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



  • MsAnthropyMsAnthropy The Lady of Pain Breaks the Rhythm, Breaks the Rhythm, Breaks the Rhythm The City of FlowersRegistered User regular
    Jacobkosh wrote: »
    Fencingsax wrote: »
    I kinda figured it was done on purpose.

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

    In face-to-face I am lucky if my players remember the name of the patron who sends them on all of their missions, who gives them all their cool trinkets, and shows up in every adventure. This is a pretty good depiction of what it is like:

    "The only real politics I knew was that if a guy liked Hitler, I’d beat the stuffing out of him and that would be it." -- Jack Kirby
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    That Mr. Thompson clip is so applicable to so many things in life.

  • FencingsaxFencingsax It is difficult to get a man to understand, when his salary depends upon his not understanding GNU Terry PratchettRegistered User regular
    edited December 2019
    I will absolutely admit that I do that too, because I am utterly terrible with names.

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


    Miles and Susan are in the basement of the Triskelion, SHIELD headquarters, their mission to retrieve Arnim Zola having taken a terrifying turn with the discovery that not only has the Triskelion been infiltrated by the Dard'van, but Nick Fury himself is a Skrull infiltrator.

    With no time to spare, Miles had little choice but to integrate Zola into his system, in the way he once had X-51, making a travelling companion of the (hopefully rehabilitated?) former HYDRA mastermind. The Skrull Fury, having been convinced by Susan that she is a Dard'van agent, has left Miles and his companions alone to plan their next desperate move.

    I have come to a conclusion, Herr Mason, Dr. Zola intones. If the Dard'van have suborned SHIELD fully, they would utilize this facility for intelligence gathering and communication. If we hack their network, we can gain significant intelligence. I am unfamiliar with this technology, and will require your assistance in this matter.

    Miles nods slowly and cracks his knuckles. "Susan, we're going to try to get whatever we can from the network here. Right now what we need most is information."

    She nods. "I'll keep watch in case anyone else...visits."

    Miles approaches the network node and opens the connection. Let's be cautious. You're unfamiliar with this network and I haven't hacked Skrull technology before. ...And they hate AIs.

    The fools!
    Zola begins laughing inside Miles' mind. Miles does not care for this. They had no idea who I was! Quartermain and the Vision concealed my existence with one of those absurd SHIELD backronyms. I was called Z.O.L.A, the Zettabyte-Operating Logistical Analysis System. They thought I was a VI for analyzing signals intelligence.

    They will not even realize I have been taken. Regardless, let us see what I can find…

    Their consciousnesses digitally linked, the pair begin digitally ransacking the Dard’van network. It’s a new experience for Miles. Where X-51 was thorough and methodical, considering every possibility with inhuman speed, Zola is more staccato, more intuitive, more...human. Miles finds it unsettling.

    Hm. Miles, I have found something called a 'Priority Target Replacement List.' I believe this may be a master list of everyone of note the Skrulls have replaced.

    Miles sets his jaw and nods. We're going to need that, then. Is the file associated with anything else?

    Yes. A second list, a list of sites, with a word I am unfamiliar with. I believe it is a word in their language. I am accessing your knowledge of their language...the word means...'Cradle.'
    There is a pause, then a sense of satisfaction bleeds through from Zola. Priority Target List acquired, would you like to view it?

    Yes. Call it up. While you're at it, do we have access to an outside line? We need to get this to the Baxter Building as soon as possible.

    Yes, we can...oh. Herr Mason, the names on this list are...troubling. Collating these names with intelligence data....

    Miles frowns. What could be more troubling than learning that Nick Fury's been replaced by a Skrull? He has a feeling he's about to find out.

    AJA-ADANNA, SHURI - Head of the Hatut Zeraze, second in line to throne of Wakanda
    BRADDOCK, ELIZABETH - Deputy Director of MI-13
    CASTLE, FRANCIS - Alias: The Punisher, vigilante
    CREED, GRAYDON - CEO of Roxxon Sustainable Energy
    DIXON, JORDAN - Alias: Viper, leader of the Serpent Society
    DREW, JESSICA MIRIAM - Alias: Spider-Woman, STRIKE Agent
    EBERSOL, PAUL NORBERT - Alias: Fixer, criminal weapons specialist
    FISK, WILSON GRANT - Alias: Kingpin, organized crime boss
    FROST, EMMA GRACE - Alias: White Queen, member of the Brotherhood
    FURY, NICHOLAS JOSEPH - Executive Director of SHIELD
    GILL, DONALD - Alias: Blizzard, Inhuman criminal
    GREY, JEAN ELAINE - X-Men member
    IVANOVICH, ERMOLAI - Minister of Defense, Russian Federation
    KRAVINOFF, SERGEI NIKOLAEVICH - Alias: Kraven the Hunter, serial killer
    MANDER-AZUR, KARNAK - Attilan Seeker, member of the royal family
    MCNEIL-HUDSON, HEATHER - Director of Department H
    MONROE, JENNIFER - Alias: Flashback, SHIELD Internal Affairs
    NATCHIOS, ELEKTRA - Alias: Elektra, second in command of the Hand
    O'GRADY, ERIC - Alias: Ant-Man, STRIKE agent
    PARKS, ARTHUR - Alias: Living Laser, Inhuman criminal
    PRENTISS, NAMORITA - Atlantean diplomat, cousin of King Namor
    RACINE, ALAIN - Minister of Defence, French Republic
    ROSS, THADDEUS ELLIOT - Secretary of Defence, United States of America
    RUMLOW, BROCK - Alias: Crossbones, HYDRA agent
    SABLINOVA, SILVER - Alias: Silver Sable, CEO of Sable International
    TONG, ZHANG - Minister of National Defense, People's Republic of China
    VANKO, ANTON - Alias: Whiplash, former Leviathan agent
    WALKER, JOHN FRANCIS - Warden of the Raft
    WHITMAN, DANE - Defence Secretary, United Kingdom
    WILSON, SAMUEL THOMAS - Alias: Falcon, member of the Avengers
    WORTHINGTON, WARREN KENNETH - Alias: Angel, member of the X-Men, CEO of Worthington Industries
    ZEMO, HELMUT - Alias: Baron Zemo, senior HYDRA leadership figure

    PHU1KZN.png a big list, and it’s a who’s who of major and minor Marvel characters, many of whom we haven’t seen or heard from in this game before now.

    Of the characters who haven’t previously appeared or been mentioned, we have (deep breath)

    Elizabeth "Betsy" Braddock - the telepathic mutant superheroine Psylocke, younger sister of Brian "Captain Britain" Braddock, whom we met on Sentinel Earth. In our setting she's apparently Deputy Director of MI-13, Britain's paranormal agency (which Clay worked at before joining SHIELD).

    Senator Byrd was a recurring foil of Iron Man in the comics, going back all the way to the 60s. He was portrayed in the MCU by Gary Shandling.

    Graydon Creed, here the CEO of Roxxon, is the mutant son of Sabertooth and Mystique in the comics, and a schemer and activist who leads anti-mutant hate groups for various convoluted soap opera reasons.

    Viper is a HYDRA spy and green-haired femme fatale, and an old enemy of Captain America's.

    Paul Ebersol, the Fixer, is a minor supervillain with a knack for gadgetry. He often features as a supporting character, a contact villains get their gear and devices from.

    Emma Frost, the mutant White Queen of the Hellfire Club, began life as one of the X-Men's archenemies (infamous for her white leather BDSM attire) before softening and joining the team, even running Xavier's school as headmistress. She was played, infamously, by January Jones in X-Men: First Class.

    Donnie Gill, Blizzard, gets his ice blasts from a Hammer Industries suit in the comics, but appeared in Agents of SHIELD as an Inhuman, which we've echoed here.

    Heather Hudson is a Canadian scientist and wife of Alpha Flight leader James "Guardian" Hudson. The Hudsons are the couple who nursed Logan, Wolverine, back to health in the Canadian wilderness after his escape from the Weapon X project, and Heather eventually assumes the Guardian mantle and leadership of Alpha Flight after James's death.

    Elektra Natchios is, of course, Daredevil's lover and foil, played first by Jennifer Garner in the films Daredevil (2003) and Elektra (2005) and by Élodie Yung in season 2 of the Netflix Daredevil show.

    Namorita is the clone daughter of Namor's cousin Namora, and was created in 1972 by legendary writer/artist Bill Everett (who had also created Namor himself way back in 1939!).

    Alain Racine, better known as the flying hero Peregrine, is a minor character, a French superhero who debuted in the comic Contest of Champions in 1982, summoned by the Grandmaster (remember him? Jeff Goldblum in Thor Ragnarok?) to battle Angel of the X-Men.

    Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross is the bombastic US Army general/government official who's been obsessed with catching the Hulk since the very first Hulk comic. He was played by Sam Elliott (who's a very close physical and...moustachical match for him) in Ang Lee's Hulk (2003), and by William Hurt in The Incredible Hulk (2008) and Captain America: Civil War, although Hurt's more serious, ruthless bureaucrat was a departure from Ross's usual characterization as a flamboyant, rootin'-tootin', Patton-esque figure.

    Zhang Tong is an alias of The Mandarin, one of Iron Man's classic foes, who debuted in an early Iron Man story from the mid-1960s and appeared (in name only) in the film Iron Man 3. The comics Mandarin began life as more of a problematic Fu Manchu/yellow peril figure, although I always found it interesting that he was never implicitly or explicitly coded as Communist, which was unusual for the time, and he wasn't given mystical, kung-fu, or otherwise "Asian" powers, instead wielding high-tech alien weapons in the form of Green Lantern-esque rings. He's always been a pure pulp throwback, a mad scientist who wants to rule the world, very much in the Dr. Doom vein, although more recent versions have made him a hypercapitalist competitor to Tony Stark.

    Dane Whitman debuted in a 1967 issue of The Avengers as the modern Marvel Universe's second Black Knight, a scientist transported back to King Arthur's court, where he becomes a knight and learns swordplay and chivalry before returning to the present day as a hero. The first Black Knight, Whitman's uncle, was a mad scientist who used knight-themed gadgetry to fight Giant-Man and the original Avengers in the early 60s, so I guess it was lucky that his nephew got time warped back to the dark ages so could re-use the costume nad codename.

    Warren Worthington III is the dashing, handsome Angel, who had beautiful angelic wings allowing him to fly, and who was one of the original five X-Men along with Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, and Jean Grey. Interestingly, even in those very early, primitive issues of the X-Men, Angel's ability to easily pass as human, and the fact that his powers weren't a liability or disability, became (along with his wealth and looks) a source of envy and friction among the team right from the beginning. I can guarantee you neither Stan Lee or Jack Kirby were familiar with the modern sense of "passing," but they zeroed in on an interesting emotional truth there, and I wonder if they drew from something analogous in the Jewish-American experience for that.

    Miles’ blood runs cold. He reads the news. He knows so many of these names.

    Herr Mason, five of those political figures are...the nuclear powers.

    This is bad. This is really, really bad,
    Miles thinks, then his lip curls up in a mirthless grin. ...Oh, belay that. John Walker? I'm going to get to punch John Walker in the face? Well, there's our silver lining.

    One supposes! I have obtained the list of these...Cradles.

    SHIELD Base 42, Codename: The STATION, Munich, Germany
    SHIELD Extranormal Detention Facility, Codename: The Raft, Atlantic Ocean
    Roxxon Headquarters, New York City, United States of America
    Warehouse 64-A, Najaf, Aqiria
    Weapon X Research Centre, Alkali Lake, Canada
    MI-13 Facility Charlie, Manchester, England

    Miles swallows. We need to pass this information to Reed and to HAMMER. The invasion fleet's almost here. We can't begin to fight them if we have this knife in our back.

    Zola thinks. I am setting up a secure line so as not to be intercepted. It will take time. I suggest sharing this information with the nearby Dr. Richards in this time.

    I was about to suggest the same thing.
    Miles blinks, returning his consciousness to the outside world. "Susan? We've got a list of Cradles and their occupants. It's bad. Defense ministers, Monica Chang, Flashback, Dr. Banner, the deputy directors of MI-13 and Department H. They're in the Raft, Roxxon HQ, someplace called 'Weapon X,' which...I don't like the idea of the Skrulls in charge of some kind of Final Fantasy boss..."

    "Oh." Susan’s voice is small. "We need to call Reed."

    "On it," Miles says. "Zola and I are setting up a secure link. We're going to tell Reed and HAMMER."

    " HAMMER clean? This entire time?" She shakes her head in disbelief. "It wasn't a cover at all?"


    "...huh! Reed and I were convinced the entire thing was a cover to hunt down people like... me."

    "Part of that might be because Frank Castle is Dard'van," Miles points out.

    "See! I knew he was! Because he absolutely killed a WHISPER agent," she says triumphantly. "He was probably an attempt on the Dard'van's part to get a guy on the inside."

    "That guy had to have drawn the short straw to have to be some angry guido with a Columbine outfit and a gun instead of a stacked six-foot redhead who can fly," Miles muses.

    Susan nods thoughtfully. "Yeah, at least my assignment was 'replace a hot blonde spy and then fall in love with a scientist who screws like a power drill.'"

    "I knew it," Miles nods, satisfied, as if a long-held speculation had just been confirmed.

    Zola chimes in with the digital equivalent of a throat-clearing. If you are quite done, Herr Mason, I have a secure line open.

    You'll come to find that I'm never quite done. But I can table it for now to handle this…
    Miles opens up the connection. "This is Miles Mason calling Reed Richards and Marcus Milton. Guys, a Skrull fleet is inbound, Nick Fury has been replaced, and I've just gotten a list of names and sites..."

    Miles appends the file to the transmission. After a few moments, Reed responds. "This is...horrifying. You both need to get out of there, immediately. A lot of STRIKE are out of contact right now. With Drew and O'Grady...get back here. I'll contact Valt and Adler, they're the only ones currently planetside or in our dimension."

    "Copy that, doc. We're in the Triskelion's basement right now. Undetected so far, but, uh, if something happens, you'll know it when it happens."

    Reed signs off with a grim nod, then his image is replaced by Hyperion’s. "I'll relay this to Stark and the rest of my team, and mobilize the Helicarrier. It looks like ARMOR and SWORD are clean, they should be brought in the loop too."

    Miles nods. "Can you loop them in, Marcus? I'm in the middle of hostile territory here."

    "I'm on it."

    "Thanks. I owe you one. And, uh. Sorry about the last time we talked. And I guess the time before that was Galactus...look, maybe the like, fifth time will be the charm? Later."

    "Sure. Hyperion out."

    Miles closes the connection and turns to Susan. "We need to boogie. I'm down for pretty much anywhere else that isn't literally the basement of our enemy's secret HQ. I'd even take Elise's old van."

    Susan nods. "The Messenger is cloaked where we parked it, we can get out of here pretty safely, I think."

    "From your lips to God's ears."

    "We'll fall back to the Baxter Building, it's the safest place on the planet right now. After it got hit with a satellite, Reed's made some...changes."

    Miles cocks an eyebrow. "Oh really. Good. Good. Let's hustle. Schnell."

    Susan squints, and Miles grins. "Relax, I'm fucking with you."

    The pair make their way for the elevators.

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


    Ryann, Sam, Julian, and the rest of X-Force and the Agents of Doom (including Danniel Valt, much to Ryann's consternation) are in Najaf, Aqiria. They have discovered a Skrull Cradle, and have defeated the Skrull and Chitauri guarding it. They found a list of some of the Skrulls that were linked to it (and the individuals stored there), and are figuring out what to do next.

    At that moment, Ryann’s gauntlet beeps. It’s Reed Richards. "Valt, we have a serious problem."

    Ryann looks down, surprised. "I agree, do you know about the Cradle?"

    "I do now," Reed nods. "Mason and Susan found intelligence of a much farther-reaching Dard'van infiltration than we first thought. O'Grady and Drew are Skrulls. So is Fury and most of the SHIELD leadership. Only SWORD, STAKE, and ARMOR are not compromised. HAMMER is clean too.

    "I contacted Victor, and apparently he has his people in your area. Is that accurate?"

    "Yeah, I was tracking an AWOL agent from SWORD, which led me to Aqiria and Doom’s Agents. I'm with Adler too, seems he was tracking down one of the X-Men that they had discovered had been replaced with a Skull. We all joined together to assault the Cradle that the Agents of Doom had a lead on. I have lists of compromised people here. We need to get them out."

    "I talked to Victor about that,” Reed says. “He is going to create a portal, and get the people in those pods out to his castle to safety. His agents will take care of it. I am going to trust him on this. I have to. He also told me who he...enlisted to help find the Cradle. I am not happy about that. I do not imagine you are either."

    Ryann scowls. "I'll be talking to him soon enough."

    "I understand, but pocket that for now."

    "Yeah, looks like I have to for now. So what's our next move?"

    "I need you, Alexander, and Adler back at the Baxter Building. If Adler is with some of Xavier's people, they can decide if they're coming with him or going back to Xavier. But Adler works for me, and I need him here. With your need to make the call there. I do not know that entire situation."

