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

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Posts

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

    The Invincibles - Victorious, Silver Sable, Spider-Man, and Longbow - stand on a nearby office building looking at AIM HQ.

    Vlad turns to his new team.

    Duuslcz.png

    Sable and Longbow stand in parade-rest. When Vlad turns, Peter looks at them and mimics their stance.

    "M.O.D.O.C. Is in there," Vlad points at AIM HQ. "We need to find a way in."

    "I got you, fa-....uh, sir." Peter speaks up. "WHISPER has detailed analysis of AIM HQ's floorplans and security systems, Dr. Richards knew they were up to no good and was investigating them. I know how to get in, but we'd have to hack their security systems so they don't set off alarms when we pop the doors open."

    "Good, Peter," Vlad nods.

    "They'll have a lot of armed guards, it's gonna get bad in there...." Peter rubs the back in his neck nervously.

    Silver puts her hand in his shoulder and smiles. "It will be fine, Spider-Man. We are heroes." He straightens up and and nods. Vlad nods approvingly at her. She nods back at Vlad and winks.

    Longbow clears his throat. "Boss, how clean or dirty we going with personnel in there?"

    Peter looks over at Longbow. "Uh...what does he mean?"

    Vlad looks at Spider-Man and then back at Longbow. "Clean, these people may not know of M.O.D.O.C. and if so they are not our enemy."

    Longbow does a half-salute. "Gotcha."

    "Then let us begin." Vlad turns to face the AIM building and easily penetrates AIM’s security system; it’s segregated from the rest of their network, but it does control the entire building. He shuts it all down. "Move up."

    The Invincibles move into the building. They attack from the top floor, going in through the elevator shaft access per Peter's directions. Vladimir tries to locate where MODOC could be kept on internal schematics. He notices there's a 4th sub-level that is expansive and reinforced.

    The Invincibles burst into the sub-level and attack. They are met with armed resistance by AIM research scientists and guards.

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    "Stand aside," Victorious commands.

    There are no alarms, but the team can hear Aldrich Killian's voice booming over a loudspeaker. "We're under attack, activate the drone defenses, MODOC!"

    qlGmSdP.pngAldrich Killian
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    Documented extranormal abilities: None known. Aldrich Killian is not known to possess any extranormal abilities as of this writing, but SHIELD maintains constantly updated intel on this individual as psych profile indicates he may be exploring transhumanist cybernetic upgrades of his intellect. More intel required.

    Aldrich Killian is the CEO of Advanced Idea Mechanics. The man is an impenetrable mystery, maintaining a shroud around his personal life and upbringing. It’s like he barely existed prior to the late 90’s when he created AIM. This makes SHIELD very uncomfortable.

    Killian is on the Index because his company has noted ties to international arms deals, is exploring super-soldier programs, and because Killian himself has privately expressed interests in transhumanism and advanced man-machine interface designs. He’s a worrisome individual, an enigma that defies conventional psych profiling.

    A confrontation with Killian should be avoided until more intel is gathered.

    As the battle against the AIM guards moves through the lab, four massive robotic attack drones surround the team.

    A7xfY98l.jpg

    "Kneel!" Victorious reaches out to hack the drones. Heconnects…

    …but while he does take temporary control of the drones, his own mind is under attack by another machine-consciousness trying to hack him. He tries to make contact with his assailant.

    I am not here to hurt you, MODOC.

    The mind speaks back. ALL IS PAIN AND HURT

    MODOC KILLS


    Victorious: IF ALL IS PAIN AND HURT THAN MODOC SAVES

    MODOC: ....MODOC....MODOC.... SAVES....? KILL SAVES.... FROM HURT.....ENDS PAIN

    Victorious: YES

    MODOC: MODOC SAVES

    Victorious: LET ME SPEAK WITH YOU IN PERSON

    A klaxon blares. It's not part of the security system. An automated voice calls out "MODOC Core Containment Released. MODOC Core Containment Released."

    Killian somes on the loudspeaker again. "MODOC, what are you doing? Kill them! Damn you, machine, I'll do it myself!" As the AIM guards fall back and the suborned drones fall silent, a hatch opens in front of the group with a hiss.

    Something rises up from the hatch.

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    Its high-pitched voice screeches "MODOC SAVES"

    "MODOC..." Vlad walks towards him.

    Peter stares at MODOC. "Is that... is that the baby...?"

    "He is...only a child,” Vlad says. “MODOC, do you want me to help you?"

    ".....YES...."

    "Very well." Vlad places his hand on MODOCs chair.

    Vlad looks over MODOC's consciousness and technology. He's more than a machine. He's cybernetic entity, a techno-kinetic organism with its cerebral capacity enhanced at the expense of basically all other biological functions, so that it can essentially overtake and command all other technology and make mathematical calculations and predictive models instantly.

    Killian has shackled MODOC to use him only for killing. As a military mastermind, to run the empire of drones and other military machines that Killian has been marketing around the world.

    But MODOC could be so much more with those shackles off.

    However, this isn’t merely software; it’s a living organism. For all his power, Vlad won’t be able to determine what an unshackled MODOC will be. It will simply...be what it will be.

    Vlad frees MODOC.

    "MODOC..... FEELS......"

    "Uh.... was that a good thing?" Peter says out loud, then instinctively leaps into the air to dodge a massive energy blast that scorches the floor where he was just standing.

    Vlad turns. The shot came from behind.

    FJWPW9J.png

    It's Aldrich Killian, in power armor.

    "How dare you, come into my lab and try to destroy my work? I am the Scientist Supreme, the greatest mind in this world!” Killian screams. "I'll kill all of you!"

    "No, you are not." Vlad blasts Killian. The “Scientist Supreme” goes flying from the blast, his armor absorbing the brunt. "Invincibles Engage!"

    Longbow and Sable also open fire, using explosive arrows and armor penetrating rounds respectively. Peter tries to tie Killian up with webbing, so he can't direct counter-blasts at the team.

    "MODOC ENGAGES!" MODOC levitates towards Killian.

    "MODOC, no! You serve me ! I am your ma-" Killian's armor starts beeping. "....oh no." Killian's armor detonates.

    "Oh dear," Victorious says.

    There’s nothing left but ashes.

    "Holy shit!" Peter yelps as he jumps back.

    "MODOC SAVES"

    Vlad stares at MODOC and back at Spider-Man. And then again. And again. Longbow snickers and turns away to hide his face.

    "Yes," Vlad says to MODOC. “Come with us. We have more saving to do."

    Peter is still in shock. "Did.... did we do a good thing...?"

    "Yes," Vlad nods. “A very good thing. Killian was a monster.”

    Longbow throws his arm around Peter’s shoulder. "Kiddo, look at it like this. That dude was a bastard. Child soldiers, right? He turned this baby into a child soldier. That's fucked up. Yeah, okay, the baby killed him and that sucks. But, y'know, ain't the baby's fault, he got messed up."

    Peter nods solemnly. "I guess so."

    Vlad nods at Longbow.

    "And now we can raise em right. The boss will see that he turns out okay, won't you, boss?"Longbow gives Vlad a thumbs up.

    Victorious nods. "We are at war, Peter. I told you this. And yes, Longbow is correct."

    Peter sighs and nods. "Okay, I guess. Thanks. You're a good guy, Longbow."

    Longbow smirks and does a see-saw hand motion "Eh, I'm alright."

    PHU1KZN.png
    So yes, Peter is receiving moral guidance from an assassin, a Doombot, and a Nazi. That is a thing that is happening.

    Victorious turns. "We must go now and make ready for our next move and how to find another Cradle. We've done well, team, I am pleased."

    "MODOC.... TEAM?"

    "If MODOC chooses to." Vlad turns to face MODOC and extends his hand.

    MODOC floats over so he can shake Vlad's hand with his diminutive little hand. He actually manages to smile with his tiny mouth and little teeth. Peter visibly shudders.

    Vlad opens a portal back to Castle Doom. "Whoa," Peter says with amazement. "Where...where does that go?"

    "To my Father's house." Vlad turns to Peter. "Do you trust me, Peter? You can go if you wish, but I would like you to come."

    "Your...father's..house....? You mean...that's...oh."

    Silver hooks her arm around Peter's and leans in. "It's actually quite nice, I can show you the gardens if you like."

    Vlad smiles.

    "O-ok!"

    As Peter steps through the portal, Longbow reaches over to MODOC and says "Tiny high five, buddy!" They high five, and MODOC screeches as he enters the portal.

    "MODOC.... FRIENDS!"

    Vlad is pleased. He steps in after his team. The portal closes, leaving the flaming wreckage of the AIM lab and the ashes of Aldrich Killian behind.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited September 20
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    Elise, Susan, and Carol pop out of the foldgate and into a city of unearthly architecture.

    "Is this...is this it?" Elise breathes.

    "It has to be...the Kree architecture...the....everything...." Carol says, her voice filled with wonder.

    "I was right!" Elise pumps her fist. "I was right, I was right, suck my dick, Clay, I was right!"

    "Y'know, I suddenly realized that me specifically coming here might have been a bad call." Susan says out loud.

    "It's cool, it's cool," Elise says. "You're with me. And I'm the V I motherfuckin' P! This is a city for people like me! I bet -"

    She can hear movement on the distance. Booted feet. "People are coming! I bet they're friendly!"

    Carol and Susan look at each other grimly. Elise laughs and heads towards the boots. "Oh god Elise no," the two women say at once.

    As Elise gets closer, she can tell the noise is metallic. Armored.

    Elise turns around, waving at her companions. "No, no, it's okay! I'm Inhuman! They're gonna love me!"

    She turns the corner and sees four metallic figures. Each is eight feet tall.

    EtBlVXBl.jpg

    Her gaze travels up, and up. "O-Oh."

    They shout something in a language Elise doesn't speak. And brandish their polearms.

    "What are the odds that two worlds -" she starts to say.

    Susan and Carol catch up.

    "Hang on.... hang on..." Carol is waving at Elise. "I think...the language is Kree-based but it's like....weird....” Her eyes widen. "Put your hands up, all of you, now!"

    Elise puts her hands up. "Tell them I'm Inhuman!"

    "Okay, okay, hang on...." Danvers says something to them, in an alien language, while gesturing at Elise.

    The large constructs turn and look at each other. One of them visibly shrugs. One tilts its head at Elise, and Elise hears a stream if whispers and screeching noises like a radio tuning.

    Before she finally hears English.

    "You,” it says. "You are kin."

    "Yeah, yeah, I'm here on behalf of Earth, and these two are with me. We're cool. We're friends."

    "You will be taken."

    "J-Just me?" Elise asks.

    "You will be taken to see the King."

    Elise nudges Carol. "They have a King."

    Carol looks at Elise. "The next time you buy me cupcakes, I'm running."

    PDKpJsK.png

    Jacobkosh on
    visiblehowl
  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    I love thinking about this from the perspectives of Carol and Peter. Each decision seems reasonable or better than obvious alternatives but things get out of control so fast.

    Carol talked to the wakandans for like three minutes before fighting a super alien to the death!

    sig.gif
    MsAnthropyMatevJacobkosh
  • Rear Admiral ChocoRear Admiral Choco Registered User regular
    For all the stuff that went down in previous sessions this one was just completely balls to the wall crazy - I devoured the briefing reports and had approximately this reaction



    Briefings are expository candy that I greedily devour every time I see them
    Also, I love how MODOC screeches like an overexcited child, because that's basically what he is.

    2WJtdLD.png
    JacobkoshMatev
  • MsAnthropyMsAnthropy Our Lady of Perpetual Mazes The CageRegistered User regular
    edited September 20
    Lol at this summary of Doom. He’s literally an incel magus.

    As is Mole-Man! And, Namor! (kinda).
    Thinking about F4 antagonists in general, I begin to wonder if Galactus secretly went to Earth college and sat around quietly wondering why he couldn’t get a date with Sue even though all he’d talk about with her was eating planets.

    MsAnthropy on
    "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
    JacobkoshRear Admiral ChocoFencingsax
  • MsAnthropyMsAnthropy Our Lady of Perpetual Mazes The CageRegistered User regular
    edited September 20
    Oh, and let’s see if I can ID what alternate earths are on the Councils verboten for travel list: Age of Apocalypse, Days of Future Past, Comics, Ultimate Comics, Zombies... and maybe one more on there I will have to look up when I get home.

    MsAnthropy on
    "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
    JacobkoshMatevRear Admiral ChocoFencingsax
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited September 20
    I love thinking about this from the perspectives of Carol and Peter. Each decision seems reasonable or better than obvious alternatives but things get out of control so fast.

    Carol talked to the wakandans for like three minutes before fighting a super alien to the death!

    I was gonna say, Carol is definitely the winner of the Worst Day Award, but really it's more like ...a month.

    And poor Peter is getting led into increasingly questionable places by the lure of a hot lady and a magical robot. Who among us cannot sympathize?

    Jacobkosh on
    MsAnthropyMatevRear Admiral Choco
  • visiblehowlvisiblehowl Neutron Nerd Registered User regular
    Jacobkosh wrote: »
    "Silver," Vlad says. She drops it and says nothing. He turns back to Peter. "Yes, they are. But they have extremely powerful metahumans under their control and have replaced people all around the world. There is a secret war going on, Peter."

    "Oh. Oh wow. And you want my help?"

    "I want you on my team. I will not lie to you, Spider-Man. Do you know what I am? I am Victorious. I am convergence." Vlad's eyes glow. "I am a fulcrum, a meeting point of technological, arcane, and dimensional power."

    He half turns, his cloak following his arc. "I was stolen from my maker... my Father. My captors tried to rebuild me for their own purposes. Tried to reshape the mind my Father gave me. So when I woke up I didn't know who I was. I lived in fear and as their servant. Fearing death, fearing to lose what little I had gained back of my self, and always as a tool of their machinations.

    "But in time..." Vlad pauses. "...In time I learned how to use them as they used me. To lie to them as they lied to me. Granting them the same false victories they did for me. Then, only then, after they thought I was their most loyal of pets, making them think I sacrificed myself for their cause, I left them.

    “I did this not because I feared them, but because I saw whom they feared, my Father. They feared him because he saw through their lies and could protect his people without their interference. So I returned to him, a prodigal son, and he welcomed me with open arms. He granted me the power to take fear, use it against those who would try to steal this world. Now he has given me leave to protect this world and I need a team to help me do so. A team of Invincibles. I need your help, Peter."

    Silver looks at Vladimir with admiration, smiling.

    Peter looks at them and nods. "I'm in."

    Are you kidding me Peter? That's the supervillainest speech ever, and you're in just like that?
    Vlad takes Peter’s hand. "I have a gift for you. An upgrade, if you will."

    "You're.... gonna upgrade my suit?” Peter says. "Dr. Richards gave me this suit."

    "Yes...I know."

    Victorious uses his sorcerous power and technological upgrades to transfer some of his nano-memetic dermal sheath technology and other stealth upgrades to Peter. They mingle with some of the other nanotechnology that Richards' tech already had in the suit (such as bio-gel nanotech to heal Peter in case of emergency) to create a partially organic, partially mechanical nanotech suit.

    Peter's white suit turns black, and the Spider design begins to glow green like other Doomtech.

    CY1J1p7l.png

    Spider-Man staggers a bit, looking down at his suit. "...whoa."

    GODDAMMIT PETER

    vxsHp3F.gif
    I am apparently an MTGA draft god on Twitch
    JacobkoshMsAnthropy
  • MatevMatev Cero Miedo Registered User regular
    To be fair, a modern teenage Peter would absolutely buy into Doom’s message of benevolent dictatorship, especially since they’re treating him like an adult when SHIELD and the FF haven’t been as much. We’ll see how how long that lasts once blood starts flowing.

    I appreciate episodes like this cause it feels either like STRIKE’s members in their own monthly/minis, or them crossing over into others
    Wonderful how hilariously outmatched Shield realizes they are against the multiversal Richards coalition and just know the smart thing is to stay off their turf and keep their heads down.

    "Go down, kick ass, and set yourselves up as gods, that's our Prime Directive!"
    Hail Hydra
    MsAnthropy
  • MsAnthropyMsAnthropy Our Lady of Perpetual Mazes The CageRegistered User regular
    Matev wrote: »
    To be fair, a modern teenage Peter would absolutely buy into Doom’s message of benevolent dictatorship, especially since they’re treating him like an adult when SHIELD and the FF haven’t been as much. We’ll see how how long that lasts once blood starts flowing.

    I appreciate episodes like this cause it feels either like STRIKE’s members in their own monthly/minis, or them crossing over into others
    Wonderful how hilariously outmatched Shield realizes they are against the multiversal Richards coalition and just know the smart thing is to stay off their turf and keep their heads down.

    The young and impressionable version of Peter we’ve seen in the MCU and here are some of my favorite takes on him. That and the Dad version of him in the MC2 and Renew Your Vows universes.

    "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
    JacobkoshMatev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Oh, during discussion today in Discord, something came up that I hadn't been aware of, or I would have worked it into the narrative: the reason Sigrun took Michael along to catch Lorelei is because she assumed he was gay. On their trip to Asgard, she strips in front of him and he is so polite and professional she thinks she isn't his type. Then, in this episode, he flirts with her a bit and she's like ...oh.

    So while it didn't come up, the Destroyer armor doesn't confer any special immunity to Lorelei's power; she just didn't bother making the attempt when he and Sigrun first walked in because she assumed he was a regular-ass human and Sigrun was the high-value target.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    On a different note, some deep-ass lore nerdery that I kind of inferred from the story and discussed with Matt the other day.

    On Shuma-Gorath:
    So in regular 616 Marvel, the Celestials create superbeings, called Eternals, on various planets. (Thanos is an Eternal; this doesn't come up in the MCU, but is a pretty big deal in the comics.) Some Eternals don't take correctly to the process and come out twisted and mutated, or are created that way by a rogue Celestial; these are called Deviants, the Eternals' counterparts.

    In this setting, the Thulians that Elise encounters, the Shuma-Gorath worshippers, are the Deviants (and the Eternals that they are the twisted counterparts of are the Asgardians; the Deviants are the Dark Elves of myth).

    In the comics, Shuma-Gorath is a "multi-angled one," a Lovecraftian sort of cosmic elder entity dwelling in another dimension and etc etc. Lovecraft and Conan creator Robert E. Howard were friends and correspondents and often borrowed each other's concepts, vibes, and ideas; the Conan stories are kind of an unofficial prehistory of Lovecraft's Arkham setting. Shuma-Gorath originated in one of Robert E. Howard's Kull the Conqueror stories and moved into Marvel continuity when Marvel was publishing Kull and Conan comics in the 70s. Shuma-Gorath wasn't given any special attention or anything; there are like ten Cthulhu pastiches in the Marvel Universe already (including one named "Cthon"), so these connections I'm about to draw aren't, like, official or anything.

    But consider this: in the comics, the Deviants worship a godlike being, possibly their creator, called The Dreaming Celestial, a renegade Celestial whom the regular Celestials imprisoned in another dimension for assorted crimes (probably for creating the Deviants, among other things).

    Now, we know Shuma-Gorath is a tentacle beast, and Celestials don't look like that, usually, right? I mean, maybe they have a "true form," but usually they're just mile-tall...dudes.

    But let's detour for a moment and think about that old sci-fi and horror shibboleth, extra-dimensional beings. The comic writer Grant Morrison has pointed out on a couple of occasions that a higher-dimensional being intruding into 3D space would look weird and disconnected, with various bits stretched out across normal space with no apparent connection. Like, imagine a 2D person living on a piece of paper trying to describe your hand if you touched your five fingertips to the page: they'd think these five weird circles had appeared, and it would be hard for them to understand how those circles are connected. Morrison points out that cosmic entities intruding into our space - whatever they "really" look like - would look to our 3D eyes like writhing, disconnected cylindrical extrusions into reality: sort of like giant cosmic snakes.

    The Eternals comic, which was written in that 1970s Ancient Astronauts spirit where human myths are all distorted memories of cosmic or alien encounters, offhandedly mentions that the Dreaming Celestial, this sort of primordial Luciferian or Demiurge figure, is also known on Earth as Tiamut or Tiamat. Tiamat, in ancient Babylon, was the god of primordial chaos, and (as you will recognize from D&D and Final Fantasy) was often depicted as a multi-headed dragon or sea serpent.

    A multi-headed sea monster? Where have we heard that before?

    Oh, and here's a fun bonus question: the Asgardians mythologize everything, right? Galactus is Surtr the fire giant, the Kree are the Frost Giants, etc.

    So....are there any giant cosmic snakes in Norse myth?

