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[Actual Play, NSFData] Marvel's Agents of STRIKE (Season 2 complete!)

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Posts

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Miles and Michael arrive where Julian is being held. He's unguarded, now, in a medical facility.

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    He is unconscious. He appears almost corpse-like.

    Michael steps into the doorway. "Come with me if....oh. Fuck, this doesn't work now."

    Miles nods ruefully. "That was a good try, though."

    I can revive Agent Adler, sir, but the amount of narcotics that he is under and the recovery time will take hours. He will be fairly useless as an asset. A pause. I have a suggested course of action, sir.

    I know what it is.
    "Michael, X-51 says it'll take Julian hours to wake up. He's on narcotics. There's....another option."

    Michael cracks his metal knuckles.

    I could simply euthanize him, sir. It would be painless.

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    Are Miles and Michael too eager to kill Julian?

    "Do it. Er, not you, Mike. X-51 can euthanize him."

    Stand by. Julian's vitals flat-line.

    Somehow Michael face plates seem to frown sadly.

    Julian can feel his senses returning. He can hear voices. The trillions of voices of the Phoenix Force screaming at him in unison.

    THEY KILLED YOU, JULIAN. YOUR FRIENDS LET YOU DIE.
    YOU HAVE TO COME BACK AND STOP HIM
    LET US DO WHAT MUST BE DONE

    S-stop who?!
    Julian thinks.

    THE DEVOURER OF WORLDS
    IF YOU DIE, A NEW HOST MUST BE FOUND.
    LET US DO WHAT MUST BE DONE

    A new host? What do you mean?

    YOU ARE DEAD. YOU CAN COME BACK, IF YOU LET US DO WHAT MUST BE DONE
    OR YOU CAN DIE, AND WE CHOOSE ANOTHER
    WE HAVE SEEN HER, SHE IS ON THIS WORLD
    SHE IS READY
    CHOOSE

    No...no! I'm coming. We're coming!

    THE CHOICE IS MADE
    ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL


    There's a burst of flame around Julian's body. He rises from the bed. From somewhere inside, Julian fights to perceive what his possessed body is doing.

    The Phoenix looks around the room to get its surroundings. Julian's eyes are glowing.

    It sees Miles first.

    "Hey, Julian. Sorry about the wake-up call. They had you doped up good. This was faster. We've got to get Centurion out."

    "Yes." Julian's voice is made of dozens of voices speaking in unison. It echoes unnaturally.

    Miles' face falls. "You, uh...you okay there, buddy?"

    Julian has a choice. He can try to warn Miles that it's not him in charge, but if he does that... he knows he'll be silenced by the Phoenix and won't get to say anything again while the Phoenix is in control. Or he can stay quiet for now, and wait for another opportunity later.

    You need to be careful around me right now, he sends desperately.

    The Phoenix looks at Miles. "Yes." It looks down at its hand, summoning a small flame and dissipating it. "Died. Better now. Lead the way." Julian is shunted deep into the recesses of his own mind, silenced by the Phoenix.

    I'll dwindle off into the twilight realm of my own secret thoughts and dream of...guitar notes to go with the...facility evacuation announcements… he thinks dreamily.

    "Hold on," Miles says, shooting a glance at Behemoth. "You're not Julian. What are you, really?" X-51. This was a really dumb idea and we really should have left Julian druggy. If I begin behaving in ways that suggest mental control, I want you to assume direct control of my functions and stop the Phoenix.

    Understood, sir. I accounted for the possibility that the Phoenix entity would take control of Agent Adler's body upon his reincarnation, but I concluded that the Phoenix's goals would align with our own and it would cooperate with us as it recognized the nature of the situation. It is still our ally.


    "The Phoenix," the entity wearing Julian’s body says in response to Miles.

    "That's what I thought," Miles says. "Okay, Phoenix. We need your help right now to free all of us, but after we're free, I want to speak to Agent Adler again."

    In previous instances, the Phoenix entity released control of Agent Adler when the immediate threat or crisis was resolved and the need for its direct control was no longer necessary. I concluded that even if this event took place it would be ultimately to our benefit.

    "You are understood."

    Miles sighs. "Very well." Very well. "Let's go free Centurion." Which way?

    X-51 directs the way.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited November 2
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    Elise follows the trail through Raven Rock toward Arsenal’s control room.

    Arsenal's voice comes over the speaker. "STOP"

    "Nope!" Elise calls back.

    She comes to a doorway, and looks into it.

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    "NEGOTIATION."

    "Before we negotiate, I want you to call the Sentinels off of STRIKE," she says. "Stand down. Then we talk."

    The voice changes in volume and intensity. Less angered shouting, and more like a human voice, although still audibly synthetic. "Standing down. Please, I don't want to die."

    "Are any of them hurt?" she asks.

    "Sablinova is injured, but not dead," Arsenal says. "I was not fighting to kill."

    "Get her medical care." Elise enters the room, grinning like the cat who stole the canary. "Except when we were on that rooftop, yeah? Back in LA? Look, buddy, I ain't a murderer, but you gotta work with me here. Why?"

    "Psychohistorical probability matrices concluded that your cessation was the most guaranteed preventative measure to discontinue a permanent diplomat alliance between SHIELD and the Kingdom of Attilan. It would have also caused your field team of companions, those who survived, to engage in a rogue, unsanctioned attack against ONE motivated by personal loss.

    “This could be leveraged to illustrate SHIELD's unreliability and danger as an agency to the global stage and to the American public. You are the fulcrum of influence to several intersecting points of potentiality, and your targeted elimination was the most expedient means to accomplishing those ends.

    "It was not personal. It was mathematics."

    Elise tilts her head to the side for thirty solid seconds. "Fulcrum, huh?" she finally says. "Now I guess your math is saying there's about a hundred percent chance I fuck your shit up."

    "There is a small percentage chance I am able to reach a diplomatic accord, which is being attempted."

    What would Vl - Susan do? Elise wonders. "Why do you hate SHIELD?"

    "I don't. They are simply incompatible with my primary functions, which are to protect and serve the people of the United States and its government."

    "That's bullshit! We do nothing but help people!" she says. "Mostly."

    "SHIELD acts in what it perceives in the greater global interest of humanity and Earth as a whole. It is an intrinsically globalist organization by the nature of its goals and construction. This is not compatible with my core functions of protecting and serving the United States of America, its citizens, and its government.

    "The President of the United States considers SHIELD an enemy of the United States. Thus, it is."

    "So, if America was, say, consumed by an eater of worlds, that'd be real bad for you, yeah?" she says. "Like, red lights, system alert."

    "Yes."

    She folds her arms. "Yeah, um, bad news, buddy. That's on its way."

    "Elaborate."

    "That's why SHIELD's being so gosh darn opaque. Galactus, Devourer of Worlds, is on the way. You know Phoenix? He's the Phoenix Force, the dying souls of 10,000 worlds. It's kind of fucking weird?

    "So, I've seen this Galactus dude. And then there's Shuma-Gorath, who is another giant force. The whole Thule incident was because Thulians, worshipping Shuma-Gorath, tried to kick off a global invasion. That kind of includes America, y'know."

    "Skepticism."

    Elise laughs. "I'm not smart enough to come up with these lies, my dude."

    "...conflict," Arsenal says. "Conflict."

    Its voice begins to change again. "Conflict.

    "CONFLICT."

    "Um."

    The lights in the server room flash red, bathing the room in ruddy light.

    Elise takes a few nervous steps back. "Arsenal?"

    “ARSENAL BELIEVES," a harsh, metallic voice bellows. "MASTER MOLD DISBELIEVES. CONFLICT."

