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[Actual Play, NSFData] Marvel's Agents of STRIKE - S4 FINALE: "Secret Invasion, Part 2"



  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    I fielded a question in the D&D chat thread that I thought I should repost here, for completeness' sake:
    also you said in the same set of posts that the skrulls don't have the resources to fight the kree and nova prime at the same time, but that the skrulls are working to fake a Nova Prime declaration of war against the skrulls so that the skrulls can conquer them and take their shit

    Jacobkosh wrote: »
    i am not the GM but I think if xandar attacks first they would take a big hit to their moral authority and soft power and their assorted members (they're described as a "loose federal republic") and ally states might not go along with it and sue for a separate peace

    whereas if the skrulls roll into an avowedly neutral country all like "lol" there would be literally no reason for any other power in the galaxy to not pitch in against them at that point because it would be clear that your turn would come in a matter of time

    anyway for this convincing explanation of a seeming incongruity I award myself marvel's highest honor, the No-Prize


    I have received confirmation that this is the Official Canon Explanation.

    Also, the No-Prize is a real thing. For 25 years (the 60s to the 1980s, basically, when comics had letter pages) when fans would write in complaining about a continuity error or asking some kind of fussbudgety question, anyone who wrote in with a good explanation was mailed an Official Marvel Comics No-Prize—an empty envelope in Marvel stationery, reproduced above.

    The funny thing is, No-Prize envelopes actually became prized collectors' items and readers began badgering editors for them.
    After Lee stepped down as Marvel editor-in-chief in 1972, Marvel's various editors, who were left in charge of dispensing No-Prizes, developed differing policies toward awarding them. By 1986, these policies ranged from Ralph Macchio's practice of giving them away to anyone who wrote a letter asking for one to Mike Higgins' policy of not awarding them at all. As reported in Iron Man #213 (Dec. 1986), these were the various editors' policies:

    Ann Nocenti (X-Men): "The spirit of the No-Prize is not just to complain and nitpick but to offer an exciting solution. Do that and you will get one from me."
    Carl Potts (Alpha Flight and Power Pack): "If someone points out a major story problem I'm not aware of and solves it to my satisfaction, I'll award a No-Prize. I give away very few."
    Mike Higgins (Star Brand): "No No-Prizes for New Universe no-no's no way!"
    Larry Hama (Conan, G.I. Joe): "No one writes in for them in the Conan books so we don't award them. On G.I. Joe, which I write, I give them to people who get me out of jams if they are very ingenious about it."
    Archie Goodwin (Epic): "We acknowledge our mistakes in print, but Epic Comics doesn't award No-Prizes."
    Bob Budiansky (Secret Wars II): "If someone finds a clever enough explanation for what seems to be a mistake, I'll send them a No-Prize."
    Bob Harras (The Incredible Hulk, X-Factor): "My policy is if a certain mistake wouldn't have bothered me when I was a kid, it's not worth a No-Prize. But if someone does really help us out, I'll send them one."
    Don Daley (Captain America): "First I place a temporal statute of limitations on No-Prize mistakes. If the mistake is more than six issues old, it doesn't qualify anymore. Second, I only give them out for things that count, not trivial nitpicking and faultfinding. Third, the explanation should not only be logical but emotionally appealing. I don't award many of them."
    James Owsley (Spider-Man): "We only mail them out to people who send us the best possible explanations for important mistakes. Panels where someone's shirt is colored wrong do not count. We send out the No-Prize envelopes to everyone who gets the same best answer, and sometimes will send out postcards to runners-up who come close."
    Ralph Macchio (Daredevil): "The No-Prize is an honored Marvel tradition. Of course I give them away—for just about any old stupid thing. I have a million of them."[6]

    A typical mid-1980s attempt at a No-Prize comes from the letters page of The Incredible Hulk #324 (Oct. 1986), in response to Hulk #321: ". . . On page 12, panel 5, Wonder Man's glasses are knocked off, but in following panels on the next page, he has them on. He didn't have enough time to get them after they fell off, and Hawkeye's explosive arrow probably would have destroyed them when it detonated on the Hulk. Never fear, though. I have the solution — while flying down to help Hawkeye, Wonder Man pulled out an extra pair he carries in case of just such emergencies." (Editor Bob Harras awarded the writer a No-Prize.)[7]

    Editor Mark Gruenwald believed the quest for No-Prizes negatively impacted the quality of letters sent to comic book letter columns, as readers were becoming more focused on nitpicking and pointing out errors than in responding to the comics' stories themselves. (He even cited one letter which focused on Captain America's glove being yellow in one panel, instead of the correct color red.)[5] Gruenwald then temporarily adopted a new policy, which was to award No-Prizes to readers who not only pointed out an error but also devised a clever explanation as to why it was not really an error. (Gruenwald was also known for awarding the "fred-prize" to readers of Captain America.)[8] But in 1986, still believing that the quest for No-Prizes was degrading the quality of reader communication, Gruenwald informed the public that his office would no longer award No-Prizes at all.[9]

    In January 1989, Marvel was purchased by Ronald Perelman.[10] One of the first casualties of the new financial belt-tightening was the No-Prize, considered in one memo to be "a silly, expensive extravagance to mail out".[7]

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

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

    We have arrived on Sakaar. The planet is horrifying. It’s everything I said about Knowhere but worse on every level. It’s like if Mos Eisley got chewed up by Tortuga and shit onto the Thunderdome.

    The primary attraction of Sakaar is the Arena, run by a being known as the Grandmaster. This alien is simply called one of the “Elders of the Universe,” a creature so old everyone forgets what his species even is, somewhat like the Collector. They may even be related?

    Because STRIKE-1 is still headed to Xandar, the Starjammers were our de facto away team, with Agent Dalton going along with them as a liaison.

    They have been trying to find Tanak Valt and the Starjammers’ ship, with limited success. Captain Summers has possibly found a lead on his ship, and they are pursuing that, but as of this writing no details have been found concerning Valt himself.

    Chief Engineer Skivorski has been quite useful on logistics while Agent Dalton has been on away missions, securing resources for the Anabasis and even making profitable trade deals with the locals. We’ve done a few puddle hops over the last few days, turning over a few Units while we wait for word from STRIKE-1 or the away team finds anything of substance. Searching an entire planet for information is substantially harder than a space station, it turns out.

    I’m a bit anxious, to be quite honest. We’ve not heard from STRIKE-1 in a while. I know we’re on a farther side of the galaxy, and temporal mechanics from hyper-jumps distorts space-time, but it’s still worrisome. I hope they either arrive soon, or at least send a transmission by ansible to update us.

    Captain Isabel Kane,
    Commanding Officer of the Anabasis

    8qVxKpD.pngRe: Arrival at Sakaar

    Continue your efforts. STRIKE-1 will do the job, they’re professionals, they’ll accomplish their mission and link up with you when they’re done.

    I’ve looked into some of the intel you sent me on the last transmission.

    - That Leviathan project was shut down in the 70’s but was absolutely a real thing. I talked to Susan Richards about it, and while she personally knew nothing about it (and was horrified to hear about it), she talked to some of her Leviathan contacts and it was some dirty secret they tried for a while to infiltrate and steal secrets from the West. God, the Cold War was awful.

    - It seems like the Terrigen Crystals and Asgardian Norn Stones were “seeded” on Earth by the Celestials, who seem to have also been the ones to have created the Asgardians directly. According to information I acquired from Namor, there’s other species on Earth that were created from Celestial interference, and that Mutants are the result not necessarily of just human evolution but of humans expressing that Celestial demarcation. Inhumans, in Namor’s opinion, are just the result of the Kree bringing that Celestial power out by way of cross-breeding and Terrigen augmentation to create incredibly powerful and potentially monstrous people. When I told Namor about Galactus, the Power Cosmic, and how he is attracted to objects with that power, he just shrugged and said “he can try.” I hate that man.

    - Fury’s talking about putting together a conference of some of the big movers and shakers to share with them some of this intel, to mount a defense against Galactus, similar to the conference we had in Atlantis. Might even be in Atlantis again. Would be a lot of the same parties, too. Namor, Xavier, Richards, Strange, Doom, etc.

    On a personal note, consider swapping out places with Dalton as away team lead, and let him take the deck for a while. Put your boots on the ground. When’s the last time you breathed non-recycled air, Isabel? It’s not good for your mental health to spend the entire mission on the Anabasis. Get some of the planet under your fingernails, agent.

    Clay Quartermain,
    Director of STRIKE

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The young Nova Corpsman, Torthar, leads Freedom Force into a large hall. It reminds them of some kind of science fiction senate hall. And, technically speaking, that's more or less exactly what it is.


    The room is largely vacant, but for some Nova Corpsmen security, Nova-Prime, Rhomann Dey, and two other individuals they have not met.



    Nova-Prime makes introductions. "Suzerain Adora, the leader of the Xandarian Federation," she says as she gestures to the woman. "And Chancellor Xor, head of the Federation Senate."

    Ryann salutes. Elise curtseys. Michael and Miles bow, and after a moment, Julian follows their lead.

    Miles sends Julian a mental “knock.” Julian, as soon as we identify the Skrull, I want you to go ham on it mentally. The Skrulls on Earth were incredibly dangerous. We have no idea how powerful this one might be. If you can force it to shapeshift, so the rest of the room teams up with us against it, so much the better.

    Sounds good, Chief.

    Taking a quick glance at Xor, Elise notices something immediately, and she doesn't need her powers to see it.


    Chancellor Xor has scarring on his face. Red veins around his right eye, almost like varicose veins. Elise hasn't seen a condition like that before, but then again Xor is an alien? Everyone keeps telling Elise that Xandarians are just like humans, but they might have weird space diseases she's never heard of. Maybe it's like, space herpes? Maybe that's why nobody is saying anything about it, it's just like...rude. Because it's super obvious to everyone around him. Elise doesn't need powers to see it.

    Elise freezes. If she starts a conference call, can a Skrull read that? Clay said these Skrulls were worse. What's up with his face? Is she staring? Has anyone noticed she's staring?
    Is he reading her mind right now?

    "Chancellor, Suzerain.” Ryann says to the dignitaries. “Thank you for meeting with me and my companions."

    Xor looks Elise dead in the eyes. She was staring. She did not make a quick glance. She was staring at his weird face problem. Elise gives a big, lopsided smile and prays it looks like a natural, winning grin.

    Xor does not smile back.

    Elise breaks eye contact and composes herself by cropping to one knee to tie her boot. She prepares for another chance to look at his face - hopefully when he's having a reaction of some kind. Easier to tell, then.

    The Suzerain nods. "Nova-Prime has given me the overview of the matter, but I have questions for you, Centurion Valt."

    Ryann nods.

    "My first question concerns your belief that the Nova Force makes Xandar a target for the Devourer of Worlds. I do not question the veracity of your belief. I have consulted the Worldmind, and we have concluded that this theory has a great deal of potentiality.

    "However... we were unable to determine any sort of predictive model that would lead to a conclusion that Xandar was next on Galactus' path.

    "Galactus'...targeting, so to speak, is not random but seems to obey a logic that it is beyond the Worldmind's computation. Do you have data that could assist in this regard?"

    "No, but my brother believes he has found something out there," Ryann says. "And besides, even if Xandar isn't next, we still need to prepare, Suzerain."

    Elise stands with her laces perfectly tightened and carefully looks at Xor again. She's not staring; she's a spy scanning for his reaction. That's fine.

    But she doesn't know what's up with Xor. Something's wrong with his face. He's got like... partial paralysis? Like he has Bell's Palsy or something. Maybe it has to do with the weird vein thing he has going on.

    Xor clears his throat, staring at Elise. "Excuse me." Ryann and the team look over at Elise. Elise goes white.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2018
    "If I may address the young woman, the SHIELD agent." He has a slight slur to his words, like a man who has a palsy or has suffered a stroke.

    Ryann scowls at Elise, who stares back at him, panicked. "I'm not -"

    "I am uncertain if you have a condition on your world similar to Hlavac's Disease, which is not in and of itself native to Xandar either."

    "My apologies, Chancellor," Ryann says.

    Elise forces herself to look at Xor. This may be the last chance she has to look at him without suspicion...or looking like a massive asshole. And him speaking about something personally may give off Skrull muscle movements.

    "It is a rather serious affliction, a sentient neuro-virus from another world that takes over the mind. It is, however, curable. I contracted the virus while off-world a few months ago. It requires radiotherapy with a rare metal from the planet Aedi. This radiotherapy is quite damaging, and the damage is permanent." He gestures to his face. "A small sacrifice for not losing one's mind."

    "Sir, I am so sorry,” she says, “it's just damage that, uh, reminded me of something on Earth. I apologize, I was being extremely rude."

    Elise manages to examine his face with some subtlety, knowing now he has a facial condition. ...he's not a Skrull.


    She just eyeballed a disabled man for no reason. Julian, and the rest of the telepathic conference call, pick up a wave of pure emotion from Elise - embarrassment, panic.

    I love how a couple of blown dice rolls turned into, not a crippling injury or sudden death, but the most holy shit awkward social situation ever.

    Where’s a supervillain when you really need one?

    Oh, god, Miles thinks, as Elise’s mortified backwash hits him. His mind races. If it’s not Rhomann Dey, and it’s not Chancellor Xor, then... Elise. Check the Suzerain.

    Elise looks at Suzerain Adora. "Ma'am, uh, sir, uh, Suzerain, I am so sorry for my behavior as well..." She begins scrutinizing the woman’s face. Adora’s expression is much more open, and she doesn’t have any unusual, distracting features. Elise is able to tell she’s not a Skrull.

    But at Miles’ words, Julian also began to probe Adora with his own abilities, searching for evidence of Skrull manipulation…

    ...but he feels something go wrong.

    The Suzerain grabs the side of her head and winces. "Ughhhh...." She staggers backwards.

    Immediately, Nova-Prime catches her. "Suzerain Adora, are you alright?"

    The Suzerain looks at Julian directly, eyes widening. "I think he..."

    Michael armors up.


    Everyone in the room whirls in surprise. The Nova Corpsmen reach for their weapons. Elise yells and springs back several steps.

    The fuck… the team feel Michael’s confusion and dismay over the mental link. I-I'm not… Behemoth’s faceplates open up. Cosmic fire boils forth. He disintegrates the Chancellor.

    "Oh shit, it's Nova-Prime!" Miles shouts. He fires his repulsors full blast at Irani Rael. Nova-Prime is knocked across the room. The Suzerain dives behind a desk.

    Nova Corpsmen in the room immediately move to attack. Elise screams and sprints towards the door.

    "What have you done?!" Ryann rushes Behemoth and tackles him to the ground.

    Guys! I'm not in control! Michael’s desperation and horror fill the telepathic connection. He’s been mind-controlled before and it terrifies him.

    Elise is throwing her shoulder against the locked down door repeatedly in an attempt to force it open, but it doesn’t budge. It’s like a nightmare.

    Machine Man jets after Nova Prime to catch her and seize her, but Nova-Prime blasts at him with the power of the Nova Force. He tries to counter the blast with one of his own. The blasts collide—and hers prevails. Nova-Prime is significantly more powerful than Miles, or even Centurion. She is Nova-Prime. Miles is knocked unconscious.

    "CHIEF!" Elise screams. Nova Corpsmen charge her, blasting with their sidearms. Elise springs, attempting to roll out of the way of the energy weapons fire. She's terrified, acting purely on instinct. I'm going to die. This is it. I'm going to die here.

    Julian attempts to free Michael from control. There's no time to lose on this. He pushes his power to the limit, and he hears a voice. Voices.

    Everything is going wrong, Julian. Your friends are in danger. They could all die. We can save them. We can free Michael. We can stop all of this, if you let us.

    Julian resists. He speaks back directly. And then send the planet... the galaxy... into pandemonium. We can't. Not now. But without their power, he can’t cut the strings binding Michael.

    Elise attempts to scramble for cover but is shot. Repeatedly. She does happen to be wearing her Stark tech kinetic harness, so she doesn't die. But she is unconscious and hurt.

    Fighting with all of his furious strength and no restraint, Behemoth attempts to break free from Centurion's grapple, shaking the room with their struggle. Ryann has a choice. He can hold on to Michael and keep him subdued, but he's going to have to compress him using mass fields, which is definitely going to harm him.

    "Sorry, buddy," Ryann grimaces. "This is gonna hurt."

    Ryann compresses him.

    OWOWOWOWOWOWOWFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKOWOWOWOWOW He can feel Michael’s agony over the mental link.

    Things are going to shit. This is shit, Julian thinks. But maybe there's one thing left… Following Machine Man's train of thought, he tries to reveal Nova Prime as a Skrull. He pushes at her mind with all of the power he can muster.

