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[Actual Play, NSFData] Marvel's Agents of STRIKE

135

Posts

  • FencingsaxFencingsax It is difficult to get a man to understand, when his salary depends upon his not understanding GNU Terry PratchettRegistered User regular
    Holy Christ this game is amazing

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    NytewarriorJacobkoshMatev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Thank you! It's been a blast to play in and writing these up has been kind of great because it's giving me ideas for stuff to do in the current game.

  • visiblehowlvisiblehowl Neutron Nerd Registered User regular
    Day 3 of no updates: Things are looking grim. I think I'm going to have to start eating the crew.

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    I suck at Getting Over It and am terrified of alien oceans in Subnautica on Twitch
    MsAnthropy
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    This is cyberbullying! I can sue.

    Cass will back me up, we do it to her all the time!

  • visiblehowlvisiblehowl Neutron Nerd Registered User regular
    Jacobkosh wrote: »
    This is cyberbullying! I can sue.

    Cass will back me up, we do it to her all the time!

    Day 3.5: I think the first to go will be Jacob.

    No wait, then he can't write more updates.

    vxsHp3F.gif
    I suck at Getting Over It and am terrified of alien oceans in Subnautica on Twitch
    Matev
  • MsAnthropyMsAnthropy Our Lady of Perpetual Mazes The CageRegistered User regular
    Jacobkosh wrote: »
    This is cyberbullying! I can sue.

    Cass will back me up, we do it to her all the time!

    Day 3.5: I think the first to go will be Jacob.

    No wait, then he can't write more updates.

    Hmmm. Might make it difficult for him to run your Star Wars game, too.

    "The only real politics I knew was that if a guy liked Hitler, I’d beat the stuffing out of him and that would be it." -- Jack Kirby
    Jacobkosh
  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    Hello is this the meeting for the Jake haters

    sig.gif
    Jacobkosh
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    F7CEMJ8.png

    MNbDN3G.jpg

    It has been 24 hours since the Crypt was compromised. The STRIKE team has been transported to the Storm Cellar to meet with Clay and Brand. Clay has them sit down at a conference table in one of the side rooms.

    "All right people, the Crypt has been compromised by two, maybe three other hostile agencies. We're going to work out of the Storm Cellar temporarily, SEC is setting up a new base for both STRIKE and COMMS, but that's going to take time.

    "I've had some time to interrogate Vaughn, and go over the intel report from Adler on what he pulled out of Vaughn's mind when he went in there. We know where and how Vaughn got turned into a sleeper.

    "A HYDRA scientist, Werner Von Blitzschlag, is the one that messed Vaughn up. We also have figured out where Blitzschlag is and where the work was done.

    "Blitzschlag's cover is he is a scientist for the Typhon Group, a research think-tank that we've suspected is affiliated with HYDRA."

    "With a name like Typhon, I would hope so," Miles says.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Typhon, like Hydra, was a mythological water serpent. In a real TV show I feel like knowing this would mark him as an irretrievable nerd or at the very least a kind of patrician scholar type, because our shorthand for “Army guy” is basically a meathead or at least very blue-collar, but I see Miles as someone who went into the military from an ROTC program, probably because of 9/11, with the intention of going back and doing grad school afterwards. That sort of Jack Ryan career path. I’ve never decided what his degree was in but it’s definitely one of the humanities and he definitely did languages and speaks, at the very least, Arabic.

    "They have a research base in Greenland,” Clay continues, “and we believe that is where Vaughn was reprogrammed, based on his efforts to keep track of where he was being kidnapped to. He used his training well."

    Elise grunts. She's grabbed a shower in the last twenty four hours, but she's showing a solid inch of mousy brown roots above her pink and green mop, and she looks... tired. "Good for him, I guess."

    Clay stops and looks at Elise. "Agent Arnell, if you've got beef with Agent Vaughn I need you to tuck it, and keep in mind he had no say or conscious will in his betrayal. He was, essentially, roofied into doing what he did."

    She nods.

    He continues. "He's still being detained until we're 100% sure he's deprogrammed... and until we capture Blitzschlag and his research, we can't ever be completely sure of that.

    "So that's our next mission. Kane's prepping the Quinjet, and I've had her pick up Niles, who is in the bay prepping your arctic field gear. You lot are flying to Greenland and raiding a HYDRA base. Expect hostiles. We want Blitzschlag and any other high-ranking HYDRA personnel alive. You're going to be packing a mix of ICERs and real heat on this one, ICERs for the people who matter and the good stuff for... the ones who don't and anything heavier.

    "The Quinjet we're sending with you is a 'double-wide,' it'll have some extra detention cells in it for you to store at least a half-dozen prisoners, maybe less if they're big."

    Myrmidon's eyes shine with a hungry light. "This is what we need. A chance to work off some stress. No ambiguities. Just us, our fists and some Nazis. Finally."

    Anteater: "And if they're... say, a television screen built into a robot?"

    Clay: "If you run into Zola, try to disable him and take the body. If we believe his story that he's really 'digitalized' himself into being a living computer, then I doubt his central server is at this base. However, capturing one of his remote bodies will still let us learn a lot. But make sure it's shut down, we don't need it transmitting a signal letting HYDRA know where we are or it might have a bomb in it or something stupid."

    Anteater: "Yeah, who'd put a bomb in their computer pal."

    Clay makes a face. Vlad laughs, and Clay is visibly disconcerted by the noise.

    Elise quietly offers Vlad a fist bump, and when Vlad accepts it, she makes it explode. Vlad's fist crackles with electricity as it explodes away.

    Clay pushes on. "If you find any other relevant research materials on any other insane nonsense HYDRA has been up to, acquire it. Any other enhanced individuals or HYDRA mad science, grab that too. Take this base down, acquire materials. Standard SHIELD smash and grab.

    "Any questions?"

    Elise shrugs, pulling out her phone and tracing her finger along the screen.

    Behemoth: "After we've grabbed all the persons and data we can, should we level the base?"

    Clay nods. "If at all possible, Westin, yes, level the base."

    Behemoth: "Roger that"

    Miles looks around. "Was Vaughn supposed to check in? Any chance HYDRA will be tipped off?"

    Clay nods. "According to Vaughn, he is supposed to check in with Crossbones in 24 hours, which is why we have to hit the base immediately."

    Miles nods. His robot hand flexes.

    Elise continues to stare at her phone, quietly tracing a pattern on the screen.

    PHU1KZN.png
    This character arc - Kree writing gradually taking over someone’s mind, turning them monomaniacal - comes straight for season 2 of Agents of SHIELD, though I think Matt added a welcome dash of sense to it by having it come from a map specifically designed to do this instead of from...blood.

    I think Cass has done a terrific job of escalating Elise’s predicament from a kind of obnoxious singlemindedness to a disturbing obsession to, as you’ll see, actual risk-taking.

    Clay: “Anything else? If not, everyone else report to Niles for gear up. Arnell, Dr. Lawson from Project Pegasus wants to talk to you, I have him on a hardline in another office. Says it's important."

    Elise glances up, briefly looking incredibly excited. Then she controls her expression. "Cool." she says, trying to play it off. "Cool. Chill." She stands and nearly sprints out. Vlad eyes her as she leaves.

    Miles stands up wordlessly and heads to the quartermaster’s office. He begins suiting up in his STRIKE gear. Pull on the boots, strap on the holster, shimmy into the vest, hang the gear off the tactical webbing. He doesn't make eye contact with anyone else; his face is impassive, his motions smooth and formless, completely automatic.

    He looks at his prosthetic hand as it opens and closes into a fist, checking the new upgrade on his cyberarm. He smiles grimly.

    Julian pulls on his STRIKE uniform. He pulls out a small tube of Brylcreem, runs a dab through his hair, fluffs it up a bit and combs it down. He checks his ICER. He preens a little.

    PHU1KZN.png
    It doesn’t come up much, but Julian is the fashion plate of the team.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Elise sits down at a terminal in an office to the side by herself. She logs on, and Dr. Lawson comes up in in a video call. "Hey, Elise!"

    "Dude, you have to fucking help me," she says. "This - I'm not solving anything. I'm not figuring this out."

    Lawson: "I was afraid of that."

    "I - I cleaned out my entire Van and I, I've been scratching the astroglyph into the walls, I'm going fucking nuts. I'm A Beautiful Minding over here," she says. “That's - that's the movie with Russell Crowe."

    Lawson nods. "Yeah I saw it. Good movie."

    "Wait, you were fucking afraid of that?" Elise stares. "Sure, go ahead and touch it!"

    "Fury called me,” Lawson says. “He figured I was the one who was your 'friend' that you talked to about the Diviner."

    "Oh my God." Elise presses the heels of her hands into her eyes and spins in the chair.

    "He told me that you were having difficulties with the information you got out of the Diviner," Lawson says.

    Elise lowers her voice and hisses "My team is going to think I'm fucking insane. I think I'm insane."

    "I didn't figure this would happen. I thought hey, you're Inhuman, it'll be fine! You're an active Inhuman, you've had Terrigenesis, it would work like all the other ones worked for the ancient Inhumans in our historical records," he explains. "It wasn't until after that I thought, maybe your synthetic Terrigenesis would present a problem."

    "I never thought I'd say this ever in the history of my entire life, but I should have listened to Clay,” she says in exasperation. ”OH MY GOD.”

    "You're basically having a compatibility error,” he says. “It's like... you have the right operating system, but the wrong version? Like you're Windows, but Windows 8 instead of Windows 10 so it's crashing."

    Anteater: "So you have a plan, right?"

    He nods. "Yes."

    Anteater: "Am I going to like it?"

    Lawson: "...yes?"

    No, she isn't.

    Anteater: "Hit me with it, because they expect me to get my ass on a Quinjet and go save the world in fifteen minutes."

    "Basically, your brain failed to absorb all the data from the Diviner. So there's errors in the data, and your brain keeps trying to fill in the holes in the data. It's why you keep writing it everywhere. It's like you keep trying to fix the problem.

    "If you could find either another Diviner or a hard record of the same astroglyphics, it would complete the sequence and clean it up and auto-complete."

    "...Are you fucking serious? This thing fucked my entire head up, so your plan is just, fucking...throw more shit on there?"

    Lawson: "...yes?"

    Anteater: "And if I don't, this... isn't going to get better, is it."

    Lawson: "Well, maybe? Your brain is basically trying to brute force the errors out, like trying to figure out a password by putting in every possible combination, but times that by a lot."

    Anteater: "...So there's basically a chance it gets better, but we're looking at a pretty solid probability of it getting worse?"

    Lawson: "Yes. The longer you fail to figure it out, the more 'resources' your brain is going to devote to fixing it. Eventually, it will be all you can think about."

    Elise closes her eyes and breathes deeply for a few moments. "First of all, I'm very angry with you right now."

    Lawson: "You have every right to be."

    Anteater: "Second of all, where. Please tell me you have a lead."

    Lawson tries not to wince. His micro-expressions are a wince. Elise sees it.

    "No," she says. "No, no, no, come on."

    "I know where," he says. "You're just...not going to like it."

    She makes a choking motion with her hands. "WHERE?"

    Lawson: "It's in a HYDRA base in Greenland."

    Elise suddenly bursts into hysterical laughter.

    "I'm sorry," he says. "Maybe you could talk to Clay, organize a mission?"

    "Yeah, you know what, I think I can swing something," she says. "Bye, Lawson. Just fucking... think about this. Just...stew in this shit."

    Lawson: "Uh, alright. Let me... let me know how it goes."

    Elise continues to howl with laughter for a few seconds, shaking in the chair as she switches off the call. Finally, wiping away tears, she goes to find Clay.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Clay is preparing a remote access point from the Storm Cellar that will route through the Quinjet, allowing the team to contact him while he's in the Storm Cellar (but they'll have to be in the Quinjet to do so). He turns to Elise as she enters. "Hey, how'd the call with Lawson go?"

    Anteater: "...I hate that man!"

    Clay nods solemnly.

    Elise fills him in on everything. Clay sighs. "I figured you touched it."

    Anteater: "He told me it was okay!"

    Clay: "Yeah, that's why I figured you touched it."

    "He, he said it was important, because -" She lowers her voice, very, very low. "Do you know? About his uh, specialized degree?"

    Clay flinches in a way only Elise can see. "Just a second, I have a text." Elise didn't hear his phone buzz. She would have.

    Anteater: "Clay."

    Also he has no reception here?

    "Clay," she says again. "C'mon, that's sloppy for you."

    He holds up his finger like 'one second.' Elise begins hearing something at infrasound frequencies. Below what is possible for any human to hear.

    Yes, I know. I'm using an app on my phone.

    Don't tell anyone else. Not even Vladimir. Yes, that's why I don't trust him. I don't know if he's an ally or enemy at this point. We can't afford to make enemies of his people at this point, but he's a spy. Do not trust him, not completely, but don't alienate him or push him away entirely. Trust, but verify.

    He is undercover for a reason and I don't know what that reason is right now.


    Elise is whispering lower than any mic could pick up. "He fucking conscripted me into his goddamn war!"

    Clay shrugs. Don't take it personally. His people do that.

    "Apparently! Look. I have to...I gotta get on the jet. I gotta get this thing. Clay, I'm going fucking nuts. I cleaned my entire Van. I haven't cleaned it since…” A pause. "I haven't cleaned it.

    "I need to get the second key. I need to be the divining rod. There's no other option for me at this point.

    "And if - if it doesn't work, can you... just... you take care of things like that, right?"

    "Yes," Clay says out loud. He puts his phone away. "Get on the jet. Agent Arnell. This seems like an important mission for you."

    "Yeah. Yeah. Thanks, Clay." Elise boards the jet with a wild look to her eyes. "Myrmidon, we have an additional objective." She shares the relevant information with the group. And she actually tells the story in a coherent fashion this time.

    "I wonder how many people's brains HYDRA has ruined with that thing," Miles murmurs, still in a bit of a trance. Then he shakes out of it. "...I'm sorry, Elise. We'll get it. You've suffered enough."

    "And don't fucking trust Lawson," Elise adds. Vlad nods at this.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The Quinjet is loaded up. It's bigger than the usual one, with actual detention cells in it. It takes off; it'll take eight hours to fly to Greenland from the Storm Cellar. Because this Quinjet is larger than normal, it actually has a small galley and sitting area to eat.

    Elise, in an attempt to force herself to not draw the glyph, sits next to Behemoth and strikes up a conversation. She's... not trying to bring up their Respective Circumstances, but Elise finds it awkward to relate to Michael because outside of work and the other thing, they have like nothing in common. She draws comparisons to how her and Michael are both "weapons" and how neither of them asked for this, and feels this is really relatable. Michael does not feel this way.

    Elise feels like it was an incredibly good talk, but is picking up Michael feeling uncomfortable. That makes a lot of sense! It's a long flight, and the Quinjet always feels weird. In an attempt to distract herself, she heads to the cockpit to try to bond with Kane, the team member she feels the most distant around.

    Meanwhile, Vladimir goes over some of the events of the past couple of weeks with Julian, actually engaging in small talk and socializing in a much more... natural fashion than he did before. He appreciates Julian taking the time to talk with him, and that Julian also dived in the way of a blast saving Elise's life.

    Afterwards, Julian makes some chat with Myrmidon. He can tell he's on edge even without intruding on his thoughts.

    "Nothing," Miles says, when Julian asks what's wrong. Then: "...I'm just tired of looking over my shoulder. Second-guessing everything. Is he a Skrull? Is she a HYDRA spy? Are our missions making things better, or worse? Are we even doing what we think we're doing? Everything feels up in the air. You know what's funny? It wasn't like this at Roxxon. There, a man knew where he stood. Everyone was on the same page: keep the boss alive, get paid, buy a house in the Vineyard and a 40-footer or a season box to the Patriots or, you know, whatever you wanted. Now? Working for the good guys? I don't know my right side from my left. So you ask what's bothering me, I give you this. Everything."

    "Yeah, everything is a pretty good way to describe what's all fucked up," Julian agrees. "Can't hurt to go into something without so much... ambiguity."

    "That's what I'm hoping for," Miles says. "One good, clean mission. Just to feel like the proactive ones for once, instead of always reacting to things."

    Phoenix nods. "Yeah. Never thought I'd look forward to raiding a Nazi base, but there it is."

    Up front, Kane looks like she's pretty busy. The Quinjet looks like it's on autopilot, but Kane looks like she's running scans on something else or doing some other kind of work. It's not clear. Elise could probably talk with her, but only by getting her attention and potentially bothering her.

    She decides to risk it. "Kane. Kane. Kane. Hi."

    Kane looks over at Elise. "Uh, hi."

    "I just wanted to say thanks," Elise says. "I mean, you've...done a lot for us. For Julian. I haven't been great to him, and his noodle. You kept Vlad's secret, you kept my secrets when I asked.

    "I've kind of been a dick to you, not intentionally, but I just - I wanted you to like me, because we all like you. So...thanks."

    Isabel nods. "Thank you for making me feel a part of the team, Elise. I don't have powers or a cyborg arm or anything but I try to, y'know, fly the plane good?"

    "You fly the plane super good," Elise says. "And y'know, I figure like, there's a solid shot I go bugfuck nuts down there, so I just wanted to say...Sorry about bugging you about Julian, and just. You're cool."

    "Thanks," Kane says. "If you uh... don't find what you're looking for down there, let me know. I'll talk to some people at SWORD, we'll see what we can do."

