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[Actual Play, NSFData] Marvel's Agents of STRIKE Season 3 Finale: Arrival

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    5KyDAvth.png

    STRIKE-1 meets in the conference room. It's been a week since their various adventures in alternate realities, inside their own mind, or doing a home invasion on Tony Stark just because a super-villain told them to.

    In that time, the Anabasis has also returned to port, and is docked at the Peak, and Ryann's ship, the Corona, has also returned. Ryann's family is now aboard the Peak, and he's had time to spend with them. His son has been assigned to SWORD as a junior agent aboard the Peak, and his family has temporary housing there. In the long term, SWORD will find them housing on Earth proper.

    Carol Danvers has transferred to SWORD, and is now in charge of Alpha Flight, and the rest of the aliens that STRIKE recruited during Operation Caliburn (minus Tryco, who was left behind on Sakaar as its new...ruler) joined that team.

    Clay begins the briefing.

    "Alright team, I trust everyone's read the intel report. There was...a lot there.

    “I've been given some autonomy on how to resolve these issues. If I report things to Fury, then he, by the rules, has to report things to HELM. So less he knows, by his own choosing, the better.

    "The way I see it, we have a core conflict here. Galactus is on his way here. We know that.

    "What we do about that is a big question mark. We've got the Nullifier in our back pocket. Will it work is another question mark. Who is the person to use it is yet another. I'm not looking for volunteers to fall on the sword at this point, before anyone raises their hand.

    "It's also a question of if we should use it. The Celestials aren't good people. The people of Earth-501 seemed to love the 'Ea' Celestial but that was only because they saw it as their 'protector' from a very hungry Galactus. It's worth remembering that for Ea to be 'born,' whole civilizations died. On 501, there's no Asgard. No Atlantis. Presumably, no Attilan either. Those people died so that some Celestial could be born.

    "When Shuma-Gorath tried to...I suppose induce the birth of a Celestial, it did it by way of invading Asgard and trying to go on some kind of rampage.

    "Celestials do not see us as people. We're sperm to them. We need to figure out a solution to this issue that keeps us safe from both Galactus and the Celestials. Neither of them are good. We need to not get stepped on by godlike beings."

    Elise makes a face. "Sir, for the love of fuck, no more sperm metaphors."

    Julian looks at her. "Do you have a better comparison?"

    Clay sighs. "Point is, it's not enough to just destroy Galactus or stop Galactus or make Galactus go away. It's not enough to just save Earth. Ryann won't appreciate that very much when Galactus decides to get hungry for Xandar in say, a hundred years from now or some such.

    "But presumably, any world that has passed its 'Third Host' will one day have the Celestials come knocking for their 'Fourth.' According to Adler's intelligence, the Celestials are outside normal space-time, those that aren't in their ships are in something called the 'Uni-Mind.'

    "Maybe we can find a way to... shut the door? Keep them that way?"

    "Do we have any idea of how we can do that?" Ryann asks.

    Miles nods at him. "And would doing that actually stop Galactus?"

    "Wouldn't that amount to killing them all?" Michael adds.

    "Well, in order…

    "Westin, on a long enough timeline, yeah, it probably would. But from what I understand, their lifespan is measured on cosmic scale. Maybe it'd take the heat death of the universe for them to go extinct. Whatever the case may be, these things have committed enough genocides that, quite frankly, I'll cold shoulder a bit of give-back."

    Elise raises her hand. "Y'know, I can see Watchers and all sorts of cosmic stuff, maybe I can do something? Somehow? Take a lookie-loo."

    Clay puts a steadying hand up at Elise, like telling her to hold on. "Mason, I believe it would take away Galactus' motive. From what we understand, Celestials don't just come about on their own. The Fourth Host has to apply the finishing touch somehow to make it happen. If they don't, nothing happens except maybe...powerful people? I mean, Tryco Slatterus never turned into a Celestial and he killed everything and everyone on his planet.

    "So, if there will be no more Celestials, then Galactus has no more reason to keep eating planets. I think we can maybe...negotiate with it?

    “And Valt...well, as for how....I have an idea and that idea sucks. But, it's an idea. Mason, I want X-51 to run the numbers on this, since he's connected to a Celestial computer."

    Miles nods.

    "Yggdrasil, the Celestial ship, has locked itself down. Now that the Traveller has figured out that Shuma-Gorath is dead, it's locked its entire system down and has become incredibly hostile to anyone going inside. The Asgardians tried to send people through and it got...messy. I heard from Thor about this."

    X-51 chimes in Miles' head. This is correct, Miles. It does not affect my connection to the Well of Mimir, but physical access to the ship is functionally impossible at this time. I cannot communicate with the Traveller without risking hostilities, a fight I am not capable of winning at this time.

    Miles relays this to Clay, and routes X-51 through his comms so the AI can address the team directly.

    Clay continues. "But I've got an idea on how to get around that. On Earth-462, Skrull Earth, we came across a being. One that...telepathically possessed me for a period of time. En Sabah Nur. Apocalypse."

    Elise stiffens.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "Apocalypse is a mutant. An ancient mutant, one who first manifested his mutation during the reign of Ramses the Second."

    Miles frowns. "....What does that thing have to do with the Celestials?"

    "So we exchange one apocalypse for another,” Julian says. “To what end?"

    "Well, he's more than just a Mutant," Clay says. "The whole reason the Skrulls were using him like they were, why his body was integrated into the Avengers tower, is because Apocalypse was integrated with Celestial technology."

    "He's part Celestial?” Michael asks. “How?"

    "He found something, in ancient Egypt, a Celestial artifact, left behind from the Second Host," Clay says. "It altered him."

    "So he's a cyborg with Celestial tech?" Ryann asks.

    "Essentially, yes."

    "Wonderful," Ryann sighs.

    Miles tilts his head quizzically. "If it made him a mutant...he found the thing they used? The thing that creates Deviants?"

    Clay shakes his head. "I think he was a mutant already. I think this thing changed him further. I think if we find Apocalypse, this Earth's Apocalypse, we can find the artifact."

    "You were right,” Elise says. “That idea does fucking suck."

    Clay nods. "I wasn't kidding."

    "No. No, Clay, this guy is a genocidal shithead who immediately started revoking deals and offering people positions as his horsemen. We're not doing this," she says.

    "Do you have a better idea, Elise, other than 'look around the cosmos'? Because we sent you guys to space to do just that."

    Elise leans back and crosses her arms, scowling. "I want it on the record that I think this is hot bullshit."

    "So what can we do to get what we need from him?” Julian asks. “I presume we're putting him down right after."

    Miles folds his arms. "I sure as hell hope so."

    "Robert likes to say that the Godfather is a multiversal constant. So, I say we make him an offer he can't refuse," Clay says. "He wants to rule the world. There won't be a world to rule if Galactus eats it or the Celestials turn it into a nursery. It's the same way I manage Doom, quite honestly."

    "...Huh. Yeah," Julian says.

    "And yes, I have every intention of getting rid of him once we have what we want, Adler."

    Julian nods. "Of course."

    "Ryann can throw him into the sun," Clay says. "Worked on Master Mold."

    Ryann nods. "Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t be all right with making all these deals with these objectively bad people but these are nothing close to normal circumstances. And yeah, that generally works."

    "Seriously, put my objection down on the record somewhere," Elise says insistently.

    Clay taps on a console in front of him, and a button in front of Elise blinks. "Elise, push the button and record your objection for the record."

    She pushes the button. "This is a stupid fucking idea, and Apocalypse is 100% going to betray us before we can betray him, or escape, or something fucking dumb. And then we'll have to deal with Doom, but with Less Charisma and More Shouting. This is dumb. I think it's dumb. I don't even want to go on this mission. Can I stay home because I think this is dumb?"

    "Request denied. Objection noted," Clay says briskly. "Furthermore, I have a back-up plan in case he doesn't play ball."

    Miles half-raises a hand. "We're getting ahead of ourselves here. First we need to find the guy. And hasn't SHIELD been coming up empty on that for a few months now?"

    "About that, Mason," Clay holds up a finger. "Xavier found him. Turns out, because he's a Mutant, Xavier could just...ping his location."

    Miles nods slowly. "Hm. Okay."

    "In fact, he's known about him for many years and he and I got into a giant telepathic argument about this plan. I won the argument but thoughts were shared."

    "I'm calling it,” Elise says. “Xavier pinging him woke him up early. We're going to walk in and dude's going to be doing bicep curls."

    "If that happens, Elise, we do have a back-up plan," Clay says. "Because Apocalypse is part-Celestial, and he's on terrestrial soil, that makes him an alien on Earth. Which means, from a technical basis, he's HAMMER's jurisdiction. So, if he decides to be a shit about it, you call in the Squadron Supreme. And let Hyperion ruin his entire day. He's done it before on another Earth."

    Miles grins mordantly. "Okay, that's the best idea I've heard so far." Ryann nods.

    Julian groans. "Ugh. I do not want to deal with Stark. But, whatever. We gotta do what we gotta do."

    "You won't, just his team,” Clay says. “And Hyperion is formerly one of our guys."

    Elise groans loudly. "Don't even mention the name Stark around me. You have no idea how shitty my last week was. Oh! Speaking of! Clay! Clay! Is my harness safe? Did SCI-TECH find anything on it?"

    Clay nods. "Yeah, Doom absolutely put a whole host of nonsense surveillance technology in it but I think he did so because if he didn't it'd be suspicious that he didn't?"

    "So it's clean? I can have it again?"

    "Absolutely. It's possible Doom has put other surveillance tech in there we don't understand or can find, but you could honestly baffle it by just doing things he'd find upsetting or morally abhorrent until he'd be too disgusted to keep watching. I don't suppose you'd find that especially cumbersome."

    Elise grins. "That's homophobic, sir, I'm writing a report to HELM."

    "I'm pretty sure getting high and watching cartoons all day would be repugnant to him, honestly," Julian says.

    "Your wife is very pregnant, I was more implying just..." He gestures to all of Elise.

    "Wow. Is it the tattoo?" Elise lifts her shirt, gesturing. "The tattoo isn't gross! It's awesome! Look, the skull has lightning bolts and the snake is hissing—it fucking owns!"

    "Stop doing that," Ryann sighs. Miles says nothing, but his shades snap shut over his eyes.

    Clay just sighs. "You have your assignment. You have the Zephyr back, along with your new pilot. Gear up, incognito. MASCs and disguises. Go with ICERs in case you encounter civvies, and then proper weapons keeping in mind this is a Celestial-jacked-up ancient Mutant."

    "Who is our new pilot?" Julian asks.

    "You'll meet them,” Clay says. “Go gear up."

    "Uuuuuuuuuuugh," Elise grumbles and slouches towards the door.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited January 15
    Niles Nordstrom waits in the quartermaster’s office. He has a new arm. And they realize...it's Miles' old arm. It has some modifications, though, what amounts to essentially superfluous glowing lines that run along the arm somewhat akin to Tron.

    Michael goes to give Niles a handshake with his Uru arm. Niles grins and gives him a hearty, clapping handshake.

    Miles nods at Niles. "I like what you've done with it."

    The last time Niles and Elise talked was...awkward. Elise hangs back. he nudges Julian. "Hey. Hey. Julian. I've heard of hand-me-downs, but this is ridiculous. Eh? Eh? Eh??"

    "Ugh." Julian hides a grin. He looks towards Niles. "Digging the aesthetic, man."

    Niles nods at Julian and Miles, "Thanks, guys."

    Elise grimaces at the lack of laughter and sidles up to Miles. "Hey, hey Miles. I've heard of hand-me-downs -"

    "No," he says. "Just no."

    Miles shoots Niles a grin and picks out a MASC, an ICER, and, after thinking about it a moment, pockets a SPIN collar and some SPIN rounds as well. If nothing else, he can wave the collar at Elise if she gets too extra. Following Miles’ lead, Julian also grabs a SPIN collar in addition to his regular gear.

    Elise loudly shows off her harness as she gets ready, clearly very proud of having it again.

    Ryann suits up. Michael grabs a MASC and ICER combo and nods to Niles.

    "Can I just say how much nicer this is than being an Agent of Doom?” Elise says to the room. “It's so much nicer."

    "I believe you," Miles says. "I don't think that was ever in doubt."

    "I dunno,” she says. “You guys are kind of mean to me."

    Niles clears his throat. "Wasn't Juggernaut on your other team?"

    "Yeah, but he's okay. Okay-ish," she clarifies after a pause. "Lorelei's the real problem."

    Miles nods. "Honestly, I'm half-surprised we didn't have to rescue you from her."

    "She absolutely wants to have sex with me. It's terrible."

    "It is!" Miles is glad that someone else understands.

    Elise nods vigorously. "Especially because she looks just like Crystalia, except, like. Evil-er."

    "And with thighs that can crush cars," Miles adds.

    "Oh my God yes." Elise looks around nervously, like she expects Crystalia to appear. Or Lorelei.

    "See, I tried explaining that part to Dr. Sofen and she gave me a look. So I had to stop." Miles has been talking about Dr. Sofen a lot lately. He says they've had "breakthroughs."

    PHU1KZN.png
    When Miles and Carol got back from space, they agreed that they both needed to get their heads straight, so offscreen, he’s been seeing STRIKE’s new in-house psychiatrist, Dr. Karla Sofen. I feel, like sometimes happens with people who’ve just started therapy, he is probably annoyingly enthusiastic about it.

    "It's kind of unethical we all see Dr. Sofen, don't you think?” Elise asks. “I used to see a different therapist and she didn't know any of you so I could say whatever I wanted about anything."

    "I dunno," Miles says, "it saves me a lot of time having to not explain, you know." He kind of waves vaguely in Elise's direction the way Clay had earlier.

    "WOW."

    Julian laughs. "I mean, yeah, it's weird that we all see her, I guess, but for me it's the fact that she reports to fuckin' HELM."

    "Oh, I just talk in code, ways she won't be able to riddle out. Like, I just talk about Clay like he's my dad. And I refer to STRIKE missions as grocery shopping."

    Miles nods. "Yeah, I try not to think too hard about the six different bureaucrats who might be reading my innermost thoughts."

    Niles looks at the team. "Alright, if you're all geared up, your pilot is waiting for you."

