeed, is Ahura.

    "He was conceived in a moment of both passion and spite on their parts. Who was the Genetic Council to tell them, to tell the Black Bolt, King of the Inhumans, that they could not have a child?

    "When the Council learned of it, it was going to be...messy. The King may believe his power absolute but the Genetic Council holds the true power of Attilan's future, as previous tyrant kings have learned when they have swung too high above their throne.

    "But my brother's power is....ineffable. He could destroy all of Attilan with an utterance if pressed. And the Council knew this. Assassins were sharpening their blades for my brother's throat and my sister-in-law's belly." Maximus takes another drink of his wine. "So...I made some...decisions.

    "I told Agar I could keep his son safe, but only in secret, and I could destroy all who threatened them, but he had to make the choice to make that happen. And he chose. I did not compel him. That was his choice. He chose his child, his wife. He chose love. I do not fault him.

    "So, Medusalith carried her child to term, and gave birth to a son, and...forgot he existed. Agar forgot he existed. All at court forgot he existed. Those who I could not make to forget, I made disappear, and their disappearance was forgotten."

    Elise puts a hand over her mouth, horrified. Clay's fists tighten. Elise can tell he's radiating anger.

    Maximus finishes his glass. "It might seem a cruel thing, to make a mother and father forget their child. But he lived. He survived. Tell me, if given a choice between Valeria's life and the memory of loving her, which would you choose?"

    "I... I don't..." Elise shakes her head.

    "My brother chose his son's life. I will not judge him."

    "When they...put you here. When they undid what you did to people... Did they...do they even know they have a son?"

    Maximus grimaces. "Yes. Yes they do."

    "Fuck," Elise whispers.

    "They remember everything, including the choice they made. The things I did in the name of their son,” he says. “I'm sure it haunts them. It does not haunt me. I did what I did for the sake of Attilan and for the love of my family."

    "...Where is Ahura?' Elise asks urgently.

    "....safe."

    "On Earth? Or Attilan?" she presses.

    "Does it matter?"

    "...I don't know."

    Clay snaps "It matters if you're not there to protect him!"

    Maximus is taken aback, and smiles slightly. "Oh, he finds a voice!"

    "Don't," Elise says warningly. "In the future I saw, I was gone. I wasn't there to protect Crystalia, or Valeria. They were exiled from Attilan, and the city itself was..." Elise mimes an explosion with her hands. "It was fucked.

    "I understand you want to protect this boy, but I wouldn't...I wouldn't hurt a child. That's not...I wouldn't do that."

    Maximus shakes his head. "No, that's impossible. He's safe. I have protected him, I have made sure he would want for nothing and would never be in danger, and the only ones who would even remember he exists are myself, his mother, his father, and..." Maximus’ eyes go wide, and his glass slips from his hand, shattering on the floor.

    "Kobar," he whispers. "High Councillor Kobar. I was never able to...eliminate him, his position was too secure, too important, I never had time to find a way to replace him or deal with the repercussions, I...."

    Elise turns white.

    "Kobar knows," Maximus says urgently.

    "Okay. Okay. Okay. I...I can fix this." Elise stands and begins to pace.

    Maximus' eyes begin darting back and forth nervously. "Kobar would remember only that Ahura exists, and what I did to conceal his existence. He would not know where he has gone, or what was done with him."

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "Okay. Okay,” Elise says, rubbing her temples. “So clearly he figures out somehow in the alternate timeline. So assuming I don't do anything, he figures it out. Okay. I gotta...fix this. I just gotta make sure he doesn't figure it out. I can do that. That's easy."

    I could kill him.

    No. Clay puts his hand on Elise's shoulder. Aloud he calmly says "Let's all slow down.

    "Kobar would have remembered all this when your powers were shut down. Which means he's known about all this since before Valeria was even born. He's known for a while. But he hasn't said anything? Black Bolt and Medusa wouldn't say anything, of course, because of all the shit it would stir. But why wouldn't Kobar? He knows that they know. They know he knows. It's a secret they're just staring at each other over royal family dinners and shit.

    "Which means either one of the two parties already has Ahura, and they won't talk about it. Or they're still looking." He cradles his chin in his hand. "If I was Kobar, I wouldn't say a god damn thing about Ahura's existence until I had him in the bag.

    "Same as if I was the King. He stays a secret until he's in your hands. This whole time, you had to know your brother was looking for his son, Maximus."

    Maximus nods. "He'd never find him."

    "Maximus, where is he? Please. If I know where he is, I can make sure Kobar never finds him. If Kobar finds him, Attilan is over. Finito. Forgotten within generations."

    "Earth,” Maximus says at last. “The one place neither party would ever look for him."

    Elise exhales. "Okay. Home field advantage. Awesome." I can use Cerebro, maybe?

