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[Actual Play, NSFData] Marvel's Agents of STRIKE - S04E12: "Cut the Knot"

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

    "You're mad," Ryann says, shaking his head.

    "Despite Reed's insistence over the years, I am not."

    "What could possibly be the point in that?" Julian asks.

    "Galactus attempts to stop the Celestials before they are even born. Presumably, this is because the entity is not capable of attacking them directly. It is not a fight the Devourer can win. So, he attempts to devour their young. It's an animalistic strategy, but an effective one. But if he had a weapon, their own weapon, that he could use to attack them directly? Perhaps he need not raid their nurseries at all."

    "Or we could give it to him, he'd say no take-backsies, and then eat us," Elise says. "Because, y'know, we gave up the only way to stop him."

    Reed points at Elise and nods. "Victor, she's smarter than you." Doom grumbles; Susan rolls her eyes.

    "I hate to say it, but Doctor Doom has a point," Michael says.

    Doom gestures to Michael. "See."

    Elise stares at Behemoth. "What!"

    Michael folds his arms and meets her gaze. "It's insanely risky and could backfire in spectacular fashion, but it gets us closer to our objectives rather then killing off all cosmic beings."

    "I think Doom's idea has merit," Miles says. "But we'd need a way to ensure compliance. Perhaps we make Galactus the offer, then give the Nullifier to a neutral third party, like the Collector, to be passed on only if Galactus refrains from eating the world."

    Ryann inclines his head toward Doom. "I still say you're mad, but I also agree with Miles."

    "For a bunch of people who say they love justice so much, you guys are super down with letting Galactus go free after eating billions of people," Elise says.

    Michael scoffs. "I'm not down with letting Galactus get off scot-free, I'm just trying to stop him from consuming countless more lives, while also stopping the Celestial baby factories from wiping out all life too."

    Miles nudges Elise's elbow. "You sure didn't mind mercy the other day," he murmurs in a low voice. "Maybe you could think about that a bit."

    Elise grimaces at Miles and lowers her voice. "That's...different. You can't watch Netflix with Galactus. He didn't buy me a Christmas gift." Miles just stares.

    "Why couldn't Galactus take on Celestials on its own without the Nullifier?” Julian asks. “We took on a Celestial."

    Elise grins at Julian. "Well, technically mostly me. I was amazing."

    Thor speaks up. "We had rarified circumstances, Julian. And great fortune and skill. Also, the Nidhogg was corrupted by foul magic; I do not think it was as mighty as a true Celestial."

    "With all that being said, I find handing over a instrument of destruction of cosmic power to a giant world-devouring monster to be an utterly insane plan," Julian insists.

    Xavier shakes his head, "None of you are seeing the obvious, here. What if Galactus already killed all the Celestials. And what he's doing now is insurance they don't come back?"

    Miles nods at this. "That's a fair point. And one we need to investigate. At this point it kind of seems like we're speculating in the dark, here. We need to learn more."

    Michael nods at Miles. "In any case, we need more intel before we commit to any plan of action. 'Cuz if we start Nullifying things willy-nilly, we're no better than him."

    Ben snaps a stony finger, "'Ey! I got an idea!” He pauses dramatically. "Gwen's world!"

    "The refugee planet?" Miles asks.

    Ben nods. "Yeah, their whole universe got chewed up by Galactus. Earth's full of aliens from all over, if anyone knows stuff about Galactus, it's those folks."

    "...Huh. That's not a bad idea," Elise says, nodding slowly. "Hey, why don't we try asking Julian! I had the Phoenix Force in my head. They're mad as fuck, but there's like, ten million billion of them? I heard it." She taps Julian's shoulder. "What are they sayin'?"

    Clay makes a throat-cutty motion. "Maybe.. maybe not ask them, right now. Put a pin in that."

    "...Communing with the Phoenix Force is risky, Elise," Julian murmurs.

    "Really? Because when they were in my head they would not shut up," she says. "Like, hey! You're not the host! Get us outta here!"

    He nods. "That's the trouble. It doesn't necessarily just politely take its leave."

    Clay addresses the Thing. "Grimm, you think you could take a couple of my agents and some ARMOR chaps over to that world, figure some things out?"

    Ben nods. "Yeah, me and Johnny will go."

    "Not it," Elise says quickly.

    Clay rubs his chin. "Mason and Valt, you're up on that one. If that Earth is full of aliens, Valt's knowledge will be useful."

    Miles nods. "Copy that."