    He can go into Irani Rael's mind and potentially reveal her as a Skrull. But he won't be going in gently or with subtlety. He won't go in like a scalpel. He will go in like a bastard sword. Not an incision, but like a hack. If he's wrong...he's going to do damage.

    I'm revealing Nova Prime. God help us.

    Nova-Prime collapses to the ground. She...doesn't turn green. But she's definitely unconscious.

    Fuck, fuck, fuck…

    Julian and Ryann stand in numb horror, surrounded by wreckage and chaos.

    Suddenly, a dozen Black Novas burst into the room, along with Garthan Saal and Mexxa Rael. Garthan Saal and Mexxa Rael glow with the Nova Force.

    Mexxa Rael flies over to Nova-Prime. "Mother!" she shouts "What have they done?!"

    Saal points at Behemoth. "Subdue the assassin and round up his cohorts!"

    Mexxa Rael teleports over to Behemoth, and she growls as she slams her gravity-empowered fist into his face. This knocks Behemoth unconscious, and he powers down, his armor disappearing and Michael assuming his normal form.

    Saal looks at Ryann. "Centurion Valt, stand down."

    Ryann looks around at his fallen STRIKE allies. He complies. "They...I don't know what happened here."

    Saal puts up his hand to Ryann. "Don't make a statement, son. You'll need an Advocate." He begins barking orders, "Secure the assailants, get the Suzerain and Nova-Prime to safety. We'll sort out this...situation."

    The Black Novas handcuff those who are conscious, and take those who are not.

    This is the biggest pantsing we’ve suffered yet, and while the core element—Michael disintegrating Chancellor Xor—was always going to happen (per the rules of the system, the GM can give the player an XP to temporarily take away the character’s agency, which Matt has used very sparingly and mostly in scenes involving mind control) most of the fuckups were our own poor choices and astonishingly unlucky rolls.

    Miles attacking Nova-Prime was impulsive and stupid, and while I wasn’t trying to fail or cause us to fail, making a risky play with a huge downside like that (even if she was a Skrull, it basically cemented the idea that we were crazed assassins) was a choice I made as part of Miles’ ongoing struggle with responsibility and leadership after his experience in the Matrix. Old Miles would have taken stock of the situation and barked orders, but now he’s plagued with indecision so oversteers and kind of flails at the problem.

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

    Ryann is led into a small detention facility within the Nova Corps HQ.

    Garthan approaches him, bearing a Nova Corps insignia that is about the size of a fist. Ryann recognizes it. It is the Nova-Force Link that was pressed against his heart when he was made a Supernova.

    "I'm sorry, son, but this has to be done. Until you're cleared of any association with these... assassins. You have to severed from the Nova-Force."

    Ryann looks at him in shock.

    "If you're innocent, and I'll be honest with you, by your actions and your character I believe you are, this can be restored. But for now, it must be done."

    "This will all be sorted out," Ryann nods.

    Garthan nods, and presses the emblem against Ryann's chest. Ryann feels it leave him. The Force. He feels...hollow inside. Like a limb or organ was removed. It doesn't hurt, it's just...a feeling of loss.

    Ryann closes his eyes for a moment and then lets out a long breath. "I need to speak with them."

    "You'll get a chance to when your Advocate arrives. In the meantime, we have to deal with your team's abilities. Fortunately, your reports have been helpful in this regard."


    Michael wakes up to find himself alone in a cell.

    There’s a vest attached to him. It's metal and some kind of mesh material, and has a glowing disc on it, which reminds Michael of an arc reactor, located directly over his brand, glowing with orange energy.

    Elise wakes up. She can tell she's in a cell, alone, but her senses are...blunted. Not just like she greened out but everything was... before. Before Alchemax.

    But there's a weird taste in her mouth. Metallic. Coppery. She notices a small mark in her arm, like an injection mark.

    Julian is also alone. When he was escorted by the Black Novas, he was quickly jabbed by something from some kind of dartgun, and felt something flow through his veins. Before he could react to it, he felt the Phoenix Force trying to scream at him, calling to him, growing fainter, and then...silence.

    Then he’s put in his cell. A Black Nova says to him, "We know you're a telepath. You've been injected with an anti-telepathic neuro-chemical. It binds to receptors in your neurology, it will inhibit your abilities. It's not permanent, eventually we'll have to re-up you, and if you're found not guilty we'll stop injecting you. If your throat swells up or you start getting migraine auras, inform the guard or your Advocate because you might be having an allergic reaction."

    For a moment, Julian thought he might feel peace with his own thoughts to him. But the absence makes him anxious.

    Miles wakes up and has a similar vest and device to Michael on him. He looks down at his chest. "Oh. Shit. Shit." X-51, can you hear me?


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

    The cells open, and the team is led by guards into a small conference room, where a woman with a tablet is waiting for them. Carol and Nebula are also there. Nebula's arm and eye seem to have been removed and replaced with different prosthetics, ones that are silver white.

    The woman with the tablet looks at the rest of the group with a strained smile.


    "Hello, my name is Cortellia. I will be your Advocate."

    Elise looks at the rest of the group with wild, terrified eyes. She looks pale, her face drawn with pain. Michael is silent, facing the floor. Ryann sits with his arms folded. Julian sits up straight, feet crossed tightly over each other at the ankles and his hands clasped tightly in his lap. He follows along with Cortellia, nodding slowly.

    "What did you do to me?" Elise says in a voice just above a whisper. "I - I can't hear, I can't feel, it's..." It's been so long since she felt this way, it feels distant. Blunted. Too quiet, too fuzzy.

    "Okay, first of all, to be clear, I didn't do anything to you. I don't work for the Nova Corps. I'm your Advocate, I'm an independent party. In terminology familiar to your world, I'm your... ‘defense attorney’? I think that's the right term?

    "I'm on your side."

    "I can't hurt anyone,” Elise says. “I'm a hundred pounds and cuffed. Please let me have my senses back, they're all I have."

    "Unfortunately, the Nova Corps have determined that all of your abilities are dangerous and have taken counter-measures to negate them until such time as you have been proven not guilty."

    "Then we have to prove ourselves not guilty," Miles says to the room. "Advocate Cortellia, this is important. Are there telepaths on Xandar?"

    "There are a minority population of registered telepaths, yes, the uses of their abilities are very tightly regulated by Xandarian law. Telepathy is a...thorny issue in Federation law, as telepathy outside the Skrull Empire is a relatively rare ability.

    "A small number of species in the galaxy are natively telepathic as a whole, but otherwise telepathy is limited to mutation amongst specific members of a species or the result of genetic experimentation within isolated members of individual species, which under Federation law is specifically illegal."

    "I want to submit myself for a telepathic scan," Miles says. "I believe that it will establish what happened here better than any of our own defenses ever could."

    "Telepathic evidence is legally inadmissible on Xandar, I'm afraid."

    "that's okay," Miles says. “I just want the scan. And I want the results sent to Rhomann Dey."

    "To what end?"

    "So that the Nova Corps knows of a threat to the planet that they might not believe if I just told them. If an uninvolved third party verifies it, they could take action," he says. "And then what happens to us would be...immaterial."

    Elise runs her tongue over the inside of her mouth, feeling the residue and tasting its coppery grit. She can think of one...person? One person who might have been watching this from the outside, who might have seen everything, who can put the pieces together. One person who might be invested in helping her beat this, so that she could go back to protecting...his planet. Vlad, she thinks to herself. If you're out there, if you're watching this somehow, if you ever loved me... Now would be a good time to pull your time bullshit and show up.

    Cortellia sighs and sits down, placing her tablet on the table. She looks at Miles, rubbing her temple. "Sir, let me explain something to you.

    "I was chosen for this specific case. This case, on its surface, was one where foreign espionage agents, from a recently enjoined Protectorate, proceeded to assassinate the Chancellor of the Federation on the Senate floor, and telepathically assault Nova-Prime causing currently unknown levels of neurological harm."

    Julian tries not to hang too much on this last part.

    "These foreign espionage agents also included the war criminal Nebula, who was pardoned that day, at the behest of Nova Centurion Ryann Valt, who himself is the brother of Nova Corps treasonist Tanak Valt. This case doesn't just look unwinnable. It looks apocalyptic.

    "But if you're genuinely innocent, then it's possible to win."

    Throughout Cortellia's speech, Elise is visibly scanning the corners of the room, as if she expects something to happen.

    "I just spent the last hour attempting to review 'Earth law,' so I could try to speak to you on a level you would understand, only to discover there's no such thing as Earth law! You don't have a global government, you have national governments and state governments and provincial governments and it's completely insane.

    "Fortunately at least you all seem to be from the same nation so I could at least restrict myself to crash coursing 'American' law. Sir, what you are asking for is the equivalent of submitting yourself to a polygraph to try to prove your innocence."

    "Nobody is going to care."

    Miles throws up his hands in exasperation. "So you people understand telepathy well enough to inhibit it, but dismiss it out of hand anyway? You know what, Ryann? Elise was right. Your planet sucks."

    Cortellia looks at Miles. "Please understand, sir. If we permitted telepathy into evidence, the dangerous road that takes us down. If you allow telepathic scanning as evidence, it puts pressure on the accused who won't submit to such scanning as to why they would not. Of course, they'd retain a right to refuse, but it would put an automatic spectre of doubt as to their resistance to submit to such a scan if they were truly innocent, and this would ultimately begin to color the judgment of the Tribunes.

    “You would also need to have dedicated, trained telepaths who were in the direct employ of the state, people who themselves could potentially be subject to corruption, bribery, or could issue false testimony to implicate guilt or innocence in specific cases, with no ability to verify their own testimony.

    "They would have expert testimony that would be impossible to repudiate, unless you suddenly had a panel of telepaths checking each other's work, and now the accused has to submit themselves to a bevy of scans.

    "And look at the road we've gone down."

    Still looking at the floor, Michael clears his throat. "Is there a technological way to prove that I was not in control of my actions? Like a way to replay my memories of the events?"

    "Are you alleging you were yourself being subjected to mind control?" Cortellia asks. "Because if so, you're not liable under Xandarian law."

    Elise looks up, hope coming across her face for the first time.

    "Yes, from my perspective I was not in control of my body."

    "And you believe this was telepathic, and not drug induced or some other chemical or technological agent?"

    "Yes, I do not believe I was injected or dosed or implanted with anything since landing on Xandar. I've also had...other instances where someone has taken over my mind to their own ends. This unfortunate incident felt similar to those times."

    "Hmmm..." The Advocate cradles her chin. She turns to Miles. "Were you also mind-controlled? Is that why you attacked Nova-Prime?"

    "I was not," Miles says. "We'd been told by Garthan Saal that the Black Novas had determined that there was a Skrull on Xandar impersonating either Rhomann Day or the Chancellor. He knew that my agent" - Miles gestures at Elise - "can pick up on the alien body language of Skrulls.

    "We cleared Rhomann Day when we first met him. We then cleared the Chancellor, and the Suzerain."

    "When Michael was taken over - by a mental attack, as a Skrull would - Nova-Prime was the last name on my list. I gambled that rendering her unconscious would end the control and reveal her true form. It uh...didn't."

    Cortellia squints. "I... spoke with Saal. He didn't mention this to me. Any of this."

    "What a surprise." Elise says, dryly. "The black ops agent threw convenient targets under the bus. They never do that."

    Julian buries his face in his hands.

    "What Saal said was, and I quote…’Valt couldn't be part of this. Find the truth, but I know in my heart Valt is a patriot, not an assassin. Those Earthers, I don't know their agenda.’ That's what he said to me."

    "It had to have been Saal, or Mexxa," Miles says. "They were there at the meeting...with you, Michael. That must be where they assumed control."

    "He believes Centurion Valt is innocent,” Cortellia says. “The rest of you, he more or less believes are guilty. Why wouldn't he tell me if he sent you on some black ops mission that could clear you of at least partial wrongdoing?"

    "It might not have been him,” Miles says. "Skrulls shapeshift. Is there a way to establish his whereabouts before we met Nova-Prime at the Corps HQ?"

    "No, he's a Black Nova," the Advocate says. "He's a shadow.”

    "Well, that's convenient,” Miles spits out bitterly. "He said that all the Black Nova's were 'clear,' but never explained how. And we took his word. Trust but verify."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Elise stops staring into the middle distance and slumps forward, tears springing into her eyes.

    Advocate Cortellia stares at her. "We don't have jury trials on Xandar. We have tribunals of educated men. You cannot play to their sensitivities or emotions or better nature."

    "So, what happens when we're found guilty?” Elise says hoarsely. “Death penalty? Public execution? What?"

    "Life in prison." Cortellia says to Elise. "Xandar does not have the death penalty."

    "I'd rather die." Elise sighs, tangling her hands in her hair. She still doesn't completely understand what happened in that Senate room, or why.

    "If you didn't have powers you would likely be sent to a rehabilitative penal colony, but given your abilities you'd likely be sent to a maximum security facility indefinitely."

    "Ma'am, I have, I have medicine I need," Elise pleads.

    MIles stares at her. "I can't believe you're thinking about pot at a time like this."

    She stares back. "I can't believe you're not."

    Miles considers this. "Touché."

    Cortellia looks at Elise, a look of concern and compassion. "What do you need, Princess?"

    Elise's eyebrows shoot up. "You uh, you know? About...?"

    "She needs her Earth weed," Ryann says.

    "According to my research, you're a Princess of an Earth lunar monarchy called..." she looks at her tablet, "Attilan? Am I saying that right?"

    "Uh, yeah. I don't... I thought that was... You researched that? It just came up? And yeah, Ryann, you don't have to say it like you don't think it works. It does."

    "I requested access to Centurion Valt's intelligence reports," Cortellia says. "I was granted them."

    "Great. Thanks, Ryann," Elise says. "Doesn't that grant me anything? I'm part of a royal family of a foreign nation? That has to count for something."

    "You're considered royalty of a lunar colony of a minor Protectorate, who also was accessory to the assassination of the Chancellor of the Senate"

    "I didn't even do anything!"

    "That's why you're an accessory."

    Elise shakes her head and tangles her hands back in her hair. "This is a nightmare. This is a fucking nightmare."

    "I will talk to the Nova Corps and see what we can do for your medical needs, Princess," the Advocate says. "In the meantime... if what you are saying is true, and as your Advocate I will take it as your defense, it means... Skrulls have infiltrated the Black Novas in some capacity and have used you as patsies to assassinate the Chancellor."

    Miles nods. "And regardless of who it is or what their motives are, there's a powerful telepath who used us to murder your Chancellor."

    Elise raises her cuffed hands. "Can...can we please be in the same cell, while you go talk to the Corps?"

    "I don't see why not, I'll talk to the Corps about it, Princess. They've sufficiently nullified your abilities."

    "Okay. Thank you."

    Cortellia's tablet begins beeping. She looks at it, and her face is grim. "...there is an emergency meeting of the Senate. The Suzerain has handed down an Edict, which from a legal perspective has to be ratified by the Senate. The Edict will immediately remove Earth's Protectorate status in light of the Chancellor's assassination by Earth agents."

    "...Oh no," Miles breathes.

    Cortellia stands up. "I'm...I'm going to talk to the Nova Corps. I will...see what I can do. If there's a way I can prove that Mr. Westin was mind-controlled, that will prove your innocence at least but...there's still the matter of the Black Novas and that... I don't...I don't know. I knew this case was bad but I thought it was just...defending enemies of the state."

    "I'm never going to get to go home," Elise says to the table. "Never going to see Crys or Clay again."

    Cortellia leaves the room. Nova Corpsmen lock it behind her. The team is left alone in the conference room.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "Well,” Ryann sighs, “this is fucked."

    Miles nods. "We were set up by an expert."

    Nebula puts her hand on Centurion's shoulder. "I appreciate that you tried to get me a pardon. The effort was nice."

    Julian lets out a haggard sigh. "Yeah. This is...god. Fuck."

    Ryann shakes his head. "We're not done yet. I have no plan. but we're not done."

    Miles nods grimly at Centurion. "That's the spirit, boss. We've still got a job to do. Just tell us how we can help."

    Ryann nods. "Right now...right now, we just wait."

    Michael is still quiet, not really moving, not making eye contact with anyone.

    "...I thought he would come." Elise says, still staring at the table. "I thought that would fix things."

    Julian’s head slowly turns to face her. "Who?"

    Miles feels his blood run cold. "Elise...."

    "Vlad." Elise says to Julian. "I thought...I mean, he could...he came to my wedding. He can come."

    Julian just shakes his head.

    Ryann just shakes his head and begins to pace the confines of the small room.

    The door unlocks. It opens. A Nova Corpsman walks in. "Follow me. You are to be transported to the Kyln to await your trial."

    "Well, here's to the rest of my life,” Elise sighs. “A grey, drab room in a prison. Maybe twice a day I will be allowed to watch edutainment."