    Get more details from him. He knows more than 'Earth,'
    Clay thinks.

    "Where?” she says. “What country?"

    "The United States. New York City. So close to you, yet so far." He smiles.

    Elise narrows her eyes. "Don't. Don't taunt me when I'm coming to you out of...out of desperation, and fear, and... Don't be a dick."

    Maximus straightens his jacket, "I apologize. I just...I thought myself quite clever at the time and do you know how maddening it can be to have a masterwork hidden away for none to see?"

    "I...do appreciate that you helped us," Elise says. "I don't know if there's anything I can do, like...if you want me to bring you a book, or..."

    He waves this away airily. "Oh, I'm quite alright in that manner of things."

    Are we done here?

    Clay shakes his head fractionally. I want to know exactly how to find Ahura. Where. Address. Contact. Details.

    ...I hate being in a room with this fucker. Are you sure you don't want to just Cerebro it? I'm Captain Universe. I can probably find one kid,
    she thinks. Aloud she says "Okay. Well. I mean, if you can think of anything. In the mean time, I need you to be more specific. Please. I'm going to make sure Kobar can't use Ahura. I'm gonna fulfil your promise, and keep him safe."

    "I put him into the custody of a scientist of Earth," Maximus says. "His name is Reed Richards. He promised to protect Ahura at all costs."

    Clay shouts, "Fucking what!"

    "You're shitting me," Elise says.

    Maximus nods. "I do believe you may have heard of him, he's quite famous. ‘Mr. Fantastic,’ they call him."

    "Wait. Wait, that means he knows. Reed knows who Ahura is, he wouldn't take some random kid in and swear an oath. He fucking knows and he -" Elise makes a fist. "I'm going to fucking kill him!"

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    Maximus shakes his head. "No, no no no, not truly." He holds up his hands for calm. "At the time, Dr. Richards was famous for traveling to an alternate dimension. So, I posed as a traveler from an alternate dimension. I had technology to back up my claim, even! And I told him a bunch of stories about how Ahura needed to be protected, I was pursued, and so on."

    "Maximus,” she says. “Do you have any other surprise twists or turns you want to pull on us? I'm sure this whole show is a delight."

    "Oh, yes."

    Elise clenches her fists. "Can you just...tell me everything? Please? I have been so polite."

    "I'm here because I want to be. I can open the door, right now, and walk out," Maximus says with a wide grin.

    "...No, you can't. That's..." Elise stares. "They have robot guards, and..."

    Maximus claps. "Door. Open." The door opens. "You see, after your robotic friend shamed me, it exposed a horrific weakness in my gifts. One I sought to rectify. And in my seclusion, with nothing but these machines to keep me company, I have…changed."

    He brushes hair back with his fingers, revealing crude stitching, and a few blinking lights. "Now even machines are at my command."

    Elise slowly moves a hand closer to her pistol. "Maximus, you...you don't want to do anything crazy here, okay?"

    "No, I do not. I like it here, Princess. I am waited on hand and foot so as I please. No one asks anything of me. My name may be spat in the streets but what of it? Attilan is safe. My family is safe. I am happy and content and well cared for. It would be nice to have some companionship from time to time..." he shrugs. "But if I were to ever get so lonely I suppose I could renegotiate the terms of my imprisonment."

    Elise desperately struggles to maintain her composure. This is bad. This is bad, this is bad. This is bad, holy shit.

    Yes, she hears Clay think.

    "Okay. Okay, cool, everyone's safe and good," she says. "Maybe I can...maybe I can come visit once in a while, yeah? We can do a book club?" Elise nervously laughs. "So, what else did you want to tell me about Ahura?"

    "He has never undergone Terrigenesis. He is an innocent child," Maximus says. "He probably shouldn't undergo Terrigenesis either. I imagine he is the long foretold Midnight King who will bring ruin upon us all, the reason for which the Ancestors forsake this world and brought fire upon it."

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    Nobody quite comes out and says it here, but it seems clear that Ahura just might be the Inhuman that the Kree Supreme Intelligence predicted would arise one day to end it.

    "Okay. Okay, cool, no Terrigenesis. That's fine. No problem. I'll make sure he doesn't have that."

    He nods.

    "...Anything else?"

    He shrugs and smiles. "Not that I can think of. Does your father have anything he'd like to tell me? I think he has something very important he wants to tell me."

    Clay blurts out. "I'm a Skrull."

    Maximus leans back in his chair, surprised. "Oh. Hm. Fascinating."

    Elise pulls her gun and aims it at Maximus. "Get out of his head. Don't you fucking look at him."

    Maximus puts his hands up. "Not another word. Your secret is safe with me, Princess, so long as mine is safe with you." He winks.

    "You're trying to blackmail me! I've been in here for ten minutes, and you're already back up to your shit!"