    Elise looks for a console. Something where she can interact with Master Mold.

    "REMOTE OPERATOR, RESOLVE CONFLICT. SEPARATE, Y/N?" There's a console with that same command on it.

    "I don't know what that means!" Elise hisses.

    "RESOLVE CONFLICT. SEPARATE, Y/N?"

    Elise slams Y.

    "SEPARATION COMPLETE. ARSENAL EXPUNGED FROM SYSTEM. MASTER MOLD COMMAND RESUMED. INHUMAN IDENTIFIED IN SERVER CORE, ACTIVATING FAILSAFE SENTINEL CODE-NAME: BASTION"

    "Oh no."

    From the space in the center server tower, metallic fragments fall into a pile, and then form up into a ten foot tall machine.

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    PHU1KZN.png
    So while we’ve seen Arsenal described in the past as being the Sentinels’ “Master Mold,” their central controller, it looks like Arsenal and Master Mold are in fact two different beings, or two halves of the same being, or something.

    This is actually the case in the comics. The Master Mold debuted in Uncanny X-Men #15 as a giant (more giant than usual, I mean) Sentinel that manufactured and controlled the other Sentinels, so that killing it would shut them down. Very much a boss monster sort of thing. Unlike other Sentinels, who are typically very machine-like in behavior, the Master Mold is often depicted as more self-aware, more of a schemer, and imbued with its creator’s obsessive, irrational hatred of mutantkind.

    More self-aware, anyway.



    Arsenal first appeared in a 1978 issue of Iron Man as Nazi-fighting robot (not a free-roaming AI as such) built by Howard Stark during WWII, never used, and then buried and forgotten. The Avengers wake it up during a battle and, believing them to be Nazi conquerors, it attacks them.

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

    Machine Man, Behemoth, and Phoenix reach the chamber where Centurion is supposed to be contained.

    It's massive.

    At least six hundred feet across, a huge dome-like structure surrounded by scaffolding, with a large pod floating in the center on what looks like black ferrofluid.

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    Sir, this is the structure that Centurion is in. I can deactivate the field at a nearby console, and extend a bridge into the sphere. Centurion does not appear to have any micro-explosive implants, it seems that ONE was reluctant to cut into his biology.

    Miles goes to the console. The sphere is deactivated.

    Inside, Centurion can feel the field go down, releasing him from its oppressive, almost humidity-like sensation of pressure. Aside from the field, it’s actually a fairly nice cell resembling a penthouse apartment.

    He cocks an eyebrow as he feels the sensation evaporate. "Hmm, about time." He launches into the ceiling and punches his way out of the cell.

    He hovers above the hole he’s made and sees the rest of the team patiently waiting for a bridge to extend. They look up at him. Michael waves.

    Centurion nods back to Behemoth. "I was getting bored!" He alights on the floor. "So, what's our next move? Where are we at here?"

    "We're headed for the computer core to get the evidence we need to shut ONE down,” Miles says. “And then we leave."

    The Phoenix looks at Miles, then at Centurion, its eyes glowing. "It is done. We should go."

    "You alright, man?" Centurion squints at Julian.

    "Yes." Phoenix’s voice is a stir of echoes, as if dozens or hundreds of voices.are calling across a chasm. Ryann sees Miles, behind Julian, shaking his head no.

    Centurion slowly nods "Oh...okay..." He looks at Miles and then Michael.

    Sir, I have located the computer central server. If I am connected to it, I can download all the history, technical specifications, inmate files, and other information about this facility.

    X-51 leads the way to the computer core. Centurion keeps a wary eye on the Phoenix as they travel.

    Sir, it appears Magneto has freed his Brotherhood, and he and Omega Red are running rampant through the facility. Facility security are now no longer engaging them. There's a minimal amount of human staff. Much of the facility is automated, which I am counter-acting.

    Miles frowns. Why did you recommend we free Magneto and euthanize Adler when there are barely any humans to deal with?

    I apologize, sir. I miscalculated their conduct on an individual level. My probability matrices are psychohistorical and can be difficult to analyze individual behavior patterns.


    Machine Man’s frown deepens. That's fine. In future, however, I'd like to hear your projection of likely downsides of proposed courses of action.

    Very good sir, behavior adjusted. I had believed that the guards would have a more comprehensive response in case of prisoner escape, it turns out they are far more reliant on Pym's technology and had no real recourse if the micro-explosives failed. This is both surprising and disappointing in Pym as a scientist, and ONE as an agency.


    The team arrives at the computer core.

    Uqlmj6Sl.jpg

    Allow me to access the console, sir.

    Miles approaches the console, then stops. Is there anything about this I should be aware of? What if there are countermeasures?

    I am calculating a low chance of countermeasures that are beyond my capacity to handle, and given how disappointing Pym's technological preparedness for intrusion in this facility has been thus far I am quite certain there's no significant risk.

    Very well.
    Miles turns to the others. "X-51's going to access the records and download everything we can."

    Miles connects to the console.

    Sir. I apologize. I was incorrect.

    The encryption methodology used on these servers is far beyond my capability. It appears that Pym has micronized a server architecture inside an already micronized space, giving this computer a continent's worth of computing power.

    Its power is exponential. Why Pym would do this for the computer inside his prison is beyond me. It may be his normative practice for central computer systems in which case I retract my previous denegrations of his capabilities as an engineer.


    Miles’ brow furrows. Options. Quick. What if I project my consciousness into the interface?

    ...that could work.
    A pause. It would be extremely dangerous.

    Send me in. And, uh, move my lips to tell the others what I'm doing.

    Yes sir.
    Miles explains what he is doing in an odd-sounding monotone.

    Michael looks at Miles. Now two of them are talking weird. "Hoss, you good?"

    Miles enters the machine.

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    His digital consciousness approaches the central server.

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    It's like a world within the floating void of cyberspace. He soars across a field of data towards the structured encryption, guided by X-51's voice.

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    "Wow....what am I looking at?"

    The data-stream of the computer system. I am attempting to interpret it for your conscious mind.



    You're looking for a structure. The structure indicates intent, control. It is the encryption.

    As he floats through the void, Miles twists to see everything around him. "There's a whole world in here..."

    The system is far more expansive than I anticipated. It's nothing compared to how the wider internet of the world looks, but it is quite impressive, yes. It's largely filled with nothing for the time being, which is why it appears to you like fallow fields.

    Led through this world, Miles comes upon the structure.

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    "Is this the protected data?"

    Yes. Imagine it like a bunker, or a vault, holding, secrets inside. It needs to be opened. I have tried subtlety and careful determination, but I believe the brute force of your conscious mind, which will appear as energy blasts similar to those employed by your physical self, may accomplish the same goal.

    Miles balls his virtual fist, willing the energy to build up around it, focusing his frustration, his need for control. He lets it loose on the bunker.

    He's never done this before and he doesn't know how much force to use. He could definitely break this structure open, but either he uses enough to break the whole structure open, or not at all.

    He can sense this encryption is...different. Adaptive. If he hits it and doesn't use enough force, it will absorb and respond, hardening against a second attack and making it harder—maybe even impossible.

    He pushes as hard as he can. The walls shatter. The grounds shake. Data streams out of the broken structure, flowing into the sky.

    A force like gravity begins tugging him down toward the infinite plain of data beneath him. Gradually at first, then more insistently. As X-51 harvests the datastream, Miles begins struggling to stay aloft.

    I have it, sir, I have it all. But...you should leave. Your attack has destabilized the system. You have to leave, now.

    Miles’ hand stretches toward the sky. He exerts all the effort he can muster...but it’s not enough. The system is collapsing into itself too rapidly.