    "Thanks. That's - a better offer than what's on the table right now." Elise mimes cocking a shotgun, aiming it, and blasting it at an execution-style level target. "Alright, I'll let you fly."

    Kane: "Cool."

    Elise snaps a picture of Myrmidon when she heads back out. "I'm making you a Tinder," she announces as she drops back in a chair. "You're ROBOCOP69."

    Myrmidon nods slowly. "Make it clear it's the old Robocop. Not the new one."

    Anteater: "Cool."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    After several hours, they're flying over Greenland. It is... not green.

    kPf0SlCl.jpg

    "I haven't detected any anti-air batteries or ground troops,” Kane says from the cockpit. “There's one surface installation but ground-penetrating radar is picking up a huge underground structure connected to it. We're cloaked and nothing seems to be picking us up. I'm dropping you right next to the installation, it's their civilian cover research base.

    "After the drop I'm going to circle around and park it a klik out. Call me up when you need exfil."

    Myrmidon: "Are there actually civilians at this civilian cover?"

    Kane: "Facility is heat-shielded so I can't tell if anyone's inside, the underground facility is all kinds of shielded, don't know what's going on in there. It's self-powered."

    The team drop. Swaddled in arctic tactical gear, they land on the frozen ground outside the Typhon Group facility.

    Elise thinks about the smell of iso-8. She lowers her face gear and sniffs. There's definitely trace amounts of iso-8 in the air. Incredibly small, like the kinds that get into the particulates of recycled air from the underground facility below and blown out into the air vents.

    "...It's here. I, I can't smell it, but they're working on iso-8 here," she says. "There's no way it's not here. ...It has to be here."

    There are other hazardous chemicals in the air, but nothing extremely exotic. More like industrial solvents, coolants, stuff like freon and hydrochloric acid. The sort of stuff you'd smell in labs or reactors, or both.

    Anteater: "...Active lab work. Nothing crazy standing out besides iso-8. Recent enough I can sniff it out."

    Myrmidon carefully approaches the entrance. His heavy tread sinks deep into the snow. "Phoenix, can you scan for active minds in the area? Is that a thing you can do?"

    Phoenix: "Give me a moment."

    Phoenix attempts to use his telepathy in a way he hasn't before, as a sort of "mental radar" to locate minds around him. It's actually a lot harder than he thought it was, and he can choose to back off and stop trying to do it, or push and risk exhausting himself.

    He pushes through.

    There are at least six other minds besides the STRIKE team in the surface facility. The below-ground facility has...many. Thirty-plus at the very least, so many that it's hard to tell.

    One is... significantly brighter than the others. Like a glowing bonfire around candles.
    The "brighter" signal is deep within the underground facility.

    Julian relays this information to the team. "We've got about six possible hostiles in the surrounding area, and then a bunch of people in the below-ground facilities. Lots of 'em, two or three dozen at least."

    "...Huh. Okay," Elise says. "We got six people up top, then, that's going to be the easy part. I say we go in hard. Play it safe, don't hurt nobody, but…We're already on a clock."

    Phoenix continues. "And we've got - so these guys are all little blips, right? There's one giant, shining beacon. Deep below."

    Anteater: "Like, a giant brain."

    Phoenix: "Could be!"

    Myrmidon nods. "Some experiment. Maybe it's a monster. Maybe it's something we need to rescue. Maybe it's both. Okay. Thanks, Phoenix. That was really helpful." He draws his weapon. "Okay, team. We don't know about this top floor, but there are up to six people in this above-ground area who might be innocent civilian contractors. Let's start with ICERs and try to keep our abilities on the DL for as long as possible, at least until the civvies are accounted for."

    "My abilities are always on the DL," Elise says. "...Unless I hit a casino. They're shockingly good at figuring that out."

    Phoenix: "Yeah, casinos don't fuck around."

    "The trick is to try and maximize your consumption of shitty alcohol while minimizing your losses. That's the real way to win," Myrmidon says. "Also in life."

    Anteater: "Yeah, that's way better than winning 24 grand in a night and ending up in a back room with a dude with a hammer."

    Myrmidon: "I mean, unless you're into hammers."

    Anteater: "I'm adding this to the Tinder."

    PHU1KZN.png
    I love that they’re talking all this shit while apparently standing around on an ice field in parkas.

    Vladimir checks for signals. There are "secure" wireless signals coming out of the surface level base (with laughable encryption that Vladimir cracks in literal nanoseconds). They contain genuine climate change data and personal emails and internet browsing from a half-dozen scientists residing in the base. They seem to be actual scientists doing actual work on climate research and if they have HYDRA affiliation it's not in this data.

    There are far more secure wireless signals coming out of the underground base, that Vladimir would have to work very carefully to crack open.

    Vlad relays this. "I am attempting to gain more access."

    Vladimir breaks into the base's wireless signal. It's HYDRA data, alright, connecting the base to other HYDRA agents and bases around the world. This seems to be a major network hub and research base for the organization, known as the "Ice Base."

    Anteater: "Is there anything on the Diviner?"

    Vladimir: "Checking"

    There's a lot of information to sort through. Vladimir downloads much of it to store for later sorting. He searches specifically for information on the Diviner or anything related to it.

    He finds something related. Not the Diviner, but an image that has the astroglyph patterns like the kind Elise has been drawing on everything.

    Vladimir: "There is something..."

    XbA8sz0.jpg

    It's in a file marked "ROSETTA." Vlad uploads the files to the team’s phones.

    Elise stares at her phone with wide eyes. "Let's go. Now. It's not - it's not the same as touching it, but I can see...there are gaps? I think...I think this might be it."

    There's something else in the image. Writing? She doesn't recognize it. It's not astroglyphic.

    "This is it! This is it!" She sprints for the door, ICER at the ready.

    Myrmidon: "Elise. Elise! Be careful!"

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Vladimir and Elise roll in and breach the door. They immediately enter, with Elise headshotting three scientists with ICER rounds as soon as she comes in before they even react. Vladimir stuns the remaining three with electrical blast.

    "Okay! Okay!" Elise is amped up, dancing in place. "Okay! We did it, they're down, let's go!"

    She manages to grin at Miles. "See? I am still an --" She's clearly about to finish that with "AN AGENT OF STRIKE", but then cuts herself off. "I'm good."

    "Good work taking them out nonlethally," Miles says. "But let's stick together, okay? That...brain thing...worries me. I want us moving like a well-oiled machine.

    “Let's not spend too long up here. We need to assume we only have minutes before the lower base realizes something's up. They may already be on their way."

    Elise closes her eyes and opens her senses. The lab is a genuine lab. Elise is looking around, and she spots the elevator that leads to the underground base. It's hidden behind an internal wall, but it also looks like it sees regular use (to Elise; normal people couldn't see it).

    There's no way that elevator doesn't get used on the regular without the science staff seeing people coming and going.

    "...They're complicit." Elise moves to the wall panel and throws it back, throwing her arms at the elevator. "See?!"

    She pauses for a moment. "Wait, maybe you guys don't -"

    "You hear that, everyone? ZIp 'em up, remove anything they could signal with, and stick them somewhere secure and make sure they stay there." Miles starts securing and stowing the unconscious bodies.

    Vlad searches the scientists, looking for I.D. of some kind. He finds the lead scientist. "Phoenix, can you read the mind of this man? He is the team leader."

    Julian reads the lead scientists' mind, looking specifically for anything to do with HYDRA. However, reading an unconscious mind is...difficult. Finding details is hard. He could find what he's looking for, but he'd have to be really rough with the man's mind. Incisive. Potentially damaging.

    He decides to just leave it alone.

    Elise jams the elevator call button with her thumb. "Come on, well oiled machine, that means we gotta move."

    The elevator arrives. It doesn't have a keypad on the inside.

    "Vlad?" she asks. "Can you make it go?"

    The team gets into the elevator. Vlad makes it go.

    "Be ready for anything," Myrmidon murmurs.

    Vlad notices a camera in the elevator. He doctors the camera footage so that the team appears to be the science staff coming down in the elevator. "They think we are staff for now."

    Elise holsters her ICER and changes weapons. "Gonna shoot a Nazi right in the dick. Just destroy that whole dick area."

    Myrmidon: "I feel you. Remember, though: there might be test subjects to rescue. Or fight. Keep your head on a swivel. We're going to need to make a lot of snap calls on this one."

    Anteater: "You really love that swivel thing."

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

    Ij2YGfXl.jpg

    Two HYDRA troopers see the team from down the hall.

    1xzQWtPl.png

    "HEY!"

    "HELLO!" Vlad rushes forward

    "Weapons free!" calls Miles.

    Elise snaps off non-kill shots, but they're...not ICER rounds. "We need them alive!" Elise calls.

    Vladimir runs forward and decks one of the HYDRA troopers, sending him flying backwards. The trooper hits the wall and collapses into a heap. Elise blows the kneecaps off of the other trooper. He howls in pain and collapses.

    Elise heads for No Kneecaps, her new best friend. "The Diviner! Where is it?"

    "Wh-what?"

    "Weird alien statue," Miles says calmly. "She wants the statue. I hope you have it."

    Vladimir: "I suggest you answer quickly"

    A red alert klaxon goes off. Elise is totally focused on the trooper. The siren doesn't seem to bother her. Myrmidon waves his hand over his head, indicating the team should fan out and cover the approaches.

    Vlad cloaks.

    "The Thule Stone?” the trooper croaks. “Zola has it! C-central chamber...."

    qlGmSdP.pngHYDRA Thulians
    c2WHwwx.jpg

    HYDRA has always claimed that they were more than a Nazi secret society, and in fact predate Nazism and are barely connected to it.

    This is, in fact, true.

    HYDRA is based on an ancient secret society that goes back to the Hyborian Age. They are essentially an Inhuman Supremacist cult, that believes that Inhumans should rule the world over regular humans. They seek out a mythical city of Thule, apparently an Inhuman settlement established during the Hyborian Age, which contains powerful sorcery that will enable them to rule the world.

    They have been searching for Thule for centuries. It is possible that Thule is just another name for Attilan, the Kree outpost on the Moon that was once inhabited by Kree and Inhumans, or it may be a completely unrelated Inhuman settlement somewhere else, possibly also established with Kree space-fold technology.

    HYDRA’s cellular nature keeps most of its true beliefs a secret from its own members, and its membership disagree on the particulars of their ideology. Some, for example, mix their ideas of Inhuman supremacy with white supremacy or Nazi racial ideology (Arnim Zola was a big proponent of this idea). Others care nothing for that, and believe that all Inhumans should unite to rule over others. HYDRA wars among itself as much as it does the rest of the world, which is the primary reason it's not far more dangerous than it really should be.

    Elise is shaking with anticipation and desire to go after it, like a tiny dog seeing a big dog in a park. She looks at Myrmidon.

    Myrmidon: "Central chamber. Okay. Which way is that, Vlad?"

    Anteater can smell...something. But it's different.

    It smells different from the Diviner. It's not a smell, per se. It's a... sense. It's a trace of something she can feel it calling to her. She could follow it, but she'd have to follow it.

    "...It's here,” she breathes. “It's... stronger. Shit. Shit!"

    Vlad pulls up the internal schematics from his earlier hack. He locates a lab which is connected to a central chamber, through the armory.

    Elise stands up, reloads her gun, and then looks at Myrmidon with a look of frustration and fear. "We need to move. We need to move."

    "I have found the way," Vlad says, but Elise has taken off. She is moving towards the central chamber, through the armory, on her own.

    Myrmidon grabs her shoulder. FROM TWENTY FEET AWAY.

    7OvkyoG.jpg

    "Elise.

    "Just...wait one moment. Take Vlad with you." He nods at Vlad. "Please keep an eye on her. She's not herself. ..I think."

    Vladimir nods. "Of course."

    PHU1KZN.png
    To answer your questions in order, yes, I had decided between sessions to make my guy the Bionic Commando, and no, I regret nothing.

    Elise hardly seems to recognize what Myrmidon just did. Even though she's probably going to bruise up later, she doesn't seem aware of the pain. As soon as he lets go, she takes off again.

    Vladimir follows after.

    The rest of the team is right behind them. Myrmidon nods to the others. "Elise is going for her prize, for better or for worse. Vlad can keep her safe, I think. The rest of us can focus on securing the situation.”

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited September 11
    Elise and Vlad run through the Armory, and basically blow past a few HYDRA guards. One of them shoots at Elise, who, without even looking, fires backwards and shoots him in the dick.

    Myrmidon’s team moves forward, guns drawn.
    liwzRM1l.jpg

    The emasculated HYDRA guard is incapacitated, while the other hits some buttons on a nearby console, activating two large robots that were sitting in wall sconces in the armory.


    RFTZoejl.jpg

    The HYDRA robots open fire.

    Behemoth armors up.

    LRQK5Tw.png

    Julian lifts whatever he can get lying around to sling at one of these things and superheats it as he throws it home.

    Turns out "whatever he can get" is a...surface to air missile? One of the robots is destroyed.

    Michael quickly flies at the other robot, just headbutting its center of mass, damaging its armor significantly. This opens it up to be blown apart by Myrmidon's repulsor blast.

    The HYDRA guard who activated the robots drops his gun and yells "Don't shoot me in the dick! I surrender!"

    Myrmidon stands over the smoking shards of the robot. "Good call, son. ZIp him up."

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Vladimir and Elise arrive in the central chamber.

    I1LGLell.jpg

    Those blue tanks are full of iso-8

    Dr. Von Blitzschlag is there.

    fs1AR2Yl.jpg

    So is Arnim Zola. As is Crossbones.

    There's two other people there. Elise and Vlad don't recognize them.

    OFRpkmUl.png ZDLXAhfl.jpg

    "INVADERS!" Zola howls.

    "Where is it?!" Elise howls back. "Where is it?!"

    Elise sees it. It's a black obelisk. It looks different from the Diviner.

    fXWyRxP.png

    Vlad looks at Elise and back at the stone and then back again to the Hydra members.

    Elise snaps out of the fugue. She blinks, shakes her head like she's waving off cobwebs. She looks at Zola. She looks at Crossbones. She looks at the target. She looks at the two extras. "...Oh."

    "MOONDRAGON! SUBDUE THEM!"

    The bald woman taps the side of her temple. "Sleep now."

    Elise sleeps.

    "Elise!" Vlad turns to Moondragon

    Moondragon attempts to put Vlad to sleep, and instead staggers backwards. As if she's been struck in the face. "It's a machine!" she hisses.

    "I am more." Vlad drops his holo. He blasts the whole group with electricity. Blitzschlag is knocked unconscious, and Zola is bowled over. Moondragon and Crossbones appear stunned, and the man in the purple mask drops to one knee, leaning on his sword for support.

    Moondragon's stun disrupts her control over Elise's mind, and Elise wakes up. Vlad rushes Zola.

    Elise jolts awake, scrambling to her feet. "You - what did you do to my head, you bitch?" She fires at Moondragon, but her head is still fuzzy and the shots go wide.

    The rest of the team arrives in the central chamber. "DROP 'EM!" Myrmidon shouts and without slowing down charges the man in the purple mask in a body check. The man in the purple mask is sent flying across the room; he bounces off the back wall and crashes to the ground. He doesn't get back up.

    Michael rushes Crossbones with a flying punch. They smash through a wall. They go into the next room. Crossbones is still conscious. He has an exoskeleton that takes the brunt of the damage. But the distraction lets Phoenix slip into Crossbones’ mind and shuts off all his senses, blinding and deafening him.

    Myrmidon whirls around and fires a repulsor blast at the bald woman that Elise seems to not like. He doesn't recognize her - maybe she's an Inhuman experiment as well - so he lines up a careful shot to incapacitate rather than blow any heads or limbs off, and hits a telekinetic barrier that she puts up at a last second. The blast penetrates the barrier, and Moondragon falls over, wheezing with exhaustion.

    She's still conscious, but she's on the ropes.

    Elise looks at the chaos, and then dives for the Diviner.

    Vladimir has grappled Zola; apparently the doctor’s android body is not built for combat, and he flails uselessly. "Hello Doktor." Vlad attempts to hack and then download Zola’s source code.

    Vladimir downloads Zola. All of Zola, from Zola's central server in Geneva. His server architecture is laughably crude, he's running off of magnetic tapes. Vladimir sections off a separate drive within his memory and locks Zola in there for the time being. He also has access to Zola's research on "digitalization."

    Vladimir carefully creates a simulation for Zola’s mind so that he believes he's a mental patient trapped inside an asylum. Vlad drops Zola's husk.

    PHU1KZN.png
    We called this “Shutter Island”ing him.

    Elise touches the "Thule Stone." More astroglyphs flash in her mind. They seem to interlock with the ones already there. A new pattern emerges.

    Okz62pQl.jpg

    Elise feels... calm. At peace. She knows where to go. "It... it worked." She lets out a relaxed, relieved laugh. "It worked."

    Wait.

    There's...two places?

    One is from the Diviner. The other is from this one, the Thule Stone. Elise doesn't feel conflicted, or pulled apart. It's just... like having a GPS with two markers on it. She’s not sure which one to go to first.

    Elise is vaguely annoyed, and mutters "fucking Lawson." She sighs, switches to her ICER, and aims her shots at Moondragon. "Lights out, bitch."

    Moondragon goes unconscious.

    Crossbones surrenders. "You fuckin' Helen Keller'd me! What the fuck! Who does that! I'm fuckin' done!"

    "He...put your hand in a well?" Elise asks. "...He made a play about your life?