    "There's a saying among my people: a good wolf is still a wolf," Maximus titters.

    Clay puts his hand on Elise's shoulder. "We should leave. We need to talk to Reed."

    Elise keeps the gun trained on Maximus. "Are you okay, dad? Did he...?"

    "I'm fine," Clay says. "He's not a telepath, he's psychokinetic. It's...different. I can explain in the car."

    "I want you to talk to Julian when you're home." Elise holsters the gun, her hands shaking.

    Clay nods. "That's fair."

    "Okay. Okay. Let's go." They turn, and Elise watches Maximus warily, over her shoulder.

    Maximus waves jauntily. "Thank you for stopping by! Tell my nephew his uncle Maxi loves him very much."

    Elise grabs her glass of water and throws it in Maximus's face. Then she turns again and storms out. They leave, Maximus’ laughter ringing behind them.

    "Fuck. Fuck! FUCK!" she hisses as they make their way out of the prison.

    Clay rubs his temples and grumbles. "That could have been worse. That could have been better. Going to give that a 2."

    "On what scale?"

    "10."

    "Alright. So. I'm thinking after we secure Ahura, I kill him," Elise says. "Right? That's the play?"

    "Uh...we're speaking of Maximus, correct?" Clay squints at her. "Not Ahura?"

    "Yes! Jesus! Of course!"

    "Okay, then yes. That's the play."

    "I wouldn't hurt a kid," she repeats. "Just going to teleport his kidneys outside his body. Open a portal around his head and squelch him. I hate him."

    Clay nods. "I want to be there."

    "You gotta drive on the way back,” Elise grouses. “I'm too mad."

    "Fair."

    The pair leave the prison, and head back to Earth.

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    Fleeing the Command Sphere, Ryann, X-51, and Jim Hammond find themselves back in the streets of Neo York.

    X-51 takes command of a cab. They fly through the city, Hammond nervously looking over his shoulder. "I can't...I can't believe it was that easy."

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    Michael claps X-51's shoulder. "X-51 is very good at what he does."

    X-51 nods. "I'm the best at what I do, even if what I do sometimes isn't pretty." Miles' influence on X-51 persists.

    "So this 'Diamond' is well hidden, I assume," Michael says.

    Hammond shakes his head, with a small, covert smile. "More like...hidden in plain sight."

    "It's cloaked?"

    "...sort of. You'll see."

    Following directions, X-51 flies the trio through the city, until, after what feels like an hour, they arrive at a museum.

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    The museum is closed, but Hammond enters a keypad code, and a door opens. They walk through the museum, which contains all kinds of historical artifacts from "Before the Organic War."

    They come to a podium, and resting on it is something Michael has seen in issues of National Geographic.

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    The Hope Diamond.

    Hammond turns to face Michael and X-51. "We're here.”

    "The 'Diamond’ is the Hope Diamond?"

    "Yes. Here, here is the last hope of humanity." Hammond looks up and calls out, "Hammond, James, with two others."

    A shaft of light from above scans the trio. An electronic, tinny voice responds, "Process. Ready."

    Hammond looks at Michael. "Ready?"

    Michael nods. "Let's do this."

    Hammond calls out, "Ready."

    A second beam, this time from the Hope Diamond, fires outwards at the trio. Michael can feel something happen to him. A feeling he has experienced before. He's being shrunk.

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    Michael, X-51, and Jim Hammond re-materialize, standing in front of a colossal pyramid-like obelisk.

    A crowd surrounds them. Many of them are synthezoids but most of them...are human.

    "Huh, like Kandor," Michael says to himself.

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    For the non-comics or non-DC readers out there, Kandor - or “the bottled city of Kandor” - comes from Superman comics. Kandor is an entire Kryptonian city that was shrunk (by the villainous AI Brainiac, who is sort of DC’s Ultron) and kept in a little miniature habitat. Superman makes it a personal quest to find a way to reverse the procedure, but until he does, he keeps the bottled city safe in his Fortress of Solitude.

    A figure emerges from the crowd and approaches the newcomers.

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    Michael holds his hands up. "We come in peace, Ant-Man."

    The man presses a button on the side of his mask, and it retracts.

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    It's Hank Pym. "Hammond, mind introducing us to your friends?"

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    Ryann and Sam are in the Corona, approaching the coordinates in Aqiria provided to them by SWORD's sat-tracker on Danniel.

    Sam looks over at Ryann. "So...what's the plan when we get to him? I'm going to go out on a limb and assume he's not exactly doing okay, sir."

    "You're right, Sam. He's not okay," Ryann sighs. "Dann hasn't been ok since I had him ripped from his homeworld because of my actions. And now he has a Klyntar attached to him and I've seen firsthand what those things can do to a person. How they can warp their minds.