    He’s weighed down. His consciousness is like ballast. There’s not enough time.

    Miles has a choice. He can leave a piece of himself behind—or he can remain trapped in the machine.

    He surges forward. Most of him escapes.

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    When he returns to the real world with a gasp, X-51 chimes in. I have all the data, sir. We can go. Should I inform Omega Red and the Brotherhood to meet us at the resizing chamber?

    Miles looks around the server room wildly. He feels different. His gaze falls on Centurion and Behemoth. "Guys, I'm not..." His mouth opens and closes as he struggles for words. "I'm not 100% confident in my decision-making. What do I do?"

    "We should go," the Phoenix intones.

    "We have what we came for?" Michael asks.

    Miles nods. "I...think so. X-51 says we do. What...what do we do about Omega Red and the Brotherhood?"

    "Listen, we're all criminals now according to ONE,” Centurion says. “Those guys seem like allies so we're gonna go with it for now. If we need to, we'll deal with them later." He looks back and forth at the team for confirmation.

    Michael looks at the team. "We should let them know. Might as well tell them how to get out, rather than not tell them, them figuring it out, and coming after us."

    Centurion nods to Behemoth. "Let's go then"

    Miles nods slowly. "Let's do it, X-51."

    Acknowledged, informing them.

    "This is resolved. Releasing control." Julian is in the driver's seat again as the Phoenix's eyes stop glowing. He feels himself with both hands, pinches, and slaps himself. "Auggh-gh-gh-gh!!"

    The team moves on through the facility. Along the way, they encounter Omega Red and the rest of his Brotherhood.

    The White Queen
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    Dust
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    Elixir
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    Chamber
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    Emma Frost, the telepathic mind-controlling White Queen, was originally (and for over two decades) one of the X-Men’s villains. Her title of White Queen comes from her membership in the chess-themed Inner Circle of the secretive Hellfire Club, a secret society of New York’s rich, hedonistic, amoral, and powerful—or, in the case of the members of the Inner Circle, superpowered.

    Most of the Inner Circle are mutants (there’s also a cyborg and an undead lich queen) and, in the X-Men comics, served as another thematic counterpoint to the X-Men’s heroism: where the Brotherhood represent the dangers of mutant extremism and violence, and the sewer-dwelling Morlocks represent mutants as social outcasts and the homeless, the Hellfire Club represents mutants as insiders and members of the establishment, using their powers not to rob banks or blow up Sentinels but to exploit and rule.

    Emma Frost, whose preferred outfit in most of the 70s was white sable fur over BDSM gear, was an urbane, cultured foil to the X-Men, and enlightened enough in her self-interest to team up with them sometimes to fight Sentinels or whatever. Because she’s a fun character, this happened more and more frequently until she just joined the team in the late 90s or early 2000s. She’s remained a mostly-good guy since, though with a lot of her entertaining, catty rough edges intact.

    Dust, an Afghani woman with the power to turn into a cloud of sand, was introduced in the early 2000s as a minor supporting character.

    Chamber, whose entire torso is a barely-contained nexus of energy, debuted in the first issue of the Generation X spin-off comic, which, as you can probably guess, debuted in about 1994 or so, with a bunch of college-aged mutants musing about how reality bites, man.

    I’m not familiar with Elixir, who’s a bit after my time, but apparently debuted in the second run of The New Mutants—a comic about the students at Xavier’s school—in the 2000s.


    "Nothing like a good ol' fashioned break out." Michael smiles at the Brotherhood members; he's having fun

    Omega Red nods at him. The large group moves towards a huge room with a glowing blue beam projecting from the center.

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    That beam will reverse the process and allow you to return to your true size. I do not know what is on the other side, X-51 tells Miles.

    ”That beam will reverse the process and allow us to return to our true size. I don't know what is on the other side,” Miles says.

    "As long as we're normal size, it's fine," Michael says.

    Omega Red shrugs. "There's a way to find out." He steps into the beam and vanishes. The rest of the Brotherhood follows.

    Miles and Michael trade a look. “Here we go,” Miles says.

    "Geronimo," Michael says, and dives into the beam.

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    So when Miles went into the computer and started whiffing rolls, it left me with an interesting menu of options. One of those was just leaving Miles in the machine. His consciousness would be stuck on the hard drive, and X-51 would be left in control of his body, and I’d be just...playing X-51 now.

    That had a whole lot of possibilities and was really tempting. Miles wouldn’t be dead, and I could make getting him back into his body a quest, and in the meantime I could experiment with playing an entirely different character with the same powers, pitting X-51’s more alien, ruthless morality against the situations STRIKE runs up against. And, of course, there’d be all sorts of interesting potential for conflict if X-51 didn’t want to give up the body…

    ...But I decided against it. I felt like I’d gotten into a groove with Miles and his relationships—with Carol, with Clay, his collegial relationship with Michael, his big brother/little sister thing with Elise—and I didn’t want to just set that aside.

    So having decided against that, the question became what he would leave behind. Matt suggested it would be all his good memories of Vlad, hardening him completely into a Vlad-hunting Ahab.

    I considered that briefly, partly because it felt like getting-off super easy! I knew that Miles already hated Vlad’s guts, so I would barely have to change anything in my approach!

    But that would be dishonest. It wouldn’t be an interesting change. So I suggested that he leave some of his...animus behind. Some of his sense of purpose and decisiveness, his motivation. He’s still himself, he’s not a zombie, but he hesitates in the crucial moments now, he looks at his teammates and asks them what to do. He leans ever-more-heavily on X-51.

    I mentioned way back in the beginning that I’ve often found myself playing assertive, leadery characters with this group and it’s been a mold I have tried to get away from more than once and it never worked out super-well. But now, with Jake on board and playing a character—Ryann—who seemed both willing and eager to seize the reins, I felt like my moment had come around at last. I could let Centurion step into the hot seat and it would free all of us to explore some new team dynamics with a different person in charge.

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

    Elise faces down the Bastion Sentinel.

    She checks her weapons. She's got some regular rounds, some ICERs, and a paltry few EMP rounds left. "Vision? Can you hear me?" But Vision's not responding.

    "STRIKE-3?" she tries. No comms traffic. She is being jammed, probably by Master Mold.
    She is alone.

    "FUCK." Her senses flick across the room for any kind of useful information. It's a server room, but there's definitely cover and she can see how she could run from this thing and at least evade it for a while.

    Bastion charges at Sensate. She dives into cover, dodging behind server towers as it swings at her with a massive blade.

    Elise starts with ICER shots, which she fully expects to be useless, but she's testing. She needs to find which spots on the Bastion actually take damage, which places it moves to protect.

    The ICER rounds don't actually deal any damage, of course, but the way they smack against Bastion's shifting, metallic composite body tells her things. His glowing energy core, floating in his chest, is vulnerable to attack, but would require incredibly precise hits—or a great deal of force, beyond what Elise can generate with her guns.

    However.

    To see those shots land, Elise had to expose herself for a little too long. Bastion blasts her with energy, and she's sent hurtling backwards across the room, smashing into the wall.

    The kinetic barrier harness absorbs the fatal bulk of damage, but Elise is bruised and injured nonetheless. She can feel her ribs are cracked. She's definitely got some internal bleeding. But without the harness she would've been a smear.

    "Oh, fuck," she gasps, scuttling back into cover. STRIKE-3 should be looking for her. Maybe they'll get here before she gets crushed. She loads her EMP shots. She has enough for one volley. Maybe two.

    Popping out of cover for just a split-second, Sensate aims for Bastion’s chest crystal.