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The Zephyr is parked on the landing pad. Standing in front of it is a man in a pilot's jacket and civilian clothing.

    m9P17Ljl.jpg

    He walks over to the team, and introduces himself. "Agent Mikel Fury, I'll be your pilot going forward."

    "Fury?" Elise stares. "Like, the Fury?"

    He sighs, "...yeah. My dad."

    "Huh,” Elise says. “Okay, you're just kind of, y'know. Not what I'd expect from Fury's kid. Y'know?"

    "Nice to meet you, Mikel." Julian extends a hand and Mikel shakes it. He winks at the rest of the team. "Guess we're on our best behaviour, huh?"

    "God no," Mikel says, holding up a quelling hand. "Don't do the whole, 'oh no, it's the boss' kid' shit. That will get old, real fast. He and I don't really...it's not exactly Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at the Fury household, y'know? You guys don't report to him and I don't either."

    "That's fair," Ryann says.

    'Good to have you on board," Michael adds.

    Miles shakes his head. "Look, you might live to regret telling us not to treat you like the boss's kid. People tend to get put through the works around here. Fair warning."

    "It's true,” Elise says. “They bully me relentlessly. All the time!"

    "Yeah, about that...full disclosure, I'm not exactly on your level. I'm a trained agent, I've got years under my belt, I can throw hands if I have to but I don't have powers. I'm here to fly the plane."

    "Don't sweat the fighting stuff," Miles tells Mikel. "This guy over here throws asteroids into suns. I mean more like...uhh...maybe, maybe in your off time, brush up on your first aid for strokes? And, uh, overdoses? Just because...it might come in handy weirdly frequently."

    "Can you do barrel rolls?" Elise asks.

    "Can I. When I used to fly the Helicarrier that was definitely something they wouldn't let me do."

    "Cowards," she says.

    "I mean I get why,” he says thoughtfully. “I guess it'd spill some coffees."

    "Well, here it's encouraged," she says brightly.

    "Anyway, I'm fueled up and I've got our coords, wheels up in five. Oh, and uh...you're Elise, right?" he points at her.

    Elise puffs up with pride. "That's right, Princess Elise."

    "So, hey...uh, this is still a non-smoking plane. I'm not some DARE asshole, it's more a safety thing."

    Elise is scandalized. "...I'm sober! I've been sober for weeks!"

    He puts his hands up in front of him. "Okay, okay...it was just in the pass-over notes from Kane."

    Miles grins at this. "Of course it was. Okay, let's get this show on the road."

    The team boards the plane, and it takes off for Egypt.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited January 14
    sM6uHRGl.jpg

    Mikel throws on the autopilot and walks back into the cabin, and sits down near Ryann. "Hey, can I ask you a question?"

    "Shoot," Ryann nods.

    "So, you've got a spaceship, right? Up there, in orbit?"

    "Yeah, the Corona."

    Mikel leans in, his expression eager. "Would it be cool to take me up there some time and just like, zip around a bit? Apparently this thing can do inter-orbital which is awesome but an honest-to-god spaceship is just..."

    Ryann laughs. "Yeah, I've been looking forward to getting her back for a while now. And sure, I think I could swing that."

    Mikel's face lights up. "Awesome, dude." He gives Ryann a half-salute, "I'm gonna head back up to the cockpit, we're getting close to the LZ."

    g3xuawl.png

    Elise flops down next to Julian. "Hey. Hey. Julian."

    Julian looks over. "Elise. What's up?"

    "Did you plow what's-her-face?"

    Julian sighs. "No."

    "Why not?"

    "So first of all, it's barely been any time since Kane and I split. Secondly..." Julian looks back and forth as if he's expecting someone to be listening. "There was this weasel fuck who kept on our tail and would have ratted on what we were doing if I didn't suggest he come along."

    Elise grins. "So you would have."

    "I didn't say that."

    "She's basically girl Julian. You two are meant to be together and have ten million babies."

    Julian smirks. "Hey. Stop that."

    "C'mon, I can't be the only one with kids. That basically makes me The Man. You and Girl Julian need to start poppin' them out."

    Julian makes a wavy hand motion. "Kids? Naaaah. I wouldn't exactly have a royal staff to take care of them. Plus, she's like, what, blushed at me? You're thinking I'm going to be popping out kids tomorrow?" He laughs.

    "Well, no, it takes nine months for you mammal humans, so you gotta get started yesterday. Just pump her full of batter. Come on."

    "I…” Julian stares. “You're a mammal."

    "Inhuman, Julian, it's in the name."

    "Yeah, inhuman. I'm pretty sure you're still mammalian unless you got some secret scales to show me."

    "No, I don't have any scales. And let's hope my kid doesn't, either. Can you imagine I have to plan her sixteenth birthday and she's, like, a lizard?" Elise shakes her head. "Jesus. Stuff of nightmares."

    "But you would still love her, right?" Julian asks.

    "Probably," she says.

    He laughs. "You're horrible."

    "I'm honest," Elise insists.

    "Just remember what honesty counts for while you pay for your daughter's therapy," Julian says. "Oh, I guess you don't have to worry about that so much, though."

    g3xuawl.png

    Miles sits down across from Michael. "We haven't talked in a while," he says. He nods in the direction of Michael's arm. "How it going? With that? And in general?"

    "I can't complain really. The arm is pretty kick ass, doesn't hurt or nothin'. Besides our day job of fighting god-like beings, I'm doing good. How 'bout you, Chief?"

    Miles nods at Michael. "I'm glad it's working out for you. I know our situations aren't exactly the same, but I wanted you to know that if you ever need to talk about things, I'm here, you know? And so is Karla. Dr. Sofen. She's been a big help. I guess it's not really a secret how fucked-up I was for most of Operation Caliburn. She's helping me get my head straight. It's a good feeling."

    "I appreciate that, Chief, and I'm here if you need an ear to listen."

    Miles nods. "You're our rock, Westin. We couldn't do this without you."

    "No, you couldn't," Michael agrees, and slaps Miles' back.

    Miles grins and turns to watch Elise talking about lizard babies. You can't get quality content like this just anywhere.

    Mikel comes over the comms. "We're approaching the LZ. It's a pretty blank patch of dirt on the outskirts of Cairo. Stealth mode is engaged. I'm going to find a quiet place to park after I drop you off."

    Miles stands. "Okay, everyone. Elise is the only one here who saw this En Sabah Nur guy in the flesh, but I've read all the reports and he sounds like a bad hombre. I know I say this a lot, but be ready for anything. In particular, be ready to pull back the instant shit goes sour. We've got a Hyperion in our back pocket. Don't try to be a hero; focus on staying alive."

    Elise rolls her eyes and stands. "Don't touch him, by the way," she says. "He can get in your head. Take you over. That goes triple for you, Julian."

    Julian stiffens. "Ugh. Fun."

    Elise sighs. "It's almost as if this is a terrrrible ideeeeeaaa."

    The Zephyr lands, and the back hatch opens.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited January 14
    AagRllv.png

    It sure is a bare patch of desert.

    Miles, I've uploaded an AR-guided path to the location of En Sabah Nur. It is an underground cavern, X-51 says. It appears that he is in some kind of stasis or suspended animation, according to the information Director Quartermain obtained from Professor Xavier.

    Once we get closer, Agent Arnell should be able to locate the target more effectively, as his scent should be identical to the one she encountered on another world.

    Acknowledged,
    Miles thinks. Feel free to hop in over comms in real time if something comes up, by the way. Miles points the direction X-51 indicated. "Looks like...thataway."

    Miles leads the team through the desert. They come to a cave entrance. Elise begins to sniff around, cautiously; she can pick up a whole host of scents from the cave, but if she tries to focus her senses, she might be able to pick out the trail of En Sabah Nur.

    She can sense him.

    She doesn't want to. But she can. He's there. He's sealed inside something but even inside whatever he's in, she can sense him.

    Elise rubs the side of her nose and grimaces. "Yeah, I got him. I hate this. I hate this. I hate this."

    “I've run the numbers,” X-51 says over the comms. “There is a very high statistical probability that En Sabah Nur accepts our initial offer to assist us, out of his own self-interest, and then having resolved the crisis if successful will immediately attempt to double cross us and assume his own motives. I suggest we be prepared to confront him and violently assert ourselves first, up to and including calling in the Squadron Supreme.

    “In simpler terms, we need to backstab him before he backstabs us.”

    "See, if you ask me, any plan that opens with double backstabbing is a shitty plan." Elise grouses.

    Miles throws up his hands. "You work for a spy agency!"

    "That's my day job. Really, I'm a princess."

    "Well, princess," Miles says, "we're crawling into a tomb underneath the Egyptian desert so...keep an eye out for snakes."

    Freedom Force ventures into the cave, moving through the tunnels.

    After about twenty minutes of following Elise's lead, they come upon a huge vaulted opening and a massive golden pyramid that nearly touches the top, surrounded by colossal statues.

    mRoCPvuh.jpg

    Miles whistles. "In other circumstances I would consider this bad-fucking-ass."

    "Yeah, wow,” Julian nods. “This is nuts."

    Elise can feel the hair standing up on the back of her neck. A sensation of wrongness. She shakes her head to try to clear it, and hisses air between her teeth. "Hate this. Hate this. Hate this."

    There's a flash of light, and the air shifts and shimmers and opens. It reminds the team of the way Kang appeared to them on the beach of the Azores months ago. But what steps out of the opening isn't Kang.

    Osovv3vl.jpg

    "Stop right there," he says, with a commanding tone.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Well, this is unexpected.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Elise raises her gun. She takes a breath, trying to get as much off this guy as she can. Smell? Feel? She rolls her tongue in her mouth. Who is he? Where did he come from? He's not extra-dimensional. He's not from this time.

    He's like Kang. He's from the future. Everything about him, every particle of his clothing and skin and everything, it's like it doesn't belong. This guy is displaced. He just time travelled to get here.

    "...Who wins the 2024 World Series?" she asks.

    Miles stares from the newcomer to Elise. "Uh, Elise?" Ryann squints at the newcomer in confusion.

    "Name's Cable,” the man says, “and I can't tell you that. And I also can't let you do what you're about to do."

    Elise holsters her weapon. "This guy's from the future. Like, our future. Not some fuckworld that's gone straight to hell. Our world."

    "Why are you stopping us from our mission?" Michael asks.

    "Because if you wake up that thing, it'll do exactly what it's called," Cable says. "Apocalypse."

    "I CALLED IT!" Elise crows.

    "We all knew this was a bad idea, Elise,” Michael sighs. “But we don't have any other options right now."

    "We just stopped Ragnarok so I'll take a run at Apocalypse,” Ryann smirks.

    Miles folds his arms. "Okay, so if we have a future, that means Galactus doesn't eat us and we don't turn into a Celestial placenta either, right? So you know how we can do that."

    "...what's a Galactus?" Cable looks confused.

    "Alright, time out," Elise says. "We're agents of, uh..." She looks at Miles. "Well, it doesn't matter, I guess. We're here to use this dude to stop Galactus, a space monster, from eating worlds. Galactus eats worlds to stop Celestials from being born. They're bad too. So this dude is like, a way to get ahead of both of them. That's the plan. Machine Man, do we have to keep opsec when we're talking to a guy from the future?"

    "Honestly? I have no fucking idea," Miles says. "But I appreciate your thinking of it. That's worth a McFlurry when we get back."

    Elise claps her hands excitedly.

    "The Celestials are where this guy's technology comes from," Miles adds to Cable. "Which I feel like you'd know."

    Cable looks at the golden pyramid tomb. "...huh," he mutters. "Explains a lot."

    He looks at the team. "I can't let you do this. This is when it happens. This is when he gets loose and everything goes wrong. I've scanned the timestream and I've pinpointed the exact moment I can make the smallest change without diverging the streams.

    "I didn't know who freed him. Or why. Because they didn't survive. So you either need to walk away." He lowers his gun. "Or you weren't meant to survive anyway."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited January 14
    "Call me crazy," Elise says, “but I think if a time traveller—which we know is possible, we know Doom's been doing it—shows up to say that this obviously bad plan ends in a wipe, we fuckin' back off."

    "...Or you could help us," Miles says to Cable. "Since it sounds like maybe you know a lot about this guy anyway."

    “If I may, everyone,” X-51 comes over the team’s comms. Cable cannot hear him. “I am attempting to extrapolate what this individual is saying and verify the authenticity of his claims, and calculate their probability. If we take what he is saying and his claims at face value, then relative to his timeline, our mission here is a failure. We free Apocalypse, and inform him of the threat Galactus and the Celestials represent, and he subsequently double-crosses us first.

    “He nonetheless does uphold his end of the bargain and does protect Earth from Galactus and the Celestials for his own self-interest, which is why Cable is unfamiliar with these beings, but from the situation Cable is attempting to prevent it appears that En Sabah Nur goes on to commit other problematic activities.”

    Cable squints at Miles, his cybernetic eye glimmering. "Help you how? What exactly are you trying to accomplish here?"

    "A being that's eaten a thousand planets across the Milky Way is coming here. To eat us. We suspect Apocalypse has...something that can stop him. Which is apparently true, since you've never heard of Galactus. So help us find whatever that is. The technology, the...edge. It's got to be here somewhere. If we can get it without waking this guy up, we win. If we can't, your future stops existing because the whole Earth stops existing."

    Cable nods slowly, "Alright, we have a deal." He looks at the pyramid, "So...what do we...do?"

    "Why don't we just call in our back up a bit earlier?” Michael asks. “Might stand more of a chance then them coming in too late."

    "I was there when he was woken up in another world," Elise says. "I think Michael had the right of it. Let's call in Hyperion as backup. I am not dying today. I refuse."

    “The pyramid itself appears to be Celestial technology,” X-51 says. “It's some kind of stasis chamber that En Sabah Nur is contained within. It may, in and of itself, be the Celestial technology we are looking for. I can attempt to access and interface the technology if you place your hand against it, Miles, but there is a caveat; much of the Celestial technology has its own artificial intelligence, and even if it does not, En Sabah Nur is telepathic to some degree and potentially has a risk of interfering while in suspended animation.

    “My suggestion is that I, for lack of a better term, go in with back-up. If you will digitally accompany me, Miles, I am confident we will be at significantly lower risk in this endeavor.”

    Miles nods. “That sounds like a plan.” He turns to the others. "So we're going to Tron this shit. Get a hold of the Squadron Supreme; have them on standby."