    MatevMsAnthropyFencingsax
  • jakobaggerjakobagger LO THY DREAD EMPIRE CHAOS IS RESTORED Registered User regular
    So, skimming the fairly grounded (for comics) spy story on page one and then looking at this page is pretty wtf. Even for comics that seems like a pretty fast acceleration of weirdness in 6 pages.

    bgg / steam / goodreads / Bnet: Bygasto#2537
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    jakobagger wrote: »
    So, skimming the fairly grounded (for comics) spy story on page one and then looking at this page is pretty wtf. Even for comics that seems like a pretty fast acceleration of weirdness in 6 pages.

    on the one hand, yes

    on the other hand, they're really big pages

    PowerpuppiesFencingsaxElvenshae
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited September 23
    NOPC1bV.png

    1REX2Ehl.jpg

    Two of the four metallic sentries move to lead Elise into the city. The other two seem to wait behind, standing watch over Carol and Susan.

    "They're not coming with us?" Elise asks.

    "They are not Inhuman. They will not see the King. Their fate will be decided."

    "Wait, no, no, they're with me, there's no fate deciding necessary -"

    "The King decides." The metal men lead Elise through the streets of the city. People stare at Elise. They're dressed strangely, in robes and tunics, some wearing armor. Some have skin colors or textures well outside the norms of human ranges, or have features like wings or spines.

    Elise gives Carol and Susan one last, terrified look before she's ushered off. Susan looks scared out of her mind. Carol has her hand on Susan's shoulder, seemingly trying to comfort her, giving Elise a pleading stare as she is lead away.

    Elise is led into a massive palace building, where more metallic giants stand guard. Inside the palace seem to be a myriad of folk in courtly attire milling around. There is a throne, and sitting on it is a man in a black mask.

    GKxVjhal.jpg

    To his left is a woman in white:

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    And to his right stands a man in a dark robe:

    YmAxC4zl.jpg

    Elise, weak in the knees and shaky in the hands, gives her most winning smile. "Do I, do I kneel, or bow, like, I'm not familiar with the protocol here -"

    The woman speaks, gesturing to the man on the throne. "Agar the Black of the House Agon, the First of His Name, King of the Inhumans and the Alpha-Primitives, Lord of Attilan and Bolt of the Night."

    She gestures to herself. "I am Queen Medusalith of the House Amaquelin, Royal Consort of the King, and Speaker of His Royal Will."

    The man in the dark robe to the right of the King speaks next. "I am Maximus of House Agon, Advisor to the King."

    Elise nervously bows. "Your Highnesses. Um, I am Elise Arnell, of Earth. Uh, Agent Anteater."

    Medusalith nods. "You are an outsider. You came through the fold-gate, the first to do so from Earth in many years. But you are also Inhuman, despite the fact that it is said there are no Terrigen crystals left on Earth. How did your Terrigenesis come to pass, Elise Arnell?"

    "There are no -?" Elise cuts herself off. "Okay, so, I was...kind of struggling in life, kind of bouncing around between...things. I started doing these little food and drug tests for extra pocket cash, and turns out, uh, they were... traps. There were scientists back on Earth trying to create Inhumans, or activate them, uh, for the upcoming war and various... problems."

    Medusalith looks at the King, who looks to her and appears to gesture in some kind of sign language. Medusalith looks back at Elise. "Are you saying that Earth's scientists have devised a way to synthesize Terrigen?"

    "Yes, and um, I never actually touched a crystal or nothin', so it's kind of an incomplete process on my part. But I'm super useful and good and I could have been an Avenger? Right now it's just..." Elise's shoulders sag. "It's real overwhelming. I sense everything one hundred times harder than I should."

    The three individuals in front of Elise look at each other. The King makes gestures again. "Do you have information with you on how this artificial Terrigen was made? Scientific data, chemical compositions?"

    "Not written down, but..." Elise straightens her back, and begins to share everything STRIKE learned about the artificial Terrigen, about Alchemax, and about the upcoming Dust. Most of what she's saying is bits she's copying from someone else's mouth, or medical files she remembers.

    The three listen quietly and intently. They begin gesturing to each other, speaking exclusively in sign language. Elise doesn't understand it, but she does understand their facial expressions, which are very clear, including the King's. They're afraid. Very afraid. The idea of artificial Terrigen and the Dust changes everything, it seems like it's information that they're fixating on and arguing about with great distress.

    "Actually, Your Majesties, I came here about um, the idea of working together, because the people who want to deploy the Dust are, um, Skrulls."

    They all stop.

    "I had a friend, a scientist type, he was a Kree, you see, and um, he wanted to find this city?"

    "You speak the name of the Great Enemy," Medusalith says. "And of the Ancestors."

    "Um, yeah, I'm kind of hoping to -" Elise makes a vague gesture of shoving her fist through her other open hand up to the elbow. "Kind of win the war against the Great Enemy?"

    "But why would the Enemy want to deploy synthetic Terrigen on Earth? There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions who carry the Inhuman gene. The Genetic Council is uncertain of their numbers, even today," the Queen says. "There would be so many of us."

    "They're more interested in murdering everyone else. I don't think they - they really know what it's going to do."

    Maximus shrugs. "Then perhaps we should let them do it."

    "No no no no that'd be super bad, that'd - you're talking, like, millions dead at least."

    Maximus shakes his head. "No, the Enemy are fools. The Mists do not work that way.

    "I walked into the Mists as a child, but unfortunately my genetics were... insufficient. Too much human, not enough Ancestor. I did not awaken. No Terrigenesis. Otherwise? Unharmed."

    "Okay, let me give you a really cool counter proposal," Elise says. "So, I have, you know, bosses back on Earth who are also super concerned with the Great Enemy, and there are more Inhumans among them, at least three others. There are probably like, tons more back on Earth!

    "We could do an alliance kind of deal, and then we could just, y'know, curbstomp the Great Enemy? We've already killed, like, three or four War Skrulls."

    The King raises an eyebrow. He seems impressed. He makes a gesture. Medusalith asks "The King desires to know if you personally have faced a War Skrull in battle."

    "Oh, yeah, back in Wakanda. I kind of climbed up it's chest and unloaded two guns right into its face."

    The King nods and clasps his hands together, and then looks at Medusalith and nods at her. He is definitely impressed. "The King agrees to your proposal for alliance."

    "Okay, okay, that's super cool, so I'll take my two friends, and we'll go home, and we'll start the necessary talks!"

    We will send an emissary with you," Medusalith says.

    "Oh, absolutely, just uh, when we get back to Earth let us go out first because there was a hilarious misunderstanding and there maaaay be a few guns pointed at the door."

    "We will not use the fold-gate. It appears to be heavily guarded by hostile individuals."

    Elise flinches. "Yeah that'd be the misunderstanding."

    "There are other ways out of Attilan that we have used. Eldrac, the Living Door, is one way. But you will use another," the Queen says.

    "Okay, cool, cool. Uh, I have one more question. You... do you have terrigen crystals here?"

    s"Yes, natural Terrigen crystals which are grown in the springs deep below Attilan."

    "Could we... take one home? I... like I said, my senses are... it's really painful. I smell everything. I hear everything. Someone told me a terrigen crystal could fix it, maybe. One day. I'd like to have the option."

    "Hrm. Perhaps the synthetic process made by Earth scientists resulted in incomplete Terrigenesis...." Maximus cradles his chin, thinking about it. "You should speak to the Genetic Council before you go, it will give the Queen time to make preparations and for your companions to be readied to leave."

    "Okay. Thank you." Elise bows again, awkwardly. "I'm glad we could come to an accord between Attilan and Earth."

    The King nods at Elise, and gestures. Medusalith speaks. "The King bids you good fortune in the wars to come."

    "Cool, cool. I'm sure SHIELD will be super happy to talk to you. Good fortune in um, everything."

    "Take her to the Genetic Council, and then to Nahrees. Retrieve her companions."

    Elise shoots a shaky grin and awkward finger guns on her way out. She is led through the palace. It's massive. There seems to be some kind of baroque....technology? Magic? It's hard to tell the difference.

    She's led to a large chamber that looks like a senate room or council chamber or lecture hall. It's mostly vacant, and as she is led in, two people in robes walk in.

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    Elise awkwardly bows again. "Pleasure to meet you both."

    The woman speaks up. "I am Councillor Sapphira, and this is High Councillor Arcadian. We're representatives of the Genetic Council who were available at short notice at the King's request."

    "Okay, cool, so, like… Are you going to give me the ol' lookie loo?"

    "We have been informed of your unique circumstances," Sapphira says.

    Arcadian nods. "Synthetic Terrigenesis, truly unheard of."

    "Yeah it's kind of a whole thing down on Earth."

    "Mhm, yes. Sounds unstable, and from what the Queen told us, unpleasant for you personally."

    "You ever just really look at someone's teeth?" Elise asks.

    "Sometimes, the gifts of an Inhuman are burdensome. Not all who awaken do so with great joy," Sapphira says.

    High Councillor Arcadian nods at Elise. "My gift allows me to see into someone's very chromosomes and DNA, so...yes, I can assure you, I have looked at someone's teeth."

    "That's rough, buddy,” Elise nods. "Listen, there's something you need to know in advance about one of my companions before we get started here."

    "Your companions are not my concern."

    Elise shifts nervously.

    "They will not be joining us."

    "Cool," Elise says.

    "This meeting is about you. Step forward." Arcadian puts his hand out for Elise to take it.
    When she does, his eyes roll back, and he goes into a trance. He stands that way for a moment, and then snaps out of it. "Yes, I believe that a true Terrigenesis, exposure to actual Terrigen Mists will stabilize you. But… You will also undergo a second Terrigenesis. Your gifts will change.

    "They will stabilize, yes, but you may unlock new abilities. Your physical form may or may not change."

    "Oh my God.” For a second, Elise looks like a coiled spring, anxious and nervous and quivering with contained energy. Then she just shrugs. "Okay."

    "It is your decision whether or not to undergo this change. It is something you should do with consideration because once done, it cannot be undone."

    She nods. "I mean, I'll still, like, take the crystal, I just... I gotta think about it."

    "You cannot take the crystal," Sapphira says. "You will have to return to Attilan to undergo the change."

    "...Okay, sure, why not."

    "Let us know. It is of great interest to this Council to discover what changes take place should you decide to do so," Sapphira says. "If there is nothing further, your companions and the Princess are waiting for you."

    "I'll uh, boogie and scoot then. Thanks for everything."

    They both nod.

    Elise is led by the two guards through the palace further. She's led to another large chamber, where Susan and Carol are waiting with the other two guards from before. There's also another woman she doesn't recognize and...a creature.

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    Elise shoots Susan and Carol finger guns - these ones are much more confident. She then bows to the new person, assuming that they're the Princess. "Pleasure to meet you, Your Majesty."

    The woman laughs. "Oh, no, no. I'm not the Princess. My name is Nahreen. I'm just Lockjaw's handler. This is Lockjaw. No, he's not the Princess either."

    "Lockjaw fucking owns, by the way." Lockjaw tilts his head at Elise, sniffs her, and then... nuzzles affectionately. "I love you," Elise whispers, quietly awed.

    "Lockjaw is also Inhuman, and has his own gift. He can go anywhere, and take people with him. He can teleport."

    "You're a big beautiful teleporting boy, aren't you? Yes you are!" Elise fawns over him, and he pants excitedly.

    Nahreen smiles. "He likes you."

    "I wish I could take him home with me! Where can he teleport us? Like, can I get real specific about it?"

    "Yes. You put your hand on him, and you think really hard about where you go, imagine it in your mind, and Lockjaw can go there," Nahreen says. "It has to be a real place, where you've actually been. He can't go to like....Middle-Earth."

    "Cool, cool, who's a good Inhuman, you are, yes you -" Elise's face suddenly registers slow, dawning horror. "Uh! So are we peacing out now?"

    "The Princess and her bodyguard will be here shortly."

    Elise hears a loud, excited woman's voice. "Oh, I'm here!" She hears the crackle of electricity "This is wonderful, I haven't been to Earth in years."

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    She looks at Elise and smiles "You're the one who talked my sister into this deal? Cool. Do people on Earth still say cool?"

    "Oh yeah, they absolutely say cool," Elise says. "Do you like fast food?"

    "I love fast food!"

    Elise grins. "Oh my God I'm going to show you all the new fast food places that have popped up in the last few years."

    Nahreen speaks up. "This is Crystalia of House Amaquelin, sister to the Queen."

    Elise hears a booming, growling voice. "That Earth food is atrocious for you, my lady."

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    Nahreen gestures to the huge man. "This is Gorgon Petragon, the Princess' bodyguard."

    Elise gives him a casual salute. He salutes back.

    "Brand is going to love you both," Elise says. "We good to go?" She looks at her companions. Susan looks pale, like she's going to be sick. Carol is just kind of quiet. Elise gives both of them a big, optimistic smile.

    Nahreen gives directions. "Alright, everyone has to stand close to Lockjaw, and then whoever is telling him where to go has to put their hand on his shoulder. I'm not going with you. The Princess and her bodyguard are, so maybe...a place where humans aren't going to immediately react to the big fella."

    Gorgon frowns at Nahreen. "What does that mean?"

    Nahreen rolls her eyes. "You know how humans get, Gorgon."

    "Take us to Reed's office. I bet he's gonna pee a little bit." Elise smiles widely.

    Elise puts her hand on Lockjaw's shoulder, thinking of the Baxter Building. The travelers vanish from Attilan.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited September 22
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    Summoned to the throne room, Vlad enters and nods to Doom. "You wish to see me, Father?"

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    "Yes. It is about this technology you brought to me, from Richards."

    "The lockbox?" Vlad asks.

    "Yes. I have discerned its purpose, and have managed to restore its function. You recall discussing the Cradle with me, yes? These facilities where the alien interlopers store their victims."

    "Yes, Hyperion protects them," Vlad nods

    "It seems Richards is also aware of these facilities. I am not certain how he obtained this information, perhaps through his own spy network. Nonetheless, he has designed his own technology to find them. It seems he is ahead of us in some way.

    “Again, I am unaware of how this came to pass that he is so advanced in this matter, but it is unimportant. What matters is how the device operates. The Skrulls connect to their victims telepathically, so that they can access their memories and replicate their personality.

    "Richards has developed a device, which I now possess the prototype of, that can track the psionic energy. It will not work on an individual level; it can't detect an individual Skrull impersonator.

    "But it can be used on a wide area to scan for a potential Cradle site, as many Skrulls over a larger geographical space will be connecting to that one location telepathically. Scanning the entire globe would require launching the device onto an orbital satellite.

    "Fortunately, I do not believe the Skrulls have these sites all over the world. They would have them only in areas they could keep the most secure in their sphere of influence, which is going to be inside the Russian border.

    "If they're guarded by Hyperion, then they will be within his immediate flight range. I have analysed the data from your encounter with him, and determined the maximum distance within Russia that another Cradle could be from the first one, and that is where the scanner will be most effective.

    "You will take your team there, activate the scanner, and locate any Cradle facilities." Doom picks the scanner up and hands it to Vlad.

    Vlad takes the scanner from Doom, holding it with both his hands. "This...this is the key to drawing him out." Vlad pauses. "If this device works then we are ready to strik..." Vlad cuts himself off. "End Hyperion!"

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    Vlad is, understandably given his circumstances, even more fixated on Hyperion than on the Skrulls themselves. Everything he’s doing, all the power he’s trying to amass, is in service of never being that vulnerable again.

    Doom nods. "If he arrives, I will be there. From what I learned of this creature Hyperion, he is also an alien. More aliens. Enough of these creatures trying to take my…our planet. Prepare your team, my son. We will leave soon."

    Vlad moves through the castle to find The Invincibles. Longbow is standing on the walkway over the courtyard garden. Below, Sable is walking with Peter.

    "How is the team, Clint?" Vlad peers down at Silver and Peter, his hands on the railing.

    "Doing alright, boss. Kid's got a good head on his shoulders. Too good, Silver's seeing to that. But not, y'know, seeing too much." He winks at Vlad.

    Vlad nods.

    Clint Barton leans back on the railing, back to the courtyard, as he continues "Your dad tell you how the whole thing went, like, how I got on the team?"

    "How?" Vlad turns to Longbow.

    "So, after you kicked our ass, your old man decided the only thing that was useful outta Steve was his DNA. So, he uh...rendered him. Made me watch."

    Vlad stares at Longbow "Continue."

    "Then he decides only thing useful outta Tony was his brain, so, took that out and that's all that's left. Tony probably would've liked to kept other bits of him, probably woulda argued those were useful too, but your pops didn't see it that way. Made me watch that too.

    "Then he says to me, well, none of you is useful. I figure, well, hell, that's almost a mercy. I get ready to bite it like a man. But then he says, my son thinks you will be useful to him as a servant.

    "So he puts a thing in my head. Nano-explosive neural mesh, woven into my cerebral cortex. Doesn't have a remote or anything, it's keyed so if I even think about betraying you seriously or even directly disobey you, boom. And to be honest? I thought that was kinda over-doing it.

    "I was already gonna listen to you, because alright, it's like... on my world, when the strong win, the weak obey. That's just...how it is, y'know? I lost, you won, so now you're the boss. You don't need to put a damn bomb in my head to underline the point. That was just un-necessary."

    Vlad grasps the railing tightly but says nothing. After a few moments he says "What of MODOC?"

    "I like him. Reminds me of the child-soldiers back on my world, all enthusiasm and fucked up violence. I don't imagine that's what you want out of him, per se, but you can try to raise him right. You and Silver seem like you can be good parents."

    Vlad looks at Longbow. "MODOC is not my son..."

    "Naw, course not, but you took the chains off him, so in a way, now he's your responsibility, no? You're not just going to toss him into the world, screaming and scared and just walk awa -"

    "Nor is Silver my lover,” Vlad interrupts Longbow. "I am not human, Clint. I am more. MODOC is akin to me, that is all. Do not forget this."

    "I gather that, boss. I'm just saying, he already looks up to you. So does the kid down there. You might not be their daddy, but you're definitely their leader."

    Vlad nods slowly.

    "Also, if Sable isn't your lover..."

    Vlad nods. "Indeed."

    "I mean I'm just sayin'. Is that cool?"

    "It is cool," Vlad nods.

    He grins. "Awesome, thanks boss. Good talk."

    "Wait," Vlad puts his hand on Longbow’s shoulder. "We have a mission. Gather the rest of the team. Leave MODOC, he will not be needed for this." Vlad explains the mission and the scanner.

    Longbow nods and acknowledges Vlad's commands "I'll ready up, boss, let me know when you're good to go. Silver said she wanted to have a word. I can go retrieve the kid and get him squared up, if you like?"

    "Good."

    Longbow leaves. After a few minutes, Silver joins Vlad on the parapet. "Vladimir."

    "Silver," Vlad smiles.

    "There is something I need to discuss with you,” she says. "Susan Richards."

    Vlad looks around. "Walk with me." She falls into step behind him. "I know you have questions, Silver but here and now is not the place. I will be honest with you but not here."

    She puts up her hand. "No."

    Vlad stops Turns to her.

    "Over the years in your father's employ, there is a truth I have learned," she says. "Your father knows much. Almost everything. But not everything.

    "And when he does not know something, that is rare and precious. Something rare and precious is a commodity, something that can be used for trade or leverage, something to be used for power over him.

    "Your secrets are yours to use with your father. They are not mine. Use them effectively, because they will be few."

    Vlad nods slowly at Silver. "You are right."

    "Understand this truth when you come to realize that I keep my own secrets. This is not to betray you, but to maintain my own power."

    "And how does one lose that power?" Vlad asks.

    "When one gives those secrets away freely for nothing gained," she says.

    "Indeed," he nods. "So we stand here, in my Father's house, hoping to swap secrets for our own gain? A misstep, an error. One that could cause both to lose their power."

    She opens her palm, revealing a small jamming device. Vlad smiles. It's been active the entire time.

    She leans in and kisses Vlad gently, and then whispers in his ear. "Anything given is a transaction. A payment. Sometimes in return for something already exchanged. Sometimes in advance for expected investment. But always a transaction. If it's given freely without that, then it's weakness, loss. Always remember that. Give nothing. Always take."

    Vlad whispers "Susan is a Skrull. I....her and I have a past beyond what I have told my Father. She is not a member of Leviathan, she is the real Susan Richards. I came here to my Father to find the power to stop Leviathan.

    “SHIELD betrayed me, SHIELD lied to me. STRIKE were...my friends. I sacrificed myself for them because I....cared about them."

    Vlad pulls back. "In the same way I care about all of you. I want to save this world, Silver, not just from Hyperion or Leviathan but whatever threats lay beyond. Perhaps even..." Vlad gestures to the castle but says nothing after. He just stares at Silver.

    Silver nods at Vlad. "I understand. We should go. Too long in silence and your father will become suspicious."

    "Indeed," Vlad nods, but his gaze lingers on her for a moment before they depart.