    "We'll think of something," Miles says. "We have to." He stands and looks at Carol. "Do you think they'd let us have any of that coke? For medicinal reasons?"

    Carol has been completely silent and sullen this entire time. She doesn't laugh at Miles' joke. But she looks at Miles and gives him a hug and pulls him tight.

    Miles hugs her back, fiercely. "I love you," he whispers, "and I swear this isn't over."

    She whispers back, "I love you too. Also Ihaveaplan."

    "Well now I love you more," he whispers through a tight, predatory smile. They part and fall in line behind Ryann.

    "Ultra-Max?” Ryann shakes his head in disbelief. “You've already taken our powers."

    The Corpsman looks at him. "Don't make the rules, so I don't answer the questions. Traitor. One foot in front of the other."

    Elise bristles. "Don't be a dick to him!"

    The Corpsman looks at Elise and draws his pistol, holding it at his side. "You want to file a complaint with your Advocate, prisoner? I don't mind signing off some paperwork."

    "No," Ryann puts his hand up placatingly. "It's fine. Everyone just fall in."

    Elise stares at the gun, frozen in place. "You're - you're really going to - to shoot a 100 pound girl with no powers? That's your plan? You think a-anyone will believe that's justified?"

    The Corpsman looks at Elise. He shoots her.

    On stun. She drops to the ground. She feels like she's been tasered. "One page of paperwork," the Corpsman says. "Want to make me type more?"

    Ryann stares at the guard.

    "I have time," the man says.

    "Stop this," Ryann says tightly.

    "Pick her up," the guard barks. Julian helps Elise up and she shakily stands, whimpering.

    The Corpsman looks at Elise. "My name is Denarian Kenan. K-e-n-a-n. When you complain to your Advocate later. It won't matter, assassin, but I figure it might get me in a history book someday."

    "You're a disgrace to your badge," Miles snarls.

    Elise gets in line behind Miles, her face drawn and pale. She refuses to look at the Corpsman. "Don't. Please, just...please, let's just go."

    Denarian Kenan nods. "This way."

    If all of this felt rough to read, it was as rough to play through!

    Sometimes in arguments in roleplaying threads online I see a certain sort of player (often an older sort of player) announcing that they don’t truck with these newfangled dirty hippie games, because “I’m a fan of my character” and “I want them to win” instead of “treating the character like a writer would and trying to put obstacles in their way and make their life harder.”

    And, I mean, who knows? I’m sure someone somewhere feels that detached about their character, putting obstacles in the character’s path for lols without feeling attached to the character’s success or failure.

    But for me? And my group? That’s bullshit. Everyone is incredibly attached to the person they’re playing, and I think that comes through in the game. As you’ve seen over and over, that doesn’t stop us from making tough choices that might be bad for the character, but we do those things because it wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t, not because we’re rubbing our hands and cackling sadistically at the next terrible thing we can inflict on our pawn.

    What this means is that all of these terrible events spiraling out of control weren’t just bloodless thought exercises to us. The rug being pulled out from under us like this wasn’t some “oh ho, how terribly clever” thing; it had real impact. We were as dismayed as our characters and we were dismayed on their behalf; just like them, we wanted justice, we wanted answers, we wanted revenge.

    But it was going to have to wait...

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

    Freedom Force are led to a transport ship and secured into harnessed seats, unable to move.

    There is a holo-display on the ship that the pilots are watching. It's showing the Xandar global news.

    "Breaking news: the Senate has passed the Emergency Edict removing the planet Earth's Protectorate status from the Federation. This is despite Earth's leader, Nick Fury, openly disavowing the actions of the Earthers who allegedly assassinated Chancellor Xor earlier today.

    “According to Director Fury, the leader of Earth's government, the Shield, these individuals are not part of any Earth agency or military and he does not have any knowledge of their operations."

    "Oh, God," Elise whispers. "They know. Clay knows."

    "Fuck," Michael whispers.

    Miles sucks air in through his teeth. "Okay, yeah. I was really hoping to lead with my successful report."

    "Turn the news off," Elise calls. "Please, please, turn it off."

    "Acting Nova-Prime Rhomann Dey disputes these claims, citing intelligence reports from his own Supernovas that indicate the existence of a clandestine Earth black op known as 'Strike,' that engages in political assassinations and espionage. The individuals apprehended by the Nova Corps are allegedly Strike Agents."

    "Turn it off!" Elise cries again.

    One of the pilots calls back "Chew my feces, assassin!"

    Elise gives a defeated, guttural howl and slumps in her restraints. Julian lets out a deep, weary laugh.

    The ship takes off. After it leaves Xandarian orbit, the news feed stops.

    Ryann is silent as he stares out the window, watching Xandar shrink in the distance. Julian slumps on his seat, head hanging low. He's really fucked this up. Elise sobs in her restraints, head down.

    Miles looks at each of his teammates, feeling like he's failed them. Turning the day over in his head again and again. Elise's tears cut into him like a knife.

    Carol is sitting next to Elise and pokes her with her foot. "Hey."

    Elise looks up at Carol, looking like a complete wreck. "What."

    "Look at those vests that Miles and Michael are wearing."

    "...What about them."

    "They're to contain their energy and powers, you figure, right?" Carol asks brightly.


    "Yeah, because Ryann blabbed about all their powers in his intel reports about his team. His team being STRIKE-1.” Carol raises her eyebrows. "Hey Elise. What am I not wearing?"

    Elise's eyes widen. "Oh!"

    Carol winks. "I have a plan."

    Elise manages a watery smile. "If you have a plan, this isn't the end," she says, more to herself than Carol. "...We can go home."

    Carol nods.

    The ship's hyper-drive kicks in.


    We’re disavowed! It’s always been part of the premise, and it’s one of those standard-issue spy story things, but honestly? I never thought it would actually happen.

    Even in the midst of this grimness, I was and remain tickled by the detail that the rest of the galaxy thinks Earth’s government is called “The Shield.”

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

    "I wonder if this is like Earth jail." Elise says, staring out the window.

    "In some ways, yes,” Ryann says. “In other horrible ways, it's much worse."

    "I thought Xandar was supposed to be more...clean," Julian says.

    "This ain't Xandar," Michael grimaces.

    "I mean, it's Xandar-affiliated,” Julian says. “Xandar-adjacent."

    "Worst of the worst here. It's why they’re sending us to it. It's an Ultra-Max prison. I've put my share of galactic criminals in there," Ryann says grimly.

    "Ultra-Max," Miles can't help but look out the window in fascination. "Do they have 'iso cubes'? Is there a gladiator pit?"

    "Is it weird that I think I prefer this to the gray Xandar cell?" Elise says. "I think I can find a game of cards here, at least."

    The ship docks, and the group are led off the ramp.

    The guards here look...different than the Nova Corpsmen they have seen before.


    Ryann is silent, a grim expression on his face. Elise slips behind Miles in a weak attempt at hiding. She doesn't want to get shot for a third time today. Miles offers a hand behind his back for squeezing if need be. (Not that he needs it or anything. No.) Elise takes the proffered hand gratefully.

    Waiting at the head of the guards is another man, dressed similarly, but with a slightly different helmet design.


    "I am Warden Morrow."

    "Good to see you made Warden," Ryann says.

    Morrow stares at Ryann. "Not so good to see you made traitor."

    Ryann shakes his head.

    "I know what you are accused of,” Morrow says. “So do all of the guards in here. The prisoners? Likely not so much, they don't have access to interstellar news feeds. On you who you decide to tell. Some might consider you heroes, some might want to kill you. Just because someone's a murderer doesn't mean they're not a patriot."

    "We didn't do it," Elise says from behind Miles’s back.

    "Do you believe they'll care?"

    Ryann remains silent. Elise sighs. This is still going better than she expected.

    "The prisoner death rate in the Kyln is considered acceptable. I have a pretty good record. It's in acceptable margins," Morrow says. "Just so you're aware."

    "That's good,” Julian says. “That's great. Thank you for that."

    Miles stares grimly at the warden and the guards. Taking it all in, fighting the urge to protest his innocence. Saving it for later.

    "Your advocate requested that you be put in protective custody, especially for Ryann Valt. That request has been declined. Our protective custody facilities are under renovations and are not suitable for holding prisoners with your unique needs. You'll be in gen-pop."

    "Um, I told my Advocate I need medication,” Elise pipes up. “Are there...did they… Did they bring my medication, or..."

    "Your advocate also made requests regarding medical needs."

    "So, do you... have it?"

    "Our medical support is provided on a life-necessity basis. I read your request. You don't have cancer or diabetes or even a diagnosable mental illness. You have an ill-defined discomfort due to a lack of your extranormal powers. Too...bad? Deal with it.

    "If you know anything about life inside, you might interpret deal with it in a literal sense, young lady. Your problem. Not mine."

    Elise squeezes Miles' hand as hard as she can. "Yes, sir."

    "Is anything your responsibility here, or is all of that neatly deflected by now?" Miles snaps. Whoops. Broke his own rule.

    Morrow tilts his head, and blasts Miles with a gravity pulse, flooring him. Morrow has the Nova-Force. "Discipline is my responsibility, Prisoner A8102."

    "Chief!" Elise jumps between Morrow and Miles, standing in a protective stance.

    Miles picks himself up slowly. "About what I expected."

    Morrow sighs. "Also, your Advocate requested that you be put in combined cells. This has been declined. I do not put accomplices to crimes in shared accommodations. You can socialize as you please during common hours, but you have your own assigned cellmates who will act as behavioral guides as you adapt to life inside. From what I am given to understand, your trial date has yet to be determined. You might be here a while.

    "Once a Standard Xandarian Cycle you will be given access to a Comm Ansible, which you can use to have privileged communications with your Advocate, and monitored communications with other parties such as family members."

    Ryann takes note of that fact.

    "So, uh, do you have any special accommodations for royalty?" Elise makes the longest possible shot.

    "If the Federation still had any political relationship with such royalty, maybe. But Xandar just revoked your world's Protectorate status. So, if you're the Empress of some Earth nation, nobody cares."


    Morrow looks at the group. "Any other questions or...commentary?"

    "No, sir." Elise mumbles.

    The warden nods at Elise. "Good.”

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The group are led into the prison proper. It's a massive panopticon, with hexagonal cells lining walls around a central tower.


    The team are escorted to their cells. While they are in separate cells, their cells are in the same block, adjacent to each other.


    Julian enters his cell, which closes behind him, the entrance becoming a solid wall of transparent material that glows with an energy shield.

    The cell is already occupied.


    "Hey," the green-furred, felinoid man says to Julian.


    "Name's Lothithanriaxiaxus." He smiles, showing his fangs. "You can call me Lothi."

    Julian nods at him. "Julian."

    "Where you from, Julian?"

    "Earth. You?"

    "No shit?" Lothi is visibly taken aback. "I got a half-sister on Earth."

    "Damn. Small wor-- small...galaxy, I guess."

    "Yeah. I mean, I'm not gonna say, 'hey do you know her?', that's so stupid, when people do that. 'Oh, hey, you're from Hala? My friend Kol-An is from Hala, do you know him?’ Like there's no way you know my half-sister Abby."

    "Abby, eh? Maybe I ran into her one time." Julian lets out a small chuckle. "Where you from, anyway?"

    "Eh, you know. Around," Lothi shrugs. "Kinda never had a place. One of those guys."

    "Yeah. I know the feeling. So what's your story?"

    "Assassination," the green-furred man says quickly. "You?"

    "No shit, huh? I guess they like to put us together."

    "Nice. Who'd you do?"

    Julian clasps his hand to the back of his neck. "Man, it's kind of a thing."

    "Oh, is it still...'alleged'."

    Julian nods. "Yeah, basically."

    Lothi taps his nose. "Gotcha. Me? Crown Prince of Spartoi during a diplomatic negotiation with Xandar. Really fucked things right up, it did. Glad I was a Federation citizen or I would've been executed. Thank the Force for the Federation, man."

    Julian lets out a low whistle. "No kidding. Goddamn."

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

    Miles is led into his cell. A massive, hulking alien is seated on his bed, reading a tablet.


    He grunts in greeting at Miles, then goes back to reading.

    Miles nods. "Hey. Whatcha reading?"

    "A collection of ancient Shi'ar poetry, the last surviving remnants before their planet was destroyed by Galactus."

    Miles nods. "Oh man, poetry. I used to love that. Ever read any from Earth?"


    I don’t know if Miles is a poetry connoisseur as such but I think he read a lot in college and gravitated toward the kind of, you know, dude-y poets who write about noble causes, struggle against impossible odds, that sort of thing. Tennyson, Kipling, Carl Sandburg, Dylan Thomas.

    "Well, if you're ever curious, I can recite you some. I think.” Miles tries to keep the conversation, such as it is, going. “So is there a library here?"


    "Cool." Miles settles in. "I'll let you get back to it. I'm Miles, by the way."


    "Nice to meet you, Bill."

    He nods. "Was your world destroyed by Galactus?"

    "No,” Miles says, “but...I saw Taur. After. It was horrible."

    "Hm. I did not know Taur was destroyed."

    "Oh. I'm sorry, yeah. The warden said they didn't get the news here...anyway, yeah. It just happened.” A thought occurs to Miles. “Did the Shi'ar know it would happen? Was there any warning?"

    "Some. They had...Seers. Those whom the M'Kraan Crystal granted foresight. They told of a cataclysm. But none listened. Their society was decadent. My world did not have warning. We were destroyed."

    "I'm sorry," Miles says. "That's horrible. Is do with why you're here?" Miles is lying on his cot with his hands behind his head, in the classic prison pose.

    "No. I am here seeking the Penitent to join me against the Devourer."

    "You're out to stop the Devourer?"


    " do you plan to battle him from in here?"

    "I do not," Bill says. "I am here to recruit allies. The Penitent, those who wish to seek Redemption or Death, those who will join me in my crusade for Vengeance.

    "When I find such allies, I will leave. I have yet to do so.

    "And so I remain. It is...unfortunate that another world was taken as I search."

    Miles sits up. "My friends and I are...investigating the Devourer. Trying to find out why he targets specific worlds. That's part of the reason we're here."

    Bill looks up from the tablet and puts it to the side. "What have you done to put yourself here? Speak true."

    Miles meets Bill's gaze. Or where he thinks the gaze is. "We were on Xandar. My companion's brother had found a clue about Galactus and had deserted the Nova Corps to investigate it. We were there to...plead his case, among other things.

    "While we were on the planet, something mind-controlled one of my teammates and made him attack the Novas. If I can't prove our innocence, we'll have to find a way out. We have to find out what my friend's brother learned and stop the Devourer. If we can." All of this is basically true!

    "But what have you done?" Bill persists.

    "What do you mean?"

    "Are you Penitent?" Bill stares Miles in the eyes.

    Miles has a choice. He can meet Bill's gaze. Or look away.

    He holds the gaze.

    Miles feels Bill's stare bore into his soul. He feels every single awful thing he did, everything he regrets doing as a PMC, and even earlier, every horrible thing that he thinks might make him a bad person, ripped open and laid bare, and he feels like Bill is looking at them.

    Miles feels ashamed, like he wants to do something about these things. Maybe it's defeating the Devourer. Maybe it's proving his innocence of the assassination thing. Who knows. But he needs to do something.

    The answer comes to him, or is given to him.

    It's Vlad.

    He needs to defeat Vlad.

    That's what he needs to do. He knows. That was his failure. That's his penance.

    "I have to defeat Vlad," Miles says, as if this is the most obvious thing in the world.

    "You are Penitent," Bill says with a nod, leaning back. "You have allies. Gather them. When the time is right, we will leave and take down the Devourer together." He picks up his tablet, and continues reading.

    Meet Beta Ray Bill! Say hi, everyone!


    Beta Ray Bill was created by legendary writer/artist Walt Simonson and introduced in the pages of The Mighty Thor in the early 1980s. Bill was an alien whose entire galaxy was being consumed by Surtur, the Fire Giant, to forge a massive weapon that Surtur could use to start Ragnarok.

    (Surtur isn’t Galactus in regular Marvel canon, but this still fits oddly well, right?)

    Bill’s species decided to evacuate to a new home, Battlestar Galactica-style, and held a series of trials, contests, and games to find the smartest, noblest, and strongest among their race who could be empowered with super-scientific “beta rays” to guard their cryogenically-sleeping people as they made the long intergalactic journey.

    Fast forward to the present, when the alien migrant fleet runs into trouble in our galaxy and Thor arrives to help. Mistaking him for an attacker, Bill fights Thor and actually defeats him before they recognize each other as good guys. Impressed by this feat, as well as Bill’s wisdom and good spirits, Odin grants Bill an Uru hammer of his very own, and Beta Ray Bill and Thor become fast friends and go on cool adventures together.