    “Hey, Vision?” Elise toggles her connection to COMMS.

    Vision responds to Elise, "I am here, Agent Arnell. How can I be of assistance?"

    "We need the Squadron Supreme here on backup, please. There are...complications."

    "Is this issue within their mandate? HAMMER's bureaucratic process is somewhat...strict."

    "Yeah it's Celestial technology and there's a guy from the future here. He has a gun the size of me. It's very aliens."

    "While time travellers are not specifically within their remit, Celestial technology is alien in nature. I will send the communication."

    "Thank you, Vision." She turns to the rest of the group. "Listen, I was here when we woke him up. If you can not wake him up, awesome. But if someone looks around with like, black eyes?"
    Elise shifts nervously. "I don't know. ICER them. Don't let him wear one of us like a glove."

    Cable adjusts his very large gun, and it lets out a high-pitched whine. "I've set this cannon to high-energy repulsor. It'll...stun someone."

    "...No one needs a gun that big,” Elise says. “It's excessive."

    "You haven't seen the future, kid."

    "I'm twenty-six!"

    X-51 communicates to Miles, Ready when you are, Miles. Place your hand against the pyramid and prepare yourself.

    Miles does so. "Pipe some Oxygene #4 to the group while I'm out," he says.

    "Yessss," Julian says in a small voice.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Cable was created (if that’s the word for it) by artist (if that’s the word for it) Rob Liefeld in the pages of The New Mutants, an X-Men spinoff title from the 1980s about a group of younger students at Charles Xavier’s academy (since the X-Men were well into adulthood by now and out of school).

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    Liefeld had a poor command of anatomy, perspective, backgrounds, and storytelling in general, but had a high-energy, dynamic style that won him a legion of fans in the early 1990s, and meant that he could sometimes just insert bullshit into his comics as he pleased and the writers and editors were left to make sense of it.

    In this case, Liefeld decided that it would be cool if the team were led by a mysterious bionic guy with a giant gun, even though the New Mutants are ostensibly mutants and neither bionics nor guns are core to their concept, and it was left to the title’s nominal writer, Louise Simonson, to make hay with this.

    With some fancy footwork, she tied Cable’s background in with an ongoing plot in another X-Men comic, X-Factor, where Cyclops and Jean Grey’s newborn baby Nathan had been infected with a nanotech virus and had to be spirited away by a time-traveler to a future where a cure for the virus had been found.

    It was decided that Cable was the adult Nathan Summers, partially assimilated by the virus (hence his bionics) and returned from this dark, war-torn future. Later issues established that this particular dark, war-torn future (the X-Men have so many dark futures that it’s really easy to lose track) was one in which Apocalypse had nearly conquered the world.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited January 14
    Miles enters the Celestial system.

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    He stares at the vistas unfolding around him and hums Also Sprach Zarathustra.

    The system begins to stabilize.

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    "What are we looking at here?"

    "Data forms of the Celestial pyramid, manifested as...rolling sand dunes in the desert." X-51 is next to Miles in the humanoid form he had worn to the meeting with Helen.

    H8vZZxJl.jpgThe two land on the 'sand dunes' of digital space. "I'm trying to...get my bearings, Miles. The system is...vast. I require your assistance."  Miles nods, squinting into the distance. "I can imagine. This horizon must stretch out to subjective infinity. We need a direction. What do you need me to do?"  "We need a reference point. We need to figure out this system'spurpose. En Sabah Nur is contained within, but stasis cannot be its only purpose. What is this system's core drive? What is its function? I am attempting to discern it but I am only getting empty returns. Your synthezoid mind may return a different answer. Find the...north star?"

    Miles bends down and puts his hand on the sand. "What we need is...wormsign."

    "I do not understand," X-51 says, watching this.

    WIth his hand pressed to the sand, Miles stretches his awareness outward, trying to feel the...vibrations of activity somewhere in this datascape. "It can't be all empty. There must be a process running somewhere. We just have to...follow the vibrations." He carefully tries to calm his thoughts and shut out everything except what he can "feel" through his "hand."

    There.

    Miles can sense it. The vibrations in the code. Leading to something. Archived data. The history of this pyramid. Which will lead to its purpose. He can follow the path.

    Miles stands. "Got it." He points. "Look up Dune while we walk."

    "I will do so."

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

    Outside the digital space, in the real world, all the STRIKE agents get a sudden communication from Vision. "Attention all SHIELD agents, level 8 clearance or above.

    "We have a Priority Omega incident.

    "Please contact your commanding officer for orders immediately."

    "Oh, shit," Julian says.

    Elise reaches for her comms unit. "Clay?"

    Clay comes over the comms, "Something just lit up SWORD's defense network like Christmas. It's knocking out the Kree satellite network. It's fast. Faster than any ship we have on record. It's not a fleet. We are under attack. Alpha Flight is already moving to engage in the Anabasis, and HAMMER's been informed, but they're on deck for your mission so there's some bureaucratic dick-waving.

    "Valt, you and Hyperion are possibly the only beings on the planet right now fast enough to tangle with whatever this is."

    "Already on my way, sir," Ryann shouts, blasting into the sky.

    "Clay,” Elise pleads into her comm, “make sure Crystalia is safe. Please."

    High above, Centurion is catching up to...whatever this is. It's annihilating the Kree satellite network at alarming speed.

    And it's heading towards the Peak. Where Ryann's family is.

    "Oh no you don't!" Ryann snarls, focusing the Nova Force to drive himself even faster, effectively vanishing as he moves at just subluminal speeds.

    Centurion gets ahead of the attacker and gets a good look.

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    It's him. The Silver Surfer. The Herald of Galactus.

    Centurion blasts the Surfer off his board. Which sends him floating into space. With a gesture, the Silver Surfer recalls his board to him. But he's stunned.

    He looks at Centurion, and narrows his eyes. "Xandarian."

    "Herald." Centurion floats in a combative posture.

    The Silver Surfer puts his hands together, fingers facing forwards, and blasts at Centurion. His Power Cosmic lances forth, and slams into Ryann’s Nova Force. For a moment the two warriors are locked in a beam blast contest, which eventually results in the Surfer relenting.

    The Surfer attempts to circle around Centurion to get to the station.

    "I know why you have come here," Ryann says.

    "Then you know I cannot be stopped."

    "Your master will find this world is different, as I have,” Ryann says, watching the Surfer warily as he circles.

    "Every world believes it is different, Xandarian."

    Where is Hyperion? Ryann thinks. Aloud he says "I'm sure, but I know. I've seen things here. Things your master knows nothing of."

    "Enough of this,” the Surfer says dismissively. “The path is set."

    "Listen -" Ryann starts to say.

    The Surfer tries to fly around Ryann, but suddenly veers off course wildly, his board flipping uselessly through space -

    - as he's tackled by Hyperion.

    "Finally!" Ryann rushes forward.

    The two are locked in a grapple, with Hyperion blasting the Surfer at close range with his eye beams. They seem to have no effect at all.

    Centurion stays with them, waiting for a moment to attack.

    Suddenly, four objects go flying past the melee at incredible speed. Normally, they would have been shot down by the Kree satellite network, but with the damage that the Surfer has done to it, they are hurtling towards the Earth.

    They're...man-sized.

    "He's not alone!" Ryann rushes after them.

    The objects aren’t just falling. They're propelling themselves and Ryann is struggling to catch them. They're also not travelling randomly. They have a destination, and it takes a moment for Ryann to realize it, but he does.

    ...it's Egypt.

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

    Guarding Miles' body as he continues to explore the Celestial artifact, suddenly Michael's metal arm starts to hurt. It's like a muscular soreness. But he doesn't have muscle in that arm. It's a metallic arm filled with mystical energy.

    "Ahh! What the hell?!" Michael cries, grabbing the arm.

    "I knew this was a bad idea,” Elise mutters. “I knew it. I knew it."

    The ground shakes, and dust falls from the cavern ceiling. It feels like mortar shells hit the ground outside the cavern. Four of them, in rapid succession.

    "What the hell is that?" Julian assumes a fighting stance.

    Elise opens her senses. There's something out there; she can sense it. Something that fell from space. Asteroids?

    "Clay? You promise me Crystalia is somewhere safe?" She begins inching towards the entrance.

    "Whatever that was, it can't be good.” Cable charges his gun. “Let's roll."

    Gritting his teeth through the pain, Michael armours up.

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    The group heads out of the cavern, where four large metallic beings are emerging from small craters. They look both familiar and...different.

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    "Who are you and why are you on our planet?" Michael says to the group of aliens.

    They do not respond. Instead, the one with swirling black hole in its chest issues forth a blast of dark energy at Michael.

    Behemoth overwhelms the blast with the Odinforce, and sends it backwards into the Herald. The energies swirl inside it, and it starts to swell and lets out a loud, screeching noise that Elise finds enormously unpleasant.

    Elise stares at the things, her lips curled back like a dog confronted with a lime, trying to find weaknesses. They have to die somehow. She has to know where to shoot.

    For most of them, she can find some weak points. Joints, unarmored points, areas where plates meet. The exception is the one that appears to be one giant crystal with glowing eyes. She's not sure it has any vulnerabilities; the eyes seem to be a weapon, not a weak point.

    Elise grits her teeth and focuses on Red Hands, firing her weapon at those unarmored points. She hits the creature with live rounds in weak points but...they don't seem to do anything except stick in the joints and make it stumble slightly. Like stones in a shoe.

    Julian sneaks up on the screeching creature as it's reeling from Behemoth's blast, trying to finish it off. He lays his hands over the creature's head and begins to superheat its metal.

    Already struggling to contain the energies within it, the Herald is overwhelmed and bursts, blowing apart, dissipating the Power Cosmic and sending shards of Uru scattering across the sand.

    Cable opens fire on the large crystalline Herald, but his large blaster does absolutely nothing.
    He can only dodge as it returns fire with high-intensity eye-beams.

    Centurion arrives on the scene, floating overhead.

    "I... I don't know what to do!" Elise calls. "I can't hurt 'em!"

    "We can handle them,” Michael bellows in his amplified voice. “Either provide us with intel on their weak points or fall back and protect Miles."

    The red-handed Herald moves towards Elise, its glowing fingers curling menacingly.

    "Elise, can you keep focusing on their weak points?” Julian is asking. The Herald tries to grasp her. “I'll keep them heated, soften them up -- oh, shit!"

    As Ryann rushes to intervene, Elise manages to backflip out of the way in a shockingly elegant escape. The Herald grabs nothing but sand, which superheats and turns to glass. That could have been Elise.

    Centurion slams the red-handed Herald into the ground, burying him like a cartoon ostrich in the sand. "Elise, get to cov-" he starts to say, before he's blasted in the back by the other Herald, the one that looks like barely-contained plasma, and goes hurtling across the ground.

    "Ryann!" Elise cries.

    Ryann rolls and wheezes as he staggers to his feet.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Behemoth blasts the plasma Herald, who puts its limbs up to try to shield itself as Uru is stripped away from its body. It falls to one knee from the intense blast. Down, but not out.

    The red-handed Herald pulls its head out of the sand, and the Crystalline Herald stalks towards Cable, who is taking cover behind a rock.

    Julian stares towards the red-handed Herald and gestures his hands towards his head, attempting to force it to scorch its own head. Unfortunately, he isn't telekinetically strong enough to overpower the Herald.

    Instead, it stalks towards Julian, and grabs his head with its hand, burning the flesh away down to a skull and setting it on fire.

    Unfortunately for the Herald, that's the worst thing it could have done.

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    Julian howls as his flesh melts away and flames erupt around his skull. As the Rider awakens, the Herald steps backwards. It definitely didn't expect that to happen. Julian thrusts his arms forward, a gout of cosmic flame issuing forth. The vengeful fire overtakes the red-handed creature, and it’s the Herald’s turn to howl as it falls to the ground.

    Elise grabs a particularly sharp looking piece of Uru from the sand and looks to the Crystalline Herald. "Hey, big boy! Over here, fucker!" Once she gets his attention, she flings the Uru at its eyes.

    Instead, it looks at Elise and shoots an eye blast at her. The harness she wears absorbs some of the blast...but not enough. She is flung across the desert sand, bouncing several times before landing in a smoking crumpled heap.

    Standing up, Centurion tries to muster more power from the Nova Force...but he’s too weakened. He can't summon enough energy.

    "Fine,” he spits. “I'll do it the hard way.' He marches forward towards the Heralds, but the Crystalline Herald steps forward and swings one of its mighty arms, flinging him backwards into the rocks.

    Michael soars down to pick up Elise and hunches over her, shielding her from another blast with his own body. With a quick once-over, he can tell that Elise is going to be okay. Nothing's broken, thankfully, but she's going to be all kinds of funny colors with bruises later.

    "Ugh. Blugh. Thank...thank you, Mike. I'm okay."

    "I'm worried this is becoming a habit," Michael chuckles, setting her on her feet.

    "We can't all turn into a big fuck-off giant!" she starts to protest. Then she stops. She can hear something in the distance. From the sky.

    It's a Quinjet.

    "Quinjet incoming!" she cries. "They must have sent us backup!"

    Darkhawk, Songbird, Moondragon, Thundra, Speedball, and Doctor Spectrum drop from the sky. The rest of the Squadron Supreme, minus Hyperion.

    Elise grins and flourishes her hand, Uru sparking between her fingers. She flings it at the Plasma Herald. She manages to land the Uru precisely between the armor joints, and the sharpened chunk rips through the joint and destabilizes it.

    The Herald’s plasma dissipates and the Uru just...falls down. In a heap.

    "Nice shot, Elise!" Michael calls. Elise grins and shoots him a thumbs-up.

    Only the large crystalline Herald remains, and it is engaged by the rest of the Squadron Supreme and is quickly dispatched.

    Thundra walks over to Elise and bows. "Princess Elise. We were called to this location prior to the arrival of these...creatures. What has transpired?"

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

    In the cyberspace realm inside the Celestial pyramid, Miles and X-51 are following the datatrail.

    Miles turns from side to side, surveying the landscape as they go. A glowing smoke pours out of his eyes, the wisps resolving into tiny 0s and 1s. He sees it, finally. Some four-dimensional tessellation of cosmic energy. The datacore of the artifact.

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    X-51 looks on it with awe, and reaches out to touch it. "Careful!" Miles cries. "Try and just...tap it. Gently. We can't drink from the crazy cosmic firehose."