    "So the fist thing we're…I'm going to do...is try to talk to him."

    Sam looks down at his feet, sitting in his seat in the Corona. "...is this because of me? Is this my fault?"

    "No, Sam. Not really," Ryann says, shaking his head. "It's about me. And how I've been failing my son." Ryann purses his lips and looks through the main window.

    Corona's VI comes over the speaker. "Centurion Valt, I have acquired SWORD Agent Valt on sensors. I have a visual."

    "We're coming, Danniel," Ryann vows to himself before addressing the Corona. "On screen."

    lFWo9J2l.png

    Dann’s not alone. He's leading a group of others, sneaking through the city.

    "I thought Brand said he was alone. Are those SWORD agents or..." Ryann pauses, punching buttons. "Corona, enhance image. I need a visual on the others with Veno....Danniel."

    "Enhancing...identifying....cross-referencing with known threat databases..."

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    It's Malice, Taskmaster, Juggernaut, and Lorelei.

    Agents of Doom.

    Danniel's working with them.

    "Doom." Ryann clenches his fist. "That son of a bitch." His gauntleted hand touches his son’s face on the screen. "Oh Dann, what have you gotten yourself into..." His jaw sets. "We're going down there. Get ready, Sam."

    Sam nods.

    "Corona, adjust flight path for a flyby of the group. I wanna drop right in front of them." Ryann gets up and begins to walk to the airlock, and Sam follows.

    The Corona flies over the city, and a flash on Ryann’s gauntlet signals that the ship is ready for the drop.

    Ryann cycles the airlock and leaps out with Sam. They crash to the ground roughly fifteen feet in front of the Agents of Doom, who step back, startled. Ryann holds up a hand. "Stop!"

    The Agents of Doom ready themselves for attack, as does Agent Venom. "Out of the way!" he shouts.

    "Danniel! Why are you doing this? What is going on here?"

    "We have a mission. They are the Enemy. SWORD wasn't letting us do what we needed to do. You weren't letting us do what we needed to do. So we found someone who would. Someone who appreciated us. And now we're going to get things done. Go away, go back to New York or Dimension X or wherever you go with him." Agent Venom points a finger accusingly at Sam.

    "I know, Dann, I know!" Ryann puts his hands up. "But this isn't right. This isn't who you are. Sam isn't an enemy and these people -" Ryann gestures to the group "- are not your friends." Ryann pauses briefly. "What is this mission? What lies did Doom try to pass on you?"

    "No lies, only what we were meant to do!" Danniel snaps back, the symbiote flowing over his form menacingly.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "Whoa whoa whoa, hang on now...." Juggernaut steps out from the back. He makes a time-out motion with his hands and smiles. "Let's all just take a moment a cool our space-jets, eh?

    “Listen mate," Juggernaut turns to Ryann, "You don't like Skrulls. We don't like Skrulls. Your boy here, he's an A-grade Skrull hunter. So, that's what we're doing here. That's 'the Enemy,’" he says with large finger-quotes, "he's referring to. We think there's a big ole Skrull nest in this here city, and he's our bloodhound.

    "So, what d’you say, mate, we pair up, rip up these green buggers, and then all that's said and done, you want to ground your boy or what not, that's your prerogative as his dad. Good?"

    Juggernaut looks back to Lorelai and whispers, "Did I use prerogative right?" and she smiles and gives him a thumbs up.

    Ryann frowns and shakes his head. "A Skrull nest? Why doesn't SWORD know about this too?"

    "Because SWORD doesn't listen to us!" Dann shouts. "Nobody listens to us! You don't..."

    Lorelei puts her hand on Dann's shoulder and says gently, "It's okay, Danniel. Be calm. We're still going to do the mission. Everything's okay." Danniel visibly relaxes.

    Ryann glares at Lorelei. "What is he talking about?"

    "He's just angry, Agent Valt," Lorelei says. "He feels like his daddy doesn't listen, doesn't respect him. That his boss doesn't care about his reports. That nobody listens. But we listen. We respect him. Sometimes he gets too angry, and then he just needs to be told gently to calm down. He was actually doing quite well until you showed up."

    "Dann, what do you mean they wouldn't listen? You sensed this Skrull Nest?"

    Dann nods. "We can feel it. The symbiote...it has known the taste of Skrulls over centuries. It can feel them, smell them in the air. They're here."

    Ryann frowns at that. "Alright, give me a second." He pinches his nose and exhales. "Ok, we're doing this together and then you're coming back with me. Both of you," Ryann says, looking directly at Dann. "Do we understand?"

    Dann starts to growl and Lorelai puts her hand on his shoulder again. "Danniel, listen to your father. He's your father."

    Danniel nods, and says to Ryann. "We understand." She smiles at Ryann.