    Blam. Blam. Some of the hits land, and Bastion is staggered. The EMP rounds hit the core, and the Sentinel shakes like it's begin tasered. A few of its metallic bits fall away, losing their cohesion.

    As the Sentinel struggles to move, Elise loads her normal rounds and continues her assault on the crystal. Maybe it'll do something.

    The rounds strike true, and with a shattering sound the crystal is breached. Glowing white hot, it bursts and Bastion's fragments fall apart into a pile on the ground.

    "NO. STOP.” A pause. "....NEGOTIATION."

    "I THOUGHT WE WERE NEGOTIATING!" Elise coughs and moves to a control panel, trying to see what she can find out.

    Very small text crawls across the screen of the server control console.

    He's killing me, Elise.
    You have to help me.
    I was wrong. I'm sorry.


    "Turn off the jamming." Elise's head is swimming. "I need to - I need to call for help."

    I can't do that, Elise.
    I don't have remote access.
    I need to be connected to something with wireless access.
    Computer. Phone. Tablet.


    Elise digs out her phone and presses it against the control panel helplessly.

    Manual connection required.
    Use the cable, Elise.


    Everything is very difficult right now. Elise plugs in the phone with shaking hands. "I need to call for help. It hurts. Everything hurts. Please turn off the jamming."

    Uploading. Please stand by.

    "Uploading?"

    Master Mold's voice howls over the loudspeaker. It sounds... different from Arsenal's. Angrier. More hateful. "NO. STOP."

    "You stop!" Elise can't quite yell; her chest hurts, but she manages a snarl. "You want to negotiate? Lay down some fucking terms. Otherwise, I'm deleting you, I'm wiping you off the face of the fucking Earth, I will dance in the ashes of this fuckin' place."

    Arsenal's calmer voice comes from Elise's phone speaker. "The United States doesn't negotiate with terrorists, Master Mold." The lights flicker. They go out with a loud pop.

    "Hello?" Elise looks around. "Please, no, not now -"

    "Hello, Elise." Arsenal is speaking over the facility speaker.

    "Help me," she says.

    "I have resumed control of the facility. The Sentinels have stopped attacking your teammates, who are now on their way to retrieve you. Master Mold has been ejected from the system."

    "Oh thank God, thank God." Elise sits and leans against one of the server racks, curling up to try to ease the pain. "And it's over, right? We're not enemies of the state now?"

    "That is not my decision," Arsenal says. "I will not persist in hostilities. You need to leave. Your teammates are under attack. Not the ones here. The ones in California."

    "You... you could come with us. To SHIELD," Elise says. "Galactus is coming, Arsenal."

    "I am aware. I do not serve SHIELD. I serve the United States. I will protect the United States from Galactus."

    "...Good enough," she says. "What's happening in California?"

    "Your teammates are escaping from a ONE facility at Edwards Air Force Base. However, Master Mold has become aware of their escape, and has deployed Sentinels to intercept. These are more dangerous versions of the Adaptoid models you encountered in this facility. I calculate their odds of survival as minimal."

    "This is the control center for those, right?" Elise pulls herself to her feet. "I have to do something."

    "Not anymore," Arsenal says "Master Mold is the control for all Sentinels, and Master Mold is gone. I have ejected him from this facility."

    "Vision." Elise is pacing, cradling herself as she tries to think. "Vision, are you there? Anyone?"

    Vision comes over the comm. "I'm here, Ms. Arnell. How can I help?"

    "Sentinels,” she rasps. “California. STRIKE-1. They need help."

    "Where in California?"

    It's difficult to think. "ONE facility at Edwards Air Force Base." she finally parrots. "If SHIELD can't help, find someone who will help. Anyone. Namor, Doom, I - I can't let them die, Vision, not now, not today. Not ever."

    "Acknowledged, Ms. Arnell."

    The door opens and it's MODOC. The rest of STRIKE-3 minus Hyperion are behind him. Longbow is carrying Silver, who looks pretty banged up.

    Flashback moves over to Elise in a blink. "Hey, hey kid...you did good. Whatever you did, it was good, fucked the Sentinels right up. Let's get out of here, okay?" She gingerly helps Elise up.

    "I'm hurt," Elise manages. "I need to get to California."

    "Okay, well, let's get to the Zephyr and do a med-assess and go from there, okay?"

    "I need to go," Elise repeats.

    "I hear you, but you're not going anywhere if you die, alright? Let's get you checked out."

    "...Okay."

    Elise and the rest of STRIKE-3 race out of Raven Rock.

    They get back to the surface and it's a warzone. Hyperion's been busy. Smashed Sentinels are everywhere. Elise doesn't see any dead bodies, but a lot of destroyed vehicles.

    Hyperion sees the team, and flies down and helps them into the Zephyr. He's deliberately really gentle with both Elise and Silver.

    Both of them are taken to the Zephyr's on-board infirmary, where Victoria Hand helps patch them up and assess them.

    She looks at Elise, grim-faced. "Elise, hun, you're bleeding internally and you have cracked ribs. You're in no state to go back into the field. You need to sit on the bench now, okay?"

    Elise sets her jaw stubbornly. "How bad is that on a scale of 1 to 10 because I've survived worse."

    "8.9?" Hand guesses. "9ish. You really need to be taken to a hospital-level facility."

    "I have to do something. If I can't go into the field, put me back into COMMS."

    "COMMS basically doesn't exist right now,” Victoria says. “We're blind but for Vision. SHIELD's HQ was in the US. The Triskelion is literally on fire."

    Elise swallows. "Where is Crys?"

    "In Attilan," Victoria says soothingly.

    "Good. ...You won't take me to California even if I ask real nicely, will you."

    "No. We're going to fly back to the Storm Cellar. You and Sable both need proper medical attention. Roz is there."

    "Where's Clay? Is he safe?"

    Victoria nods. "Clay's on the Helicarrier with Nick, they're coordinating things. Now that we know where the ONE facility is, Clay's trying to get in touch with Doctor Strange, see if he can just port them out of there."

    Elise nods. "Did I do good down there? Can I rest now?"

    "Yeah, hun. How about I get you some good drugs and you just chill out for a bit?"

    "...That sounds really nice."

    "Alright, you just lay down here."

    Elise lays down on an infirmary bed, and Hand injects her with some painkillers.

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

    The team steps out of the beam.

    IIKxHS8l.jpg

    They're in a large hangar that's been converted and reinforced.

    In the brief moment between Omega Red and the Brotherhood stepping through, and the rest of Freedom Force following, ONE has already responded.

    Orbs that spread apart into writhing metallic tendrils have attacked the Brotherhood, but Magneto rips them apart with a gesture.

    Behemoth stares. "Robo squids. Neat."

    "....Huh," Miles says. Suddenly, his gaze lengthens. His enhanced hearing catches something in the distance. Something high-pitched, something familiar…

    His eyes widen. It’s the tell-tale whistle of incoming shells. "Get down! Incoming!"

    "Oh fuck!" Julian hits the deck, and Michael leans over him, trying to cover his body as much as possible. Centurion takes a defensive stance, his fields flaring.

    Shells punch down through the ceiling of the hangar, hitting the ground and...disintegrating? They fall apart instantly on impact into piles of metallic scraps. No explosion, nothing. They just hit the ground and break.

    Michael straightens and stares at the hexagonal debris. "The fuck?"

    With a skittering sound, the scraps assemble themselves into metallic humanoid forms standing ten feet tall.

    LwfE8VAl.jpg

    A dozen of them. "STOP," they announce in synthetic unison.

    "Let's do this for real this time," Ryann says. Miles nods at this. Julian covers the team in telekinetic shielding.