    Ryann nods at both Clay and Miles. "Sounds good."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2018
    Namor speaks up. "That's a good segue to our next topic. The Skrull Empire."

    Elise glances at the Attilan group. "From what I understand, Attilan went toe to toe against the scouting force. Along with the rest of Earth, of course." King Agar nods with pride at her.

    Michael turns to the Asgardian delegation. "I didn't get a chance to thank you Thor, for enlisting Asgard's aid in repelling the Skrulls."

    Thor smiles. "Think nothing of it. Asgard needed to do its part."

    Miles leans forward. "It seems like the first order of business is figuring out when this is going to happen again. Do we have any assets out in space keeping an eye on things? SWORD recon or something? We don't want to be caught unawares again."

    "First order of business needs to be rooting out the last infiltrators, if you ask me," Elise says. "Which, by the way, I'm trained to do, if anyone ever needs a hand." She waggles her fingers and smiles. "They got some face muscles. Just get all up in their face meats."

    Doom raises his hand, "My agents could use your assistance, Princess."

    "Oh." Elise grimaces. "Uh, yeah, I mean, I did just make an open offer, didn't I."

    "Yes," Doom agrees. "My agents have been seeking out these interlopers. Your assistance would be most welcome."

    "Your agents right there?” Elise eyes the Latverian table nervously. “With Lorelei and such? And the gang?"

    "Yes," Doom agrees.

    She gives a crooked grin. "Well! Gosh. It'd be an awful thing to just, rescind that offer, huh. That'd make me look like a huge asshole. Diplomatic incident, probably."

    "Yes," Doom agrees.

    "So of course I'm...not going to do that and I'm happy to help!" Elise tugs on Clay's sleeve. "Help." Behind them, Miles grins like the Cheshire cat.

    Clay transmits a telepathic message to Elise. This is a good opportunity to gather intelligence on Doom and what his people have been up to. Also, find out more about why Doom did not join the Parliament. This has come up a few times and it seems important.

    She frowns deeply. All of what you are saying is technically true but have you considered: I really don't want to?

    Yes I have.

    Okay so do you have, like...accomodations...for that?


    Clay nods. I will give you ways to panic button your way out of the situation if it goes awry.

    That's the best I'm gonna get, huh?
    she thinks ruefully.

    Yes.

    Nuhhhhhhhhh.
    Elise elbows Miles hard in the ribs for good measure. Doom looks quizzically at her. She gives him her best smile. He nods.

    Jean and Xavier share a look, and Xavier shrugs. She looks over at Julian, and telepathically communicates with him. Maybe I could help you communicate with the Phoenix Force? It's... it's reached out to me before. Before it chose you, I guess. I think I could help.

    Julian exchanges a look with Clay. Did you catch that? He looks back towards Jean. You used to communicate with it? Freely? I have been better able to...assert myself with it of late. But if you are already familiar with it I would absolutely appreciate the help.

    Clay looks at Julian. Catch what? Are you telepathically getting frisky with the redhead? No, I'm not listening in on anyone, I'm not Xavier. I have standards, Adler.

    Xavier looks at Clay and squints. Clay shrugs.

    "I have my own agents working on the Skrull issue," Reed says, "What's important to delineate is that not all Skrulls are the same."

    Queen Medusalith interjects. "Yes they are, they are the Enemy."

    Reed shakes his head. "With respect, your Majesty, there are Skrulls on Earth as part of the secret society Leviathan, which is now effectively dismantled thanks to the combined efforts of several parties present."

    "Yes, and they are still the Enemy." the Queen says, her arms folded. Elise winces, and Susan shifts uncomfortably. Reed speaks calmly. "Be that as it may, the landscape of the circumstances has changed somewhat with the arrival of the Skrull Empire.

    "Leviathan arrived on Earth as renegades from the Skrull Empire, believing in rogue philosophies that caused them to be rejected from the Empire, philosophies that they further radicalized when they crash-landed here. One that specifically rebukes the concept of monarchy and racial superiority."

    Queen Medusalith taps her finger on her folded arm. "So they are anti-monarchist. I fail to see how this makes them less the Enemy of Attilan."

    Elise glances at Clay and lowers her voice to as low as it can go. "Should I... say something? Try to, y'know, diplomacy?"

    Clay shakes his head at her. Let Reed bury himself before handing him a shovel.