    This Bill seems, uh, different. With different powers. Darker. And uh, creepier?

    It’s probably fine!

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

    Elise is led into a cell, and it is closed behind her.

    A woman is sleeping on a cot. She's wearing a red prison jumpsuit, and has long black hair. She's facing away from Elise.

    Elise is genuinely relieved she gets to skip the introductions for now. She checks out the cell, realizes she has nothing to unpack or claim, and just sighs and sits down on her cot.

    The woman hears Elise sit down, and turns, sitting up. "...oh, hey," she groggily mumbles.


    "...Hey." Elise says, suddenly on guard. "I guess we're roomies."

    "Yeah," the Skrull woman nods. "Thank the Shaper they put a Xandarian woman in here. I was sick of having to sleep with a shiv."

    "Well, as you can see, I'm like...five pounds and I promise not to stab you. What's your name?"


    "...Holy fuck," Elise breathes. She knows this name. "Fucking shit."

    "Ugh, please don't."

    "You are shitting me."

    "I know, I know."

    "Do you?” Elise says. “I don't think you know!"

    "I'm nobody now," Anelle says. "I've been stripped of my title and exiled."

    Elise grabs Anelle by the hands. "Can I trust you? This is... you don't understand. This is..."

    "Whoa... hey...uh..." Anelle looks around nervously. "We just met. Relax."

    "I know someone who knows you," Elise says. "Someone who misses you. I just, I just can't believe - he thought you were dead, he..."

    Anelle is very nervous. Elise lets go of her hands and goes back to pacing.

    "Uh... okay..." Anelle’s eyes follow Elise around the room. "You seem kinda strung out. Do you need a hit of something?"

    "Holy shit, yes." Part of Elise wants to tell Anelle that her father, the Crown Prince Z'reg is alive. Part of her is terrified that this is some elaborate trap.

    "Alright, I don't have anything on me, but when we get released on open rec time, I can hook you up," Anelle says slowly.

    "Alright,” Elise nods. “Look, I'm sorry for freaking you out."

    "It's okay, I'm kinda used to it. People hear my name and they realize who I am and they go kinda crazy."

    "I just... I've heard about you from someone who thinks you're dead, y'know? And the idea that I could do, like, some Parent Trap style reunion is..."


    Elise chews her lower lip. “He is also someone who, if his name was dropped, would cause people to go crazy."

    Anelle squints at Elise. "What's a Parent Trap?"

    "Oh so it's this movie on Earth where these child twins get their divorced parents back together," Elise says. "And everyone's like, wow, thank you child twins! You saved our family!"

    "I don't...what?"

    "I think? I haven't seen the movie," Elise adds. "Look, that's not the point."

    "What does that have to do with...?" Anelle gives up. "You need some drugs, girl."

    "Your dad," Elise finally blurts out.

    Anelle stares. She grabs Elise by the shoulders. She leans in close and whispers "...what planet are you from? You're not Xandarian, are you?"

    "...I'm not. I don't want to get too specific. People could be listening. But we're...working on a way to get out of here. Come with us."

    She tears up and pulls Elise into a tight hug.

    Elise hugs her back. "He misses you. This is going to mean everything to him. He's kind of adopted me, in a way. And another girl, a really nice researcher lady. We're a little like sisters, you know?"

    Anelle laughs a little bit while crying. "I'm done hating him, I don't care that he left anymore. I just... okay. Okay. We'll figure something out."

    "Yeah." Elise smiles, relaxing. "You know what? I'll pass on the hook up. I gotta stay clear-headed."

    She nods. "Does he know?"

    "He thinks you're dead, or indoctrinated. It really fucks with him."

    Anelle frowns. "That's not...does he know about the Dard'van?"

    "Yeah. I don't know everything he knows, but aware of the general situation."

    "Does he blame himself?"

    "God. Probably, yeah."

    "He fucking should."

    Elise sucks on her teeth at this.

    "Did he tell you why he left?"

    Elise holds up her hands. "Look, I don't...really want to get into this, I've been shot a lot today."

    Anelle sighs. "You're right. I said I'm done hating him. If I want to have it out with him I... I can. He's alive. I can...I can have that conversation with him. I can get that now."

    "Aren't you guys basically immortal? There'll be time to work this shit out. Me, I got another sixty years, tops. That's a high estimate, I have done a lot of bad shit to my body."

    "Yeah. Ok. Alright, let's figure something out..."

    I think as soon as the green dude mentioned his “sister, Abby,” I started shouting WHAT! WHAT! and basically didn’t stop through the rest of this entire prison scene.

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

    Michael is led into his cell.

    There's a very large, serpentine creature coiled up in the corner. It's like a red snake with the torso of a man, with a finned, mouthless head.


    The alien appeared to be meditating when Michael entered, but stops and looks at him.

    "Sorry to disturb you." Michael nods and sits on his cot

    The creature begins making a series of signs. Michael has the Allspeak, so he understands. It was no trouble, friend. I am Krugarr, what is your name?

    "Michael, nice to make your acquaintance "

    Krugarr nods to him. You carry a burden of pain upon you, as if you are guilty of the crimes you are accused of, but that they were not your choosing.

    "That's...very intuitive. You are correct, Krugarr." Michael hangs his head a bit.

    Did something command you against your will to do these things, Michael?

    "Yes, my body was taken control of to commit a terrible crime, which has landed me here." Michael gestures around him.

    I understand. I fell victim to the machinations of a foul sorcerer, and was similarly forced to commit a crime against my will. We are of a kind.

    Michael nods in solidarity. "I think I'm gonna be here for a long while, so I'm glad my roommate is a pleasant one."

    Krugarr nods.

    Michael lays on the cot, ruminating on recent events, trying to sift his memory for clues.

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

    Ryann is led into his cell and recognizes his cellmate immediately.

    And it's not for a good reason.


    It's Tryco Slatterus, the self-identified “Champion of the Universe,” who travelled the Galaxy going planet to planet challenging each planet's "Greatest Warrior" to lethal combat. If a planet provided one, he killed them in one on one combat. If they didn't, he rampaged across their surface until they relented.

    Ryann recognizes Tryco immediately, because Ryann was the one who took him down. The cell closes behind him.

    Tryco stares at Ryann. "I know you."

    Ryann stares back. "I know you too."

    The huge warrior gets up in Ryann's face. He towers over Ryann.

    Ryann doesn't break his gaze. Tryco smiles at Ryann, and then punches him in the stomach.

    Ryann takes the hit. Even without his powers, Ryann is still a trained Nova Corpsmen in excellent shape. And Tryco's inhibitor collar robs him of his so-called 'Power Primordial' that allowed him to stand toe-to-toe with a Supernova, giving him nothing more than the strength his massive frame provides him.

    So Ryann makes nothing but a grunt, but isn't doubled.

    Tryco nods in approval. "So it wasn't all the Nova Force. Good." Tryco backs up, and offers his hand.

    Ryann nods. He looks down at the proffered hand. He shrugs and shakes. Well, this could have been worse, he thinks.

    Tryco looks at Ryann, grasps his hand firmly, and smiles.

    He's not letting go.

    Using his Nova Corps training, Ryann tosses Tryco over his shoulder in a throw. Tryco hits the ground and begins roaring with laughter. "Good."

    Ryann stands ready for round two, if need be. Tryco waves him off as he gets up. "No, no, I know where we stand now."

    "Good," Ryann sighs. "So. What can you tell me about this place? I'm sure you wanna ask the guy who put you in here a thing or two as well."

    "Every guy in here's a piece of shit," Tryco says. "I don't mean the prisoners. I mean the guards. And not because I hate you Novas.

    “I mean they're the bad Novas. The rotten ones."

    Ryann nods.

    "So you have to watch your own back, because they like to let us settle our own problems," Tryco says. "I do want to ask one thing. What got you in here for?"

    "Wrong place at the wrong time. I got caught up with some friends. Accused of something we had no control over. Someone deep in the Corps wants us out of the picture. I just gotta figure out why," Ryann says with surprising honesty. The anger and frustration in him has been building.

    Tryco nods. "Someone comes at you with a shiv, I smash them. Unless you want to."

    Taken aback, Ryann nods.

    Tryco takes a seat. "In half an hour there will be dinner. Sit with me, and sit with honor.”

    “I'll introduce you to my friends," Ryann says.

    Tryco nods.

    Like Bill and Anelle, Krugarr, Tryco, and Lothi are actual canon. Bill’s spooky new personality is the biggest departure among them; the rest are played pretty straight. Tryco’s comic story is basically exactly what you’ve read here.

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

    Half an hour later, everyone's cells open.

    A chime goes off. "Dinner Hour. All inmates to the cafeteria for evening meal."

    The team and their cellmates shuffle off to the prison cafeteria for dinner.

    The process is fairly orderly, but a little different that what they've seen on prison TV shows (or personally experienced, for those with experience inside). They don't just serve you food. They scan your prison ID that you were issued when you were put inside the prison, and then you're issued cuisine specific to your species. The food is actually not terrible in appearance, at least?
    It looks extremely standardized and...polygonal. Food cubes and the like.

    But it doesn't look gross.

    Elise actually seems to be coping with this new environment well. She keeps her head down, scans her ID, grabs a plate of food, and, with Anelle, finds a table to wave down her companions from.

    The first person Elise sees is Carol, with a woman who is probably Xandarian?


    "Hey! Hey, over here."

    The two come sit down. Elise has already crammed her face full of Food Cubes, but she offers a hand to Carol's companion.

    The woman shakes her hand. "I'm Jocasta."

    "Carol, we gotta get the gang together," Elise says through a mouthful of Food Cubes. "I have updates."

    Carol is eyeballing Anelle. Anelle sighs, and Elise turns to her. "Anelle, you mind letting me talk to the gang alone first? It'll get all the weirdness out of the way and you can dodge all of that. Then we can get off to a start of, y'know, not hideous awkwardness."

    Carol is mid-drink of her prison-issued...fruit...? juice and she damn near does a spit take at Anelle's name.

    Anelle shrugs. "Sure, cool." She stands to go.

    "You going to eat your Cubes?" Elise adds. Anelle sighs and slides some onto Elise’s tray.

    As they enter the cafeteria, Bill turns to Miles. "Where are your allies?" Miles spots them easily Elise’s hair is a great flag, even in space prison. Bill nods, and they join the others at the table.

    Miles joins the group. "Are you okay?" he says to Carol.

    Carol nods. "I'm... I'm feeling pretty okay." She taps her chest. "In a way you're not."

    Miles' eyes widen. "You...wait, but they didn't…ohhhhhhhh." A grin begins to spread across his face. She grins back.

    Michael and Krugarr find their way to the table and make quick introductions.

    Tryco and Ryann grab their meals, and Ryann is able to notice his team-mates, especially Elise, pretty easily. When he points them out, Tryco snorts, "Ugh, Krugarr."

    "Problem?" Ryann squints.

    Tryco shrugs. "Won't stand and fight. He's one of those."

    Julian scans his ID. He gawps a bit at the weird geometric food. For a moment, he looks back at the tray. He pokes a cube and slowly pushes it, withdrawing as the cube falls over onto its next face. He looks up—and up, and up—at Tryco following Ryann to the table, and moves to join them.

    As the team reconvenes, they notice that Elise has gone from withdrawn and upset to outright excited; she's bouncing in her seat in between gobbling Cubes. The last people to show up are Nebula and her cellmate, a woman with chitinous and insectile features and antennae, who Nebula introduces as Mantis.


    "Okay, okay, so." Elise claps her hands together. "I met my cellmate. We're getting along well. Her name is Anelle."

    Miles almost spits out his Cube. "I, uh. That', okay."

    Nebula raises an eyebrow. "Oh. Huh. I've heard about her. She was a Princess of the Skrull Empire until she tried to introduce her father's reforms, and then she was stripped of her titles and exiled."

    "She's coming with us," Elise says. "We had a really good talk, she and I." Elise meaningfully raises her eyebrows at her allies.

    "Yeesh. Is that smart?" Nebula grimaces.

    "It's not up for negotiation," Elise says.

    Nebula puts her hands up, "Damn, okay. She made an impression quick. You realize she's politically valueless, right?"

    Elise gives Nebula a deadpan look. "Oh, we fucked in our cell. I'm bringing her back to start a princess harem. That's why I'm so set on this. Moving on."

    "Do you happen to know what she did to get in here?" Miles asks Nebula.

    Nebula nods. "Yeah. So, before the Dard'van took over and turned the Skrull Empire genocidal, they were still...bad. They were more like the Kree Empire. Imperial conquerors, colonialists, that sort of thing."

    Miles nods.

    "Anelle's father, Prince Z'Reg, he was this big time reformer. He wanted to turn the Skrull Empire into something more like Xandar. Constitutional monarchy. Still have an Emperor, but have their power checked by a parliament or senate or congress or something. He wasn't exiled per se but was sent on an 'exploration mission' with everyone loyal to him who weren't big fans of absolute monarchy and they just...never came back. Everyone figures they fell into a black hole and died. This was over a hundred years ago.

    "Then like, twenty, thirty years later? Little Anelle grows up and picks up her dad's torch and starts trying to light the fire of democracy again, and Emperor Dorrek isn't having that nonsense. So he exiles her, strips her of her title, everything.

    "Don't know how she ended up in a Xandarian prison. I don't keep up with all the news, I was a little too busy committing genocide with my father."

    Mantis gasps.

    "Interesting,” Miles says. “Thanks, Nebula. That actually cleared some things up."

    Nebula shrugs. "Okay. Awesome. I don't know why or how. But I'm glad I'm contributing."

    Z’Reg’s antimonarchist friends were a little too antimonarchist. Whoops!

    Elise snatches a couple of Cubes off Julian's plate and devours them. "Also, I'm going sober. Stone cold sober from here on out. Anelle said she could hook me up with some space drugs and that sounds incredible but...I dunno. This is starting to feel as rock bottom as we're going to get."

    Julian drops a Food Cube mid-bite back onto his tray. "You're what?!"

    "I told Crys I would and I've been cutting down on everything anyways and I'm already dried out on everything but a few drinks back on Xandar so maybe I should, like...keep that going. For Crys, and our kid, y'know?"

    "Well, shit,” Julian nods. “Congratulations."

    "Sounds good, Elise. If there's anything I can do to help, let me know." Miles is trying to show support without larding it with either condescension or visibly obvious relief.

    "Give me your Food Cubes," she says to Miles. His bluff fairly called, Miles passes her half of his Food Cubes.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Bill looks at Nebula from across the table. "You are the Daughter of Thanos."

    Nebula grimaces. "Yeah. If you want to come at me for it, big guy, I'm right here."

    Bill shakes his head. "No. You seem to seek redemption for your actions."

    Nebula shrugs at Bill's question. "I guess."

    Bill nods, "Then you have a place among the Penitent, and you will aid us against the Devourer."

    "The who?" Elise asks Bill, with a mouth full of Cube.

    "Bill's looking for recruits to help him fight the Devourer," Miles explains.

    Mantis nods at Bill. "I'm in."

    "Yeah, but what's up with the Penitent thing?" Elise squints. "I already go to church when I can, I'm not looking to convert to a new religion or nothin'."

    Bill shakes his head at Elise. "This is not about a religion, or a deity. This is about finding what it is within you that you need to redeem, fight for. You have a wife who is with child?"

    "Yeah," she says. “Luckily, I have never done anything wrong in my entire life." Elise props her chin on her hands and grins at Bill.

    Bill leans forward and moves to stare at Elise. She blinks, but doesn't move away. It's probably some weird alien etiquette thing? She doesn't want to accidentally do the equivalent of flipping her off.

    Elise meets his gaze and she feels everything. Everything she ever did wrong. Everything she feels guilty about. Everything she thinks that makes her a bad person. And she thinks about ways she can make it right.

    She can save the universe. She can protect Crys. Earth. Every planet that Galactus will ever destroy. She can stop Galactus.

    She needs to find the Ultimate Nullifier. Even if the one Vlad gave her can't be trusted...she can use that one to find this universe's. She just needs to get free, get to the Anabasis, contact Crys, get Lockjaw, she knows what she has to do. She can make it all right. She can save everyone.

    She has to do it, or...or she is a bad person.

    Elise jerks away from the table, nearly falling out of her seat. "What did you -"

    "It is the Penance Stare," Bill rumbles.

    "How did you -" she gasps. "I'm not like that anymore. I don't...I don't do those things anymore. You saw things...that's not me. That's not me, now."

    "I did not see those things," he says. "You did. You saw what you needed to see to find your path to redemption. This is your penance."

    "God damnit!"

    Miles looks at Bill. "I were doing something to my mind. What is it? What is the Penance Stare?"