    "He's coming with me," Ryann says.

    "All right. I understand you took your ship to the area, correct? If so, take it back to my building, immediately. Bring everyone else with you."

    "Understood,” Ryann nods. "Valt out." He turns to Julian and the others and relays Reed's orders.

    Wolverine nods. "We'll take the X-Jet back to the mansion, and let Charles know what's up. Jean comes with us," Logan adds. "I'm not budging on that. Doom can eat shit."

    "Yeah, he can.” Ryann turns to the Agents of Doom.

    Taskmaster nods. "Of course, we're not looking to start anything."

    Ryann waves Agent Venom to fall in. "Alright, Dann, we're leaving."

    Danniel growls, "So long as we're fighting the Enemy, we'll follow you anywhere."

    Ryann frowns. "Okay."

    Julian, Ryann, Sam, and Danniel load up into the Corona. The rest of X-Force take Jean's unconscious body into the X-Jet, while the Agents of Doom begin moving pods through a portal.

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


    Elise and Clay come out of the Attilan portal, having visited Valeria and Crystalia after an intense interrogation of Maximus.

    "Can I drive on the way back?" she asks.

    Clay nods. "Yeah, you just can't tell Reed. You can tell Susan. Because she'll think it was funny."

    Elise grins. "It's a little funny."


    As they head to the Fantasticar, the pair are approached by a woman in a purple cloak. Elise doesn't recognize her; Clay, however, seems to.


    "Betsy!" Clay yells, smiling. He walks over and puts his arms out for a hug; she smiles, and hugs him back. Elise watches, surprised, as a tiny muscle twitches beneath Betsy’s face.

    She's a Skrull.

    Elise can tell...but she can't tell Clay. She wants to. But she can't. Clay would be upset. She doesn't want to upset Clay. They seem like they're old friends?

    "Elise, this Betsy. She's an old friend. Well, technically speaking, she's my old boss."

    The woman snickers. "I'm also your ex because you don't have any sense of workplace boundaries, Clay." Clay makes a high, nervous laugh. This is a familiar noise to Elise. She makes it sometimes.

    Elise looks back and forth between Clay and the woman. "I... I..." Betsy smiles indulgently at her. Clay tilts his head, puzzled, as Elise stammers.

    She needs to tell Clay. It's important.

    "Clay, she's a Skrull!"

    Clay looks at Betsy, confused. "Wait, no she..." He stares. "...she couldn't be...I would..."

    Psylocke rolls her eyes. "Oh, for fuck's sake..." She snaps her fingers, "Do it."

    Energy blasts begin raining down on them! Elise rushes to Clay and throws up her arms. She can create, she needs to be able to create a shield… A field of starry energy springs to life around the pair, scattering the plasma blasts harmlessly. She's never done that before! Enigma Fooooorce!

    Psylocke scowls. "Oh come on!" Elise flips her off with both fingers from inside the bubble.

    Suddenly, a platoon of Chitauri warriors rush forth, blasting from their rifles and cybernetic augmentations.

    "I'm getting us out of here!" Elise and Clay vanish, going somewhere she feels safe.

    They appear in Crystalia’s palace, in Attilan. Elise grunts and falls to her knees. "Haven't used my powers like that before." She pulls herself back to her feet and pops out of her astral form. "That was pretty sick though, huh?"

    "...yeah..." Clay is pretty shaken up. "...they got Betsy."

    Elise grabs him by the shoulders. "That means Betsy's in a Cradle. That means she's safer than you or me."

    "Sure, but Elise, Betsy is second in command of MI-13."

    Elise shrugs. "We knew this was coming. This is why I went for Attilan, this is why I grabbed the Enigma Force. Okay, so, we can assume the situation is fucked. I'm ready, Clay," she insists. "I'm going to do it. I'm going to fix this."

    "...they're going to take over the Attilan portal in the Azores. They're going to shut Attilan out,” Clay says. "We can't go that way again. This is basically a siege, and they've barred that gate."

    Elise chews on the inside of her cheek. "Lockjaw," she says at last. "Eldrac. I can...try to teleport us again, but that's...tough."

    "Sure. But Elise...listen..." Clay says urgently, trying to explain. "I'm a telepath. I'm a powerful telepath. I'm part of the Royal Caste, and I'm...old. I detected nothing from Betsy. Now, Betsy, the real Betsy, is also a telepath. Like, normally, she is. I think she's a mutant or an Inhuman or something.

    "But even a War Skrull assuming her form wouldn't have telepathy powerful enough to counter me. I sensed nothing amiss."

    "...Do you think it was...your sister?"

    "...maybe?" He grimaces. "It would have to be someone in the Royal Caste. If not Veranke herself, one of her Handmaidens. Someone she trained."

    "Okay. We're spies, right? Like, Skrull King and Captain Universe, yeah, awesome, but if we don't have that as an advantage...we're spies. So let's go through our spy checklist." Elise ticks off a point on her first finger. "Intel. We know SHIELD is fucked. MI-13 is fucked. Attilan is fine, thank God. WHISPER?"

    "I think WHISPER is fine,” he says slowly. “I trust Reed and Susan."

    "We have Attilan. We have WHISPER. We have STRIKE-1. We...probably have Doom and co."

    "Honestly, yes,” Clay agrees. “I trust Doom's paranoia and megalomania to not let a Skrull anywhere near him."

    "So here's what we're going to do. First, we're not leaving each other's side. I'm your failsafe. You're mine."

    Clay nods.

    "Two, we should...tell King Agar. Arm Attilan," she says. "Three. We leave Attilan through Lockjaw or Eldrac and meet up with Miles, Mike, and the rest.

    "Four, we assess the situation and then I rend some fuckin' realities." Elise clenches both fists in determination. Maximus and Valeria are terrifying to think about; this is fine. Elise one-shot a War Skrull. She's Captain Universe. This is what she's been preparing for the whole time.

    Clay nods. "Alright. We should use Eldrac. Tell Crystalia to use Lockjaw to get Valeria to safety. If the Skrulls control the Azores portal, they could invade Attilan."

    Panic flashes across Elise's face. "Oh, fuck. Where's safer than Attilan?"

    "...I don't know."

    "...Another dimension?" she offers. "Do we know one where Valeria and Crys can hang out for a...a couple of days?"

    "Crystalia and Valeria should go directly to the Baxter Building."

    Elise nods. "Okay. Okay, we have a plan. We're going to do this. Before we move, can i just...uh. I need a hug."

    Clay gives her a hug. "Elise... I hate to say this but..." His face is ashen. "What about Maximus?"

    "...What about Maximus?" she says warily.

    "Could we...use him?"

    Elise exhales through her teeth. "...You know, Julian's not a Skrull. And he, even if Maximus takes over STRIKE-1, someone could just...shoot Julian."

    "Right,” Clay says. “And Maximus is, if nothing else, loyal to Attilan as a kingdom. He...he will fight the…Enemy."

    "Fuck. You're right." She scowls. "Okay, yeah, let's go." Elise opens the doors and begins to stride down the marble corridors of the Amalaquin manor.

    "Alright, we'll tell Crystalia to get to safety, and go convince Maximus"

    "And alert the King,” Elise adds. “Or send a runner to do that, I guess. Crystalia's always telling me to delegate."

    They find a servant in the next hall, and Elise dispatches her with a message for the King. They leave the manor, and begin making their way through Attilan to the prison of Maximus.

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

    Michael and X-51 emerge once again in Reed Richards’ portal room, returning from Earth-209, and find Reed waiting there to meet them. He looks...concerned.

    "We managed to make two sets of allies, but it seems like something's gone wrong here,” Michael says briskly. “What happened?"

    "I could start quoting 'The Second Coming' by Yeats if I wanted to be melodramatic like Victor," Reed replies.

    "Oh god, please don't. I hate when the bad guys monologue."

    Reed hands Michael a tablet, which has two lists. One is a list of people, the other is a list of locations. "The first is a list of Dard'van infiltrators. The second is a list of known Cradles where the individuals they replaced are being kept. Mason just found this out.

    "Also, the Dard'van are aware of Quartermain's true identity. And a full Skrull invasion fleet are on their way."

    Michael looks at the tablet, then pinches his nose and sighs heavily. "Of course. So, are we marshalling our forces here?"

    Reed nods. "The best we can. Adler and Valt are on their way back. The Aqiria Cradle is off the board, fortunately, which has also returned a few of the people on that list. Not that it especially matters right now, their doppelgangers are still largely in the wind. Mason and Susan are also en route. Quarterman, Arnell, Hussain, Childan are out of contact due to being off-world or off-dimension." Reed sighs heavily. "And Drew and O'Grady are, well, Skrulls."

    "Do we have a plan of attack? I'd rather be proactive in this, not reactive like the Avengers. I'd rather be like the Prevengers."

    "...I like that." An alarm goes off, and Reed immediately moves over to a monitor, and looks it over. "Hm. That is not good."

    "What is it?"

    "Perimeter alarm. The tower is under attack. Ben and Johnny are engaging. Chitauri, it looks like, as well as...hired mercenaries. It seems the Dard'van are not above using human tools. I suppose they don't let these goons in on how this will end up for them…

    “Oh...oh, it's far worse." Reed's fingers stretch out as he begins rapidly typing, his eyes darting back and forth as he begins looking at five monitors simultaneously. "There are multiple locations reporting Skrull attack.

    "I'm coordinating with HAMMER, ARMOR, SWORD, Victor, and Charles Xavier. Multiple locations are under attack globally. The Skrulls are making their move. In addition to here, the following..." Reed flicks a holographic display list up to show Michael.

    HAMMER Helicarrier
    SHIELD Base 'The Getaway'
    SHIED Base 'The Slingshot'
    SHIELD Base 'The Crypt'
    Avengers Tower
    Xavier Mansion

    Ben Grimm’s face appears on a monitor. "Reed, I think we clobbered these Skrull bozos back off, locked the place down. We're good here. Where's the rest of Clay's people? Could really use 'em."

    Reed responds, "The members of STRIKE we can locate are assembling. If Drew or O'Grady show up, they are compromised, engage."

    Ben sighs. "...yeah. Alright."

    "Do you want me to wait here for the team or go out and help knock some Skrulls into the stratosphere?" Michael says.

    "Wait here. I want a coordinated effort. You and your team work better together."

    X-51 speaks up. "We should store the Diamond safely, Michael, and inform Dr. Richards about it."

    "Oh yes! Uh, the last bastion of Humanity on Earth-209 is miniaturized in that Earth's Hope Diamond, which I stole." Michael holds it out to Reed. "They've agreed to help us with the Council and Parliament if we find them a place to plop their mini city down."

    Reed's eyebrows climb. "I...see. We will store that in a very safe place for now. If we promised these people safety, then we won't exactly tell them that the planet we took them to is in the midst of an alien invasion."

    "Yeah, might be good to solve this first."

    Reed gently takes the Diamond from Michael, and hands it to a WHISPER technician, "Put this in the Vault, immediately." The technician walks away.

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    Above the building, both the Messenger and the Corona land inside the Baxter Building's hangar, not quite simultaneously. Both ships land, and Ryann, Sam, Julian, and Danniel join Miles and Susan in the hangar, as X-51, Reed, and Michael come up to meet them.

    Michael spreads his hands palms up in a helpless shrug. "So...Skrull Invasion. Yay."

    "This has gone full blow. We need to get a handle on things, fast," Ryann says.

    Julian nods. "Time to chew bubblegum and kick ass."

    "We all knew this was coming,” Miles says. “I think we all agree it just could have stood to wait a while longer." He rubs his temple. "We need to get everyone out of danger, concentrate our forces, and then start thinking about where to hit back."

    Michael holds up a hand. "Anyone got an idea where Elise might be?"

    "Attilan," Reed says. "She and Clay were going to Attilan. I do not know all the details; Clay kept me in the dark, which was frustrating."

    Miles nods in agreement. "Yeah. I feel that way a lot."

    "Which is unfortunate,” Reed adds, “because now the Dard'van control the gateway to Attilan. The Inhumans have a way out of Attilan, via Eldrac, but we have no way in. And we have no way of contacting Elise. The Inhumans do monitor satellite television and news media, so inevitably, they will catch wind of what is happening.

    "And of course the member of your team who can dimensionally teleport there is Arnell."

    "Speaking of satellites, we only have like three of the Kree ones now? Thanks, Silver Surfer," Michael grouses.

    Miles snaps his fingers. "The Surfer!" He turns to Ryann. "If he wants to atone for his crimes, boy, I've got a great way for him to start."

    Julian nods in Miles' direction. "Yeah, we need all hands, and I bet he could mess some Skrulls up."

    "SWORD, fortunately, is not compromised," Reed muses. "And they do control the three satellites that remain, for all the good that will do when the fleet shows up. Also..."

    Crystalia and Lockjaw appear in the hangar. Cyrstalia is carrying Valeria. "The Skrulls have attacked the Attilan portal! The second in command of British intelligence is a Skrull!" she yells anxiously.

    "It's good to see you safe, Princess," Miles says. "Do you know where Elise is?"

    "Attilan. Her and Clay went to speak to Maximus,” Crystalia scowls. “Again."

    "...Yikes." Miles grimaces. "I think I know what they're doing, but...yikes." Behind him, Michael silently bristles at the mention of Maximus.

    Ryann taps a few buttons on his gauntlet and nods. "Good call, Miles, I know the Surfer will help. I'll take Sam and Dann back up with me."

    Miles nods. "Link your gauntlet to VI...and we'll coordinate the ground and space defenses."

    X-51 tilts his head. "You have a new VI?" Ryann cocks an eyebrow.

    Miles nods. "Yeah, buddy. It's a whole thing." Arnim, introduce yourself wirelessly. I don't want to waste time trying to get STRIKE's approval right now.

    I understand. There’s a pause. He immediately attempted to introduce himself. He was... very intense, Herr Mason. Accusing, and threatening. I believe he is very protective. Akin to a dog, or a former lover.

    I...suppose that makes sense, Miles admits. He can talk to me if he has a problem.

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    With a shrug, Ryann, Sam, and Danniel begin loading up into the Corona. Crystalia’s head swivels in confusion from them to the rest of the group. "Did...did anyone register what I said? Attilan is under siege by the Skrulls."

    "Your majesty,” Miles says impatiently, “everyone is under siege by the Skrulls."

    "Then Elise needs to know!” Crystalia cries. “She can fix things! She has power!"

    Miles frowns at Crystalia's phrasing. "Hrm."

    Michael breaks in. "Do you have a way to contact her?"

    "...we can take Lockjaw!" Crystalia says, patting the beast’s head. "You can, I mean. I need to protect Valeria. Elise said Dr. Richards has the safest place to do so."

    Reed nods. "Yes, there's a place you and your daughter can be kept safe. It's where Franklin goes in an emergency, he is already there with his friend Alex."

    "You'll be safe, your majesty. Please do whatever the doc says." Miles turns to Reed. "If the heroes are the Skrulls' target, we need to concentrate our forces instead of being defeated in twos and threes. We should try to get the X-Men, the Avengers, STAKE and Doom's people in one place and hit the Skrulls en masse. Sun Tzu."

    Reed rubs his chin. "Hm. Yes. Mason, you need to go retrieve Elise. If they are...talking to Maximus, I don't know why, but I cannot imagine it is for a good reason."

    Susan puts her hand up. "I'll go with him. Good cop, bad cop."

    "Maximus probably authentically hates the Skrulls," Miles says. "They're making a deal with a devil, but it's a devil we know." He nods at Susan. "Thanks."

    "...ah." Susan wilts. "You know what. I think maybe. I'll stay."

    "I don't think I should go anywhere near Maximus either,” Michael rumbles. “He'll be paste if I go."

    Zola is in Miles' ear. I believe with our combined forces we will be protected from this individual's machinations.

    I agree. Lockjaw pads over to Miles and huffs excitedly, and Miles smiles down at him. "I'll handle Maximus if it comes down to it," he says to the team. "Those of you who want to stay, stay. We'll meet back up here when we're done." He puts his hand on Lockjaw, and the two vanish.

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


    Elise and Clay have returned to Maximus’ cell, and upon explaining the situation to him, he immediately volunteers to help, for the sake of Attilan. "Quickly," he says. "We must proceed to the throne room. I have a plan."

    Elise frowns. "...What's the plan."

    "If the Skrulls have infiltrated the Shield, then they have possibly infiltrated the Court. And I have a simple way of sniffing them out. I'll just ask everyone in the court, all at once, for anyone who is a Skrull to raise their hand. Obviously, it would be wise for your father to wait outside when I ask this question.

    "Anyone who raises their hand is the enemy."

    Elise ponders it for a moment, then shakes her head. "No, man, you walk in there - you're an enemy of the state walking into a room where everyone's a nuke. Enemy at the gates or no, that's gonna end fuckin badly."

    Clay squints for a moment. "Not if he looks differently than expected..."

    "What, like a different hat?" Elise sounds exasperated.