    Later, the Invincibles gather in the throne room.

    Doom tells them of a location where Doom states that the Cradle scanner is best activated. However, it presents an issue: Vlad has never activated a portal to a place he has never been before. It's potentially dangerous.

    He attempts it, and the portal collapses. "Space Arcana is proving to be an engaging school," he says, and tries again.

    It wobbles and fails again. He says nothing; he’s now clearly annoyed. Doom watches in silence from the side, his eyes betraying nothing.

    Vlad makes a third attempt. This time, the portal holds. "HA!"

    Doom puts his hand on Vlad's shoulder. "Most sorcerers are unable to open portals on their own, period, so do not feel badly, my son. They must rely on artifacts to do the work."

    "Thank you, Father," Vlad nods, and leads his team into the portal.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Phoenix arrives at the docking bay. The Milano, the Guardians' ship, is waiting there. Rocket waves at him. "Jewels! Hey man!"

    "Hey, Rocket!"

    "Get on board, Quill's gonna brief us as we get into orbit on your ugly planet."

    "Rude," Phoenix says.

    "Sometimes the truth is rude,” Rocket says. “Often it is."

    "Rude," Julian pronounces again. "Come on. It's... pretty enough. There are pretty things here."

    "Enough about your girlfriend," Rocket laughs. "Let's go."

    "I--! Okay."

    They board the Milano, and meet the rest of the Guardians.

    "Hey, guys, it's Jewels. Most of you have met him before, he's the nerd from Project Pretty Pony or whatever. Pegasus? Something like that. But apparently now he's got superpowers and it also scrambled his brains so he probably doesn't remember you, so just treat him like he doesn't know anything."

    "Not untrue, but what a way to put it," Julian says.

    A woman with green skin grumbles. "Ugh, superpowers. This is why I hate coming to Earth."

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    She nods at Julian curtly "Gamora."

    "Hello. Nice to meet you again," Julian says.

    She shrugs. "You're Rocket's friend, which makes you not mine."

    Julian raises his eyebrows. "O-kaaaaay..."

    They hear a chuckle from a large man with knives. "We are friends. I am sorry your scrambled brains don't let you remember that. I am sure we will be friends again.

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    "I am Drax."

    "Hello! I'm sure we will." Julian extends a hand to Drax.

    "Oh, no. We don't do that." He holds out his fist. "Peter taught me to do this. I taught you to do this."

    Julian laughs and bumps it.

    Drax nods in satisfaction. "Yes! He did the thing!"

    Julian makes it explode.

    "Peter! He made it explode!" Drax claps Julian on the shoulder. "I like your scrambled brains."

    "Yeah, they're pretty cool!" Julian agrees.

    "We've genuinely not met. I don't know old you." A woman speaks up."I'm Aleta."
    "I'm new to the team myself."

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    "Hey, nice to meet you." Julian extends a hand. "I guess they call me Jewels, but the name's Julian. I like Jewels, though."

    "Good, because you're stuck with it." Julian hears a voice coming from the cockpit as someone walks over.

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    "I'm Star-Lord. This is my ship and my crew. Welcome aboard."

    "Thanks!" Julian says.

    Rocket leans over to Phoenix and whispers loudly "His name is Peter Quill. He's from Earth, like you."

    Star-Lord snarls "Oh my god Rocket could you not."

    "Wait okay, so like, what's even wrong with Earth?” Julian asks. “Is it some kind of point of shame outside Earth?"

    Star-Lord takes off his helmet. He is, indeed, human. "Well, the mystique is gone. Thanks for nothing, Rocket, I had a clean slate with this guy and everything and you ruined it."

    Rocket shrugs. "Dude, we were already using your real name, it was kinda obvious. How many Abalaxians out there named Peter, right?"

    "Yeah, no kidding," Julian nods. "...I think."

    Quill exhales sharply through his nose. "Earth is the Des Moines, Iowa of space. It is not cool. We don't have faster-than-light travel. Publicly humans don't even know there's life elsewhere in the galaxy! We're considered dumb hicks!

    "I don't even like being here. We're here for a job. On that note. The job.

    "Korath-Thak is a renegade Kree scientist. He's a fugitive wanted by the Empire for engaging in illegal research.

    "He's fled to Earth chasing some kind of lead on thousands-years old Kree experiments that the Empire discontinued during the first Kree-Skrull War. Some kind of superweapon. The Kree Empire officially declared the weapon destroyed and thinks Korath is on a wild goose chase, but they still want him caught anyway for his crimes.

    "So, we're gonna run a sweep on the planet for Kree DNA. Fortunately, this is where SWORD keeping a lockdown on Earth comes in handy, because there shouldn't be any Kree DNA anywhere on Earth that isn't our guy, they don't let any Kree on the planet to keep Earth neutral in the war.

    "Once we find Korath, it's a snatch and grab. Jewels is our ride-along babysitter, apparently."

    "Uh. A bit of a snag, there." Julian explains the actual chance of finding Kree DNA across Earth.

    Rocket groans "Well.... shit."

    Gamora folds her arms. "That's the superweapon."

    Julian shrugs. "Well, I mean. To be fair, this guy is like... full blown Kree. He is a Kree. Maybe he stands out."

    "Maybe,” Drax says. “We could tune our sensors better to filter, knowing this."

    Gamora holds up a hand. "Wait, so, these 'Inhumans' as you call them, most of them don't have any superpowers, right? How do they... switch on?"

    "In my experience, they sign up for food trials and the like, and then the food changes them a bit," Julian jokes. "For real though?" He explains briefly the concept of synthesized Terrigen.

    They listen, and Gamora asks a follow up question. "But if this stuff, the Terrigen, is synthetic... where is the natural Terrigen?"

    "Not exactly widely available," he says. "Still getting looked into, I'm sure."

    "If the Inhumans are the weapon, then that could be why Korath is here,” Gamora says. "And it could be the key to finding him."

    "Indeed," Julian nods. "Shit, could be he's even coming here to conduct experiments like all the other mad scientists."

    "If he wanted to to activate these Inhumans, if he wanted to do something to strike at the Skrulls, if he wanted to turn the tide of the war, where would he go?" Gamora asks. "Because that was his goal, that was why he went rogue." She looks at Julian. "Where would he go?"

    Julian ponders for a moment and rattles off thoughts. "Might look for Inhuman sites of significance. Or Kree, rather. Foldgates..."

    "Such as?"

    "One in Greenland, might be ruled out...Or one in the Azores. Greenland got sanctioned recently. Big kerfuffle. Probably not much to look at now."

    Quill chimes in. "What's in the Azores?"

    "Possible foldgate. Either door was an investigative lead to--" Julian does jazz hands "--the Fabled City of Attilan.”

    Quill nods. "We'll start there first. Scan for Kree signatures, full-blooded Kree signatures. We get a hit, we dive in after Korath. If the gate's already open, we assume he beat us to the punch and jump in after him.

    "Let's roll."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Michael has just secured the red-costumed vigilante he had encountered with Sigrun, handing him over to SEC agents. He is approached by Clay. "Westin, we have a situation."

    "When don't we?" Michael sighs

    "Fair point," Clay nods. "So, you know how the whole team was supposed to be on standby in case the Ultimates encountered some issues with trying to take down the HYDRA Avengers? Well, first of all, they encountered some issues.

    "And second of all, the rest of the team isn't on standby. You're the only agent who seemed to actually follow orders.

    "Adler is off in space doing some kind of side-work for SWORD, I'm getting stonewalled on what exactly by a bunch of bureaucracy and I am not happy about it.

    "Elise is off the reservation on her little extracurricular and to be honest, I take at least ten percent of the blame on that but she was still supposed to be on call, and she seems to be completely off-grid.

    "And Mason, who I expect better of, is jacked into some kind of Tron nonsense with Nordstrom to interrogate Zola because apparently they needed to do that now, and Niles says he can't pull him out without dropping his IQ by fifty points or some bullshit."

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    Hee hee.

    In fact, Miles doesn’t appear this episode; the actual reason is that at the very time these words were being typed, I was hanging out with internet bros in Chicago, participating in the sacrament of meat at Fogo de Chao.

    Michael nods. "So what trouble are the Ultimates in? Do I gotta turn the HYDRAvengers into ash 'cuz they dropped the ball?"

    "That's the thing,” Clay says, “they already are ash. At least one of them is, anyway."

    "Oh."

    "They've already been taken out."

    "Do we have any idea by whom?" Michael asks.

    "Yes. The Ultimates tracked down the HYDRA Avengers but all they found was the battle site where they got wrecked. However, I had...other pieces at play in the area already on a different case." Clay motions for Michael to follow him into his office.

    Michael follows, waiting for Clay to hit the "Super Secret" anti-bug button.

    He does.

    Clay continues. "You know that Victoria has her own team in the field, hunting Skrulls. You encountered them in Wakanda. I gave them a new mission recently.

    "Finding Vladimir."

    Michael’s brows raise. "Vlad's dead...right?"

    "Doesn't seem to be. I was suspicious when that cheap friendship bracelet was recovered from the site, that maybe he had survived the crash somehow. So I did some digging, and the conclusion Monica and I drew was there was no way that thing survived and Vlad didn't.

    "So I had Victoria look into it.

    "Her leads led her to Wundagore Valley, and this..." Clay pulls up surveillance footage on holographic display on his desk. It's Vladimir in the Labyrinth nightclub, meeting with a woman in all white with silver-white hair.

    "Do we know if Susan or Doom reprogrammed him?" Michael asks.

    "Doom, we think," Clay says. "We think that somehow, Doom got ahold of Vladimir and reprogrammed him, brought him back into the fold. The woman is Silver Sablinova, an international mercenary and assassin who is known to work for Doctor Doom.

    "We think the two of them, along with others, maybe have defeated the HYDRA Avengers. They killed at least one of them, hard to tell who from the ashes."

    Michael grimaces. "So Doom either already knew or now knows of other Universes, and has Vlad. As if he wasn't already a dangerous megalomaniac."

    "Yes. It's... not good. If Vlad is compromised, we can also assume Doom has full access to SHIELD level 8 files. That's awful. And it gets worse.

    "Because... there's a non-zero chance Vladimir wasn't reprogrammed. And that this was his choice. Because Vision lied for him, Michael.

    "Vision told us he was dead. Displayed Vlad's little eulogy message. That's not something Vlad would have done if Doom reprogrammed him. So, either Vlad made this choice willingly, and Doom reprogrammed him and he got over his head...or he's making these choices of his own free will.

    "Neither are good. And it still gets worse."

    "Of course it does."

    "There was an attack on AIM earlier tonight, while you were out. We don't have any security footage from the attack, their entire system went down prior. But, shortly beforehand, we have this...." Clay pulls up footage from Times Square. It's Vlad and Silver, watching Spider-Man fight Beetle, before they simply vanish using some kind of invisibility or cloaking device.

    "We were able to find them using X-51's facial recognition matrices. I had to use X-51, couldn't trust Vision, not after... everything. ARMOR protested, tried to argue with me about it, but I argued that since Vlad took out the HYDRA Avengers, it was still technically an ARMOR issue, so they let me do it.

    "I think Vlad and Silver were watching Spider-Man as a potential recruit."

    "Vlad...dude, he's a kid man, c'mon," Michael whispers to his absent teammate. He sits silently for a moment and digests all this. "So what are you asking me to do? Hunt down Vlad with the Ultimates?"

    Clay shakes his head. "Right this moment, no. It's something to be aware of, if you see him in the field, he is not necessarily on our side. Victoria's Secret Warriors are on the case there, and the Ultimates are working it officially since they've sorta eaten their soup.

    "There's another matter we need to attend to, something I wanted to avoid for a long time but since we have to come to a head on it you're probably the best possible person to do it. We need to work with the Avengers."

    "Silver linings I guess," Michael says. "Quick question, on the topic of Vlad. Who else knows that he's alive?"

    "Beyond you and I and Victoria's team? Elise."

    "How did she take it?"

    Not well." Clay sighs. "Alright, so, the mission at hand. I need you to travel to Kazan, Russia. With the Avengers. We have the location of another Cradle."

    Michael nods. "Am I just another OPS agent, or do they know about me?"

    "Your official story is your OPS file. You're an OPS agent who went on a mission, investigated a cult, etc. now you have this armor, and so on. Thor will know what you are so there's no sense trying to hide it, and you're no good to them just staying armored down. No mentioning STRIKE or any of that. There are a small handful of OPS agents who have powers. You'll just be considered one of them."

    "Gotcha."

    "In a way, the fact that you're the good son who showed up to work on time works in our favor. It's a lot easier to spin. Lord knows the op-sec shit show I'd have on my hands if Elise decided to stagger in.

    "As much as I like Mason, he's got that Stark-tech arm would just give Tony too many questions we don't want to answer right now so it's for the best he's too busy doing Matrix nonsense.

    "They're going to...swing by and pick you up on the way to Kazan in their Quinjet. Because apparently Kane took the Zephyr to space without telling me.

    "I'm only the Director of STRIKE."

    Michael chuckles and claps his shoulder. "It's not been your week, boss.”

    "No. No it has not," Clay says. "If you could salvage this into a win, I would appreciate it, Michael."

    "Will do." Michael furrows his brow and thinks to himself as he walks away: How the fuck am I gonna deal with Thor? Shiiiit that's gonna be awkward.

    The Avengers' custom Quinjet descends towards the Avengers Tower.

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    It lands, and Clint Barton steps off the jet. "There an Agent Westin home? Your ride's here."

    "Yo, I'm Michael Westin." Michael extends his hand. "How are you feeling?"

    "Been better. I'm told you're one of the OPS guys who found me taking an ugly nap." Clint reaches out to shake Michael's hand.

    "Glad to have you back."

    "Glad to have you on the team. Heard you can pack a punch, too, when it counts. That'll come in handy when we get over to Mother Russia."

    Michael chuckles. "Just wait and see."

    "I've heard it's a sight. Alright, let's head out." They board the jet, and fly for Russia.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Elise and her companions teleport into the Baxter Building. It catches Reed off-guard, as he's working on something on his computer. Startled, he stammers "S-susan...?" She immediately runs over and hugs Reed, and he hugs her back.

    Elise tries to get a good glimpse at what he's working on. It looks like GPS coordinates, and paused video footage of...it looks like a garden?

    Elise commits them to memory. "Oh, shit, I was on call, let me just check my phone -"Elise digs it out of a pants pocket. She has no missed calls.Or texts. "Nice!"

    "Okay, so." Elise slouches in a chair and slings one leg over the other, grinning obnoxiously. "Do you want a little post-mortem? A little action report? A little je ne sais quoi?"

    Reed stares at Lockjaw. "Yes. That would be.... good."

    Elise gives Reed a rundown of what happened, leaving everything in, including the terragenesis bits. She adds a short stint where she overwhelms the guards with an extremely cool stunt that left everyone awed.

    Crystalia walks over to a window and gasps. "Are we in New York City?!"

    "We are!” Elise says. She points Crystalia toward Reed. “This is uh, the...patron? of the trip we just went on, and then we're gonna talk to my boss at SHIELD."

    Reed looks at Susan, blinking in disbelief. Susan gives a seesaw hand motion and says "That more or less happened."

    "So, thank you very much, super great, let me know if you ever need a favour, and I'm gonna leave you to it!" Elise says cheerily.

    "I do." Reed says flatly.

    "I'm sorry what"

    “Need a favor,” he repeats. "Right now."

    Elise's grin becomes slightly lopsided. "Um, Carol, Susan, everyone, could you leave me with Mr. Richards real quick."

    Susan shakes her head "No. Reed, what's going on."

    Carol walks over to Lockjaw, Crystalia, and Gorgon. "Have you guys been to New York before?" Crystalia shakes her head, grinning. Carol nods and says "Okay, well, how about we go over to this window over here and I point out some landmarks."

    "Thank you, Carol,” Elise says. Carol nods at her and resumes the show-and-tell. "Um, so, Richardses. Richards... plural. What's up?"

    Reed turns his computer monitor to face Elise and Susan. "So, you know that Peter has been working for me. Has. Past tense. I gave him an upgraded suit as part of his employment with WHISPER. That suit contained a number of technological upgrades. Bio-mimetic medical gel to heal him in emergencies, custom web shooter outputs, satellite uplinks, all kinds of tech. But it also included surveillance and tracking equipment.

    "Peter is still a minor and I wanted to keep tabs on him and keep him safe, and to record what he got up to when he put on the suit and went on adventures."

    "Oh, I never actually met him,” Elise says. “I can call in Agent Mason or whatever, but I was on a different task the day we met him."

    "No, listen...." he says. "There've been...issues with the technology recently. Inconsistent reporting and recording. Because the tech has been....altered by a third party.

    "This third party has recruited Peter. Convinced him to work for them instead. They have also convinced Peter to help them steal technology from me. They're leading Peter down a very dark path indeed."

    "I'm still not seeing what this has to do with me, I'm not a technology person or a babysitter."

    Reed plays a recorded video from Peter's perspective, through Peter's eyes. It's from a rooftop meeting with Vladimir, Silver Sable, and Longbow, when Vladimir recruited Peter into the Invincibles and gave a grandiose speech about his plans and identity.

    "No." Elise stares at the monitor. "No, no, that's - that's doctored. Shut the fuck up, he's talking about fulcrums of power and - no. Do you know who that is? Who that is to me?" She lifts her wrist, the two friendship bracelets jangling.

    Susan is staring, her jaw dropped. "He... he could be reprogrammed, Elise. Victor...Doom, he could have done this to him."

    "You know what? Every time there's any kind of thing in his head, he needs me there to talk him out of it," Elise says. "So that's what I'm going to do. Where is he?"

    "Russia. He's hard to track, he keeps teleporting all over the place. I'm not entirely sure how, it seems to be some new upgrade he's gained since working for Doom.

    "Which he is doing, by the way."

    "Yeah, I got that, thanks," Elise says. "Susan, can I please borrow your jet."

    "I'm going with you," she says. "You're not doing this alone."

    "Oh thank God I only have a trainee's license and it's expired," Elise says. "Give me two seconds. I need to make a call. And then we're leaving. Fulcrum of power. God damnit."

    "Hold on," Reed says. "What about Danvers, or those other three, the Inhumans from Attilan?"

    Elise throws up her hands. "I'm making. A phone call. About that. I'm going to make that someone else's problem.

    “And... I've put Danvers through enough. She deserves a break."

    Reed nods. Elise steps out into the hall and punches in Clay's number.

    Clay answers. "Quartermain."

    "Hey, Clay, great news!"

    "Go ahead," he says.

    "So, I found the city of Attilan," she says. "It was super cool and I'm going to be sending the princess over as an emissary, we're in the initial stages of an alliance, which is very exciting. You can leave the coupons on my desk."

    Clay is silent.

    Elise bites her lower lip, nervous at the lack of praise. "Um, you have to leave them on my desk because I'm not coming back for a little while."

    "What will you be doing?"

    "Finding Vlad," she says. "Bringing him home."

    "....we talked about this. There's someone else doing that."

    "They're not doing it right," she says.

    "Do you know where he is?"

    Elise makes a sucking noise on her teeth. "I have that covered, yes."

    "Tell me, and I will have the people who are looking for him go find him. You trust those people, right Elise? You trust the person who is running that team?"

    "I don't trust her when it comes to Vlad. You people put a bomb in him," she says. "You called him The Resource. You thought he was Siri.

    "Everyone thought I was fucking stupid for hanging out with The Resource, everyone thought that I was just some idiot, but I knew. I knew that he was sentient, and you didn't even have the god damn decency to make sure Jeremiah used his name and not the acronym in the eulogy. I'm continually right, and I'm his best friend. I'm the only person I trust to do this right. Push me on this, and I'm not coming back."

    Clay is silent for a moment. "Is Danvers going with you?"

    "No. She's going to be with Attilan's princess. I think she'll be good at the initial diplomacy stuff. She's... nice."

    "Are you going alone? Yes or no. No details."

    "No," she says.

    "Good."

    "Thank you, Clay."

    "Elise. He's not on our side."

    Elise hangs up. "Susan? Let's go."

    "Hang on." Reed holds up his hand. "The last time you and Susan went off on your own, she disappeared off the planet into a city of people that called her the Great Enemy."

    "Okay, first of all, that's not my fault, and second of all, it worked out."

    Susan scowls at Reed. "Reed, I'm doing this."

    "Of course you are. I'm not stopping you." Reed stands up. "We're going with you."

    "We?" Elise asks.

    "Johnny, Ben and I."

    "I have one condition," Elise says. "When we talk to Vlad - when we talk to Vlad... I take the lead. And you follow that. Okay?"

    Susan nods. Reed frowns, and Susan scowls at him, and he nods.