    X-51 nods and gently touches the core. "I... understand its function."

    "What is it?"

    X-51 reaches over to Miles. "I'll show you." Miles takes his hand.

    Miles' vision rolls backwards thousands of years, and he gazes upon...them. The Celestials.

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    "This was their laboratory,” X-51 breathes. “They used it to create the Deviants. This...what we're seeing, it's the Third Host. It happened in the time of En Sabah Nur. He was there when they came because he summoned them.

    "He believed he was to be their chosen. That he was to become the Celestial. He believed it was his destiny. They told him...effectively…’perhaps?’ For lack of a better way to put it.

    "They told En Sabah Nur that they would return in the Fourth Host, and that only the fittest would survive, that there would be an evolution, and all the things we knew to be true about the Celestials and how they do things.

    "So now, he waits, and sleeps, for the time when he believes the Fourth Host is imminent, and he can...make that happen. He'll kill the whole world if he has to."

    Miles nods grimly. "Of course. Of course he will. But he can summon them somehow?"

    "Yes, he can,” X-51 says. “Using this device. It's their laboratory. It is their technology. It can begin the Fourth Host."

    "What if we summon the Host as Galactus approaches?" Miles says. "Can you run the numbers on that?"

    "...processing. Stand by.

    "The Celestials would realize what Galactus has been doing. They would fight each other. Galactus would, in his current state, likely lose, given his usage of subterfuge and the need to consume the Celestials before they are born.

    "The cycle of what the Celestials do, their Hosts, would likely continue unabated, however."

    Miles nods. "It's not ideal. It might be better than being eaten, though. Can you tell if what Clay suggested is feasible? Can we...shut the door behind the Celestials? Lock them in their otherworld?"

    "...processing. Stand by." X-51 suddenly stiffens. "Conflict. I... Miles, I have an answer but I… Conflict." X-51's humanoid form looks...upset.

    Miles hisses. "Diagnose the conflict."

    "Director Quatermain's idea can be successfully utilized using this device. It will, effectively, send a signal that will do the opposite of summoning. It's...difficult to explain in a way that will be comprehensible but the simplified way of putting it is it will cause all Celestial extra-dimensional connections to close for a period of time exceeding the heat death of the universe.

    "This...conflict is that…

    "It would sever the connection to Yggdrasil, and the Well of Mimir. I would be...diminished. I would still function but my psycho-historic calculative potential would...end."

    "Shit. Shit!" Miles slams his fist into his palm. "I can't make this decision on my own. We have to tell Michael and Clay."

    There is a rumble. The sand shakes. "Miles, I am interpreting sensory input," X-51 says. "...Earth is under attack. Galactus' Heralds have arrived. Your teammates are already engaging them.

    "We do not have time. You must make the decision. If we disconnect, there is a low probability we will be able to successfully reconnect without risking awakening En Sabah Nur.

    “I cannot decide. I am compromised. Miles, you must decide now."

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    ”You have to choose now!” is any leader’s nightmare, and certainly one of Miles’s. Part of the reason he tries to be so conscientious about collecting all the information and considering all the angles is to make the hard choices a little easier.

    But sometimes you can’t do that. So now he has to make a decision with cosmic ramifications, on limited information, with no real sense of the potential outcomes. And as a player, I was in the same boat: I had no idea what this could mean.

    Ultimately, my decision had to be made, and I think Miles made it this way too, by asking myself which of these choices, if it turned out to be a bad call, could maybe be reversed.

    "Do it," Miles says at last.

    X-51 grimaces, and nods.

    "God help us," Miles whispers.

    X-51 takes Miles’ hand and touches the core.

    They are booted out of the system as Miles Mason, Machine Man, has made the executive decision to fundamentally alter the cosmos forever.

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    jurner
  • FencingsaxFencingsax It is difficult to get a man to understand, when his salary depends upon his not understanding GNU Terry PratchettRegistered User regular
    Holy Shit!

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    JacobkoshMatev
  • jurnerjurner Registered User regular
    That escalated quickly!

    JacobkoshFencingsaxMatev
  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    Hisssss! Conflict!

    Hisssss! Leadership nightmare!

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  • MatevMatev Cero Miedo Registered User regular
    Well, that's a hell of cliffhanger to leave us on for the night.

    Also, I am mad I can't find just Cable's theme from the X-Men animated series as track and not part of a clip, cause only that music is 90s enough to encapsulate him.

    "Go down, kick ass, and set yourselves up as gods, that's our Prime Directive!"
    Hail Hydra
    Jacobkosh
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited January 17
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    Miles disconnects from the Apocalyptic pyramid, coming to his consciousness.

    There's a battle going on outside.

    "What the - someone give me the short version!" He leaps into action.

    I am exchanging information with Vision, X-51 says. It appears while we were connected to the Celestial pyramid, Galactus' heralds arrived. Their leader, the so-called 'Silver Surfer' attacked the Kree satellite network and destroyed nearly all of it before he was stopped by Centurion and Hyperion. Hyperion is currently engaged in combat with him. Four other heralds landed planetside nearby, and have been engaged in combat with the rest of the team and the Squadron Supreme.

    "...No..." Miles says. "It's too soon, it's too much, it's..."

    Vision has notified HELM Director Garrett, who is coordinating efforts with SWORD, HAMMER, SHIELD, and other global agencies and response efforts.

    Miles arrives up at the surface. The fourth Herald is defeated by the Squadron Supreme. He shields his eyes from the glare of its incandescent death.

    He looks at the team. "Guys, we were successful in there, sort of. I'll explain in a bit. Right now it sounds like we need to either figure out our next move or help Hyperion with that Silver Surfer. I'm open to ideas."

    Elise, who is visibly banged up and bruised, looks from Thundra to Miles. "I don't know what you expect me to do up in space against a Herald, Chief."

    "Those Heralds were tough customers, but there's still their leader and the big one to kick off of Earth," Michael says to Elise.

    She grimaces. "Thundra, you just got here. Is...is Crys okay?"

    Thundra looks at Sensate. "Princess Crystalia? I have no idea. She resides in New York City, we came from the Helicarrier."

    X-51 comes over the comms of everyone present. “There is another object hurtling inbound from Earth's orbit, a signature the size of the others.”

    "Where's its expected landing site?" Miles says.

    “I am coordinating with Vision to calc-...nearby your location,” X-51 says. “It is angling its own trajectory; it is not falling.”

    "There!" Elise can see it a few seconds before everyone else, but it's coming in fast. Like a meteor, small at first but burning hotter and faster.

    Centurion looks up, still battered and bloody from his fight with the Heralds.

    Miles assumes a ready stance. "Ryann, Michael, get up high and get ready to bring the hurt if this is a hostile!"

    Ryann nods. "Behemoth, on me!" He and Behemoth blast off.

    Even hurt, Centurion is able to intercept the trajectory of the falling object easily enough and get a good look. He realizes what it is.

    It's Hyperion.

    He's bleeding and looks barely conscious. Ryann grabs him and eases him safely to the ground.

    As they land, Hyperion lets out a wet cough and claps Ryann on the shoulder. "Thanks. Never had my ribs broken. Sucks."

    "Did you win?" Elise says nervously.

    "...no."

    Ryann nods. "Where is he?"

    "Gone. Managed to fight him to kind of a...draw. Had a few words."

    "He talked?" Miles says.

    "Yeah," Hyperion nods. "He asked me if I was native to this world. I asked him why that..." He coughs again, and spits a gob of blood. "Man...I hope I don't need that."

    "It's fine," Elise says. "Just normal phlegm and blood."

    "I asked him why it matters if I'm from here. He said if I am, I can save this world. I... I asked how. He said I could become like him...a Herald..." Hyperion looks like he's fading in and out of consciousness. "But...I'm not...so I can't..." His eyes flutter, then open again. "I'm sorry, guys."

    Julian sucks his teeth. "What, so as to turn Galactus onto other worlds in Earth's stead?"

    "I guess?" Hyperion shrugs very slightly, and winces.

    Miles stares. "That's..." He stares at the wreckage around them, the battered bodies of his teammates, for a few beats too long. He doesn’t say what he’s thinking. "No. We can't. But..."

    Ryann shakes his head.

    "He got free and then he just...sucker-punched me and left," Hyperion adds.

    "’Left’? Like he left Earth?” Ryann says.

    "Yeah. Flew off. Deep space. I couldn't follow. Not like this."

    'He's going back to his master," Ryann says grimly. Miles nods.

    "You fought well, Marcus," Michael says.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Elise toggles her comm unit again. "Clay? C'mon, old man, pick up. We just did the work, you can't be that busy... Everyone, give him some space, Christ, don't crowd the man."

    Clay comes on the comms. "Quartermain."

    "This is Elise. We have four Heralds dead and Hyperion needs a medical exfil," she says. "Where's Crys?"

    "....say again," Clay says.

    Elise frowns. "I SAID, WE HAVE FOUR DEAD HERALDS HERE AND HYPERION -"

    "Adler here,” Julian breaks in. “We have four Heralds dead. Hyperion needs help."

    "Where is MY WIFE?" Elise cries.

    "Crystalia is fine, Elise. I want to clarify. You're saying Hyperion needs a medical exfil?"

    "Yes!” she says. “He fought the Surfer!"

    "....fuck." The line is silent for a moment. "Zephyr's en route to your location."

    "Clay, there's something else you should know," Miles cuts in. "The Surfer talked to Hyperion. Said that if Hyperion was from Earth, he could save us by becoming a Herald."

    "I bet I could be a Herald," Elise murmurs. "I coulda been an Avenger. And a Watcher."

    "Update me en route to the Tower," Clay says. "What about the primary mission objective, Mason?"

    "Complete," Miles says, "with complications. All Celestial technology is cut off. That means the Well of Mimir for me, and Yggdrasil to the Asgardians."

    "There's a bunch of pieces of Herald around,” Michael says, looking around them theatrically. “I could ask Odin to make you a suit made of Heralds if you want, Elise?" His head whips around to face Mason. "Wait what?"

    "Everything Celestial is locked behind a dimensional wall," Miles says. "It was all or nothing. I didn't want to, but...." he trails off.

    Michael looks away from the group and tries to fire a blast. It works just fine. He visibly relaxes. "Whew, so that's still working."

    "Oh, so you can make me a Herald suit!" Elise says. "That'd be fantastic, I am so tired of having the shit kicked out of me. Did you know it happens to me the most out of everyone? Even Julian gets to just die and start over. I have to walk around with these sore-ass muscles for fuckin' forever. It's not fair."

    "I mean, it's no picnic for me, either," Julian says as his face reforms from the flames.

    Michael shrugs. "Weeeell, it'd be up to Clay, and Crys, and Odin, so maaaaybe?"

    "Why Crys and Clay?"

    "Clay's our boss and Crys is your wife. I'd think they'd want to know if you decided to become part Asgardian and have a magical metal suit bonded to you. Also the brand might fuck up your chest tattoo."

    X-51 comes over the comms. "To somewhat clarify what was done, the Celestials operate on a concept of space-time that is not precisely comprehensible to your mental capacity. They do not think linearly and in order to understand when to arrive at a given point in space and time to activate a Host, they must receive a signal from one of their artifacts in a vast network across the universe. Because those devices are networked, I was able to, for lack of a better way to explain it, stack overflow the timer to the point that they will never return. They will not realize this is a problem because their minds are not capable of discerning the issue."

    "So did you just...lobotomize the Uni-Mind?" Julian asks.

    "Negative, it is more accurate to say I...put it on indefinite hold. To use a metaphor for humorous effect, the Celestials will listen to hold music forever without realizing they are doing so."

    "That's almost as bad. Nice touch." Julian hums a few bars of The Girl From Ipanema to himself.

    "As a side effect, Miles and I decided to cause their entire species to go extinct."

    "Good,” Elise says. “Fuck 'em."

    "I concur. Ethically speaking, the Celestials have caused numerous genocidal events on a scale that is staggering to comprehend. On essentially every philosophical and moral system imaginable, they do not have a right to exist."

    "Can't feel too bad about what amounts to a population of omnicidal cosmic entities going out," Julian says.

    Miles nods. "Yeah, it's one of the less morally ambiguous calls I've had to make."

    PHU1KZN.png
    Miles agonized over the decision, but that was because he wasn’t sure about the consequences for the universe of locking out the beings who might be able to fight off Galactus, and he didn’t like the idea of losing access to all that sweet technology.

    But the Celestials themselves were never an issue for him. As far as he’s concerned, they can fuck off and die.

    Powerpuppies
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "Updating mission objectives from non-verbal communications from STRIKE Director Quartermain, please stand by,” X-51 says. "STRIKE Director Quartermain has sent a text-based communication requesting that we immediately confiscate all materials related to the Heralds without the Squadron Supreme's knowledge, before they are able to do so. Store these materials covertly aboard the Zephyr. I will show Miles where to do so."

    "I'll distract the Squadron." Elise perks up. "Thundra! Hey, Thundra!"

    "Your Grace."

    While Elise attempts to occupy the Squadron's attention by asking Thundra lots of long questions about the operation, Ryann and Michael move to gather the Uru scraps.

    Miles slips some pieces into his trenchcoat. "Now this is the sort of Metal Gear Solid shit I signed up for," he murmurs.

    Elise is very obviously stalling. Thundra looks past her. She squints. "We should probably take those with us, Princess."

    Moondragon puts her hand on Thundra's shoulder. "No, it's fine."

    Thundra nods. "No, it's fine."

    Elise looks between Thundra and Moondragon. "Uhhh. Thanks?"

    Julian nods at Moondragon. Moondragon returns the look and nods. Tell Quartermain we're still good, Julian hears in his mind.

    Will do. Thanks again.

    With Thundra apparently...persuaded, Moondragon occupies the rest of her team in idle chatter while Miles, Michael, and Ryann hastily load the remaining Uru into the designated compartment on the Zephyr.

    The two teams file aboard the plane, and the Squadron Supreme retires to a secure conference room to make some calls, while Freedom Force straps themselves into their accustomed jump seats in the front cabin.

    Elise turns to the rest of the group. "How come none of you fuckers call me Princess or Your Grace?"

    "I did," Michael says.

    "More often?" Elise adds.

    "I'll make an effort to do so,” Ryann says. “But I'm not bowing."