    Reed gently folds his hands. Even with his carefully controlled, impassive facial expressions, Elise can tell he's exasperated. "They are also the Enemy of the Skrull Empire, is my point. The Skrull Empire despises these individuals not just for their political philosophy, but the current party in command of the Empire are racial supremacists. They are strictly against interbreeding, something that Leviathan was...fond of.

    "To use fascist parlance, Leviathan are race-traitors in the view of the Skrull Empire."

    "He still doesn't get it," Elise whispers.

    Clay pinches his nose. "I know. Reed's not great at moral calculus of people who aren't Reed. Help him, Elise."

    She speaks up. "Your Majesty, what Mr. Richards is suggesting is that we have a powerful weapon to use against the Enemy. You know from Maximus how dangerous a blade within can be. If we can use these Skrulls against the Empire, that's our way inside.

    “You don't need to endorse a weapon to use it, Your Majesty. I know how...dedicated you are to that principle. But if we have a weapon, would we not be a fool to put it down? They would never neglect a powerful weapon against us."

    Alaris, leader of the Ennilux, nods firmly. "The Princess speaks truth, your Majesty. We should weaponize the Enemy upon itself. If one party despises the other, why not turn that hatred inwards?"

    King Agar makes a simple hand gesture, which the Queen translates as, "How?"

    Elise turns to the Future Foundation’s table. "Did you have something in mind, Mr. Richards? You're the one who brought this to the table."

    Reed looks at Elise. He has, it seems, given up on correcting her on his title. "WHISPER has been recruiting Leviathan agents, those who are not completely untrustworthy monsters."

    "Speaking of Maximus," Elise murmurs to Clay. "We never followed up on that, did we? The plan to make him Unspoken."

    Clay whispers to Elise. "Ask Crystalia about that later."

    "Nuhhhh."

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 2018
    Reed continues. "There's one further item I'd like to bring up, King Namor, if there's nothing else."

    Namor shrugs. "Go ahead."

    "There is the matter of the Council and the Parliament," Reed says to the assembly. "Vladimir came up earlier, but he's just one part of the issue. There's an entire faction of alternate universe versions of myself who have intentions that I find opaque and potentially malevolent.

    “We need more information on these factions and their machinations. Benjamin and John have been working with ARMOR to find more information but we need some assistance.

    "Any volunteers would be helpful."

    Michael raises his hand. "I'll help out with that, Doc."

    "Thank you, Agent Westin," Reed says.

    Namor looks around the room, "Anyone have any other matters to attend to?"

    Elise raises a hand. "I just want it on the record that I was instrumental in killing Shuma-Gorath. Right, Miles? Guys? Couldn't have done it without me, right?"

    "You are technically correct, yes," Michael says.

    Keep doing that you're coming dangerously close to patronizing head-pat territory, young lady, Clay transmits to Elise.

    No!

    I'll do it in front of everyone, especially Doom.


    Her eyes widen. Don't you DARE.

    Miles stands up. "I can think of one thing we need to talk about.” He surveys the room. “HELM." Clay groans.

    Elise makes a face. "Ugh. I've just been avoiding them."

    Miles shrugs apologetically to Clay. "I should begin by stating that I have reason to believe that Gregory Stark is sincere about protecting Earth. I don't think he's...a secret Skrull, or a supervillain, or anything. But I used to work with the people he's brought on board to HAMMER. They're bad news. Giving them broad power and mandate to hunt 'infiltrators' across the planet is worse news.

    “ know that not everyone here is happy with how Nick Fury runs things, but Fury chooses good people. It doesn't seem like Stark has the same discretion. I feel like we need to decide what we're going to do about this because I don't think we can avoid them forever. Sooner or later these trains are gonna collide."

    King Agar makes some hand gestures, and the Queen translates. "Would assassinating Gregory Stark resolve this issue? The King understands that his suggestion at the previous conference to assassinate Tony Stark was met with rejection but, no party here seems fond of this Gregory Stark."

    "Oh my God," Elise murmurs to the table.

    "Gregory Stark is bad news himself. I don't think he means to do harm to the world at large, but remember that this is a man whose idea of pleasant social conversation is telling you how he would apprehend and imprison you," Julian says. "Just saying, maybe a good bit of info to keep in mind about the guy."

    Elise looks at him. "You are still really mad about that, huh?"

    Miles does a Kif sigh. "Killing Stark wouldn't address the problem of the organization he's created."

    "Why not?" the Queen asks. "Would it not send a message to the one who takes command next?"