    "Let's go," Elise says.

    "I hit the autopilot on the Messenger when we first got here, it should be getting here shortly," Susan says. "You should tell Danvers to take the Attilans to wherever she needs to go."

    Elise heads back into the hallway. "Hey, Carol!"

    Crystalia has her face nearly pressed against the glass in wonder, while Gorgon is leaning up against the wall, arms folded, unimpressed. Lockjaw is lying curled up in the hallway; Carol is petting him.

    "Okay, first of all, thank you for trusting me," Elise says. "I couldn't have done it without you. I'm going to order another set of those cupcakes for you, honestly this time, and I won't touch 'em. SHIELD honor.

    "Second, can you make sure that our guests get to SHIELD okay?"

    "Did you call this in?" Carol asks.

    "Yeah, if you get in shit just throw me under the bus."

    Carol nods. Perhaps too enthusiastically.

    "I'm real sorry about this." Elise sticks out a skinny hand. "Can we be okay from here on out? I understand if you hate me, but...we're on the same team. In theory."

    Carol is silent for a moment. "When I joined STRIKE, Director Quartermain told me that the team was very unorthodox, but that ultimately, the most important thing was always victory.

    "You succeeded. I'm pretty sure that's why we won't get charged with treason."

    "Yeah, I'm going to avoid Brand for as long as possible," Elise says. "Anyways, I'm going to go on a mission with the Fantastic Four to save my best friend. It's going to own extremely hard. Later, tater."

    Carol's eyes widen. "O... k...." She walks over to Lockjaw. "Alright poochie, we're gonna go on another ride."

    Elise fingerguns her way back to the Richards.

    When she walks back over to Richards, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm are also there. The Messenger is also pulling into the hangar.

    "We can't take the Fantasticar?" Johnny asks.

    Reed rolls his eyes "Don't... don't call it that."

    "You know, Fantastic Five is also alliterative." Elise finger-guns. Johnny feigns being shot and finger guns back.

    Reed grumbles "Oh no there are two of you."

    Elise grins hugely. "This is the best day of my life."

    Johnny leans over and whispers to her. "Anyone who gets under Reed's skin is already alright by me."

    Susan sighs. "Johnny please no, it's a long flight to Russia."

    "We better leave now, then,” Elise says. “I have to bring my best friend home."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited September 22
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    Aboard the Milano, the Guardians and Phoenix are flying into the Earth's atmosphere, over the Azores. Rocket is tapping on a computer console. "We're scanning for Kree signatures here.... no hits...no hits...hey, hey Quill!

    "There's an energy pattern down there that looks like an active Kree fold-gate."

    Julian leans over the console. "Active? How can you tell?"

    "Kree fold-gates distort space. Y'know, they... fold it? Make sense?" Rocket says. "So when they're turned on, they put out a lot of energy readings, if your sensors are turned the right way you can pick em up. Since we knew we were looking for one around here, I had the sensors already tuned up for that.

    "Could be Korath already turned this gate to Attilan on and jumped through. Maybe we should land and follow?"

    Phoenix nods. "Sounds like a plan to me."

    Quill calls back from the cockpit. "Hold on to that, we got a bunch of comm chatter coming down from the Peak." Quill puts the transmission up on the speaker.

    "Attention Milano, divert course away from your current vector, that area is extremely restricted by the authority of SWORD. If you attempt to land on that island you will be subject to hostile sanction immediately."

    Rocket's eyebrows raise "Wow. That's...unusually unfriendly, even for those SWORD pricks. No offense, Jewels."

    "None taken." Julian sucks his teeth. "Well, shit. Something's obviously going on." He has a moment of realization. "Hold on a sec."

    A different voice comes on the comms. It's Kane's. "This is Deputy Director Isabel Kane to the Milano, requesting communication with SWORD Operative Julian Adler."

    "Awp, hold that thought." He turns to the comm. "Adler here."

    "Adler, put this on private comm."

    "Gotta take this." He finds a discreet spot and tunes in. "Done. What's going on?"

    Kane continues. "Change of plans. Clay just got ahold of me. We have a crisis situation. We've located a Cradle in Kazan, Russia, and Fury is deploying the Avengers to take it down. There's a very good chance Hyperion shows up, and the last time STRIKE fought Hyperion, well...you know. And the Avengers only fought Hyperion to a standstill.

    "Michael just got picked up in their Quinjet and is on the way. Miles, Elise, and Danvers are unavailable for...reasons. It's complicated.

    "There's just you left."

    "Shit," Julian says.

    "I told Clay you were on this mission, which by the way I didn't know involved going to a locked down SWORD site and you should have called me when you decided to do that, but nevermind that.

    "There's a very good chance the Guardians are going to be more useful as back-up against Leviathan and, very specifically, Hyperion.

    "So we're going to rope them into this. With money, because they're mercs."

    "Is Earth currency... good...?" Julian asks.

    "No, there's other money that SWORD has access to."

    "Mm,” he says. “Should have figured."

    "When we're done talking, you're going to put Quill on the line and we'll work something out. But before you do that, there's one more thing, and it's a heavy thing to lay on you over the comm but there's no other way to do it.

    "Vlad is alive. He's turned. He's working for Doom. Maybe reprogrammed, maybe not. He's got his own team, and they have their own agenda. It's a rogue element."

    "Oh, wh--"

    "If you see Vladimir, do not assume he is on our side."

    Julian tries to hide his reaction and just thinks What the fuck?! to no-one in particular. "Seriously? Fuck."

    "Yes. Clay has evidence," Kane says. "I just found out."

    "Fuck."

    "...now put Quill on so I can argue about money with him."

    "Happy to," Julian says. “Yo, Peter! Got a call for you."

    Quill takes the comm from Phoenix, and talks to Kane for a bit. Julian can hear him squabble with her a bit about "Units" in numbers that seem arbitrary? He doesn't...doesn't seem very good at it.

    He gets off the comm, and turns to the crew "Okay, change of plans! We're putting the Korath job on hold for a hot minute and taking a contract from SWORD!" The crew yells in protest and shock, especially because they heard Quill negotiate (badly) for how much it pays.

    "Hey, I'm pretty okay with the arrangement," Julian notes.

    "Yeah, yeah, okay,” Quill is telling his team, “it's not a high paying job but think of it as an investment. SWORD is the port authority on this mudball, if we do them a favor, their back is scratched going forward."

    Drax squints. "Back scratches aren't a very good payment medium."

    "Have you ever gotten one? They're pretty sweet," Julian says.

    Drax nods. "I have, and they are pretty sweet, but they form a poor basis for an economy."

    Quill sighs. "Oh my god guys. Look, it's still a bounty hunt. We fly to Russia, we take out one guy. We don't even have to do it on our own! We're just running support for like a half-dozen of their guys who are doing the heavy lifting."

    Rocket scowls "That sounds like a shit-show, Quill."

    "It'll be fine! It will be fine.” Peter gets behind the stick of the Milano, and changes course for Russia.

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    After the fact, this Julian material kind of comes off like a bit of a red herring - everyone gets a sidequest, and then Julian just kind of meets the Guardians for an abortive job before being diverted back to the main course of the story.

    But it wasn’t meant to be one; it was going to be a full sidequest like Miles, Elise, Vlad, and Michael got; unfortunately it fell a casualty of real-life time pressure.

    So that makes this a good occasion to talk about this. Time is always an issue in RPGs, especially for adults with jobs or at least very involved hobbies, and it’s even more so online, where typing can take a while, and the temptation to check out or alt-tab can be overwhelming. Even a few seconds between exchanges can multiply, over the course of long conversations, to many minutes of inactivity.

    There’s also the issue that without nonverbal cues, it’s easier for players and GMs to misread each other; for the GM to not really grok what the player is trying to do, or for the player to wait patiently to be nudged in the direction they’re supposed to go while the GM, who thinks they’ve given that nudge already, sits there wondering why the player hasn’t taken the hint. And all this, again, eats up time.

    And sometimes real-life stuff crops up; there are phone calls from parents, or pets throwing up, or spousal emergencies. Sometimes there's just too much plot and not enough time.

    Different GMs handle this differently. In situations like this, my inclination is to just let things spool out; if it means something has to wait until next week, so be it. I would like to cover the ground comprehensively since it’s often the one chance I’ll have to engage with this idea or this particular character or whatever.

    Matt, by contrast, is very concerned with pacing and rhythm and has certain beats he very much wants to hit from week to week, so he would rather just cut short an element he doesn’t think is working and get back to the main event. Sometimes this means a swerve of direction, or a plot thread being handled offscreen or largely by NPCs or whatever.

    Both approaches have benefits and drawbacks. If I or one of my players are having a miscommunication or are particularly low-energy, the session will be slack and not a lot will be accomplished, and if it gets too bad or drags out too long everything will start to feel like a dull chore. On the other hand, chivvying things along quickly means leaving money on the table sometimes, abandoning interesting ideas and developments, and if a player-character is kind of fast-forwarded through too many major story beats without a breather, the player can risk detachment from their internal map of the character.

    Of course, the best solution is to just not have to deal with these time hurdles in the first place, and so sometimes Matt and I both find ourselves getting frustrated with alt-tabbing or people not having their sheets open or whatever, or we sit around glumly after the session thinking about how we could have made the scene more impactful, or how we didn’t make the stakes in a scene clear enough, or whatever.

    It’s a balancing act, and it’s another example of how roleplaying games are always a very rough compromise between the vision in your head and the stuff that actually happens around the table. A big piece of your clear vision of a game is always traded away for a random return, and the art of GMing is taking the randomness and finding ways to make something as good or better with it.

    Jacobkosh on
    MatevFencingsax
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited September 22
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    The Invincibles arrive through the portal. Peter takes in the city lights. "I've... never been to Russia before. This is crazy."

    Longbow looks around, also impressed. "It looks... different here. A lot different."

    Peter looks at Longbow, his head tilted. "What do you mean?"

    Longbow shrugs. "From the US, I mean. Y'know, the little things."

    Vlad nods at Longbow and activates the scanner. He gets a hit. There is definitely a Cradle in the city. Doom's math was very accurate. Cross-referencing the signal location with GPS, the Cradle is in the warehouses down by the waterfront docks.

    Which is a similar manner of location to the last one.

    "This way." As they go, Victorious turns to Longbow. "If Hyperion arrives, I will send you to inform my Father." Longbow nods at Vlad.

    Victorious leads The Invincibles through the city.

    "Uh... sir." Peter speaks up.

    "Yes, Spider-Man?"

    "There's something... something's watching or following us. Tripping my senses. Wigging me out. Dunno what."

    Vlad scans for drones, but doesn’t detect anything. "Be on guard."

    Then he spots a small speck on Sable's white coat. He zooms in on it.

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    Vlad's eyes narrow as he attempts to trap the small "bug-man" in a forcefield. "Silver! Your coat, remove it!”

    Without questioning why, Silver tosses off her coat and jumps away from it, rolling and pulling her guns, facing in the direction of her coat reflexively.

    Vlad traps the coat in a force-field bubble. He hears a radio burst. "I'm made! I'm made!"

    The tiny man leaps away, and grows to regular size. He tosses two tiny flashbang grenades which grow to regular size and go off, blinding both Longbow and Silver instantly. Spider-Man reflexively shields his senses (thanks to his suit.

    To keep his own sensors from being overloaded, Victorious has to shut down all external input for a moment. When he drops the sensory shield, three other combatants have joined the fray.

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    "Interlopers!" Victorious shouts.

    Sable and Longbow are still stunned, but Spider-Man is alert. Victorious launches himself at the white cat-person. She dodges his first blow, raking him with vibranium claws, shredding his chest plate. Such an attack on a human would have been fatal. Victorious manages to swing a counter punch and hits her, but she's wearing a vibranium mesh armor that diffuses some of the impact. It still knocks her off her feet and backwards, crashing into the ground.

    Spider-Man meanwhile, manages to dodge some thrown discs from Ant-Man, and in return fires webs at him, covering him and binding him to the ground. The Ant-Man shrinks out of sight, and it's unclear if this manages to free him, but he doesn't immediately reappear.

    The ninja, sword drawn, faces off against Victorious. He claps his hands together and then brings them apart, forming a long blade of arcane power. It glows and crackles with bolts of light. "Face me." She nods, and moves towards Victorious.

    Silver and Longbow recover from their stunned state, and start attacking the other sword-wielding man in the black jacket. Longbow fires arrows at him, which he cuts out of the air with his sword. Silver starts firing at him, and he dodges for cover. He is supernaturally fast.

    "Are you agents of Leviathan?" Victorious asks, as he asks as he circles closer to the ninja. "HYDRA? You will not stop us."

    "No. We serve justice."

    "Show me," Vlad says.

    Peter suddenly whips his head around and looks at Victorious. "Vlad! Look out!"

    Vlad isn't sure what he's looking out for, but he takes Parker’s word for it; though it risks exposing himself to the ninja, he ducks, and a sniper shot flies over his head, narrowly missing him

    "Sniper!" Longbow yells, and fires an arrow back at a nearby rooftop.

    "Cowards!" Victorious yells.

    They hear a woman's yelp of pain and Longbow grins. "Took her out, you're clear boss."

    The feline woman gets back up, and dives at Silver Sable. Sable ducks under and throws her, and then jumps on her back and locks her in a choke-hold. "Your armor does not protect you from this...." The two struggle on the ground, as the cat tries to use her claws, but Sable has her pinned, and chokes her out.

    Victorious
    Victorious feints with his double and attacks the ninja.

    The ninja slashes Victorious, cutting a slice of his shoulder open. He responds by creating a holographic duplicate of himself. They circle each other warily, Victorious unable to press the attack without revealing himself as the real one.

    Meanwhile the man in the black coat attacks Longbow and Spider-Man. Peter is able to ensnare him in webs, despite his best efforts to cut through, and bind him to the ground.

    In his rage, the man displays fangs.

    Longbow sneers. "Oh gross, he's one of those." He presses a knee on the side of the man's neck, cutting off his carotid artery until he passes out.

    Vlad feints again and attacks the ninja. He manages to dodge her strike, get inside her defenses, and slash with his sword. The strike would be fatal, but at the last second he chooses to turn his blade, knocking her out.

    Ant-Man regrows in size. "Hey! I surrender!" He's still webbed up.

    Victorious grabs Ant-Man by the neck. "Answer me, who are you?"

    Longbow nudges Peter "Hey, Petey, help me go retrieve the sniper, yeah?" and Peter nods. The two of them leave to do that.

    "We're the uhhh..... Secret Warriors," Ant-Man says. "That's our... that's our team name."

    "Whose Warriors?!"

    "We work for a woman named Victoria Hand. That's uh...that was her on the roof there. I hope she's okay? Oh god, she signs our checks."

    Vlad lets go of Ant-man's neck and steps back.

    Peter and Longbow come down from the roof, carrying a partially conscious Victoria Hand, who is wearing black ops field gear. Longbow smiles at Vlad. "Hit her with a taser arrow."

    He nods at Longbow. "Good. Bring her here." They carry her over. Victorious leans down to catch her gaze. "Why?"

    She looks up at him, slowly regaining her senses. "Why.... Doom?"

    Vlad stares at her, then turns his face away. "He does not lie to me...."

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    "Restrain her."

    Longbow nods and looks at Spider-Man. "Pete, you mind?" Peter nods and webs her up.

    "We are making our way to the Cradle, you cannot stop us. You have failed at this already. You will escape from the webbing soon, I'm sure. Do not follow. Hyperion will be here soon, you must flee. Consider this a courtesy, madam, something you failed to give me just now." Vlad motions to the rest of his team to fall out.


    Peter leans over Hand "It takes about 45 minutes" he says quietly. He webs up the other two, as a precaution.

    "Vladimir...." Hand starts to say.

    "Good-bye, madam. I am filled with sorrow. But we all make our choices for the greater good." Vlad interrupts.

    She tightens her jaw. "Good luck. At the Cradle. I don't understand why you chose this path. But if you're fighting the Skrulls then.... then maybe that's what matters.

    "I'm sorry."

    "All I ever asked you to do was trust me…” he says. “You never did. I am sorry too."

    Sable puts her hand on Vlad's arm. "Victorious has people who trust him now. People who follow his lead."

    Vlad turns his head to Silver and then back to Victoria, He shifts into his human form for a moment and kisses Victoria gently on her forehead. He turns and leaves with his team. She stares after Vlad, her eyes welling up with tears and her mouth open in shock.

    As the Invincibles disappear into the dark alley and the cold Russian night, Victoria Hand starts quietly sobbing.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    The Avengers’ Quinjet is over Russia.

    Thor walks over to Michael. He sits down across from him. "I read your file." he says flatly. "Do you understand the artifact you carry? What it truly is?"

    "I do," Michael nods.

    "I have never heard of a Midgardian possessing the power of the Destroyer and not being consumed by it in a matter of days. Weeks, at most. Yet, according to what I am told, you have possessed it and used its power for months."

    "I do try and use it sparingly, to not accelerate the process," Michael says.

    Thor nods, "This is wise.

    "Banner is much like this, in a way. The power of a mighty giant, but unleashing it only in the most dire need, lest it consume his mind with madness and put innocent lives at risk."

    Michael nods. "I may be the host of the Destroyer, but that doesn't make me one."

    "A good outlook, indeed,” Thor says. “You seem an honorable sort. You should join us after our victory, few of my team can match me at the bar. Truly, only Stark and Rogers, and Rogers has no will to do so."

    "A great victory should be celebrated with revels," Michael says.

    Thor claps him firmly on the shoulder and smiles. "Indeed."

    Captain America, of all people, calls back from the cockpit. "Hey, we have an incoming friendly. The guys that Fury called ahead about."

    Thor stands up and smiles. "Ah yes, these Guardians he told us about. I'm intrigued to meet them."

    Michael’s eyes widen. "Guardians? Of The Galaxy?"

    Stark narrows his eyes at Michael. "...yeah. How do you know about them? You're just an OPS agent, right? We just found out about aliens like last week."

    "Guys." Barton sighs. "Guys don't. We did this already. We talked about not doing this. Not doing the paranoia thing. It turns us all crazy. I'm back, none of us are Skrulls. Or half-Skrulls. Or Skrull agents. We're all friends, we're all friendlies.

    "Chill out."

    Black Widow nods at Barton.

    Michael nods and keeps his trap shut.

    Stark looks out the window. "Huh... would you look at that."

    OWfB5ool.jpg

    Michael smiles. "Cool."

    "Damn right it is. That's... that's an actual alien spaceship," Tony says with something approaching awe.

    "Can this bird cloak?" Michael asks.

    Stark looks at Westin. "Yes, it can." He's extremely skeptical.

    "Cool," Michael nods again.

    Stark looks at Barton. Barton mouths relax at him.

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    Somewhere in cyberspace, Miles is screaming and doesn’t know why.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Aboard the Milano, the Guarns and Phoenix are gearing up as they approach Kazan, Russia. "Hey, we got locals on port side." Quill says.

    The Avengers Quinjet is to the Milano’s left.

    "Oh shit, there they are," Julian says. "This is gonna be something."

    "Who are these bozos?" Rocket asks.

    "Oh you know, just the Avengers," Julian says. Rocket shrugs at this. "Heroes of New York?” Julian tries. “Legendary -- Ah, never mind."

    Rocket looks at the sensor console and squints. "'Hey, Quill? Jewels?"

    "Yo," Julian says.

    Rocket gestures at his screen. “There's another blip on the thing. Cloaked. It's an old-school cloak. Like really outdated tech, like we're talking the galaxy stopped using this stuff like a century ago.

    "Way beyond anything here on Earth, but our sensors pick it up."

    Julian rolls his eyes. "You just love getting those digs in, don't you?" He mimes banging two rocks together. He opens his mouth just so and makes a hollow knock on his scalp.

    "No look it's not about your weird planet pride, alright," Rocket says. "It's not even Earth tech. I'm running scans, I think it's Skrull."

    "Oh, fuck," Julian says.

    "But like old Skrull tech. Nothing the Empire is using now. Old stuff. Maybe stolen tech?"

    "Yeah, turns out we had this whole Skrull crash-landing a little over a hundred years ago," Julian says. "Probably remnants of that whole bit."

    The Guardians stare at Julian.

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    SCREAMING INTENSIFIES

    Julian tries to change the subject. "Oh, can we open comms with the Avengers ship for a sec? Address Agent Westin, if you could."

    "You have Skrulls on your planet?" Quill asks incredulously.

    "Well I mean, not like, an Empire amount of them," Julian says. "It's kind of a thing, though."

    Rocket throws his paws in the air. "Why do you keep defending this place! It's the worst!"

    "Because it's my home! Come on!" Julian says, stung. "Where do you guys hang out, anyway? Look, I know the last couple years have been a thing, but..."