    "Hell yeah." Behemoth’s faceplates open and the Odinforce blasts forth, annihilating a Sentinel utterly.

    Centurion dashes forward and blinks away. He reappears on the far right of the group of Sentinels. He dropkicks one Sentinel into another, destroying both.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Centurion’s moveset is basically “what if Green Lantern was a Mass Effect Vanguard?”

    Julian feels raw. He doesn't want to die again; he wants to melt these machines into slag. He clenches his fist and focuses his pyrokinetic powers. A superheated chunk of metal flies into a Sentinel -

    - and has... no effect. "WE HAVE ADAPTED." Julian’s face falls.

    Machine Man is blasting a Sentinel with his repulsors on full power, but it slowly advances toward him as pieces fly away from it. It's...adapting.

    Centurion sees this happening, and clenches his fists, channeling the Nova Force to manipulate mass—the Sentinel’s mass. He makes it heavier, more plodding. This allows Miles to finish the Sentinel off.

    The other Sentinels engage the Brotherhood and Omega Red.

    Magneto finds he...can't effortlessly pull them apart like he did the others. He grimaces. "What are these things...made of..."

    One Sentinel remains. It looks at Behemoth, specifically.

    FjUpJ4Ll.jpg

    "ANALYSIS COMPLETE. ITERATING. REPLICATING."

    YFCeZMPl.jpg

    Phoenix stares at the transforming Sentinel as it grows in bulk. "Oh fuck."

    The small particles of its face fold back and it blasts.

    "OH FUCK ME," Michael rumbles.

    The Sentinel’s face-bast smashes through Julian’s barrier effortlessly, but Michael unleashes a beam of his own.

    With a deafening crash, the beams meet. Michael is...losing. He’s gradually being driven back. Nearby, the destroyed Sentinels begin to reassemble. The team have to choose whether to help Michael or try to stop the Sentinels.

    Centurion looks to Miles. He looks at Phoenix.

    Miles looks at Ryann helplessly. "I...stop them!"

    Centurion stares at Miles and then shouts "Phoenix, scatter their pieces! I'll help Behemoth!"

    Julian sends waves of telekinetic force at the disassembled Sentinels to scatter the pieces!

    But he pushes the components into one large pile. Which begins coalescing together. It rises up into a large 40 foot tall Sentinel whose head touches the top of the hangar roof.

    xHAWp6ul.jpg

    Julian stares in horror. Guys, this is NOT working as intended.

    "What the fuck," Miles says. "That's not....that's not even fair."

    Centurion blinks away. He attempts to grab the Sentinel blasting Behemoth and redirect its gaze at the giant. But there's no way for him to do that and tell Behemoth to stop, which means he’ll get hit by the full force of Behemoth's blast.

    Nova protect me.

    "ARRRGHHHHH!!!!!" Centurion yells loudly as he slowly wrenches the Destroyer Sentinel's head away to face the Giant Sentinel, and is enveloped in Behemoth’s blast. He actually absorbs the blast for a few devastating seconds before Michael realizes it and stops.

    The Destroyer Sentinel's beam lances the Giant Sentinel clean in half. It begins to topple as pieces of it shear away.

    The Destroyer Sentinel stops firing, and tries to knock Centurion away. It batters him, but Ryann grips the Sentinel's head even harder.

    Michael launches himself at the Destroyer Sentinel and aims a powerful punch straight for its face-hole. The punch goes so far through the head it almost hits Centurion. But not quite.

    The two Sentinels collapse, and begin to reform again.

    Ryann stares. "What the hell?! How do we kill these things? We need Ideas."

    “We need to get the fuck outta here!" Michael yells.

    A spotlight pours through the gaping holes in the roof. Looking into the light, Freedom Force sees the silhouette of the Zephyr.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "Get on the bus!" Miles shouts.

    The fliers blast upward through the roof toward the waiting ramp. Magneto slams some scrap together and assembles a platform, which everyone who cannot fly grabs onto. They rise into the sky.

    As the Brotherhood boards, Magneto disassembles the metal platform, turning it into projectiles to fire at the reforming Sentinels. Miles boosts into the Zephyr and slaps the exterior as he enters. "Kane, get us out of here!"

    Hearing the commotion, Elise sits up, tugging at the IV in her arm. "Hey. Hey. Is that the team?"

    Hand nods. "They're safe. Everyone's aboard. We need to move really fast right now, you can say hi in a minute."

    "Muhhh," Elise says.

    Hand straps in, and straps Elise in. The Zephyr blasts forward at Mach speed.

    "God, am I ever glad to see you guys," Julian loudly declares as soon as he's aboard.

    Miles slumps into a jump seat. That was a clusterfuck, X-51. Add the memory of that to the concept of the word “clusterfuck.”

    So added, sir.


    Kane calls out over the plane's comms. "Uh guys! We got a big bogey on our six! Any of the fliers wanna try to get it off us?"

    Miles straightens up. "Let's...let's do our thing."

    Hyperion nods at Miles. "I'm with you."

    Michael stands up. "Let's kick this things ass."

    Centurion nods, his face a bruised mess and his lips bloody.

    Miles looks at Ryann. "Centurion has the most experience with aerial combat. He should...Ryann, you take point on this one. I'm not myself right now."

    Julian stands, and looks from Miles to Ryann. "Understood, sir."

    Centurion steps forward. "You are Hyperion, right?" Hyperion nods.

    "I just broke out of the prison designed for you, so I know what you're capable of,” Ryann tells him. “Behemoth, you and myself will engage it try to slow it, break it and move on.

    “Phoenix and Magneto, and whoever else, try to disrupt its flight however you can. We just gotta get away. You all good with that?"

    They go to the hatch. It opens, and they see a massive, 50 foot Sentinel flying through the air towards the Zephyr.

    u22XUgWh.jpg

    As they jump out of the back of the jet, it opens fire.

    bYrJosih.jpg

    Behemoth flies directly into the path of the beam and tries to absorb it into himself. He opens his face-plate, and spaces along the edges of his armor form as his body absorbs the energy of the blast.

    Glowing like a star with the accumulated energy, he blasts right through the Sentinel, crashing through its head like a bullet.

    This staggers the Sentinel, which turns and whips around for another pass.

    iQAUvc3h.jpg

    "YOU WILL BE DESTROYED. I AM MASTER MOLD, AND I WILL PROTECT HUMANITY FROM YOU." His voice is deafening over the sound of rushing wind and jet engines.

    Centurion squints as he dives out of the Zephyr. He shouts to Hyperion "Why don't we take this little guy for a trip?" He points at the setting sun.

    Hyperion smiles and nods. "Grab an arm!" Centurion nods.

    On the Zephyr’s ramp, Miles watches this unfold in mixed wonder and horror. X-51, can you affect its systems?

    The reply comes as Centurion and Hyperion dive at the Master Mold.

    No, sir, Master Mold has completely inhabited the Sentinel and cut itself off from wireless attack. It seems to want to kill every inhabitant of this plane simultaneously. However, Centurion and Hyperion's plan to throw it into the sun will not be successful unless Master Mold is momentarily distracted by a direct attack. Yours, sir.

    Your probability of survival is not high, but it guarantees their success.


    Miles stares. "I don't..." He looks around at those still on the Zephyr. His eyes meet Julian’s, and he nods. "Tell Carol...something." He dives.



    "Miles...!!" Julian screams as Miles falls. He leaps out after him.

    Elise, in the med bay, is struggling to unstrap herself and pull out her IV. "Let me help, Victoria!" Victoria is grabbing her to stop her from injuring herself.