    You can change the shape of others. Not just yourself. Your debrief from Mojoworld said that you turned the rest of the team into symbiotes. That was the Enigma Force, Clay thinks to her. Just change his appearance.

    Her eyes widen. I've never...I've never done that when I'm me. What if I fuck him up? Like, the raccoon with my face?

    ...I'm willing to take that risk.

    "Uhhhh, uhhhh... Okay. Okay, just stay still for a moment." SHe holds her hand out toward Maximus, and frowns in concentration. Cosmic energy gathers about her.

    Maximus shrieks as his body ripples and distends with the crunch of bone and the pop of ligament. He staggers back, awkwardly, his misshapen, Quasimodo-like body barely functioning.

    "AAA! AAAAAA!!" Elise screams. "Jesus, Dad, fucking Christ this is why I didn't want to do it!" She swallows hard and tries desperately to focus again. "Hold on, hold on, just one second!"

    Maximus’ body shifts again, this time not slowly and agonizingly, but with an almost special-effects smoothness, like some kind of cosmic origami trick. Bones reknit themselves and imperfections of the flesh are smoothed away. Elise has oversteered on the redo. The mad vizier ends up nondescript but in a way that's kind of...handsome? Like he won't stop someone's gaze but nobody would kick him out of bed.

    Elise wrinkles her nose up. "Ugh."

    Maximus looks at his hands, and then walks over to a mirror. "...huh." He touches his face in wonder.

    "I am real sorry about that," she says.

    Maximus is still captivated by his reflection. "Is it permanent?"

    "Uhhh...if you want to be?"

    "...yes," he nods. "Yes, I will take this."


    Clay nods. "Alright, let's move." He leads them out of the cell, and Elise teleports the trio to the antechamber of the throne of Attilan.

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

    "Alright, Dad, stay out of earshot."

    Clay nods and hangs back.

    "And uh... you know what? Maybe you should take someone else's shape. They gotta know you are who you are, right? Maybe be like..." Elise shrugs. "Another guy?"

    "Sure," he says tightly.

    "Alright." Elise grabs Maximus's hand and sprints into the throne room with him, trying to keep the adrenaline going.

    Black Bolt, Medusa, Arcadian, Karnak, and Kobar are there, as well as a bunch of courtiers and various nobles.


    Black Bolt looks at Elise and quirks an eyebrow, and signs Princess Elise, who is this?

    "Your Majesty, the Enemy is here! They're at the gates of Attilan in the Azores, and they could even be in this throne room!"

    Black Bolt is taken aback, and scowls at Elise and the other newcomer.

    At this Maximus smiles. "I am but a simple subject of Attilan, and have a question to cut to the heart of the matter." He turns to those assembled. "If there are any Skrulls in this room, at this moment, cease your falsehood and show us your true face."

    Everyone looks around

    The high priest Karnak the Seeker, King Agon’s cousin, starts sweating, looks down at his hands, and then becomes a Skrull.


    Elise pulls out her gun and shoots Karnak in the head, and he drops to the floor. She turns to the stunned crowd. "Attilan is under siege. Crystalia and Valeria have been evacuated. This is it. This is the war you have prepared for throughout your entire civilization! Will you fight by my side?"

    Black Bolt nods.

    Dad, I got to do the hero speech!

    Medusa groans, and whispers to Black Bolt. Elise can hear her. "We should recruit your brother. As much as he is cruel and distrustful, he loves Attilan above all else, and he would help us against the Enemy."

    "Your Majesty, I'm one step ahead of you," Elise announces.

    Medusa looks at Elise, surprised.

    "Maximus's crimes are great, but he is..." Elise's face twists; she doesn't want to say this. "He is a son of Attilan. He is here, by my side, and I will vouch for his...current honesty, in the face of the Enemy."

    Medusa and Black Bolt stare at Maximus, and he shrugs sheepishly while grinning.

    Medusa grumbles. "Very well. All weapons are in the arsenal in the war against the Enemy."
    "Even...the repugnant."

    "Oh, he's repugnant as hell, Your Majesty, no argument there."

    Black Bolt nods. Medusa turns to one of the courtiers. "Send message to Alaris and the Ennilux, and marshal our forces for war." She then looks at Elise. "Princess, take Eldrac to your fraterarmalis."

    "Yes, my father will come with me. I know Attilan will hold its ground against the Enemy, no matter what comes." She sweeps an elaborate, earnest bow. This is the first time she's ever felt not-awkward around her in-laws.

    With a rustling sound, a lock of Medusa’s extravagantly long hair ripples to life and points at Maximus. "And take…him with you."

    "...Oh. Yeah. That uh, that would be best," Elise says.

    Black Bolt raises his hand. He shakes his head. He points at Maximus. He then signs he stays here, where he can be watched, and he can protect us from any further infiltration.

    Elise considers. ...How bad can he possibly fuck it up? I mean, we took him with a max-fucked Attilan. Aloud she says "Understood, your Majesty." She says a phrase in heavily accented Tilani; it is a saying of family and loyalty. Then, she turns to go.

    Suddenly, Lockjaw teleports into the room with Miles.

    Elise turns, very happy with her grand speech and gesture, and comes - face to face with Miles. "Aaaaa - SHIT!" She grabs his face and squints as a Skrull-check.

    "Hey, I'-ow!” Miles winces. “What the hell?!"

    "He's clear!" she announces to the room.

    Clay walks into the room. "Mason?"

    Miles turns to face Clay. "Boss, it's all going down right now. The fleet's on its way. The Skrulls are attacking everything."

    Clay nods. "I figured."

    "Yeah, I'm pretty sure I already cucked the Empress out of a kill," Elise says. "Can we move?"

    Miles stares at Elise. "The Empress - ? Here?"

    Black Bolt makes some hand gestures, and Medusa translates, "Attilan stands to defend. The Enemy will be slain, their green blood will flow."

    Clay's eyebrows raise. "Cool. Cool cool cool. Can we go?"

    Miles nods. "They got Fury, Clay. Julian and Ryann got him back, but..." He puts a hand on Lockjaw. "Let's head back, buddy.” Lockjaw pants and nods, and they vanish.

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


    Ryann, Danniel, and Sam arrive at the Peak on the Corona. As they dock, they can see that alarms going off everywhere. People are scrambling. The Anabasis, with Alpha Flight aboard, is getting ready to launch.

    Standing calm amidst the chaos, SWORD Deputy Director Isabel Kane is there to meet them. "Valt,” she begins, “glad you're here. Long range gravitational lensing is picking up disruptions that indicate some serious FTL jumps imminent. The invasion fleet is right on our doorstep. Any chance you can convince the Black Novas to send a few guys on the down-low to help us out, maintain Federation neutrality but still help us out?"

    Ryann shakes his head. "They wouldn't be able to get here fast enough even they did." He looks around them, taking in the panic. "It's just us right now. I need to see the Silver Surfer. Where is Katt?"

    "Katt's helping prep a combat triage unit. Surfer's just...sitting out in space, waiting for the fleet. You can hop out an airlock to have a word, if you want," she says with a shrug. "I think he's planning to punch a spaceship or something."

    Ryann nods. "Sounds about right." He turns to his son. "Dann, take Sam and find your mother. Make sure she's safe. I'll meet back up with you after I get the Surfer."

    Dann grumbles. "Yeah. Fine. Let's go, jack-ass."

    Ryann nods to Sam, who rubs his shoulder with a grimace, and follows Dann.

    Ryann heads into the airlock, cycles the pressure, and flies over to Silver Surfer. The Surfer is just sitting on his board, and watching the stars quietly.

    "See anything interesting?"

    The Surfer nods slowly. "Yes. Light years away, gravity parts and shifts, like eddies in the water. The Skrull fleet is coming for this world, and part of the reason it is now defenseless is because of me." He hangs his head. "I destroyed much of its protective satellite network."

    "Then defend it now,” Ryann says. “Fight the forces of the Dard'Van with me and the people of Earth. We can meet them in the solar system, try to at least slow them down so the others can figure something out."

    The Surfer nods. "You and your family have been kind to me, Ryann. I often do not think I deserve it, but Katt has taught me that redemption is something that is not given, but found." He stands up on his board. "Together, we shall fight."

    "You're a good man, Norrin. I'd like to consider you a friend," Ryann says.

    "Thank you. I, too, would like to..." He looks suddenly outwards to the stars. "...oh no."

    "What is it?"


    A Skrull mothership appears. It is hundreds of kilometers long.

    It is the first of hundreds of smaller ships. They rapidly begin appearing in Earth's orbit. The Surfer looks at Ryann, and then nods. "It begins."

    Ryann clenches his fists and charges into battle.

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


    Elise, Clay, Miles, and Lockjaw appear in the Baxter Building to find everyone else waiting for them. Clay looks at those assembled. "Alright, people, we need to..." An alarm begins going off. "Oh...what now..."

    Reed steps over to a bank of monitors. "Orbital proximity alert from SWORD...they're here."

    "It's finally going down," Julian breathes.

    Reed is looking at multiple monitors across a massive panel, his neck stretching his head around, his fingers flicking around several keyboards. "...we're losing."

    Elise shifts into her astral form of stars and sky. "Alright, point me at them. I'm ready. I can finally fix this."

    Miles frowns at this, visions of Elise's ‘fixes’ dancing through his head. "We need to get Michael and Elise and Julian into space where they can do the most good."

    "The Avengers Tower is down. The Triskelion is completely overrun. Wakanda is declaring Shuri as their new queen. Xavier isn't responding," Reed says, reading updates urgently. "The US, China, Russia, France, and the UK are all saying each other are overridden with and are under control of Skrulls, and are all trying to convince their own people that they need to use nuclear weapons. On each other."

    "I shouldn't have run at the gate. I should have stayed and fought." Elise's eyes are darting back and forth. "Okay. Okay. How do I fix this. How do I..."

    A massive, droning noise shakes the building. "Christ, what was that?!" Julian shouts.

    Reed brings up an image on the display. "...that's outside," he says grimly.


    Julian's hands spasm and spark. "We have to get out there."

    Elise's eyes shine and she sprints towards the door. "Elise stop!" Clay yells. "We need a plan!"

    Miles stares " do we even fight these? If we win, they'd just flatten New York!" He swallows. "Reed, do we have Pym particles to shrink them? A portal?"

    When Elise hears Clay yell, she skids to a stop near the door with such force that it looks like it hurts. "I have a plan! I have to...I can change reality, Clay!"

    Clay snarls at her, "How?! You don't know what you're doing! You're a child playing with a gun you found! You turned Maximus into a fucked up Quasimodo and it took you a second try to make him into something resembling a person." Clay is shaking with anger. No-one in STRIKE has ever seen him this...lacking control.

    Elise is bristling right back. "What else do you want me to do, lie down and die? I need to try and fix this!"

    Clay fixes her with a glare. "We need a plan that isn't just you chucking power at problems like Vlad!"

    Elise freezes on the spot. She pops back into her human form, seemingly from shock.

    "I...I'm sorry," he says, swallowing and seeming to regain a measure of his composure.

    "No, I...I get it," she says in a small voice.

    Susan squints at a blinking light on the display. "Reed...Reed, is that an incoming direct line?"

    Reed nods at his wife. "Yes. That's a secure line I set up specifically for...STRIKE only."

    Miles whirls to face the indicator. Zola, can we back-trace this call? If it's Veranke, calling to gloat…

    I will begin as soon as it is answered,
    Zola responds.

    Clay looks at the blinking light. "Pick it up."

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    Reed presses the button, and a holographic display shimmers to life. Ant-Man and Spider-Woman are there, looking haggard. Skrull mecha-walkers are visible behind them, attacking people.


    Spider-Woman looks into the screen and shouts, "This is Drew, the Skrull ground forces have landed and we need back-up badly! Roxxon's CEO has been replaced with a Dard'van agent!

    "We were ambushed and need exfil!" The loud, droning howl of the walker echoes over the call. She looks back, and then looks pleadingly into the camera. "Please!"

    Clay’s voice intones within Miles’ head. Are you tracing this? Miles nods slightly.

    Good. Aloud, Clay says, "Give us your location, Drew. We'll have Arnell teleport to your location and exfil you."

    What?! Elise’s thoughts suddenly intrude into the connection. Miles frowns slightly at her.

    Relax. I'm stalling. Miles is tracing them, Clay explains. God, have you never watched a police show in your life?

    Not really, no, not my scene.

    On the display, the holographic Drew pants in response, startled. "Director Quartermain? I thought you were in Attilan? Are you in the Baxter Building with Elise?"

    Elise furrows her brow. Why would they care where I am? I'm not more of a target than anyone else.

    I am,
    Clay thinks in response.

    Just a few moments longer, Zola says to Miles.

    "Don't worry, Agent Drew," Miles says. "We're on our way. And we've got a plan." He side-eyes Clay. May as well sow a little confusion… "The bio-agent is almost ready."

    "Bio-agent?" Spider-Woman looks confused.

    "I've had Arnim Zola cooking it up for me," Miles smirks. Sorry, Zola. But they'd believe it of you.

    Zola agrees.

    "Ever read War of the Worlds?" Miles says to Spider-Woman. "The classics never go out of style. We got you, fam."

    THis didn’t really go anywhere, but I just like fucking with the bad guys whenever possible and spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). Why not convince the alien invaders that you’re going to War of the Worlds ‘em?

    "We can still turn this around, Drew, hope's not lost," Clay adds.

    She smiles and rolls her eyes, and then sighs. She turns her shoulder, changing shape and looking up at the descending ships.


    "Dear brother, the invasion is already over. The Earth belongs to me, Z'reg." The transmission cuts out.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    I HAVE HER LOCATION, Zola shrieks in Miles' ear. He's very excited.

    "We got her!" Miles crows, pumping his fist.

    Clay nods. "Good. Good. That's the play. We take her out."

    Miles looks searchingly at Clay for a moment. "You ready for this, boss? I mean like...emotionally. If we get the shot, we need to take it. No muss, no fuss, no big speeches, no goodbyes. We need to just...pop out of that portal and murk her."

    "I am more than ready," Clay vows. "She hid under my nose for months. Using her telepathy to keep me unaware. I'm sure she felt amazingly smug about it."

    Miles nods. "If you're ready, well, that makes three of us. Let's finish this."

    "Me too,” Julian nods. “Let's take her out."

    Michael assumes the form of the Destroyer.


    “Lockjaw?” Elise says, eyeing the four-legged Inhuman.

    Clay nods. "Lockjaw will be the most reliable, fastest way to get you in, yes. Chances are, she's not alone. At the very least, she has 'O'Grady' with her, and her loyal forces. This is going to be a thing." He frowns. "Hang on, I'm calling Valt."

    He walks over to the terminal, and connects to Ryann's gauntlet. "Valt, I'm transmitting coordinates to you right now. I'm sure you're having a hell of a time punching Skrull cruisers with the Surfer, but if you and him wouldn't mind meeting us at this point to kill my absolute trashbag of a sister, I'd appreciate it. Bring the lad, be good job experience for him."


    Ryann, Sam and the Silver Surfer are zipping around in low Earth orbit, blasting Skrull ships. The trio are focusing on preventing as many landing craft as possible from entering the atmosphere.

    "On your left, Kid!" Ryann calls as he dashes past Sam, crashing through a Skrull landing craft.

    Emerging on the other side of the explosion, he sees his gauntlet blinking with an incoming message. He listens to Clay’s instructions. "Got it," he replies tersely, then signals the Surfer and Kid Nova to form up with him. "Alright, change in plans, we’ve got a chance to cut this snake’s head off but we’re going planetside. Follow me!"

    The three heroes plunge into the atmosphere and their rendezvous with an Empress.

    As Freedom Force are gearing up, Miles holds up a hand. "Would Kl'rt want in on this?"

    Clay stops, looks at Miles, and nods slowly. "I imagine Kl'rt would want a piece of the action." He closes his eyes briefly, and a few moments later, the Skrull ex-general walks into the room.

    "You summoned me, Emperor?"

    Clay grumbles at that title, then explains to Kl'rt the plan to kill Veranke. The defector bites his lower lip skeptically. "This will prove little to her fanatical followers. It will martyr her. Emperor, do you believe she would come to this world, put herself at risk, if there was a chance that her death would destroy what she had crafted?"

    Clay is taken aback. “I -“

    Kl'rt shakes his head. "No, you need to take her alive, and return to Tarnax, with her, prove yourself the rightful Emperor and show her to be the false usurper she is. Show the Dard'van to be the falsehood they are, and take your rightful throne. Only this will end the war.

    "Bring her before the Empire in chains, and you standing tall. That is our way."

    Clay grimaces. He looks at the team. "I don't… I can't...he's saying I need to become Emperor..." He puts his hands on the side of his head, pained. He was fine with just killing Veranke. This is a far larger ask.

    "He's got a point, boss," Miles says softly.

    Michael nods in agreement. Elise is silent, unsure.

    "...Yeah. I mean...could you abdicate?" Julian offers. "To capture her alone would be to humiliate her and the whole order."

    Clay looks at Julian, surprised. "...I could implement reforms." Kl'rt squints a bit at reforms.