    "Places that don't have super-powered people and Skrulls and vampires," Rocket says.

    "Oh come on, you guys do all kinds of shit in space,” Julian fires back. “The kind of gadgets people use it's probably just the same anyway."

    "Guys!" Quill shouts. "There is a Skrull ship! Below us! If you are gonna call your guy on the other ship please do that!" and he hands Julian a comm.

    "Westin! We got company!" Julian says to the comm. "Leviathan ship below us!"

    "Julian? Are you on that ship to our starboard?" Michael says.

    "You got it!"

    On-board the Avengers Quinjet, Stark holds up his hands. "Hold on, hold on, how does he know a guy on the alien ship?"

    "What's up, my dude?" Julian is asking. "Seriously though, watch out! Tell our Avengers dudes, we could be in for a rough ride."

    "Roger that." Michael faces the Avengers. "Guys we have a cloaked ship below us, probably not friendly."

    Aboard the Milano, Rocket growls "Hey, Quill, the stupid SWORD dorks disabled all our ship-board guns, we can't take out that Skrull ship."

    Stark points at Westin. "He is not an OPS agent."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Aboard the Messenger, the Fantastic...Five? are flying to Kazan, Russia. Susan is at the helm, while Reed is on co-pilot.

    During the flight, Ben has mostly been quiet, playing on his phone, which has a three-dimensional holographic display that he can use with his large hands.

    Johnny has been socializing with Elise about random bullshit. The two actually get along really well, having the same atrocious sense of humor. It grates on Reed's nerves terribly, which makes Johnny enjoy it more.

    As they fly into the city, Susan's console starts beeping loudly and hissing in some alien language. "Oh... dear."

    Johnny's head whips around. "That means...danger, in your language, right sis?"

    "Of course. Of course,” Elise says, “It's never a nice, simple ride through Russia."

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    In this campaign? She’s not wrong. We have bad luck in Russia in multiple decades!

    Susan nods grimly. "There's two ships above us. One of them has an unknown signature but is definitely alien, the power signature and emissions are not any kind of tech on this planet.

    "The other is... the Avengers Quinjet."

    "Oh for pete's sake." Reed groans and rubs his temples.

    "...Can you put me on the comms?" Elise asks.

    Reed stares at her. "What? No."

    Susan puts her hand on Reed's shoulder. "Actually that's a good idea."

    "If they see us, they're going to think we're Leviathan, my dude," Elise says.

    "She's right." Susan hands Elise a headset. "I'll contact the Avengers' Quinjet first, I don't know who the alien ship is."

    "Okay." Once the connection is set up, Elise speaks up. "Uh, hello? Roger roger? This is Elise Arnell. Are you reading me?"

    "Elise!? Holy shit, it's Michael! A-are you below us right now?"

    "Yeah, do not shoot us. Do you know who's on the ramshackle alien ship thataway?" Elise gives a thumbs up to the Fantastic Four. Especially Reed. Mostly Reed.

    Reed stares blankly. Johnny leans into Reed's field of view, also giving a thumbs up.

    Michael patches Julian in. "Julian and the Guardians."

    "Hey, Elise!" Julian chirps.

    "Holy moly, Elise says. "Michael, you're with the Avengers? I could have been an Avenger. Wow. Isn't Thor very large?"

    Michael quickly turns to the Avengers. "They're friendlies, don't shoot them. ….Yes, he's very big."

    "Wow," Elise says, genuinely starstruck.

    Stark stares, wordlessly, at Barton, who by now has fixed Tony a drink and hands it to him, tapping him gently on the shoulder and nodding.

    "What's up?!" Julian says..

    "What's up?!" Michael replies.

    "Oh, are we doing this?" Phoenix turns away from the communicator a moment to address the Guardians. "Guys, the cloaked ship is a friendly."

    Rocket snarls "Is it a friendly Skrull?"

    "Yeah, Rocket,” Julian says. “There's like, Kree in there too. Kinda."

    "....okay." Rocket backs away. "This planet is insane. That's what it is. It's an insane asylum."

    Julian smiles. "Well that's just what makes it so much fun."

    "Earth is where the galaxy stores its crazy people,” Rocket is saying. “I get it now. I ain't even mad anymore."

    "Isn't your leader from Earth?" Julian asks. He turns back to the comm.

    "Okay, so, enough with the re-introductions,” Elise says. “First of all, Michael, make sure you tell them I could have been an Avenger." She raises her voice. "That's right! I could have been one of you!

    "Okay, no, seriously, real talk: Vlad. I gotta talk to him, we gotta figure this out before things go badly."

    "He's gone off the reservation, Elise," Michael says.

    "So, what, you're just going to destroy him?" Elise asks. "Is that the gameplan for the guy who sacrificed himself to save us all?"

    "No,” Michael says, “I'm just saying that he might make that choice for us."

    "No. I'm going to talk to him. That's going to work."

    "I'll help in any way I can,” Michael says, “but I will end him if I must."

    "You won't need to," she says.

    "For what it's worth, I'm with you, Elise," Julian says.

    "Do we know where he is?” Elise asks. “It sounds like shit's about to get real ugly, real fast. I need to talk to him before it hits the fan."

    Michael speaks up. "Guys, I think we should find a place to land and sort out the three different teams who barely know and/or tolerate each other."

    Elise mutes her mic. "Hey, Fantastic Four, d'you wanna do some professional networking?"

    Reed checks the console. "He's... he's there. His team's at the Cradle."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    The Invincibles arrive at the warehouse where the Skrull Cradle is stored. Like before, it looks heavily guarded.

    "Silver, Longbow. Plant explosives where you can. We must cause chaos to draw him out, Spider-Man and I will deal will distracting the guards." Victorious nods to Spider-Man.

    "Uh... what about the people?" Peter asks nervously. "There's people in there, right? Like innocent people?"

    "This is it, Peter, this is the war I told you about. These men are the enemy. They will try to kill you. When Hyperion arrives he will try to kill us. We will stop him however, if we work as a team. I told you I would not lie to you, Peter."

    "Yeah okay, but the people in the Cradle," Peter is trying to explain. "Like the prisoners."

    "We save them," Victorious says.

    "O-okay."

    “Invincibles, ready?” One by one, the Invincibles check in. "So it begins." Victorious cloaks himself and Spider-Man. They move towards the guards.

    They get close, but the guards are Winter Soldiers and their enhanced senses detect the pair. They attack. Spider-Man leaps out of the way, but Vlad is smashed to the ground by a cybernetic fist.

    Longbow and Sable move up and around, avoiding the guards, intent on their sabotage mission.

    Victorious clambers to one knee and stuns one of the guards with an electric blast. Peter, meanwhile, dodges two more strikes from the Winter Soldier, who punches through concrete as he swings.

    Spider-Man manages to web the Soldier to a pillar, and starts laying into his cybernetic skull with his fists. Peter starts shouting, and then howling with rage as he pummels the cyborg's head into a mash of circuits and black goop.

    He stops and steps back, panting

    "They are the enemy,” Vlad says to Peter.

    Peter nods, storms over to the other Soldier, and shouts "THEY. ARE. THE. ENEMY." He lifts the Soldier up over his head and snaps his spine over his knee.

    Vlad watches Peter toss the limp Soldier aside, then points to the warehouse entrance. "Now, the doors!"

    Spider-Man punches the door down, sending it flying. He is shaking. He looks at Vlad.

    "Calm yourself, Peter,” Vlad says. “Channel your rage."

    "It's... it's the suit. Dr. Richards, he put....he put emergency adrenals in it, in case I was hurt but...I think they're malfunctioning or something but..." he looks at himself in confusion. "I dunno.... it doesn't hurt.

    "I don't feel bad."

    Vlad nods. "You feel the power?"

    He nods. "Yeah."

    "Good."

    "And they were the bad guys, right? The enemy?"

    Vlad nods again. "Yes."

    Peter slams his fist into his open palm. "Good."

    "Follow my lead, Peter." They enter the warehouse and find the second Cradle, identical to the one Vlad saw in Arkhangelsk. An open, arched structure built inside the warehouse, containing a central core and dozens of containment pods.

    But there's something else.

    Vlad hears an alarm, and on the far side of the building near the Cradle a containment unit pops open with a loud hiss. A green glow emanates from within.

    Something emerges.

    lkBYD5hl.jpg

    ”What the fu-...." Peter doesn't get to finish his sentence as the mysterious glowing machine blasts at him. He dodges, but only barely. Vlad's radiological sensors crackle as the machine blasts. It's shooting nuclear energy.

    "Who controls you?!" Vlad attempts to hack the machine.

    ...He can't.

    There's nothing to hack. There's very little in the way of electronics, and what little there is, is incredibly crude with no wireless components. The energy isn't coming from the machine. The machine is containing the energy. It's mostly a titanium-lead alloy.

    Vlad notices that when this “Titanium Man” blasts, he's just opening apertures in the suit to let the energy out. "Spider-Man, avoid its blast at all cost!"

    "No kiddin'!"

    PHU1KZN.png
    This guy is kind of a mashup of two existing Marvel villains - the Radioactive Man, a hulking green-colored Chinese communist spy with radioactive skin who usually fought Thor, and the Titanium Man, a Soviet version of Iron Man who usually fought Iron Man.

    And since the Crimson Dynamo (who we saw in the prologue story) is also a Soviet version of Iron Man who usually fought Iron Man, but had the advantage of actually being red-colored, Titanium Man has always felt kind of redundant. Making him a suit holding a radioactive guy is an interesting twist.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited September 24
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    Aboard the Messenger, Reed and Elise have been watching all of this unfold on Spider-Man’s suit camera.

    Elise's own face is a mask of silent horror, but Reed's is eerily motionless. He has no micro-expressions, something Elise actually finds disconcerting in a way. When Reed chooses not to express himself and have a blank expression, because of his powers he's able to be truly blank.

    He just watches, completely expressionless and mute. He blinks periodically.

    "Can you...I need you guys to shut that thing down and get Peter to safety," she says. "I'm - I'm going to talk to Vlad."

    "I have no remote control anymore,” Reed says. “I can only passively observe and track, the tech's been compromised. Peter's right that the adrenals are all messed up, it's like it's pumping him full of stimulants."

    "Can you knock him out and drag him away?"

    "When we get there, yes," he nods. "I plan to."

    "Okay. And the robot?"

    "I can throw a field over it." Susan says. "Contain it. Easier than trying to fight it."

    "Okay," Elise says. "We need to get this sorted before he arrives. If Hyperion arrives while we're all fighting each other..."

    "What about the people?" Johnny asks. "The people in the Cradle."

    "...Shit," Elise says. "I don't know, but their chances aren't good if we just let this unfold while the Avengers and Guardians are heading in."

    Ben speaks up. "We let the Avengers and their alien buddies take care of that. That's their soup. This isn't our thing. Petey's our boy. Vladimir, he's Elise's friend. That's why we're here. The rest of this stuff? That's not our thing. That's the Avengers. We stay in our lane."

    "Get me in there,” Elise says. “Please."

    Susan nods. "Going in hot. Ben, make us a rooftop doorway, please?"

    "Gotcha, Susie," Ben replies. "It's Clobberin' Time!" He jumps out of the Messenger, and cannonballs through the roof of the warehouse.

    Peter and Vlad recognize him immediately, even though Vlad has never personally met him. "Ben!" Peter calls out.

    Vlad snaps his head toward the newcomer. "The Thing, here?! Then that can only mean..."

    Reed reaches out to Elise. "Take my hand." She takes it.

    Reed stretches down, using his own arm to rappel down into the building, carrying Elise down with him. Shouting "Flame on!", Johnny follows shortly thereafter, lighting up.

    Susan follows last, using a force field to break her fall and turning invisible as she hits the ground, although Vlad does briefly see her before she disappears.

    "Vlad!" Elise calls.

    "No...not here, not now!." Vlad steps back

    The Titanium Man moves to blast Elise.

    Elise realizes she has a choice. She can dive into cover...behind the Cradle. But then the Cradle and its contents will take the hit instead. Or she can take the blast herself.

    She takes the hit.

    She gets hit in the thigh by a glancing blow as she dives out of the way. It sears her thigh, burning away a section of her pants and the skin underneath.

    "NO!" Victorious unleashes unleashes the full Power Arcana on Titanium Man. It rips the very essence of power away from him, not just blasting him but blasting his power away from him and annihilating it.

    Elise rolls into cover behind a support beam, whimpering in pain.

    "Enough!" Crackling energy flies from Victorious's hands at Titanium Man, forming conduits of arcane force. His armor falls apart, crumbling around him into blackened and pitted scraps, revealing an emaciated and radiation-burned man who shows signs of invasive surgery and a heavily repaired cranium.

    Vlad runs facial recognition software reflexively, as he generally does, and recognizes him from SHIELD's database as Alexi Shostakov, the man formerly known as Nomad. Nomad was declared KIA in the Chernobyl Disaster.

    Alexei gasps, quivers, and falls down. He stops breathing.

    Victorious stares at Alexei's husk of a body for moment and then at the Fantastic Four. "You should not have brought her here, you fools!"

    "I brought them here!" Elise manages to stand.

    Vlad whirls to face her. "What? Elise...I, this is not how this is supposed to happen."

    Explosives detonate around the warehouse.

    The Milano and the Avengers Quinjet fly into range, as both empty out into airdrops and rappels, as further explosions go off in the docks around the area.

    Iron Man flies down into the warehouse."Reed Richards? What the hell are you doing here?"

    Vlad turns to meet Iron Man's stare. Stark is pointing at him.

    "Is that Doctor Doom?"

    "No!" Elise's mouth begins to move. She's speaking at a frequency Vlad can hear. "They think you've been reprogrammed. They think that you're a Doombot. I know you're not, I know you're still Vlad, but - this isn't sustainable, Vlad, you're going to die."

    Stark lands in front of Reed, and demands an explanation. Reed starts speaking to him in platitudes which Stark is not buying. Not today. The rest of the Guardians and the Avengers, along with Behemoth and Phoenix, land in the warehouse.

    Rocket and Drax stare at Thing and the Human Torch. "You're on fire," Drax observes.

    Vlad slowly shakes his head and steps back. "No, this is not safe. You need to leave. I am drawing Hyperion out.

    "All of you, you must go, he will be here soon." Vlad keeps looking back and forth at all the heroes. Hyperion is not the He Vlad is referring to. Vlad’s mind is spinning.

    Elise grits her teeth. "I'm. Not. Leaving. If I end up dying, fine, then I'll die as the only GOD DAMN person on this planet who BELIEVED IN YOU! Vlad, I found it - I found the city. This changes everything, you can come home."

    "Wha- what do you mean? Attilan?"

    "I found it!"



    The roof of the warehouse is torn asunder, and a figure stands over them all.

    zqDHR5Vl.jpg

    "It's too late..." Vlad turns to stare up at Hyperion.

    "Fuck!" Behemoth, already armored-up, booms in his amplified voice.

    "Here he is, folks!" Phoenix's hands are ablaze. Johnny looks at Phoenix, and gives him a flaming thumbs up. Phoenix returns it.

    "Let's fucking dance." Elise laughs maniacally, and pulls her gun. "C'mon, motherfucker, light me up! I've always wanted to leave a corpse behind too toxic for the ocean."

    Phoenix gapes at her. Good lord, you ain't the one who can come back!

    This is too much for Vlad. His plan is in chaos. He looks at Peter.

    Peter is looking at Hyperion, fists clenched tight. "The enemy.”

    Vlad looks at Elise, standing with her gun drawn, ready to fight. He makes eye contact with Susan. "Please." He changes his stance to face Hyperion once more.

    Hyperion is looking at the group, like he's gauging who to attack first.

    There's a roar from the sky.

    The Chariot, the Ultimates' Quincarrier, arrives. The Ultimates themselves begin pouring down from the sky. Those who can fly (War Machine, Falcon) are flying, and the rest are on sky-cycles.

    Hyperion tilts his head to the side, cracking his neck.

    And dives down at the assembled heroes.
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    Jacobkosh on
    MsAnthropyNytewarriorMatev
  • MsAnthropyMsAnthropy Our Lady of Perpetual Mazes The CageRegistered User regular
    edited September 23
    The weirdest thing happened while I was reading this. A strange squeee noise sounded just as the F4’s catch phrases showed up. Not sure what the source was, though.

    MsAnthropy on
    "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
    JacobkoshMatev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited September 24
    lJY7ijJ.png

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    Myrmidon awakens.

    "Wow. That was wild."

    Niles is standing next to him and has a look on his face like he's about to die. Clay is also in the room and looks furious. That may be why.

    Miles stands up and stretches. "I had normal hands in there, it was - oh hi, Clay."

    "Nine hours.

    "You were out of commission for nine hours, Agent." Clay exhales slowly out of his nose.

    "What?” Miles shakes his head. “That's impossible. That couldn't have been more than a minute."

    Niles sucks his teeth. "There were uhhhh complications pulling you out. You went into a light... coma."

    "A coma." Miles flicks his cheeks with his finger, testing to see if he has sensation on both sides of his face.

    Niles nods. "Yeah, so...the thing is...inside the simulation you had a fully restored organic body and when we tried to pull you out your body like...rejected your implants and you started to have seizures.

    "So I had to put you into a medically induced coma for a bit and like...ease your brain back into the idea of having implants again."

    Miles stares at his arm. "So what that means is....I can't go back. I can't ever even feel normal again. Or I die.

    "Because of this fucking thing."

    Niles rubs the back of his neck.

    Clay folds his arms. "I don't have time for your existential crisis. Right now the world might be ending. So your world is on hold.

    "Walk and talk." He motions for Miles to follow him.

    Miles follows him into the corridor outside the quartermaster’s office. "I can't leave you people alone for a minute, can I." He blows air out from between puffed cheeks. "What is it now?"

    "We found the site of another Cradle. It's all hands on deck for this one, because it's very likely Hyperion is going to show up. Westin has already been dispatched, with the Avengers, who have been written in at least insofar as they know he's a super-powered OPS agent."

    Miles’ gaze grows distant. "Hyperion." He sets his jaw. "Okay. Okay. We're doing this."

    Clay nods. "Because the Avengers are aware of ETs as a result of the whole Skrull-Barton thing and the last Cradle incident, Fury's also hired on some off-planet mercs. The Guardians, they're already on route to the site. Agent Adler is with them, apparently he knew them personally before his memory loss."

    "Space mercenaries? ...Huh," Miles trails off, impressed in spite of himself.

    "Fury's also overruled ARMOR Director Jones and is moving the Ultimates to deploy if Hyperion shows up, which he likely will. There's three other complications, and they get progressively more serious.

    "One, Elise found Attilan. She went off-reservation to do this but...whatever. That's not important. She did it, that's fine, we'll deal with that later.

    "It's inhabited. There's a whole city of Inhumans who live there."

    Miles nods slowly. "That's...that's not bad! It's better than an evil space god."

    "Definitely," Clay says.

    "I thought for sure that place would be nothing but bad news,” Miles says. “Because, you know, Elise. So cool, this is less bad than I thought. Continue."

    "They sent a diplomatic envoy back with her,” Clay says. “Three Inhumans. One of them can teleport. They're here. In the tower. Danvers is with them now. I've talked to them for a bit. Elise herself isn't here.

    "She pissed off to Kazan, Russia, where the Cradle is. She left with the Fantastic Four, with Susan Richards, apparently in Susan's stealth Skrull ship that we didn't know existed. Danvers told me about it. So Elise and the Four are also in play.”

    "Richards," Myrmidon grimaces.

    "Yeah, those fucking people. Constant meddling. And the reason she left is the third complication and that.... that's a doozy.

    "Vladimir is alive, Miles."

    "What." Myrmidon stops walking. "God damn it. Of course he is. Of course he is."

    "He faked his own death. He faked his own death and he started working for Doctor Doom. He assembled his own team that includes Silver Sable and Peter Parker. They have already attacked AIM's HQ right here in Manhattan for reasons I don't know, and they're in Russia, probably going after the Cradle."

    Miles stops, fingers on his temples. "Jesus. Jesus. So, okay. We have three...four....actually, five, I guess...no, SIX....super-teams, none of whom know each other, all running around in a Skrull base, and Hyperion might be showing up, and Vlad's been working for Dr. Doom and maybe has been this whole time. And that means....Vision fucking lied to us, and I was inside him....Clay, Vision's alive, by the way. Just F Y fucking I. He wants a body, and I helped him start to get one off Zola...."

    "I fucking knew it," Clay spits. "Niles fucking lied for him. Niles said this was about getting intel from Zola. Which is a half-truth. Niles has always been a sucker."