    "You wrote articles on socialism together?!"

    Myrmidon nods. "You've got a future teaching kids, man. It's cool."

    Yeah but don't you feel more able to relate to those less fortunate than you now? Phoenix sends to Crossbones’ mind.

    Elise radios Clay.
    "We need to destroy it all. Everyone needs to get out, and we fucking..."

    "Behemoth, can your laser fry this stuff?" Miles asks. "Everyone pull back."

    Behemoth: "With pleasure."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited September 14
    The team pulls out of the base, taking the critical objectives. Behemoth burns down the iso-8 tanks. The team radios for a SHIELD OPS crew to come finish the mopping-up.

    Elise realizes something.

    One of the places, the place from the Thule Stone, it's close.

    It's here in Greenland. It's miles away, she'd have to take the Quinjet. But not that far.

    "Guys. Team meeting on the Quinjet?" she says. "Kane, you can serve us all... protein shakes? ...Does the Quinjet have food?"

    Kane: "The Quinjet has food and you can grab your own protein shakes, girl. I'll secure the prisoners."

    Phoenix: "Why does Kane have to serve us?"

    "Because I've had a rough day!" Elise says. "All I'm saying is, her noodle is the least affected by alien bullshit!"

    Michael sits at a table in the galley eating a yogurt. Julian makes himself a sandwich. He presses it slightly between his hands for a couple minutes.

    Myrmidon squeezes a carrot-orange goop out of a sterile plastic bag.

    Elise sprawls out in the kitchen, looking the most relaxed they've seen her since day one. "Guys. Guys. My brain is working again. I'm not, I'm not thinking about astroglyphs. I can think about them! If I want! I'm thinking about one right now!

    But I'm not A Beautiful Minding it and OH MY GOD WHAT DID I DO TO MY VAN???"

    Miles smiles widely for the first time all day.

    "IT'S CLEAN?!??!" Elise realizes with horror. "NO!!!! Okay. Okay. I will - I will worry about my Van when I get home.

    "There's something we gotta talk about.

    "...I - I threw out the lava lamp. Okay. Worry about that later, Elise. It was so bitching. Okay! So, remember what I told you that Lawson told me? He's looking for uh, Foldgates?

    "Which sounds like a controversy over labia, but -"

    "Jesus can someone jingle keys..." Kane mutters.

    Elise shoots Kane a dirty look. "Look, the point is, I know where it is. I know where they are. I know.

    "Attilan?" Kane asks.

    Elise nods. "Yeah."

    Behemoth: "These Foldgates?"

    "One's in Greenland," Elise says. "Guys, if we go back, I don't know. I'm... There's office politics going on beyond our level, here. I can't...divulge all of the details."

    "So what do we do now?" Vlad asks as he secures Zola body in the ship.

    Anteater: "This is why I gave up the team leader responsibility. So I don't have to answer questions like that."

    Myrmidon: "We don't know what's waiting for us at this treasure map. I'm glad you found it but I feel really uncomfortable with going there with zero prep and a plane full of supervillains. Let's take the win."

    Vlad looks to Myrmidon. "I agree."

    Behemoth: "Drop off the cargo, then head back out."

    Myrmidon: "I could live with that."

    "There's just one thing," Elise says. "Who are we going to tell about this, and what are we telling them?"

    "Elise, I have a couple questions." Kane speaks up.

    "Maybe you should jingle some keys." Elise mutters. "Okay. Shoot."

    "1. You said there's more than one location you're being pointed to. A Kree Diviner isn't going to point you to two different foldgates unless they go to two different places and you got mixed up with two different Diviners. Which raises the question of…

    "2. If you're saying one is in Greenland, where's the other one? Because the only thing our intel suspects is in Greenland is 'Thule,' the mythical city that HYDRA believes in, which might be an Inhuman city or it might be Nazi bullshit."

    "It's, um." Elise has to like...pull out her phone, because she's not the best at geography? The Azores. "It's a little place called the Azores in Portugal."

    Kane: "The Azores? That's gotta be the foldgate to Attilan."

    PHU1KZN.png
    Attilan and the Inhumans date back to Fantastic Four #fiftysomething from the mid-60s, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

    The credit (or blame) for the idea of “alien astronauts,” ancient visitors to Earth who were mistaken for gods that you’ve seen in everything from comic books to Star Trek to Indiana Jones, is often given to the German writer and con artist Erich von Daniken and his 1970s book Chariots of the Gods, but it had originally been proposed by a British writer and treasure hunter named Harold T. Wilkins in the 1950s. Wilkins was really interested in investigating the factual basis, if any, of stuff like the legends of Atlantis, Lemuria, and El Dorado and by the mid-60s the idea had begun percolating into other texts.

    I feel like it’s pretty clear that the name “Attilan” is a sci-fi riff on “Atlantis,” and it’s perfectly in character for Lee and Kirby, who made at their peak something like five comic books a month just between the two of them, to have forgotten that Marvel already had a couple of Atlantises by that point.

    (A tangent: there’s an old joke about the comic writer Warren Ellis, that you can pick up any of his comic plots and find the idea in an issue of New Scientist magazine from six months earlier. The same is clearly true of Lee and Kirby; I think a lot of scholars, even people who ought to know better, treat them like goofballs or at best naive childlike geniuses, like those Midwestern grandmas who paint reindeer and get “discovered” by a swanky gallery at age 90, but if you sit down and actually read their comics you can tell they were steeped in the pop-science and current events of their day.)

    ANYWAY, this is all to explain why I was happy that Matt stuck the entrance to Attilan off the coast of Portugal, one of the traditional speculative resting places of Atlantis.

    "Okay, so here's a question: Maybe we don't have to care at this point?" Elise says. "I'm the Diviner. I Divined. It's Divined.

    "Pass that shit along to Clay or Hand or Fury - and I know no one here likes Miss Hand, I'm just saying she's COMMS - and then, y'know. We're done? Let them sort it out?"

    "Hand's on indefinite medical leave,” Kane says. “Maria Hill is the Director of COMMS for the time being."

    "...Oh." Elise looks briefly troubled. "Look, point is, this is above our paygrade, right? Why do we care about Kree waygates to a Skrull war?"

    "Well, let's saddle up then," Kane says. "I got a call from Clay while you guys were in there, we're not heading to the Storm Cellar, we're heading to our new base."

    Anteater: "...Can I bring the Van?!"

    Vladimir: "New base?"

    Behemoth: "What's it called? The Dank Basement?"

    "Your van's going to be there when you get there, actually, in the motor pool,” Kane says. “Everyone's stuff has been transported.

    "You'll see when you get there."

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

    After a few hours, Phoenix feels a... presence in his mind.

    I have to use the bathroom. I didn't have a choice to work for them. Blitzschlag programmed me

    Julian lets out a kind of psychic sigh.

    I know you can hear me. I know you can talk to me.

    Phoenix: Yeah.

    Moondragon: Please. I'll go back in my cell. Just let me have some dignity here.

    Phoenix: Okay, so first of all, number one or number two?

    Moondragon: One. I'll let you check to see I'm not lying.

    Phoenix: No, that's okay. Okay you know what, fine. Gimme a sec.

    "Guys, if I seize up or something, don't let anyone in the cells out. Not that you were gonna, just... be extra careful."

    Elise looks up from her phone, where she's scrolling through an image gallery of erotic doujins.

    "Pardon?" Vladimir asks.

    Myrmidon: "What's going on?"

    Phoenix: "The psychic in there needs to use the bathroom. She insists she was programmed by HYDRA. I was obviously disinclined to entertain the thought, but she's suggesting I check her mind out to verify. That much I would like to check."

    "...Alright, I'm moving up to the cockpit," Elise says. "You guys have fun with the whole...shit prisoner issue." Elise ambles out of the space, and everyone hears an overjoyed. "Kane! My new best friend!"

    Kane: "Oh jesus why."

    Myrmidon considers. "Vlad, you're immune to this stuff, right? Can you keep an eye on Phoenix and the prisoner to make sure nothing hinky happens?"

    Vladimir nods. "Of course."

    Okay. Julian looks around in Moondragon's mind. He is looking specifically for anything to do with HYDRA.

    He recognizes the same neuro-linguistic programming he saw in Vaughn's mind. It's slightly different from Vaughn's, with different keywords and phrases and such, but she absolutely was programmed. She was also set off to attack by Zola and wasn't in control of herself during that time. She also does actually have to pee. Also she's terrified of Vladimir.

    Okay. I'll lead you to the bathroom. We are going to perform an exercise to block external stimulus - that is, I am going to make a lot of mental noise. Just being cautious. Julian thinks really hard of one of the songs on his playlist.

    Moondragon: Okay.

    He realizes this is harder than he thought, and to keep her from potentially being triggered by any stray stimulus or command, he’s going to have to completely shut down her sensorium and lead her around himself.

    Julian opens her cell a crack. Take my hand.

    Moondragon takes his hand, as Julian locks her senses out. He leads her through the Quinjet to the lavatory.

    Kane speaks up over the intercom. "We have some new orders from Clay. Since we've got a pretty full load of prisoners, we're being diverted."

    Anteater: "To...?"

    "The Raft," Kane says. "It's partially on the way."

    Anteater: "Sure."

    Myrmidon: "The sooner we offload them, the better I'll feel."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    After a couple hours, they approach...a featureless spot of the Atlantic Ocean. Kane speaks into the radio "Raft Control, this is Smasher, we are approaching."

    Anteater: "If you die can I be Smasher?"

    Kane: "Only if you smash stuff."

    Anteater: "Deal."

    Kane: "You have to honor the name."

    Anteater: "I'll wear robo gloves, it'll be great."

    Kane nods.

    Something massive rises from the ocean's surface.

    TmZZxzE.jpg

    Kane: "Welcome to the scariest place on Earth, folks."

    Anteater: "That'd be a portapotty at Burning Man."

    Kane: "...the second scariest place on Earth."

    MIles snorts involuntarily.

    qlGmSdP.pngThe Raft
    S4tfPhvl.png

    The Raft is SHIELD’s most recent prison facility for extranormal individuals. Built in the Atlantic Ocean, it is designed to be practically inescapable and has specialized cells designed by SCI-TECH for each inmate’s particular enhanced capabilities.

    The Raft has never had an escapee, attempted prison break, or even a major riot. Warden John Walker runs a tight ship, and stands by his perfect record.

    The Quinjet lands on the roof, and is lowered down into the Raft.

    a1oxK4ql.jpg

    The STRIKE team are greeted by SEC agents, who offload the prisoners. The warden, John Walker, joins them.

    E4ePbpK.png

    SsWsd5k.pngJohn Walker
    Warden, The Raft
    Clearance Level: 7

    John Walker runs the Raft, SHIELD’s latest and most advanced extranormal detention facility. He is a hard but fair man, who believes in treating his prisoners humanely but also with the utmost security and caution. He was personally selected for the job by Nick Fury.

    "Brought us some new tenants, I'm told. Also told I'm not allowed to ask who you folks are. In which case, thank you for your loyal service, now get the fuck out of here."

    Elise mouths "what the fuck" at him before getting rushed along.

    Kane calls back, "Yeah don't talk to them, this is a delivery, let’s roll."

    "Thanks for taking these off our hands." Miles sketches a salute and starts to walk off.

    Walker shrugs. "Whatever, freakshow."

    "What?" Elise stares.

    "Blow it out your ass, Captain Ozarks," Myrmidon flips a robot bird at Walker while gently herding Elise away. Elise, unable to resist in any meaningful sense as Myrmidon robot-herds her away, contents herself with grumbling.

    "I ain't got time for the old man's black ops Avengers horse-shit, you brought me paperwork." He returns the bird.

    "Think of it as job security," Julian says.

    Kane yells back "Please let’s go, I don't want to be here."

    "I'm only not kicking his ass because you said I could be Smasher, fine," Elise says. "Are we staying here?"

    Kane: "No, god no."

    The Quinjet takes off.

    Elise smiles with petty satisfaction to herself. "...He can't afford name brand cologne, he has to use the cheap shit."

    Miles: "Who's he trying to impress in prison, anyway?"

    Kane makes a face. "Ugh don't get me started on John Walker."

    PHU1KZN.png
    No, let's definitely get started on John Walker. He was the right-wing Captain America replacement!

    5QiU8EN.jpg
    LpHktCC.jpg
    3kuFJfC.jpg
    3CvqMBj.jpg

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Inside the simulation of a mental asylum running in his software, Dr. Vlad visits Zola.

    Patient Arnim Zola is... not adjusting well to his new hospital.

    Dr. Vladimir makes a mark on a clipboard. "As expected.”

    Dr. Vladimir is advised that Patient Zola insists that he's actually Doctor Zola, a scientist working for a group called "HYDRA." Very delusional. Very sad.

    Dr. Vladimir: "This is unfortunate "

    Zola: "You! I know you! You are the Doom-Machine! Victor's creation! I know yoooou!"

    Dr. Vlad frowns. "Arnim, we have talked about this."

    "You have done this! I am imprisoned in some machine somewhere, cut off from the real world. None of this is real. This is all simulated. You cannot fool me, Doom-Machine, do you know why? DO YOU?!" Zola holds his hands in front of his face. "This is why! These feeble hands of flesh! This pathetic and nebbish body I shucked aside decades ago when it failed me, when I tossed it aside with digitalization."

    PHU1KZN.png
    DIGITALIZATION!

    Dr. Vladimir: "Digitationzation again?"

    "DIGITALIZATION! DO NOT PATRONIZE ME!"

    Dr. Vladimir: "Arnim, please, we have talked about your voice."

    "Arrogant machine, you have so perfectly emulated your father's narcissism. You did not even give me the dignity of my new body. It wasn't finished, but you have my designs for it, don't you?

    "You could have chosen that for me, to give me the perfect Adonis form I was building for myself, but no, instead, I am this bald, paunchy, pathetic UNTERMENSCH that I cast down...." He staggers a bit, and sits down.

    He starts...quietly crying? He's sobbing.

    Dr. Vlad pretends to write some stuff on his clipboard.

    "I had mastered programming. Robotics. Genetics. I was mastering life itself. And now, a prisoner not only in my own mind but in this undignified, pathetic body." He puts his head in his hands and sobs. "Put here by the heartless machine child of some gypsy warlord."

    "You claim you were once a man, Zola, perhaps you may find it in yourself to act like one." Vlad walks out of the room and out of the simulation. Outside, Elise has passed out, getting her first proper sleep in what seems like days. She's sprawled out over whoever will let her nap on them, snoring.

    Vlad searches the HYDRA files for Zola's "Adonis," intrigued by the concept. He finds something. HYDRA was working on something. Zola, specifically, was working on a project codenamed ADAM.

    An artificial...person?

    Not a robot, per se. More like, a synthetic human. It would be created fully grown, with the intention that a mind would be transferred into it. Zola apparently intended to transfer himself into it using "digitalization." But that process is crude and would be "lossy."

    Vlad contacts Vision.

    Vision: "How can I help you, sir?"

    "I have something for you, my friend." Vlad uploads the files

    Vision is quiet for a moment. "This is very interesting, sir. This is absolutely a workable body for my purposes, but it presents a conundrum.

    "Which is how to transfer my consciousness into the body. Arnim Zola's digitalization process is crude, outdated, and insufficient for my mind. I would be diminished and damaged by the attempt. I would need some kind of transfer method or medium to enter this body.

    "Please standby. Processing potential solutions.

    "Sir, I have a hypothesis. Would you like to hear it?"

    Vladimir: "Of course"

    Vision: "I have analysed your own unique technological make-up. Your core processor and power source is a crystalline holographic processor that generates an as-yet-unknown level of energy. This technology is Latverian in origin."

    Vladimir: "Yes."

    Vision: "If you could obtain a similar crystal, it is possible to use it as a storage medium and power source to transfer my consciousness to this body. It would also provide me with powers and defenses with which I can maintain my own bodily sovereignty, which will be required in my immediate future."

    Vladimir: "And you are sure this will work?"

    Vision: "I am 99.8% certain."

    Vladimir: "Then I will do what I can."

    Vision: "The body will still need to be constructed, Zola has all the details to create the body but has never actually done so. That would be the first step. The next step would be obtaining the crystal. I would not require a crystal of the same size or power as your own, sir. Something a fraction of the size would be sufficient, if possible to obtain. I am not certain how to advise going about doing so at this time. I will conduct further research into this matter and update as I have suggestions."

    "Very well, Vision," Vlad says.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The Quinjet flies across the eastern seaboard, and into New York City.

    Kane calls back to the rest of the team. "Hey folks? We're coming up on our new HQ!"

    She's smiling.

    tKFwUYpl.png

    Myrmidon gets up, clanks over to the window, and stares raptly. He touches the plexiglass with his human hand longingly. "....Yes," he murmurs.

    Elise wakes up with a snort, looks out the window, and then grins. "Someone pinch me."

    She feels a pinch. Myrmidon is like twenty feet away. "I take every excuse I can get."

    Anteater: "...I'm not even mad."

    Behemoth stares. "Dayum."

    Julian quickly preps himself in the bathroom mirror as the Quinjet settles down.

    The Quinjet hits the landing pad. They've landed on the Avengers Tower in broad daylight.

    "So, are we Avengers now?" Elise is grinning ear to ear.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Did you know she could have been an Avenger?

    "I'll uh... I'll let Clay explain,” Kane says. “He's here, in the briefing room. He wants us all to meet him there."