    "Institutions like that don't just...change overnight. The people he has working for him aren't going to just roll over for some new guy telling them to play nice. They didn't when I served with them. They just made jackoff motions and kept doing what they'd always done."

    Elise holds up a hand to the rest of STRIKE. "Ah, Your Majesty, if you were to make such a move in the confines of your political ecosystem, it'd be seen as such. On Earth, that reaction would be so over the top as to...fail to send the message, you see.

    "Your benevolent strength has secured Attilan, but Earth's just more...complicated." King Agar shrugs at this. "These are my in-laws," Elise mutters quietly to the team. "It's the worst."

    Clay mutters to her. "We can swap stories if you wanted to feel better."

    "Where did you learn to talk that way, Elise?" Miles hisses. "I never see you read!"

    "I spend so much time in Attilan court!" Elise hisses back. "I did the primary diplomacy after the Dust! I just hate talking like this and it the worst and it makes my teeth itch!"

    Miles nods.

    "And I read,” she adds, scandalized. “I read so much. Shut up."

    Dr. McCoy, the X-Man known as Beast, speaks up. "If I may, perhaps the easiest way to neutralize the HAMMER issue is not dissimilar to how your agency handled the Office of National Emergency? Presumably, they're cut from the same moral cloth, as it were, and inevitably will make the same sort of transgressions.

    "Expose them to the light, let the public judge them. Currently, they enjoy support and positive sentiment, being seen as protecting people from nebulous infiltrators and invaders, but that positivity would evaporate if the sort of things you suspect them of would be shown."

    Miles nods at Beast. "That's a good idea Doctor...Doctor McCoy," his face twitches slightly as he realizes something. "And I think that might be what we'll need to do. I worry that Stark has already anticipated that move and might have something up his sleeve if we try it.

    “Still," Miles turns his head to face every member of the assembly individually, "we should definitely agree to share anything we learn about HAMMER. Anything shady, any wrong moves they make. If you see something, say something. With enough time, we can build up a case."

    "Do you want me to put my evil eye on them?" Elise grins. "I can pick up a lot about someone. Just ask Jeremiah."

    Clay puts his hand on her shoulder, "You already have a task you should focus on."

    "Oh. Great," she mutters. "That's...so good."

    "Isn't it?” Julian asks. “I mean, you volunteered." Elise keeps smiling and stomps on his foot under the desk.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Namor claps his hands together. "Good then, if there's nothing further from anyone? No other calamitous subjects that no one party is capable of handling on their own? No grandstanding moral judgments and storming off like the King of Wakanda did last time?"

    Nobody brings anything up.

    "Then I call this conference adjourned. Those of you who came here by submersible, my guards will direct you to those. Those who came here by some other transportation method, do so at your leisure."

    "Do I... Do I leave with Doom?" Elise whispers to Clay.

    Clay nods at her, and then slips her something small and flat. This communicator is directly connected to Vision. You can use it anywhere in the world, through almost any kind of shielding. It won't work off planet or in another dimension, obviously, but aside from that, it'll work. It will also let us track your location. If you need help, call Vision, we can be there.

    Alright. Alright, thanks, dad. I've got this. I will not fuck the dog on this, I promise.

    I know,
    he nods.

    Elise stands, exhales, smooths down her coat, and slouches over to Doom.

    Clay turns to Miles, Ryan, and Michael. "You three leave with Reed and his people. Reed will drop Mason and Valt off with Grimm and Storm at the Holepunch, and Reed will take Westin...I genuinely don't even know what his plan is. That's his business."

    Jean motions for Julian to come over and leave with the X-Men. He nods at her and turns to Clay. I'd like to discuss some things with Jean Grey. The Phoenix Force has reached out to her. I want to find out more about it.

    Clay nods. Permission granted, follow that lead. Practice safe telepathy, young man.

    Of course, Sir.
    Julian bows slightly to the rest of the STRIKE group. "I'll catch up with you guys later. I have an interesting discussion ahead of me."

    When Elise sees Julian going off with Jean Grey, she forcefully directs her thoughts at him. Julian. Julian! Julian! Hey! Hey! Julian! GET IT.

    PHU1KZN.png
    There’s probably a metagame element to everyone’s PCs egging Julian to get his freak on with Jean Grey, but, you know, oh well.

    Strange looks at Clay, "All your people are just going off like that, then?"

    "They have their missions, Strange. If you want five stars, I need to get back to the tower and brief Fury."