    "I should have known better, Clay. But for what it's worth, I don't think Vision is, like, evil. Don't...call Fury just yet. Vlad might have lied to him. I mean, Vlad's fucking lied to everyone else already. Don't pull Vision's plug until it's had a chance to explain itself. At the very least, it can owe us one. You hear that, Vision?" Miles says, looking at nearby cameras. "You owe us big."

    "Fine,” Clay says. “I can't deal with the Vision problem right now anyway. Right now, Kane's en route with the Zephyr. She's going to pick you and Danvers up and...." He tilts his head, something coming through on his ear comm. "Fuck."

    "What now?” Miles sighs. “Is it Galactus? Godzilla? J. Jonah Jameson livestreaming his colonoscopy?"

    Clay shakes his head. "It's happening. They're all there. They're all there right now. The Ultimates. The Four. Vladimir's team who I guess are calling themselves the Invincibles..... and Hyperion.

    "There's no time."

    Miles stares. "Do we have a way to get there faster?"

    "....yes," Clay nods. "Come with me."

    Miles follows. As he goes, he replaces the magazines on his guns. Not ICER rounds this time. AP, for whatever it's worth.

    They walk into a large meeting room, and see Danvers talking with Crystalia. Gorgon and Lockjaw are also there.

    "Carol," Miles offers a wan smile. "W....who are your new friends?"

    Carol grins at Miles. "Miles! You're okay!"

    "Yeah, I guess I slept through the worst of it. And apparently sleeping was a mistake, and I can never do it again. Has Clay filled you in on everything?" He looks at the Director.

    Clay nods. Carol gestures to the Inhumans. "This is Princess Crystalia Amaquelin of Attilan, her bodyguard Gorgon Petragon, and this beautiful boy is Lockjaw."

    Miles bows slightly. "Your Majesty." He nods at Gorgon and reaches a tentative flesh hand out to Lockjaw. "Can....can I pet him?"

    Crystalia nods. "He likes pets."

    Miles pets Lockjaw. "Nice to meet you, buddy."

    Clay snaps his fingers rapidly. "We're on the clock here, people." He looks at Crystalia. "You consider Skrulls the Great Enemy, right?"

    PHU1KZN.png
    We introduce a couple of new character tics here: Miles loves dogs - I am 100% certain he is the sort of guy who would drop a few grand on a purebred German Shepherd - and Clay snaps his fingers to get attention like a father of unruly children.

    Consider Lockjaw, though. He’s not a dog. He’s an Inhuman. He’s a human person who underwent Terrigenesis and...and now people just baby talk to him and pet him and scratch him behind the ears.

    Is the human in there somewhere? What does he think about this, behind the panting, happy face? Or does Lockjaw just...have a canine intelligence now? Which of these possibilities is less horrifying?

    And consider that none of this is some kind of clever-clever revisionist hot take. All of this was inherent to the character from the moment he first appeared in like 1966. It’s another way that the popular conception of comics as fun goofs until they suddenly became Art in the 1980s is mistaken. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby didn’t pull the name “Inhumans” out of a hat; a weird, alien morality was part of the concept all along.

    So maybe, on second thought, don’t consider Lockjaw.

    At this question, Crystalia makes a sneer. "Yes." she says with an almost a growl.

    Clay nods at her. "Right now, on the other part of the Earth, there's a Skrull base and a lot of our allies are fighting a servant of that Enemy, and we need all the help we can get. We want an alliance between our people, between Earth and Attilan, and the best way to forge that alliance is in war against a common Enemy."

    Crystalia nods thoughtfully. "Yes, we will take Lockjaw and your warriors and do this." Gorgon tries to dissuade her, but she disregards him and insists. "Have your warriors been to this place? Lockjaw needs an image in their minds to go there. If not a place they have been, then a person they know who is there that they can take us to."

    Clay looks at Miles. "Westin is there, on the ground right now."

    Myrmidon nods. "Okay." He turns to Carol. "You've been through a lot already, but are you game to save the world?"

    "Always," she says.

    He offers his human hand, and Carol takes it. "Uh, Lockjaw, I have...an image of my friend in my mind. Is that how this works?"

    Lockjaw nods excitedly and offers his shoulder. Everyone else, including Clay, gathers around Lockjaw.

    Miles concentrates on Michael. He thinks of Westin's reliability and professionalism, he thinks of how well he's borne up under the weight of everything that's been done to him. He focuses on wanting to be with his teammate, and touches Lockjaw.

    They vanish.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    FXU6Qmz.jpg

    Hyperion dives down at the group, and Thor hurls Mjolnir at him. The hammer strikes Hyperion in the jaw, and briefly stuns him, causing him to land heavily on his feet, and the hammer flies back into Thor's hand.

    The Guardians, Avengers, Ultimates, and Victorious (because it’s not a heavily-encrypted signal) hear Nick Fury shouting over comms.

    "Quicksilver, you are on containment, get every single non-combatant out of the AO, including Russian civilians. Anyone else with the speed to do so, you do the same. War Machine, Thor, Iron Man, Behemoth, you are our heavy hitters, go directly for Hyperion and engage him. Try to steer him away from the Cradle itself and into the cargo containers.

    "Hawkeye, Black Widow, Falcon, Spider-Woman, and the Guardians are on medevac of the Cradle hostages. Load them into the Milano and get them out ASAP.

    "Phoenix and Scarlet Witch are on psi-attack. Get in Hyperion's head and shut him down. Do whatever it takes.

    "Let the Four do whatever they're doing, they're on our side or they're gonna get out of our way."

    Tony Stark comes over the comms. "Fury, what about Parker and the Doombot?"

    "Ignore them for now. Focus, Stark. Go."

    "He's not a Doombot!" Elise hollers over the comms. She doesn't seem to realize how bad the damage to her leg is yet; the jeans have been scorched away, revealing angry skin. "He's on our side, Fury, you have to understand -" She's wildly firing at Hyperion with her pistol.

    Phoenix rushes right on up towards Hyperion, attempting to slip in Hyperion's mind and mentally shut him down, but Hyperion's mind is a rat's nest. Julian dives in, trying to block Hyperion's senses out. He finds that his subtle approach is leading him down some kind of labyrinthine path. Julian can only shut down Hyperion by shutting himself down too. He backs out to try something else.

    Michael pauses a moment to try something he hasn’t before attempted: tapping into the full power of the Odinforce to power his blast. An enormous lance of light surges out of his faceplate, nearly striking Julian, who ducks out of the way just in time, and strikes Hyperion, slamming him into the wall and effectively pinning him there.

    "Peter, on me!" Victorious calls as he casts a spell of binding on Hyperion. The glowing bonds appear around Hyperion, who snarls and strains against them, but they hold, so long as Victorious constantly maintains and renews them.

    Fury calls out "Banner, this is a Code Green."

    Bruce Banner jumps out of the Avengers quinjet and by the time he hits the ground, has become the Hulk. Hyperion sees the Hulk, growls with animalistic anger, and tries to break free of Victorious' bindings.

    "KNEEL!" Vladimir shouts, as he strengthens the bonds. Hyperion is dragged to his knees before the gloating Victorious.

    Then Hyperion blasts Vladimir with his eye-beams. "NO!" Vlad leaps away from the blast, dropping the spell.

    Elise is about to charge in, looking for a weak point, when her senses pick up...her own skin, burnt and crispy. She stops and cries out in shock, staggering back.

    Now free, Hyperion begins firing his eye beams with wild abandon. He blasts Hulk, who deflects with his open palm. He blasts at Phoenix, who is nearby.

    Julian isn’t fast enough to dodge. He tries to deflect the searing beam with a pyrokinetic blast of his own.

    He isn’t fast enough at that, either.

    Hyperion's eye-beams lance through Phoenix's fire blasts.... and through Phoenix. He drops to the floor. He dies instantly.

    "Julian!" Elise screams.

    "Man down!" Stark shouts over the comms.

    "NO!" Michael rushes Hyperion to point blank laser him in the face.

    In shock, stunned by what she’s seen and the horrible burn on her leg, Elise staggers for cover. She feels something on her shoulder. An invisible hand. "C'mon."

    "Wait, I can't just leave him - let me -" Elise turns wildly, looking for Vlad in the melee. She sees him staring at Julian's limp body.

    Elise unhooks one of the purple, plastic bracelets from her wrist and tosses it. "Vlad!"

    He looks at Elise. He catches the bracelet.

    "We'll see each other again, I promise, I - I promise I'm not leaving you!"

    Victorious begins to walk towards Hyperion.

    Behemoth has seized Hyperion’s wrists and has opened his aperture as wide as it can go. Hyperion's hair blasts backwards and his cheeks flutter and his eyelids are pushed open as the searing energy washes over his face.

    He staggers and falls to one knee.

    Iron Man, War Machine, and Thor all start blasting Hyperion as he falters, with repulsor beams, micro-missiles, and lightning, respectively.

    Suddenly

    Myrmidon, Carol Danvers, Clay Quartermain, Gorgon, Crystalia, and Lockjaw teleport next to Behemoth.

    From aboard the Milano, which has lowered to land as the Guardians and others are loading unconscious bodies onto it from the Cradle, the Guardian Aleta calls out "Uh hey guys, guys, we have incoming. Skrull ship signatures. Half a dozen. Closing in fast."

    1xPoJne.jpg

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Everyone hears the booming guns of the Chariot overhead as it opens fire on the approaching ships. They return fire, circling around as they close.

    "...I'm going to die here," Elise says in a small voice.

    Susan grabs her shoulder. "Not if I can help it. Let's go." She starts dragging Elise towards Reed.

    "Interlopers!" Vlad flies up to attack a ship.

    "Wh--aaaa!" Myrmidon leaps back, away from the nimbus of heat and energy and shrapnel surrounding Hyperion and Behemoth. "Your Highness, Gorgon, scatter! Carol! Up top!

    “Clay," he tries to pitch his voice so only the Director can hear him, "can you turn Hyperion against those ships? Cast some kind of illusion?"

    Clay nods. "I can try."

    Unable to fly, Miles looks around for a way to get higher. "What the fuck," he says, running to and fro, looking for a place he won't feel completely useless. Clay slinks off to the side, trying to make eye contact with the battered Hyperion, who is still under fire.

    The Skrull ships get closer.

    QkLKuJkl.jpg

    Vlad, soaring up towards them, zooms in for a closer look:

    PTZmQiJl.jpg

    Vlad lands on the edge of the roof, he morphs into his Victorious form and unleashes the full Power Arcana.

    mz88sFUl.jpg

    Stark's head whips around and looks at Victorious. "What the hell...."

    Elise, still half-being dragged, half-limping, calls out to Stark. "He's on our side! You can't hurt him!"

    Victorious rips one of the shuttles asunder, just pulling it apart at the molecular level. The shuttle, its contents, everything, becomes glowing green particles of nothing in the night sky.

    Vlad turns and shouts to Thor. "Thunder God!" He points at the ships. Thor looks at Victorious, and narrows his eyes. But he looks at the ships, and then begrudgingly nods.

    He calls down the lightning,

    However, a few of the shuttles close the distance and begin dropping Skrull soldiers.

    m6NDZfrl.jpg

    They're not trying to hide anymore.



    Miles smiles in relief and charges the horde. "Oh my god fuck a bunch of you." He fires a repulsor blast on its wide setting. The repulsor blast knocks a whole squad of Skrulls down.

    "WHAT. THE. HELL." Tony calls out over loudspeaker.

    Miles looks skyward and throws a thumbs-up with his other hand.

    "Peter! The Enemy!" Vlad calls.

    "The Enemy," Peter whispers. He swings towards the Skrulls as Gorgon also roars "THE ENEMY!" and the two wade into the Skrulls in a violent melee.

    They seem to actually... work together? The two meet eyes in battle and nod at each other, and go back to fighting Skrulls.

    Hulk jumps at one of the shuttles, diving at it.

    The Phoenix rises.



    Phoenix knits himself together, flesh, bone, and blood. A bright, searing orange glow issues forth from the broken, cracked, ripped parts of his form.

    Hyperion screams, drowning out all other noise. He flies up into the air and...vanishes. He's just...gone.

    Julian takes a couple of deep breaths. "FUCK."

    Elise wrenches herself free from Susan's grip and rushes towards Vlad.

    More Skrulls start dropping out of the drop ships. Miles charges at the newcomers. "Leftovers."

    One of them drops in between Elise and Vlad. He's got a lance.

    wQl6zEMl.jpg

    Elise pulls out her gun and John Wicks him straight in the head. He goes down. Vlad stares at her. She limps over the Skrull’s body and moves to...hug Vlad.

    There are more green lights on the horizon.

    Vlad embraces her, then pulls back. "You have to leave, you have to go with Susan." He looks at her leg. "You...you need Reed’s help."

    It's chaos. Everyone is engaged in battle with Skrulls, Skrull shuttles, or trying to evac prisoners out of the Cradle or get the wounded out of the battle. Julian moves to join the melee, hoping to divert Skrull ships away from the Milano.

    Vlad hears Longbow over the Invincibles’ comms. "Hey boss? I called your pops. He's got all his stuff together, says he'll be here in a sec. Didn't say it that way, obviously."

    "My Father is coming, Elise."

    "You need to come home,” she says. “You can't go back to him."

    Vlad stares at the chaos, taking it all in. "No, I don't think I can... Stay near me when he arrives, Elise. Say nothing."

    Thor is moving towards some Skrulls when he gets hit with a flying hammer.

    Another Skrull drops from the ship in front of the heroes.

    7FTcpP0l.jpg

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The War Skrull throws the shield and hammer simultaneously in different directions, inflicting injuries on Guardians and Avengers alike. Both return to him.

    Elise immediately snaps off some shots into this newcomer's face, figuring it worked once… She hits the Skrull in the head, but the bullets don't penetrate his skull. They do seem to hurt.

    "Here," Vlad touches a clip on her belt. "You have the power." The magazine begins to glow.

    Myrmidon fires a full-power blast at the newcomer, not caring if he burns out his capacitor. Behemoth joins him, opening his faceplate and letting loose the Odinforce, as does Julian, who jumps out of cover to add his fire to their own.

    The War Skrull hurls his razor-sharp shield at Julian, slicing him open. But the Skrull also takes the full force of the three blasts, bringing him to his knees.

    Elise slams the enchanted clip into her pistol and puts the gun up next to the Skrull's head. "Looks like you won't be able to avenge your friends." She unloads the full magazine into its face.

    ...but while it dies, the Skrull swings its false Mjolnir and shatters Elise's entire left arm and four of her left ribs.

    Vlad rushes toward her. "Susan!" he calls. The Invisible Woman throws a forcefield bubble over herself and Elise. Elise is curled up on the ground, half conscious. Her good arm reaches out toward where she last saw Vlad.

    "No, no...Please, no. This is not how this was supposed to happen." Vlad stands over Susan and Elise. "Get her out of here, Susan! DOOM IS COMING!"

    "S'ryen!" a Skrull voice calls out from one of the shuttles.

    dKYli6O.jpg

    Susan's head whips around and looks. "....father."

    Vlad's eyes narrow.

    "S'ryen, you betray our people?!" the Skrull calls in shock.

    "No," Vlad steps forward. "She helps her people!" Vlad blasts the Skrull, and he falls over in his shuttle, knocked unconscious. Susan is silent, staring wordlessly.

    Vlad nods at her.

    "....thank you," she says. "I don't think I could've....I will get her to safety."

    "Please," he says. She picks Elise up, and vanishes.

    A thunderclap issues from overhead. No, not a thunderclap.

    The sound of a vacuum opening in the sky.

    kMsR3FFl.png

    "He has come," Vlad says.

    A massive portal opens, and through it fire what look like at first to be mortar shells. But when they land, they don't explode. They unfold into heavy Doombots.

    70CLVoUl.jpg

    The Doombot Heavies immediately turn on the Skrulls and begin firing at them. "Wait are they on our side?" Tony calls out.

    There's a screech as the comms are hijacked. "No, they serve only Doom."

    The man himself appears through the portal, floating down to land on the wreckage.

    jdTuLysl.jpg

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited September 24
    The Skrull ships start to break away, but Doom raises his glowing hands and shouts "ENOUGH. BEGONE FROM DOOM'S WORLD, INTERLOPERS." His voice echoes unnaturally over the din of the battle.

    He claps his hands together and all the ships explode. A few of the Skrulls manage to eject before their shuttles detonate.

    Doom walks over to Vladimir.

    "Father... Hyperion has fled."

    "No matter. Leviathan's spine is broken."

    "The other heroes here helped in the attack." Victorious points at the crowd of superhumans.

    "I am aware," Doom says. "I watched."

    "You watched?" Victorious says in confusion. "How?"

    "I modified Parker's technology to observe all," Doom says.

    "You… Parker was my ward, Father, you should have told me you...."

    "You could have asked."

    Vlad stares at Peter, then his eyes narrow at Doom. "Indeed. Much like Longbow, I now know."

    "Ah. Good," Doom says. "Then you understand his compliance will be assured."

    Stark flies over to the pair. "Victor. Uh.... Victor... Junior?"

    "Vladimir," Victorious says.

    "Vladimir, okay. I'm Tony."

    Victorious nods. "I know."

    Doom looks at Stark. Vlad can tell he's scowling from Doom's narrowed eyes. "What do you want, Stark?"

    Tony flips up his mask so his face is visible. "What do you want, Victor? Why are you here and what is the deal with your...son? Creation? I don't know what his deal is or why he has my tech."

    Doom folds his arms. "As always, Stark, you overthink. My motives were simple. The Skrulls were a problem. They presented an existential threat to the entire planet and all of humanity. I have solved the problem. My son was my vanguard in this matter. His technology is his own and is none of your concern. You and yours did render assistance in this matter, but if you are so insecure as to require a head pat and overflowing shows of gratitude for a modicum of effort, you'll not find it here. Perhaps go back to New York City, maybe they'll throw you a parade."

    "Well, if you're gonna be a dick about it, screw you too then." Tony flips down his mask and flies away.

    "Doesn't that guy throw himself parades like, every month?" Myrmidon asks about Doom to whoever happens to be nearby.

    Doom looks at Vladimir. "So what now, my son? Your compatriots know now that you live, and you have accomplished your goal. Leviathan is broken. Hyperion was a puppet, and his strings are severed."

    "I...I have to see someone...make sure they are ok." Vlad stares at Doom. "Then, I do not know." He looks over at Myrmidon, Behemoth, and Phoenix.

    Then he looks at The Invincibles. Sable, Spider-Man, and Longbow are standing off to the side. Longbow is wearing a black balaclava.

    Vlad doesn't know what to do.

    Doom puts his hand on Vlad's shoulder, and speaks to him on an electronic frequency only Vlad can hear. "Leave with me now, and they will never forgive you, and you can never go back to them. Leave with them now, and I will forgive you, for Doom is above such petty moralizing."

    "Thank you, Father..." Vlad nods his head. "Invincibles," Vlad walks over to his team.

    The Invincibles form up. They face their team leader.

    "We have done it. We have defeated The Enemy, we have completed our mission. If you come with me I will protect you. The Skrulls are no longer a threat so this is your choice. But we have done a great thing today and we must continue to work with these other heroes."

    Peter nods. "I'm with you, sir. 100%."

    Vlad nods. He looks at Silver. Silver looks past Vlad, at Doom. Doom nods, and then Silver nods at Vlad and steps forward towards him.

    Longbow looks over at the Avengers, eyeing Barton nervously, who is busy doing other stuff. "Uhhhh... boss. If I come with you... ain't there gonna be... complications? I mean, if you say so, I will."

    Victorious nods. "Oh, there will be complications. I am a greater concern to them then you will be. I will handle this matter. But I am giving you the choice, Longbow."

    Longbow shrugs. "Alright, fuck it. I'm in. One question though...what about MODOC? I mean, we left him back at the castle. I mean, leaving him with your pops...." Longbow sucks his teeth. "No offense to your dad but..." He taps the side of his head.

    "I will have to work something out with SHIELD but, yes, we will be bringing MODOC, he is an Invincible."

    Longbow nods. "Good. Leave nobody behind. You should run that by your dad."

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Myrmidon walks to the nearby medical tent to look in on Behemoth, Phoenix, Elise, and Carol. He sucks air in through his teeth when he sees Elise's condition.

    Carol leans over and whispers rapidly in Miles' ear. "Look I don't want to sound like really excited because some people got hurt and it looks like Julian may or may not have died and then got better but that was really, really awesome am I right? This is what I signed up for. This is what I signed up for."

    Miles' face is stony. He leans in close. "It totally was."

    She tries to hide her grin. She does a poor job.

    Still leaning in conspiratorially, Miles continues. "Fury told me we could have our own team name if we want. I've been thinking it over. Think I've got a good one."

    Her eyebrows raise. "Really? Like real superheroes?"