    "You guys could bow a little. I am the mother to the heir of all of Attilan. That's cool! You guys should be really happy you get to hang out with a cool princess! I'm basically one of the most politically important people in the world! You could, y'know, stop and smell the flowers."

    "Elise, we remember all too well what the 'flowers' smell like," Miles chirps.

    Elise turns red. "I… I... I had a disability! I didn't know any better!"

    Julian looks at Elise. "Sometimes I hear people address you as Princess and I just think about The Van. I'm not knocking it. I have fond memories of the van. Hazy memories, but fond." He pauses. "Like, how it was literally constantly in a haze of smoke."

    "Man, I try to commiserate and this is what I get?” Elise produces a pack of candy cigarettes and pops one into her mouth, rolling it around in her mouth anxiously. "This is bullshit. It's ableist."

    Julian leans over Mikel and speaks in a low voice. "God, doesn't it just burn your ass we don't get to hang out on that thing anymore? Fuck."

    The conference room door opens and Darkhawk emerges, heading up to the cockpit. "Drop us off at the Helicarrier. HELM's orders."

    Mikel grumbles. "Yeah, alright."

    Mikel looks over at Julian. "Man, I hear you can't die. Did you know this bird has ejector seats?"

    "WAIT WHAT" Miles storms past Elise to stare into the cockpit. "Ejector seats?! Sick!"

    Julian narrows his eyes at Fury. “I can die, but I come back. But Clay doesn’t like it. So don’t do it.”

    Mikel laughs. "I was fuckin' with you. It doesn't actually have ejector seats. I'm just being a baby about the Helicarrier thing."

    He punches some buttons and pulls back on the yoke, and the Zephyr takes off for the US.

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    Along the way, Hyperion visibly recovers from his injuries, standing up and walking over to the rest of the crew. He sits with the rest of STRIKE-1. "I missed you guys. I like my new team, don't get me wrong. They're good people. But I miss STRIKE."

    "We miss you too, man," Julian says.

    "So, hey... we got some intel from Clay," Marcus says. "I think it came from you guys on your space mission. It was about dogs."

    Elise squints. "What."

    Miles leans forward in his seat excitedly. "Oh, yeah, man! Leviathan bred commie space dogs! I met one. He was really friendly." Miles sighs fondly.

    "Apparently the space dogs thing was like, an afterthought,” Marcus says. “That one was the failure because he was too nice."

    Miles’ face falls. "Oh. Hrm."

    "The Americans and the Russians had a bunch of one-upmanship bullshit back in the Cold War. I was part of some of that. It was a crazy time.

    "In the 60s the Americans had this thing called 'Acoustic Kitty.' They cybernetically augmented domestic cats with radio transmitters and listening equipment and just...let them loose in Russian embassies to act as living listening devices."

    Miles nods. "You hear these stories from the old guys...half the time you don't know what to believe and what was just some guy letting his imagination run away with him. And then I start working at this place and find out like 90% of it is true."

    PHU1KZN.png
    Obviously Skrull space dogs aren’t real—obviously. Obviously! But “Acoustic Kitty” is 100% a real thing that actually happened. Matt and I are both into espionage history and it’s full of wacky shit.

    "The Soviet, or more accurately Leviathan, response was to have Skrulls shapeshift into dogs to infiltrate the households of American ambassadors, politicians, that sort of thing. Keep in mind these were full-blooded, second-gen Skrulls."

    Elise squints at her candy cigarette suspiciously while listening to this bizarre conversation.

    "And some...well...sometimes spies go native and get romantically involved with locals on the other side, y'know? Soviet spies getting romantically involved with Americans, that sort of thing."

    "Are Leviathan literally dogfuckers?!" Elise gasps.

    "I mean, some of them, it turns out, yeah," Hyperion shrugs. "They wore the mask too long and got too into the role, I guess. Risk of spying."

    Elise hoots. "Oh, man. Do you think Jeremiah's gone native with some owls? Owlfuckin' out there in the woods?"

    "Jesus, Elise," Michael says, shaking his head.

    "He's still like, human-sized," Julian points out.

    Hyperion shakes his head. "We don't send Agent Warrick to spy on owls, Elise. That's not how it works."

    "That's even worse,” she declares. “He's owlfucking for fun."

    Hyperion sighs. "Do you still miss us?" Miles grins at him.

    "Some of you, yeah."

    Elise is scandalized. "Wow."

    "I bet you would respect Jeremiah so much more if you thought of him more like, say, Horus, Elise," Julian says. "Like, what did he do?"

    "I worked with him for months," she says. "Have you ever heard an owl eat a peanut butter sandwich?"

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Marcus continues. "Anyway, because Skrulls are damn near immortal, some of these original Leviathan dog-spies are still alive and around." He points at Miles. "You've seen Highlander, right?"

    "Of course," Miles says. "And some of the series. I was 10 and it was on after 11 and sometimes had girls in bras."

    "Oh man. I remember those kind of shows," Julian says, a fond look on his face.

    "Oh, okay, it's okay for you to talk about girls in bras but if I try to show off my sick tattoo or my sweet piercings suddenly it's no Elise, put a shirt on, Elise, you're gross. Fuckin'...whatever."

    "You know MacLeod covers up being an immortal by faking his own death and pretending to be his own kid and so on?” Hyperion asks. “Turns out that's a lot easier to do when you're a dog and you don't have a passport or anything. They were a giant pain in the ass to track down is what I'm saying."

    "Wait,” Miles says, “so like...Fluffy 1 would 'run away' and then a new friendly dog would show up at the ambassador's house a week later?"

    Hyperion nods. "Yeah and the crazy thing is, most people, if they like golden labs, they tend to just, get another golden lab, so it's not like the bastard has to even change it up much.”

    Miles shakes his head. "I...god damn, Milton. I don't even know what to say. 'Your country thanks you,’ I guess?"

    Marcus laughs and shakes his head, "Did you know at one point, the whole thing was so frustrating we ended up calling Blade's team because hunting these fucking things was so like...werewolf-adjacent?"

    Elise stares. "Wait, WEREWOLVES are real TOO?"

    Hyperion quirks an eyebrow. "...yeah?"

    "Oh my god." Julian's mouth drops and hangs open. "Of course!!"

    Michael nods. "With everything we've seen, I don't discount anything being real anymore."

    "God,” Elise moans, “I can't believe I got Inhuman in the cosmic draw, and not werewolf."

    "I mean most actual werewolves were with HYDRA," Hyperion says. "Not Leviathan."

    "HYDRA werewolves?” Michael says. “Wow."

    "Yeah, that's STAKE's problem, not ours," Marcus shrugs. "Everyone's got their lane. I guess yours is...I don't even know now."

    "I'm not too sure anymore either,” Michael agrees. “Galactus primarily?"

    Hyperion sucks his teeth. "Well, I'll stay in my lane then."

    "I'm an Agent of Doom now too!" Else adds brightly.

    Hyperion turns. "...what?" Behind him, Miles dies silently inside.

    "Aha, that's a joke," Elise backpedals convincingly.

    Hyperion squints. "...kay."

    Elise finger guns. "You know, because I'm so...spooky. In a general sense. Agent of Doom. I can't believe you fell for that." Elise is sweating. Miles' shades click shut over his eyes so Hyperion can't see him glaring at Elise.

    Mikel comes over the Zephyr intercom. "Approaching Mountaintop."

    Hyperion nods, "This is my stop. Good talking with you guys."

    "Take care, Hyperion," Ryann says.

    Hyperion nods at him. "Thanks again, man. Next time we catch that silver bastard, I want to give him the solar special."

    Ryann smiles and nods. "Me too." Hyperion reaches a fist towards Ryann, and Ryann doesn’t leave him hanging.

    "I want to give him The Stare," Julian murmurs.

    Machine Man smiles at Hyperion. "If we get to dance with that silver guy, we'll be sure to give you a call."

    The Zephyr lands on the Helicarrier. The Squadron Supreme departs. Thundra gives Elise a polite bow as they leave.

    Julian receives a telepathic message from Moondragon. I've left a USB stick in the leftmost compartment next to the fire extinguisher by the cockpit. Give it to Quartermain and tell him it's from me. Don't grab it until after you've left.

    ...Wow. Thank you==,
    he thinks. I'll do that.

    Elise waits for the Squadron Supreme to leave. "WHY did I SAY that?! And I already used my coupon so Clay can't yell at me! Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!"

    "Yeah, why did you say that?" Ryann says.

    Michael shrugs. "'Cuz you're you." Ryann nods.

    "We were talking, y'know, and he was like oooh I'm so cool, so I wanted to, y'know, be like hey, I'm cool too!" Elise says.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The Zephyr departs the Helicarrier, and begins its flight to New York.

    "You know,” Miles says thoughtfully, “I'm starting to come around to the suit idea, especially if it comes with a mute button."

    "Pretty sure that's an optional extra that we can select, Chief," Michael says.

    Miles nods sagely at Michael.

    "You guys cannot tell Clay about this," Elise pleads. "It's fine. It's fine."

    "If it's fine, then telling Clay won't be a problem, right?" Miles says mildly. Ryann nods his head at Miles.

    "Miles, no, he is going to yell and yell at me."

    Miles nods eagerly. "Good! It saves me the trouble!"

    "Yup," Ryann nods briskly.

    "We just had a conversation behind closed doors where I had to give up my no-yelling coupon about op-sec. Do not fuck me on this. Julian. Julian, you need to set me on fire,” Elise pleads. “No one yells at a burn victim. They'll feel too bad."

    "Fuck no," he says.

    "Just a little. Come on."

    "The sprinklers in the Zephyr would just put you out, Elise," Michael notes.

    X-51 comes over the comms. "Agent Arnell, it appears that Tony Stark attempted to file a complaint with HAMMER as an agency and with his brother, HAMMER Director Gregory Stark, in particular. He specifically named you and your Doom-employed cohorts as specific elements of his grievance, going on the stated the confessed account of Doom's agent Cain Marko.

    "As a result, it is entirely likely that if Hyperion was not personally aware of your involvement with Doctor Doom's agents, HAMMER Director Gregory Stark absolutely is."

    "Oh no. Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no." Elise pulls out several candy cigarettes and shoves them into her mouth, nervously crunching on them. "I'm going to be in so much trouble. I'm going to be in so much trouble.

    "Like, first of all, I shouldn't have let Juggernaut talk. At all. Second of all, Tony Stark hates me now. Tony Stark! He's like, the coolest guy ever. He's literally a superhero, billionaire, genius, philanthropist, all around great guy, and he thinks I'm an Agent of Doom! And now he has a superhero team who will track me down and beat my ass!"

    Julian laughs. "We all do things we regret, Elise." He grabs the USB from the hidden spot Moondragon mentioned. "They left a gift for us here. For Clay." He holds up the USB key.

    Miles' head whips around. "Wait, what?"

    "Who did?" Michael asks.

    Miles peers at the stick. "Is that...does this have to do with why Moondragon whammied Thundra?"

    "Here." Julian hands the USB to Miles. "Yeah, Moondragon told me in that discreet manner we do."

    "WOW I BET THAT'S FULL OF IMPORTANT INTEL," Elise says, still sweating. "We should focus on THAT."

    "I bet, Elise," Ryann smirks.

    Miles takes the USB. "Well, now I'm curious. Are you curious, X-51?"

    X-51 responds over the comms. "I am. I feel we should screen this drive in case Moondragon is attempting to lure Director Quartermain and by extension STRIKE into a trap. Plug the USB into a SHIELD tablet, and I will wirelessly scan it and determine its contents."

    "Is there some like, Quiet Room kinda stuff you can do with that thing?" Julian asks. "I always feel like I'm gonna plug a virus into my computer when I think about plugging one of those in, you know?"

    Miles nods. "Good catch." He passes the USB to Ryann. "Can you do anything with this?"

    Ryann holds the drive over his gauntlet. "It's possible. There's very little chance of it messing with my tech. Give me a moment here. Corona, scan this storage device."

    Julian looks expectantly towards Ryann's gauntlet. "This should be interesting."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Corona scans the storage device. It returns a result. "Centurion Valt, it appears that this device, while Earth-technology in origin, has been substantially modified. It contains a Skrull crystal-storage drive inside, and its code language and data storage are Skrull in origin."

    "Wait,” Miles squints at Ryann’s gauntlet. “What?"

    "The operating system, programming language, and data storage methodology are severely out of date, however. Well behind what the Skrull Empire is currently using.

    "Its cryptology is nonetheless quite difficult to determine, in part because its technological age and obsolescence may make it difficult to access. I can attempt to hack the device and determine its contents, but I am uncertain of my success rate."

    "Can X-51 help you?" Miles says to Corona.

    X-51 responds. "I have some speculation, Miles. I am...having difficulty with higher level calculations. It is...upsetting. Please stand by."

    A moment passes. "I am...becoming emotional. Stand by." Another few moments pass. "Calculation complete."

    Miles grimaces. "Um."

    Ryann looks at Miles. "Wait, did he already connect?"

    "Negative," X-51 says. "I speculate that this device's unique nature is because it is not from the current Skrull Empire. It originates from Leviathan technology, and as a result, is nearly a century out of date."

    Miles runs his temple. "So...is it Clay's Leviathan tech? Or Stark's?"

    "If Director Quartermain is the intended recipient, and Moondragon is indeed operating in good faith on behalf of the Director, it is possible that Director Quartermain is using this sort of technology as a secure way of communicating as there would be very few individuals capable of understanding or deciphering these messages.

    "I suggest asking the Director openly before allowing the drive to be connected to any computers."

    "We'll just give it to Clay,” Elise says. “He can make that call."

    "Yeah," Miles says. "Yeah." His mind is racing.

    "Corona, scan the device for any possible malicious intent," Ryann says. "If it's clear, then we’ll just give it to Clay."

    Corona responds "There do not appear to be any traps or malicious software, but the data is deeply encrypted. Without connecting it to a compatible computer, it is difficult to determine what is actually on the drive beyond data of some nature. Attempting to decrypt the data may have unforeseen consequences, such as corrupting the data if it is designed to do so."

    Ryann shakes his head. "No, that will be fine.”

    "I'm sure Clay will be familiar enough with it to figure it out, anyway," Julian adds.

    "We should just call Clay and ask him what's up with this thing before we take it anywhere," Michael offers.