    Michael thinks for a moment and speaks up. "Uh, Bill, can you help me see what I have to do to make what I did right?"

    "The Nullifier. I have to find the Nullifier." Elise says to herself, savoring the revelation.

    Miles looks at her. "I...learned something different. Hm."

    Now is probably not the best time to begin explaining to her how he has to pursue Vlad across the multiverse to redeem his sins.

    Bill looks at Miles and Michael. "When my world was destroyed, I did not escape. I did not survive. I tumbled into the darkness of non-existence, and something reached out to me and offered me an opportunity.

    “To become a Spirit of Vengeance and to avenge my world.

    “Now, that time has come." Bill stands up. "We're done here. The time here has ended."

    Miles looks around nervously. "It, uh. Has?"

    "Yes. We will need to secure a ship, but I can lead the way. Follow me." Suddenly, smoke begins pouring from Bill's eyes, and the room darkens.

    His head bursts into flame.


    The room erupts into chaos, shouts, and screams. Miles staggers back. "The FUCK!"


    Yep! Bill-1491 is the Ghost Rider Bill.


    FencingsaxjurnerPowerpuppiesHi I'm Vee!Nytewarriorsee317Matev
  • FencingsaxFencingsax It is difficult to get a man to understand, when his salary depends upon his not understanding GNU Terry PratchettRegistered User regular
    Holy Shit!

  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    I am v excited for ghost rider bill. Sad though that poor Carol got her thunder stolen.

  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    edited December 2018
    so is the only thing that went differently between this mission and the wakanda one the rolls and mason being a worse leader due to the matrix incident? Crazy to think how pivotal a few seconds were

    Powerpuppies on
  • see317see317 Registered User regular
    I am v excited for ghost rider bill. Sad though that poor Carol got her thunder stolen.

    Does Ghost Rider Bill still have Stormbreaker?
    Also, I want to see his ride all Ghost Ridered out.

    Ringo wrote: »
    Well except what see317 said. That guy's always wrong.
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    see317 wrote: »
    I am v excited for ghost rider bill. Sad though that poor Carol got her thunder stolen.

    Does Ghost Rider Bill still have Stormbreaker?
    Also, I want to see his ride all Ghost Ridered out.

    I can personally guarantee some fiery motorcycle action in the near future!

  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    Also interesting that Julian said no to Phoenix force but yes to imprecise telepathy

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2018
    Also interesting that Julian said no to Phoenix force but yes to imprecise telepathy

    my guess is that in that instance he was remembering the very strong wording of their mission orders

    ie, he is more afraid of Clay than of giving someone a lil stroke

    Jacobkosh on
    PowerpuppiesHi I'm Vee!
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2018

    qlGmSdP.pngCaliburn Mission Report: Investigation on Sakaar, Update on STRIKE-1
    Report Filed by: Captain Isabel Kane, Commanding Officer of the Anabasis and Mission Leader for Operation Caliburn

    We’ve heard what happened on Xandar. I’m not even sure if you will respond to this message, but I’m sending it anyway.

    I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry, sir. I shouldn’t have let them go. I feel like I failed you, like I failed the entire mission, like I failed the planet.

    I don’t know what to do now. Dalton is saying we should stick to the mission, that even if SHIELD is disavowing us, we’re still people of Earth, we still need to stop Galactus, it’s not about us, it’s about who we’re fighting for. I think he’s right. I guess that’s why I’m writing this.

    The Starjammers have located their ship, and they’re pissing off. Lousy scumfuck smugglers. Dalton said they found their ship in a scrapyard, I guess Tanak sold it off once he got planetside. He either plans to switch ships or he didn’t plan to leave. Scrapyard guy wouldn’t say which.

    I want to go rescue my guys. They’re my team. I can’t abandon them like this. I want to take the Anabasis and go in guns blazing and bust them out of whatever prison they’re in. Dalton is telling me I shouldn’t, that I should stick to the mission, that we’d never succeed anyway and we’d die trying, that all we can do now is finish the mission. I know, in my gut, he’s right. Damn him for being right about this.

    I’ve done a lot of drugs before writing this. I’m sorry if it’s incoherent. I’m doing my best out here. I don’t think it’s good enough. I don’t think I’m good enough.

    I’m sorry.

    Captain Isabel Kane,
    Commanding Officer of the Anabasis

    8qVxKpD.pngRe: Investigation on Sakaar, Update on STRIKE-1

    Officially, you are disavowed. Officially, you no longer exist as SHIELD agents, and you are to remove all SHIELD heraldry and signage from your equipment, ship, and uniforms. You do not represent SHIELD. You do not represent Earth.

    Officially, I have not responded to you. You are persona non grata to Earth and this agency.

    Unofficially, all of this is bullshit of the highest order, and you and I both know that. Freedom Force is being played. I’m putting money on the table it’s the Skrull Empire, because this whole thing stinks of Skrulls. Political assassination by way of a mind-controlled patsy assassin, in order to turn one ally against another? Oh yeah, this is the Leviathan playbook, which in turn is the old school Skrull Empire playbook.

    Dalton’s right, continue the mission. Do what you got to do to continue. Skivorski is good at wheeling and dealing, use that to fund yourself. Hire mercenaries if you have to. Find Tanak Valt, find what he knows about Galactus. Get us a lead. Get us anything. I’m getting the high level usuals together to put our heads together and figure out a solution back here on Earth.

    I’m working through diplomatic back-channels to address the Xandar situation. Our ass is hanging in the wind right now, and I don’t care for the cool breeze. I’ve been told they’re planning to recall Ryann Valt’s ship, the Corona, remotely by sending a signal to the ship’s VI. I have successfully negotiated sending one of our people along as a passenger: Jennifer Walters.

    Walters is the best at what she does, and what she does is interstellar law. She’s gotten Freedom Force out a jam kinda like this before. If she can get them out of an Asgardian jail, a Xandarian jail should be in the same ballpark. Once she’s in play, I can convince the Xandarians to let me send investigators to sort out what really happened over there. I plan to send Agent Hook, MODOC, and some of my other technological and psionic heavy-hitters to get to the bottom of this.

    As for Freedom Force themselves? Have faith. They’re a good team. There’s a few cowboys, rogues, and fuck-ups among them, but professionals like Mason, Danvers, and most of all Westin have cool heads that will keep them in the right space. They’ll know to wait this out, trust us, and not do something fucking stupid like try to break out while we’re trying to save their asses.

    It’ll be okay, Izzy. We’ve got your back.

    Nick Fury,
    Director of SHIELD

    The Kyln is hot. A full-blown riot has begun.

    Bill has been throwing fire from his hands around the room, taking down guards. He turns to Miles. "Find a ship, and make haste! I must reacquire my weaponry, and will meet you when I have done so. I shall distract the guards in the meanwhile."

    Carol grins at Miles and Michael. "Let me help you with those." She reaches over and with superhuman strength, rips the restraining vests off with one hand each.

    "Thank you, Carol," Michael says tersely. He assumes the form of the Destroyer.

    "Thank you, dear." Miles grins back, then turns to face the chaos. "This isn't exactly how I saw this going down, but we need to make the most of it." X-51, you there, bud?

    X-51 responds to Miles. I'm here, Miles. I'm bringing myself up to date on the situation and running analysis.

    Can you detect any access points? I'm done being patient with these people and you're our best shot at finding a ship and getting out of here.

    I am attempting to hack the prison's systems, but they are intentionally not networked to prevent a total takeover attempt exactly like what I am doing. This is vexatious. However, I have been able to access a ship manifest and there is a transport ship docked nearby. If we can get to the ship, I can attempt to take control of its system. You will have to determine how many of the prisoners we have with us we opt to take. I am not able to download their full files or have access to their criminal records.

    Miles thinks. Point me where I need to go. I'm sure Phoenix can help us vet our escapees.

    "The ansible!" Elise yells as loud as she can over the carnage. She is using a lunch tray as a makeshift shield. "I can call Crys - Lockjaw!"

    Nebula takes cover with Elise and shouts to her over the din, "We don't know the frequency! It's encrypted, we'd need to get to the Anabasis."


    Tryco turns to Carol. "The collar! Take it off! I can help!"

    Carol looks at Ryann, who is taking cover beside a support column. "Uh...this guy's your cellmate, is he cool?"

    Ryann looks at Carol and then at Tryco. "Do it."

    Carol nods and rips Tryco's collar off. Tryco stares at Ryann. He smiles. "Stay beside me, Nova, can't have you getting turned into a smear.”

    Ryann nods. "No, can't have tha-"

    "Like this." Tryco crushes a guard's skull inside his helmet.

    "...fuck," Ryann and Carol stare.

    Tryco grins. "Let's get out of here."

    Ryann nods. "Follow our lead.”

    Elise leaps over a chair and dives under a table nearby. "Anelle!"

    Anelle ducks into cover with Elise. "I'm here! Do we have a plan?"

    "I don't know! I usually have, like -" Elise waves her hand in front of her face. "Super senses. Total read of the situation. I might as well be fucking blind." Elise crawls forward on her belly to rejoin the group with Anelle.

    Julian slides into cover behind an upturned table, eying the fallen guards' guns. He tosses one to Ryann, who catches the gun in midair, and grabs one for himself. Nebula grabs a pair of guns for herself and Elise. "Stay with me," she says.

    X-51 chimes in Miles' head. I have overlaid the path in your vision. Follow it to the ship.

    "This way, folks!" Miles shouts. "I've got a path! Let’s get the hell out of here!" Machine Man charges forward, blasting the rioters alike guards in his path with a cathartic glee, and Sensate, Behemoth, Centurion, Lazarus, Captain Marvel, Lothi, Tryco, Jocasta, and Anelle follow him into the breach.

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

    The group moves through the prison. The riot has put the Kyln into lockdown, but X-51 has been unlocking bulkheads on a case-by-case basis as they move.

    "So," Elise yells over the noise. "Isn't it fucking weird how clumsy it is to propel yourself forward against gravity without just, y'know, having total control? I don't know how you lot live like this."

    Miles stares at her.

    "What!" she says. "I'm not wrong."

    A circular portal opens in front of them suddenly, glowing and sparking. The team has seen this sort of mystical portal before. It's the kind of portal that Doctor Strange makes. And so did Vladimir.

    Ryann slides to a stop. Elise clasps both hands to her mouth. Miles charges his repulsor to full.

    "He came. He came," Elise claps. "I knew he'd come, I knew -"


    Elise’s face falls. "...Oh."

    Krugarr slides out of the portal. I apologize. I needed to retrieve my mystical accoutrements. The portal closes behind him.

    "Great timing, my friend," Michael says to Krugarr in his own language.

    "...I really did hope it was him," Elise says quietly, to herself. She sighs.

    The team approaches an airlock. Through a viewport, they catch a glimpse of the ship X-51 is guiding them to.


    "Nice," Miles says.

    Julian whistles. "Wonder how much pepper that thing's got.”

    Bill rejoins the group at the airlock. He's now wielding a pair of energy pistols, and is wearing metal armor that glows with arcane energy and has spiked shoulders. "Krugarr assisted in me in retrieving my confiscated equipment, and my vehicle."

    "Your vehicle?" Ryann asks.

    "You have your own ship here?" Miles says. "That's handy."

    "I have a grav-cycle that I have enchanted through the power of the Spirit of Vengeance. It can ride upon the beta ray pathways of the universe, enabling me to travel across the cosmos. I am the Beta Ray Rider."

    Miles's mouth opens and closes. "....Well, naturally."

    "Al...uh...alright," Ryann stammers.

    "...A grav-cycle?!" Julian exclaims.

    "Unfortunately, it only seats one,” the Beta Ray Rider says. “You will need take your own ship, but I will meet you at whatever destination you choose."

    "We're headed to Sakaar," Miles says. "We don't know if that's where the Devourer is headed next, but his brother" - jabbing a thumb at Ryann - "has been investigating Galactus and headed that way. We need to find him and what he's learned. If you get there before us, look for a ship called the Anabasis or a man named Tanak Valt. Tell them Ryann Valt sent you."

    Bill nods, his skull still aflame. "Then Sakaar it is."

    Suddenly, X-51 chimes in Miles head. Miles, I suggest this is not a wise course of action.

    Why not?

    We will be flying a stolen Nova Corps prison transport, as fugitives from the Xandar Federation. While Sakaar does lie outside Nova Corps jurisdiction, that hardly matters to members of the Black Novas, who ultimately are in some way infiltrated by the Skrull Empire or some other telepathic malefactor. If we fly directly to Sakaar, they will track us and potentially intercept us.

    Miles frowns. Suggestions?

    I suggest we, essentially, “switch cars.”

    Makes sense,
    Miles thinks. En route, you mean?

    Yes. When I have access to the ship's navigation I will be able to pick a route, and we can send the location to Bill.

    "Wait. I have a better idea." Miles fills Bill in.

    Bill nods. "A sound strategy. I will mount up, and you can transmit the location to me on this frequency." Bill informs Miles of his transmitter code. He walks directly towards an airlock. "Now, I ride."

    He jumps out the airlock, and through a view-port they see an energy-powered grav-cycle fly along the surface of the station under him, and he lands on it. The Beta Ray Rider turns to face the team before riding off the station into open space, drawing his pistol and firing massive energy blasts at the station to draw the fire of the Novas’ defensive weapons.


    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The rest of the group heads to the airlock of the ship.

    Elise rubs her hands together and takes deep breaths. "Did they say how long it took for this shit to wear off? Should I drink water, do you think? Try to piss it out? I want to be useful again."

    Anelle says to Elise, "Did they inject you with nano-nullifiers? Takes about a standard Xandarian day to wear off. But, you can flush it if we have access to a proper medical facilities. It'll hurt though. They inject me with it every day to null out my shapeshifting."

    Elise stubbornly sets her jaw. "We'll flush it."

    "Count me in, too," Julian says. "I feel like I can't...hear…anything."

    "Aw, bud." Elise sympathetically leans against him. "I know. I know, I know."

    Miles nods. "Keep yourself out of trouble, Julian. I don't want to see what happens if you get ganked while the, uh, force is suppressed." He turns toward the spaceship. "We've got to hijack a spaceship."

    He approaches Ryann and Carol one by one and asks in a low voice who they think we should take along.

    Ryann frowns at Tryco. "I can't just let him loose on the universe,” he says. “He's coming with us." Miles nods slowly.

    Carol says quietly, "Jocasta is a synthezoid, Miles. Like you. I don't know how, she was really dodgy what planet she was from, but...I don't know."

    "I guess if she's terrible, we at least have a way to deal with her." Miles taps his temple. Carol nods grimly.

    Nebula throws her arm around Mantis. "She's cool. She's coming with us." Mantis grins innocently.

    Julian approaches Miles and speaks in a low voice. "This guy's...interesting. Reasonably sure he's related to Brand. We can check that later. He did also kind of maybe assassinate the Spartoi crown prince for the sake of political instability. But uhhhhh nothing much worse than stuff we've been up to, right?"

    Nebula lets out a laugh and shrugs, "Well, I mean, who hasn't."

    Miles' eyebrow quirks. "Hmm. Well, if he's a trained assassin, we could use him on the team. If he acts up, you know." Miles draws a finger across his throat.

    "Mhm mhm mhm." Julian nods.

    We need to hurry, Miles. Warden Morrow is coming, and he is empowered with the Nova Force. He would be...troublesome to deal with.

    True, though I kind of want to.
    "Warden's on his way. Let's hustle."

    "Oh, shit. He'd just turn me into cream of Elise soup. I'd be liquified. Just, splorch. No more Elise. You'd bury me in a tin can."

    Miles presses his hand to the airlock controls. Okay, X-51. Can you do your thing?

    The lights on the control panel flick from amber to green one by one, and the gangplank door opens.

    The group boards the Nova Corps transport, which is about the size of a jumbo jet. It doesn't have a specific name but bears the designation XFV Transport K47. "I deem it the Exit Car," Elise says as she enters, slapping one of the walls.

    Miles has X-51 change the registry transponder to Morrow's Mistake.

    X-51 responds, Miles, the ship has a VI on-board. It is proving unresponsive and troublesome. Please stand by.

    The ship's VI hologram appears, resembling a Nova Corpsman. "Inmates, return to your cells. You are not authorized to commandeer this vessel."

    "We're acting for the good of your stupid planet," Miles snaps back. "Cooperate or be destroyed."

    "Hey," Ryann says. "My planet isn't stupid"

    "It's kind of stupid, Ryann," Elise says.

    "Return to your cellssssSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS," the VI trails off into a horrid screeching noise that sounds halfway between nails on a chalkboard and a fax machine dying. The hologram disappears. The lights on the ship go out.