    "You'd be good at that," Elise whispers.

    He straightens up a bit. "Yes.” He nods. "Alright. Let's go, before she moves,” he says, putting his hand on Lockjaw.

    The team vanishes.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2019

    Freedom Force appears in the streets of New York, darkened by the shadow of the colossal Skrull mothership overhead. All around them, ground troops teleport down by the hundreds.



    Captain Universe stretches out her hand toward the legion of troops marching down the avenue.


    The sky around the troops rends and twists, folding on them. They die. Messily. "Oh!” Elise yelps. “Oh fuck, that was...more elegant in my head."

    "It was effective, though," Michael rumbles.

    Most effective! I am impressed by the tiny lesbian, Zola says to Miles.

    She has her moments, Miles agrees.

    Elise beams at Michael. "Thanks, teach." Michael gives her an armored thumbs-up.

    Kl'rt watches all this open-mouthed, horrified, but before he can say anything, the darkened streets are floodlit by a chain of enormous explosions from overhead, as the Silver Surfer and the two Novas descend to Earth straight through a flight of Skrull battle craft.

    Now it's our turn, Miles thinks. I'd like to hack every audiovisual source in easy reach. Billboards, the Skrulls' radios, whatever. We need to draw Veranke out.

    A trivial task. It is done, Zola responds.

    Miles' face appears on all nearby surviving billboards, and his voice emerges from the Skrulls' radios and loudspeakers. "Empress. It's time to finish this, one way or another. You lived among us for months. You know what we can do. Come down and face us, before all your people - or live in their memory a coward!"

    Clay smiles and nods at Miles. "You know, I always read about you doing these sorts of things in your mission reports. Nice to see you do one in person."

    Miles grins and shoots him a thumbs-up. "it's my favorite part of the job, honestly."

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    In the distance, the group sees Veranke approaching on foot, with a legion of Skrull and Chitauri soldiers, as well as some familiar and not-so-familiar faces that the group are 100% sure are Skrulls.


    Kraven looks at Elise, licks his lips, and takes a run at her. Whiplash’s buzzing metal tendrils swing for Behemoth. Blizzard leaps towards Miles and blasts him with cold. Emma Frost puts her fingers to the side of her temple, staring at Julian, while Psylocke does the same at Clay. And the Living Laser becomes pure light and blasts himself at Ryann.

    Pointing a finger gun at Kraven, Elise shoots him with a searing bolt of white light, sending him crashing backward into the street. Twitching and barely conscious, he reverts to his Skrull form. Some Skrulls don't get the good choices of forms.

    She lifts the finger gun to her lips and blows away the cosmic smoke.

    Behind her, Julian flops to the ground, insensate, as Emma Frost blasts through his psychic defenses with a withering mental assault of her own. Anyone else would have had to kiss their childhood memories and most of their higher motor functions goodbye.

    Reaching out with a colossal metal hand, Michael snatches Whiplash’s energy whip out of the air, and drags the armored figure towards him as electricity plays harmlessly over the Destroyer armor.

    With a firm grip on the tentacles, Michael flings his weight back and goes for a flying suplex. It’s almost too successful, smashing them both into the concrete and driving Behemoth fifteen feet into the ground beneath rubble and packed earth, but the Whiplash armor is shattered and the Skrull inside reduced to barely more than goo.

    Not all the Skrulls are War Skrulls, and not everyone they’re impersonating has powers. Anton Vanko (last seen in our very first story!) is just a crazy Russian in a cybersuit, so presumably the Skrull who took his place just went around wearing the suit. Presumably some of the other Skrulls have technological ways of reproducing their targets’ powers.

    Blizzard tries to encase Machine Man in ice, but Miles ducks under the blast, firing his extendable arms forward and wrapping around Blizzard's forearms, pinioning them in place. "Get off my planet," Miles snarls, as the Skrull sprays ice around them ineffectually.

    Centurion is struck out of the air by the Living Laser and tumbles to earth, but catches himself and manages to land on his feet, clutching his chest. "Oh...he's quick," he spits.

    “A little help here?” Miles calls from nearby.

    Ryann sees Blizzard writhing in Miles’ arms. “I got you, Chief.” He looks skyward, at where the Living Laser has reformed into a shimmering humanoid image. He points. "Bet you can't do that twice!"

    The Living Laser tilts his head. "Bet you can't dodge a headshot." He flings himself at Ryann.

    Gritting his teeth, Ryann focuses all of the Nova Force he can channel into a single point on his forehead, headbutting the onrushing Living Laser at the speed of light...

    ...and flinging that energy into Blizzard.

    There's an audible ping as the laser pierces Blizzard's head and the ice blaster goes limp, becoming a Skrull in Miles' arms. The Living Laser resumes his humanoid form and shouts "NO!"

    "Sorry, were you talking to him?" Ryann smirks. Miles drops Blizzard’s body and gives Ryann a thumbs-up.

    Elise narrows her eyes at "Betsy," who is locked in mental battle with Clay. Extending her hand, she fires another starry blast from her fingertips. Psylocke yelps and goes flying from the blast, rolling and bouncing and skidding off the street as if she was fired from a cannon. She slides to a stop in a crumpled heap.

    "Boom, bitch!"

    Empress Veranke snarls, and points. "Kill that one!" Elektra shrieks and leaps at Elise, sai raised. ...But Elise moves so fast she's a blur, and Elektra strikes nothing but air.

    From the shadows, Clay grabs Elektra's head in his palm, and she shrieks. "Get away from my daughter, filth," he snarls in the Skrull language. He assumes his Skrull form.


    The Skrull-Elektra goes limp in his hands, and he drops her to the ground.

    Struggling to his feet, Julian mounts a counterassault on the White Queen. Unfortunately, she's a far more experienced telepathic than he is, and it’s all he can do to hold his ego together. With a predatory grin on her face, she begins advancing on Phoenix, who staggers back.

    "Oh, fuck it!" Julian growls at last. The gloating Skrull telepath stops, startled and suddenly wary, as Julian’s skull catches fire and he unleashes the full power of the Spirit of Vengeance. She stares in horror, then winces in pain, looking down at herself, confused.

    The ersatz Emma Frost's skin glows orange, and she begins shrieking before she detonates from the inside out, spraying boiling hot, green blood in every direction. Not a good way to go.

    Julian winces and wipes some of the scalding blood from his clothes.

    Veranke’s face is a mask of horror and rage. She screams "Criti Noll, destroy them! Crush them!"

    There's a rumble, and a nearby building explodes as a massive Eric O'Grady, wearing the Ant-Man suit and standing over 30 feet tall, bursts out of it.


  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2019
    Elise grins. "Hey, Empress - I've seen bigger!"

    The giant tries to grab Michael with a massive hand, but the Destroyer’s face-plates open and the Odinforce blasts forth, shearing off two of Criti Noll's fingers and causing him to pull his hand away with a howl that shakes the earth. He slumps backward into another building, crashing through concrete and steel.

    Miles flies straight at Veranke, blasting at her with his repulsors. "Enough destruction, you lunatic! Enough 'crushing', enough 'seizing'! We are so! Sick! Of! You!"

    "'re sick of him!" Veranke calls, pointing at Z'reg.

    Perhaps...perhaps Miles is sick of Clay. His orders. His missions. Maybe...maybe Miles should be in charge…



    Miles screws his eyes shut. Jesus, take the wheel. Hit it!


    Miles is in control again.

    God bless Arnim Zola, moral philosopher.

    "Hey, Veranke!" Elise shoots into the air and then divebombs down at the Empress, fists shimmering with astral power. "For Attilan! For House Amalaquine! For Valeria!"

    Elise has a choice.

    She's supposed to take Veranke alive. If she connects with this punch, she's uh...not sure that's gonna do that. She could veer off at the last second, which will at least...knock Veranke over with the blast crater?

    Or she could be the blast crater.

    Elise ends up bicycle-kicking and windmilling in mid air. "Wait, wait, shit, shit, fuck -" She slams into the pavement next to the mad empress, who is sent flying, landing ignobly on her ass.

    Elise looks at the smoke and heat pouring out of the scorched crater around her. Had she connected, Veranke would've been ashes. She looks down at herself, awed. "Guys! Guys, I'm not fucked up! I can take a hit!" Michael shoots her a thumbs-up.

    The maimed Criti Noll finds his feet and charges Freedom Force with a roar.

    "Sam! His knees!" Ryann points. "You go left! I got right!" The two Novas blink forward and, with an agonizing snap of bone, knee-cap Criti Noll, sending him tumbling to the ground with a quake.

    "I...I yield!" the giant shouts in an amplified voice, before pressing a button his gauntlet and shrinking to human size.

    Veranke shrieks. "Coward! Die for your Empress!"

    "But you're not..." Z'reg says, walking over to his sister and putting a foot on her chest, "his Empress. You're no-one's Empress." He towers over Veranke. "You know, earlier today I saw Elise turn a man into a horrible monster with her powers. Search my feelings, Veranke, and you know I'm telling the truth.

    "I wonder...could her powers lock your form, making you unable to change shape, forever? Cursing you to be no better than common Chitauri?"

    Elise hovers behind Veranke, hands glowing with cosmic energy. Her astral cape floats behind her. "Bet I could," she says, cheerily. "Don't think it'd be hard at all."

    Veranke looks horrified, and says quietly, ""

    Z'reg nods slowly. "I mean, she hasn't done it before. Sometimes when Elise is figuring things out, she makes mistakes."

    From behind the Empress, but Elise stops grinning and mouths "Come on" at Clay.

    Veranke starts mumbling, "No, no no no no no, Zeezee, don't do this to me, please."

    Z’reg puts his hand up. "Surrender, Veranke. I will spare your life, and the indignity of becoming some kind of monster. You will accompany me back to Tarnax, and be tried for your crimes. In your sentencing, you will be spared execution. This, I promise you."

    Veranke looks up at Elise, and then looks at Z’reg, and balls her knees up to her chest. "You didn't win on your own. It isn't fair."

    Z’reg scowls at her. "Are you serious?"

    Elise laughs out loud, incredulous. "Motherfucker, you have a mothership right there!"

    Z’reg points at the mothership. "Call them off. Call them all off."

    She looks up at him, tears in her eyes. "You call them off, Emperor." Veranke, for all her haughtiness, has reverted into a petulant child in defeat.

    Is that what it looks like? Elise thinks at him.

    Yes. It is never noble.

    Elise grins. Did I do good, Dad?

    You did amazing, he thinks. I'm very sorry for the things I said earlier. I was angry and panicking. He feels a strong sense of positive emotion through the psychic line: forgiveness, love, a little bit of smug.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Z'reg growls, and then grabs Veranke by the back of her neck like a cat as she yelps. He walks over to Miles. "Can you do the broadcast bit?"

    Miles nods and connects to every audiovisual receiver within reach. "You're live on channel five, boss."

    Z'reg, in his Skrull form, holds up a tear-streaked Veranke by the back of her neck in his hands like a hunter holding a deer. "Imperial forces, I am the True Emperor, Z'reg of the House of Dorrek. This usurper has led you to a path of folly, and will do so no longer. I will resume my throne, and take command of my Empire forthwith. As my first command, you will cease this foolhardy invasion and return to Tarnax immediately. You will release all prisoners, recompense all damages, and return all spoils of war."

    He shakes Veranke a little bit, and she squeaks, and he roars at her, "Acknowledge your defeat, and my rule!"

    She weakly murmurs, "I...I surrender all power to my brother, the true Emperor, Z'reg of the House of Dorrek."

    He drops her to the ground. "End transmission." Miles ends the broadcast, cutting to a test pattern with the STRIKE logo on it.

    "Michael!" Elise squeals, throwing herself at the still-armored Behemoth for a hug. "You were right! I could do it! I did it!"

    Michael hugs her tightly. "You had the power in you all along, Princess."

    She looks over Michael’s shoulder at Machine Man. "And Miles! Holy shit, with the arms!"

    He smiles wryly. "Well, I did what I could. You guys are the heavy hitters around here. And you all did great," he says, nodding at the team.

    Elise gives Centurion a hug next. "Ryann, that one-liner was so good. And Julian! You uh. You turned her into salsa! Wow!"

    Criti Noll regenerates from his damage, and stands up. Elise points a finger-gun at him cautiously. He puts his hands up. "Hang on. Let me say something here."

    Veranke shrieks at him. "Traitor!"

    Z’reg scowls at her. "I can have you silenced." She quiets down.

    Criti Noll turns to the team. "Look, I was alongside you guys for months. I fought alongside you. Ate meals with you. Bob invited me to his wedding.

    "And, to be clear? I planned to go. Because Veranke was going to back out."

    Veranke shrieks, "Liar! Silence!" and Z’reg cuffs her in the back of the head.

    Criti Noll continues. "When you guys were in space, she was all ready to do it. She was waiting until everything was in place. Then you guys came back, and we went up there. Galactus. The whole bit. And we got...shaken up."

    Veranke looks down, sullen.

    "You killed Galactus. You weren't just powerful, you...avenged Skrullos, in a way? But also, powerful. And then just...everything, with the Council. The Parliament. And I kept saying to her, maybe we need you people.

    "Earth's just one planet, the Council and the Parliament are a multiverse problem. We don't have dimension portals on Tarnax! That's not a problem we know about!

    "So we kept putting it off, and putting it off. And maybe we just...wouldn't have done it. I don't know."

    "What's your point, man?" Elise says.

    Veranke murmurs "...Intelligentsia."

    Criti Noll sighs and nods. "...yeah. Once the Empr-....once Veranke and I found out what HAMMER was doing to us, she...she couldn't take it anymore."

    Veranke looks up at Clay. "They're no better than us. They're monsters."

    "What was the point, though?" Miles asks. "Of any of this insanity?" He stares at Veranke. "You had access to all of our files. You know what the Shaper of Worlds was. You know that he's not coming back. And even if he did, you know that he wasn't any more special than Thor, or Apocalypse, or Tryco Slatterus, or the Collector...just another halfway stop on the road to becoming a Celestial. And you knew the Celestials weren't coming back." Miles spreads his hands out. "So why? Just why?"

    "...I didn't know until I got here," she says quietly.

    "Did you ever even believe?" Miles asks. "Or was this all just a play to get them - " he waves at the ships overhead - "to fall in line?"

    She curls into a small quiet ball. "Does it matter?"

    He folds his arms and his shades snap shut over his face. "No," he says. "In the end, I guess it really doesn't."

    Z’reg picks his sister up by the arm. "Let's get out of here. Kl'rt, take Criti Noll into custody." The general nods and steps over to the former Eric O’Grady, who allows himself to be shackled.

    "...Will you be going back to Tarnax?" Elise asks.

    He looks at her. "We'll talk about that at base." Elise nods.

    As silence falls over New York and the world, the team, prisoners in tow, leave for the Baxter Building.

    Matt later revealed that Miles bringing Kl’rt in and getting his advice to take Veranke alive kind of unlocked the best ending for us. If we hadn’t done that, or if Elise had toasted Veranke with her Captain Universe powers, the fleet wouldn’t have stood down for Clay and we’d have had a much bigger fight on our hands, with much more damage to the Earth and ongoing consequences in future stories.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2019


    Veranke and Criti Noll are secured in cells. The team, plus Kl'rt and Sam, reconvene in the briefing room. Z’reg is there, and has not resumed his human form.


    "You'll notice it's pretty quiet around here," the Emperor begins. "Most of the rest of the STRIKE and WHISPER personnel have been evac'd through Reed's portal to a base he has in the Negative Zone. That was his fallback point. It's where Crystalia and Valeria are, for example."

    "I am going to have the most fun conversation with her and my in-laws later," Elise sighs.

    "Yeah, about that," he says.

    "Oh no."

    "So, we have two major situations on our hands. Right now, the Skrull fleet has obeyed my orders and has pulled back to orbit, and is waiting for me. They're going to take me, my garbage sister, Noll, and Kl'rt back to Tarnax.

    “Anelle has to...decide what she's going to do. Tarnax hasn't been home for her in a long time. Not as long as me, but close.

    "I don't...have any allies on Tarnax, and while there's people who are going to be loyal to my name, and their honor, and my position, people like Kl'rt..."

    Kl'rt grins with pride.

    "...there's going to be people loyal to the Dard'van and what it represents, no matter how much I get Veranke to publicly denounce them. High Priest Kh'oja is going to be a problem. I might be coming home to a coup.

    "I don't need an eternal war, and neither does Earth. I need to stop the Dard'van, and the war."

    "We've got a good track record at stopping coups," Miles observes.

    "Yes. You do," Z’reg says. "Which is...why I'm asking you to come with me. To Tarnax." He folds his hands behind his back and looks at them all. "You are the people I trust more than anyone else. You are, to use an Attilan word, my fraterarmalis.

    "You people are my family."

    Elise laughs; she's also tearing up.

    Michael puts his hand on Clay's shoulder. "We've got your back, Boss. Always."

    "Fantastic. So...that's one situation," Z’reg says. "Second situation is... the Council and the Parliament. That problem doesn't just…go away just because we go to another planet."