    Ryann presses a button on his gauntlet and then hands the USB back to Miles. Miles stashes it in his trenchcoat pocket.

    Mikel comes over the intercom. "We're coming up on the tower now."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    The Zephyr lands on the tower.

    Even through the swelling and bruises from the fight against the Heralds, Elise looks...nervous.

    The team disembarks, and finds Clay there waiting. STRIKE-2, Nexwave, is also milling about, equipped and ready to go.

    "SWORD's on high-alert, they've got three satellites left, and that includes the Peak," Clay opens without preamble as he leads them inside. "We don't have a defensive grid anymore. We've got our bits hanging out in the breeze now."

    Elise raises her hand nervously. Clay nods at her. "Go."

    "I kind of broke op-sec."

    "On what?"

    "The whole Agent of Doom thing? But it doesn't matter, because, um. Gregory Stark already knows?"

    "Ugh, yeah, who cares," he says. "Blond asshole already called me to yell at me."

    A wave of relief washes over Elise. "Oh, thank God."

    Clay nods. "He can shove it."

    Elise nudges Julian and grins. "Yesss." Julian laughs out loud; Ryann just shakes his head.

    Clay turns to face the rest of the team. "You lot were with the Squadron. You...have anything to report?"

    Miles produces the drive. "Moondragon gave us this for you. You should probably be careful before plugging it into anything."

    Clay quirks an eyebrow. "Why, you try to? Wasn't for you."

    Miles nods. "X-51, Ryann, and I gave it a once-over. I'm not really into being someone's blind courier, Clay."

    Clay nods. "I appreciate your caution, lads. Going forward, know that Moondragon is one of ours. She gives you something for me, it's for me."

    "Moondragon says we're good with her," Julian adds.

    "Yes, about that," Clay says. He jabs a thumb over his shoulder. "Conference room."

    "Oh!” Elise says. “Real quick, if I wanted an Asgardian suit of Uru armor, would you approve that, 'cause Michael says -"

    "Table that."

    Elise grins. "That's not a no!" she sing-songs to Michael.

    "Mute button," Miles murmurs. "Ooooh, or a bit."

    "You can't mute me. You'd miss me too much."

    Michael sighs and heads to the conference room with the rest of the team.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Once they’re inside, Clay moves to the head of the conference table and enters a command on the console there. The lights darken slightly. "Any time it does that, the room is electronically sequestered. No signals in or out. Bug-free."

    "Great. So we're good to speak freely?" Julian asks.

    "Yes."

    "Rad," Julian nods. "I should note, by the way, Moondragon covered for us to get the Uru left behind by the Heralds before HAMMER swept it."

    "That's not Moondragon."

    Elise stares. "What?"

    Julian stares too. "Wait - huh?"

    "Her name is Lyja," Clay says. "She's a Skrull."

    "Has she...always been Lyja?” Miles asks. "Like, was she who we rescued from Blitzschlag?"

    "Moondragon, Heather Douglass, is somewhere safe," Clay says. "She's an Inhuman, you rescued her."

    "I can't believe I didn't spot a Skrull," Elise grumbles. "That's my thing. I spot Skrulls."

    "While she was in the Raft, Heather Douglass and Gregory Stark, her jailor, developed a... problematic relationship," Clay says.

    Miles makes a face. "Ew."

    "Yes."

    Julian sucks his teeth.

    "When I found about this, I decided it was...leverage," Clay says. "So I removed Heather from the situation and she's somewhere safe now.

    “"Lyja is a former agent of Leviathan who Susan recruited into WHISPER. Lyja took Heather's place and...convinced Gregory that she would be an asset to this new Squadron Supreme thing.

    "Since then..." Clay holds up the stick, "Well, you know, if your enemy is in your arms, they don't see the knife before they feel it." Clay puts the stick down and grimaces. "Ugh, that's one of Robert's sayings. Sorry."

    Elise looks decidedly uncomfortable. "Gonna be honest, Clay, kind of everything about this situation is...morally gross."

    "Well, you were in space, kiddo,” he says. “Welcome back to the stink."

    "...I guess!"

    Miles nods. "We're playing for the biggest stakes imaginable. Lying to people who kind of suck is one of the least worst things we might have to do."

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    Elise has changed a lot from where she began, but she’s still both really uncomfortable with and doesn’t quite understand a lot of the realities of spy work. That’s a constant with her.

    Whereas Miles, now that his crisis of confidence is over, he’s moved beyond a lot of the self-doubt he used to have. He’s all in on the mission. Also, to his way of thinking, at least Lyja is in a position to offer actual consent, so while she’s misleading Gregory Stark about who she is, it’s still a better situation on balance than it was before!

    There's a banging on the door.

    Clay turns off the electronic sequester and suddenly, Vision comes blasting over the comms. "PRIORITY ALERT, ALL SHIELD AGENTS, ALL SECURITY LEVELS..."

    Miles stiffens. "That's not good."

    Bob kicks the door open. "Hey boss!" He looks at everyone in the room. "He's here."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    The tower begins shaking. Clay grabs the table and shouts at the team "STRIKE-1 and 2, get to the Zephyr and mobilize now, orders will come in the air. MOVE!"

    Miles runs for the landing pad. "We need the Nullifier! And we need to get it into space now!"

    Ryann and Julian are right behind him. "Fuck. Fuck!"

    Elise freezes, thinking back to Strontia. "I - I -" Michael flings her over his shoulder and runs.

    "Hey!” she squeals. “Hey!!"

    Clay’s voice comes over the base PA. "All STRIKE-COMMS personnel, report to emergency evac stations, STRIKE-COMMS personnel level 8+, report to STRIKE armory for exfil to Alpha Site."

    "Clay!" Elise yells over the comms, while squirming in Mike's grasp. "Make sure Crys is safe!"

    Clay comes over the team’s private comm. "Agent Arnell, Princess Crystalia has already been moved to the Alpha Site and is secure. Your orders will be in the air."

    Miles frowns with a brief flash of resentment. His sister and his folks don't get to go to some kind of special site. He swallows it down and tries to focus on the mission.

    The Zephyr takes off with the STRIKE teams aboard.

    The Avengers Quinjet takes off right behind them. "Oh good, Other Clint decided to do his fuckin' job," Bob grimly quips.

    Elise throws out a pack of empty candy cigarettes and moves on to chewing the ends of her fingers. "I don't know why you guys need me. Power of smell and gun. Don't know what I'm going to do."

    "You helped kill a Celestial, we need you, Elise," Michael says gently.

    "Remember what you and Faiza did with Shuma-Gorath?" Julian points out.

    "Now's not the time for doubt, Elise," Miles says. "You're where you need to be. I don't know if it's fate or God or just the stupid random cosmos, but that's how it is."

    Clay comes over the ship's comms. "All right people, I'm en route to Strange's place to grab the Nullifier but I need some more concrete plans here."

    MIles switches to comms. "We have one big priority,” he says. "Communication. None of our plans work if we can't either intimidate Galactus with the Nullifier or talk him down by telling him about the Celestial network."

    A portal opens aboard the Zephyr. Strange and Clay step out; Strange has the Ultimate Nullifier.

    "Welcome to the party," Miles smiles mordantly.

    The Zephyr begins rocking with turbulence. Mikel calls back from the cockpit "Hold on people, hitting the i-damps and a-grav, it'll compensate in just a sec."

    Julian tenses. "Well, are we ever in it now."

    Miles nods at Julian. "Well, people," he claps his hands together, "if this is the end of the world, at least we're going together."

    "I'll be on comms." Ryann press a button on his gauntlet and walks towards the back of this ship. "Corona, meet me for a sub-atmosphere pickup "

    "Acknowledged," Corona responds.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Centurion is still a hotshot lone wolf at heart, so the first thing that happens in a crisis like this is he wants to get into his sweet ride and hotshot-lone-wolf it out.

    Ryann opens the cargo door as the the Zephyr levels out. The world outside is...it's...something.

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    s4DSKPlh.jpg

    "Corona, double time, now!" Ryann shouts as he blasts off, staring down in horror in the state of the city.

    "Stuff of nightmares," Julian whispers.

    "Machine swarms," X-51 says over the comms, "similar to ones we saw on Strontia. They are currently being engaged by a variety of forces, including the Avengers, the Squadron Supreme and others. I am receiving communications from Vision that globally, other defenses are attempting to respond. SWORD's remaining satellite defenses are doing their best."

    Elise tentatively reaches out through the chaos, trying to push her senses. She has to find something, some kind of key. If she can see Watchers, maybe she can communicate with Galactus, find something -

    She feels death.

    Screams.

    People being ripped apart by swarms.

    Buildings being torn down.

    It's too much. She passes out, mercifully.

    "Elise!" Julian cries.

    The Zephyr’s hatch closes up as Ryann takes off, and Clay reaches over and puts his hand on Elise's forehead.

    She wakes up, and doesn't at all remember what just happened beyond she felt faint and passed out. She tried to reach out, and it didn't work, and it would be a bad idea to try again.

    Elise gasps and jerks awake. "Okay. Okay. I'm fine. I'm fine."

    Miles nods at Clay.

    Turning from Elise, Clay calls up to the cockpit, "Fury, take us into orbit, there's no way we're winning this fight from the ground."

    Mikel calls back. "That cloud of...nightmares is going to be a problem. I need a path, and looks like Valt just flew off for his own ride. Hey Westin, think you can snowplow for me?"

    "I'll give it a shot,” Michael rumbles as he armors up. He heads for the back hatch and hops out of the Zephyr. Flying to the front of the plane, he grabs onto the nose, facing forward, and unleashes the Odinforce. Galactus drones drop out of the sky in their hundreds as Behemoth clears the way with a mighty roar.

    But more drones stand between Centurion and the Corona. Dialing his speed up, he attempts to blitz through them, but the drones are even faster; they begin swarming Ryann, grabbing and biting.

    He needs to get these things off him. Now.

    "Argh!" Ryann fires blasts wildly, but every drone he crushes or hurls away is replaced by three more. They begin consuming Ryann, pulling the Nova Force from him.

    "Oh, Christ!" Julian cries in horror, watching from the porthole. He runs to the back of the Zephyr and summons the Phoenix Rider’s motorcycle. Miles hops on the back as it blasts forth into the sky on a trail of fire.

    Sensate flings herself out after them, her harness keeping her afloat. She stares at the drones. It hurts, but she has to know how to help Ryann.

    She sees it; their weak point. The central core. She points. "The core! Beneath the grabbers!" She plants her feet—which is a bit fruitless, because she's hovering, but it gives her confidence—and carefully picks drones out of the sky with her pistol to provide covering fire.

    Longbow joins her, firing explosive arrows alongside.

    The Phoenix Rider sends bolts of lancing cosmic fire at the drones’ cores. The machines curl up as they burn, falling off Ryann like autumn leaves. Machine Man’s arms shoot into the cloud and pull Centurion to safety.

    fZ4J38Dl.jpg

    Ryann is badly mauled, but alive.

    "Get him back to the Zephyr!" Elise cries. The Phoenix Rider’s bike does a wheelie with an unholy roar, then guns it for the Zephyr’s docking hatch.

    Once everyone is back aboard and the hatch closes, Strange moves over to Ryann. "His physiology is more or less like a human's, right?" he looks up at the group. "He doesn't have a second heart or three kidneys?"

    "Not that I am aware of," Ryann manages.

    Strange contorts his hands into a mudra and performs a series of mystical gestures, and Ryann is healed of his wounds. He still feels weakened, but isn't full of bitemarks and feels less bashed\-up from the earlier fight.

    He looks up at Strange. "Thanks, Doc."

    "We can dock with the Corona once we are in orbit and safely clear of the swarm,” X-51 says. “It would be advisable to stay close until then, Agent Valt."

    The Zephyr’s course is clear for the time being, so Michael comes back inside. "You good, Ryann?"

    "I think so."

    "In addition to the swarms, there is seismic and meteorological instability across the planet," X-51 announces. "The casualties are impossible to determine at this time."

    Miles turns to the group. "We need to get to the core of Galactus. The control nexus or hub or whatever. The part we can talk to. Or nullify."

    "Do we know the path?" Elise asks.

    The ship ascends into low orbit as X-51 responds to Elise. "I have determined the cause of the instability across the planet, and I believe I know where we need to go. If I could direct your attention to the nearest viewport..."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited January 17
    Oh0n1W3h.png

    Julian looks out the viewport. "I...what the fuck."

    Elise looks at Miles. "Can you open communications, X-51? Or Vision?"

    "Vision is tasked with...quite a bit, Agent Arnell," X-51 responds.

    Miles is just staring out the window. "Jesus."

    The rest of STRIKE-2 looks out the window. Bob doesn't have any funny quips, and just puts his arm around Faiza and holds her tight. Eric O’Grady sits down in his chair, sullen. Omega Red's face is impassive and cold. Jessica Drew sits in her seat, head between her knees, and starts hyperventilating.

    "This is it," Michael says. Julian nods.

    Ryann’s jaw sets. "I'm going back out there."

    "Wait,” Clay says. He looks over at Strange. "Go, get everyone else to the Alpha Site." Strange nods, and disappears through a portal.

    "What is the Alpha Site?" Miles says.

    "...Earth-187."

    "Ffffuck," Miles says.

    "A wasteland planet is better than no planet," Clay nods somberly. "But that's plan C."

    "What's plan B…” Miles squints. “No, what's Plan A?"

    "We're Plan A. Plan B is something Doom, Richards, and I cooked up," Clay says. "Turn the SLINGSHOT into a fuck-off big gun and just...shoot Galactus in the mouth."

    Miles grins. "Nice."

    Clay nods. "Not with a normal bullet, though, but with a one-way portal to the Negative Zone."

    "We need a way to talk to Galactus. And we need," Miles sucks his teeth, "a volunteer to use the Nullifier."

    "I volunteer," Elise says in a small voice. "If...if we need to. I'm the burnout. Should be me."

    "Elise, no." Clay looks at her and shakes his head. "You'd fail."

    "It'd be worth it," she says.

    Ryann shakes his head at her. "That's not how a parent should think, Elise."

    PHU1KZN.png
    Ryann usually keeps his peace around Elise and her assorted nonsense, but as the parent of a grown son, this is something he takes pretty seriously.