    Miles nods eagerly. "We just fought a bunch of aliens and had a team-up with the Avengers and uh, space...space raccoon squad? We've earned this." He looks worriedly at Elise and steps outside.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Miles and Carol both, in their heart of hearts, want to be real superheroes.

    And Miles is strongly of the opinion that real superheroes get a real superhero team name.

    While a medic bandages his lacerations, Julian nods to Behemoth, who has armored down. "So that was pretty wild, huh?"

    Michael nods. "Dude, you sure lived up to your codename. Glad to have you back, Julian."

    Julian sucks his teeth. "Yeah. Did... did everyone see that?"

    "Yeah,” Michael says, “it was kinda hard to miss. You automatically stiching together with fuckin' fire emanating from your wounds."

    "Wow. And everyone saw." Julian is quiet for a moment. "...I'm okay with this."

    Outside, Vlad walks back over to Doom. "I will send for MODOC soon, Father."

    Doom sighs. "Very well."

    "Thank you." Vlad turns and sees Clay standing outside the medical tent. He realizes the Director has been watching the entire time. He begins to walk over.

    Clay puts up his hand. "Not here."

    Victorious nods.

    "If you're coming with us, we do it at HQ," Clay says. Miles appears from inside the tent and joins him.

    "I am, and so are they." Vlad points at The Invincibles

    "....wonderful," Clay says. "Kane will be here soon with the Zephyr. Elise is leaving with the Four. She got tagged pretty bad in there, so Richards is going to be taking care of her."

    "He'd better get it right," MIles scowls.

    "We'll see how it goes. We've got a worst case scenario if she's really bad off, I've been talking to Princess Crystalia about it," Clay says.

    "Oh, is this the, uh...the full-on thing?" Miles asks.

    Clay nods. "Yes."

    "What are you talking about?" Vlad nods at Myrmidon.

    Miles gives Vlad a long Tommy Lee Jones look. Vlad drops his stare from Myrmidon.

    "Elise found Attilan,” Clay says. “They have Terrigen. Real Terrigen. And according to their people, she can undergo a proper Terrigenesis. The Princess over there, she's from there. She says that it can heal someone from anything. Even if they're dying...which...she might be."

    "No…” Vlad says. “We have to save her, Clay."

    "Richards will do his best, and he's the best to do it."

    Vlad nods slowly.

    The Avengers' Quinjet and the Milano take off. Doom looks at the rest of STRIKE and the Invincibles. "I am finished here."

    With that, he opens a portal in the sky, and Doom and his machines leave the way they came.

    A minute later, the Zephyr appears in the skies.

    Clay transmits a telepathic message to Myrmidon. I undid what the Skrulls did to Hyperion. That's what happened. They wrapped his brain in control mechanisms, like just taking a ball of string and tying it in knots. I just undid all the knots and set him free.

    Tell the rest of the team when you have time and there's not unsecure individuals like Vlad's people around.


    Miles nods fractionally. Copy that, boss. And, uh... you saved lives, Clay. If Hyperion ends up being a problem...we'll deal with him.

    Clay stares levelly at the Zephyr as it lands. Yeah, cross that bridge when we come to it. It was nice to see Steve again, even if he didn't know it was me.

    Myrmidon’s eyes widen. Whoa, you worked with Cap?

    Clay nods and gestures for Miles to follow him up the Zephyr’s landing ramp. Yeah, back in the war. I'll tell you about it sometime.

    They amble up the ramp. Cool. Oh, hey. So Fury told me we could have a for-real team name…

    He can feel Clay’s grimace. ....okay. You can't lie to me like this so I know he actually did.

    Don't sound so down. It's great. Myrmidon splays the fingers of both hands in a flourish before him, like he’s unveiling the grand prize on a game show. FREEDOM FORCE.

    Belting himself into a seat, Clay just suddenly sighs deeply and rubs the bridge of his nose like he has a headache for no reason. You know, fine. That's fine. Sure. Tell Elise that's the team name so she can keep op-sec possibly.

    The Zephyr takes off for the the headquarters of the Freedom Force.

    PHU1KZN.png
    That name wasn’t whimsically chosen; Freedom Force is the name of a team of government black-ops superhumans who did morally questionable jobs in the 1980s. Most of them were former members of the Brotherhood of Mutants, like Mystique, Destiny, Pyro, and the Blob.

    It’s also, unrelated to Marvel, the name of a really great video game that Matt and I both fondly remember.

    Matev
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    0nPtmnK.png
    The Zephyr lands at Avengers Tower, and the team disembarks. As they filter out, Clay walks over to a console. "Clear the floor of all non-essential personnel, everyone below Level 8-Theta.

    "I need a SEC team in here ASAP."

    A group of SEC agents walk in.

    "Vladimir, tell your people to go with these agents and not start shit. Tell Parker to take that suit off, it's riddled with dangerous tech. They're just being detained temporarily, they're not SHIELD personnel. They're not being taken prisoner."

    "Do as the Director says, these people are not our enemy." Vlad nods at Clay and gestures for The Invincibles to follow the SEC team.

    The Invincibles do as Vlad says and they are led out by the SEC agents.

    Clay punches another button on the console. "Kane, Nordstrom, Solomon, join us in the conference room."

    Clay assembles the team in the conference room. Niles, Isabel, and Roz are there as well. "So, a bit of a debrief. Some air-clearing is in order here. I've been in communication with Director Fury and SWORD Director Brand on our way back from Russia.

    "I also need to bring Nordstrom, Solomon, and Vladimir up to speed on some critical information regarding myself.

    "And then Vladimir and Vision may have some things they'd like to, oh, I don't know, share with the class."

    Victorious nods. "Indeed."

    Clay takes a deep cleansing breath. "Okay, let's start with some positives. Because I like victories. We had a big one today.

    "We've basically broken Leviathan."

    Miles shoots Carol a covert grin. They saved the world!

    Clay continues. "That wasn't the last Cradle, and we didn't capture or kill all the Skrulls, but they threw in hard on the defense hoping to push us back and it cost them. Badly. They lost the cradle, they lost what we estimate to be their entire air fleet of Skrull ships, they had significant Skrull casualties, and they lost their big super-weapon in Hyperion.

    "SWORD is working to ID all the people we rescued, they were a lot of key government and military personnel, it looks like we really fucked up their plans big time here."

    "A crushing defeat," Victorious proclaims.

    Clay nods at Vladimir. "I don't think they can recover from this. Not to the power they ever had before. I'm confident about this because…

    "I'm one of them."

    "Your majesty," Vlad nods at Clay. Clay makes a grim face at Vlad.

    Niles gasps. Roz narrows her eyes. "You always declined every type of medical test. You said it was because you had a modified biology, that it was classified by MI-13. You were afraid I'd find out."

    Clay nods. "You're very smart, doc. Too smart. Had to be on the safe side. But to be clear, while I am a Skrull, I am not and have never been a part of Leviathan. In fact, the others turning on me was the entire foundation of Leviathan.

    "Their entire organization was based on rejecting kings and emperors, it's why they embraced the Soviet Union and Bolshevism. Because I am, or was, the Crown Prince of the Skrull Empire. My own people turned on me when we crash-landed here in 1908. I've been trying to stop them ever since."

    Vlad speaks up. "For what it is worth, Director, Krylov did not suffer in death. Though perhaps he should have."

    Clay's jaw tightens. "Related to this is Victoria."

    "Yes, I encountered Madam in Russia before the battle. Her and her assassins,” Vlad says. “She seems to be back on her feet."

    Miles' scowl at the wall behind Vlad deepens fractionally.

    "She was never off her feet, Vladimir. And they weren't assassins. Well, in a way they were, but not for you. They were in the business of killing Skrulls. I talked to Victoria on the way back from Russia."

    "So she thought I was a Skrull then?" Vlad's eyes narrow. He folds his arms.

    "No. The shot she took at you would never have killed you. It wasn't a normal bullet, it was a special EMP round that would've knocked you out," Clay says. "She was trying to take you in."

    Vlad stares at Clay for a long moment "...continue."

    "I figured out you were still alive, and I sent Victoria's Secret Warriors after you. They were also in Kazan to go after the Cradle; you were a secondary objective if you happened to be in the AO, which very suddenly you were.”

    Myrmidon snickers a little bit at "Victoria's Secret Warriors."

    "Monica designed a special round specifically to take you down non-lethally,” Clay continues.

    "Very well,’ Vlad says. “I never meant harm to anyone, I left the Secret Warriors standing. More or less."

    Clay pushes on. "And about Victoria, I have some explanation here...

    I lied to you. All of you. Victoria was never ill. She was never hurt. That was a ruse. Here's the slam poetry version, try to keep up, kids.

    "SWORD suspected a Skrull infiltrator inside SHIELD. They thought it was Victoria. They had Julian go into her head to find out for sure. In doing so, Julian messed with memories that had been psychically repressed in her mind. By me. Of my identity. Which I repressed with her consent when we ended our relationship many years ago and we both decided that her knowing what I really was put her at too high a risk for exactly the kind of psychic snooping Julian was doing, or the psychic snooping of someone like say... Krylov.

    "Victoria and I talked about it, and we decided that instead of doing the memory repression over again, she wanted to keep the memories and instead go underground and take the fight to the Skrulls. So, we had Monica gussy up a LMD to look like Victoria and pretend it had a motor-neuron disease so that it passed muster, and Victoria put together a team and went on her own missions, reporting to me directly. They have unofficially been a sort of STRIKE-2 for a while now."

    Niles Nordstrom stammers. "I... I visited her.... I didn't know...."

    Clay sighs. "Niles..."

    "Hello, Niles," Vlad says. Niles smiles at him warmly. "It is good to see you again... all of you," Vlad says to the rest of STRIKE.

    "I'm sure Elise is happy that you're well," Miles offers diplomatically.

    "I will see her soon," Vlad nods.

    Clay continues. "Now that Leviathan is more or less broken as a serious threat, Victoria is going to come in from the cold. I don't know if she's going to take her old job back as COMMS Director or what. Fury and I are still figuring it out. Chances are her team are going to become an official STRIKE-2. So get used to seeing them around.

    Point is, Victoria's okay, and yes, Vladimir, your non-lethal takedown approach is noted and appreciated. Which makes an excellent segue to what the hell have you been doing and why."

    Vlad leans forward, placing his both his hands on the table. He stares at Clay for a moment and then looks back and forth across the room. "When I chose to save the team I did so knowing it would be my death. I gave my life willingly for my team, SHIELD and all those we saved in the Cradle. When I was falling to earth with Hyperion, I fought him. I stopped him from killing me, stopped him long enough for my team to escape. I knew after that SHIELD could not stop him, STRIKE could not stop him. So I went to the person I knew who had the Power to do so. SHIELD would never have worked with Doom willingly.”

    Vlad lowers his head slightly. "I did not want anyone to get hurt...like Elise did today. So I formed The Invincibles with the help of Doom to take down Leviathan. Doom thinks of me as a son. I defeated the HYDRA-Verse Avengers and freed another AI from slavery, and then I turned my sights to the Cradle. You interfered with my plan and had you not perhaps Doom could have handled Hyperion differently...perhaps this is for the best. I have come to see my father's methods as disconcerting of late.

    "I was never SHIELD’s enemy."

    Michael speaks up. "But you weren't acting as a friend either. You faked your death instead of trusting us. Not SHIELD, but us, Vlad."

    "I did so to protect this team," Vlad turns to Behemoth. "You saw Hyperion."

    Behemoth shakes his head. "We need your help, your friendship, not your protection."

    "I..." Vlad stops. "You are right....you are....but it was the only way. Doom taught me so much, gave me power to use against the enemy. Power like yours."

    "About that power." Clay interjects. "I've seen power like that before over the years. "That's sorcery."

    "Arcana," Victorious says, and draws back his hood.

    w3MhSQSl.jpg

    Niles staggers backwards. "No way."

    Clay grumbles. "Great, so now you're a magic robot."

    Victorious nods. "Indeed."

    "Your... father taught you this, I imagine?" Clay asks.

    "He supplied me the knowledge, I am still teaching myself. As you know, I learn quickly, Clay."

    "Oh. That... that sounds like a good idea," Clay says. "That sounds like a great idea.

    "Actually, wait, no. That sounds like the worst idea."

    Vlad stares at him.

    "I tell you what we're going to do instead," Clay says. "I know a guy. He lives in the Village. He's an expert on this sort of thing. You're going to talk to him about this stuff and learn from him instead of just...freewheeling on your own and ripping the cosmos asunder or whatever. I'm quite sure it's his job to make sure you don't do that."

    Vlad cocks an eyebrow. "Very well."

    Michael steps forward. "I'd like to talk to this magic expert as well. I have questions."

    "Sure, you can go with Vlad. That's probably a good idea. We're not going to do that right this minute, but when it happens, why not." Clay shrugs.

    "So now what about The Invincibles?" Vlad asks.

    "We'll see. Parker's a minor, we're not super keen on recruiting him at this point but it looks like you've already taken him pretty firmly under your wing and blooded the lad so...I don't know that we can just send him back to geography class like nothing's happened. Sablinova's a mercenary so she's trustworthy insofar as she's well-paid.

    "We don't know who the masked man is. Care to tell us about him?"

    Vlad nods. "Longbow, yes. He is HYDRA-Verse Clint Barton. After I defeated them in Wundagore Valley, Doom took them prisoner. At least I thought he had. He tortured them instead, killing them in the process. He did horrors to them and made Longbow watch. I asked Doom for Longbow's life but Doom installed a bomb in him to make him more compliant and did not tell me, something I hope STRIKE can help remove. He is a product of his dimension but he is a good man in his heart. He is still Clint Barton, still an Avenger. I promised I would protect him, Clay, he is my ally."

    Miles' mouth opens, then he shuts it again.

    Niles is horrified. Roz is watching, skeptically. Kane asks "Wait so he's...a…fascist version of Hawkeye and you think he's a good guy?"

    Clay puts up his hand at Kane's objection. He asks Vlad, "Do you believe he will still be loyal and willing to overcome his...environment if you take the bomb out of his head, Vladimir?"

    Victorious nods. "Yes, he respects power and the chain of command. I know he has no love for Doom."

    Miles' voice is quiet, his eyes are closed, and his pained expression makes him look like the words are being dragged out of his mouth with pliers. "I...think...we should...give him...a chance. Because it would be...it'd be hypocritical...I have to believe...that people can change."

    Clay nods at Miles. "I agree with Mason. I don't believe that we should judge someone born into a totalitarian culture not of their own choosing, removed from that culture and given a choice to walk a different path, before giving them that chance to do so."

    Vlad looks at Miles briefly and then back to Clay.

    "....For reasons that should be obvious," Clay finishes. "Alright, Vladimir, work with Solomon and Nordstrom and see what you can do for... Longbow. Talk to Monica about creating a new identity for him. And Roz.... if you're going to put the man under the hood to remove some things anyway, maybe give him a bit of..." Clay gestures to his face "...work? We don't need him to walk around with a photostatic veil all the time."

    "A new face," Vlad says.

    "There's something else I want to talk about, Vladimir," Clay says. "Which is your... let's call it penchant for unshackling AI and concealing their sentience from your friends and more importantly, commanding officers.

    "Vision, would you like to join us for this conversation?"

    Vision's hologram appears. "I am here, Director Quartermain."

    Clay growls "I bet you are." He looks at Vladimir. "At no point have I indicated a negative reaction to your sentience, self-determination, or self-actualization, Vladimir. Even when you took actions that other members of SHIELD command found deeply troubling, like imprisoning Zola in a simulated reality without authorization or notice until such time as you happened to feel like telling us about it in passing conversation."

    "Zola was and is a Monster,” Vlad protests.

    "I agree, which is why I didn't disagree with your decision or protest about it."

    Vlad nods.

    "My point is that you shouldn't have concealed Vision's sentience from me, specifically. I wasn't the one who put a bomb in you. I gave you no reason to think I would harm Vision."

    "Zola didn't belong in a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest mental hospital, Vlad," Miles interjects. "That was so pointless. It was a digital world, it could have been anything - even something to make him a better person - and it was just a torture chamber. You worry that people don't trust you or respect your sentience, and then you go and do fucked-up shit!" Miles' dam has finally burst; the words are rushing out.

    Clay looks at Miles. "Is that what that was?"

    Vlad looks at Myrmidon. "You shouldn't ha..." Vlad stops and looks back at Clay. "Perhaps, perhaps not. It matters little now. I helped Vision and was concerned for him, not anyone else. I helped him see, I know he is good.

    “You may not have, but SHIELD did put a bomb in me. I would have told you of Vision in time, but by the time I told the team, I found out you were a Skrull. That made things difficult."

    Clay folds his arms and nods.

    He looks back at Myrmidon "I do not regret Zola."

    Miles turns to Clay. "Zola never believed in the fake reality, so Vision and I got information out of him by staging a breakout - I was a HYDRA agent coming in to 'rescue' him to the 'real world.' It worked, by the way. Zola has a robot body-making machine in Thunderbolts HQ, in the ONE offices in the Long Lines Building. Bee tee dubs."

    Vlad stares a Miles. "So Vision can get his body? Thank you, Miles. This is great news"

    Vision speaks up. "I have more information on that subject. I have managed to infiltrate several layers of ONE's digital security and have discovered that they have taken a number of prisoners, illegally, within the United States."

    Miles nods grimly. "That figures. Our first run-in with them, they were straight-up executing people."

    Vision continues. "This individuals often exhibit extranormal abilities, but periodically are simply individuals who have committed the crime of being costumed vigilantes or criminals who utilize items such as powered armor, self-designed gadgetry, or in some cases, hi-tech equipment they purchased from the deep web.

    "They are being held in black sites, some within the United States, some overseas. All are US citizens being held in direct opposition to the law and in violation of their constitutional rights.

    "I am not 100% certain of the location of these black sites with my current data, I would need to have access from inside the building to ascertain that information.

    "Nonetheless, it verifies that the ONE and their Thunderbolts team are committing unconstitutional criminal acts of extraordinary rendition against US citizens, on US soil."

    "Zemo was also infiltrating the Thunderbolts on behalf of HYDRA,” Miles says. “So everything ONE is up to, we have to assume HYDRA has their tentacles in as well."

    "Indeed," Vision says.

    Clay nods. "I got a lot out of Zemo before I fried his brain, he was working for HYDRA but... he was trying to turn over a new leaf, unfortunately for him the Thunderbolts weren't much different. Just as brutal a methodology."

    Roz interrupts "Wait you what?"

    "Oh, I'm telepathic,” Clay says. “I'm part of the aristocracy, so my telepathic abilities are heightened and refined. I'm also several centuries old so.... I'm pretty good at what I do. I had to fry Zemo to cover up Adler's slip-up that nearly blew my cover."

    Julian winces.

    "A smart move," Vlad nods at Clay

    "I know a bunch of the Bolts' access codes, ways in, standards and practices, that sort of thing. I can work with Vision to set up an op. We need to shut these guys down. As for you... Vision....

    "I think you've run out of road as an AI in a box. I can't cover your metaphorical digital ass much longer. So you'll need a physical one. I'm going to approve this whole...get Vision a body...madness.

    "I also want you all to obtain this tech because it could be a game-changer for us. We're going to sit on this for a bit. Monica can keep SCI-TECH from trying to pull the plug on Vision for a bit, she's got a lot of pull there.

    "You all have been through a lot and need some recovery time. Vlad's team needs debrief and security clearance time if they're going to be brought into the fold, and Longbow needs some time with medical.

    "And then there's.... Elise."

    Victorious nods. "I need to see her."

    "She's at the Baxter Building right now, but from the sounds of things she might not be staying there," Clay says. "The skeletal injuries she took in the fight weren't that big a deal for Reed's tech. The big problem is the blast she took from that Titanium Man before Vladimir took him out. It was highly radioactive, and Elise took a lethal dose."

    "I feared this," Vlad says.

    Miles is white-knuckling the table, wondering if there's anything he could have done differently to keep Elise safe.

    "Reed's doing what he can, but the Princess and Lockjaw are standing by to spirit her off to Attilan if it comes down to it. Apparently she doesn't even need to be conscious to undergo Terrigenesis, which is good because she...isn't."

    "I need to be there with her,” Vlad says. “I will go to Attilan."

    Julian speaks up. "I'd like to go, too, Director."

    Clay turns from Vladimir to Julian. "You'll need to clear that with the Princess, for all intents and purposes it's basically a foreign country."

    "The Princess is the Inhuman Princess," Miles says by way of explanation to Julian and Michael, "and Lockjaw is this really cool dog...triceratops...thing."

    "I want one," Michael says.

    "Me too," Miles nods solemnly. "And I'm coming along too, of course."

    "We'll all go with Elise,” Michael declares. “She's the heart of this team."