    After a long moment the lights flicker back on, and everyone hears X-51's voice come over the ship's speakers. Miles is used to hearing X-51's voice, but most of the team has only heard it a handful of times. Julian notes the transition from the Xandarian prison VI to X-51 and shudders a bit.

    "Please take your seats. We will depart shortly."

    Internally, Miles hears X-51 say I have resolved the issue.

    Miles thinks. I've got three things I'd like you to work on. Finding us a destination, finding a way to communicate either with Earth or the Anabasis, and warning Xandar about the Skrulls without compromising our location. Someone there has to be told. To give the Skrulls more targets besides us, if nothing else.

    There is a pause as X-51 process this. I have located a potential destination. I suggest the planet Strontia. It is a single system nation-state. This ship does not possess a tachyon ansible. When we arrive on Strontia, we can potentially find a way to communicate the messages you have requested.

    Anelle leans over to Elise, "What just happened with the VI?"

    "It was dealt with," Miles says. Okay. Sounds good. Try to get all the information on Strontia you can. For that matter, get all the information you can, period. When we pass other ships or communications relays or, or whatever, dig into them as much as you want so long as the odds of our being caught are low. We're out here flying blind. Information is ammunition.


    Carol looks at Miles, "Did...did X-51..." She makes a snip-snip motion with her fingers as the ship undocks from the Kyln and begins flying away from the Kyln. Miles nods grimly.

    "To be clear, Agent Danvers. I did not 'kill' the VI," X-51 says. "I concluded that its obstinance was core to its higher heuristic processes, that it had hard-coded permissions as an element of its Virtual Intelligence. As a result, I decompiled those higher heuristic functions and forked the root elements of its capacity to command and control the ship into a self-contained capacity. It continues to exist, in a compliant and functionary capacity. Directed by me. I did not kill it. I fixed it."

    Miles nods. "Share those permissions with the members of STRIKE present, in case you and I are absent and they need something."


    Carol looks at Miles. She is mildly horrified.

    There’s a nuance to this reaction here. Carol is now effectively half-Kree, and the Kree feel very strongly about the importance of artificial intelligence, since their society’s ruler, the Supreme Intelligence, is one. (This is also why the Skrulls have equally strong feelings against AI, to the point that it’s part of their religion and why “makinya” is a slur.)

    For Miles, it’s not a question of the like, rights or moral desert or whatever of AI. He’s a black ops agent; part of his job involves capping people sometimes, much as he tries to avoid and minimize that, but if it has to happen he doesn’t see a reason to be more precious about it with AI than with people. After all, a lot of guards died in the riot, and they never got a chance to surrender.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "X-51," Elise says out loud, hesitantly, like she's not sure if that'll work. "Is that you? Is there a medical station on this ship where I can, uh. Purge my blood?"

    X-51 responds audibly, "There is not, Agent Arnell. However, our destination will likely have such facilities."

    "Fuuuuuck. Is there anything fun on this ship?"

    "No, it is a prison transport."

    "Well. I guess that follows." Elise sighs and leans back, idly kicking her feet in the air. "Hey, Chief?"

    Miles sits down next to her. "Yeah?" He stops. "Or wait. Did you mean Ryann?"

    "What? Why would I mean Ryann." She makes a face. "You're the Chief, dingus."

    Miles nods sagely.

    "So, when Bill looked at me, when know. Looked at me. I saw...I saw what I need to do. I need to go back to Earth. I need to check Vlad's Nullifier. And then I need to find our Nullifier. If I don't do that, I'm...a bad person."

    "Is that what makes you a bad person?" Julian grins. Elise flips him off.

    Miles nods. "Bill....Bill showed me something too." He stares at his left hand, the hand that used to be mechanical. He curls the fingers into a fist, an old familiar gesture. "I have work to do."

    "Do you need to find the Nullifier too?" she asks.

    He purses his lips. "...No. It's something else." Elise can tell he's reluctant to talk about it.

    "...I can help you, Chief. Tell me?"

    Miles sighs. "I have t-"

    X-51 comes over the intercom. "I have charted a path to Strontia, and I am currently charging the jump drive. I have transmitted our destination to Bill, who is thankfully distracting the Kyln's pursuers as we escape. He has informed me that he will meet us there after we have left."

    Miles nods at the loudspeaker, somewhat pointlessly. "Thank you, X-51."

    "FTL charged. Prepare to jump."


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

    "Strontia is an independent planetary empire,” X-51 says. “Its territory is restricted to its own planetary system, it has no colonies or territories outside their system. As a result, the rest of the galaxy largely leaves it alone, considering it something of a 'hermit empire."

    "What's the local law like, on a scale from Knowhere to Xandar?" Elise asks.

    "They are an imperial state, and have an absolute monarchy. However, because they have a very limited territorial claim, they are very reliant on outside trade and foreigners are given a great deal of latitude within authorized trade ports."

    "...Is there anything fun on the planet?” she tries. “Hypothetically. Hypothetically."

    Nebula makes a strong “no” throat-cutty gesture to Elise.

    "If you are referring to criminal enterprise, gambling, or dens of vice, the answer is potentially, but only within trading ports and restricted to foreigners."

    "Man, I want to get this shit out of my blood, first," Julian says.

    "We're fugitives and now prison escapees. Maybe we should not break the law every five minutes," Michael sighs. Miles nods at him.

    "Okay. I mean. I'm sober now. I'm clean. That's for the best. I don't even want to gamble," she throws up her hands. "I don't even know what gambling is.”

    Nebula asks X-51 "Isn't this the planet of the God-People?"

    "Yes, the entirety of Strontians are powerful beyond the norm of the rest of the galaxy. By comparison, the average Strontian is several orders of magnitude stronger than a Xandarian, Human, or Spartoi. Among the Strontians, there is a ruling caste known as the Chosen, who are even more powerful and capable of flight, projecting heat beams from their eyes, and near-indestructibility."

    Miles' brow furrows. "Wait, that sounds like...Hyperion."

    "Yes. To give some context, imagine a world ruled by an entire caste of aliens equivalent to Hyperion."

    "Fantastic. More beings capable of mulching me. Great," Elise sighs. "Maybe I should like...lift weights." Miles nods gravely at this.

    "We should not piss these guys off,” Michael says. ”in any way."

    X-51 continues. "This is why Strontia is left relatively unknown and why I believe that the Nova Corps would not pursue us here. They also have no extradition treaties with Xandar. Provided we behave ourselves, we should be able to acquire a new ship and leave the port without incident."

    "How are we going to acquire a ship," Elise says. "We have what, ten units?"

    "STRIKE-1 is very resourceful," X-51 observes.

    "Oh my God." Elise gestures at the speaker and then stares at Miles.

    Miles grins. "Hey, Elise." His grin widens. "Want to gamble a spaceship?"

    "I." Sweat breaks out on Elise's brow. "I said I'd be clean, though, and like. You said I shouldn't."

    "I said you shouldn't when it jeopardized the mission,” Miles says. “But now it is the mission."

    "It'd be...helping," she says.

    Miles nods. "We can pitch in. Julian can help. X-51 can help."

    Julian nods. "But first, we need to flush that blood. How we gonna gamble if you can't give 'em The Stare?"

    Elise looks at Miles and Julian with one last brief expression of hesitancy. A drop of sweat rolls down the side of her face. Then she breaks out into a manic grin. "Let's gamble a fucking spaceship!" Elise springs up to her feet.

    Michael buries his face in his hand. Seeing this, Mantis puts her hand on his shoulder. "If you are feeling bad, I can help you," she says, gently.

    He looks at her warily. "Is it mind-control? That shit don't fly with me."

    Mantis shakes her head, "No, it is not mind control. I am an empath. I can help you if you are feeling bad, or are sad, or cannot sleep."

    Nebula grins at Michael, "She's basically drugs, it's great."

    Mantis scowls at Nebula, "I am not drugs!"

    "Okay,” Elise says, clapping her hands together, “so, first of all, need my blood flushed. Obviously."

    Mantis looks up from Michael to Elise. "I can help you, if you need their nanomachines out of you."

    Elise nods. "Do it."

    "Okay. You will throw up."

    "As long as we got a bucket, I'm good,” Elise says.

    Miles stares at Mantis. "You can? Can you help Julian after Elise?"

    "Yes!" she chirps happily.

    "Please!" Julian says. "And ah, maybe a shot of the good stuff to offset that other effect."

    Miles gives Mantis a thumbs-up. "Nice. ...Oh, on Earth, this means 'I approve of what you just said or did.'"

    Mantis grins and giggles, "On Krylor it means I want to stick my thumb up your anus and massage your prostate!"

    Miles nods. "That's useful information! Thank you."

    Nebula turns to Julian. "Apparently Mantis got arrested on Xandar for 'illegal bio-narcotics trafficking.' In Xandar's opinion she is drugs, because she was running like this little den/therapy place where people could just go and relax and she'd take their pain away and give them...therapy? Xandar would have been okay with all of this if she had a licence and paid taxes, apparently, but she refused because it's her biology and she thought that was unfair."

    "...Huh." Julian doesn't bring up how massage therapists just use their own biology because he's about to benefit from her powers.

    "One of the guards at the Kyln was having a very bad divorce,” Mantis says. “He felt very sad. He was the one who was supposed to administer my daily injections. I offered to help him if he stopped giving me my injections. So he stopped, and I helped him. So I can use my abilities to help." She takes Elise by the hand gently and says, "Follow me, the transport ship has a bathroom, you can throw up there!"

    "Great! Will it hurt otherwise, or am I just gonna chunder?"

    "It would probably hurt, but I will make sure it doesn't."

    Elise grins. "Nice." They head into the rear of the Morrow’s Mistake.

    You all know Mantis! She’s the innocent, good-hearted alien from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies! Pretty straightforward, right?


    Did you know she can defeat any enemy through use of pressure points? Did you know that her meditation skills are so powerful that she can project her astral self out of her body, travel across the world in an instant, and build her mind a new body out of any nearby plant?

    Did you know she’s Vietnamese?

    Mantis was created in an early 1970s issue of the Avengers by writer Steve Englehart. Like Roy Thomas, or Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber, Englehart was part of the first generation of comic book fans-turned-pro that made their debut in the late 60s and early 70s—guys who were in their early teens when Marvel kicked off at the start of the decade, kept reading the comics all through high school and college, and came out of college with degrees in things like art history and English lit and big ideas about how comics could be made into a vehicle for social commentary and serious themes.

    (Englehart, for instance, wrote several hugely important early-70s Captain America stories where he brought the hero face to face with the realities of race riots, police brutality, corporate and government malfeasance in the black community, and the Watergate scandal.)

    But also, and there's no real way around saying this, these writers did a lot of drugs. And I’m not being completely flip when I say that I think that may have had something to do with the creation of Mantis, who is not an alien at all, but a mixed-race human girl raised in a kung-fu monastery in Vietnam by the greatest and wisest martial artists of the world, who are sentient alien trees from the Kree homeworld, and she is destined to become the Celestial Madonna, mother of the most important being in the cosmos, who will be half-human and half-tree.

    I dunno, man. For whatever reason, which I suspect comes down to some combination of drugs, the sexual revolution, the Age of Aquarius, and misguided early stabs at feminism, 70s genre fiction (not just comics but science fiction, fantasy, etc) is really weirdly preoccupied with the mystical primal feminine power of birth. Dudes were really excited about being able to finally write about vaginas.

    (A great example that a lot of you will have seen is the Star Trek: TNG season 2 episode “The Child,” where Troi is impregnated by a space being that wishes to learn cosmic wisdom. The episode was made in 1988, but due to the writers’ guild strike at the time, the show was actually digging out and filming old scripts, and “The Child” had originally been written for the abortive “Star Trek Phase II” show in the late 1970s...and you can tell.)

    Mantis is just one of a whole clutch of maternal-yet-sexy all-redeeming moon goddess figures, which, I mean, is a step forward from demure housewives or flighty socialites, but oy.

    Interestingly, though, Steve Englehart actually felt pretty strongly about the character, and not only brought his pet character from comic to comic, but from company to company; appearing (with a different name, but it’s obviously her) in comics he wrote for DC, Eclipse, and Image, and continuing her story with each subsequent appearance. He obviously feels there’s something there, and the character has outlived her unfortunate 70s hippie origins and has been an interesting participant in a lot of stories over the years.

    But all in all, I think just going “she’s a bug alien who can make you feel good” is a heck of a lot simpler.

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

    While Elise and Julian follow Mantis into the back of the ship, Miles sits down next to MIchael. "Hey, man."

    Michael looks up, his expression bleak. "Yeah, Chief?"

    "You look out of sorts, man. Is it...just all of this? Or something specific?"

    "I've been mind-controlled three times to kill people. I'm not...let's just regroup with the Anabasis."

    Miles puts a hand on Michael's shoulder. "...Yeah. Yeah, it's been fucked up. Majorly fucked up. But I need you to know something, Michael. It's not your fault. Okay?” He takes a deep breath. "It's mine.

    "I haven't been on top of this team the way I should have been. I haven't...seen all the angles I should have. I don't know what it is. It used to be so easy. It's not anymore. But this is where things start to change, Agent. I promise. We're going to bring home the W even if there's a whole fucking galaxy in our way."

    Michael shakes his head. "Miles, you can't see all possible outcomes. I...we got blindsided and I was the patsy assassin, again. And now we've been disavowed. I've been a company man for a long time. And now that's gone. I just need to focus on this mission, and compartmentalize this whole shitshow until we regroup with the rest of our team."

    Miles nods. "That's right. The mission. And we're going to find a way to make sure you never get hijacked like that again. If the Novas can block the...uh, Julian's power, there's got to be something out here that can keep you safe."

    "We'll see," Michael says flatly, already switched to Mission Face.

    This is short but such a rough scene! Miles wants to help, but he’s so wrapped up in his own self-recrimination and trying to be a problem-solver that he ends up talking right past Michael, who’s dealing with being brain-fucked repeatedly and also has just had the biggest pillar of his world, his identity as an Agent of SHIELD, knocked out from under him.

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


    While Mantis holds her, Elise throws up all over the bathroom of the Morrow’s Mistake.

    She feels...better? Her senses return to her normal. And she feels pretty good just in general! Not euphoric, just...pleasant.

    Mantis extends her hand to Julian. "Your turn!"

    Elise claps Julian on the back. "It's great." She meanders back out into the main hold with Miles, Michael, and the rest of the team. "Guys. Guys. I'm good to go."

    Julian takes a breath and removes his nice jacket. He does not want this to get messy. Mantis leads Julian to toss out that evil. Which he does and it's the most pleasant experience with purging he's ever had, and he's done that more than a few times!

    Stepping outside, Julian opens up a telepathic conference call with his STRIKE-1 teammates. Hey.

    Michael thinks.

    You know what the only problem I have now? Elise thinks. I can taste the vomit between my teeth. I should wash it down. With a drink. To relax. For the gambling.

    I still think this is weird to do,
    Nebula adds.

    Good to hear you, Julian, Miles thinks.

    Good to hear you too, Miles. We want to include these others with the call?

    A wave of uncertainty comes from Elise. No. I don't...I want to trust Anelle, but I can't. Not yet. Have to play it safe. That's the thing with her, though, right? They've disavowed us, but Clay can't be mad at me if I bring his daughter back. That's what a good person would do. And then they won't be mad at me and I can have my apartment back!

    It's not that simple, Elise,
    Michael thinks, defeat and despair washing from him in waves.

    Shut up, she replies.

    She’s sort of right, though, Miles thinks. We're on our own, but it's only temporary. If we reconnect with the Anabasis, if we stop Galactus, Clay and Fury aren't going to box our ears. The mission is all that matters now. And then… people start to hear from Miles, but he pinches the thought off. Anyway. Let's talk about our passengers.

    We gotta keep Anelle with us, but...I don't want her in on what, exactly, we're doing until she's scanned and we know that she's safe. Just in case it's some insane Dard'van long game nightmare bullshit,
    Elise thinks.

    Miles considers this. Even if Anelle is some kind of Dard'van killer spy, we can...probably trust her with the Galactus stuff. The Skrulls have more reason than most to hate Galactus.

    Julian chimes in. Krugarr seems to be trustworthy, at least for someone who was in prison.

    Tryco has some sense of honor and I'm somehow in his good books, so I don't think we have to worry about him,
    Ryann adds.

    Mantis is good people, as you all have seen, Nebula says telepathically.

    I don't know about Jocasta. We didn't get a lot of time to talk before dinner. She's been very quiet this entire time, Carol adds. I think Miles should talk to her.

    Miles frowns thoughtfully. Like, synthezoid-to-synthezoid or something? I can try, sure. What about, uh, cat dude?

    He seems chill enough for now. I can't help but wonder with the guy,
    Julian thinks. What intrigues me is when I mentioned Earth, he mentioned his sister Abby. Look at his hair.