    Ryann's face is a stern, stony mask. He turns to his son. "Okay, lead the way....Agent Venom."

    Ryann, Sam, and the Agents of Doom follow Venom into the city.

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    Wolverine puts a closed fist up, calling for the group to stop. He sniffs the air. "...Juggernaut. Lorelai. Taskmaster. I remember them," he growls. "Especially Lorelai."

    "Oh yeah, from... Geez, that's a while ago, now," Julian says, scratching his head. "Whatever their gig here, it can't be anything good."

    Deadpool adds, "Juggernaut ripped me in half one time. Can't say I like the guy."

    Julian winces. "Ugh, ripped in half? Don't even get to go like Johnny Cleanslice."

    "No, it was more like, you ever try to peel an orange but you kinda mess it up and you basically just jam your thumb right into the orange?" Deadpool nods gravely. "Like that. Yeah. Not a fan of the Juggernaut."

    Red speaks up. "Might be good for us. Bad for Skrulls. They serve Doom. Doom hates Skrulls. If they are here for same reason as us, they are possible allies."

    Wolverine motions for the group to hide. "Down. Down. Let them approach, we'll figure out what to do."

    X-Force gets into cover, and sees Ryann, Sam, four Agents of Doom, and someone who looks very much like Peter's black suit but way more beefed up and wearing military gear approaching.

    Wolverine turns to Julian and whispers, "Isn't that your guy?"

    "Yeah. Wonder what they're doing here. Let me reach out." Julian puts a hand to his temple. Ryann. Stay cool. Julian here, nearby with some friendlies. What's going on with these guys?

    Ryann squints. What are you doing here? Did Clay send you?

    In a manner of speaking? Julian thinks. Got Logan, Omega, and another with me. We're checking something out for the Professor. It's uh, weird stuff, man. What about you?

    Ryann frowns. The X-Men? I'm here because SWORD got my son wrapped up in some special project and now he's gone rogue and is working for Doom. I came to get him back but apparently there's a Skrull nest somewhere in this city. So I've agreed to help them take it out so Danniel will come back with me. A wash of emotions bleeds through the link. Anger, fear, guilt most of all. Not having the best day, to be honest.

    Jesus, doesn't sound like it, Julian thinks. I'm here because we're trying to find Jean Grey. I'm realizing that I might have been spending some quality time with a Skrull.

    Oh...just a bad day all around then, Ryann thinks bitterly.

    Kinda, yeah! Think you got me beat, though. I'll buy the next round.

    Well I suppose we should have are two teams meet up. Something tells me if you’re looking for a possible Skrull and I'm looking for a Skrull Nest we're effectively looking for the same thing,
    Ryann thinks.

    Sounds like it. Julian speaks quietly to Logan. "Hey, looks like we're all going after this Skrull nest. Might as well team up."

    Wolverine squints skeptically, and then nods. "Alright. We're good, they're not going to freak out?"

    Ryann, can you make sure your guys stand down? We're popping out.

    Ryann gestures for a halt. "Hold up, we got friendlies coming up."

    X-Force emerges from the shadows.

    Juggernaut looks at Deadpool and grins, "Oh, hey Wade! I've always wondered, would things have gone differently if I had split ya wishbone style instead of party cracker."

    Deadpool whimpers and steps behind Julian, holding his shoulders. "Protect me."

    Julian shrugs helplessly. "I ain't much of a wall, man." Ryann shakes his head.

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    Michael explains to Hank Pym who he and X-51 are, where they are from, and what pretense they agreed to help Ultron under (obviously, Michael didn't have the full details, but also didn't fully agree until that point).

    Pym, in turn, explains that they've been keeping their entire existence a secret from Ultron the entire time. Ultron doesn't know the remaining humans of the Diamond exist. So far as Ultron knows, the entire resistance against him is six viruses who take control of AI and use them against the Regime.

    The survivors in the Diamond are afraid that Ultron, if he knew, would stop at nothing to find and destroy the humans, using 100% of all of the resources on the planet to find them and annihilate them immediately.

    "I don't think this Ultron 5 is necessarily as murdery as Ultron 1,” Michael says. “It seems like he just wants a nuisance gone, which we can do by just, pocketing the Diamond and heading home?"

    The other humans present look at Pym. Pym looks at Michael. "There's over 30 million people here. I've worked hard to make this place as sustainable as possible, but we've been running out of road rapidly. Can your world suddenly absorb a city of that size?"

    "Potentially,” Michael says. “I'm sure we can come up with something, and if we can't plop you down on our Earth, we have other avenues we can explore. We will find you a home to call your own."

    "What about Ultron?" Pym asks.

    "Would you rather see a potentially peaceful Ultron 5 dead and leave a potential power vacuum in his place, causing chaos and death in his wake?” Michael asks. “Or leave him be?"