    Faiza gently puts her arm around Elise. "What he's saying is...the Ultimate Nullifier is like a test of will. You're willing something to not exist. You can win, you can both lose...or you can just lose."

    Elise looks at Ryann, and then Faiza, and then takes a deep breath. "I got more piss and vinegar in me than you think. But. Okay."

    "Which of us could you really count on to succeed, here? Like..." Julian stares forward a moment.

    IT WILL NOT BE YOU, The Phoenix howls in Julian's mind.

    So the assembled force of billions of souls don't have the will, then? Julian taunts. If not us, then no one.

    "I'll do it if needs be," Michael says.

    "No." Clay puts his hand up. “All of you stop. All of you stop."

    Everyone turns to face Clay.

    "If this," he holds up the Nullifier, "is a test of will, is a test of the will to exist or not exist, or a question of who thinks they could possibly win this, or who could really take the L if it came down to having to both go down.

    "Are any of you, any of you, going to really make the case that you have a stronger argument than me, who has over a hundred years on each of you and who the original homeworld of his species got eaten by this fucking beast?"

    "...You can't," Elise says.

    "It's going to be me," Clay says flatly. "It's not an argument. It's an order." Ryann solemnly nods his head.

    "Dad -" Elise chokes. Faize holds her hand, eyes welling.

    "Sorry boss,” Michael shakes his head, “but that's a shit order and I'm not following it."

    "Then state your case, Westin," Clay says. His voice is dangerous. "You have an argument?"

    "You have a daughter. Hell you have three, which means you have more to lose than a lot of us here. In that critical moment, can you really say that you would 100% give up the possibility to see them again? That that one moment of sentimentality won't cause you to fail?"

    Clay's jaw tightens.

    "I'm not doubting your will to do what must be done, to make the hard calls, but any weakness, any moment of doubt could very well end up with us losing you forever."

    "He's right, boss," Miles says softly.

    Clay’s shoulders slump. "...he usually is. It's why I keep him around." He pats Michael on the shoulder fondly.

    Elise flings herself at Michael for a hug. "Thank you," she whispers. "Thank you thank you." He holds her tightly.

    "Good," Miles says briskly, "because it should be me."

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "Oh, shut the fuck up, Miles -" Elise cries, horrified. "No, no, no, no -"

    She hears Bob whisper to Faiza, "Am I expected to volunteer like is this a cultural thing because I don't want to, I love you and I think I would fail, I don't want to..."

    Miles holds up a hand. He turns slowly, looking all present in the eye.

    "Not because I'm the most badass, even though, you know. " He waves a hand vaguely downward at himself. "Not because I have the most to lose, or the least to lose, or because I'm the most expendable or any of that crap.

    "It's also not because I have some kind of martyr complex. I don't want to die. I want to live very, very much. I want to ask Carol..." his voice thickens, and he swallows. "...Well, that's for later. The point is, it's just numbers. Not sentiment.

    "I've got a Celestial-upgraded AI in my head with a direct line to my neurology.

    "Whatever 'willpower' actually means, X-51 might be able to reinforce that. Strengthen it in me for the crucial second. Interface with the Nullifier on its own level."

    Clay purses his lips. "X-51, is Miles talking shit?"

    "He is not, Director. Miles is accurate. Of course, there is potential for failure, no matter how small, but I agree with his hypothesis that our combined mental faculties qualify us as the best candidate among all here."

    "Why does everyone think I have such a weak will?" Elise asks, which is less of an actual volunteer and more of a sign of hurt feelings.

    "Elise, we don't think you have weak willpower,” Michael says. “You have more of a zest for life than most people. Plus Crys would murder us if you got zapped."

    Omega Red looks at Elise and says flatly, "I do not. You nearly died to protect a comrade and led us into battle to slay a god. I do not question your will for a moment, little one."

    Elise sniffs and laugh-sobs and tries to play it off like a cough.

    Clay takes a cleansing breath, and looks at Spider-Woman, who is still hyperventilating. "Agent Drew, sort yourself."

    She looks up and attempts to steel herself. "Y-yes sir."

    Miles looks at the group. "If we're done drawing straws, I'd rather plan for success than failure. Let's find out where this asshole's face is."

    "Right,” Julian nods. “Let's get onto something and we can figure out the who later."

    Clay looks at the team. "Alright, STRIKE-1, you're going to go with Valt on the Corona. STRIKE-2, you're with me here on the Zephyr." He hands Miles the Nullifier. "The Corona is on an intercept course, we're going to dock up and transfer."

    Ryann nods. "Yes, sir."

    Elise flings herself at Clay for one final hug before boarding. Faiza joins her, and Clay hugs his daughters before saying, "Take care of yourself, Elise. Don't let Julian die more than once."

    "I'll try. If I don't come back, take care of Crys."

    "Won't need to, if you don't come back, I'm not either, and Crys is already safe."

    "Thanks for the pep talk."

    He tousles her hair. "I'm bad at them."

    Michael claps Clay on the shoulder. "Stay safe, boss."

    Miles quietly sidles up to Clay and produces a little box from his pocket. "Can you hold onto this? In case...." he trails off. Clay nods and takes the box and pockets it.

    There's a mild thump and shake as the Corona docks with the Zephyr. Clay jabs a thumb a the door. "Your ride's here. Go."

    Ryann shakes Clay's hand and heads into his ship.

    Miles pauses at the hatch and looks back at Clay and Nextwave. "See you on the other side." He finger guns his way into the Corona.



    PHU1KZN.png
    I really love this scene and I’m super glad we were able to do it. Everyone giving their reason for why they should be the one to use the Ultimate Nullifier was such a great way to highlight the personalities of all these characters, and their feelings about their future and about each other.

    Michael is dutiful as always, Julian thinks it’s the Phoenix’s destiny even if the Phoenix itself violently disagrees. Elise, still thinking she’s a burnout, still thinking she’s worthless, is eager to volunteer and it’s Ryann who has to remind her that a person with a pregnant wife doesn’t get to make decisions like that all on their own anymore. Ryann, notably, doesn’t volunteer.

    And Miles does, but...from a completely different place than he would have in Season 1, where he jumped out of a skyscraper window wearing 200 pounds of bionics to catch a flying Skrull because he just didn’t care that much.

    And I love poor Bob’s bafflement. He’s been on this planet for a while now, but it keeps surprising him.

    PowerpuppiesMatev
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    W3WoSS0.jpg

    Ryann heads to the pilot’s seat. "Get situated, people!"

    Julian takes a seat. "This is it. We're going to settle this one way or the other."

    Elise pulls her hair back into a short ponytail and nods. "I'm ready."

    Michael nods. "Let's go save the world. Again."

    The ship flies off, and X-51 addresses the team. "Above that glowing core, there appears to be something of a masthead or bridge that, if I am speculating correctly, may be the bridge or command central of the ship. Speculating in this way is...difficult with compromised faculty."

    "Can I help?" Elise asks. "Maybe I can take a gander."

    A sly grin on his face, Miles nudges Ryann. "Hey. Hey Ryann."

    "What?"

    "Does this get SiriusXM?"

    Ryann shakes his head. "No, I got something better." He smirks.

    Julian forces a smile. "I bet."

    Ryann queues up Headstrong by Trapt, from their 2002 self-titled album. But something else happens instead. The song cuts out just as it starts.

    "Sir...there's...interference..." Corona calls out.

    Ryann’s fingers fly over the console. "Interference?"

    "I am being...hacked."

    The music changes.



    Elise jumps to her feet. "Is it...is he...?!"

    "Yes," Vladimir says from behind her.

    MeqxHAOl.jpg

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    I don’t think anyone ever comes out and says it, but “Hotel California” is a song with special significance to Vlad. It’s the song that the team heard on the desert highway in Iraq so long ago.

    Matev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Elise’s face shines with joy. Michael narrows his eyes.

    "Vlad. What a surprise," Julian nods mirthlessly. "Welcome to the party."

    Ryann cranes his head over his shoulder and nods noncommittally. "Unexpected, but we'll take all the help we can get. I just hope you left Corona and my playlist unharmed."

    Miles nods. "Good to see you, Vlad."

    Elise wells up and throws herself at Vlad for a hug. Vlad hugs Elise back, and nods at Miles. "You as well. I have much to answer for. I believe it begins here."

    Miles clenches his fist in an old gesture. "The original team rides again. Let's do this."

    The Corona's console lights up. "Sir, we have incoming,” it says.
    .
    zMm4iLtl.jpg

    "Corona, divert all auxiliary power to forward shield and pulse thrusters, now!" Ryann cries.

    Miles points at Michael and Julian. "We need a path."

    Julian moves to the exit. "Alright Mike, let's see how many we can rack up."

    Michael grins. "You're on."

    Julian flings himself from the ship and summons his motorcycle. Flames swirl across his body and the bike. Michael follows, faceplates open wide and roiling with energy.

    "Let me take weapons, Ryann," Elise says. "If it's like an arcade game, I can aim. If I can see, I can kill."

    Ryann nods. "That console, there," he points. "I'm granting you access now." Elise swings into the seat and takes the controls.

    Vlad walks over to the console where Elise is. "I can help you. Like old times."

    "...Yeah, like old times. We make a good team." Elise narrows her eyes and begins to fire.

    Miles puts a hand to his temple. "X-51, do we still have that code left over from Jocasta? Let's try our trick from Strontia again."

    X-51 responds, "We do, I can attempt to broadcast the code, but I will need your help add 'noise' to the code in case they have adapted."

    "I can do that," Miles says.

    With Vlad augmenting her targeting by interfacing with Corona's computers, Sensate looses the Corona’s onboard weapons in a blazing barrage, destroying drones by the hundreds—by the thousands—all with pinpoint accuracy.

    The Phoenix Rider blazes a trail through space, throwing fiery lances at clouds of drones as he streaks past them. Repeating his trick from earlier, Behemoth projects a continuous blast in front of the ship, creating a tunnel through the swarm.

    Machine Man closes his eyes and tries to shut out the distractions of the physical and re-enter that pure space he felt in Asgard, that realm of pure data and consciousness, of information moving faster than thought.

    He and X-51 find it, and simply turn off a swath of the drone swarm, casting it aside.

    Darting nimbly around their attackers, Ryann pilots the Corona through the opening made by his teammates, and Julian and Michael catch up with the ship. The pair fistbump as they reenter through the airlock.

    The Corona flies towards the central pillar of the Worldship.

    "By hacking the drones, I believe I have been able to interpret the programming language Galactus uses," X-51 says. "It is not terribly different from Celestial code, which already forms much of the foundation of my upgraded intelligence.

    "I have located the central bridge of the ship, and where Galactus resides. Transferring flight coordinates to Corona."

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    Freedom Force flies towards the bridge tower, which dwarfs Earth itself in size and has its own gravity well that Corona has to navigate around. The Corona slips into a gateway that moons could fit inside.

    Ryann navigates them through tunnelways that are so incomprehensibly big it doesn't feel like they’re inside a ship or space station. The sides aren’t visible except for faded blinking guiding lights in the distance which look, to the passengers on the Corona, like blinking violet stars.

    They've been inside a Celestial ship before. This is orders of magnitude larger. This is a ship that eats planets. It kills civilizations.

    "We're so close." Elise stares out at the halls. "These are veins. We can destroy this. I... We can do this. We can win."

    Julian nods. "You know...in a way, seeing it...it's just something else we can take down, at the end of it. We can do it somehow."

    They come upon a planet-wide chamber and a pillar of light as tall as Earth's moon is wide.

    aiF3sPQh.jpg

    PHU1KZN.png
    AT0onw2.png

    The Worldship of Galactus, so vast that planets can orbit it, has long been a feature of the character, and many stories have been set around and inside it.

    Such a zany, over the top, quintessentially Jack Kirby idea...but a few scant years before Kirby drew this impossible tangle of geometry, Freeman Dyson had come up with the idea for the Dyson sphere, and Larry Niven was on the verge of writing Ringworld just a few scant years later.

    Elise stares in wonder. She reaches out towards the light.

    She sees a speck zipping towards the ship. Flying at thousands of kilometers per second.

    As it gets closer, she realizes what it is.

    8Px8Xvil.jpg

    "The last Herald!" she cries. "He's here!"

    The Silver Surfer flies at the Corona and stops directly in front of it with no inertia. He puts up his hand in front of them as if to say 'Stop.'

    "What do we do?!" Elise gulps.

    "Corona, put us over the loudspeaker," Ryann says. He nods at Miles.

    Miles steps forward and speaks. "If you have something to say, we're listening."

    There is a beep of acknowledgement. Silver Surfer responds. "I will come aboard."

    Miles nods at Julian. Get ready.

    Julian nods at Miles. I am.

    The Surfer floats right through the front of the ship, and enters the bridge.

    Elise jumps. "Jesus Christ!"

    He carries his board under his arm, as one would do a surfboard. "Who among you is of this world?"

    Elise raises a hand nervously. "Uh, me, I guess?"

    "And me," Miles says.

    Michael raises his hand. "I am, mostly."

    Julian scowls. "I am. What could you possibly have to say to us?"

    "There is but one option to save your world," the Surfer says. "Join me, inherit the Power Cosmic, and seek out other worlds for the Devourer."

    "Wait," Elise holds up her hands. "We know why Galactus is devouring worlds. And we solved the problem." The Silver Surfer tilts his head at her.

    "No more Celestials. The door is locked," she says. "So let's talk. There's no rush, after all."

    He is speechless for a moment, and then the Surfer looks at the team skeptically. "I will bring you before the Devourer, and you will plead your case."

    Elise swallows hard. "Okay."

    He phases through the ship, mounts his board, and beckons for the Corona to follow him. Ryann does so.

    "Guys we gotta make this quick,” Michael rumbles, “our planet's getting munched on as we speak." Elise nods, her hands shaking.

    The Surfer leads them into the light, and in the light is the darkness and....Galactus.

    FMyafpph.jpg

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    He is thousands of feet tall, and looks down upon the ship. Elise stares at him, and prays she can find some form of weakness before they enter negotiations.

    The Corona's VI speaks. "Sir, there is breathable atmosphere in this area, you are able to exit the ship."

    Ryann nods. "Alright. Let's go." He leads the way to the airlock. Elise follows, keeping her eyes locked on the being in the pillar. Her senses stretch out...

    ...but Galactus has no weaknesses. He is the Devourer of Worlds. The only weakness is that she tried to find one. "No," Elise whispers.