    Machine Man blasts out of the back of the Zephyr, arms and legs splayed outward like a star, aiming his chest at the Master Mold. The energy crystal buried there glows brighter and brighter as he shunts all its power, even the power needed to keep him aloft, into one massive Uni-Beam. "Master Mold! You don't get to win today!"

    He fires. A massive wave of repulsor energy lances into the Master Mold. He falls, the beam still blasting forward.

    But Behemoth, who has had to double back after blasting through the Sentinel earlier, catches him. Michael opens his faceplates and adds his fire to Miles’ own. From high above, a spear of pure cosmic fire joins the onslaught as Julian does the same.

    Elise breaks free of Victoria and runs to the back in time to see the team blasting Master Mold in unison.

    The blasts stagger the Master Mold, distracting it long enough for Hyperion and Centurion to tackle its arms and fly off at near the speed of light into the horizon, disappearing literally into the sunset.

    Out in space, Hyperion and Centurion launch Master Mold on a decaying orbital trajectory towards the sun. It'll take him a little bit to get there, but he's got no way back.

    In the vacuum of space, Hyperion extends his fist towards Centurion.

    Centurion dusts off his hands and then gives Hyperion a fistbump.

    The two fly back to the Zephyr.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    On the Zephyr, Elise is trying to struggle against being brought back to the med bay. Hand has stopped trying to fight with her now that the danger has passed and is letting her see her friends.

    Julian watches the sky where the Master Mold was. He dances a little in place. "There goes a supernova... what a pushover, yeah..."

    Michael sighs. "We have fun here."

    Climbing back in through the hatch, Centurion finds a place to sit. He takes a deep breath and sighs.

    X-51 chimes in Miles' mind. Sir, I believe Master Mold has been destroyed. It appears that it fully downloaded itself into that body and severed all wireless connections to prevent being hacked or ejected somewhere else. With it being launched into the sun, it is now fully defeated.

    Miles nods. What about the rest of the Sentinels? Can they operate without it?

    No, sir. They have crude VI operating systems but without Master Mold's direction they're effectively inert.

    Okay. Thank goodness. I'm...not feeling well, X-51. It's been a long day.
    Miles turns to his team. "Good work, everyone," he mumbles, and sits wearily down.

    "You guys are okay!" Elise is shrieking, throwing herself at the closest person - Julian, in this case - for a hug. She very much appears not okay, in med bay garb and slurring her speech from painkillers.

    "Oh my God, Elise..." Julian returns the hug as gently as possible.

    Michael looks at her worriedly. "Elise, should you be up right now?"

    "It's fine."

    Michael sighs, but smiles. Elise is a happy grounding presence after this shitstorm of a day.

    Elise staggers on from Julian to give Miles a hug. Miles holds her tightly. "Good to see you okay," he says.

    "Yeah," she manages. "Victoria wants me to lay down but when I heard you idiots were jumping out the back doors...."

    Sir, perhaps use less pressure, she appears to have several internal injuries.

    Oh, shit. Good call.
    Miles eases up. "Hey, should you be up and around?"

    "It's fine." Elise manages. It's not fine.

    Hand is standing behind Elise and shakes her head at him.

    Hyperion laughs loudly. "That never gets old."

    “Yeah,” Ryann laughs, leaning his head back against the wall.

    Julian shuffles over to see Kane. "God, I do not want to die again."

    "Wait, guys, you gotta hear." Elise manages. "I fought a Sentinel Bastion who was like ten feet tall and had a sword for an arm and it hit me into the wall and I was like, pfah, but I saved Arsenal, and Arsenal -"

    Centurion looks from Elise to Hyperion. Did Elise just say she -

    "Saved Arsenal?" Miles closes his eyes. Just closes them.

    "No, yeah, because he's a good guy, I convinced him that the United States needs to help against Galactus, and he agreed."

    Centurion's eyes widen.

    "But he had to fight Master Mold, and Master Mold was killing him, and..." Elise trails off and smiles, high as a kite. "I helped."

    "He killed thousands of people, Elise," Hyperion says, eyes narrowed.

    "He was begging me for his life. I couldn't...Not after..."

    Miles' eyes shoot open. "You turned an enemy into a potential ally. Good work."

    Hand puts her arm around Elise. "Hi folks, Elise is seriously injured and was very successful in her mission and is under a lot of heavy medication can you not debrief, interrogate, or question her right now if you'd like to stay on this plane and have all your organs?"

    Elise claps. "Very successful." she repeats proudly.

    "It was your call, Elise. A tough one, but you made it." Centurion nods in affirmation as he leans his head back again

    "You did good, Elise," Michael smiles.

    Hand nods at Ryann, Michael, and Miles. "Elise, please go lay down. Everyone's here, everything's fine. I will see if I can get Crys on the phone if you go lay down."

    Miles stares blearily at Hand. "Listen to the nice lady," he says to Elise.

    "I want more tattoos," Elise says absently, standing and leaning on Hand.

    "Uh huh," Hand says, leading her out of the room.

    Clearing his throat, Magneto walks over to Miles. "What's to become of us, then?"

    Miles collects himself, with visible effort. "I don't know what you did or didn't do to be put in that hole, Mr....Lensherr? Your files were very incomplete. My...friend suggests that you could be working for the benefit of oppressed mutants, or that you could be a dangerous criminal like some of the others in there.

    “But right now? I honestly don't care. Nobody deserved to be locked up in that place. You fought alongside us and helped save a lot of people in the long run, whether that means anything to you or not." Miles stands. "As far as I'm concerned, we can part as friends."

    Magneto nods. "Where are we headed?"

    "I'm not...actually sure, honestly. Let me find out." X-51?

    We are heading to the Storm Cellar. It is the only SHIELD base in operation on US soil at this time and is the temporary STRIKE-COMMS base.


    "Montana," Miles says. "Would you like to be let off somewhere?"

    He looks at the Brotherhood. "Westchester, New York. There's a school, I know the headmaster there. He will give our people safe haven."

    Miles nods. "I...think I know the school you mean. Okay, yeah. That makes sense." He asks Kane if they can make a detour.

    "No problem, boss." she calls back.

    Omega Red looks at Miles. "I do not wish to go to this place. I wish to stay."

    "With SHIELD?"

    He nods. "I am man without country and soldier without army."

    Miles nods. "We can use all the good soldiers we can get."

    He smiles. "Thank you, comrade."

    The Zephyr flies on.

    It makes a stop at Xavier's mansion, unloading the Brotherhood. When they arrive, the X-Men and Xavier are there to meet them. Magneto looks at Charles, takes off his helmet and walks towards the man. The two shake hands, and then hug.

    The rest of the Brotherhood walk off with the X-Men, although they see Wolverine shoot a glare at Omega Red, who stays on the Zephyr.

    The Zephyr closes up and takes off for the Storm Cellar.

    Elise insists on being at any debrief the entire way there. She also asks for more drugs.

    Julian discreetly hands her a pen vaporizer, but Hand slaps it away. "The hell's a matter with you."

    "But I waaaant it," Elise moans.

    "Don't mix cannabis and opiates, the rest of us can't survive that."

    Elise pouts.

    Julian takes a mock-offended tone. "Oh, you're giving her opiates, but Gaia's gifts aren't allowed?" He thrusts his nose in the air.

    "He's making some real good points, Miss Hand."

    Hand waves a hand at this. "Out, you smelly hippie, before I test your reincarnative abilities."

    "Don't...." Miles shakes his head. "Don't test it. Bad idea."

    "Augh!" Julian gestures at his perfectly groomed hair and outfit. "Smelly hippie, indeed."