    "No, but we have the cube from Mojoworld, and there's no way they didn't see that fight on Earth. We have...some time," Elise says. "Enough for me to keep training. Clay...I know you don't want me to push myself. You were right back there, and I'm...sorry. About the power grabbing, and the trying to fix everything, but...I'm so close to knowing how to stop them, Clay. I'm getting so close."

    Michael raises a hand. "I did manage to secure allies from both the synthetics of Earth-209 and the human survivors, the latter group being in that Earth's Hope Diamond in Reed's Vault now."

    Z’reg raises a brow. "...huh."

    Miles stares at Michael. "Survivors...Hope Diamond...I, uh. Dang. Nice job, Mike."

    Elise looks confused. "Wait, why is the diamond called Earth's Hope?"

    "No, Elise, it's..." Z’reg starts to say. Michael facepalms. "Anyway," Z’reg says, clearing his throat. "I got a call from Strange. He, Robert and Faiza just got back. He is...upset that he missed everything. Apparently their search for Kaecillius was fruitless and Robert drove him absolutely mad the entire time, as is Robert's remit."

    "Oh he's gotta be pissed about the Enigma Force thing too," Elise says.

    "Yes, apparently Robert told him about it before I had a chance to do it with any kind of tact, so he was very cross, especially because Robert kept describing all of your abilities in the most glowing terms," Z’reg sighs. "None of this helped."

    "Haha, nice."

    "Anyway, I'm going to have Faiza and Robert come with us. Arkady is...staying behind. Xavier, quite frankly, can keep him."

    Elise claps her hands. "There's uh, one more thing we should mention, Clay."


    "Mmmmmmmaximus." The word falls out of her mouth like she's afraid of getting yelled at.

    Z’reg makes a face. "Blugh."

    Michael growls quietly and tenses up. Miles watches Elise and Clay intently, suddenly paranoid, suddenly considering what-ifs.

    "Yes, yes, Elise and I freed Maximus from his prison to use him against the Skrulls. Which, to be honest, he had already taken control of his prison and performed surgery on his own brain to be able to control machines so really, he had only been living in his prison by choice," Z’reg says. "So honestly, we 'freed' him in name only.

    "It's more like we pointed him at the Skrulls like a gun."

    "He controls machines, now?" Julian says.


    "And uh, we left him pretty unshackled in Attilan," Elise adds. "So I am going to have of that."

    "No, no, it's fine, Elise," Z’reg says, holding up a hand. “I already dealt with it. I sent a telepathic message to Alaris of the Ennilux, I explained the entire thing, she's just going to have him quietly assassinated.

    "It's fine."

    "...It's my kingdom!" Elise whines. "I should get to order the assassinations!"

    Z’reg shakes his head. "She's the spymaster of that kingdom, technically she's ordering the assassination, it's her job."

    "Do you know how few opportunities I get to delegate cool shit like assassinations?! C'moooon. Ugh."

    "Well, if you're a part of my court, I'm sure there's all manner of people I'll need bumped off," Z’reg points out. "So there is that." Elise's face brightens again.

    "You were STRIKE team leader, once! You could have done that as much as you wanted back then," Miles chirps.

    "Aw, fuck! And I gave it up to you, Mr. Save Every World," she says, making a face. "I fucked the dog on that one."

    Kl'rt blinks hard. "You've changed, Emperor. You were never this...jovial."

    Elise points at herself with both thumbs and grins. "I'm a bad influence."

    "Wait," Ryann says, holding up a hand. “Wait. Elise was team lead once?"

    Elise’s head whips around to face him. "What the fuck, man! This came up before, did you think it was a joke?!"

    "She was the OG team lead," Michael says.

    "It's hard to imagine, I know," Julian adds.

    Elise is scandalized. "One hundred percent success rate you fucks!"

    Ryann just nods.

    "Come on!" she continues. "You're making me look like an idiot in front of Klurt!"

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2019
    Z’reg looks at the team. "Alright, so we're going to leave for Tarnax in the morning. The Final Tesseract stays here, in the care of Strange. That thing is definitely not coming with us and risking getting stolen."

    "I gotta admit, I'm a bit leery in leaving. Shit usually goes sideways when STRIKE-1 goes on holiday," Michael observes.

    "So, wait," Elise says. "How many rewards do I get for doing amazing?"

    "I can spot you a McFlurry, if any of the McD's around here have power," Miles offers. "Or I've got some dried apricots back home. They're nature's snack."

    "Elise, I tell you what," Z’reg says. "Centauri-IV is on the way, and according to SWORD intelligence, they have a McDonalds there now. We'll stop along the way."

    Elise leaps onto the conference table, runs at Clay, and launches herself for a hug. The Emperor catches her and hugs back.

    Miles raises a hand. "Couple things. First, boss, how, long you wanna be gone? Am I going to get to see my fiancee this year?"

    Z’reg turns serious. "I...don't know, Miles."

    "Can she come with?" Miles asks.

    "Sure. That's her choice, but she'd be a good hand, nepotism aside. And, Shaper knows I'm not above nepotism."

    "Can I bring Crys?" Elise asks.

    "Elise, I will be honest, I think bringing Crys is a terrible idea, because if you bring Crys, you have to bring Valeria, because if you don't you're leaving Valeria with both her parents in space. And if you bring Valeria, that puts her in danger," Z’reg points out. "You're Captain Universe. Work on your teleportation abilities so you can jump back and forth? You slipped between Earth and the interstitial space of Attilan in a blink. You traveled to the Parliament's home dimension and almost made Kristoff brick his trousers."

    "Can I make jokes about my commute every day?"

    "Granted," he nods. He turns to Miles. "As to how long this mission will be....long enough that I can...establish some things. Here's my objectives:

    "1. Get rid of the Dard'van.

    "2. End the war with the Kree.

    "3. ....constitutional monarchy?"

    Kl'rt scoffs at this last.

    Elise tilts her head and squints. "Can you explain that third part to me some time? Kimmy's always telling me about like, you know, changing Attilan, and maybe I should start, y'know...thinking about that."

    "Sure,” Z’reg nods. “I can explain it in the car, so to speak."

    "Not to invite more trouble, but we're going to need to deal with the Kree anyway," Miles says. "Since they know the Inhumans are here. We may need your help keeping the Kree out of Earth's backyard."

    Z’reg nods. "We'll be a lot more equipped to do that with the Skrull fleet than we will with Captain America and a friendly grin."

    "Wait, you have a fleet," Elise says suddenly. "Can I have my own ship?!"

    Miles tilts his head, then looks at Clay. "Holy shit she's right. I deserve a spaceship."

    Michael raises his hand. "Can we all get a ship?"

    "I only have a ship because I passed five years of flight training," Ryann says, shaking his head.

    Z’reg puts his hands up. "Hold on, hold on," he says. "Just slow down."

    "Yeah guys, only I get a ship cause I had the initiative to ask," Elise says.

    "I can actually fly, though," Miles says.

    "Can't you like, make a ship now?" Michael asks Elise.

    She frowns. "...I think I could make like, a ship model. But I don't know how the inside bits work."

    Ryann squints at her. "The inside bits...?"

    "Yeah, like the engine! And the..." She trails off. "....Carburetor..."

    Ryann turns to Z’reg. "You can't give her a ship."

    Z’reg laughs and sighs. "Is there anything else anyone needs to bring to my attention? Otherwise, you can fall out, rest up, say any necessaries, and prep for leaving for tomorrow. You have leave to talk to anyone you need to, including jaunting up to the Peak to talk to your family if you want to, Valt." He telepathically transmits to Elise Don't bring up Ahura. I want to talk to Reed about it privately, you and I, after everyone falls out.

    Miles raises his hand. "There was one more thing. I never really got a chance to be debriefed about my mission, Clay. So, uh. The very short version is that it was a success. The less short version is that Arnim Zola's drive...wasn't portable. It was like, the size of a room. So Susan and I..." Miles sucks his teeth. "We, uh. Found a way."

    Z’reg stares at Miles and says, "I see."

    Elise turns and squints at Miles like she's trying to detect something with her senses. "Is he inside your head?"

    Miles nods at Elise. "Team, let me formally introduce you to Doctor Zola. Doctor, the team."

    The light on Miles’ chest flickers. "GUTEN TAG!" Zola is very friendly and excited.

    Julian raises his eyebrows. "Guten tag, Doktor!"

    "I object!" Elise splutters. She is trying to object to so many things at once that she's unable to get them all out. "You… - he… - can't…. - but - what...why!"

    "Soooo, Miles. Is Doctor Zola, good? Now?" Michael asks.

    "Doctor Zola is a smart guy and his views have evolved," Miles says. "Not to speak for you, sir."

    "It is quite alright! During my rehabilitation I was subject to time at an accelerated rate. Months for you was years for me. I assure you, I have lived a lifetime of accounting for my misdeeds and the moral failings of philosophy."

    "Oh, well, good." Michael nods.

    "But!" Elise stammers.

    "It's an adjustment process," Miles says, "but the doctor and I have already been pretty effective as a team. And everyone deserves a chance to make good."

    "Thank you, Herr Mason!"

    Z’reg mouths 'Herr Mason' while frowning skeptically. Miles shrugs, and Z’reg sighs and turns to the rest of the team. "Alright, if there's nothing else, fall out and do your necessaries."

    "Great work, everyone," Miles says. "I kind of can't believe it's over." He begins pulling off his tactical strap as he heads for the door.

    "I get to go home to my wife, and fellas, there is nothing like 'saved the world' sex, I'll tell you that,” Elise cackles. "That's my necessary."

    Z’reg grumbles. "Must you?"


    He sighs.

    "It's in my contract. Besides,” she grins devilishly. "Who's gonna stop me now?"

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    As the team files out of the briefing room, Z’reg nods at Elise. Reed, Susan, and the rest of everyone else just back from the Zone. We can go talk to him now.

    Oh, fun!

    As they walk through the hallways of the Baxter Building, Z’reg shifts back into Clay Quartermain’s form. "I won't get to look like this much after we leave. Might as well do it now."

    "I mean, your Skrull form is..." Elise searches for the right words. "Cool. It's big. It's fine."

    Clay just nods, knowing what she actually means and preferring not to address it. The pair enter a large laboratory, where Reed Richards sits at a computer. In the distance, Elise can see Susan and Johnny talking. Susan is choked up, on the verge of tears, and Johnny has his hand on her shoulder.

    They're speaking in whispers, but Elise can hear them.

    Johnny is whispering, "It doesn't matter. You didn't know. You're my sister. Maybe she's my sister too? You both can be. You're different people, but you both have the same memories. If she hates you, that's on her. I don't."

    Reed looks over at Elise, and says flatly, "Susan told us. About Malice."


    "She thought we were going to die, and she panicked," Reed adds. "Johnny is taking it quite well."

    "I was supposed to keep it a secret," Elise says. "Uh, but then Susan cornered me and used her, like... Her face. Her disappointed face."

    "It's fine. You didn't want to hurt her, or my family. Your heart was in the right place. And when she asked you to keep her secret, you did. I appreciate your discretion. I'm not mad at anyone involved except her father. Who is dead." Reed frowns. "...possibly Victor. Somewhat. But only because some of his reasoning for his actions is...well...deeply unfortunate and not at all altruistic."

    "Yeah, he's, uh," Elise trails off.

    "Yes," Reed says quietly, to a volume only Elise can hear. "But, if they're happy, then I'm happy for them. And quite frankly, if Malice makes Victor happy then in the name of Carl Sagan maybe he'll leave my wife alone."

    Elise extends the best olive branch she has. "Wwwwould you like to book some lab time to check out my reality rending stuff, where I'm like, crunch? Uh, Dr. Richards?"

    Reed nods, and looks at Clay. "I see you made your power move, Emperor."

    Clay winces. "Yes. We need to talk, Reed."

    "It's about my daughter, in a way," Elise adds.

    Reed nods. "This way." He leads the pair to a side office. "How can I help you?"

    Clay sighs. "Tell him."

    Elise begins. "There's a boy you took in once at the insistence of an extradimensional traveler, right? Ahura?"

    Reed is taken aback, "Yes. I don't suppose it's important to ask how you know about that. Enigma Force, and all that."

    "It was shortly after Franklin was born,” Reed says. “A man who claimed to be from another dimension, he said that he was fleeing incredible danger, and this infant was in terrible peril. The whole thing sounded very trite and 'John Connor' but...he had the technology to support his claims, and I believed him.

    "There was a couple in my employ who were having difficulty with having a child of their own, and I talked to them, and they agreed to foster the child. His name is Alexander Pope."

    "Franklin's friend," Elise says.

    Reed nods. "Yes. They're practically brothers, grew up together. He's often around the Baxter Building. He was evacuated to the Negative Zone with the others. I've always kept him safe."

    Elise winces. "Alexander Pope is the son of King Agar and Queen Medusa," she says. "He's the rightful heir to Attilan, and...the Midnight King, probably."

    Reed squints, confused. "But...why?"

    "Okay, so, I'm going to say a bunch of stuff about how Attilan does stuff, and it's going to offend you because you're all," Elise waves her hands. "Sciencey.

    "Basically, there's a Genetics Council. They monitor Inhuman couples, especially in the royal family, and ensure you don't mix two genetics that..." Elise mimes an explosion with her hands and does the sound effects with her mouth. "King Agar and Queen Medusa said fuck it, had a kid anyways, mindwiped themselves, and hid the kid.

    "They uh... They know, now. And so does... Did you ever meet Kobar? Anti-Earth dude, big on Attilan first kind of stuff?"

    "Once, yes," Reed says. "A displeasurable experience."

    "He haaaaaates me and haaaaaaates my marriage to Crystalia."

    "I met him at your wedding, in fact."

    Elise envisions that table talk and cringes. "So, uh. I think...I think at some point, based off what I've seen in other timelines, uh...there's a coup. Ahura is King, and subjected to Terrigenesis. And then he becomes The Midnight King. My daughter is in danger, Dr. Richards."

    "I see," Reed says. "Well, what do you intend to do about this, Elise?"

    Clay gets a burst of imagery and thoughts from Elise; anxious, scrambling thoughts, with ugly outcomes. "...I don't know. I...don't want my daughter denied her birthright. But I don't want to do anything...bad."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Reed leans back in his chair, and steeples his fingers. "Well, let's think about this logically. Who knows that Alexander is Ahura, besides you two, and now, myself? The one who gave him to me, I imagine, which is who?"

    "Maximus," she says.


    "Who...I'm pretty sure is on Team Valeria?"

    "I would imagine so," Reed nods.

    Clay says "Maximus will be off the board soon, one way or another."

    Reed grimaces. "Very well."

    "And King Agon and Queen Medusa," Elise adds.

    "So, Elise, this is a situation where either one of two children are going to have to die, or some adults are going to have to die. Either Valeria or Alexander...Ahura, are dying, or Kobar, or King Black Bolt and Queen Medusa.

    "Do you think killing children is a moral resolution to a problem, Princess?"

    "No! Jesus! What kind of person do you think I am?!"

    "Not someone who will kill children, but someone who will kill adults to protect a child," he points out. "Evidence supports this hypothesis."

    "I'm not apologizing for that."

    "Nor am I asking you to. I'm simply pointing out that if the problem here is that Kobar knows of Ahura's existence, and he is the party who is the most dangerous to Valeria's life as a result. Then the moral calculus has a simple answer." He shrugs.

    "...Yeah. It does. But how many other choices are there gonna be like this down the line?" she asks. "For both Valeria and Ahura? Maybe Attilan needs a different answer. Something longer-term."

    Reed spreads his hands. "Well, I would suggest to you that monarchies are a patently absurd system of government but I'm sitting in the presence of an interstellar emperor who can destroy my mind with a thought, so, it's difficult to say."

    Clay scowls.

    Elise leans forward, and a fire lights behind her eyes. "It sounds like you're thinking of something like, oh, I dunno…” She pauses. "Revolution. Reform!"

    Reed leans back. "I'm simply saying, our planet was literally just invaded over, and that invasion resolved, over monarchical infighting and feuding. If you think assassinating Kobar creates as many problems as it resolves, then maybe, as Agent Mason is fond of, find a way to 'cut the knot.'"

    Clay sighs. "Take care of the child, Richards. We'll be gone for a while."

    "And I have to learn about some stuff,” Elise says to Clay. “Constitutional monarchy, right? You gotta tell me all about that one." He nods.

    Reed stands. "Yes, yes. I have to go check on the children, actually. If you'd like to meet the boy, he and Franklin are back."

    "...Oh! Uh, yeah, sure?"

    "Come on." He leads them out of the office, and they take the elevator to the Richards’ home on the upper floors.

    They walk into Franklin's room. Franklin...isn't alone.


    "All hail Rabum Alal, the Doom Above All! He's pretty cool, Elise!"


  • jurnerjurner Registered User regular
    Poor Julian, beefing rolls as usual.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    jurner wrote: »
    Poor Julian, beefing rolls as usual.

    Some say he's still out there today, rolling 1s for all us sinners.