    She continues to stare at Galactus, white in the face. No weaknesses. Nothing. She's seen Eternity, and even he looked surprised. Her mind races and her knees feel weak. Clay was right. I couldn't have fired.

    Beside her, Michael stares up at the face he flipped off so long ago.

    Julian can feel the Phoenix clawing in his veins, trying to take control, trying to attack. He fights it. Silently, without moving a muscle, without anyone beside him aware it’s happening, he engages in an epic battle of wills.

    The Phoenix is silenced, thrown into the dark corners of Julian's mind where it will remain.

    Miles feels an electronic voice in his mind he has not heard for some time. Vladimir's.

    If the time comes, allow me to use the Nullifier. I have used it successfully...many times, unfortunately.

    ....I understand,
    Miles says. But it's our last resort.

    "DEVOURER!" Miles calls. "WE DID YOUR JOB FOR YOU!"

    Galactus stares down at them all.

    Silver Surfer calls up to his master, "Devourer, these creatures believe that you have no need to consume their worlds, and wish to entreat with you."

    Galactus' voice shakes those present. It resonates through every molecule, every atom of their being.

    "SPEAK."

    "The Celestial network has been compromised!” Miles calls. “The Fourth Host will never come!"

    "TO THIS WORLD? INSUFFICIENT."

    "For this planet or any other!" Ryann adds.

    Galactus pauses. Their words have given the Devourer of Worlds, the Destroyer of Civilizations, pause.

    "We did your job for you!” Miles presses. “We accomplished with guile what you've failed to accomplish with a billion years of genocide!"

    The Devourer’s eyes shift side to side rapidly, as if in thought. An entity trillions of years old is now considering a changing situation.

    FiOBIsH.png

    "THE CELESTIALS WILL NEVER RETURN. THE CELESTIALS WILL INEVITABLY PERISH."

    He looks down at them all, with...skepticism.

    But then...he smiles.

    The most feared and horrifying entity in all of the universe...smiles. They have made him smile.

    "THEN ALL...

    "...IS FOR ME."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited February 19
    "I knew this would happen," Ryann sighs.

    Michael shakes his head. "It's never easy."

    "WRONG ANSWER."

    Miles pulls the Nullifier from his pocket and, holding it in his hand, extends his arm forward.

    "All you get - is one chance to walk away."

    PHU1KZN.png
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    Galactus stares down at Machine Man at the Nullifier. Silver Surfer looks at Miles, and then Galactus, and then at Miles again, like he's waiting for an order.

    "I AM ETERNAL. HERALD, DESTROY THEM."

    "STAY AWAY FROM MY FRIENDS!" Elise howls into the uncaring face of a titan.

    "Julian, now!" Ryann calls.

    Julian stares The Silver Surfer in the eyes. "You thought to offer us a chance to save our world by becoming Heralds? To lead him to other worlds to be devoured?" The Phoenix Rider’s eyes glow.

    But the Silver Surfer blasts Julian in the face, destroying his skull with the Power Cosmic.

    "NO!" Elise cries.

    "NO!" Michael shouts.

    "Fuck!" Ryann spits. He rushes forward, slamming into the Silver Surfer with the Nova Force, knocking him off his board.

    Vlad grabs Miles by the wrist. "Now!" MIles gives Vlad the Ultimate Nullifier.

    Elise stares at the Surfer, searching for weakness. Where do I shoot, come on…

    But there’s nothing. She cannot see any weaknesses on the Surfer at all. He's more powerful than any other opponent she's faced before. More powerful than even Hyperion.

    "No, no, no, come the fuck on..." Elise pulls her weapon and fires. Aim for the face. The face usually works. At the same time, Behemoth opens his face plates full bore.

    They blast the Silver Surfer, but it's not that effective, as the Surfer shields himself with crossed forearms and pushes forward through the force of their massed assault.

    Vladimir holds up the Ultimate Nullifier.

    "I am...penitent."

    Galactus is gone.

    The Worldship is gone.

    The team are floating in empty space.

    Suddenly, most of the group does not have spacesuits and Centurion and Behemoth have to act very quickly.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "Corona, open the cargo bay doors!" Ryann and Michael hustle Miles, Elise, and Julian’s body aboard and Ryann slams the controls that lock the hatch and repressurize the airlock.

    Elise gasps and chokes, sputtering. Finally, she speaks, voice hoarse. "Where's...where's Vlad?"

    Vlad is gone. Elise can't see him anywhere with everyone else. "No. No!" She feels for extradimensional traces - a portal. He must have made a portal.

    She feels nothing.

    Ryann looks at Elise and then at Miles.

    "God, no!” she cries. “No, no, Vlad, no, please -"

    Miles catches Elise's shoulder. "Elise. Elise, I'm sorry."

    "He did it." Michael looks out into the void. "Thank you, Vlad." Miles nods at Michael.

    "I didn't know him well. But...but he seemed to love you all. I'm sorry for your loss," Ryann says. "He died a hero."

    "The Earth,” Michael says. “How bad is it? We have to help out down there."

    Ryann nods at Michael and heads for the controls. "You're right, the job isn't done yet."

    Elise falls to her knees and bursts into sobs. "I can't, I can't -"

    "Hey. Hey.” Miles picks Elise up. He stands her on her feet and looks her in the eye. "Vlad believed in you, Elise. It's long past time you started believing in yourself." He holds her gaze. "Or his faith will have been for nothing."

    Elise takes a few deep breaths and sniffs, wiping her nose on her heavy coat. "O-okay. Okay."

    Julian's body twitches and his limbs jerk about as his head reforms, knitting together out of fire. The floor is lightly scorched. "Nnnnyyaaghh! Fuck!"

    "Michael, get Julian caught up. I'm setting a course back to the city," Ryann says as he bends over the console, punching in the coordinates.

    Michael turns to Julian. "Vlad did it. Nullified Galactus. And himself, it seems like."

    Julian takes it in for a moment. He blinks. He pauses a while, and lets out a long breath. "Wow. So he did it."

    Ryann enters the course back to Earth and puts his hands on the flight controls. Then he looks up.

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    Outside the Corona, sitting on his board, staring into nothingness, is the Silver Surfer.

    Ryann looks at him. He looks at the weapons console.

    "By the Force, damn it," he says under his breath, and turns away from the weapons console.

    He heads to the back of the ship. "The Surfer is still out there," he announces. "I'm bringing him in."

    Centurion exits the airlock and heads to the front of the ship. "He's gone.” He floats before the Surfer, arms folded. “It's over."

    The Silver Surfer looks up at Ryann. "...what now?"

    "A question I'm not sure of the answer to yet,” Ryann says thoughtfully. “But it starts with us bringing you in. We have questions and you’re one of the most feared and hated beings in the universe. It's safer for you and the rest of space for you to come with me. I understand why you did what you did, it's why I'm offering this now. I cannot allow you to leave Earth. That is without question.

    "So what will it be, Surfer?"

    The Surfer looks up at him, and nods somberly. "Very well."

    Ryann nods. "Alright, into my ship." The Surfer follows Ryann, compliant.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Inside, Elise looks bleak and exhausted. "W-what do I do, Chief?"

    Miles puts a hand on her shoulder. "Grieve. Remember. Move on. And then love your wife and that baby you've got coming."

    Elise nods and brings her hand to her head and activates her comms unit. "C-Clay? Vision?"

    There’s static, then Clay’s voice comes in. "Elise...thank the Shaper…

    "We had to pull back, the Zephyr has no weapons systems and we had no way to get through the swarm."

    "Mission success," Elise says. "He's gone."

    "...who pulled the trigger, Elise?"

    Elise swallows hard and whispers "Vladimir."

    There's silence for a moment. "...okay."

    "He... he didn't..." she tries to find the words. "He's gone. They're both gone."

    "We'll talk about it when you're home. I'm just glad you're okay."

    Elise sniffs. "Julian only died once."

    There's a laugh. "Good job."

    "I'm putting you on the line with the Chief and Centurion. I'm gonna...sit down." Elise wanders into the Corona’s small lounge and flops down on the seat, staring at the ceiling.

    Ryann escorts the Surfer to the Corona's holding cell and then heads back up the the rest of the team.

    The Corona makes its way to Earth.

    "I am receiving reports from Vision," X-51 says over the comm to the team, "Casualties were significantly lower than predicted. As was property damage. In fact...I am running my own calculations and...there are discrepancies."

    Miles' blood runs cold. "Discrepancies? It's got to be Doom, or the Council, or..."

    "Damage and casualties should be...higher. Unless they have been...undone, in some capacity. But that should be well outside the purview of the Ultimate Nullifier. It removes an entity from reality but that removal is not retroactive to the causal states of that entity's actions."

    Elise sits up. "X-51, could the Time Arcana have done that?"

    "Based on what I understand of sorcery, which is admittedly limited, not on this scale except by possibly Doctor Strange himself, and even then it would be in violation of his own beliefs on the sanctity of temporal stability and guarding the fabric of reality. Were another sorcerer to do such things using Time magic, Doctor Strange would be aware of it and would, as is his remit, have something of a problem with it even if it is largely to the benefit of Earth, given that it would have far-reaching implications."

    "...Maybe it was Vlad? He mastered Time," she says with a flicker of hope. "I don't know. Or it was...the time ship. Whatever. If you ask me, it's all good. Less work for us."

    Miles leans against a bulkhead, exhausted. "Yeah. Right now? The sanctity of time can eat my ass. We earned this."

    "Sir, do you wish to dock at the Peak, where the Zephyr is located?" Corona's VI says to Centurion.

    "Yes, Corona."

    Michael powers down and sighs heavily, relieved. Julian lets out a long breath. "I can't believe it's done."

    "Oh, God," Elise says. "There's just one thing that's even scarier than Galactus ahead for me."

    Julian makes a gesture around his belly.

    She nods. "God, yeah. I'm gonna be a mom." She pauses. "Or a dad? Not 100% clear on that."

    Julian shrugs. "I'd say look forward to changing diapers, but I guess that's what your royal staff are for."

    PHU1KZN.png
    So...yes.

    That happened.

    As usual, it all came down to a mix of planning, choices, and some weird dice rolls. We whiffed harder than usual this session. Centurion failed two rolls to reach the Corona and nearly died because of it. Elise critically failed her scans of both Galactus and the Surfer.

    Miles failed to intimidate Galactus with the Nullifier, although I didn’t even care, because I got to replicate that beat with Reed Richards stretching his arm forward to wave the Nullifier under Galactus’ nose, something I had been planning on doing for like, a year now.

    And lastly, Julian’s Penance Stare failed on the Surfer. Which is unfortunate, because it really should have been a gimme, as bearing the weight of crushing cosmic guilt is the Surfer’s whole thing, but Julian’s player rolled really badly.

    We never took advantage of Clay’s SLINGSHOT idea, so I have no idea how it might have worked or might not. Becoming a Herald might have worked too, or might not. We leaned into the Nullifier idea pretty hard and forgot about the alternatives; that’s how it goes sometimes.

    Vlad was present because we had turned him around in previous sessions...and his absence will mean he can’t help us against the Parliament down the line. Choices and consequences.

    Nonetheless, we maybe scored one of the better possible results.

    I spoke to Matt after the session. Galactus’s motives had begun as benign, to save the universe from being torn apart by the Celestials (as benign as any plan that involves killing trillions can be, anyway) but he fell prey to the same thing that got the Aspirants and Builders in his own universe: he became addicted to the Power Cosmic.

    So when we told him that the Celestials were gone, instead of seeing his work done at last, he just saw an unoccupied banquet table. If Miles had intimidated him successfully, he would have left Earth alone, but would have just started snacking again elsewhere. Ryann wouldn’t be very happy knowing that Xandar was still on the menu.

    Persuading Galactus to go cold turkey and give up consuming the Power Cosmic would have been a way harder task. On balance, I think Vlad nullifying him may have been the best option in the end.

    Matev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    G4t1yQNh.png

    The Corona docks, and the team meets up with the rest of STRIKE on the Peak. As soon as she sees Elise, Faiza runs over and grabs her in a hug.

    Elise hugs her back. "Have you heard from Crys at all?"

    Clay answers Elise. "No, she's over at the Alpha Site, we haven't had a chance to communicate with them."

    Miles takes Clay and Bob aside, speaking in a low voice. "Both of you deserve know that Vlad went out like a mensch. Whatever else he did, he saved all of us, in the end. I'm willing to call it all square."

    Bob nods. "Proper."

    Clay grits his teeth. "I can accept that."

    Elise glares at Clay from over Faiza's shoulder.

    Miles clears his throat nervously and holds out his hand. "So, uh. Do you still have it? And have we heard from Alpha Flight?"

    Clay nods solemnly and hands the package over to Miles. "Looks like I never needed it. And you still do. Alpha Flight is returning to dock on the Anabasis."

    Miles' weariness melts away and he stands a little straighter. "That's where I should be, then. Unless you need us here....?"

    Clay shakes his head. "No, you're good, off you go."

    Elise suddenly hears Vision come through on her comm. "Agent Arnell, I have an urgent communication coming through from the Alpha Site."

    "Oh my God, Crys! Patch her through."

    It's not Crystalia.

    "Princess Elise." It's Gorgon. "Your presence at this location is required immediately."

    "Yes. Yes, of course,” she says. “Is Crystalia okay?"

    "She is in labor. Your daughter is about to be born."

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    Matev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    NEXT SEASON ON:
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    "I'm going to do whatever it takes to earn this, Ryann. To become a real Nova, like you."
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    "Your soul will burn with the guilt of your endless sin! Are you penitent?!
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    "I am Rom, last of the Space-Knights of Galador, and I am here to save your world."
    eQn4WDUl.jpg
    "Asgard is dying, decaying into nothingness, Destroyer. Join me, and burn away the rot and we will resurrect Asgard to its rightful glory."
    TS6vFxGl.jpg
    "All hail Rabum Alal, the Doom Above All! He's pretty cool, Elise!"
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    "Dear brother, the invasion is already over. The Earth belongs to me, Z'reg."
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  • FencingsaxFencingsax It is difficult to get a man to understand, when his salary depends upon his not understanding GNU Terry PratchettRegistered User regular
    Holy Allah, Buddah, and Christ!

    torchlight-sig-80.jpg
    JacobkoshMatev
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