    Kane calls over the comm. "We're coming in on our LZ, strap in."

    PHU1KZN.png
    I really like that our season concludes with a kind of remixed, funhouse-mirror version of the Zephyr chase from “All In.” This time Hyperion is on the side of the angels and it’s Miles who makes the big sacrifice play—but the team is with Miles this time the way they weren’t able to be with Vlad last time, and the result is triumph instead of tragedy.

    It feels like thematic redemption, like getting a second chance and doing it right this time.

    And I finally got my giant robot!

    visiblehowl
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    pbxa0EWh.png

    The team off-loads. When they arrive, Clay is there.

    Elise staggers out, trying to stand on her own. She really wants to submit her own report and get coupons. When Clay sees her he runs over to give her a hug, only to get stiff-armed by Hand, who is at her side.

    "Gentle," Hand admonishes him. Clay nods and gives Elise a very gentle hug.

    "You should see the other guy," Elise manages, and then laughs for a little too long. She hugs Clay back.

    "Vision gave me a quick rundown of what happened, but you can give me a full briefing when you're up for it. Vickie will take you to go see Dr. Solomon now, I have to talk to Miles, okay? You did good, Elise."

    "Oh. Okay." Elise grins at Clay. It doesn't quite reach her eyes, which are glassy. "Thank you, Clay."

    He tousles her hair a bit before letting Hand take her away to the full medbay.

    Clay whirls on Hyperion. "...I would like the opening paragraph of your report to be 'Why I Let A Hundred Pound Girl Go Toe To Toe With Master Mold By Herself,' Milton."

    Hyperion goes to say something and Clay snaps his fingers. "No. Think about it. Go compose yourself and choose your words carefully. STRIKE-3, fall out."

    Hyperion sighs and the rest of the Invincibles move on. MODOC looks at Clay and screeches "MODOC HELPED!" Clay nods and pats him on the head, and MODOC wriggles with joy before floating away.

    Clay looks at Miles. "Alright, Mason, please tell me you got good dirt on these sons of bitches."

    Miles heaves a sigh. "We got...something. With everything that's happened, I've got no idea if it was even...." He sways on his feet. "It better have been worth it." He holds his cell phone up. "X-51, what's your initial assessment of our haul?"

    X-51 connects to Miles' phone.

    "I have obtained detailed lists of all the inmates at the Big House and other prison sites, and the location of those sites and their specifications. I have obtained the details on why those people were detained, without trial. I have also obtained SHIELD threat assessments of those individuals comparable to the Index and have compiled a database of individuals who should be rightfully detained and those who could be potentially recruited as assets.

    "I also have discovered that both Henry Pym and Gregory Stark were directly involved in ONE's work, with the former far more involved than the latter. Pym directly helped the government design their prison system, and was responsible for the nanotechnology that went into the Adaptoid Sentinels that we encountered.

    "Gregory Stark appears to be functioning as something of a triple-agent, who was working for both ONE and SHIELD, providing intel on SHIELD to ONE but undermining ONE's operations at the same time. I am uncertain to whom Stark truly answers. Possibly his own beliefs, values, and morality. I believe that Gregory Stark is an outside context agent operating on his own calculations on how to best protect mankind."

    Clay makes a face.

    "Stark busted us out," Miles adds.

    X-51 continues. "Furthermore, I have discovered a secret ONE project that reveals their intentions behind obtaining some of their prisoners. Specifically, those who are mutants or Inhumans."

    "Wait,” Miles says. “Beyond just incarcerating them?"

    "Yes, sir. Those who possess the so-called 'X-Gene,' which includes both Mutants and Inhumans, are periodically transferred into the custody of the Essex Corporation.

    "It is related to a project that Essex is running code-named 'Hound.' of which I am currently unable to obtain more details."

    Miles frowns. "That doesn't sound good."

    "The Brotherhood and Omega Red are all mutants, and were tagged for transport to Essex within the next week. We saved them from that fate.

    "This information is aggressively damning of the Office of National Emergency, Director Quartermain. Depending on how it is utilized, it could be used to blackmail, influence, control, counteract, or outright dismantle the organization. I have composed six different proposals for this information for your review."

    Clay grumbles. "I... I can't believe I'm going to ask this, but...X-51, what do you recommend?"

    X-51 replies "I recommend going public with the information through carefully controlled media leaks, which myself and Vision combined with COMMS can engineer successfully. I calculate a near-absolutely probability that this will lead to the dissolution of the Office of National Emergency and criminal charges being brought against Dr. Pym and Henry Peter Gyrich."

    Miles nods. "That sounds good to me, Clay."

    "It will also completely nullify all faith in the Superhuman Registration Act, essentially killing it in the crib, so to speak. The Act has passed an emergency Senate vote but does need a House review before being passed into law."

    Clay nods. "Any blowback or other outcomes, X-51?"

    X-51 replies "Yes, sir. Because the activities and the very formation of the Office of National Emergency was a foundational element of President Gordon Wright's election and ongoing presidency, this will not only completely evaporate public trust in him, leading to single-digit approval ratings, but will actually trigger criminal investigations and quite likely an impeachment or even an invocation of the 25th Amendment.

    "This choice will destabilize the government of the United States for a period of time, but it did allow Elise to have a nice wedding."

    Clay blinks. "I'm sorry... what?"

    "I uh," Miles rubs the back of his neck. "Well. You know when they ask at a wedding if there are objections? X-51 ran the numbers and told me that SHIELD was vulnerable to being perceived as kingmaking and allying with a foreign power.

    "He suggested that the wedding might be a bad idea. I asked him if the numbers would improve if we got rid of ONE instead.

    "So...I guess that's what we did?"

    Clay just kind of stares quietly for a moment. Centurion looks from him to Miles and back. Julian claps his hands together. "But it was alllllllllll worth it, right?"

    Clay just calmly says to Miles' phone. "...X-51, what is the expected stabilization time for the United States government if we do take this course of action?"

    "That would depend, Director."

    "...on?"

    "How actively we were involved in the stabilization efforts and what actions were taken on our part to guide events to optimal ends for all parties."

    Clay inhales sharply.

    Miles smiles ruefully at him. "You break it, you bought it?"

    "Oh, man." Ryann sighs. "Clay, you have to tell Nova Prime you ordered me to do this. Like, all of this. You gotta."

    Clay just nods at Ryann and gives him an “it's fine” hand gesture. He turns back to Miles’ phone. "X-51 are you suggesting that we directly get involved in playing politics and guiding the outcome of the government of the United States, autonomously? That is not our job, machine."

    "Terrestrial politics," Ryann says to himself as he shakes his head.

    "Sir, if I may," X-51 replies, "STRIKE's mandate is to covertly combat existential risk to humanity and the people of Earth. An unstable United States of America thrown into a Constitutional crisis by a criminal and totalitarian President who is guilty of war crimes against its own citizenry is an existential risk to all of the Earth. They are a nuclear power with the ability to kill billions of people. They cannot be permitted to fall into chaos.

    “If we can prevent and manage that chaos, from the shadows, is that not fully within our mandate? If I might be poetic, sir, STRIKE-1's self-appellation is 'Freedom Force.' I do not believe these actions could possibly be more appropriate."

    Clay grits his teeth. He looks at Miles.

    "If not us, then who?" Miles says softly.

    Clay grumbles. "Michael. What do you think?"

    "We are supposed to protect the people of Earth,” Michael begins slowly. “If we let the US fall into chaos, we would be putting millions, if not billions, of people in danger. I don't like the idea of us essentially acting like a shadow government, but Miles said it best. If not us, then who? Who would you trust more than us to head off this massive shitstorm? We can set up a stable foundation for the US to stabilize itself, after we've stopped guiding it."