    Strange does a sharp exhale through his nose.

    Miles claps both of them on the shoulder jovially. "You two play nice," he says. "I'm going to the fucked dimension and I don't want to come back to discover that my boss is a frog and the East Village is a crater. Ok?" He saunters off.

    Strange opens a portal and Clay steps through. Strange pauses. Closes the portal. Opens a different portal And steps through that one, closing it behind him.

    Elise ambles up to Doom and his crew and sketches a half bow awkwardly, then jerks up and salutes. "Hello, mis-- DOCTOR. Doctor Doom. Hi."

    Doom nods at her. "This way." He opens his own portal, and his Agents of Doom walk through. Elise gives the rest of STRIKE one last wave and then steps through.

    PHU1KZN.png
    I really enjoyed the first Atlantis Conference and I really liked that we got to revisit that here. I really enjoy all of these characters and it’s great to get to schooze and argue with them.

    Something I’d like to call attention to, though, is how it plays out. “Council of war” sessions are not an unknown thing in RPGs. Lots and lots of GMs want to riff on the Council of Elrond from LOTR or the Yavin briefing from Star Wars or whatever. And there are entire genres of RPG, like White Wolf’s horror games, that lean heavily on the concept of PCs being members of secret societies (mage circles, vampire clans, werewolf packs, etc) and politicking with powerful NPCs.

    But a common mistake GMs commit is to turn these parts into cutscenes. The lowly players have gotten invited to the big council meeting with the vampire prince or with Luke Skywalker and Mon Mothma or whatever...and then they have to sit quietly while the GM talks to himself for half an hour. Or if the players do get to talk, they end up kind of...Rosencrantz and Guildensterning, or if your prefer, Statler and Waldorfing: offering asides and snark from the sidelines but not really being listened to and with no real power to affect the outcome of the discussion.

    Matt is aware of this issue and works hard to keep that from happening. The NPCs raise their pet issues and share their point of view about the topics of discussion but our PCs are fully vested members of what’s going on and our thoughts, opinions, ideas, concerns, etc are listened to by the big players and taken seriously. Which, I can tell you, is a lot more fun!

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    zPd6631h.png

    They appear in a laboratory. Doom follows through behind Elise and the portal closes.

    Doom walks over to a nearby shelf and picks up a device. "While you are working for me, I will refer to you by your codename, Sensate. I was informed that you are no longer in possession of the kinetic harness that protected you from harm. I cannot have you killed under my command, so I created a device this afternoon.” He hands Elise a harness that looks similar to her previous one. "It functions akin to your previous kinetic harness, although improved owing to my technological superiority over Tony Stark. It runs off a crystal capacitor instead of a common arc reactor."

    "Uh, okay." Elise shrugs off her coat and pulls off her top, reaching out. "Thank...you?"

    He nods as he hands it to her. "When you are prepared and decent, speak to Malice, who will arm you appropriately."

    Elise nods, strapping the harness on. "S-Sure. Thank you, uh...sir?"

    "You are welcome. Arm yourself, and then meet us in the great hall, where you will be briefed on your task."

    Elise nods and pulls her coat back on. She finds Malice in the armory of Castle Doom, equipping herself with multiple firearms and bladed weapons. The commando looks at Elise and gives a small half-salute to acknowledge her presence.

    uTa6Z4Y.jpg

    "Uh, hey, I'm here to get armed?” Elise says. “I usually use ICERs."

    "We don't." There's something off about her voice.

    "Oh. Uh, well, I mean, I can use pistols just fine, but I'm not... killing anyone." Elise peers more closely at this...Malice. Clay would probably appreciate the intel.

    "You kill Skrulls," Malice says says. "That's not a question, it's a statement. You kill Skrulls, I know you do." It’s not just her voice. Her face is strange.

    "Yeah, well, Leviathan. Sure."

    "These won't be Leviathan we're tracking down," Malice says. "Imperials." She's being extremely curt. Trying to limit how many words she's saying. Her voice is strange. Distorted? Something is up with her face. Like movement going on underneath her skin that's not entirely normal.

    ...she might be a Skrull.

    Trying to stay discreet and keep the conversation going, Elise opens her senses fully. "Imperials aren't... it's not the same as people. It's fine. I can do that."

    Malice isn’t a Skrull. She's not. But...she's wearing a mask.

    Not just a mask, a MASC. One of those memetic alloy things that Elise was wearing in space. That SHIELD based on Vlad's tech...that was created by Doom.