    Pym slowly nods. "All right. There's some steps I need to take to unhook systems. I'll send you and...him," Pym gestures to X-51, "back up. When you see a green light, you're good to pocket us.

    “You’ll have 30 million lives in your pocket. Understand the gravity of that."

    Michael nods. "I do, and I appreciate your trust in me. I want you to know that whatever happens, I will get your people to safety."

    "Thank you, Michael. See you on the other side." Pym activates the beam again, and Michael and X-51 are transported back to the museum.

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    A minute later, the Hope Diamond glimmers with an inner green light briefly.

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    Michael picks it up and holds it in his hand, taking in the weight of the situation before pocketing it. The two leave, and X-51 summons a cab the way Jocasta did. They travel back to Ultron's Command Sphere.

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    Jocasta waits there to meet them. "It is done?" she asks.

    Michael nods. "Yes, the Six have been dealt with."

    Jocasta looks at X-51, who nods. She smiles. "I believe you. I will speak to Ultron. You will have your allies. Tell Clay Quartermain to send a message to us when you are ready, and our forces will come to you."

    Michael nods to Jocasta. "Thank you for speaking on our behalf, and welcome home." Michael smiles, and he and X-51 turn to go.

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    I really liked this. This could have gone a lot of other ways, and Matt was ready for some of them, but Michael really cleverly got around all of that and found the optimal solution. Miles would be proud!

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    The motley assortment of Novas, mutants, and Agents of Doom follow Agent Venom to a large warehouse on the outskirts of town. The moment they arrive, the alarm is raised, and they're immediately set upon by Chitauri sentries firing energy weapons.

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    Spectral flaming chains whipping forth from his hands, Julian starts taking Chitauri goons out left and right, and the rest of their allies dive in too. Agent Venom, in particular, is very good at taking these guys down, mowing through them with assault weapons and even killing a few with his bare hands. Ryann's never seen Danniel kill someone before. It's upsetting.

    Chitauri swarm out of the warehouse, but ultimately are no match for the forces arrayed against them.

    Then the ground shakes.

    “ROAAGHH!” A towering War Skrull bursts from out of the warehouse, and begins taking on the shape and general form of the Hulk.

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    With an impact like a thunderclap, he bats the Juggernaut away, sending him flying somewhere else in the city. With two fists he smashes Deadpool into the ground, straight down like a bowling pin. He starts batting the assembled allies around.

    Ryann dashes forward. "Sam, on me!" He picks up speed and charges the War Skrull. But with astonishing speed for his size, the War Skrull snatches Sam out of the air.

    It begins crushing the boy in his grasp. Sam doesn't have the mastery of the Nova Force that Ryann does, and he screams in pain.

    "No!" Ryann cries.

    "Get off him, you fuck!" Erupting into unholy flame, Julian rushes at the War Skrull, charging right for him. He's trying to avoid setting Sam on fire.

    But the War Skrull takes one hand off Sam and reaches over, puts his entire hand over Julian's head, and squeezes. Julian's fire abruptly gutters out and his body goes limp in the creature’s massive hand as his head is no more.

    Centurion grits his teeth and teleports behind the War Skrull, dropkicking with all his force, trying to break its hold on Sam. There’s a massive impact, and Ryann hears a snap as the War Skrull's spine shatters.

    It releases Sam, and crumples to the ground, shrinking down to its normal form as it does so, quite dead.


    With the rest of the Chitauri easily dispatched by the remnants of X-Force and the Agents of Doom, Ryann rushes to Kid Nova’s side. Sam is breathing, but he's injured.
    Julian is able to reform his face.

    "You're going to be alright, Kid. But You're going to sit the rest of this one out."

    "Y-yeah... okay..." Sam says, weakly.

    Wolverine walks over to the Novas. "I'll stay with the kid, keep ‘im safe."

    Ryann looks at him and nods. "Thank you, Logan."

    Logan nods.

    Nearby, Julian’s body ascends into the air on a pillar of flame as his head slowly reforms. "Oof. Never fun."

    He feels Wade's hand running over his skull face. "Yeah, tell me about it."

    Julian swats the hand away. "Ey! Ey!"

    Ryann stands. He looks at the group and then directly at Dann. "Alright. let's do what we came here to do."

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    They walk into the facility.

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    It's definitely a Skrull Cradle facility. It's different than the Leviathan cradles Julian saw previously, more slapdash, but it is what it is. A few Skrull scientists still mill about, who attempt to flee when they see the assembled group. Taskmaster and Omega Red capture them quickly.

    Deadpool walks over to one of the computers. "Okaaaay...let's find your foxy redhead, Captain Tightpants...oh. This is in Esperanto or something, I have no idea what it says."

    Julian and Ryann up to the console to have a look.