    Carol speaks up. "I'm going too. I'm the only one here who has actually been to Attilan."

    Vlad nods at Behemoth, Myrmidon, Phoenix. He points at Danvers. "Who is she?"

    "This is Carol,” Miles says. “She's part of the team." Carol looks at Miles and smirks.

    Clay interjects. "Vladimir, I have one more question for you before I go ahead and clear you of some mild, you know, treason."

    Vlad turns from Danvers back to Clay. "My attack on A.I.M."

    "Can you let me know why your team committed what appears to me to be a terrorist attack on AIM's HQ and, according to our intel, assassinated AIM's CEO Aldrich Killian?"

    Vlad folds his arms. "His name is MODOC, he is another like me and Vision. That being said, he is only a child. He needs guidance... he needs our help. Killian created him for only murder and death. I showed him he could save instead of kill. He is powerful and can be a champion for good. He ended Killian in an instant, destroyed his master and became free. I want to show him that killing is not the only way."

    Kane looks horrified.

    Clay nods. "Okay. Good enough. Where is MODOC now?"

    "Still in Latveria. I wanted to inform you of him before I brought him. He is different."

    "Is he... like Vision?” Clay asks. “Does he need a body too?"

    "....no," Vlad says after a pause. "He has a....chair."

    "Okay. Sure. Sure. That's fine."

    "You will see," Vlad says.

    Clay presses a button. "Sir, you get all that?"

    "I did," Nick Fury says.

    "Hello, Director Fury.”

    "Hello, Vladimir. I've had Hill checking some details on your story while you all have been talking. Sounds legit."

    Victorious nods. "All true."

    "I'm going to go ahead and restore your Level 8 status, and give you Theta access as well,” Fury says. “Might want to brush up on what that entails."

    "Oh that note,” Vlad adds, “Doom has all of my previous clearance information. Though I withheld information on STRIKE and Clay from him. I'm being honest with you, Fury, so I want you to know."

    "...well, I can't say I'm happy that you did that, but I'm glad that you told me that you did it. Going forward, Vladimir, always trust your team. No matter what. Trust your team. Even if you are worried about the people above or below you in the chain of command, or afraid other people don't understand, always trust the people who fight by your side and never hide anything from them, and don't run from them or go off on your own.

    "Never do anything like this ever again. Not to your own people."

    Michael nods in agreement.

    "I swear it, Director Fury." Vlad nods at everyone in STRIKE.

    Miles nods back, fractionally.

    "Alright, as of now, you are officially reinstated as an Agent of STRIKE. From what I understand, you all want to check on your teammate, so I'm going to let you get to that. Fury out."

    "Contact Richards, please Clay, if you would," Vlad says. "I mean Director."

    Clay nods. "You all can head down to the motor pool and head over, I'll let them know you're on your way."

    Miles stands up. "Vision....when you have a moment, later, I'd like to speak to you in private."

    "Of course, sir." The team falls out, and moves down to the motor pool, taking off in vehicles.

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

    The team arrives at the Baxter Building. A HERBIE unit greets them when they arrive.

    kaEufgEl.jpg

    "They got bigger," Vlad says.

    The HERBIE directs the team to an elevator.

    Miles has a sour expression. "The last time I was here," he says to Carol, "Richards tried to play me and all of SHIELD. He didn't quite pull it off, but I ended up with his custom malware in my arm. So that was fun."

    "Richards is kind of a stodgy asshole," Carol says, "He means well but jeez he's stuck up."

    Vlad remains silent.

    Carol continues. "Susan seems nice, but emphasis on seems. I think she's kind of two-faced." She stops, looks horrified. "That wasn't supposed to be like a racial thing."

    Miles laughs. "Busted."

    "Susan is a good person, Danvers." He narrows his eyes and looks her up and down

    Danvers closes her mouth and purses her lips and says nothing further.

    "Smart," Vlad says to Danvers/ "Are you and Elise close?" His eyebrow cocks.

    "Elise bought her cupcakes," Miles says.

    "Oh, she hates you," Vlad laughs.

    Carol looks down and shuffles her feet.

    The elevator door opens. Nobody pressed any buttons, but it still opens at the correct floor. The floor beyond is an advanced medical clinic, almost entirely automated. Reed is there in a lab coat, Susan is dressed similarly.

    Elise is unconscious in a ICU containment chamber. Nearby, Crystalia, Gorgon, and Lockjaw are watching. Crystalia looks really concerned, and is fidgeting and biting her lip.

    Vlad walks straight to the chamber, sparing no glances for anyone else. He places his hand on the glass. "Can you save her?" He says to Reed quietly.

    Elise's fingers twitch, barely noticeable.

    Reed looks at Vladimir, noticeably disquieted by his presence. "I'm doing what I can. Unfortunately, the radiation blast penetrated deep into her bloodstream and bone marrow."

    Miles draws a sharp intake of breath when he sees Elise. "....." He leans forward until his forehead touches the glass and he leaves it there for a moment. "Can she register anything about her surroundings? Respond to anything?"

    Reed shakes his head. "The genetic damage is extensive and will become cancerous quickly, I'm attempting to fight it with nanosurgical injections. She's in a medically-induced coma while I work; she would otherwise be in a great deal of pain from the radiation sickness."

    "How long?" Vlad asks.

    "I should have been there earlier," Julian says. "God, what the hell was she thinking?"

    "She was thinking she could save him," Reed scowls at Vladimir.

    "Reed." Susan snaps.

    Julian regards Elise ruefully. "When she wakes up I'm going to have to ask her how she carries those big brass balls around."

    "Reed is right,” Vlad says, staring at Reed. “I was the reason she was there."

    Reed raises an eyebrow. "Never thought I'd hear one of Victor's creations say I was right about anything, thought you'd be hard-coded to make that impossible."

    Vlad continues. "But she took that blast not for me but for those innocent people, like all of us here would do. Heroes."

    "All of us?" Reed asks, eyes narrowing, "You know, I had a live feed from Peter's suit. The entire time. I saw everything."

    Susan grabs Reed's arm. "Reed. Not now."

    "Your point, Richards?" Vlad says.

    This has Miles' attention. "No, I'd like to hear this."

    Susan looks at Miles. "You can hear it later. Elise is dying, you people can do this bullshit later." She looks at Reed "This includes you. Get back to work."

    "Susan is right." Vlad slowly shifts his gaze back to the chamber. "So, how long?"

    Reed sighs. "With this approach? Hours. If that. I need to find a different way to do things. I could try using the helmet...."

    Susan barks at him. "NO! We're not going down that road. Not again. We agreed."

    Reed sighs. "Fine. We're not doing that. Then I don't know what else to do."

    "She's not going to die. The Inhumans can help her," Miles says. "I wish that she was awake to consent to it, though."

    "You! You're a mindspeaker!" Crystalia points at Julian.

    He nods. "That I am."

    "Ask her!" she says.

    Julian nods. Elise! Can you hear me?

    Something stirs; he can feel it. S'like I'm dreaming. she thinks. Is this real?

    Julian: Is what real? You're... you're in a coma, dude. Reed put you under.

    Miles leans close to Julian. "Tell her that Crystalline...whatever...lady is creeping on her. She'd want to know."

    Phoenix nods. The Crystal Princess lady is creeping on you. Miles thought you'd like to know.

    Elise's lips tug into a smile in the case.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Miles looks out for his team!

    Anyway, he thinks. We've got the whole Inhuman crew here.

    Where's Vlad?

    He's here, Phoenix thinks. You've got it pretty rough, dude. This terrigen thing is your best shot. Reed's not having much luck. We could just... hop over to the Terrigen crystal magic stuff. And I think it'd mean a lot to this Crystal chick here. You down to go to Attilan?

    If I turn into a fucking flesh door or a dog can you... like... Elise's thoughts trail off into a vague sense of terror and unease.

    That's gotta be a one-in-a-million case, Julian thinks. And your other choice is basically terminal cancer. I mean, he's the only dimensional door I've ever heard of, anyway.

    Elise's expression twitches again. Yeah, okay.

    "She's cool with it," Julian announces. You wanna say hi to everyone?

    Susan begins a decon procedure to prepare to move Elise. She looks at Vlad. "You'll carry her, right?"

    "Of course" Vlad nods at Susan.

    Tell Vlad I love him. Tell the Chief I'm glad he showed up. Tell Behemoth I'm glad he's around. Tell Danvers, uh… uh... Make something up for Carol. Make it sound good. And Julian? I'm glad it's you who's in my head with me.

    Thanks. Glad to hear you in here, too. "Elise says hi, by the way," he says. "Vlad, she wanted me to tell you she loves you. Miles, Mike, she's glad you're here. Carol - Elise apologizes for what she put in your quarters."

    Carol looks horrified, and then smiles weakly "O-okay."

    Susan opens the chamber, and wraps Elise up in a special garment that makes it so she doesn't emit radiation from her wounds. She hands Elise to Vlad.

    Crystalia looks around. "Who is all coming with us?"

    "All of the team," Vlad says.

    Crystalia looks at Susan. "Are you coming? You are one of her compatriots."

    Susan pales. "....no, I am... needed here. For...research."

    Crystalia nods "Okay."

    Miles steps forward. "No sense wasting time. Is there anything we need to know about your city, Crystal?"

    "It will be very foreign to your eyes. Our ways are different from yours. Stay close to me, and obey our customs. But we have observed Earth for many years, we know you more than you know us." Crystalia gathers the group around Lockjaw, and puts her hand on his shoulder. "Take us home, boy."

    They vanish.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    The team appears in Attilan, in the council chambers of the Genetic Council.

    Holding Elise, Vlad appears in his true form, he gazes at Attilan.

    Z0D286H.jpg

    High Councillor Arcadian looks at the group in surprise. "Princess Crystalia? What is the meaning of this? Why have you brought these Earthers here?"

    Crystalia pulls the covering from Elise's face, showing it to Arcadian. "It's her, High Councillor. The Earth Inhuman, the one with the synthetic Terrigenesis. She's sick with blood poison from battle against the Enemy.

    "She needs Terrigenesis, it's her only hope. You must approve it, now."

    "You have to help her, please," Vlad says.

    "Who are the rest of these Earthers?" Arcadian asks. "This one is a machine."

    "I am more," Victorious says, his eyes narrowing.

    "We're her companions," Miles says to the Inhuman. "Her team."

    "You said your people would help her," Vlad gestures at Arcadian.

    Crystalia waves off the Councilor’s questions. "They are her fraterarmalis." Arcadian nods.

    Vlad searches that word in his database. It's not in any Earth dictionary, but it bears a close resemblance in context to the latin fratres in armis, "brothers in arms."

    Vlad nods. "Please."

    Arcadian looks at the other assembled councillors. "I am approving the Terrigenesis of this individual. Normally, an Alpha-Primitive would escort the candidate into the caves, but for the sake of life-threatening experience this machine-entity will do just as well.

    Gorgon, show the machine to the cave entrance. The rest of her fraterarmalis will wait here." Gorgon nods.

    Vlad nods at Behemoth, Phoenix, Myrmidon....and Danvers. He moves to follow Gorgon.

    Gorgon leads Vladimir out of the Council chamber, through some hallways and down many flights of stairs.

    They come to a locked door, guarded by two massive hulking four-armed creatures with halberds. Gorgon speaks to them, and explains that he has authority on behalf of the Genetic Council to permit "the machine" to pass with "the candidate" into the caves. The two guards let Vlad pass and unlock the door.

    Gorgon turns to Vlad. "You will enter the cave, and place her in the waters near the crystals, and wait. Over time, the cave will heat up, and the Mists will form. She will breathe them, and Terrigenesis will begin. She will form a cocoon. This is natural. Whatever emerges is... who she is now."

    Vlad nods slowly. "She knows."

    "Enter. I will wait for you here. One final word of caution.” He holds up a hand. “Her new form may be..." He gestures to himself. "Difficult. You must be there for her."

    "She is strong and I will be."

    "If she need be temporarily subdued for her own safety and that of others, you must also be there for her. Do you understand this?"

    "I do." Vlad matches his gaze.

    Gorgon gently runs his thumb over Elise's forehead, and mutters something in a language Vlad does not understand. It sounds almost like a... prayer? "May your true self be true to you, little one." He nods at Vlad, and waits.

    Vlad carries Elise into the cave.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    uGZq0pQl.jpg

    Knee-deep water laps the floor of the cave, and crystals glow in the water.

    Vlad makes his way through the water and kneels, lowering her in. As the water touches Elise's skin, the crystals begin glowing brighter. Vlad can see the temperature of the room rise.

    He steps back and waits.

    Steam begins to form. Elise begins inhaling the Terrigen Mist. Vlad's eyes widen as he watches, energy glowing for his sockets.

    He can see a green-grey substance coming out of the pores of her skin, that begins covering her entire body, hardening quickly into a cocoon. Inside the cocoon, Elise begins changing. She can feel the inside of the cocoon.

    She can feel the outside of the cocoon. The room. She can sense Vlad. Not just sense him, but see him, hear him.

    Her senses expand upwards, through the halls, She can see Gorgon, looping up the staircases into the council chamber, where the team is standing around looking worried and pensive.

    Her vision pans around the city of Attilan, floating, bodiless, remote.

    It slips into the folded space between spaces that Attilan occupies, and passes through, and into the black void of the Moon's airless sky.

    It keeps moving, accelerating faster and faster, passing the asteroid belt and Jupiter and the outer planets and the helioshock and the solar system itself, panning out of the local cluster and eventually the galactic spiral arm. Then she's looking down on the Milky Way galaxy itself from above.

    She keeps moving further and further out, the scale getting larger and larger, galaxies becoming the size of stars and galactic clusters becoming the size of pinpricks.

    Eventually she fades out entirely into a vast white nothing beyond all concept of space and time, observing the whole of the universe itself. She realizes she is looking upon Eternity....

    And then Eternity looks back.

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    Her mind goes hurtling back to her body at an even faster speed. As it rips back into her body like a sonic boom, her cocoon bursts apart, splashing water as she rears into a conscious state.

    Elise sits up, gasping for air. Vlad rushes to her side, checking her. Her leg is entirely healed, as is all damage to her body.

    "Elise?!" he asks urgently. "How do you feel?"

    Sitting up, she realizes something. Everything is.... Quiet. And odorless. And dull. Elise starts laughing. It's like she was before Alchemax.

    "I - I can - it's all normal, everything's normal."

    "It worked!" Vlad says.

    "I'm alive, and I'm... I'm normal!"

    "And you are not an Anteater person!" Vlad says, gesturing to her intact, healed form. "I know that was important to you."

    Elise laughs until she cries, standing and spinning around in the cave, arms out. She realizes something else as she spins. Her balance is perfect. Effortless. Like she doesn't even have to try. She could balance on one toe if she wanted to, Her sense of balance, her inner ear, her bodily coordination; it's perfect, no effort

    She takes a deep gulp of air, seeing if she has any extra senses left at all.

    She can sense everything. She can hear radio transmissions. it's overwhelming at first and Elise reflexively shuts it out.

    "I - I can shut it out!" she cries. "Oh my God I have to go look at someone's mouth!"

    "The others must see you. They are waiting. Are you ready?” Vlad asks.

    "Yeah, I'm ready. I'm so glad you came home."

    "We will talk about all of that soon. I have spoken with Clay, the rest of STRIKE and even Fury,” Victorious says. “I am back."

    "I knew you would be. That's why I showed up."

    "Best Friends Forever," he pronounces.

    Elise grins and gives Vlad a hug before bounding up the stone steps to rejoin the group.

    She passes by Gorgon, who looks at her and smiles warmly. "The Princess will be glad to see you." he says. He leads the pair up to the Council chambers, but Elise knows the way. She's seen it already.

    The Princess gasps when she sees Elise. Arcadian rubs his chin and mutters "Fascinating."

    Elise spreads her arms out wide, ignoring her medical garb to the best of her ability. "I'm alive!"

    Carol dives in for the hug. So do Julian and Phoenix.

    "I AM ONE HUNDRED POUNDS YOU ARE GOING TO CRUSH ME."

    Carol lets go. "I'm sorry!"

    Myrmidon nods at the hugpile approvingly.

    Elise grabs Julian's face. "Lemme see your chompers."

    Myrmidon's eyes rise at this. Are Elise's new powers dental in nature? He starts thinking of names. Wisdom Woman? Overbite? Molaretta.

    Julian looks confused, but obliges. Chompers? Why?

    Julian's teeth are just...teeth. They're not horrifically gross bacteria havens.

    Elise laughs. She spins away, laughing. "I can hear quiet! I can look at mouths! There are no little bugs, there's no dust motes, there's just silence and things to look at!"

    Arcadian looks at Elise. "May I?" He extends his hand.

    She holds hers out. He takes Elise's hand and his eyes roll back. "Fascinating. Previously, your gifts were sensory enhancement. Your senses were accelerated to such a degree that you could see, hear, touch, smell, taste everything, but you lacked the control to truly take advantage of such a gift without it also being a burden.

    "The Terrigenesis, true Terrigenesis, has reshaped your gift."

    "You now have sensory control. You have perfect control of every part of your senses. Every part of your body. You can even expand your senses beyond what is possible for the unempowered, into wavelengths of light or spectra of hearing or concepts of sensation that are beyond the ken of a human.

    "I have seen Sensates of this nature previously, but never to his power or potency. Perhaps because this is your second Terrigenesis? Unclear."

    Elise offers him a high five.

    He looks confused, and Crystalia says "It is an Earth custom of congratulations. Honor their customs."

    He nods solemnly and high-fives Elise.

    Elise spins towards Crystalia, moving with the grace of a dancer. "Your Majesty, in celebration of this momentous occasion, would you accompany me on a date to dinner and a movie? Oh my God, I can watch movies again in the theatre."

    The Princess grins widely. "I would."

    Arcadian clears his throat "Now hold on, is this Earth courtship? Because, my lady, there are protocols and your father...."

    Crystalia waves her hands rapidly and dismissively. "No no no no it's a celebration… Don't trouble my father with it. It's diplomacy with the Earthers, that's my job as the diplomatic envoy."

    Miles grins at Arcadian. "Don't worry. Elise has just the chariot to carry your Princess around in."

    Elise suddenly turns away from Crystalia and looks at the team with a look of horror. She moseys back into the group. "Guys is my van going to be really gross."

    Miles nods with the eagerness of someone whose child is figuring out algebra.

    Elise blanches. "Like, on a scale of one to ten -"

    "14," Carol answers reflexively.

    "Yes," Miles nods.

    Michael is just quietly repeating the number “9” over and over again. He takes a deep breath and keeps going.

    "Okay, awesome, excellent,” Elise says, “it was super good being here everyone, I just need to head back to Earth to take care of a thing."

    "We'll be heading back for diplomatic purposes, give my regards to my sister and the King," Crystalia says to Arcadian.

    Elise slings one arm over Vlad's neck, one arm over Myrmidon's, and grins at Phoenix and Behemoth. "It's good to be alive and with my people, fam."

    Myrmidon nods solemnly. "Darn tootin'."

    Crystalia brings Lockjaw over to the group, with Gorgon by her side. "Where would you like to go? The Richards Tower, or your A Tower? Where?"

    "The A Tower,” Elise says. “I should check in with Clay. C'mon, Lockjaw. Take us home."
    r2C6Mbd.png

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

    qZ8f0Dc.png
    "The long game here is blackmailing the President of the United States."
    "Kiddo, you ever heard of Chernobyl? That was me."
    "... Lima, London, Bangkok, Tehran, Bogota, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Baghdad...." Victoria is horrified. "Those are...those are the most populated cities on the planet."
    "Jim Hammond. The original Human Torch."
    Miles clenches his fist. "I...I am...the godhead made flesh...the nexus of power...!"

    Elise screams.
    "Here we go." Jones leads the team to the Holepunch.

    AP3bRq6m.jpg
    "Julian! Paralyze Captain America!"
    "Enough!" Vlad takes flight to attack.

    Vlad stops.

    In time.

    He is reversed.

    "!hguonE"
    "They're basically Inhuman Murdering Bots built by the government."
    Vlad snaps to attention and stares at Susan.

    Franklin looks at Susan. "Oh, uh, hi! We're making things safe!"
    The air itself rips asunder, as two forms emerge from the hole in space and time.

    LlrOw6Um.jpg
    Vlad stops. "And kill that one."

    MatevNytewarriorPowerpuppies
  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    Yesssssss Vlad!

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  • MsAnthropyMsAnthropy Our Lady of Perpetual Mazes The CageRegistered User regular
    Hmmm. Given that Parker’s costume was transformed into a black Doom-tech suit by magic and it was inducing rage-like-stuff via hormones one might wonder if the thing could gain its own form of sentience. Nah, that would be too silly.

    "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
    JacobkoshMatev
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