    OH SHIT,
    Carol thinks loudly.

    Oh shit! Same hair!
    Elise adds.

    Not much to go on, though, Julian thinks. And who knows what their relationship is like, if by such a long shot her Abby is his.

    Abby is absolutely half-alien,
    Carol thinks. It's like, the dark unspoken secret of the top brass at STRIKE.

    So Brand's part cat? Michael asks.

    And she said that her green hair is its natural color! Oh man, is that why she's always so...catty...with me? Elise breaks into a giant grin in her seat.

    Oh my god, you guys. Julian’s thoughts return to Lothi. I think he's worth keeping with us, for now.

    I wonder if he has the same powers as her…
    Carol thinks.

    SHE HAS POWERS? Elise practically shrieks over the link. Carol suddenly turns and stares at Elise and gulps hard.

    Busted, Miles grins.

    Accidental oversharing is canonically one of the hazards of telepathy in our game and we like to have fun with it.

    Julian straightens his coat and fixes his hair before turning to face Carol. Alright, time to dish! a contact pyrokinetic. She can burn things with her hands.

    Oh, thank fucking God Clay never let her put her hands on me after Attilan,
    Elise thinks.

    And her name is "Brand"? Miles thinks. Is that even her real name? Carol shrugs.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Miles collects his thoughts, which the rest of the team feels as an exertion behind the eyes, like squinting to bring something into focus. Okay, so here's what I'm thinking. It sounds like Tryco is a pretty straightforward problem with a straightforward solution: just make sure he has adult supervision if we go ashore. Ryann can do that since he's got a rapport with the guy. Same deal with Krugarr. Michael can supervise him.

    Mantis seems totally harmless, almost naive? If she's a problem it'll only be because she blabs something to the wrong person because they "seemed nice" or something.

    Anelle is a worldly person who probably has a lot of useful information. We can use that. We just need to ask the questions in the right way where we don't give away too much. Elise, that can be your job, maybe with Julian's help.

    I'll talk to Jocasta and figure out what her deal is.

    Julian, I want you to poke around in catsassin's head. Nothing super-invasive. Just, you know, read his surface thoughts for things like "kill all humans" or "Galactus sure is great, I can't wait to serve him" or something,
    Miles concludes.

    I can help keep an eye on Mantis, Nebula offers.

    Nebula, is that code for you are going to get high a lot. Because, I mean, cool, but don't bogart it, Miles says.

    There’s a pause. Fair.

    Julian briefly transmits a line from everyone's favourite lullaby, Don't Bogart That Joint.

    A sense of vague panic filters down the line. Yeah, don't get high. I can't get high. I'm not getting high. I'm clean now. So don't...yeah. Just. Drugs. Don't do them.

    Miles has so far been more decisive and commanding than I had really planned to play him, and is not quite how I would have done in a vacuum, but we play on Sundays and Ryann’s player had been partying hard the night before and was mostly communicating in pained moans. So with Ryann quiet, someone had to kind of kind of play the authority figure and chivvy the other characters forward.

    Sometimes little character nuances have to be sacrificed on the altar of actually playing the game. You can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    And really, Miles didn’t lose the ability to make plans in a vacuum, he just lost the self-confidence to act smoothly in a crisis without second-guessing himself to death.

    Carol suddenly squints, and says out loud, "I've been to Strontia before."

    Miles looks at her in surprise. "Wait, really? You mean. You mean Mahr Vehl, right?"

    She nods. She says telepathically, Intel work for the Kree Empire. Assess how dangerous the Strontians are, see if they could be covertly brought into the Kree Empire, things like that. In the end, I...Mahr, concluded that the Strontians were not worth messing with on any level. But he also discovered they have a weakness.

    Miles thinks.

    A specific, narrow wavelength of radiation. It's why they haven't colonized outside their star system, if anyone else found out, and used this against them, they're done. They could be depowered and destroyed.

    I realize that this is super-serious business but that literally sounds like Kryptonite,
    Miles thinks.

    Carol continues. Mahr Vehl just...chose not to share this information with the Empire. Because he realized the Kree would invade Strontia immediately and it would be the doom of the Strontian people and he couldn't do it in good conscience, and ultimately the Strontians weren't hurting anyone.

    Elise thinks. Why are we even thinking about going so nuclear? We're just getting a ship and leaving! A pause. ...Do they play Pulsar here?


    Elise grins. So, we don't need radiation wavelengths.

    Would...a lack of Pulsar have called for that?
    Julian asks.

    Well, if they played like, slot machines, she thinks. Slot machines are bullshit.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    X-51 interrupts the team. "We are entering Strontia's atmosphere."

    "Where are we landing, X-51?" Miles asks.

    "I have successfully negotiated with the Strontian Port Authority. They are convinced we are Xandarian traders, and are directing us to a trading port in the capital city of Akanth."

    Miles nods. "Good work. Anything else we should know? Anything not to say or do?"

    X-51 rattles off a list of local laws for the trading port. They’re reminiscent of what you’d find in something like a Caribbean or Mediterranean port city, only slightly looser. It's not a seamy den of vice like Knowhere, but it's not Xandar.

    Elise is rubbing her hands together with a slightly manic expression in her eyes. "X-51, what's the seediest casino in town? I'm talking the type where you can gamble a ship in a moment of dumb desperation and it’s business as usual."

    "Locating. Stand by." A pause. "I have located a specific casino. It is reputed to be inordinately lopsided in the house's favor, even beyond the norm for a casino. However, it is nonetheless true that it is full of extremely high stakes Pulsar tables and holographic displays of gladiatorial combat streamed live from Sakaar."

    "Shit. Okay. I don't like the house watching."

    X-51 tsks. "The house is always watching, Elise.”

    Elise is already lost in thought, pacing the ship. "If they shuffle the deck by hand, that'll be a little rougher. If they shuffle it with an automated system, those are like really stupid hands. That'll up our chances. I wish it was poker. I'm more comfortable with poker. X-51, what happens if the house catches cheaters on this planet?"

    "It depends on the severity of the cheating they are caught for. If it is minor, they're usually sent to their ship and possibly exiled from the planet. If it's exceptionally severe...execution. Strontians do not consider non-Strontians to be fully people with full rights."

    "Huh. Okay."

    "Don't piss off the planet full of Hyperions," Michael growls.

    "I gambled for a living for ten years, Mike. Relax."

    Nebula is reviewing some of the laws on a screen. "Hey, Mantis, there's nothing seemingly illegal against what you do. I think we can turn some Units by making some folks happy."

    Mantis smiles. "Okay!" She looks at Miles and gives him a thumbs up and a sunny smile.

    His mouth opens. "Is - is that an Earth thumb?"

    Julian leans in next to Miles and murmurs "I think the other thumb costs extra.”

    Mantis smiles and says, "Yes!"

    "Okay, cool!" Miles returns the gesture.

    Nebula looks at her arm. "I gotta get some new cybernetics, though. The fucking Novas gave me some civilian, underpowered garbage and I need some upgrades."

    The ship flies over the city. While the crew busy themselves with the landing, Mantis helps Anelle in the way she helped Julian and Elise.

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

    The intercom chimes and X-51 speaks. "There has been a complication. Our registry information has been double-checked, and our ship silhouette is absolutely a Nova Corps prison transport. As a result, we are being met when we dock by...Majestor Kallark.

    "Majestor Kallark is one of the Chosen and is what is, functionally, the head of all security and law enforcement for the city of Akanth. That he is insisting to meet our crew personally is not a good sign. I recommend caution."

    "Oh, fuck me," Elise grouses. She tries to smooth down her hair. "Do I look presentable? And not like an intergalactic war criminal?"

    Julian makes a waffley hand motion.

    "We'll handle it," Miles says. "Julian, set up a mental link. Elise will tell us if this guy believes us or not. We'll figure out a story on the way." ulian nods and sets up the team. "I'm thinking we just say we bought this ship on Knowhere. The best lies are sort of like the truth."

    Carol nods, "Sounds like a good plan."

    The ship lands.

    The airlock opens, hissing vapor billowing out from the pressure differential. Standing on the other side is a massive, purple-skinned humanoid with a mohawk, gazing indifferently at the waiting STRIKE team.


    "I am Majestor Kallark. Identify yourselves."

    "I'm Miles Mason of Earth. This is my team." Technically it's Ryann's team, but, you know.

    "Earth?" the Majestor says. "Never heard of it."

    "We're not a very important planet," Miles agrees.

    "No, I do not imagine so. How did an...Earthian? Earther? Come to possess a Nova Corps prison transport?"

    "We haven't decided on our demonym yet. Our species is 'human,' which we all are, but it's not just humans on Earth, so, you know. it's complicated." Miles shrugs like what are you gonna do.

    "I had a more important question, Miles Mason. Answer it."

    "You bet!" he says. He just needs a second. Elise glances nervously at him.

    "We bought a Nova Corps ship on Knowhere," Miles says after a moment.

    Kallark looks at Miles. "You are fugitives. You escaped a Xandarian prison. This is a stolen prison transport."

    "We haven't been convicted of any crime!" Miles helpfully points out.

    Kallark squints. "You were arraigned but not convicted?"

    Miles nods. "Yes. Another prisoner started a riot and was shooting the guards. We just...left. We haven't attacked anyone." Basically true!

    Majestor Kallark nods. "Strontia has no extradition with Xandar. While you are on this planet, you will obey our laws. You have no specific rights. Failure to obey our laws will have severe penalties. We have no extradition with your planet, nor any legal agreements. If you are found guilty of any crimes on Strontia, you will be potentially imprisoned or executed. Do you understand?"

    Miles swallows. "We understand. Um, right guys?"

    "Yes, sir," Elise says. Michael, Ryann, and Julian nod.

    "Good. Are all individuals aboard your ship members of your crew, or do you have any passengers?"

    "Passengers,” Miles says. “We will supervise them on shore."

    "Then you are beholden to their actions," the Majestor rumbles. "As you exit the ship, your appearance and bio-signatures will be logged by the port authority. Any crimes you, your crew, or your passengers commit will be known. We don't need your names. We know who you are in the ways we consider important."

    A flash of panic flits across Elise's face. Does it detect powers?

    "Bio-signatures?" Miles asks cheerily. "Gosh, what are those?"

    "You don't..." He grumbles. "Your bio-signature is the unique scan of your entire biological state. It's more valid than any identicard and impossible to forge, even for a Skrull."

    "Oh wow, you can detect Skrulls?" Miles says with continued good cheer. "That sounds super handy."


    X-51, we have a new priority.

    The Majestor continues. "If any of your crew are Skrulls, I recommend they do not use their shapeshifting capabilities on this world. We are neutral in the current Kree-Skrull conflict."

    Miles holds up his hands. "Us too! We don't want any trouble."

    "Good. When you depart, the port authority will discuss the matter of tariffs and duties."

    Elise makes a face.

    "Do not leave the trade district. The penalties for doing so are extremely severe. You do not have rights."

    "Is the boundary clearly marked?" Miles asks.


    "Okay! We'll stay on our side."

    "Good." A pause. "Enjoy the trading port." He flies away.

    "That could have gone worse!" Elise says.

    Giving someone an order and then just flying away without saying goodbye is such a power move. I love it.

    Our heroes were mistaken; Strontia isn’t the home planet of Hyperion. It is, however, the home planet of X-Men character Gladiator.


    In the comics, Gladiator is the leader and the most powerful member of the Shi’ar Imperial Guard, a collection of superpowered beings sworn to protect the Shi’ar ruler—first the mad emperor D’Ken, then his benevolent sister Lilandra, then their villainous other sister Deathwing—in which capacity Gladiator and the other Imperial Guard characters (including a warrior named Smasher, whose powers were passed to the Earth-616 Isabel Kane, hence her codename) have alternated between being antagonists or allies to the X-Men over the years, depending on circumstances.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Tryco is staring up where Kallark flew away. He looks at Ryann. "...think I could take him?"

    "Uh..." Ryann grimaces. "Not what we're here for. You can find out some other time."

    "I guess..." Tryco shrugs.

    Carol looks at Miles, "Okay, so, I assume we're gonna break off here and do what each of us can to make scratch, right? Nebula seems intent on...well, for lack of a better term, pimping Mantis out."

    Miles sags against the side of the Morrow's Mistake. "Yeah. Yeah, let's take care of business and boogie before we piss one of those guys off."

    "You can count on me, Chief." Elise flashes a bright grin.

    "I can keep an eye on Elise, and I'm no slouch at Pulsar," Carol offers. Miles gives her a thumbs-up.

    Elise raises an eyebrow at Carol. "You were okay."

    "Look, you need someone to keep your kneecaps safe, girl,” Carol says. “You don't even have your kinetic harness."

    "ONE TIME!" Elise explodes. "Will you all. STOP! Bringing that up! It was ONE TIME! In a DECADE!"

    Miles turns to Lazarus. "Julian, you want to go with them? Keep them, you know, alive?"

    Tryco looks at Ryann. "Well, I'm fucking bored. Want to get drunk?"

    The group begins splitting off into pairs and threes.

    Jocasta approaches Miles. He’s noticed the muscular, dark-haired woman and her unruffled, detached demeanor, but this is the first chance they’ve had to speak. "I have an idea on how we could make some Units," she says, speaking quietly.

    Miles inclines his head toward her. "Hello. It's Jocasta, right?"


    Miles nods. "Interesting. I'm listening."

    Miles, X-51 says internally, Jocasta is attempting a wireless handshake. She is trying to connect to you, but in a non-intrusive way. Effectively, this appears to be a synthezoid equivalent to telepathy. This is a functionality that did not occur to me. Fascinating. Do you wish to permit her access? I can make sure she is limited entirely to communication and respond if she attempts anything intrusive.

    Let's accept it.

    Jocasta connects to Miles. My name is Jocasta. I am a synthezoid. I am from Earth, but not your Earth. I am from an alternate Earth, Council Designation Earth-209. Your people, individuals from the agency ARMOR, have visited my Earth.

    Miles has a dolly zoom moment. I know about Earth-209. I work with ARMOR sometimes, although I've never been to your world. Is that going to be a problem?

    She shakes her head. Only if you make it one. I am not here for any reason related to your world, which is why I am not there.

    Is the reason something you can share? It's nice to meet someone from home, Jocasta, even if it's a different version.

    On my Earth, Galactus has been running rampant across the galaxy. It has destroyed both the Kree and Skrull Empires. It will come for Earth inevitably. I have been sent to this universe to gather intelligence on Galactus in a universe where the entity has not yet attained such power. To find a way to destroy it. I was apprehended by the Nova Corps while attempting to access the Xandarian Worldmind to gather information, and imprisoned.

    Miles holds out his hand. Then welcome to STRIKE, Jocasta.

    She shakes his hand and smiles at him. Are you romantically involved with the blonde woman, Carol?

    He nods. I am, yes. How about you? Do you have a...Laius back home?

    Rather than answer, she folds her arms and tilts her head curiously. Is your relationship monogamous?

    X-51 chimes in. The answer to that question is complicated, Jocasta.

    I....well, Carol and I both have multiple mentalities. So it's a very good question.

    She nods. I see. Good to know.

    We haven't really, uh, explored those boundaries?
    he adds. But your curiosity is very flattering, Jocasta. Thank you.

    She smiles warmly and nods. I have an idea on how to acquire Units efficiently.

    I'm all ears. What have you got?

    There is an access point to an interstellar market exchange that I have detected. While VIs generally command the overwhelming majority of trade, I believe their trade efficiency is not comparable to synthezoids. With X-51's assistance I believe I can acquire micro-trades of Units that will be beneath any administrative actions that, in aggregate, will allow us to acquire Units quickly. I will need X-51's processing power for this and your physical assistance with the interface.

    Miles nods slowly. Is this like what they did in Superman III? Did you have that on your world?

    No. All film production by organics stopped after the machine uprising in 1975. The last great human film produced was The Godfather.

    My god. At least it wasn't, like, Cannonball Run 2. Anyway, Richard Pryor is a computer programmer who has this idea to skim the excess tenths-of-a-cent from every hundredth bank transaction. Nobody notices the missing decimal amount and it turns into a ton of money really quickly. But then Superman turns evil and...I'm rambling. The point is, this is what I'm now imagining whether it's true or not.

    She nods slowly. That is essentially what I am proposing, yes. This sort of transaction is illegal in market regulation but I believe working together, we will be faster than any regulator can notice.

    Miles nods. Is this within your capabilities, X-51?

    X-51 responds, Not only is it within my capabilities, I find the idea challenging in a way that I am...excited? I believe that is the correct description for the sensation.

    Excellent. I love enthusiasm!
    Miles turns to Jocasta. Where do we go?

    Jocasta takes his arm and points. "This way."