    "Good,” Malice nods. “We have special rounds. Based off SPIN tech, but modified. Will knock a Skrull out of shapeshifting, keep them from doing it for a while. Otherwise? Normal bullets." Her voice is artificially distorted but...familiar? Like Elise has heard it before. But she can't quite make it out.

    Elise listens carefully to Malice's voice. Her voice is familiar. Elise knows this person.

    "So you have to shoot for the head,” Malice continues, “put enough in them to keep them down. Skrulls regenerate fast. You know that."

    Elise realizes who the voice is.

    "Susan," she whispers in a low voice. Malice stops. "What are you doing?"

    Elise catches the flash of panic in Malice's eyes, and sees her hand moving quickly...for her gun. "Woah woah woah woah! -" Elise reaches for Susan's wrist, but isn't fast enough.

    Malice pulls her gun and points it at Elise. "You shut up."

    "Wait. Wait wait wait," Elise throws her hands in the air. "Susan was at the… Oh. Oh shit, don't shoot me."

    Malice is nervous. She reaches her hand up to her ear and hits a communicator "...Victor...I...I need your help." Her hand is shaking.

    "Oh no no no no no no," Elise says. "Don't call him in..."

    Doom enters the room. "Hm." he says, with a lack of surprise and only mild disappointment at Malice having her gun drawn on Elise. "Unfortunately, my dear, she's already wearing the kinetic harness. If you fired, at best it might be akin to a punch in the face at this range.

    "Susan, put the gun away. She was going to find out inevitably."

    Elise keeps her hands in the air, trying to fight down panic as Malice, shakily, holsters her weapon.

    "You might as well remove the mask,” Doom says. “She knows. No sense in hiding who you really are."

    Malice lets out a slow exhale and pulls at the side of her lower jaw, and the nano-mimetic alloy mask comes away like silk cloth, revealing...Susan Richards. It looks exactly like her, but for her blond hair dyed black.

    She's definitely not a Skrull. But she doesn't...doesn't look exactly like the Susan Richards that Elise knows. There's dozens of tiny differences. They're the same person, this woman isn't an imposter but...almost like a twin? Maybe someone from an alternate universe? Elise has met alternate universe versions of people.

    "Everything's cool," Elise says, laughing shakily. "Everything - everything's fine. I've met lots of alternate universe people! It's not...a thing."

    "I am not from an alternate universe!" Malice snarls.

    "...Oh," Elise gulps. "Oh, fuck. I just got it."

    "My name is Susan Storm. The real Susan Storm. Not that Skrull bitch who stole my life and my family."

    "Yes," Elise nervously laughs. "I, too, hate...that's why I was so surprised...I'm definitely not friends with her."

    Doom sighs. "Elise, don't lie to her. Susan has been lied to enough in her life."

    "She pointed a gun at me!"

    "She's very stressed."

    Elise gives Doom an incredulous look. "Okay. Okay, everyone's cool."

    Malice...Susan, hisses at Elise, "I'm not cool. You were best friends with a Skrull who stole my life from me and you didn't give a damn."

    Doom puts his hand up. "Susan, we've been over this. They all thought you were dead."

    "Best friends?" Elise splutters. "We're not best friends. Miles doesn't even like her that much!"

    Doom shakes his head. "This is pointless squabbling. Susan, Elise did not know of your circumstances. She was told the same lie so many others were. She never knew you, she knew only the Skrull who took your place. She's not your enemy.

    "They are. So, let's focus on that, shall we?"

    Elise exhales. The Richards are going to have kittens over this. Christ. "Yeah. The Great Enemy, as my in-laws like to say. Shall we go to the briefing? And not aim our guns at anyone?"

    Doom nods. "Susan, get the others prepared. I'd like a word with Elise to clarify some matters."

    Malice nods, gulps hard to steady her emotions, and puts her mask back on. She walks out of the room.

    PHU1KZN.png
    So, Malice!

    There are a lot of Malices in Marvel. Six, in fact, though interestingly, most are women. Two are Black Panther villains, henchmen of Killmonger; one was a Ghost Rider villain, and another is an X-Men villain, an insubstantial, ghost-like mutant who possesses people to commit murder.

    AoS’s Malice, though, is based on the version that appeared in writer/artist John Byrne’s seminal early-1980s run on the Fantastic Four (generally considered to be the second most important body of work done on the comic after the original 100 issues by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby). In Byrne’s story, the Fantastic Four fought a pair of mind-controlling villains, the Psycho-Man and the Hate Monger, who used their powers to bring all of Susan’s repressed anger and buried resentment to the surface, turning her into a BDSM supervillainess who inflicted physical and mental torture on the team.