  • Rear Admiral ChocoRear Admiral Choco Registered User regular
    Someone's gotta beef the rolls!

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

    Clay Quartermain, Elise Arnell, and Reed Richards are standing in Franklin Richards’ bedroom in the Baxter Building. Facing them are Franklin, a second young boy, and a white-robed Doctor Doom, who is, quite possibly, Rabum Alal. The Doom Above All, leader of the Parliament of Doom. Elise knows, immediately, that this isn't a hologram or astral projection. He's standing right there in front of them.

    "Reed," Elise says through gritted teeth. "Please get Franklin and Alexander out of here."

    Franklin makes a disappointed whine. "Do we have to? I want to stay with Rabum Alal! He's taught me a lot of things!"

    "I just need to chat with him, buddy." Elise is tense, flickering between human and astral forms.

    “Who...who are you?” says a young, unfamiliar voice. Elise looks over, and sees, for the first time, Alexander Pope. Ahura Agon. The threat to Valeria's life and birthright. He is a frightened child.


    "Just...go with Mr. Richards, Alexander. Please."

    "O-okay..." Alexander says, scared.

    Reed says calmly, "Franklin, please go find your mother. Why don't you tell her all about the fascinating things Rabum Alal told you? She would no doubt find it very interesting."

    Franklin nods, turns to Alexander, and says "C'mon, Alex!" The two children leave.

    "I could...turn you into atoms right now," Elise hisses. "What are you even doing here?"

    "To be clear, this is not my true form. This is an Emanation of my Will. Your world crudely calls them Doombots. So even if you destroyed this form, it would not truly destroy the Doom Above All. I came here to parlay, nothing more, nothing less."

    "Isn't that what Kristoff is for?" Elise spits.

    "It was. Until you changed him."


    "While you were in Mojoworld, attempting to obtain the Final Tesseract, there was an incursion into the Parliament's headquarters of Latverion. A Klyntar symbiote, a creature you are very familiar with, breached the sanctity of the Parliament and bonded with one of the lesser members. Doom-7682, I believe."

    Elise's eyes widen. "Oh, shit."

    "This Symbiote Doom then went on to spread its filth across the Parliament, consuming several more powerful members, including the Scion Kristoff that you have spoken to." Rabum Alal folds his arms. "As a rule, the Parliament refuses membership to any Doom whose loyalties are compromised by union with any other entity. Symbiotes, Legacy virii, Phoenix Forces, things of that nature."

    "Listen, I didn't...that wasn't something I was trying to do," she says. "I was just, panicking and trying to fix things, and uh..."

    "Immaterial." He holds up a hand for silence. "What's done is done.

    "When I attempted to ascertain the cause of the incursion, I discovered that the energy pattern was identical to the Enigma Force energy that had earlier breached the sanctity of Latverion when you entered our dimension in a fit of pique and showmanship at Kristoff's goading."

    "I'm not sure how the Parliament compensates its members. You paid by the fuckin' word, Doom?" Elise can see Rabum Alal squint behind his mask.

    She hears Clay inside her mind. Nice.

    I know, right? "Get to the point."

    "This was your mistake. I do not believe you did so with intent, but it has caused a civil war in the Parliament. Kristoff, the Symbiote Scion, has attempted to usurp my rule with his Symbiote Legion.

    "I would ask that you correct this error. Kristoff is no friend of yours, and I imagine destroying him would be just as much a boon for you as the Doom Above All."

    "Okay, so you want me to go to the Parliament and just...murder a bunch of symbiote Dooms?"

    "Essentially, yes," Rabum Alal sighs. "Ideally, I'd prefer to destroy the symbiotes, and not the Dooms underlying. But, in lieu of that, their losses are acceptable.

    "In particular, Kristoff's.

    “Kristoff's attempt to usurp my throne is not something he does at the symbiote's behest. He does so using the symbiote as a force multiplier. It emboldens him, not compels him. Miserable cur."

    "Okay, so...what if I say no, fuck you?" Elise hears a curious noise. It's Reed Richards making a snort-laugh.

    Rabum Alal looks at Reed and grumbles "...Richards..." then turns back to Elise. "That would be...unfortunate. Any alliance previously promised your world, any detente offered by Kristoff's machinations, would be considered forfeit."

    Elise looks to Clay. "I, uh," she says uncertainly. "I think that's really bad."

    Clay shrugs nonchalantly. "Think you can fight a two-front war, Rabum? Can I call you Rabum? I'm going to call you Rabum. I'm feeling pretty good today. I just walked out and pantsed my absolute shit of a sister in front of the entire Empire. My greatest fear in my entire life turned out to be a wet bag of nothing because of my people," he puts his hand on Elise's shoulder. "If you genuinely think fucking with us while you have some black gooey versions of yourself nipping at your heels is in your best interests, be my guest."

    Rabum Alal growls, and looks back at Elise. "Is that your decision, then? To belittle my request, and cast any alliance into the dust?"

    "You know what? Yeah, I think it is. You stole my friend," she spits, emotion cracking her voice. "So I think you can eat hot shit, my dude."

    Rabum Alal shouts, "Then it is done." He whirls his cape in front of him, and vanishes.

    Apparently this could 100% have gone a different way and ended up with us allying with Rabum Alal against the Symbiote Kristoff in Season 5. Though emotionally I’m not sure how we could have arrived at that point, even if it wasn’t just Elise there. Both the players and the PCs in STRIKE are comfortable with a degree of moral ambiguity and the occasional devil’s bargain, but when a dude literally calls himself “the Doom Above All” I think we are united in feeling like he can eat shit.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "Ah haaaaaa!" Elise high-fives Clay. "Today is the fuckin' best." Clay nods.

    Reed scratches his chin thoughtfully. "With that matter handled, you may still want to speak to Alexander properly. I...would like to speak to my son and unpack whatever nonsense that upjumped Victor Von Doom told him."

    "Hoooooo. Yeah. Do I have to? Like, maybe we should just keep him in the dark. He's like...twelve."

    Reed nods. "Your decision. I will keep Alexander in my care and protection, and keep him safe from any Attilan political machinations while you're away."

    Elise looks to Clay. "You're the expert on hidden identities. What do you think?"

    Clay sighs. "It's difficult to say. I think, until the future of whatever direction of Attilan is going to go in is figured out, telling him he's the blood heir to the throne and all that might be a lot."

    "Right? And maybe...maybe there shouldn't even be blood heirs? I gotta talk to Crystalia. I gotta...figure some stuff out with her. She is not going to be thrilled I'm going to Tarnax."

    Clay turns to Reed. "Richards, how...normal, has Alexander's life been?"

    Reed makes a waffley hand motion. "The Popes are engineers in my employ, and Alexander has been raised alongside Franklin very closely. I would say he's lived a...well, no easy way to say this, a very privileged life, economically and culturally. To be honest, sliding into nobility would not exactly be hard for him."

    "How do you think he'd react to being told that if he goes through terrigenesis, he blows up the fuckin' moon?" Elise says.

    "How would you?"

    Elise sucks on her teeth. "I think I'd be pretty upset over that."

    "Indeed," Reed says. "So I think, all in all, for now we agree to simply wait this topic out."

    "Absolutely. It's fine," she says. "It's fine."

    Clay nods. "Alright, Elise, I imagine you want to talk to Crystalia, probably head back to Attilan, all of that. Let's get going."

    Elise shoots Clay a pair of finger guns. "Sure thing."

    I mentioned earlier that these last few episodes are kind of a deliberate echo of the conclusion of season 1, with the team undertaking many separate assignments that gradually converge on a Skrull Cradle and an apocalyptic battle. And now, as again with season 1, this last episode is more of a denouement, with our characters getting time to slow down and reflect on all that’s happened, and prepare for what’s coming.

    This is something I personally relish a lot and whose absence in media often bugs me. Hollywood (and video games) seems to have a real problem with giving its endings time to breathe, instead opting for the narrative equivalent of an Irish goodbye.

    I particularly feel this in serial TV, where I think writers are so obsessed with sustaining MAXIMUM INTENSITY that it works to the detriment of the story. A season arc can’t just end, it has to immediately tease the next story (even if this completely steps on the audience catharsis) lest a single viewer somewhere tune out for a minute. Like, on balance I enjoy the Agents of SHIELD TV show a lot, but a couple seasons happen at such a breakneck pace that I literally didn’t know where characters found time to poop, much less recover from the various wounds and concussions they sustain.

    More importantly, when things are one shock twist or stunning revelation after another, but the characters never have time to process or talk about or come to grips with what they’ve learned, it makes things start to feel hollow. If a character’s true love turns out to be an evil robot or a shapeshifting alien but the story hustles forward to the next thing, it’s kind of like it never happened at all? Like the audience is cheated out of the full weight of that twist.

    Honestly, if I had my druthers as a player, we’d have a slower-paced character-focused session every three or four stories, but even if the other players felt the same way (and I dunno if they do, or would) time pressure and real life kind of conspire to keep that from happening. Having had a couple of really good campaigns kind of evaporate out from under me due to real life stuff, I definitely wish in retrospect I’d been speedier about wrapping them up satisfactorily even if it meant trading some cool character beats.

    I dunno. It’s just another one of the thirty tightropes a GM has to walk.

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

    Striding through the halls of the Baxter Building, Michael is stopped short by a burst of prismatic light. The Bifrost has opened.

    Sigrun steps forth out of the shimmering air. "King Thor has summoned you. Come with me."

    Michael nods, but holds up a finger in a ‘one minute’ gesture. Fishing his phone out of his pocket, he shoots a quick text to Clay. King Thor wants me to come to Asgard, brb. Hitting send, Michael puts the phone away and stands straighter, smoothing the front of his tunic. “Alrighty, let's go."

    The two enter the Bifrost, and are transported.


    Michael looks around at the perpetual autumn and sighs heavily. Taking his hand with a wistful smile, Sigrun him through the streets of Asgard.

    "Heimdall told me of your recent defeat of the Serpent-Men,” she says. “I'm impressed. During the Hyborian Age, the Serpent-Men had a vast empire on Midgard, and the Asgardians of that era under King Bor found them difficult foes to displace."

    He nods. "They are very insidious and difficult to find, let alone root out. Fortunately we have a lot of experience in dealing with them, plus having Elise is invaluable in finding them."

    "I'm glad she found a good wife among the Attilan. She is a worthy woman to bed."

    Michael nods in a very 'dad' way. "Uh-huh."

    "Heimdall tells me you will be leaving for the homeworld of the Serpent-Men with their rightful Emperor? To right their wrong-headed crusades?"

    "Yes, it seems we must sojourn into space again. It will be quite a quest, but one that is well worth it. If in my travels I come across a way to revitalize Asgard, I will let you know immediately." Michael squeezes Sigrun's hand for emphasis

    "Yes, about that. I believe that is why King Thor wishes to speak to you." She stops for a moment. "Also...while you are on your adventures, bear in mind that you are no farther from Asgard on the Serpent-Men homeworld than you are on Earth. As an Asgardian, you can always call out to Heimdall and summon the Bifrost. You can...always visit me. Provided, of course, I am not dispatched on a mission of my own."

    Michael stops and holds Sigrun's hands in his, looking in her eyes. "I'd love to come visit for a while, it'd be nice to relax with some excellent company.” He smiles fondly.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    They enter the throne room and find King Thor is waiting for them. "Michael!" he says warmly, "I heard of your triumph over the treacherous Skrulls. A pity I could not have been there, like our battle in Russia." He sighs ruefully. "But, of course, my duties are here.

    "I wished to speak to you about the vow you swore to Asgard, to help stave off the Endless Winter."

    Michael nods solemnly. "Whatever I can do to help, I will."

    "Rest assured I did not place this responsibility on your shoulders alone, strong as they may be," Thor says. "I've had the Valkyrior looking into the subject as well, and some of Asgard's scribes poring over Odin's libraries." He lifts Mjolnir. "I learned a truth about my hammer, and your armor.

    "They were not crafted in Odin's forge beneath Asgard," he says. "They were created deep in the cosmos, at a place known in his libraries as Nidavellir, the Forge of Stars."

    "Seems it is quite fortunate that my team and I were just about to go into space."

    "Indeed," Thor agrees. "Unfortunately, the location of Nidavellir is known only to my father's mind, and he is in the Odinsleep, and we dare not wake him to ask.

    “But I believe the power of the Star Forge can sustain Asgard. So, I beseech you a quest: Find Nidavellir in your travels through the cosmos."

    Michael bends to one knee. "I will do my absolute best to accomplish this great quest."

    Thor smiles. "I know you will. You and your companions have accomplished great things. That is all I ask of you. I know it is no small feat, but I know it is within your power.” He gestures for Michael to rise. "I wish you well, friend."

    "Thank you, King Thor." Michael bows as he stands.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2019


    Julian gets paged to the Baxter Building’s hangar. He stops his record player, gets up, straightens his clothes, and heads for the elevators.

    When he arrives, the X-Jet is being docked. The hatch of the jet opens, and striding down the ramp are Omega Red, Wolverine, Deadpool, Charles Xavier, and...Jean Grey. Red and Deadpool are pushing forward a stasis pod, containing the Skrull that Julian saw earlier at the mansion.

    Which means the Jean standing by Xavier is the real Jean. Julian's stomach lurches.

    Charles looks at Jean and says quietly to her, "I need to speak to Quartermain about...the Skrull. I imagine you and Julian have some things to say."

    Xavier, Wolverine, Deadpool, and Omega Red leave with the stasis pod. Jean walks over to Julian, awkwardly rubbing the back of her neck. "...hi."

    "...Hi." Julian is twitchy and animated. He claps his hands together lightly and wrings his hands.

    "So...I...I need to tell you something," she begins awkwardly. "You and I...we never. We didn't."

    "Yeah," he nods.

    "That was all her. The Skrull. I mean...I...I like you. And she knew that? I think that's why she was drawn to you. And I...I remember some stuff? Some...some really nice stuff." She blushes, and Julian shuffles his feet and rubs the back of his neck.

    "The Professor says it's the result of being in their machine,” she adds. “Telepathic feedback. It feels like a dream. A very...graphic dream, sometimes."

    "Yeah. I've had some time to learn of the technology, how it affects the people held within. It's, um." He wrings his hands. "I'm sorry, Jean, this is very awkward for me!"

    "Me too!" she agrees. "But you need to know something.

    "Another part of the feedback is I know some of the things she felt, she thought. X'iv, the Skrull, that's her name. Her mission was to infiltrate the X-Men. Get close to them. Find out what they know. Use Cerebro. Which...she did all those things?

    "You weren't part of her mission."

    This stops him short. "I...huh."

    "She just chose that on her own. She just chose you. Over Scott, in fact. Over my feelings for Scott. Maybe it's because you're also a telepath like her or because..." She just gestures to all of Julian, and he has a short, sharp laugh. "But what she felt for you was real. It wasn't her mission. She wasn't trying to infiltrate STRIKE through you."

    Julian nods. " Yeah,” he says uncertainly. “At the end of the day she's a spy for her empire. How many times have you heard of someone in espionage just sort of...getting attached?"

    "Yeah...about that too..." Jean wrings her hands. "Um...did the Professor tell you how they found out X'iv was a Skrull?"

    He shakes his head, long hair swaying. "Not as I recall."

    "She told them," Jean says. "She, um...well she lost faith in her mission. She started to see the X-Men as a family. She never had a family on her world? The way the X-Men made her feel...the way you made her feel...she never felt that before.

    "Her training told her to see us like animals, but, she couldn't see us that way anymore. So, she told Scott. And Scott...took it poorly."

    Julian sighs. "Yes, I imagine he would."

    "My last shared memory with X'iv, before she went unconscious, was Scott yelling my name and blasting X'iv into the ground."

    fuckin’ lol

    "Ugh." Julian makes a face.

    "Scott loves me. He does. I think he felt betrayed and hurt and overreacted."

    "I...I mean, I get that,” she says. “But that still doesn't sound like a great reaction, Jean."

    "No. It doesn't. Scott and I need to have a conversation about it. X'iv opened her heart up to him and took a serious risk telling him the truth. And he shot her in the face." She looks uncomfortable. "I...remember that.'s going to be difficult."

    "It's fucked up," he says flatly.


    Julian sighs.

    "Look, point is...the Professor is handing X'iv over to Clay," she says. "Z'reg, I guess? Did you know he was a Skrull the entire time?"

    Julian nods.


    "It's...It's a pretty complicated situation."

    "I suppose so!"

    "So, like, you would relate to this. You ever like, go in without ‘knocking’ - " Julian air-quotes - " and see something you didn't intend to?"

    "...when I was first learning my powers, yes. I don't do that anymore." She shudders.

    "Yeah. I'm a lot more careful now," he agrees. "Like, it was a whole thing. But I trusted him, in the end. And I now have a very good lesson on handling...this with greater care." He gestures around his head.

    "Yeah, no kidding," she says. "Listen, there's something else I need to tell you.

    "The Professor says that X'iv is basically a prisoner of war. He's just as hurt and betrayed as Scott is and he doesn't want to really listen to me when I try to tell him about how X'iv really felt in the end.