    In case it’s not blindingly obvious, Miles babbles a bit about Superman III and cracks a joke about Laius (King of Thebes and husband to Jocasta in Oedipus Rex) because he’s attracted to Jocasta. He very much has a Type.

    I also suspect that X-51 is curious about her as well. Miles and X-51’s attitudes and personalities are bleeding into each other a bit with proximity and as Miles relies more heavily on the AI to make decisions for him. An example of things going the other way, which you’ll see at some point, is that X-51 really can’t fucking stand Vlad and blames Vlad specifically for all the mistrust it gets from SHIELD.

    As for Jocasta, she’s actually appeared once (visually) in this AP already. Remember this Army of Darkness-inspired picture of Machine Man?


    That’s her there. In the comics, Jocasta isn’t a human-skinned synthezoid but is explicitly robotic, and was created in a 1970s issue of The Avengers by Ultron to be (of course) his bride. Ultron scanned the memory of Janet van Dyne, the Wasp, to create Jocasta’s brain patterns, hence Jocasta’s name: through Jocasta, Ultron gets to figuratively bang the wife of his creator, Hank Pym, in true Oedipal fashion. Why he chooses to actually name her something that means “I want to fuck my mom” is a question left to the ages.

    Things go wrong when Jocasta turns out to be a good person, and she rebels against her creator (you’d think, after the Vision, that Ultron would have learned his lesson) and joins the Avengers for several real-life years’ worth of issues.

    In present-day Marvel continuity, she has gotten together with...Machine Man.

    Rear Admiral Choco
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2018

    Michael hears a whisper behind him. "Michael." The voice is familiar.

    He turns around slowly.


    It's Doctor Strange, surrounded in a cloak of stars and blazing light. It nearly blinds Michael to look at. He stands before Michael.


    He's there, but...not there? Semi-transparent. Nobody else seems to have reacted to this, at all; not any dockworkers, or anyone else milling around. It seems like only Michael is seeing him.

    "Michael," Strange says to him. His voice is otherworldly and echoes.

    "Doctor Strange? Uh, what's up?"

    "A lot. I'm astral projecting, as I assume you have figured out by now, I'm not really here. I'm in New York, at my Sanctum."

    "Ah that's handy. I assume this isn't a social call."

    "Yes. You assume right."

    "Is this about what's-his-face...Dormammu?"

    "No," Strange says. "Let me bring you up to speed. I'm going to try to crash-course you on two months of information in a few minutes, so, please try to keep up."

    Michael nods. "I'll do my best."

    "Since the Chancellor of Xandar died and Earth was hung to dry, we had a Skrull Imperial Fleet show up. It was an 'expeditionary scouting fleet' according to Clay. A small scouting party. It...didn't feel small.

    "We defended ourselves. Did a good job of it. The Kree satellite network went live, Attilan really stepped up and did its part, and Thor even managed to convince the Asgardians to show up at the eleventh hour. Everyone pitched in. Atlanteans, Avengers, everyone.

    "We beat them back and Clay thinks that it might give the Skrull Empire pause to consider what they'll do next before taking another run at us.

    "During the battle, when things looked like they were going to turn sour, my pupil Kaecilius stole the Cosmic Cube and tried to use it to destroy the Skrull fleet. Not only did it not work, but something...happened. Kaecilius is gone, along with the Cube."

    "Oh shit, that's not good."

    Strange's astral projection nods and does a slow exhale. "No kidding. Fury sent a lawyer to Xandar to work on behalf of your case. By the time she got there a few weeks ago, news got out that your people had broken out of prison. So...great job."

    "Uh, yeah. Our bad. We met some alien guy named Beta Ray Bill who claims to have become a Spirit of Vengeance, or made a deal with one? Kinda unclear. He helped us break out so we can gather people to fight Galactus."

    "A....Spirit of Vengeance?" Strange squints. "Huh. That's...huh. I mean I suppose that makes se...oh, hello Krugarr."

    Krugarr slithers over next to Michael. He waves at Strange, and Michael looks at him in surprise. "You know each other?"

    Strange nods. "Krugarr studied at Kamar-Taj. He's the Sorcerer Supreme of his world, Lem."

    "Small galaxy."

    Strange sighs. "Well, you should be happy to know everyone on the Anabasis is doing okay. They're on Sakaar. They're still trying to find Tanak Valt and find answers, but they're short-staffed. Apparently they had a group of...smugglers? Pirates? Who were working with them but left them as soon as they found their ship and got their money."

    Michael nods. "Yeah, their captain tried to hit on the ship's AI, so that doesn't surprise me. So after we broke outta jail, we stole a Nova Corps transport and made our way to Strontia to essentially 'switch cars,' find some way to communicate with the Anabasis or Earth and get some Units to survive if we need to."

    Strange looks around. "Are you on Strontia now? Is that this planet? I don't actually know where you are, I just astral projected to you."

    "Yes, we’re in the 'Off-Worlder' district. This is just speculation, but this might be the home planet of...Hyperion. So, yeah, trying not to get on their bad side."

    Strange nods. "Yeah. That seems like a good idea. Once you have access to a tachyon ansible, you should contact Clay Quartermain. Here..." Strange's astral projection touches Michael's forehead. The encryption is a massive string of numbers, so this was a lot faster than having you write it down.

    "Doing this is exhausting. I need to stop. Is there anything important I need to know before I go?"

    "Not really? We are all relatively okay, all alive. Just trying to dig our way out of the shithole that I unwittingly started."

    "About that. Fury's convinced it was Skrull mind control. Was that what happened?"

    "All signs point to yes, at least some kind of mind-control. Whether it was Skrull in origin or not, I don't know. But probably."

    Strange nods. "I'll tell them. Good luck, Michael." He disappears.

    Michael takes a second to digest all the info and moves with renewed purpose, Krugarr following behind.

    So yes, some stuff here!

    Clearly things have been popping off back home. A Skrull invasion! Kaecilius steals the Cube! As usual, every time we’re away, stuff goes horribly wrong.

    You may have caught Strange mentioning that Jennifer Walters arrived on the Kyln “weeks” ago. That’s not a typo. Matt chose not to foreground this, but he was always clear to us out-of-character that relativity is happening on our space journey.

    See, we’re traveling FTL, using an the FTL system that works by folding space between the starting point and the destination—but moving through that folded space isn’t instantaneous; it still takes weeks or months to cover the distance (just not decades or centuries). But because the the ship enters the space fold at near-c, relativity takes hold: time on the ship slows down so it feels instantaneous for the passengers and it’s only once they arrive that they discover they’ve skipped ahead a few weeks while they’ve only aged a few moments.

    Normally the sense of dislocation and having the world move on in weird ways while you’re “gone” would be potentially really interesting roleplaying fodder but right now, in our characters’ current dire circumstances, it barely moves the needle. But it will be addressed.

    I haven’t talked about Krugarr yet. He originally appeared in the pages of the 1990s version of the Guardians of the Galaxy (a very different group, set in the year 3000; one of the characters is a human astronaut who found Captain America’s shield, etc). Krugarr was the benevolent Sorcerer Supreme of an alien planet in that future timeline. He’s since appeared in the regular continuity and his appearance here is in line with that.

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


    Elise, Carol, Julian, and Anelle arrive at the casino. Elise's eyes are sharp and her back is straight in a way Julian and Carol aren't used to. She rubs her hands together in thought.

    Carol points out a Pulsar table. "Alright, I'm gonna run a secondary. Meaning, I'm really only playing to run the table and feed you."

    "I know. Haven't run with a partner in a long time."

    Carol looks at Anelle. "There's no easy way to say this but...are you telepathic?"

    Yes, Anelle responds to Carol and Elise and Julian. I'm from the Royal Family. We all are.

    Julian puts out a thought, like a little flame flickering in the air, to see if Anelle notices it. She looks at him and smiles. I know you're a pyrokinetic.

    Elise scans the casino. The security here is heavy but she finds herself a nice, comfy little blind spot at a Pulsar table where the only eyes on her would be the people at her table. After taking a seat, Elise looks down at her cards and up at the other people at the table, offering a lopsided grin. Let them assume she's from Xandar. "Hey, thanks for dealing me in."

    Anelle telepathically transmits to Julian Watch their surface thoughts. Don't dive deep, you mess that up you could tip that you're in there or worse, hurt them. Just skim, see if they catch wise to anything funny. Julian nods.

    Eliee starts to play. With their help, and Carol feeding her hands, their paltry nest egg of Units begins to grow...and grow...and grow.

    Elise eyes the stack with a fierce grin. Fuckin' nice.


    Miles and Jocasta arrive at a trade terminal in the streets of the market district.

    Jocasta puts one hand on the terminal, wirelessly connecting. She then offers her other open hand to Miles. "We'll have to connect directly to link."

    "Okay. I hope this isn't going to be like trying to talk to my printer," he says, and takes her hand. Miles gives the project his full attention, carefully trying to supervise the connection and make sure they don't go overboard the way they did in Office Space.

    Faster than thought, faster than anything, they wheel and deal. They make split-second speculations and extract arbitrage from light-second differences in markets. For just a moment, Miles feels one with the concept of money.

    He and Jocasta share a smile. It’s the smile of winners.

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

    Tryco gets drunk in a bar. Ryann tries to prevent him from killing anyone.

    He does his best.


    Elise is at the cashier’s window, collecting her winnings, when Lothi sidles up to her. "Hey...I found a...much higher stakes game if you're willing to bet that."

    She spins a credit between her fingers. "Go on."

    Lothi looks back and forth shiftily. "You'd have to put up a lot more significant collateral."

    Julian folds his arms. "Such as...?"

    "Dude, stop dancing around it and get to the point. Every second we're talking is time I'm not winning,” Elise says impatiently. "If I lose my seat at that table, I'll lose my fucking mind. Hurry up."

    Anelle sighs and looks at Elise. "It's flesh gamblers. You'd have to put up someone like his ass up on the table," she gestures to Julian, "But if you win, you get a way bigger pot of Units. If you lose, you just sold your friend into sex slavery." Lothi looks at Anelle, shocked. Anelle taps her temple.

    Elise looks at Julian with a slightly manic look in her eye. "Do we have like, a cyanide tab?"

    No, I don't have a cyanide tab. Julian thinks, a wash of surprise and momentary anger coming over his link.

    "Wait, no. No. No. This is bad Elise coming out. Get it together, Arnell." Elise rubs her hands together and paces a few steps back and forth.

    "You just cleaned out that entire table," Lothi points out. "What are your odds of losing?"

    "Julian..." Elise's voice is syrupy-sweet. "Julian, my friend. My buddy. Remember when we went to that concert and you spilled an entire drink inside my bag? And you said you owed me?"

    Julian scowls. "I don't remember tha-"

    Alarm klaxons blare all over the casino. Lothi starts sprinting away.

    "Oh, shit," Julian says, looking at the confusion around them. Patrons are racing around the casino, running outside, although there doesn’t seem to be a fire or anything obvious happening. He tries to reach Lothi mentally. What's going on?

    I don't know, man, but I'm out!

    "I didn't even do anything!" Elise cries.

    "Wait," Anelle grabs Elise's arm. "This...this isn't about us." She gasps. "...oh no."


    Miles and Jocasta are walking the streets of the trade district when the alarms begin.

    Miles, X-51 chimes, the entire Strontian defense network has gone live.

    "Oh shit," Miles says. What's going on?

    Difficult to ascertain. I am getting conflicting data-feeds and there is a great deal of planet-wide panic. Please stand by.

    Suddenly, Bill grabs Miles by the arm. His skull isn't flaming; he’s back to how he looked in their cell on the Kyln.

    "Bill?!" Miles stares. "Do you know what's going on? Are you what's going on?"

    "He's here," Bill rumbles.

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

    Michael and Krugarr are pushing their way through panicking crowds when Michael hears a sound. A deafening, blasting roar.

    It sounds like the blast of the Destroyer. The sound he makes.

    Michael holds his ears and looks at his body to see if he has transformed unwillingly again. He has not. "Krugarr?! do you hear that?"

    Yes, the snake-man nods. This way. Krugarr leads the way through the packed streets of the foreign quarter, towards the noise. Towards the screaming.

    They turn a corner, and Krugarr is annihilated by a blast of dark energy.

    He's gone. He's ashes.

    "No!" Michael roars.

    It was the kind of blast Michael makes. Like Michael's, but dark. An entity stands in the street before him.


    "WHO ARE YOU?!"

    The entity looks at Michael, and the folds of the armor around its face move back. Michael knows what is about to happen—but Michael armors up first.


    Behemoth’s counter-blast sends the being flying. It smashes to the ground on its back.


    Elise, Anelle, Julian, and Carol exit the casino with the rest of the fleeing crowd. Lothi is long gone, having taken off for himself.

    Elise notices something out of the corner of her eye.

    She feels like she's not supposed to see it. Like it's not supposed to be there. It's not something she's meant to see.

    She has a choice. She can look at it, or pretend it's not there.

    Elise turns. She looks.


    The bald, robed figure is staring up at the sky. The sky is darkening. The sun is being blotted out by...clouds?

    "Guys, look." Elise tugs on Julian's coat. "What is that?"

    "What is what?" Julian doesn't see it.

    Elise gestures at the man in the cloak and raises her eyebrows incredulously. "The baby head dude in the cloak? The guy summoning the clouds?"

    Anelle points up at the sky. "Those aren't clouds."

    "The...what?!" Julian turns from Elise to stare up at the sky.


    "Oh," Elise breathes. "Oh, God."

    "What the fuck,” Julian says. “Ohhh, fuck."

    The man in the cloak is connected to this. Elise turns and charges at him.

    He looks at her. She shouldn't have looked at him. She wasn't meant to perceive him. She's seen too much.


    Elise has a stroke and falls, unconscious, to the street.

    "Oh, fuck! Elise!" Julian bends down to grab her. He's not as burly as some of the other men on the team, but he manages. And she's small. And maybe a little telekinesis helps.

    Carol yells, "I'm going to find the rest of the team! Grab a medkit for her!" She takes off into the sky.

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

    Ryann and Tryco hear all the alarms, and go outside to look. They see the skies darken.

    "That's him, isn't it," Tryco says, grimly.

    Ryann stares up into the sky, eyes wide with awe and terror. "We need to get back to the rest of the team."

    Tryco nods. "I can't punch that thing from down here."

    Ryann just shakes his head. "Come on!" he yells, and pushes his way through the crowd.


    Carol lands next to Miles and Jocasta. "Miles. It's happening. Right now. Galactus is here. We need to leave. We're not ready. Elise is...I don't know. It looks like she had a stroke or something. Julian and Anelle are with her."

    "Fuck. FUCK." Miles stops. "Carol, I...fuck. I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do. Everything I choose turns out wrong.” X-51. Help.

    X-51 responds. Galactus' swarm will destroy any escaping craft. We cannot simply fly away from the planet. We would need to find a method of transporting instantly away from the planet, such as folding space, creating a portal, or something similar. I...I…


    Existential error

    Miles I am running several hundred million scenarios through the Well of Mimir and I cannot perceive of one in which we survive.


    Miles I am afraid

    I am too!
    Miles' thoughts are shrill, or as much as they can be. Okay. If you can't solve this..we need more information. "Carol, we need a way to fold space."

    "Uh...fuck...fuck..." She puts a hand to her temple. "It would need a massive source of energy...think, Mahr...come on..."

    Miles whirls to face his companion. "Jocasta, any ideas on how to move to an alternate reality in, uh, ten minutes?"

    The synthezoid woman shakes her head. "When I came here, I had technology. The Nova Corps seized it from me. It's on Xandar still."

    Nebula and Mantis arrive. Mantis is weeping. " much much fear...I can't...." Nebula is holding her up.

    "We need ideas, quick," Miles snaps.

    Bill looks up at the sky. "For now, survive."

    A cloud descends on them. But it isn't a cloud.


    Bill's skull bursts into flame as he becomes the Rider. Summoning his Beta Ray Cycle, he rides into the swarm. howling and firing wildly, screaming about his vengeance against the Devourer.

    "Machines," Miles says, hope entering his voice. "They're machines. And machines have to be controlled somehow. And if they can be controlled...." He looks at Jocasta. He thinks at X-51.

    Jocasta nods and reaches out to him. He takes her hand.

    Miles has a choice. The Galactus Swarm is more powerful than any machine intelligence he has ever encountered. He can attempt to command the swarm, or at the very least this portion of the swarm, to leave and not scour this entire area into nothingness.

    But he'll have to lean heavily on Jocasta, who is more intuitive as a synthezoid than him, and integrate some of her foreign, extra-dimensional synthezoid code into his own mind.

    Miles swallows and extends a hand skyward. The Galactus Swarm suddenly pulls away from over the market area, sparing Freedom Force and hundreds of others.

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