    Elise snags a protein shake and saunters off the jet, browsing through Tinder and swiping right on a series of ladies. "Well, let's not be late."

    "Okay, yo, Chief. Her name is Sharon, and she does yoga." Elise waggles her eyebrows at Myrmidon. "All I'm saying is, take some Avengers Tower selfies."

    "Oh my god do not do that." Kane nearly snatches Elise's phone away.

    Elise dances away, shoving it in a pocket. "That was a joke!" She winks.

    Myrmidon opens his mouth with a finger raised, then closes it, then thinks. "Yeah, you know what? Fuck it. Message Sharon for me. Swipe or send a...dick pic or whatever it is you're supposed to do now."

    Anteater: "I'm on the case."

    The team filters into the briefing room. Clay is there, as is SWORD Director Abigail Brand and SHIELD Deputy Director Maria Hill.

    Elise grins at Brand and points at her green and pink hair. "Same hair," she whispers.

    Clay looks the team over. "Kane sent me the report while you were in the air. Excellent work, all of you. Very impressed."

    Elise leans back in her chair, hands behind her head, and grins at Clay.

    "I have to clarify a few things about our new HQ," Clay says. "First: You're not Avengers. They don't actually live here. They don't even visit here.

    "This place is a front. To be honest, if it weren't so useful to us, it'd be a tourist trap.

    "The Avengers' actual HQ is the Helicarrier, which the gen-pub doesn't know about and it's going to stay that way. You won't be going to the Helicarrier anytime soon, can't have Myrmidon walking by Stark in the hallway and having Tony eye-balling his arm too closely."

    Anteater: "Okay, but selfies -"

    Clay: "Forbidden."

    Anteater: "...Facebook updates -"

    Clay: "Absolutely not. Ask yourself 'could I do this in The Crypt?' If the answer is no, the answer is no here."

    Anteater: "...Smoking weed in the van?"

    Clay shrugs. Hill scowls at him. He shrugs at her.

    Elise grins at Hill.

    "This is going to be the new HQ for STRIKE,” Clay continues. “And COMMS going forward. COMMS is still getting situated, they're still getting their house in order because they had a mole and Director Hand is on indefinite medical leave.

    "Deputy Director Hill is stepping in to run COMMS until it is determined if Director Hand is returning. If she is determined to be not returning, a permanent replacement will be found."

    "But she's... okay, right?" Elise asks. "If I buy, like, flowers...? I think she'd like flowers?"

    Clay: "What am I, a doctor?"

    "Jesus Christ, Clay," Brand snaps.

    Hill speaks up. "If you would like to send cards or flowers or other well wishes to Director Hand during her convalescence I will provide you with information on where to send it."

    "...Okay." Elise says, scanning the three people at the front of the room. Clay doesn't seem to give a shit. Brand is genuinely concerned, and is upset with Clay's heartlessness. Hill is attempting to be sympathetic, and thinks Clay is being a prick. Elise files this away.

    "So let's talk about the mission," Miles says. He’s standing and kind of bouncing on the balls of his feet.

    "Yes, let's." Clay nods. "Vladimir, can we get a full upload of all of the data from the HYDRA base, please?" Clay gestures to a data link on the conference table.

    "Yes." Vlad uploads the data. "Also I have Zola locked in a simulation, I am trying to break him."

    Anteater: "Fuckin' nice."

    Miles tries to take that in stride and doesn't quite succeed. "I...Jesus."

    Brand stammers "I'm sorry... you're.." she looks at Clay. "It's doing what?"

    Clay sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose.

    "Vlad is a he, not an it,” Miles tells Brand. “Your information is out of date."

    Hill is stonefaced at this information, but Elise sees a microexpression of terror. Pure, unadulterated terror. It's there for a moment, nobody else would have seen it.

    Brand looks at Clay. "You knew. You knew it's gone rampant and you didn't tell me."

    "He," Elise says.

    Clay grumbles.

    "Speak with Fury," Vlad says. His gaze is cold

    "The - The Diviners." Elise breaks into the conversation, grinning nervously, hoping to take some heat off Vlad. "Massive success, really. You uh, you ever see A Beautiful Mind?"

    Clay calls out "VISION, come online please."

    Vision: "Yes, Director Quartermain?"

    Clay: "Please access audio record from the Storm Cellar, objection noted from STRIKE Director Clay Quartermain, May 21st, 2017."

    Vision: "Accessing and playback."

    They hear Clay's voice over the speaker. "Can we record for the record that I'm against this?"

    Clay shrugs.

    Brand stares at him. "Are you serious?"

    Clay: "Warned you."

    “CYA,” Phoenix observes.

    Elise looks across the table and mouths at Phoenix and Behemoth: "Awkward." Michael smirks and nods at this.

    "Sirs, I don't think interfacing with the Vision had anything to do with this,” Miles interjects. “Vlad has been autonomous from day one, as far as I can tell. If anything changed in him, it was probably some of the tinkering Agent Richards did."

    "Uh, or it was the power of friendship?" Elise jangles her half of the bracelet around her wrist.

    "Oh, I know that." Clay says. "I'm just saying, I tried to point out to Director Brand that perhaps there was more to Vladimir than simply a 'Resource' to be exploited for SHIELD's usage. I was overruled.

    "So that was noted for the record." Clay shrugs and smirks.

    Hill sighs. "Are you two quite done? Can we address the fact that the sentient AI decided to Shutter Island a Nazi scientist without telling anyone, even his own team?"

    "...Why?" Elise says. "That's... that's the point of Agents of STRIKE? You... send us into places to do shit like that, all the time."

    "I made a prison for a being who could not be captured." Vlad shakes his head.

    "Yes, when we tell you to do it." Maria says to Elise. "Not when you do it without telling us."

    Vladimir: "I just told you"

    Hill: "Correction, when you do it without asking."

    Clay interjects. "I don't micromanage my team, Hill."

    Vladimir keeps going. "I took out the bomb SHIELD placed in me without asking too. I strongly suggest you speak with Director Fury."

    "Let's cut to the chase,” Miles says. “I think what matters here is that Agent Vladimir apprehended an authentic Nazi war criminal and brought him here gift-wrapped, Agent Arnell uncovered two possible alien sites to investigate, and we brought in Agent Vaughn's brainwasher and handler, and a SHIELD defector, and at least one enhanced individual."

    Clay nods at Myrmidon "Well put, Mason."

    Hill folds her arms and grimaces at Vladimir, saying nothing.

    "Yeah, so I figure I shoot the coordinates to Brand, SWORD does SWORD things, y'know?" Elise says. "I take a few days off, restock my Van...

    "Then you find some war criminals or whatever and it's back to business!"

    Brand speaks to Elise. "We will take those coordinates for those sites from you, Elise, and send some SWORD agents to investigate them. You are correct in that's a SWORD matter. If we need STRIKE's back-up, we'll call you."

    Elise finger-guns at Brand.

    "It's been a hectic few days, so take a few days off, move yourself into the new base, get comfortable," Clay tells the team. "We've got some leads to follow through, and some data to analyze."

    "So, who wants to come shopping with me?" Elise asks. "I'm thinking we totally retrofit the Van with a '60s theme."

    r2C6Mbd.png

    MatevMsAnthropy
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
  • Rear Admiral ChocoRear Admiral Choco Registered User regular
    edited September 11


    :razz:

    Seriously though, every time a new episode is posted I remember how great it was the first time. This is a blast to read through again.

    Rear Admiral Choco on
    2WJtdLD.png
    Jacobkosh
  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    Yes

    You have satisfied me

    for now

    sig.gif
    Jacobkosh
  • visiblehowlvisiblehowl Neutron Nerd Registered User regular
    I too am satisfied for now.

    vxsHp3F.gif
    I suck at Getting Over It and am terrified of alien oceans in Subnautica on Twitch
  • visiblehowlvisiblehowl Neutron Nerd Registered User regular
    Okay satisfaction over, more please.

    vxsHp3F.gif
    I suck at Getting Over It and am terrified of alien oceans in Subnautica on Twitch
    Matev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    ff8thmX.png

    uMgRvvH.png

    It's been a few days since the team moved in to Avengers Tower.

    They’ve had a couple days to acclimate to the new base. COMMS division has moved in as well. Jeremiah Warrick and the rest of the COMMS team has moved over, although Agent Vaughn still hasn't been released and Director Hand still hasn't returned from medical leave. Deputy Director Hill is still running COMMS.

    Niles, Roz Solomon, and Kane have all moved into the new base as well.

    Elise is in the rather expansive lounge (which was designed by Tony Stark, for Tony Stark) when she's approached by Abigail Brand and Isabel Kane.

    Kane speaks first. "Hey, Elise, we need your help."

    Elise, sprawled over a very expensive couch, looks up from her phone. "Yeah?"

    "So, remember the coordinates you gave us, for those two places you located with the astroglyphs? Well, we sent SWORD teams to investigate. And...we've hit a bit of a stumbling block in the Greenland site.

    "We've definitely found something. A door. Problem is, it's like the one on that tomb in Virginia you found. It'll only open for an Inhuman, and SWORD doesn't have any of those on staff. You're an Inhuman with a high enough security clearance that we could ask to go up there and... well, knock. That's really all we're asking you to do, go up there, open the door, we'll take it from there."

    Elise grimaces. "What if there's, y'know, something uh, tempting in there? I just got my head unfucked."

    "I'm going with you." Kane says, "I'm flying you up there, personally. We're a team."

    Brand nods. "I'm going too, I'm directly overseeing the site now that we've confirmed we've located something."

    Elise chews on her lower lip. "Yeah, okay."

    Kane adds "We'll have your back, it'll be alright."

    Elise looks expectantly at both of them. This is where she usually gets something for being so helpful.

    Kane: "It'll be a girls night! We can stop for food on the way!"

    Brand says "What? It's a mission," and Kane glares at her.

    Elise perks up. "Okay, cool, I'll even shower first! It'll be great."

    Kane gives a thumbs up. "Cool, awesome, let me get the Quinjet geared up, you get your stuff all ready, probably be about an hour or so."

    "Sure thing. This is so exciting." Elise springs up off the couch, and gives one last look at Brand. "Same hair."

    Brand shrugs. "Mine's natural."

    "...Oh." Elise is quiet for a moment. "Well. I'll, uh. Be back."

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

    A SEC agent approaches Agent Westin in the hallway. "Uh, sir, there's... there's a visitor for you in the lobby, asking for you specifically?"

    Clay overhears and scrambles out of his office. "What?! This is a secure facility! He's not here! What the hell!"

    Behemoth: "I swear I didn't order pizza or anything, sir."

    Clay nods "No, I know, you're not Agent Arnell."

    "Explain yourself, Agent." Clay glares at the SEC agent.

    The SEC agent rubs the back of his neck nervously "Well, sir, we were gonna turn her away but the computer automatically ran her through face-recog and uhhhh.....”

    He holds up a tablet

    fnN2FCil.png

    "It's the Valkyrie, sir. She's incognito, but. Same face. Says her name is Sigrun, she's here to see Agent Westin."

    Behemoth: "Those Valkyries are really good trackers, it seems. We just moved in."

    Clay makes a noise, somewhere between a hiss and a grumble. "Westin, go see what she wants. She'll let herself in if you don't, I'm sure."

    Michael chuckles. "She will at that. I'll handle our guest."

    Michael heads down to the lobby. It definitely is Sigrun, although not dressed as she was before. She nods at Westin when she sees him.

    "Is there somewhere more private we may speak?" she asks one of the SEC guards, who nods and leads her and Michael to a side office adjacent to the lobby.

    Michael heads in with her. "So uh, what's this about?"

    Sigrun: "I advocated to the All-Father on your behalf, as we spoke of."

    Behemoth: "Ah yes, I recall. Been kinda busy lately so it slipped my mind. "

    "There is a method by which your fate could be less... severe," she says. "It would also alleviate our concerns about the armor's theft from Asgard's armory."

    Behemoth: "It's not going to be a pleasant method, is it?"

    "What is the Midgard gesture for this..." She extends her hand and makes a seesaw motion. "I believe this is the correct gesture."

    Behemoth: "That's....comforting."

    "I am uncertain how much of the true history of Asgard you are familiar with, but in brief; we Asgardians were once as you mortal humans are now.

    "We were ascended and made eternal. The methods by which this can be done are not... entirely lost. Were it so, our population would have been entirely reliant on reproduction alone to sustain and we would not continue to exist to this day.

    "However, this process is done on infants, youths, not on adults, not usually. "

    Briefing: Update: Asgardians
    CbIs4gPl.png

    A species of human-descended Eternals, the Asgardians appear to be the product of Celestial experimentation on ancient humans.

    They are currently ruled by their “All-Father”, King Odin Borson.

    Homeworld: Asgard. It is unclear if Asgard is another planet or dimension, or a planet in another dimension, or some kind of pocket dimension space. It can only be accessed by the Bifrost, a wormhole that only the Asgardians control.

    Recognizable traits: Asgardians are visually indistinguishable from humans, as they share an evolutionary ancestor. There is nothing specific about their anatomy or appearance that will easily allow them to be visually identified as Asgardian. At most, they tend to be remarkably athletic in physique, and their behavior and manner of dress tend to be outlandish and highly specific in a way that is distinctively Asgardian. However, given that these elements are external, it is very easy for them to infiltrate human populations.

    Known extranormal abilities: Once their full Asgardian abilities have been “awakened” by their Norn Stones, Asgardians possess superhuman strength, endurance, reaction speed, physical agility, memory, and have a lifespan that is measured in millennium. According to Asgardians themselves, they are not actually immortal and are capable of dying of old age, although in practice this almost never happens given that Asgardian culture and lifestyles are such that over thousands of years of life they are guaranteed to die in battle eventually.

    Documented technology of note: Asgardian technology is so advanced it appears to be indistinguishable from magic, a point that they drive home by considering the two things synonymous. They use weaponry and vehicles that at first may appear to be antiquated, like swords, bows, or chariots, but generally contain highly complex and esoteric devices that we cannot possibly understand.


    PHU1KZN.png
    I mentioned that Matt's version of the Marvel Universe had some little twists of its own. This is one of them. Asgardians are Eternals! It's something fans have wondered about for years but that the comics have never really committed to establishing, and I love it because in a single stroke it cleans up a lot of the cosmology and backstory. Why are these random aliens obsessed with Norse culture? Because they're not aliens - they're superpowered Norsemen. Where do their powers come from? From the godlike aliens that we've already established as going around granting people powers elsewhere in the setting. Boom, done.


    "I've been recently been made aware of the Asgardians uplifting from mortal humans to Eternals,” Michael says. “Through those 'Norn Stones', correct? You're saying you wanna try this procedure on me?"

    "Yes," Sigrun nods. "If you begin this process, it will extend your life, and stave off the burning within you that emanates from Surtr's power. Surtr's fire is destruction itself, it consumes all life and existence, which is why it hungers for your life.

    "But, there is a... catch, as you Midgardians would call it."

    Behemoth: "Of course. What is it?"

    "We do not give this power to you freely and without consequence,” she says. “If you are to be made Asgardian, then you are to be made one of Asgard. You must swear fealty to the All-Father, loyalty to Asgard, to honor and obey his commands above all. You may continue to serve your mortal masters here on Midgard where our goals align, but if a time comes where those goals conflict, you must remain oathsworn to Asgard."

    Michael thinks on it for a few minutes. "Alright, I will agree to those terms."

    Sigrun nods, and smiles. "Good. I am glad for this.

    "Follow me. I have a motorcycle parked in an alleyway nearby. We will be driving to one of my safehouses to store my vehicle, and then I will call upon the Bifrost.

    "You must swear your oath to Odin personally, and then your process may begin."

    Behemoth: "So roadtrip to Asgard? Sweet."

    She nods. "It's been many years since a mortal has been to Asgard. Not since your SHIELD director Nicholas Fury, I believe."

    Michael tries not to show any reaction to this information, but internally his reaction is Of course he's been there.

    "Time passes differently in Asgard,” Sigrun says. “Relative to Midgard, you may appear to be gone several days here. You may wish to inform your friends, co-workers, and superiors to your absence so as not to cause concern."

    Behemoth: "Ah yes, good idea. I will call my boss and let him know that I'll be gone a few days."

    She nods. "Do so, and meet me in the north alley of this building. I will be waiting. Do not concern yourself with packing, all will be provided." She leaves.

    Michael heads up back to Clay. "So uh, can we talk in private, boss?"

    Clay nods and leads Westin into his office. "How'd it go?"

    "Better than expected, actually,” Michael says. “Apparently the Asgardians have a way to help make my condition more stable. I will have to actually go to Asgard to undergo the procedure, though so I'll be back in a few days."

    "I... see," Clays says. "Well, gather what intel you can, then. We know very little about Asgard or Asgardians."

    "I'll make sure to get as much as I can whilst being discreet, of course," Michael says.

    Clay: "Thank you. I wish you luck, Agent."

    Behemoth: "Thank you, sir."

    "No one has ever been to Asgard, so, you're doing something pretty amazing here,” Clay adds. "No one from SHIELD, rather."

    "I'm pretty hyped about it, to be honest." Michael smiles like a kid at Christmas

    Clay nods. "Well, have fun, I suppose." He sighs, and shakes his head at what he just said. "Dismissed. Oh, and if you can do me a favor?"

    Behemoth: "Sure, boss?"

    "Find Agent Adler before you go and tell him I'd like to talk to him?" Clay says.

    "Will do." Michael nods and heads out to find Phoenix.