    "You know,, you remind me of someone I work with..." Ryann says as he gestures Deadpool to move.

    "Is it Captain America? Please say it's Captain America."

    "Well, she is a Captain..." Ryann says, trailing off. He connects his gauntlet to the console. It begins downloading a manifest, a list of names of people who are in the Cradle.

    Nearby, Taskmaster starts speaking into his communicator. "Boss, job's done. Some of Quartermain and Xavier's people are here...yeah...the space guy, the hot one and the Russian. Xavier sent Logan and Wilson."

    Ryann tilts his head at these descriptions.

    "Yeah... yeah...I'll tell ‘em, hold on." Taskmaster looks at Ryann. "The Boss says he apologizes about the stuff with your kid. He wasn't trying to get him in shit or something. Also, he says if SWORD sent you here, you should probably call up to 'Ms. Brand' and tell her that you found a Skrull Cradle and there's people who are gonna need to get rescued. If Silver Sable's here she's one of ours, though, and is coming with us."

    Ryann points. "You tell your megalomaniac boss we'll be speaking in person soon enough." He turns his head back to his gauntlet’s projected display. "...and yeah, I'll see if Silver Sable is here."

    "...uh... alright. Boss, space guy says you'll be speaking personally soon enough...yeah...yeah, okay, hold on." Taskmaster looks up at Ryann. "He says he looks forward to i - oh. He hung up."

    Ryann shakes his head and begins scrolling down the list of names. At first it's a lot of people whose names he doesn't recognize.

    But then a bunch of names jump out at him.

    CASTLE, FRANCIS
    DREW, JESSICA MIRIAM
    GREY, JEAN ELAINE
    FURY, NICHOLAS JOSEPH
    O'GRADY, ERIC
    SABLINOVA, SILVER
    WILSON, SAMUEL THOMAS

    Ryann’s eyes go wide. "There are others we need to get out of here."

    Julian looks over the manifest. "You're fucking kidding me." His finger taps two names in particular. "O'Grady? Drew?!"

    Spider-Woman and Ant-Man. Members of STRIKE. Who know who Clay truly is.

    "This is bad," Ryann whispers.

    Julian nods. "Fuck."

    "We need to get his info to Clay as soon as possible," Ryann says urgently. "The Dard'Van are everywhere. I'm calling this in, now. Julian, figure a safe way we can get these people out of here. I don't know if WHISPER has the ability to, so we gotta figure something out as a backup."

    Julian nods, and Ryann calls into WHISPER.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Miles is standing on a mountaintop castle in...Switzerland.

    He's pretty sure this is Switzerland. A digital facsimile of Switzerland, at any rate. He takes a deep breath of the cool, sweet (however simulated) Alpine air, and remembers that the last time he met Dr. Zola, he called himself Cobra Commander. "Ugh. I've got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do..."

    He hears the crunch of gravel; someone approaching on the cobblestone path. He turns.

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    It's Arnim Zola. His human body, short and balding, but less plump than before. He's wearing a sharp brown suit with a little bowtie. "Oh, hello!"

    Miles smiles and bows. "Herr Doctor Zola. A pleasure."

    He smiles. "I am. And you, sir?"

    Miles straightens. "My name is Agent Miles Mason. Doctor, I'm not sure how much time we have. I have a few things to tell you of which you may not be aware." Miles gestures to a nearby bench. "You may want to take a seat."

    Zola shrugs and sits.

    Miles begins. "Doctor, your, ah, digitalized mind has been occupying a SHIELD server continuously for over a year now, since I freed you from the virtual asylum that Vladimir von Doom imprisoned you in. This world is not real. I'm here to offer you a chance to join me in the real world. Your genius is needed. The Skrulls are here, in force. They've infiltrated SHIELD. We need you."

    "...I see," Zola says, with an intake of breath. "And if I leave here, I will be returning to a robotic body? That mechanical form is a hellish experience. You cannot feel, you cannot breathe -"

    Miles shakes his head. "No. Nothing like what you had before. I'll be brief and frank. My own body is synthetic, using the equipment you'd hidden in the Long Lines building. I came here to rescue your mind and the server hardware it runs on, but it's more extensive than expected - it fills a room. And, as I say, we've literally just learned that this building is crawling with Skrulls. There's very little time, and we can't...pack up your hardware and move.

    "But I have a data storage crystal infinitely more advanced than SHIELD's hardware. I can let you ride as a passenger in my sensorium, fully conscious, experiencing everything I do, with full access to my wireless and scanning capabilities. It could be a temporary arrangement until the facilities to construct you a body of your own are available."

    Zola looks around, and sighs, before clapping his hands on the tops of his thighs and standing, "I agree to your terms, Miles Mason! If it is as dire as you say we should not stay here."