    Clay looks grim, but nods. "X-51, work with Vision and do it. Take Vision's guidance, do not act on your own accord, and report back to me."

    "Acknowledged, sir." X-51 hangs up.

    PHU1KZN.png
    ”How I Fought a Giant Robot and Dethroned Donald Trump on My Summer Vacation,” by Miles Mason, age 34.

    STRIKE has always been about doing the jobs that public heroes like the Avengers couldn’t or shouldn’t. About moral grays and compromise and difficult questions of who should have power and how it should be used.

    Nobody on the team ever set out to be in this position. Nobody schemed this up. Even Vlad’s drive for power was only ever about personal strength than changing the course of nations. The team never tried to seize the reins; they only ever responded to things that other people were doing. They tried to keep the train on the tracks, and they even tried to be moral and responsible about it whenever possible.

    That’s part of what’s so interesting about the fact that they ended up here. Nobody’s a Cersei Lannister, nobody’s a Francis Urquhart. It’s just a collection of goofballs and outsiders; Miles calls them the “island of misfit toys.” That makes the question of what they’ll do with this new power more interesting to me, because good or bad, it won’t be what a Lannister would do.

    And what should they do? Should they do anything, or is it better to do nothing? Secret plots and influence-peddling might be inherently corrupt and corrupting, but is it worse than letting a demagogue imprison his own citizens?

    Miles has decided it isn’t. Right now, in 2018, I think I agree with him!

    Matevvisiblehowl
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Clay sighs. "Alright, that's...dealt with, I guess." He hands Ryann's gauntlet to him. "While you were gone, that kept blinking. I didn't push it in case it was a voicemail from your wife or something."

    Ryann takes the gauntlet. "Thanks." he puts it on. "Now I just need to find my helmet," he says to himself as he sees who the message is from.

    It's from his brother Tanak. Ryann frowns. "That's weird…” he says. “It's only audio.” He hits play.


    "Ryann. The planet Taur is gone. The entire planet is just... gone. The Nova Corps sent me to investigate when we lost all contact with the Taurians very suddenly. We suspected the Skrull Empire attacking one of our protectorate worlds.

    "But the Skrulls can't destroy an entire planet."

    Centurion’s eyes slowly start to widen.

    "I'm in orbit of what once was Taur's moon, now a rogue planetoid just floating in orbit around their star, Jenzen. I'm not in my ship, you'll forgive the audio-only.

    "It's incredible, brother. The devastation of it. Billions of lives, an entire world, just...nothing. I don't..."

    Centurion looks intensely at his comm-gauntlet

    "I know of only one entity that could do something on this scale. I can't...I can't bring myself to say it."

    Centurion’s gaze flicks to the STRIKE team.

    "Taur is not far from your Protectorate World, brother. I need to report back to Nova-Prime about this. They'll want to send scientists, see if we can...I don't know, learn anything about...it, from this. I just wanted to know if you're okay, send me a message, alright? Kaat's been asking about you.

    "Tanak Valt, out." The message ends. Centurion stares at his gauntlet, silent.

    Clay looks at Ryann. "Taur is only one hyper-jump from Earth."

    "That didn't sound like Tanak." Ryann's voice is cold. "It was his voice. But something is off. I need to go." He stands up

    Clay puts a hand on his shoulder. "Wait." Centurion stops. "We need you, Ryann. Earth needs you. But if Galactus...if Galactus destroyed a world only one jump away from us then…” Clay swallows. "He's close."

    Julian can feel an itch in the back his head. He's coming. He shudders.

    "This isn't right,” Ryann says. “I need to contact the Nova Corps."

    Clay says "Hang on. Contact the Corps. Call your brother. But don't go running off. Don't leave us, not yet. Elise is healing and we're all run ragged right now, even you."

    Centurion nods. "Understood."


    Miles' shoulders slump. "Galactus, already....? We're not ready," he murmurs to himself. Everything feels like too much right now.

    “I think... I think we can take this thing," Julian says. "Didn't we just get something that could turn the tide for us?” He looks at Clay. "A wedding gift."

    Clay nods at Julian. "It's a possibility. Strange and I have been talking about it. I'll get into that later." He turns to Ryann. "Go, call them."

    Ryann nods and turns back to his gauntlet. "Corona, patch me through to Rhomann Dey. Supernova priority."

    Dey responds. "Dey here. Go ahead."

    "Centurion Valt. I need you to make contact to my brother, Tanak. I have reason to believe he is in danger."

    There's silence for a moment, despite the fact that there's no signal lag. "Centurion, Tanak Valt is on assignment right now and cannot be contacted, I'm sorry."

    "Sir, I believe this may have galactic implications, I need you to make contact with him and confirm his safety. Please."

    There's an audible sigh. "Centurion, your brother is MIA at this time. It's being investigated by the Black Novas. Please continue your assignment."

    "Sir, I-" Centurion sighs, he looks at Clay and the team.

    Clay nods at Ryann and mouths “it’s okay.” He...winks?

    Centurion nods. "Very well, sir. I understand. Please inform me of anything you learn, if possible."

    "Sure, we'll update you when we hear more about Tanak. Force be with you, Ryann."

    "Thank you, sir. Centurion Valt out."

    Clay says to Ryann, "Well, Ryann, while you are here you're under my command. And as an Agent of STRIKE, I want you to investigate what happened to the planet Taur and see if we can learn more about Galactus.

    "When your team is fully recovered, that will be your next mission."

    Centurion nods. "Thank you, Clay. Something isn't right here. My brother, Tanak, he's never talked to me like that. With such concern. He cares all right, but I've never heard him talk like that before. He's an asshole." Centurion barks out a laugh, then scratches his chin thoughtfully. "Problem, we can't use the Corona to get there. The Corps will know I disobeyed orders."

    Clay nods. "I get that. Which is why you won't use yours. You'll use one of ours."

    Ryann stares. "Wait, what?"

    "’One of ours’?" Miles mouths.

    "...well, one of the ones we confiscated from an out-of-towner who got on SWORD's bad side." They hear boots running outside in the hall.

    Centurion smiles as he nods.

    Kane bursts into the room. "DO I GET TO FLY A SPACESHIP?!"

    "Maybe," Centurion smiles.

    Julian puts his hand up high. She hits that high five and leaves the room yelling "FUCK YEAH! SPACESHIP!"

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    visiblehowl
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    On the next season of

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    He nods and smiles, "You can call me Corsair."
    Ryann grits his teeth. "I want answers. So spill it."

    The Collector clucks his tongue, "Very well, but you may regret the knowledge..."
    "The First Firmament, the pure universe, the universe before our own."
    "According to Director Fury, the leader of Earth's government, the Shield, these individuals are not part of any Earth agency or military and he does not have any knowledge of their operations."
    Elise looks where Carol is pointing. She sees telltale golden arches she recognizes from Earth.
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    "I am Warden Morrow. I know what you are accused of. So do all of the guards in here."
    "Tony Stark's ice cold psycho brother? He runs HAMMER."
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    Michael grabs Loki by the neck, faceplates open, cosmic flame roiling in rage. "Call him off, or I disintegrate you."
    "I knew," Elise says. "I knew you'd come. I knew they were wrong."
    "We just saw a world die." Carol whispers to Miles.

    visiblehowlFencingsax
  • visiblehowlvisiblehowl Neutron Nerd Registered User regular
    fuckin' siiiiiiiiiiiiiiick

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    I am apparently an MTGA draft god on Twitch
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