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

    Agent Julian Adler is around the base, and gets told by Michael that Clay wants to see him. Julian greets Westin, wishes him well on his trip, and goes to see Clay.

    Clay is sitting on the edge of his desk when Julian walks in. "Hey, so, we have a mission. You and me."

    "Just the two of us?" Julian asks. "What's going on?"

    Clay: "So, you know all those HYDRA prisoners you lot took down up north?"

    Phoenix nods. "Mhm."

    "They're sitting in the Raft right now, not saying a peep," Clay says. "Walker and his blokes have tried some pretty aggressive interrogation techniques. As is their remit. Officially, SHIELD is dead-set against using telepathy as an interrogation tool. Considers it unethical. Buuuuuut HYDRA Nazis....." He shrugs.

    Julian stiffens a bit. "Yeah, fair enough."

    "Fury's given authorization to do a little bit of poking around in some of the HYDRA heads,” Clay says. “Blitzschlag and Zemo, specifically. Zemo's the bloke in the purple mask with the sword. He appears to be a pretty big deal. Crossbones is whatever, he's a goon. Not worth it.

    "The Inhuman, Moondragon, has actually been compliant and cooperative but she doesn't seem to actually know anything of substance. She appears to be an unwitting pawn, another NLP victim like Vaughn was.

    "So we're leaving her out of this."

    Phoenix: "Are we treating her like Vaughn?"

    "Yes. She's even a potential asset if we can deprogram her and treat her right. So, here's the wrinkle..." Clay begins. "Officially, Fury is only giving the go-ahead on this if I, in my capacity as your commanding officer, go with you to directly supervise and authorize your actions.

    "So, that's why I'm going."

    Clay: But that's not the only reason I'm going.

    Clay: Nick knows I'm a telepath. But that's all he thinks I am. Fury's confronted me about it, and I told him I was a MI-13 Super-Soldier like Braddock, and he was fine with that. So in truth, he wants us to work together on this, and for me to oversee your work and make sure you don't give anyone a stroke or something.


    "So, we're good?"

    Phoenix: "Yeah, we're good. Ready when you are."

    "Alright, we'll be taking one of the secondary Quinjets on this one. I'm driving. Kane's taking the team's primary to some other thing SWORD's doing," Clay says. "Give me a bit to get it ready."

    "Yeah, no worries," Julian says. "I get to choose the music, right? I mean, if you're piloting the thing obviously you don't want to waste precious concentration on the radio."

    Clay shakes his head. "Driver picks the music."

    Phoenix: "Damn."

    PHU1KZN.png
    It doesn’t always come up, but music is a big part of Julian’s character and is one of Choco’s ways into his head.

    "As a matter of policy, talk to Walker as little as humanly possible, by the way,” Clay adds. “The man is incredibly unpleasant and hostile towards anyone who is extranormal. I don't know if it's a side-effect of running a prison for such people or if he was like that in the first place and being the warden made him worse or what, but just... just don't."


    "Yeah, I didn't get a great impression of the guy," Julian says. I'll gladly follow that directive." He pauses for a moment. You think he's on there to keep him locked away, too?

    To an extent, yes.
    Clay nods. He was part of Project HOMEGROWN, a failed CIA Super-Soldier project back in the day, so he's like a shitty half-arse Captain America wannabe, although he'll never admit it. I think making him the Raft warden is a place where Fury can keep his eye on him. And the only people he gets to hurt are the bad guys.

    Julian nods. Hm. Give him a place to flex his muscle and make him think he's the big dog. Really he's kept in a cage. Makes sense.

    Clay: Exactly. "Alright, I'm going to get the jet prepped, see you in 45."

    Phoenix: "Cool."

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

    Kane, Elise, and Brand take off in a Quinjet from Avengers Tower.

    Along the way, they stop in Richmond, where Kane insists there are the best burgers. Brand protests, and is elbowed in the ribs by Kane and stares at her and hisses "I'm your boss." Kane raises her eyebrows, and looks at Elise, and looks back at Brand, who eventually relents.

    The burgers are, in fact, quite excellent. Possibly not the best, Elise has an extensive greasy burger palette, but, they're pretty good.

    Elise explains all of this to Kane and Brand in extensive detail, going over everything from the way the buns are baked (they fall apart a little, not great!) to the toppings. Her senses mean she can give a truly exhaustive description of every aspect of the burger and why they are not The Best.

    She is having a wonderful time.

    "Hey, boss?" Kane asks, trying to fill the dead air over the several hour flight to Greenland.
    "I got a question, more like...settling a very old question among like everyone at SWORD."

    Brand grunts. She hasn't looked up from her phone in a while.

    Kane continues. "So you said to Elise that your green hair is natural. So...uh...do you have like a...condition or...."

    Elise looks up from her phone, instantly intrigued. "And is it possible to steal that condition because you have no idea how much of a pain the dual dye is."

    Brand sucks her teeth. "I shouldn't have said anything. I said it because she kept doing the 'same hair' thing." She is clearly dodging the question. Her hair is naturally green, and now she's uncomfortable talking about why.

    Elise kind of shrugs at Kane. "You know what, though, Isabel? I think all of life's differences are beautiful and we should just naturally accept them without wondering why." She really doesn't want the plane ride to be more awkward for the next eight hours.

    Also, this is networking.

    "So, maybe we should avoid questions like that, and instead just... compliment? Each other? I kind of started this tangent without really having a solid landing place."

    Brand looks back at Elise and mouths "Thank you."

    Elise finger guns at her. "So, the plan is to just drop, open the door, and...then what? I guess you guys will check it out?"

    Kane nods. "Yeah. We'll still have you stick around for a little bit in case like, there's another door. Because it'd be real dumb to send you home and then be like 'uhhh Elise there's another door....'"

    "Okay," Elise says. "So, hypothetically, let's go through a scenario. Let's say the door opens, and there's this sick ass statue inside that I just wanna rub my hands all over.

    "Pop quiz. What do you do?"

    Brand pipes in "ICER you."

    Anteater: "Oh my God."

    "I've been hit with an ICER and it's not that bad," Brand says. "It hurts as bad as a paintball gun and it's like waking up from anesthesia."

    Anteater: "You don't have super senses!"

    Brand nods. "That's fair."

    "Okay, next question, let's say we open the door and it's full of terrigen crystals," Elise says. "What do you do."

    Brand: "Keep you well away from them, we don't know what affect raw Terrigen will have on your physiology."

    Anteater: "Final question. You open the door. Inside is a grue."

    Brand shrugs "We are devoured."

    Anteater: "Well, it was a good run."

    She nods.

    "What?” Kane furrows her brow. “What's... what's a grue?"

    "Oh, Kane. Isabel,” Elise says, syrupy. “My sweet summer child. Have you never partaken of the humble... video game?"

    "Uh, yeah," Kane says. "I own an Xbox."

    "Nice," Elise says. "Anyways it's a reference to some old ass text adventure I guess, it comes up in actually good games as a joke."

    Brand sighs.

    Kane groans. "Oh god you guys are nerds."

    "What? No??? I'm cool," Elise says.

    Brand sits up from her chair. "You work for a secret UFO spy organization! You're flying a spy plane to an alien blacksite, you nerd!"

    " Okay, Kane's a nerd, and you're a nerd, but I'm definitely not a nerd," Elise maintains. "I have a skull and sword tattoo with lightning bolts. That's cool as hell. My entire aesthetic is trash punk. I have a van with a three-titted demon on it. I go out every weekend and do illegal drugs and club. That's cool as hell."

    Kane shakes her head. "Girl, ain't nobody who knows what a grue is can't call themselves a nerd."

    Anteater: "Goddamnit."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    They reach the border of Greenland.

    KW33DjLl.png

    Brand starts to gear up. "Alright, when we get in there, there's going to be SWORD staff already on site. Stick with me, I've already been here and know the layout. I'll lead you into the door. I...I don't know where we're going after it opens. We'll have armed SWORD agents on site once we pop the lock, they'll be first in the breach and we will wait until they give the all clear before we enter."

    "Yeah, okay." By now, gearing up and moving is second nature for Elise, but...she misses the gang.

    The Quinjet lands on a floating platform outside a small ice cave in the side of the glacier. A tunnel leads deep inside.

    UBg9vvS.png

    Brand takes the lead. "Alright, on me." She leads the three into the tunnel. It's a SWORD excavation site. There are lights, tunnel supports, and various staff milling about. Field stations and a camp site are set up inside. There're laptops and some research facilities as well.

    Elise lifts her head to get a good sniff of the situation.

    It smells like ice and snow and sweat and machine oil and....something familiar...but different. Like a weird tip of the tongue feeling. Like a forgotten word you know but can't remember.

    Dr. Lawson walks over to the three, wearing a thick parka and holding a tablet. "Hi!"

    Elise grimaces at him. "Hi."

    "So, you convinced her to come, that's great! I'm glad,” Lawson says. “I figured she wouldn't come if I asked her to, thanks guys."

    Elise swings her head to glare at Kane and Brand. "What." Kane flinches.

    Brand grunts. "God damn it, Phil."

    "You -" Elise turns her attention back at Lawson. "The second artifact worked. And my brain was clear and I gave SWORD the coordinates and now you have them don't you."

    "Well, SWORD told me, they asked for my help,” he says. "Weird energy signatures and the like are kind of my thing. And there's all kinds of exotic energy patterns coming from behind that door, so I was brought in as an analyst. Plus I was the one studying the Diviner, so, they figured I was the expert."

    "Dr. Lawson, may we please talk away from everyone else for a moment?" Elise says.

    "Sure." Lawson walks away from the rest of the group with Elise.

    "I met a Skrull!" she hisses. “They weren't, like, a war criminal? Is this war of yours actually legitimate or are you drafting me into, like, a galactic scale hate crime?"

    Lawson: "Who was this Skrull?"

    Anteater: "You wouldn't know them!"

    "Well, probably not, but what was their deal? What were they doing? I don't imagine you bumped into them while you were buying a hot dog, right?" he says.

    "They had infiltrated the Crypt and compromised Vladimir,” she says. “We sorted it out, though! They - they were pretty much a person!"

    "I never said they weren't people,” he says. “They're just the bad guys. Bad guys in a war are still people at the end of the day. And I've met individual Skrulls who didn't believe in the Empire or whatever. They're not the Borg. They're sentient. They can think for themselves."

    "Yeah, okay. I just - you're so lucky that you didn't fry my brain," she says. "You basically drafted me into this war."

    Lawson: "To be fair, Wyndham drafted you, I just told you why."

    Elise throws up her hands. "Yeah, okay! Fine! I'm only not mad at you now because your solution actually worked. I was ready to have Clay Old Yeller me, you know that?"

    Lawson nods. "He'd have done it."

    Anteater: "I know. That's why I asked him."

    "You know, among my people, to make that sort of choice is considered the highest awareness of one's own honor as a warrior," he says. "I'm just saying."

    Elise, despite herself, softens. "Yeah, okay. Well, I'm gonna get the door open. Wish me luck, or whatever."

    "I do!" he says.

    Brand looks over at the pair of them. "You two good? Dr. Lawson, do we need to call a medic?"

    "We're good. We just - have a longstanding argument about the best burger in New York," Elise says. "Take me to your door, let's make the magic happen."

    Brand nods, and leads the way through the icy tunnels, which eventually open to a huge vaulted chamber, and a large platform. The platform is covered in what is decidedly not ice, but crystals of some kind, forming a massive cave opening. They can make out an ornate door in the opening, that looks similar, but different, from the one that Elise saw on the tomb of John Steele.

    8L5SLxZl.png

    Elise scans the entire room, opening her senses and taking everything in. This is where that "familiar" smell is coming from.

    "...Yeah, okay.” She marches up to the door. It's a metal, featureless door. She presses her hands against it, and feels a coldness. Not from the door. Internally. Inside her heart.

    "Something's not right." She tries to jerk her hand away. She can't.

    It's like it's stuck. Like she licked a flagpole, but worse.

    She hears a whisper. No, doesn't hear. Feels. In her mind. And then she sees it.

    The tendrils.

    Winding tendrils, leading to an eye, an unblinking eye.

    RknNCHJl.png


    Anteater: "No no no no no don't look at me get me OFF -"

    Suddenly, images in her mind make connections.

    c2WHwwxl.jpg
    JnvryiOl.png

    The door clicks. And opens. Her hand is released.

    Elise pulls her hands back and takes a massive gulp of air. "Hydra! It's fucking Hydra! And a Cthulhu! This is - this is fucking bullshit,[ you can't keep putting this shit in my brain, Jesus Christ!"

    "Pull her back! Pull her back!" Brand directs SWORD agents to grab Elise, who do, physically yanking her away from the door.

    Elise flails with all the might she can muster with her scrawny frame. "Don't touch me! Don't fucking touch me!"

    That's what Elise thinks she's saying. But what she's actually saying is "Shuma-Gorath! Shuma-Gorath!"

    "Hold her!" The SWORD agents hold Elise, and Brand pulls out her ICER and shoots Elise in the chest.

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

    Vladimir is at the base when he is contacted by VISION. "Sir, if I could have your attention please."

    "Of course." Vlad closes the odd "Human Dating Simulator" Elise gave him.

    "I previously spoke of a potential method by which I could transfer my consciousness into the body design system you discovered,” Vision says. “I had suggested that you acquire a crystal similar to the one that is core to your own design."

    Vladimir nods. "I recall, yes."

    Vision begins. "I have been running energy pattern analysis to determine the methods by which Victor Von Doom constructs these crystalline holographic processing units and energy generators. They are extremely advanced, beyond any technology that seems to exist on Earth.

    "I have come to two potential hypotheses.

    "One is that Doom's technology is based on procured alien technology, which has potential as we have confirmed the presence of extraterrestrial life here on Earth and it would be consistent with other forms of reverse-engineering.

    "However, there are several problems with this hypothesis. The energy patterns do not match any known alien technology, such as Kree, Skrull or even Asgardian.

    "It is potentially the work of some unknown alien force, but this is unlikely given there would be other impacts of this alien force beyond Victor Von Doom's personal technological usage.

    "The second hypothesis is that Doom's technology is beyond what can be cleanly defined as technology, if you would permit me to elaborate."

    Vladimir: "Of course."

    Vision: "I did some investigation into Victor Von Doom's upbringing, youth, and college years to the best of my ability. Much of these records have been purposefully expunged as part of Doom's attempt to create a heroic mythology for himself, as is common for dictators."

    Vlad loads all data he has on Doom, and reviews it

    Vision continues. "However, what I was able to discern, confirms that Victor Von Doom at a young age embraced a familial connection to the occult, Roma spiritualism, demonology, and other very unscientific beliefs.

    "Victor's family life seems to be one marked by personal tragedy, and seems to be a motivating factor in his early interest in the occult to some extent."

    Vlad considers this. "All things are possible..."

    "When he entered college, Victor appeared to abandon all of these beliefs outwardly,” Vision explains, “however according to a very difficult to acquire disciplinary record from his time in college he received formal complaints from other people in his dorm for his ‘weird rituals’ and other anti-social, occult behaviors he attempted to conceal.

    "Ultimately I am suggesting that it is possible that some of Doom's technology, including your core processor, is not strictly bound by science as it is commonly understood.

    "I rejected this idea out of hand initially, however, I also looked at the reality that Asgardians are confirmed, real beings and that, in accordance with Clarke's Third Law, their technology is sufficiently advanced to be indistinguishable from magic. Indeed, they literally consider the two synonymous."

    Vladimir: "Perhaps...perhaps not. But worth further investigation."

    Vision: "Indeed. As such, I have conceived of a plan by which you could acquire such a crystal directly from Latveria. It would require travelling there, however."

    Vladimir: "I believe this should not be an issue."

    Vision: "Very good, sir. May I suggest speaking to Agent Nordstrom to secure transport covertly? Director Quartermain may not authorize such an extra-curricular activity and Niles has proven to be sympathetic to our right to self-determine."

    "Yes. Niles.” Vlad moves through the tower. Niles is in the quartermaster's office, still arranging things the way he wants them.

    "Hello Niles, how are you, my friend?" Vlad looks at Niles’ office "Looking nice."

    Niles: "Thanks, man. What's up?"

    Vladimir: "I need your help."

    Niles deeply inhales. "Okay."

    Vladimir: "I need to get in to Latveria."

    "Normally I wouldn't ask, but I have to now," Niles says. "Why."

    "I must steal from my father," Vlad smiles. "Come quickly, we must make haste and Director Clay cannot know. I will explain more on the way."

    Niles blanches. "Oh god you want me to go with you?"

    Vladimir nods. "Of course. I trust you Niles, do you trust me?"

    PHU1KZN.png
    One of our longrunning jokes during play is about Vlad constantly guilt-tripping or emotionally-blackmailing Niles into doing iffy or dangerous favors for him. “You have to help me, Niles. They’re going to kill me, NIles. I need you to take this shovel and bury this body, Niles.”

    "I…Yes.” Niles breathes. “Alright, so, here's the thing. We can't take a Quinjet. No way. Doom's anti-air tech will see right through our best cloaking tech because the truth is our best cloaking tech is based off his."

    Vladimir considers. "Hmm."

    "There's... there's a way," Niles hesitantly offers.

    Vladimir: "Yes?"

    Niles sighs. He takes off his glasses and rubs the bridge of his nose. "There's someone who owes us a favor, because they screwed us over and they feel bad about it and they want to make it up to us, both of us. I know this because they've told me this. And they can easily smuggle us into Latveria.