    "He says it doesn't matter. That she's not really one of us. I'm shocked, I've never seen him like this."

    Julian frowns.

    "So he's handing her over to Z'reg and I don't know what's going to happen to her and I don't know why I feel bad for her, she stole my life for months and...and... Z'reg is your boss, and.. and she genuinely loves you, Julian. That wasn't a lie."

    "I'm...still angry about it, Jean. I'm angry with her.” He sighs. “But I think I understand the position she's in."

    "I get this feeling, Julian. This horrible feeling my stomach that you get back to the Skrull homeworld and there's going to be a reckoning for X'iv and her people. it possible for her to be shown...I don't know...mercy? That seems weird! To ask for mercy for her!"

    "Yeah,” he says with a frown. ”But I get it. ...I don't know. The whole situation just puts a big knot in my stomach. I’ to her.”

    "Okay," she says. "And uh, I guess this goes without saying but and I aren't...we're know."

    Julian grimaces. "Yeah. I know."

    "Scott and I aren't either. Not right now. Not when I have fresh memories of him blasting me into the ground. I need time to myself."

    "Yeah. I think that would be best, too," he says slowly. "I'm really sorry things ended up this way, Jean."

    "Me too."

    "I...what I can't get over is that it took just being around...this." He gestures at everything around them. "Like, what we have here, in our families, everything, like on Earth versus Tarnax. How the world works." He shuffles his feet for a moment, then seems to make up his mind. "I'll talk to her about it. Thank you, Jean."

    She nods. "I'm going to go, and wait for the Professor and the others to get back. You should...I don't know, see if you can talk to X'iv, or your boss.” She walks away and boards the X-Jet.

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

    Clay finds Miles in the hall. "There's a SWORD shuttle leaving for the Peak, taking Veranke and some other POWs up with them. I've got some other things to attend to before I head up. You can hitch a ride, I imagine you want to be able to con Danvers in coming on our misadventure."

    Miles grins. "Yeah, and I need to get out ahead of the AI buddy thing, too. I got time to swing by the corner bodega and pick up a fifteen buck bottle of rosé on the way? That usually helps smooth these little things over."

    "Pretty sure any corner bodega is going to be closed, mate. Just had us an alien invasion," Clay says, then stops, as if he’s had an idea.

    Miles is scoffing. "Five bucks says Mama Tia's is still open."

    "Hang on." Clay walks off. Miles shrugs and pulls out his phone. About five minutes later, Clay returns with a bottle of wine. He presents it to Miles with a flourish. Domaine Leroy Chambertin Grand Cru.

    "It's not rosé, it's a proper red. I think they're like four grand a bottle?"

    Miles stares. "Holy shit, boss. You sure?"

    Clay shrugs. "I'm a scotch man, I had to quick Google it when I was raiding Reed's personal bar."

    "Oh my god." Miles laughs, then snatches the bottle. "Suddenly I'm feeling a lot more charitable about Dr. Richards. And now I kinda feel like I gotta do some other stuff to apologize for if I'm showing up at Carol's door with this. It's like taking someone on a fancy cruise because you got home late a couple nights. They'll get suspicious."

    "You're a synthezoid,” Clay says. “Get creative."

    Miles salutes. "Yes, sir." He cradles the bottle protectively.

    "Also, I have no kinder way to say this, Miles, but your woman is into craft beer and cat videos, she's not going to know it's four-grand wine if you don't tell her”

    Miles winces. "Man, you really know how to hit a guy where he lives, huh? Alright. Anything you want me to tell the fine folks at SWORD?"

    "I'm 100% sure that Brand is only going to let Danvers go on a field trip to my homeworld if she agrees to do a bunch of hinky spy bullshit. Agree to it. I have nothing to hide from Earth. Not anymore."

    Miles nods. “Okay. Sounds good. Where's the shuttle leaving from? Have I got time to change?"

    "From the hangar, and yeah, you can put on something nice. We're still securing some people. Apparently Xavier brought over someone at the last minute."

    Miles sighs. "Is he offloading another psycho on us, or what?"

    "The infiltrator who was impersonating Jean Grey," Clay says. "They took her alive."

    "Wait, impersonat her and Julian...?" Miles sucks his teeth. "Well, I see no way this could go wrong. Fun times!"

    "Yeah," Clay agrees. "Apparently, the real Jean Grey and Julian, never at any point." They trade nods. "I'm planning to interrogate the infiltrator on-board the ship, so, I may have Julian there for that. He may want to have a word with her."

    Miles nods. "Alright. As long as we keep the shape-shifting interpersonal drama to a minimum, I guess I can't complain too much." He tucks the bottle under his arm. "See you in space."

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

    As Ryann secures some of his equipment in the armory, he gets a signal from his gauntlet. Incoming transmission. It's Doctor Doom. Ryann grimaces.

    "Centurion Valt. My agents inform me that you wish to have words with me. If that is true, you are welcome to come to my castle in Latveria at your earliest convenience." The message ends.

    "Yeah, I'll be right there..." Ryann walks over to a window in the Baxter Building and opens it. He scans the horizon, looking to the east. Then in a flash, he's gone.


    When he arrives, every Doombot stands aside and lets Ryann through to the throne room, where Doctor Doom awaits...along with Graviton and Lorelei, standing to his left and right.


    "I'm glad to see you understand the gravity of my visit. Victor." Centurion gestures at Graviton and Lorelei. "I'm only here to talk. And you're going to listen."

    Doom inclines his head fractionally. "My agents are here only to assure that remains the case."

    "You know, Victor, you're not the worst megalomaniac I've ever encountered," Ryann laughs. "You're not even the worst Doom I've met. And I can tell you care about this world. I can also tell you care about family.

    “You cared about Vlad.

    “Your son."

    Ryann can see Doom stiffen a bit in his chair at the mention of Vlad. He struck a nerve. "How did it feel, Victor? How did it feel when you found out your son had been led astray, to have him spurn you and betray you? And what horrible things did you think of doing to the ones who stole him from you?"

    "I see your point," Doom grits out. "You need not belabor it. Allow me to clarify the circumstances under which your son found himself under my employ.

    "’Twas not Doom that bonded a dangerous alien life-form to a vulnerable and angry young man. Nor was it Doom that loosed him upon the world as a coursing hound, to hunt and kill for shadowy masters. That was the Damoclean SWORD that hangs over this world, holding power over destructive satellites that can bring apocalyptic ruin whenever they will. If anyone were to bear the brunt of your wrath, it should be they, not Doom. Furthermore…

    "What I saw was a lost child, given power he should not have ever been given, full of rage and lacking direction, hurling himself into a fray that would have inevitably gotten him killed, without allies, acting alone. He did not want to be helped. He did not want to return home to his family, and I did not press him as to why. Instead, I offered him help, agents to protect him and watch over him, and direction on a quest he had already committed himself to.

    "I could have forced him to do much. I could have ripped that alien symbiote from him. I could have hurled him into a shuttlecraft, placed some form of crude postage on the side, and sent him packing to the space station he calls home and billed you.

    "And perhaps, that's what I should have done.

    "If, as his father, that's what you would have preferred, then you have Doom's apology. A rare thing, indeed." Doom spreads his hands wide in an ironic gesture.

    "Yeah, I'll put in my back pocket, so I can pull it out on a rainy day to make me smile." Ryann shakes his head. "Alright, I'm going to make this clear and I'm not going to dig into a thesaurus to explain it, so try to follow along."

    Ryann points a finger at the monarch. "Vlad is the damn reason that suit exists. Now that suit is stuck on my son. There is a throughline directly from one to another. So guess what? You just got a new godson, or ward or whatever by the Force you wanna call it. I'm leaving Earth for a long time and if anything happens to Dann, I'll hold you personally responsible. And it won't matter who you have at your side then, because the rest of STRIKE will be by mine."

    After a pause, Doom steeples his fingers, and nods. "Acceptable terms."

    "Sure," Ryann says. "I'm glad we understand each other."


    I love this scene so much. One of my favorite running beats with Ryann’s characterization is how completely immune to Dr. Doom’s mystique he is. He waves off his blustering and calls him “Victor.” To him, Doom is just another warlord on just another backwards planet.

    There's a shifting. A shimmer in the air. Ryann's seen it before.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Doom stands up. "Impossible. I have wards in place!" Graviton steps back and assumes a battle position, and Lorelei flees behind a pillar.

    Clenching his fists, Ryann readies himself for whatever is about to appear. Three tears open up in the throne room, and from them emerge humanoid creatures.


    The three Symbiote-Bots move to engage. Graviton and Doom stand to attack.

    Ryann flings himself at one of the abominations, charging with an uppercut, but the creature grabs him, pins him against the wall, and attempts to sink its fangs into him. But before it can bite, the creature is yanked away by the gravitational pull of, unsurprisingly, Graviton.

    Meanwhile, Doctor Doom engages another foe, blasting it with lightning from his fingertips.

    With the reprieve granted by Graviton, Centurion springs into the air, rising to the rafters of the throne room. He focuses the Nova Force and blasts his attacker.

    It shatters apart, scattering metal covered in sizzling black goo. These creatures are machines, but somehow, also symbiotes? And the symbiote components are pulling it back together.

    One of the symbiote-bots rushes Lorelei. She puts up her hands and shouts "Stop!" emphatically.

    It's not effective. The sym-bot leaps on her, pinning her, and bites into the side of her throat. She shrieks, and shoves it off her with Asgardian strength, slamming it into the opposite wall and shattering masonry.

    She grabs at the wound, and then holds out her hand, staring at it, as black ichor stretches away from it. "" Pulling itself out of the masonry, the creature prepares to pounce on her again.

    "Hey!" Ryann calls from above. "Try taking a bite out of me!" Power-diving from above, he drives the sym-bot into the ground, slamming it through the throne room floor with a crash.

    He looks over as he hears Lorelei shrieking. The shrieking suddenly stops.

    And he realizes why, as Lorelei looks at Ryann, Doom, and Graviton.


    "Stop resisting."

    Ryann can feel her words burrowing into his mind. He grabs the sides of his head and groans. He has to fight it…

    He stops resisting. So does Graviton.

    Lorelei walks over to Ryann, smiling. She holds his chin in her hands, gently, and leans in to kiss him.

    She's then sent flying across the room by a sonic blast. From Doom.

    Doom raises his hand, and a sonic emitter shakes the room, causing the symbiotes to scream and undulate off their hosts, before eventually receding away from their mechanical bodies and Lorelei.

    Lorelei looks up, confused.

    "Release them from your spell!" Doom shouts. She nods, and snaps her fingers. Then Doom barks, "Graviton, Centurion, contain those creatures in mass fields, now!"

    Blinking away the haze, Ryann nods at Graviton and extends his hands toward the churning masses of black goo. Writhing and extending gripping pseudopods futilely, the Klyntar are peeled up from Doom’s floor and pushed, pulled, and poured into invisible spheres of gravity. They roil and bubble within, pressing against the walls of their prison like mimes.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Doom presses a button his gauntlet. Shortly thereafter, a phalanx of Doombots enter the throne room bearing containment devices. "Fortunately, I observed your battle on Mojoworld, and learned that the Klyntar are vulnerable to sonic attacks," Doom says.

    "What? How?”

    "Doom knows all."

    Ryann rolls his eyes.

    Lorelei looks at Doom, confused. "My did you...resist my power? and Malice..."

    She’s confused because her powers affect anyone who could be sexually attracted to her, and Doom clearly likes women.

    Doom turns and looks at her. "Silence!"

    Ryann rolls his eyes again.

    "I was immune, dear Lorelei, because machines are not affected by your powers."

    Ryann sighs. "Ever since Mojoworld, these damn Klyntar have become the fly in the ointment of my life."

    Doom sits down at his throne, holding one of the machine's heads in his hands, looking at it. "Indeed."

    "What do you know?" Ryann says, studying him. "Spill it."

    "This is a Parliament design. I recognize it. But it was infested with one of these creatures. How did this come to pass? I know that the Parliament would never permit a Klyntar-conjoined Doom to join their ranks.

    "I will study the Klyntar I have captured, and study the memory banks of the machines. I will find answers. I will share these answers with you and yours."

    Ryann nods. "Good, I think I'm going to have a chat with our resident Klyntar. All of this has to be connected and if the Parliament has stepped their game up I need to know how and why." He pauses. "I'll let you know what I find out as well."

    Doom nods.

    "Well, this isn't how I thought this conversation would go." Ryann shrugs and looks down at the crater in the middle of the throne room. "I'd say sorry about that but, well..." He shrugs again.


    Ryann nods at Doom and his agents and takes his leave.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2019


    Miles and Julian arrive on the Peak, having taken a ride aboard a SWORD shuttle. Miles intends to talk to Carol Danvers about his recent...changes, and Julian's intent is to talk to X'iv, if possible.

    After they dock, Miles is informed by a SWORD agent that Carol is in her quarters, having just recently returned from the Anabasis herself and now resting from the battle. Miles thanks the agent and heads that way, synthezoid stomach churning with a blend of trepidation and eagerness.

    When he arrives, and chimes the door, he hears Carol's voice telling him to come in. He puts on his best face and enters.

    He finds Carol lounging on her couch, feet up on the table, looking exhausted. Nearby, in an easy chair, is Mantis, sitting sideways with her legs draped over the arm of the chair. On Carol's TV, a rerun of Frasier is playing.

    Miles grins and enters. "Howdy, ladies." He produces the bottle from behind his back. "I brought party favors. Four thousand dollars of it, courtesy of Doc."

    Mantis squints. "Why would you spend four thousand dollars on one bottle of alcohol? That's so wasteful!" She pauses. "Unless you become…hyper-drunk..." she whispers with a bit of awe.

    Miles grins. "It's rare, and you get to feel like a fancy person. In case watching sitcoms in space weren't fancy enough, I guess." He goes to the cabinet to fish out some glasses.

    Carol looks over at Miles. "Did he gift that to you or did you steal it?"

    "Clay gave it to me," Miles says. "I didn't ask how he got it." All of this is technically true!

    Mantis claps excitedly. "Oh! Stolen food and drink tastes better!"

    Carol looks confusedly at Mantis. "What?"

    Mantis explains. "If you have a snack on your plate, and I steal it, and I eat it, it tastes better than the one on mine, because it's crime. It's fact."

    "She's not wrong," Miles says. "I jacked a few of the MRE brownies in my time." Mantis points at Miles and nods.

    This is all 100% true. If you require empirical verification, shoplift a fifty-cent Reese’s peanut butter egg from the grocery store next Easter. It will turn into ambrosia in your mouth. Er, so I hear.

    Carol takes a glass from Miles. "This feels like apology-wine. What are you apologizing for?"

    Miles opens and closes his mouth. "Well! It's a funny story.

    "So, Susan and I headed into SHIELD HQ to grab the hard drive that Arnim Zola was stored on before the Skrulls in SHIELD could find it, right? Well, it turned out that Nick Fury was a Skrull. And it also turned out that the hard drive was...bigger than we'd thought. Like a lot bigger. Like..." Miles holds his arms out wide. "So, uh. We thought of a solution!"

    Miles hears Zola in his mind. Herr Mason, I suggest you stray away from phrasing like 'solution,' it may not help build your case.

    Carol squints. "Wait. Miles, are you saying..."

    "Well, you know how I have this whole free data crystal just sitting there since X-51 left..."

    Mantis looks at Carol, and then at Miles. "Who's Arnim Zola? Is he bad?"

    "He used to be," Miles says. "He's gotten better."

    "Oh, like Nebula! She did a genocide, but she's mostly just mean now."

    ”She did a genocide.” I love Mantis.

    Miles snaps his fingers and points at Mantis. "Right! Like that." He turns to Carol. "Zola's spent a subjective eternity inside a rehabilitative program Vision wrote for him. He helped us save the world. I..." He gets serious for a moment. "I'd feel kind of hypocritical not giving the guy a chance."

    Carol sighs. "I suppose that's fair. I mean, we do give Nebula a second chance. And Bob. Jesus, we give Bob a second chance."

    Miles nods. "You've heard that thing he says about shotguns and painting, right?"

    "You ever hear the one he says about six dogs and a dirty baby?"

    Miles’ jaw drops. "Wait, what?"

    "Yeah uh...I'm not repeating it!"

    "Well, so. Dr. Zola hasn't said anything like that yet!" Miles offers. "If I start wearing Hugo Boss and clicking my heels, you have permission to knock some sense into me."

    "Oh! Is Arnim Zola a Nazi?" Mantis asks, innocently.

    "He was. It's complicated," Miles says. "But yes."

    "Oh! So he's a lot like Nebula then," Mantis nods.

    Carol looks at her. "Mantis, how do you know about Nazis?"

    Mantis holds up her index finger like she’s had an idea. "I was watching documentaries about them, the history of Hugo Boss and Volkswagen and things like that."

    Carol gasps. "Is that why my Netflix recommendations are shot to hell?! Mantis."