    "Agreed. Prepare yourself, Doctor. I suspect it's going to be a learning experience for both of us." Miles signals Susan to begin the transfer.

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    This was a surprise to Miles, but not to me; ever since he relinquished X-51, Matt and I had been bouncing around ideas for what to saddle Miles with next.

    Possible candidates for the job included HELEN (the Anabasis’ ship AI), the digital consciousness of Jim Hammond (who remains dead-ish in a stasis tube), Lyja (Spider-Man 2099’s AI, who’s a character in his comic and one I was always a fan of), and M-11, THE HUMAN ROBOT, a deep-cut Marvel reference from the 50s.

    We settled on Arnim Zola because we thought it would be hilarious and also thematically appropriate as it was Miles who pushed for Vision to attempt to actually rehabilitate Zola instead of just torturing him forever.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Miles opens his eyes, and hears Zola's voice in his mind like he used to with X-51. Incredible! Absolutely incredible!

    You like what you see?
    Miles thinks.

    I do! Oh, the sights we shall....is that Nick Fury?

    What? Miles whirls.

    Sure enough, it is.

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    Nick Fury is standing at the door of the office.

    Miles stands. "So, funny story!"

    "Now, what are you two kids doing down here?" Fury says calmly.

    "Looking for porn, obviously." Miles smiles. "And asking the Doctor some questions. He knows some stuff about these old Kree glyphs that might be handy." He tries to make the lie smooth and easy.

    "Uh huh," Fury says skeptically. He looks over at Susan. "Listen, is he cool?"

    Susan looks at him. "Sorry, sir?"

    Fury looks at her, "I mean is he cool?"

    "I'm cool as fuck," Miles squints. "As you know."

    Fury grins. "Right then, SEC told me you guys were cool. No reason to stand on ceremony."

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    Miles swallows. Doctor Zola, Nick Fury is not supposed to be a Skrull! Begin calculating exit strategies for us right now or this field trip is gonna be over in about three seconds!

    Calculating…!


    But externally Miles just nods. "Like taking off yesterday's underwear, right?"

    The Skrull smiles and looks at Susan. "Well, go on." Susan smiles, and assumes her Skrull form. Miles has seen it before; he knows it’s the same Susan. Skrulls can't take other Skrulls' faces.

    The Skrull-Fury nods. "Alright then. So, just so you guys know, we've got a communication from the Empress. Fleet's going to be here soon, so, finish up what you're dicking around with down here and get your game face on, because the Heretic Prince is going to die and this planet is ours."

    Miles nods. "Glory to the Empress."

    He grins. "Glory to. See you upstairs." He shapeshifts back into Fury and walks away.

    Once the door closes behind him, Susan turns back into a human and stares at Miles, eyes wide. "What...what are we going to do?"

    "What are we going to do?” Miles clenches his fist. “Company’s coming. We're gonna throw them a welcoming party they'll never forget."

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    jurnerNytewarrior
  • FencingsaxFencingsax It is difficult to get a man to understand, when his salary depends upon his not understanding GNU Terry PratchettRegistered User regular
    Well, the shit is truly in the fan now

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    jurnerJacobkoshMsAnthropyNytewarrior
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Something I forgot to mention in the writeup is that this episode's structure is a deliberate mirror of the penultimate stories of season 1, "New Universes" and "Convergence." The team is split up and sent on multiple side missions, some of which end up being the same mission, Julian has a team-up with a famous Marvel squad, Miles journeys into cyberspace to get help from Arnim Zola, Elise goes to Attilan, there's a troubled young man with a symbiote working with a group of dubious ne'er do wells on behalf of a Doom, and everything comes together at a Skrull Cradle where a big list of infiltrators is revealed.

    Fencingsax
  • FencingsaxFencingsax It is difficult to get a man to understand, when his salary depends upon his not understanding GNU Terry PratchettRegistered User regular
    Jacobkosh wrote: »
    Something I forgot to mention in the writeup is that this episode's structure is a deliberate mirror of the penultimate stories of season 1, "New Universes" and "Convergence." The team is split up and sent on multiple side missions, some of which end up being the same mission, Julian has a team-up with a famous Marvel squad, Miles journeys into cyberspace to get help from Arnim Zola, Elise goes to Attilan, there's a troubled young man with a symbiote working with a group of dubious ne'er do wells on behalf of a Doom, and everything comes together at a Skrull Cradle where a big list of infiltrators is revealed.


    I kinda figured it was done on purpose.

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    Jacobkosh
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Fencingsax wrote: »
    I kinda figured it was done on purpose.

    I think one benefit of doing the game in text, and then also having these writeups, is it makes these kind of shenanigans more feasible to get up to. You could try fancy-pants thematic parallels or callbacks in a face to face game but 99% of the time nobody will ever notice.

    FencingsaxMsAnthropy
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