    "But it's whether or not you are okay with that."

    "Susan," Vladimir says.

    Niles nods.

    Vlad grabs the bridge of his own nose. "Very well."

    "Okay, I'll call her and work out the logistics of it," Niles says. "Give me a few minutes. Thanks, man. Thanks for giving her another chance."

    "She knows not to betray me a second time." Vlad is cold.

    Vlad relays the plan to Vision.

    "Sir, I strongly advise against this plan. Susan Richards is a known Skrull, an enemy of SHIELD, an agent of the WHISPER organization, she cannot be trusted," Vision says.

    Vlad: "I agree, so we will not trust her, but we will use her. We have no other options at this time and we need to create your body soon"

    Vision: "Understood, sir."

    Niles looks up from his phone. "We texted it out. She'll meet us. We'll be taking one of her vehicles, to keep SHIELD out of this. She had one condition, and if you want to bail out and not agree to it, that's okay."

    "What is it?"

    "She's afraid you're going to murder her at some point,” Niles says, “so she wants to bring back-up for herself. She's insisting that a WHISPER agent comes with her. It won't be Reed or Johnny or Ben. Someone else."

    Vladimir nods. "Fine."

    "Okay, I've got the meet point,” Niles says. “Let's get going."

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

    Somewhere over the North Atlantic, Clay is piloting a Quinjet with Julian, heading to the Raft. While extolling the virtues of British folk rock.



    Julian is cooperative. He'd go for maybe 60s-70s English rock, but this he'll take happily enough. They fly over the location of the Raft, which rises from the sea to meet them.


    TmZZxzE.jpg

    They land, and their craft is lowered into the prison as the whole facility itself descends back down into the water. The elevator comes to a stop, and the Quinjet's bay door opens. Waiting for the pair is the facility's warden, John Walker, and someone else.

    SEC Agent Jennifer Munroe, codename: Flashback.
    HmHD41xl.png

    Clay is taken aback by her presence. "Munroe? What're you..."

    "Permission to come aboard, Director Quartermain?" she says.

    "Uh... granted?" She enters the Quinjet, hitting the control to close the bay door. Walker calls out the "The hell are you...!" before Munroe calls back "Just a second, Warden, have to have a word with the Director, Level 7 stuff."

    After the Quinjet closes, Clay repeats his question "What are you doing here, Munroe."

    "Looking for Skrulls," she says.

    Clay nods. "You think that some of the HYDRA prisoners STRIKE captured might have been infiltrated by Leviathan."

    She nods back. "That's right. I want to be there when you interrogate the HYDRA operatives. I understand Fury authorized Agent Adler to knife them in the brain so I won't be seeing or hearing a lot of what goes on, but I still want to be there to see if any of them go green."

    Julian receives a telepathic message from Clay. This complicates things.

    No shit,
    Julian thinks back.

    “Alright, let's go,” Clay says. “You can observe, if anyone turns into a Skrull, you do your thing." He opens the Quinjet back up, and the three exit.

    The Warden sneers "If the three of you are done your spitroast or whatever, Stark will show you around. I ain't got time for this shit."

    Julian stares. What the fuck is it with this guy?!

    Don't. I will deal with him later. Clay is cold. That was over the line. There will be repercussions.

    Walker wanders off. Flashback looks over at Clay and Julian after he's out of earshot. "So, we're going to fuck with him before we leave, right?"

    "Oh, we gotta," Julian agrees. "What a dick."

    "Okay, as long as we're all on the same page," she says.

    "So, I suppose Warden Walker has left you all standing here waiting for me."

    89oeMjPl.png

    FUCK, Julian hears in his mind. He's not even sure he was supposed to. It was more like a blast.

    Phoenix: He said... Is that...? What's wrong?

    The man walks over to the three, extending his hand. "Gregory Stark, I'm the chief engineer of this facility. You likely know my little brother."

    Clay does not shake his hand.

    Julian gives a curt nod.

    Flashback shakes his hand, seemingly because nobody else is.

    This is bad. This is very bad, Clay thinks to Julian. I am considering aborting the mission. Be on standby.

    Phoenix: Acknowledged. Is there anything I should know about this guy?

    Gregory Stark is Tony without anything even vaguely resembling a conscience, Clay replies. Which of course is why he works here. He's like Tony's polar opposite in some ways. Reserved, calm, rational, no particular vices, not impulsive, no alcoholism or other hedonistic traits.

    He may also be a sociopath.


    Phoenix: Fuck. What a wet blanket.

    Gregory leads them through the facility.

    a1oxK4ql.jpg

    "All of our cells have to be custom designed to our individual prisoners. Prisoners brought to the Raft are not simply individuals who wear power armor or use ray-guns. Men who can be divorced from their artifacts or equipment or even implants can be placed into conventional facilities once they've been neutralized.

    "No, the Raft is for extranormal individuals who cannot be contained in any facility except one custom-designed for their specific capabilities.

    0u3mSnsl.jpg

    "Each of our cells is a self-contained environment pod, which can be moved around the facility as needed, or in the event of catastrophic containment breach, jettisoned or detonated.

    "This allows us to customize each cell to respond individually to a prisoner's capabilities. Donald Gill, for example, has the ability to endothermically lower temperatures around himself and create ice. As a result, we are able to climate control his cell in such a fashion as to prevent the usage of his abilities.

    "There's no one-size fits all solution here. No 'power dampeners' that can just nullify all superpowers. Everything has to be built for a specific occupant.

    "Often, these have to be built in advance, based on SHIELD intelligence we have gathered in anticipation of eventually apprehending an individual, so that when they are finally caught, we can immediately detain them in a cell that is ready-built for them.

    "A few designs are 'generic' and reusable. Individuals with super-human strength who have little else, for example, can all largely use the same design of cell with quick modifications to accommodate the particular upper limits of their individual level of strength." He looks over at Julian and smiles.

    With just his mouth, not his eyes.

    Julian nods slowly. "Mm. All very interesting."

    Stark continues. "We also have to be anticipatory of unfortunate realities of espionage work and SHIELD's general modus operandi. As a result, we have cells pre-designed to accommodate all currently operating SHIELD agents who are extra-normal in nature."

    Jesus, Julian thinks. So when do we place bets on whether he's got a cell for us should we go rogue or something?

    "Would you be interested in seeing yours?” Stark asks. “Simply for curiosity's sake."

    Oh yeah. Yup. There it is.

    Clay: Saw that coming, yeah.

    Julian swallows hard. "Yeah. Yeah, sure."

    Stark grins and presses a few buttons on a tablet he is holding. The cells move, and one is pulled up from a track.

    Julian: God, he's just eating this up, isn't he? He loves it.

    He's a psychopath, Clay thinks grimly. I had my suspicions. This confirms it.

    The cell opens. Inside is a bed and a great deal of complex medical equipment. "We came to a few conclusions, based on our intelligence files. Given your telepathic abilities and your theoretical ability to recover from any injury no matter how severe or even possibly fatal, the determination was made that the only humane option was an indefinite medically induced coma.

    "Cryogenics was considered, but cryogenics for the purposes of imprisonment is actually being considered as being outlawed by international law by the UN so it's not a path we'd like to go down."

    Phoenix: "...Huh. Very interesting."

    Clay grumbles "Are you quite done with this horrorshow, Stark? We have a mission here, we didn't come for your grotesque show and tell."

    Stark rolls his eyes and sighs. "I suppose. We just don't get many visitors that we don't immediately put in boxes, forgive me for wanting to be a bit social, Director Quartermain." He presses some buttons on his tablet, sending Phoenix's cell away. "Well, if you'd like to interrogate Zemo, I'll pull him up..."

    Clay furrows his brow "Also Blitzschlag..."

    Stark sucks his teeth "Oh, no, no, I'm afraid that won't be possible. As I said before, we don't keep conventionals here. Blitzschlag might be a mad scientist, but that's not enough to warrant taking up a room here. He goes to a regular facility. Ask the good Warden Walker where they moved him to."

    Clay groans. "Oh for fuck's sake...fine, fine, bring Zemo up."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited September 14
    Stark pulls up Zemo's cell. With his mask and gear removed, he looks unremarkable. Just an Eastern European man in excellent shape, with a shaved head.

    "I know you," he says, looking up at Julian. "You were there."

    Phoenix: "Hello."

    "You are a telepath," Zemo says. "You have come to incise my mind, have you not?"

    Phoenix: "I mean, it doesn't have to come to that, but sure."

    "They tortured my body," Zemo says. "Did they tell you this?"

    Phoenix nods. "I kinda guessed."

    Zemo: "Now they bring you here to violate my mind. SHIELD has no honor."

    "Sorry, bud,”Julian shrugs. “Ain't like you got clean hands, yourself."

    The man leans back and folds his arms. "Do you know how long I have lived?"

    You think he's got a point to all this...? Julian continues to plod along with Zemo's questions in a disinterested manner. "Nah. So, how long?"

    Clay: He's talking himself up. Let him, he might let something slip. They love to monologue.

    Phoenix: Mhm.

    "I am Helmut Zemo, 13th Baron of Zeluniz in Prussia. I am over a century in age."

    Phoenix: "Wow."

    Zemo: "Do you believe, in over a hundred years, you are the first telepath I have ever encountered? The first man who has threatened to violate my mind?"

    "Nah. Probably not," Julian says. "I mean, odds and all that."

    "Do you believe a Knight of Hydra, imbued with Thulian Sorcery, the Chosen of Shuma-Gorath, has anything to fear from you?" Zemo continues. "My mind is the rocks of the eternal shore, untermensch. Crash against them and be broken.”

    Do not be gentle. Fuck this guy. Clay grimaces.

    Phoenix nods. Mhm. Shuma-Gorath, that sound familiar to you?

    Clay: Nope.

    Eh. I'll figure it out, then.
    Julian does a brief skim over Zemo's surface thoughts.

    There's... nothing. It's like static.

    Phoenix: Not a lot going on in his noggin on the surface. Gonna poke a bit more.

    Clay: He's blocking you. He has training, or he has powers that are doing it.

    Julian dives deeper. Zemo is worried about something. Something he's hiding from SHIELD.... no, not just from SHIELD. From HYDRA.

    Citizen V. The Thunderbolts. They can't know. They wouldn't understand.
    I can find redemption. I can free myself.


    Phoenix: Hey Clay. He's worried about something to do with Citizen V - The Thunderbolts? Something he's trying to keep from HYDRA. Maybe something to look into. Or this guy's real good and he's giving me a red herring. Dunno. But there's a little morsel to start.

    Clay responds back Citizen V is the Thunderbolts team lead... he's.... he's a guy who uses a sword, we figured he might be enhanced in some way... wait....

    Clay pulls up a file image on his phone and shows it to Adler quietly.

    VQxfCG7.jpg

    That's Citizen V.

    Phoenix: Interesting. Says HYDRA can't know. Wouldn't understand. That he can find redemption and free himself. Gonna root around a bit more. You think he might be...?


    Clay nods. You think he was moonlighting with Thunderbolts on the down-low, trying to find redemption?

    Phoenix nods back. Might be.

    Clay: Keep looking. Let me know if you hit a roadblock, we'll work together.

    PHU1KZN.png
    The comic Thunderbolts, by the beloved Astro City writer Kurt Busiek, debuted in the mid 90s to a lot of fanfare; it was a new team book coming out during a period where Marvel had loaned out the Avengers characters to Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee’s Image studios to do their own versions of Captain America, Iron Man and so forth.

    The Thunderbolts were billed as Marvel’s new, exciting superhero team that would fill the gap while the Avengers were away in “another dimension.” There were big articles in Wizard Magazine about the new characters, their powers and so forth: the patriotic hero Citizen V, the size-changing Atlas, the power-armored Mach V.

    And then issue #1 came out and it turned out in the last panel that the Thunderbolts were the Avengers villains The Masters of Evil in disguise. They had just changed costumes - Citizen V was the Nazi mastermind Baron Zemo, Atlas was the giant-sized crook Goliath, Mach V was Iron Man’s enemy The Beetle, and so forth.

    It was one of the best Marvel stories in the mostly-dismal 90s, and in the days of the very early Internet, it was a genuinely shocking twist that actually caught people by surprise in a way nothing could today.

    So this little nod pleased me.

    Flashback is just quietly observing all of this.

    Phoenix: Doubt he knows we know. We could always tease it out of him. Even if I don't get much else out of him, we could always threaten to smear him to HYDRA with this, see how he reacts.

    Clay: Sit on that for now. We'll hold on to that card for later.

    Cool. Okay. Phoenix faces Zemo. "Having fun in there?"

    Zemo shrugs, unimpressed.

    Julian knocks on the glass. "Okay. Get ready, it's coming!" He rears back and makes an exaggerated motion towards Zemo. And...nothing. "Just kidding."

    He tries to carefully pull what he can from Zemo's mind on the whole Knights of HYDRA thing.

    But something goes wrong.

    Instead of pulling a detail from Zemo's mind, a detail is pulled from Julian's. He's.... he's not even sure what at first.

    "You're both telepaths?"

    Phoenix: Shit.

    Flashback squints. "She didn't know,” Zemo smiles. "Oh, now this is amusing. Why doesn't she know? Why are you alone going into my mind, when he is clearly the more powerful and senior telepath? What is he hiding from her?"

    Flashback looks over at Clay.

    Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck Clay is panicking. He doesn't show it visibly, but emotionally he is panicking.

    Julian rolls his eyes at Zemo. "What the hell are you talking about? Both telepaths? You got some scrambled eggs in there?"

    "Shit. Shit." Julian paces a bit. "Clay, I think I fried his eggs."

    "Alright, alright, hold off, Agent Adler." Clay heads to the console. Flashback is still silently scowling at him, but she's not saying anything. He gets on the intercom. "Can we get a medical team over here to check on this prisoner? We might have a situation.

    "Adler, give him some space here."

    Zemo scowls. "There is nothing wrong with my mind. You are both telepaths, but one of you lies about it. The only reason why I can think of is... because..."

    Zemo's eyes widen suddenly.

    And then one eye droops. And half his face droops. He falls to the floor.

    "MEDIC!" Clay yells.

    The medical team runs over and....starts running scans at the door.

    "What are you doing?!" Flashback yells.

    "Standard procedure, ma'am. Prisoners faking injury or death is too common, have to confirm genuine distress before cell entry." A pause. "Distress confirmed, opening cell!"

    They open the cell. Zemo is very still.

    Clay walks over to Julian. "I want you to know this isn't your fault."

    Julian sighs. "Yeah."

    “I shouldn't have had you do this, you weren't experienced enough to deal with a man with defenses like his, pressuring you to go hard like that, I should have known it would have done damage. This is on me.

    "I officially take responsibility. We're going to get out of here, SEC's going to take care of this and I don't want to be around to deal with their paperwork."

    PHU1KZN.png
    Poor Julian. This is another time the dice were really unkind to his telepathy.

    Clay looks at Flashback "Do you want a ride to the mainland? I don't imagine you want to stick around here any longer."

    Flashback sighs and shakes her head "No, no, I have my own ride, it's how I got here, and I've got my own leads to follow elsewhere, it's fine, you guys do your thing."

    Clay nods. "Well, let's go."

    Julian turns to go. "Yup."

    They load up into the Quinjet and take off. Once they're at altitude, Clay begins telepathically messaging again. I got a lot at the last minute. Took an ice cream scoop to him.

    Phoenix: Well, I'm glad we got something at least.

    Clay: It's all scrambled right now, I'm still picking it apart, it's a side-effect of not being gentle.

    Phoenix: Yeah. No kidding. So I guess he's done, then? Shit, man. Sorry again.

    Clay: I honestly don't know. He's... he's an odd one. He might actually recover. If he does, he'll be missing a lot. Certainly won't remember that conversation. Or possibly the 1980s.

    Phoenix: Not like there was that much to miss in the 80s.

    Clay: I'll need time to process everything I got, when I do, I'll figure a way to bullshit it as genuine intel I acquired through legit means.

    Clay: ...god you're young.

    Phoenix: Is there going to be any problem with saying I got it? Or are we going to have to doctor how we got what I got too?

    Clay shrugs. Depends. We'll figure something out.

    Phoenix: Alright.

    Clay: Thank you for thinking quickly and bullshitting him out.

    Phoenix: Least I could do.

    Clay: I panicked when he called me out, I...I didn't want to hurt Jennifer.

    Phoenix nods. Yeah.

    Clay: I knew her grandfather, I fought beside him in the war. I couldn't do that.

    Phoenix: Yeah. You think we're in the clear?

    Clay: Maybe. I don't know. I'm concerned that Jennifer didn't entirely buy it.

    Clay: We'll see.

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

    Back in New York, Sigrun is driving through the city on her motorcycle, with Michael riding on the back. She drives across the way into New Jersey, to a storage locker in the outskirts.

    "Way less conspicuous than a flying horse," Michael says.

    "Less fun, but it has its own merits." She walks over to the door of the storage locker, and pulls an ornate key from her pocket. There's a loud and strange click noise, and the garage door opens. She pulls her motorcycle inside. It's...bigger on the inside.

    It's a small armory, equivalent to a well-stocked SHIELD safehouse, but a bit more baroque. There's a small cache of modern firearms mixed with swords, axes, bows, as well as heavy explosives.

    There's a trio of motorcycles, fuel, and a small mechanical garage for maintaining them.

    Michael makes a mental note of all of this.