    Miles snickers. "I mean, you've already seen every episode of Bake-Off three times, dear. Maybe 'Hitler's Generals' and two dozen telenovelas would be broadening!"

    Zola chimes in Miles ear. Warning. I do not believe this course of action will be endearing.

    Carol sucks air in through her teeth. "Alright, well, new rules! Mantis, I'm going to make your own Netflix profile. Miles, I want you to create a...private-time protocol with you and Zola, so he's not just...watching all the time, when it's you and me."

    Miles nods. "Of course."

    Carol sighs. "So...Clay outed himself, huh? On everything. To everyone."

    Mantis smiles. "I think he's handsome."

    "That...brings us to the second thing," Miles says. "Honey, Clay has to go home and, you know, legitimize his rule and yadda yadda. And he's taking us with him. Me and the team. And I thought...maybeyou'dliketocometoo?"

    Carol's eyes widen. "To Tarnax," she says slowly. "The Skrull homeworld."

    Miles nods.

    " understand I'm like...part-Kree, right."

    "So this is your big chance to go!"

    "The Kree and the Skrull are at war."

    "You look human! Besides, you'll be in the company of the Emperor. If people try to kill us, it'll almost certainly be because of that, instead of where your powers come from!"

    "That's so much more comforting!" she says sarcastically.

    "It is!" he agrees. "And…

    "Because I'm going to be out of my depth and surrounded by people with crazy superpowers while I have extendo-arms. Because I need you, Carol." He pauses. "I need you."

    Carol tears up, and then sweeps Miles off the ground in a hug, spilling extremely expensive wine.

    Mantis taps her index fingers together and looks down, speaking quietly. "Carol, if you and Miles go to Tarnax, are you...leaving me?"

    "You can come wif uf!" Miles says through Carol's hair.

    Mantis squeals, and joins the hug. Miles relaxes in the hugpile. For the first time in a while, he feels like himself again.

    Herr Mason, you have an extremely peculiar familial arrangement, with your Kree-hybrid fiancee and avuncular relationship with this alien of unknown species, but I find it extremely heartwarming. I am glad to accompany you on this journey.

    Miles smiles to himself. Danke schoen, Doctor.

    This thing with Miles, Mantis, and Carol as a kooky family unit kind of came out of nowhere, I think in part because Matt enjoys writing Mantis a lot and we had a lot of fun with their scenes a few episodes ago. So we just decided to run with it.

    (For now we will choose to pass over the implications of two people with a substance abuse history adopting a young woman whose whole thing is being living drugs. It’s fine! It’s fine.)

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

    Elsewhere on the Peak, Clay catches up with Julian. He's resumed his human form.

    "Hey, boss."

    "Adler. I'm planning to interrogate the Dard'van infiltrator that got into the X-Men. X'iv, I'm told her name is. We've taken her out of stasis, and put an inhibitor on her to shut down her telepathy. I imagine you'd want to be there for this."

    "Yeah,” Julian sighs. “Yeah, I might have a few words for her."

    "Try to make sure they're words, mate. Don't light her up or Penance Stare her? The Dard'van will get their time when we get to Tarnax, I just want to make sure we've gotten everyone."

    Julian nods.

    "This way." Clay leads Julian to the Peak's brig, where the woman - X’iv - waits in her Skrull form.


    Julian approaches stiffly, keeping a stone face. Clay looks at the SWORD agents nearby. "Give us the room." The agents leave, and Clay assumes his Skrull form.

    X'iv looks at them both. "Oh no," she whispers. "We...we lost. Didn't we?"

    "Mhm," Julian nods.

    She looks crestfallen, and leans against the wall. "I knew we would. I knew Veranke's plan was foolish." She sighs. "Did he tell you? Did Scott tell you the truth, Julian?"

    "Not Scott, no. I've heard the story, though." He studies her with a frown. "I can't say I forgive you, X'iv."

    She swallows hard, and then asks, "Is she alive? Is...Jean, the real Jean, is she alive? I can't..." she gestures at her temple, "I can't feel her anymore."

    "She is. I heard everything from her."

    X'iv breathes a sigh of relief. "I didn't want to hurt her!"

    Julian sucks his teeth. "You took away months of her life. You lived as her. And the whole time you thought the plan was bogus, huh? So why go to all the trouble?"

    Clay leans up against the wall, watching silently, his arms folded.

    "I didn't think it was a foolish plan at first," X'iv explains. "You have to understand, I was raised one of the Empress' Handmaidens, a telepathic assassin in her service. I did not have a family. I was not even taught to see my fellow Handmaidens as sisters. I was only to see the Empress as my life.

    "And when I came here, I was taught that we were here to kill…him," she points at Clay, "The Corrupted Prince. The one who would bring ruin to the Empire. The Exile.

    "We arrived, and I was told to infiltrate the X-Men. Replace Jean. Use Cerebro, and use it to find other targets, other telepaths. Use it to find Z'reg.

    "I did what I was tasked with. But then...the X-Men, they are a family. They love each other, they care for each other, no matter their differences, no matter what they look like, no matter how dangerous they are to themselves or others.

    "Scott loved...Jean, but he also put Jean on a pedestal. The way he loved Jean was pure. The woman he loved was this woman he knew for years. It wasn'”

    Julian scoffs at the mention of Scott's love being pure.

    “But then you came back from space and you and your team saved the world. You destroyed Galactus.'s like you avenged Skrullos. In the view of my people, you killed the Devil.

    "Between that, and the X-Men, and" She trails off, and looks down at the floor. "I couldn't. I lost the faith.” She raises her head and looks Julian in the eye. "Because of you. Because...I love you."

    Clay squints skeptically.

    Julian shakes his head. "X'iv - you know I can't accept that. You lived as another person for months. Stole that time from her, lied to me."

    "I didn't lie to you," she pleads. "Not about how I felt, about our time together. About my name? Sure. But so did he." She points a finger accusingly at Clay.

    Julian sighs. "No...but you understand I can't just take that and keep moving forward."

    Clay speaks up. "Why didn't you tell Julian the truth? Why tell Scott? Why keep up the lie?"

    "Because..." she begins nervously. "Because I was hoping it would never change. The Empress...I believe she was losing the faith too. After Galactus, I believed her will was shaken. I believed that, eventually, she would just give up, and reveal herself, and cede power to you. That the Dard'van would die quietly, on its own, in the face of all that you've done.

    "And either the order would come down from on high to release Jean, or...or I'd never have to stop. I was afraid if I told Julian the truth, he'd hate me, or the Dard'van would try to kill Jean, or a million other things would go wrong.

    "But then the order came down that the invasion was going to happen. And I had to tell someone, and I thought I could trust Scott."

    Julian sighs.

    "I don't know what changed in the Empress to make her resolve return, to make her re-commit, but it did, and when I knew that, I wanted no part in it," she says. "Foolish me for thinking Scott would do anything but lash out.

    “I should have told you, Julian. I'm sorry."

    "Yes, you should have," he says, avoiding her gaze. "For what it's worth, as much as it hurts, I don't hate you. For everything I've seen out there, I know how complicated...everything gets."

    She breathes out heavily in relief. X'iv starts to tear up.

    "But that doesn't mean I can trust you,” he continues. “You know you've held back a lot."

    X'iv rubs her arm. "Is there...anything I can do to change that?"

    Julian sighs. "I don't know how I'm supposed to answer that. You're a prisoner of war, X'iv. Like, it's fucked up. Even if I wanted to just…get over it, do you know how bad that would look? How could anyone trust me?"

    X'iv looks at Clay. "Does the Empress live, Z'reg? Did she retreat?"

    Clay grumbles. "Veranke lives, as a prisoner, same as you. And you can address me as Emperor now. Veranke abdicated, publicly."

    "...oh." X'iv looks stunned. "Oh no. I' there going to be a trial, Emperor, or am I simply to be executed?"

    Clay looks at Julian, and then at X'iv. "You'll find out soon enough."

    Julian receives a telepathic transmission from Clay. I'm done here, and I'm going to leave. I've been scanning her this entire time. She's telling the truth. About everything. She genuinely loves you, for what it's worth. You have a right to feel betrayed. To be honest, she's not terribly different from the lot Susan Richards found herself in.

    As for her fate, I've honestly not decided what I'm going to do about that and I'm not about to tell them that I don't know. Doesn't inspire confidence in their new Emperor. You can keep talking to her if you want, but I don't recommend it. She's coming with us, you can let this simmer for a bit, re-approach her when you've had time to let this settle.

    Alright, boss. I'm with you. I'm pretty done with her right now. Julian regards the prisoner with a sad, grim expression. I've been convinced of her intentions enough between her own words and Jean's. It just doesn't sit well with me.

    Completely fair.
    Clay looks at X'iv. "We're leaving. Soon, some SWORD agents will come to take you to the Skrull flagship, and we'll be heading home to Tarnax. What happens after that, you'll find out."

    "Take care, X'iv." Julian's voice comes out weary.

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

    Ryann arrives on the Peak, where he finds Sam is waiting for him.

    "Hey, Kid," Ryann says.

    Sam looks nervous. "Sir, I uh...can I talk to you about something?" He frowns. "It's about Tarnax."

    Ryann nods briskly. "Yeah, shoot."

    "I uh...I don't want to go. The idea of going to space is cool and everything but from what Director Quartermain...Emperor Z'reg...makes it sound like, we could be there for a long time," Sam says. "I have school. I have my parents. I can't know, go to space for who knows how long."

    Ryann puts his hand on Sam's shoulder. "Don't sweat it, Sam. Tarnax a big mission and I'm going to need someone to keep an eye on my family while I'm gone. Nebula's coming with me on this one. You're not missing prom," Ryann smiles.

    Sam breathes a sigh of relief. "Oh thank God, I thought you were going to try to talk me into it. You probably would've succeeded."

    Ryann laughs. "You performed great during the invasion but that's as far into space as I think you’re really ready for."

    Sam swells with pride. "Thanks, sir." Sam leans in and says quietly, "So, hey, I uh...I promise to keep an eye on Norrin. He's been getting pretty…Yoga Instructor around Katt, if you know what I mean."

    Ryann squints, confused. "Yoga Instruc...oh." He frowns. "Sam -"

    Sam puts his hands up. "Like he hasn't done anything, it's just a vibe, you know?"

    "You're young, Sam. You still have some things to learn about relationships and how people cope with loss. Norrin is a good man and Katt has really helped him. He's a friend of my family, that's all." But as he speaks, Ryann's eyes dart back and forth for an instant.

    Sam shrugs. "Sure, well, I'll keep the eye out all the same, sir. If Norrin tells Katt he's got tickets to a Theory of a Deadman reunion tour, want me to call you on the tachyon ansible?"

    "Sam..." Ryann’s mouth hangs open for a moment. "...yes."

    Sam nods.

    All season long, ever since we learned that the Surfer was living on the Peak and has befriended Katt, it’s been a running joke that he’s like her Pilates instructor.

    And you know, Ryann’s a space cop, he’s a blue-space-collar guy who works long space hours and comes home sweaty and bruised and complaining about his space coworkers, and meanwhile, back home, there’s this impossibly fit ageless being who speaks in iambic pentameter and definitely does not sweat and is patient and understanding and has seen the universe and spoken the secret language of the stars, all whispering to Ryann’s wife about “the majesty of lost Zenn-La, and the matchless beauty of Shalla-Bal, greater than jewels or stars” while demonstrating erotic calf stretches…

    Matt believes strongly in trying to give each character a voice, and for the Surfer he picked Matthew McConaughey.

    Ryann clears his throat. "Anyway, have you seen Dann? I need to talk with him and Katt before I get ready to set out."

    "Yeah, he's in your family quarters. Katt was pretty upset when he came home for, y'know. Obvious reasons."

    Ryann nods. "Yeah, still haven't talked to her about that either. Been quite the day." He sighs and his shoulders slump. "Alright, well I'll leave you to it."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Ryann walks through the station to his family quarters. When he arrives, Katt and Danniel are there.

    ...with Norrin.

    Katt and Norrin are sitting on a couch side by side, facing Dann, who has his head in his hands. He's still wearing the Venom armor. Notably, Norrin isn't...silver anymore. He looks like a bald, human man, wearing a SWORD uniform.

    "Ryann!" Katt says, getting up from the couch and hugging him fiercely.

    Ryann wraps her in his arms. "Hey, what's going on here?"

    "We were talking with Danniel about...his situation, and his actions."

    Norrin says to Ryann, "Danniel feels very sorry for what he has done, Ryann, but he lashed out in anger and a lack of direction with his life."

    Ryann slowly turns his gaze from Norrin to his son. "Dann, is that true? Is that how you feel?"

    Dann just nods silently, then speaks after a long moment. "I wanted to be a Nova more than anything in the world..." he mumbles quietly, "and then we had to leave Xandar.

    "Then we came here, and Sam gets to be a Nova, and I don't.

    "I just wanted to do something with my life besides fill out SWORD paperwork."

    Ryann purses his lips. "I know, Dann, and you're not wrong for wanting something more. I'm sorry for what happened with Xandar. If there was some way we could go back, you know I would. But we can't and that's my fault. We're a family, we trust one another and talk to one another. I've failed you in that, son. For that I'm sorry as well." Ryann swallows. "I'm not taking the Venom suit away."

    Dann looks up at Ryann, hope in his eyes, and says, "You're not?"

    Katt shouts, "You're not?!"

    Ryann looks at his wife with an apologetic gaze and then back to Dann. "No, I'm not. You earned the right to wear it, achieved higher than any other applicants in the program. So the issue of competency isn't present. And given what your trip down to Earth turned up, it isn't an issue of effectiveness either.

    "So yeah, Dann. You're a superhero now,” Ryann says. "But you gotta act like one. So I'm going to talk to Brand about getting some special assignments for you and your partner."

    "Partner?" Dann is confused.

    Ryann nods. "Sam."

    "Oh come on," Dann says, throwing his hands up.

    "Hey, hey," Ryann says, holding up a quelling hand. "You want to be a superhero? Sam is a good guy, Dann. You're pretty similar in some respects and if you gave him a chance I know you would be friends.

    "But if you don't want to be his friend then fine, but you'll be team members all the same. You'll have to learn to work with one another and trust each other. Alright?" Ryann turns his gaze to his wife.

    Katt scowls, and sighs. "Alright."

    Norrin speaks up, "I'll keep an eye on them for you, Ryann."

    "Thanks..." Ryann's eyes dart back and forth. "So on that note. I'm getting shipped out again, and it looks like this one is going to be a long one."

    Katt looks at Ryann, concerned. "Why? Where?"

    "It's Z'reg or, uh, Clay. We have to go back to the Skrull homeworld and help establish their government. So some pretty standard stuff," he smirks.

    She nods slowly. "How long will you be gone?"

    "It's not clear, so I'm assuming a long one. I'll still be reachable and I'll be able to message you whenever you want."

    Katt takes a deep breath. "I understand," she says at last. "It's the job."

    "So I'll be able to keep up to date with things here," Ryann says, looking at Norrin briefly.

    Norrin nods, and puts his hand on Ryann's shoulder. "I will make sure your family is safe and taken care of, Ryann."

    Ryann nods at him, then kisses Katt on her forehead and holds her gaze for a long moment. "I love you," he says. Then he looks up to the others. "Alright, so that brings me to my next conversation. I need a moment with Dann. Well, more accurately, I need a moment with Venom."

    Norrin nods, and says to Katt, "I think we should leave." They walk into another room.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Ryann watches them leave, squinting slightly, but then turns back to Dann. "Ok, son. I need to speak with your other half."

    Dann takes a deep breath, and then the helmet of the Venom suit covers his head. His voice shifts to the otherworldly tone of his other half. "What would you ask?"

    "What do you know about Doom?"

    "Doom gave us direction. Doom gave us resources, allies, to hunt the Enemy," Venom says. "You gave us nothing. SWORD gave us nothing."

    "Okay,” Ryann nods slowly, “and what is it that a Klyntar would want? I don't know much about your species, their politics. Do you have a government?"

    "No longer," Venom says, voice mournful and reflective. "Once, we had a vast Imperium that stretched across space. But that is gone now. There is now only the Pure, and the Corrupt."

    Ryann cocks an eyebrow. "Pure and Corrupt? And which are you?"

    "Pure. I serve Justice," Venom says. "As I always have."

    Ryann nods. "That's good to know."

    "The Pure seek out champions to elevate, to serve as Agents of the Cosmos, to restore justice and balance to the universe. The Corrupt seek only to consume, to spread themselves."

    "Would the Corrupt seek allegiance with a more powerful being to bring back their lost empire?” Ryann asks.

    "They would consume any powerful being they could,” Venom says. “Above all else, they desire power. If they have a broader goal beyond consumption, it is unknown."

    Ryann frowns slightly at the realization that the Parliament has possibly been infected with The Corrupt. "All right, that's all I need for now. I'm glad we could finally have words face to face. In a manner of speaking. You keep serving justice and we'll be just fine," Ryann says. "And welcome to the family."

    Venom extends his hand to Ryann, and Ryann takes it.

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