    ZffjyUY.png

    (It occurs to me that Byrne was also the artist and co-plotter on X-Men during the debuts of both the White Queen (a villainess in white leather fetish gear) and Dark Phoenix (a heroine turned sexy evil). So...I guess that’s just a thing?)

    Anyway, the aftermath of the Malice story, 20 years after Fantastic Four #1, was the point where Susan dropped the name “Invisible Girl” to become the Invisible Woman, as well as becoming a more assertive and masterful character rather than a model 1960’s wife, changes which have stuck. STRIKE’s Susan (both of them!) are very much in the post-Byrne mold.

    This Malice doesn’t have the Invisible Woman’s powers, since the human Susan Storm never met Reed Richards and never went to the Negative Zone, but she does have her SHIELD field training. Which also kind of situates her as a sort-of successor to the X-Men’s Malice, who led the team of cybernetic mercenaries, the Reavers.

    Anyway, now you know the hidden meaning of the title of this week’s episode!

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Then Doom turns to Elise. "I specifically told you to meet her in the armory as I presumed you would near-immediately see through her disguise. My technology is excellent, but your powers are remarkable. The efficacy of your powers is the entire reason for you being here, after all. Consider it something of a test, really. If you can defeat masks of my creation, then a Skrull's disguise is a simple matter, really."

    Elise stares. "She pointed a gun at me."

    "As I said, you would not have been harmed perhaps no more severe than a bloodied nose," he says. "I made sure you had the harness beforehand."

    Elise takes a few deep breaths. She would yell at Clay right now. She can't yell at Doom.

    "Now, about Susan..." he begins. "I imagine you have...questions. I will explain. When I learned that Susan Richards is a Skrull, I realized that despite what she believed, there was perhaps a small possibility that Susan Storm still lived. So, Graviton and I pursued the matter.

    "We found a Leviathan facility that had humans in storage. Not connected to one of their active so-called 'Cradle' facilities, but more just...a honeycomb of stored bodies."

    "Oh. Yeah, I kind of figured it was something like that,” Elise says. "Are you two, like...doing it?"

    Doom is dumbstruck. "I... I rescued Susan from the Skrulls. She… We..."

    Elise knows. They're totally doing it. She can't stop herself. A slow grin creeps across her face. "I mean, that's legitimate. That's a fine way to meet a lady."

    "Doom will not be judged."

    "I'm not judging you! But how did you, like...Susan being a Skrull is a secret. How did you figure that out?"

    PHU1KZN.png
    You could write a whole paper on the psychology behind a dude fucking a body double of his greatest enemy/best friend’s wife.

    "The same way I know Clay Quartermain is a Skrull and, furthermore, Crown Prince Z'Reg. Possibly even the rightful heir to the Skrull Empire."

    Now it’s Elise’s turn to be dumbstruck. "Oh, fuck. Fuck!"

    Doom folds his arms, feeling like he's gained the conversational upper hand.

    "Goddamnit." Elise steps forward and puts a finger in his face. "Why did you reject the Parliament's offer?"

    "Because I told myself to."

    "...Like, another Doom?"

    "No, myself." He chuckles. "Princess Elise, do you really think I simply abandoned Kang's ship?"

    Her eyes widen. "Oh, no no no, you fuckin' played us. You never needed the helmet. We thought...you..."

    "Yes."

    "If you know how to detect Skrulls, why do you need me? You found out about Susan and Clay. Why not just do it again?"

    "Because I don't know how to 'detect' Skrulls,” he says. ”Not really. I knew about Quartermain and Susan Richards because MODOC told me. He's a very helpful little creature."

    Elise steps forward again into Doom's personal space, angry. "You are a... You... are a..." Don't call Doctor Doom a dick. Do not call Doctor Doom a dick. Don't do it. "I do not like you. At all."

    "That's unfortunate, I'm quite fond of you."

    "...What?"

    "Follow me, I need to brief my agents on their task," he says, stepping out into the hallway. "Including you."

    "What." Elise follows Doom. She is still quite sure he's the worst. And hopefully him being...fond? of her doesn't make her the worst too.

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  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    Phoenix using the Phoenix force for drinking game advantage

    And still losing

    V disrespectful

    2/10 would not possess again

    sig.gif
  • jurnerjurner Registered User regular
    Julian even managed to die during the intel report. Perfection.