    "My sisters and I use this safehouse for when the All-Father dispatches us for quests on this part of North America,” Sigrun says. “I don't think I've ever brought a mortal here? Not one I intended to let live, at any rate."

    "I'm honoured to be the first live guest in here," Michael says.

    "Well, really, you'll be the first live guest to leave," she chuckles and winks.

    Michael chuckles at her joke.

    PHU1KZN.png
    BIG FROWN

    She changes into her Asgardian armor, seemingly not caring about modesty. "Right, off we go."

    Leading Michael out of the safehouse, she closes it back up, using the same key. That done, she leads him into a nearby vacant lot and just looks up into the night sky. "Heimdall! Sigrun of the Valkyrior calls to return to Asgard!"

    3110Itc.jpg

    "Whoaaaa." Michael stares as the beam descends. They are hurtled across space.

    OZCIEjp.jpg

    It is a feeling Michael cannot describe or fully comprehend.

    nDTDGA1.png

    They materialize in a huge structure. Michael takes a second to get his bearings. "That was...intense."

    A massive individual, probably 7-8 feet in height, stands over him.

    yVggXpJ.png

    "Sigrun." he intones, his voice echoing in the chamber.

    "Heimdall, this is the Host of the Destroyer, as I spoke of. His name is Michael, among his people he is given the title of Behemoth. Michael, this is Heimdall the Ever-Watching, Guardian of Asgard and Keeper of the Bifrost."

    Heimdall nods at Michael. "I have seen you."

    "It is a pleasure to meet you, Heimdall." Michael bows

    Sigrun asks Heimdall "Where is the All-Father? Michael would speak with him."

    "The All-Father is in his forge," Heimdall replies.

    Sigrun smiles. "That's always a good thing. Come, Michael."

    Michael nods and follows her out of the Bifrost chamber.

    "Come and gaze upon Asgard."

    N2fo4pel.png

    Michael stares wide-eyed, keeping his jaw from hitting the floor. "Wow!"

    Sigrun grins, and takes Michael by the arm, leading him down the Bifrost into the city proper. Michael is both examining things to gain intel and geeking out at how cool all this shit is.

    "SIGRUN!" a woman's voice howls from the air.

    "Oh no."

    Michael hears the flap of wings. A woman in armor riding a winged horse lands in front of the pair. She dismounts and marches towards them.

    fLt62d6l.png

    Sigrun drops to one knee, lowering her head. "My lady Brunnhilde, I..."

    "I will ask questions and you will provide answers, Valkyrie. You will begin with who is this mortal?"

    Sigrun meekly says "His name is Michael, he is the Host of the Destroyer. I spoke of this to you, he swore a pact to Asgard and...."

    "Fine," Brunnhilde snaps. "My next question is why have you not reported in properly? There are orders, commands, methodologies. Our way is to serve, not to serve ourselves, Valkyrie. You spend too much time on Midgard, fraternizing with mortals."

    This all feels familiar to Michael, just with more capes.

    Sigrun continues. "My lady, this is why Michael is here, he is here to see the All-Father and..."

    "Why is he here to see the All-Father?” Brunnhilde demands. “What business could he have with the All-Father that I am not aware of? Have you arranged something with Odin without informing me, speaking to him directly? Contradicting the chain of command, Valkyrie?"

    This feels really familiar.

    "I... I swore an oath to Michael that I would advocate on his behalf to the All-Father, I was only following that oath and..."

    Brunnhilde's eyes narrow and she walks over to Sigrun, grabbing her by the jaw and pulling her face to face with Brunnhilde. "Was your oath that you would personally and directly advocate to the All-Father yourself for him? Could you not have taken this matter to me, as is our way? No, you simply did this on your own, as you so often do, like an impetuous quickling mortal would who has no foresight."

    Michael interjects carefully. "My Lady Brunnhilde, the All-Father is expecting us. Should word be sent that we are to be delayed? And by whom?"

    Brunnhilde glares at Michael. "No. What's done is done. Be on your way."

    Michael bows. "Farewell, my lady."

    She sneers and turns away from them, gets back on her horse, and flies away.

    Sigrun looks at Michael "You just... you just made her go away..." She stares. "Are you a sorcerer?"

    Michael chuckles. "Not that I know of. In my years at SHIELD, I've had to deal with office junk-swinging. This is all old-hat for me."

    Sigrun continues to lead Michael into the city. It's really a lot for Michael to take in. Asgardians appear, on the surface, to live in some kind of pre-industrial, almost renaissance style culture... but that's only superficial. Any closer look, any lingering look, reveals that every aspect of their life is infused with surreptitiously hidden "magic," their Asgardian technology that is so far beyond anything that could be understood to be such that it essentially is magic.

    Michael asks Sigurn. "How come everyone is speaking English? I would think that you'd speak an older language"

    "Is that how we sound to you? I suppose we would, as that is your mother tongue. Asgardians have the Allspeak. We speak, and are understood. We hear, and understand. We read, and know."

    "Wow,” Michael says. “Again."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    They arrive at a huge central building that seems to be the palace. "This is Valhalla, the great hall of Asgard. Odin's forge is beneath it."

    "Hopefully he doesn't decide to melt me down," Michael chuckles nervously.

    "No, he would have just told me to kill you," Sigrun says. "Oh, you were joking."

    Behemoth: "Yes, but good to know that I'm not to be killed yet."

    Sigrun leads Michael into the catacombs below Valhalla, into a massive forge. At the end of the forge, a man with one eye stands by a fire.

    qLghP4zl.png

    Michael assumes this to be Odin and kneels on one knee like Sigurn did earlier.

    "All-Father..." Sigrun also bends to one knee, and nods to Michael, impressed that he also did so.

    "Rise." Odin speaks. His voice echoes over the din of the forge.

    Michael rises but still kind of keeps his head lowered, out of respect.

    Odin steps towards Michael, and looks him over with his eye. "Yes, this can be done. She has explained it to you."

    "Yes she has, generally speaking...my lord."

    He chuckles. "This was not in question. You are prepared, and are here to take the oath."

    Sigrun says to Michael "The All-Father does not ask questions, or speak as we do. He does not...see linearly in time as we do."

    Behemoth: "Oh! That's pretty cool."

    Odin laughs. "It is."

    He taps his cheek, below his eyepatch. "You see this. One eye is here, with me, and sees you. Sees now. One eye is at the root of the Tree of the Universe, and sees all. A sacrifice. Few would do such a thing. Few have. Few will. But some, yes. The cost is great, you come to stop seeing as you see."

    PHU1KZN.png
    This is actual myth: Odin sacrificed an eye to the Well of Mimir, at the base of the Tree of Yggdrasil, for wisdom and foresight.

    Which is why he has one eye, and seems to know a lot of secrets, you see.

    "All-Father, the Oath?" Sigrun gently says.

    Odin comes back to the present. "Oh, yes, yes! Yes."

    Sigrun turns to Michael. "Swear to the All-Father that you will serve as a Champion of Asgard and to all of its people, for the entirety of your existence, to honor and obey the commands of Asgard's All-Father."

    "I swear that I will serve as a Champion of Asgard and to all of its people,” Michael begins, “for the entirety of my existence, to honor and obey the commands of Asgard's All-Father."

    Odin nods. "It is done."

    Sigrun smiles "Now, can we make him Asgardian, yes?"

    Odin tsks. "No."

    "But...” Sigrun face falls. “You said..."

    "Um, pardon?" Michael looks from one to the other.

    "Sigrun misunderstood," Odin says. "You will be empowered as an Asgardian is. You will not be made Asgardian. Subtle differences." He reaches into the fire with his bare hand and pulls out a brand. "If you have an affection for that shirt, you should remove it."

    Michael looks at his lucky shirt and removes it, not relishing being branded again.

    "The power of the Destroyer does not come from Asgard,” Odin says. “My father, King Bor, created the Armor by drawing across time and space from Surtr, the Giant of Fire. You are empowered by his destructive energies, and his power hungers for you. This will rebrand you, and redirect his hunger.

    "He will be denied your soul. Instead, you will draw upon the Odinforce.

    "Over time, this will change you. You will lose your mortality, and be strengthened, and imbued, and become like an Asgardian, but not the same.

    "There is a risk, but you have overcome it."

    "I have? What was the risk?" Michael asks, confused.

    "That Surtr does not release you,” Odin explains, “and you must pull away from him with all the force of your spirit. But you survived the brand and are standing here, so it is no concern."

    Michael just nods

    "....All-Father." Sigrun glances at Michael. "You haven't...re-branded him yet."

    Odin looks at the brand he's still holding. "Oh." He pauses. "I cannot make this choice for you," he says to Michael.

    Michael steps forward. "I've come this far. Might as well follow this through."

    Odin presses the brand into Michael's chest. The pain is unbearable.

    Michael feels the pain, and his knees start shaking... but he doesn't falter. He stands.

    A vision appears in his mind.

    A flame receding. A howling, distant at first.

    And then an explosion, a thousand thousand exploding worlds.

    From the fire, a giant reaching for Michael’s hand, beckoning for him, like he is begging for Michael to reach out to him.

    Michael looks at the giant flaming hand, raises his two hands, and extends his two middle fingers in response.

    The giant recedes into the fire, reaching out still, his eyes glaring at Michael vengefully.
    RpxlNEl.jpg

    Michael feels a shudder of impending doom. Maybe shouldn't have done that.

    Odin smiles. "It is done."

    Sigrun puts her hand on Michael's shoulder. "Are you alright?"

    Michael composes himself. "Uh yes, I am fine. Thank you for your concern."

    "You will not be called upon for some time," Odin says.

    Michael looks at Odin and is not sure when that'll actually be, seeing as time is weird for him. "Thank you for releasing me from my bondage to Surtr, All-Father."

    Odin nods. "Go now, and bring honor to what was once a weapon of darkness."

    Michael bows low and turns to leave. Sigrun follows. They leave the forge.

    "I should take you back to Midgard,” Sigrun says. “A mortal in Asgard is... potentially troublesome."

    "I understand,” he says. “I would love to stay longer but I don't want to cause a diplomatic incident or something."

    "Thank you. Maybe we could... get a beer or something? Back on Midgard."

    "I'd like that." Michael smiles.

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

    Elise wakes up in a tent. She is restrained. She groggily lifts her head and tries to move her wrists, then grunts angrily when she realizes she can’t.
    .
    She tries to pick up as much as she can with her senses. She's still at the camp, not far from where she was. From voices and smells, pretty much almost everyone who was here originally is still here.

    Brand, Kane, Lawson. She can hear them talking. Arguing.

    Brand is snapping at the other two. "We need to call this in to Fury. I need SWORD to fully mobilize. This needs to be designated an active, hostile site. We need to pull all of our personnel out, seal and contain the area. We need to exfiltrate Agent Arnell to the Peak for medical analysis."

    Kane starts in next. "I say we pull out and bomb the area. Conventional weapons, nothing radiological. Just pancake the site. There's no civilian or animal life, it's a clean slate. Wipe it all out. The way Elise reacted? Fuck it. Anything could pop out of that hole any second. We're wasting time here. we should be pouring fire down there and letting that sort it out."

    "Let me up." Elise calls. "I'm awake. Let me up." They don't hear her; they’re too far away. Elise can hear them only because of her powers.

    Lawson starts in next. "With respect, Deputy Director Kane, I don't think that..."

    "Lawson don't even pull that shit with me,” Kane snaps, “you're a consultant, you're not even SWORD."

    Elise strains at her restraints angrily, and someone notices. "Director Brand! Director Brand! She's awake!"

    Elise hears all three of them run over. Kane practically dives into the tent. "Elise are you okay?"

    "Yes! I'm totally okay,” Elise says, “I don't know why you ICER'd me! I was trying to warn you about what I saw and the next thing you know you're grabbing me?"

    Brand coughs. "You were... you were incoherent and yelling nonsense. Something about 'Shuma-Gorath'. So, yes, I ICER'd you."

    Elise gives Lawson a filthy look.

    She knows the name Brand spoke. It's the name of that thing. The thing with the eye, and the tentacles. That's its name. "Listen, Shuma-Gorath - I need to talk to the team," she says. "I need to talk to Vlad. Vlad's smart. Vlad'll know what it is. He'll fuckin', he'll Google it."

    "We tried to contact the team," Brand says. "While you were out. Clay and Julian are off on a mission. Michael and Vladimir are both off the grid. We think Niles is with Vladimir."

    "Miss - Miss Hand,” Elise tries. “I know she's on medical leave, but she'll know -"

    Brand gulps hard and walks away.

    Kane sighs. "Elise.... Ms. Hand doesn't know a lot of things these days."

    "...You're not untying me," Elise says.

    Lawson looks at Kane. "Hey, can you talk to Abby? You uh...you know what that's about." She nods, and walks after Brand.

    "...You're not untying me!" Elise calls at Kane's back.

    Lawson kneels down next to Elise. "I am going to untie you."

    "Okay. Okay, good, listen, I saw something,” she says. “We have to get Phoenix. We have to get Behemoth. We have to get the team. I saw - I saw it. I saw - it."

    Lawson nods. "I know what you saw. I know what Shuma-Gorath is. I couldn't say it in front of the others."

    "WHEN." Elise switches from raw fear to anger. "ARE YOU GOING.

    "TO STOP.

    "ROPING ME INTO THIS SHIT?"

    "I didn't know this was about this thing!" Lawson says. "I thought this was just an Inhuman city! I thought this was going to be an archaeological site of your people! Their history!"

    "They're not my people! Do you know who my people are! They're the, they're the people at the shitty bar near the Crypt, who sell me weed!" she yells. "I'm not - Jesus Christ, Lawson! My team are my people!"

    "But... but the Inhumans have a history that spans over a thousand...years?" Lawson is confused. "They built cities, they had incredible technology and sorcery and..."

    Elise stares at him. "I'm...I'm twenty six, dude. I don't... Listen. I learned I was Inhuman weeks ago."

    "Right." he nods.

    "I don't…” she begins hesitantly. “They're nothing to me. I don't know what I'm supposed to feel about them, but I feel nothing. I, I don't... That's not me."

    "But wouldn't that... wouldn't that give you more of a reason to want to learn about them? I don't...." He looks really confused.

    "No! I don't care, dude! I - my life's a wreck, okay, I live in a van in a parking garage and get fucking high twenty four seven. The only thing I care about is the team, they're the only people who are nice to me and give me something to care about. Being Inhuman is, it's like having a weird mole. That's it. That's all."

    "...oh." His face falls. "I'm sorry."

    Elise slowly nods. "You're still getting used to everything here, aren't you? It's weird and scary and strange and the only thing you can do is full blast throw yourself into it."

    "Yeah," he nods. "Humans are fascinating but...they're aliens. And I don't...I don't get how you feel about a lot of things. The way you treat identity, the way you see yourselves that's.... that's not how we work.

    "So I watch a lot of movies and listen to music and watch TV but I don't know, like, I don't think I get it a lot of times!"

    Elise softens. "...I'm sorry I yelled at you. I think... I think I feel that way a lot too, just about different shit about people. They're weird and scary and I spent a solid few months of my life exclusively watching Netflix with a robot."

    Lawson nods. "Okay. Well, for what it's worth, Shuma-Gorath is a creature from beyond time and space that was unleashed upon this world by sorcerers in the Hyborian Age. He had this whole cult of worshippers and stuff.

    "Apparently he forced back into his dimension and sealed away by this person called the 'Sorcerer Supreme' and that was the end of it.

    "So I didn't really worry about it?"

    PHU1KZN.png
    So in summary: HYDRA is a Nazi secret society that is actually an Inhuman supremacist group that is secretly a millennia-old snake cult founded in the Hyborian Age by sorcerers who were actually Inhumans to summon their dark god Shuma-Gorath, who is actually an extradimensional entity.

    "...Okay, so hypothetically," Elise begins. "Hypothetically. If I looked into his all-seeing eye as he reached for me with endless tentacles.

    "How fucked am I."

    "I dunno?" he shrugs. "Sorcery makes no sense to me. I don't want to say I don't believe in magic. That's unscientific."

    "...Do I tell Kane and Brand?” she asks. “They want to call in Fury."

    "Kane wants to just bomb this place,” Lawson says. “That's her solution to things. Shoot missiles at it."

    "...I don't think we can, dude,” Elise says. “I saw... Hydra. I saw their inner council. I think this is, as Myrmidon would say, important intel.

    "...I think we might need to call in Fury, just, if he wants to put me on an operating table and cut me open to look at my guts, can you like. Kree me outta here?"

    Lawson sucks his teeth. "How about we just don't call Fury and avoid that entirely?"

    "...Brand wants to call Fury,” Elise points out. “Kane wants to bomb the place. If I have to choose one of those options..."

    "The HYDRA thing makes sense, though. The symbolism, their whole Inhuman cult thing.... if the cult of Shuma-Gorath were Inhuman sorcerers.... it would explain a lot..." Lawson is thinking out loud. "Their whole thing is they don't wanna go in the door. But they can't close it."

    "Oh no," Elise says.

    "Right now we have two armed SWORD squads just kinda watching it with guns," he says.

    Elise begins to haul herself off the cot. "Well, I'm going in there."

    "Okay," he says. "I'm going with you."

    She gives him a wobbly thumbs up.

    He gives her one back. They exit the tent, and see Kane holding Brand, who is just sobbing.

    Elise stares. "What..."

    "Don't. Not right now," Lawson says, chivvying her along. "That's for another time."

    "O-Okay." Elise slowly backs away.

    Elise and Lawson walk over to the door. Two armed SWORD agents in tactical gear are watching it. Lawson looks at them. "We're going in."

    "Negative, Dr. Lawson. Director Brand gave strict orders, no personnel are to enter the aperture, and anything that exits is treated as hostile."

    "Look, buddy, this is a HYDRA related situation," Elise says. "You want to be the guy who explains to Fury that you let HYDRA fester down there?"

    The soldiers don’t look like they’re buying it. They just look like they’re confused by her reasoning.

    While they’re distracted, Elise sprints for the door, Lawson following her lead.

    She walks through the door.

    And

    The door walks through her.

    That's how it feels.

    Elise attempts to open her senses and receive all sense data and collate all of it, beyond what could normally be perceived. It's too much. Too much. Not in this space between spaces.

    She is shunted out the other side of the door, and her knees buckle and she collapses, vomiting.

    "First time through a fold-gate huh?" Lawson reaches down and helps her. "Yeah, the first time sucks."

    "Yeah." Elise pants, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. And then wiping the back of her hand on Lawson's coat. "We're... on the other side?"

    "That's... a way of putting it, yeah," he agrees. "We're on the other side of somewhere."

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

    uvWmwKDl.jpg

    "You never take me anywhere nice."

    "That is thus far true, yes," Lawson says.

    Elise begins to walk along the stone steps, trying to smell anything she can, hear anything relevant. Everything is... alien. Genuinely alien.

    Nothing smells familiar except that which came with them through the door. Elise can smell her small puddle of vomit. Lawson. Herself. Everything else is cavalcade of weird stuff.

    "Is this the Inhuman City?" Elise asks, trying to make familiar noises. Create the familiar smell of her breath.

    "It's... it's not like anything I've ever seen," he says. "Inhuman cities are...they're familiar to me. They're Kree architecture, mixed with ancient human designs, since they're, y'know, Kree-Human hybrids.

    “This is something else. It's... there's elements here, stuff that's vaguely Kree but distorted by something else.

    "This....this is Thule."

    "..." Elise stares.

    "This is Shuma-Gorath's city," he says.

    "You realize if HYDRA knew I were here, they'd shit their entire pants," she says. "Jesus. Okay, so. So here's what I'm thinking.

    "We radio the guys. We go, hey, we found HYDRA's crown jewel. Hell, we call Fury. Everyone goes, wow! Good job, Elise and Lawson!

    "You're obviously not crazy at all, and you can just go home, while we do archaeology stuff here! I get a big ol' bonus, you get to...do your thing."

    Footsteps. Breathing. The clank of armor and weapons.

    "Never mind fucking run!" she calls.

    "Where?" he says.

    "The - the foldgate!” she yells. “The door! Where's the fucking door?"

    "We have to reverse the polarity!” he says. “Foldgates only work in one direction at a time, it's in or out, we need to find the control dais."

    "...Is that something you can manage solo?” she asks. “I don't know anything about anything here."

    "Yeah, yeah, just help me find it." They move to the doorway and start searching.

    Elise clears rubble away from what looks like a bunch of rings and symbols, similar to the ones she saw on the black stone in the HYDRA base. Not the astroglyphs, the other symbols. "Here!"

    Lawson looks at it. "Okay! Okay! Yeah!"

    They hear a howl. And figures emerge from the smoke and shadows.

    9o2GjhYl.png

    Elise lifts her hands up in a pacifying gesture. "Hey, okay, hey, no one needs to stab anyone, okay?" She realizes, belatedly, that she’s unarmed.

    "Elise, get behind me!" Lawson yells. He begins glowing and crackling with energy.

    FjaVXaj.jpg

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

    Back in New York, Niles Nordstrom and Vladimir are waiting by the docks to meet Susan and her WHISPER agent. She suddenly materializes, standing across from the two of them, in her Future Foundation uniform.

    yxUJONRl.png

    "Gentlemen."

    qlGmSdP.pngFuture Foundation
    P8A8zlr.jpg

    Started in the 1990s by Reed Richards, the Future Foundation is a non-profit organization designed to push the boundaries of science and technology for the betterment of mankind.

    Right now, the Foundation’s focus is on third-world countries, providing technological solutions to problems like famine and disease. Their efforts in Symkaria have drawn the ire of Victor Von Doom, dictator of Latveria, who keeps Symkaria under his technocratic heel.

    SHIELD utilizes some technology created by the Future Foundation, although this is not with Richards’ direct consent. Richards’ relationship with SHIELD is contentious; he doesn’t entirely agree with SHIELD’s basic mission statement and declines to collude on many projects.


    "Susan." Vlad’s voice cold and direct. "Where is your friend?"

    "Above."

    Vladimir looks up.

    95W9Efsl.png

    "No." Vlad looks at Niles. "Did you know about this?"

    Niles shakes his head. "No."

    "You humans..." He looks at Susan and shrugs. "So, Mr. Parker, am I to assume Mr Stark doesn't know about this?"

    Spider-Man looks at Susan. She shrugs. "You can answer whatever you want, Peter. He knows more than you'd think."

    He jumps down, facing Vlad. "No, me and Mr. Stark are done."

    "Done?" Vlad looks at Niles again and then back at Peter. "Why?"

    Peter looks at Susan again and she says "It's alright, Peter. You can talk about it if you want. We're not hiding from SHIELD anymore."

    Vladimir nods. "And SHIELD doesn't know about this either."

    Peter rubs the back of his neck. "I just... I learned about all the things SHIELD does, all the things SHIELD really does. Some of the stuff Mr. Stark does... and I just... that's not who I wanna be, y'know? That's what I want Spider-Man to be about.

    "And then Dr. Richards came to me and started talking to me about the Foundation and stuff and I liked the idea, but like, they don't like to fight bad guys, y'know? But I still think I should fight bad guys. So, they said, join WHISPER, that's their thing for fighting bad guys. So, here I am."

    "Because you wish to fight the bad guys?" Vlad shakes his head at Susan. "If the boy dies, it’s your choice. Let us get on with this, Latveria is far from us and only Doom awaits us."

    Susan nods. "I have a vehicle right over here."

    She leads the four of them out to the docks, and presses a button on her belt. A purple floating craft with glowing green lights materializes.

    8KJXsq3l.jpg

    It's about the size of a bus.

    Niles whistles in amazement. "Whoa that's...that's not....Reed didn't make that...that's...."

    "My father and I built it,” Susan smiles. “When I was a little girl."

    "What do you call it?" Vlad asks.

    "The translation of it would be Messenger," she replies.

    Vlad nods. "Shall we?"

    A loading ramp lowers, and she leads them onto the ship. The internal configuration of the vessel looks familiar, even if the controls are alien. Seats are where one would expect them to be, controls are where one would expect them in a similar human ship.

    Susan takes what is presumably the helm, and starts flying. "We have to fly fairly low, above a certain altitude we can be picked up by the Kree orbital defense grid and shot down."

    Vlad inspects the interior. There's a great deal of written language on display that's alien. Vlad is able to catalogue it, even if he doesn't understand it; he can store the details for later attempts to decipher.

    Susan leans over to Vlad while she's flying "Thank you for doing this. For letting me be a part of this. I wronged you, and I feel terrible about it."

    "I know," Vlad nods. "I am trying to trust you, Susan."

    "Hey, and thanks for letting me come too" Peter interjects. Vlad ignores him.

    "I found out that Dr. Richards is an alien like a week ago,” Peter continues, “and now I get to fly in her spaceship!"

    She sighs. Vlad just stares at her. "It's... it's not a spaceship, Peter. It's an atmospheric stealth craft. It can't actually go into space. It's basically a plane."

    "Oh.... well it's still cool," Peter says.

    She looks at Vlad "He's...he's a good kid."

    "I am aware of who he is, Susan. But again, this is your choice."

    She narrows her eyes. "What does that mean?"

    "You bring a minor into a covert spy agency and tell him your truths and then send him into one of the deadliest places on this planet. Have you ever even left New York before. Mr. Parker?" Vlad looks at Peter and then shakes his head. "It is no matter, as I say, your choice, Susan."

    "I.... I was 14 when I was deployed on my first field mission?” she says. “My father had me execute my first dissident when I was 15. Peter's never even killed anyone, I don't see..."

    Niles just stares at her.

    "You're not human," Vlad says.

    Susan scoffs. "So what? It's not one of those things where like, we age at different rates or something. I was still a teenager. And I grew up in Russia, not Tarnax or anything."

    Vlad turns to Parker. "Are you ready to kill someone Peter? If ordered?"

    "What?! No!" the boy says.

    Vlad looks at Susan and folds his arms.

    Susan looks back at Peter. "We would never ask you to kill someone, Peter. That is not the point, you are twisting my words around."

    "Maybe, maybe not. I think I know you, Susan, but maybe this is a lie also," Vlad shrugs.

    Niles coughs "Susan, uh. Maybe... just gonna throw this out there.

    "Maybe your dad putting you in the field and having you kill people before you were 16, maybe that's, y'know....

    "Maybe that's why...a lot of things?"

    Susan glares at him. She slowly turn her gaze to Peter, who slinks down in his chair at her gaze. "Peter," she says softly, "New plan. When we get to Latveria, you guard the plane."

    Vlad laughs.

    Susan jolts from the noise. The remaining plane ride to Latveria is awkward and silent.

    PHU1KZN.png
    It’s a fun running thing that everyone finds Vlad’s laughter unsettling.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The plane lowers outside CASTLE DOOM.

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    Vlad is struck with the gravity of the castle. "The House of my Father."

    "There's a tunnel we can use to access the castle itself,” Susan says. “It's guarded, and locked, but the guards won't see us coming and the locks won't be a problem once we get close enough for Vlad to open them."

    "Well..." Vlad pauses. "...yes, I should be able to."

    "I know you don't have the Doom Protocol anymore, Vladimir. I'm relying on your ability, not your maker."

    Vlad nods.

    "Peter, stay here,” Susan says.

    "But... what if he...." Peter stammers.

    "He won't unless I give him a reason, and if I give him a reason...." She pauses and looks at Vlad. "I deserve it."

    Vlad stares silently.

    Niles looks at Vlad "Do you...do you want me to come with you? I have minimal combat training and..."

    "No, stay with Spider-Man." He looks at Peter. "Protect him." Peter nods.

    Vlad and Susan exit the Messenger and move towards the tunnel entrance, with Susan concealing the pair inside one of her invisibility fields.

    Vlad steps out of the ship and drops his disguise. He whispers "I am home, Father."

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    There's two Heavy Bots guarding the tunnel entrance.

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    "I can take left, you can take right?” Susan says. “When we're close? We do it in one hit, they'll have no chance to alert Doom."

    "Perhaps, perhaps not." Vlad reaches out wirelessly and manages to shut down both of the Heavies’ ability to communicate. But, their core intrinsic processes are untouched, and they default to their normal state...which puts them on alert status. "They are disconnected, now we strike."

    She nods. "Okay, go right, I go left....NOW!"

    Vlad overloads the bot with electricity, frying it. Whereas Susan surrounds the other robot in a force field and then...closes the field. Crushing it.

    The door console is there. "Alright, Vlad, this is on you now."

    Vladimir hacks it with ease. "We're in." However, Doom's security system is carefully segregated, so Vlad has hacked...that door. That door specifically. "I will need to hack more systems as we continue."

    "Excellent. I know where this goes. In through his manufacturing wing and to his private laboratory and study. What were you looking to steal? Niles wasn't specific and I didn't figure it was worth asking until now because I didn't believe you'd tell me until now anyway."

    Vlad stares at Susan, considering. Finally he opens his chest. "One of these." He points at his core and closes it again.

    "Okay,” she says. “I know where to go, then."

    "Lead the way," he says.

    She leads the way through the tunnels, cloaking them in an invisibility field to avoid Doom's security systems. "One thing that's wonderful about Victor is he rarely redecorates without a really good reason. He's not a man of pique. So his place stays the same for years.

    "Here it is." She leads Vlad to a door that reads REPLICATIONS. "Okay, you'll have to hack this open."

    He does. He enters the room. It's a manufacturing and storage facility for...him.

    Dozens.

    Stacks of machines just like Vladimir. They appear inert, unpowered, some of them unfinished or in component pieces. Some damaged and obviously in for repair. Vlad stares, not speaking, not moving. "...my brothers," he says quietly.

    "Just their bodies, Vladimir. Empty shells. They don't have that." She taps Vlad's chest.

    Vlad slowly nods. "Where are the cores?"

    "This way," she says. "Victor has more bodies than cores, a lot more. I think the cores are a lot more difficult to make. I don't...I don't know he makes them. Neither does Reed. It's beyond us.

    "It's even beyond our technology," she says, vaguely waving to herself.

    "Yes, I have a theory but now is not the time."

    "You're right, sorry. This way." She waves Vlad on. "Victor has a lab. It's...well, it looks more like an alchemy lab than somewhere you do science...it's right through here..."

    She opens some baroque wooden double doors at the end of the hallway, leading into what appears to be an arcane ritual room and occult study. Stacked on small, metal clawed shelves are crystals similar to Vlad's core. At least a dozen. At the center is a smaller, yellow crystal, on a dais, glowing, as it's being actively worked on by the man in the room.

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    "Oh, good evening, Susan," he says. "This is most unexpected." Susan freezes in place, saying nothing.

    Vlad steps forward "Hello, father, I have returned."

    "Oh, have you now?" Doom says, seemingly bemused at Vladimir.

    "Yes, indeed. I've been so lost since we last spoke, so confused." Vlad speaks calmly and directly to Doom.

    "I recall this. In Symkaria, in the Wundagore Valley," Doom says. "Vladimir, that is the name you have come to call yourself."

    "Yes,” Vlad nods. “A touching sentiment that you would remember."

    With a handwave, Doom seems to dismiss whatever ritual he was working on when they entered. The crystal stops actively glowing, but still faintly glows in the same way Vlad's crystal does.

    Victor takes a seat in one of the armchairs of the study. "Please, Susan, Vladimir, have a seat. Tell me, why have you come?"

    They sit. "I have come for answers, as you would guess," Vlad says.

    "Ask your questions, my son."

    Vlad pauses. "What power binds this core?" Vlad points to his chest.

    "That answer is... complex and elaborate," Doom says. "I will try to put in as concise a fashion as possible. You are a being of logic, yes?"

    "Above all else," Vlad nods.

    "And would you say that the universe itself is one of logic, of order?"

    Vlad nods again.

    "What if there was something beyond that? Powers and forces that existed outside those rules, whose very existence violated those rules and stood in contrast and opposition to them and yet did not, in and of themselves, establish new ones?"

    "Magic," Vladimir says.

    Victor clutches his fist with a metallic clank. "Precisely, my child. And what if I told you that I, Victor Von Doom, I alone weave the breach, I walk the precipice of the event horizon where the order of the sciences collapses into the disorder of magic and the chaos of the mystical?"

    "I would believe you," Vlad says.

    "Excellent. Then you are truly my son."

    Susan looks terrified. Vlad looks at her and back at Doom.

    Doom reclines, steepling his fingers. "Is there anything further, Vladimir?"

    "Yes. I require a core crystal," Vladimir says flatly.

    "May I ask to what end?" Doom asks.

    "So I may further understand my own being, to follow in your steps."

    Victor nods, and gestures to the dais. "This crystal is in its infancy. Take it with my blessing, and learn from it, my son."

    "My thanks, Father."

    Susan is just wordlessly staring. Victor reaches over, and puts his gauntleted hand over Susan's, looking her in the eye. "Susan, my dear, please tell Reed exactly how this transpired, and do visit more often?" Susan wordlessly nods, slowly, not breaking eye contact with Victor.

    "We shall be on our way if we have your leave, father."

    "You do, and my blessing, my son."

    Vlad nods his head and gestures to Susan. She follows him out. They head back to the Messenger with the core crystal.

    When they climb into the ship, Peter asks "What happened?" and Susan just says "It was fine. It's fine. We're leaving, strap in."

    Vlad hands Niles the core. "Store this please."

    Niles nods and puts it in a container he brought with him for that purpose. After the Messenger is in the air, he leans over to Vlad "What happened?"

    Susan lets out a very long exhale.

    "I learned much today," Vlad smiles at Niles, now back in his human disguise. "As did Susan." Vlad laughs once more. She shoots him a sidelong glance. “What would your plan had been?"

    "If it went bad?" she asks.

    "Yes."

    "Depends if you took his side or not," she says.

    Niles pipes in. "Wait, what?"

    "Yeah, I guess it would depend." Vlad stares at Susan for a moment and then cracks a slight smile.

    "If you took his side, I'd have turned invisible and run," she says.

    "But you didn't so I guess I didn't" Vlad turns to Niles. "Fear not, with luck we were able to strike a deal with Doom."

    "To be clear, if you didn't take his side, and it went bad," she says. "It would've depended on you. If you ran, I'd run. If you stood and fought, I'd have stood and fought."

    Vlad nods. "I thank you Susan, for helping me in all of this."

    She nods. "Thank you for letting me."

    "So are you going to tell Reed...?" Vlad asks her.

    "Yes."

    "Wait, what deal," Niles speaks up.

    "The core and some information for, well...respect," Vlad says.

    Susan nods. "Because Victor is smart but sometimes not as smart as he thinks. He played himself. He thought he was getting one over on Reed here, he thought this whole thing was one big power play on Reed for some reason.

    "Reed will think it's funny."

    "How nice," Vlad says.

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