    JacobkoshFencingsaxRear Admiral Choco
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Haha, I'm going through the old episodes in preparation for a big cleanup I'm working on - the "HD remaster," if you will - and I came across this from episode 6:
    Jacobkosh wrote: »
    "No, alright, look, you're insane. I'm Agent Arnell, Anteater, Agent of STRIKE. I'm not - some alien fighter who needs to jack off a crystal to reach my true potential so I can fight evil spaceships or whatever the fuck."

    visiblehowlFencingsaxMsAnthropyMatevRear Admiral Choco
  • FencingsaxFencingsax It is difficult to get a man to understand, when his salary depends upon his not understanding GNU Terry PratchettRegistered User regular
    Sue against Sue will go real bad for Sue.

    torchlight-sig-80.jpg
    JacobkoshMatev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
  • visiblehowlvisiblehowl He/Him Neutron Nerd Registered User regular
    two weeks, Jacob

    two weeks

    vxsHp3F.gif
    I die evry tiem in Sekiro on Twitch
    JacobkoshMatev
  • MatevMatev Cero Miedo Registered User regular
    That preview has me dying. Like, how the Hell are we getting there. Scratch that, don't care cause it'll be glorious.

    "Go down, kick ass, and set yourselves up as gods, that's our Prime Directive!"
    Hail Hydra
    Jacobkosh
  • FencingsaxFencingsax It is difficult to get a man to understand, when his salary depends upon his not understanding GNU Terry PratchettRegistered User regular
    I have my suspicions, but we shall see.

    torchlight-sig-80.jpg
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    MlxPd38.png



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    Machine Man, Centurion, the Thing, and the Human Torch cruise over the North Sea toward ARMOR's HQ, The Hollow, in the Fantastic Four's flying transport vehicle that the press has dubbed the 'Fantasticar,' much to the chagrin of Reed Richards (and the delight of Johnny Storm). Miles has already ascertained that the Fantasticar does, indeed, get satellite radio.



    "This is a nice ride," Ryann says to Johnny. Johnny grins and gives him a thumbs-up. "I'll have to show you mine sometime," Ryann adds.

    "Oh man, do you have a spaceship?"

    "Yup," Ryann smirks.

    Johnny whistles. "Jealous. My sister has an alien plane but it's not the same. She can't fly it too high, either, or the satellites will be all 'Skrull vessel detected!' and pfwow!" He makes a little explosion with his hands.

    "Yikes."

    "Jesus," Miles says. "Can't you do something about that? I don't think I'd want to ride around in something liable to get me shot."

    "Well, it's got a cloaking device," Johnny says. “Oh hey, we’re here.”

    82CibQXh.jpg

    They pull into the hangar and enter the ARMOR facility, where Rick Jones waits to meet them. He doesn't look happy. But then, he never does. He has resting Rick face.

    "Jones," Miles nods briskly.

    Jones just frowns at Miles. "Hello. I've been…asked to let you people use my portal to head to Earth-501. I'm going to demand that you not bring anyone back with you beyond maybe Gwen Stacy."

    "He's a ball of sunshine, eh?" Centurion says out of the corner of his mouth to Johnny.

    Johnny whispers back, "This is a good day for him, he's not threatening to 'accidentally' send us to vampire world or anything."

    Miles holds his hands out to Jones placatingly. "We're just gathering intel," he says, in the slow, even tone of voice you use when talking to a confused senior citizen or an angry dog. "We're not going to cause any trouble. So maybe if you know a good place of us to begin, you could make all our lives easier and let us know."

    Jones grumbles and nods. "We're sending you to LA, not far from the Revengers base. Grimm and Storm know the way there. Once you're there, meet up with them, they know the lay of the land.

    "Whatever your mission is, they're your best asset. That said...you." Jones points at Centurion. "You're a Nova Corps guy, right?"

    "Ex-Nova Corps, actually."

    "Okay, well...they don't have those anymore on the other side," Jones says. "They have like, one. Nova Prime."

    Ryann frowns and shakes his head in surprise.

    "Xandar's been gone for a while,” Jones continues. “Like, gone. This one Xandarian, Tanak Valt, absorbed the entire Nova Force and now he's Nova Prime, he's part of the Revengers."

    "Wait," Ryann says. "Hold up. My brother is the one Nova Prime?"

    "No,” Jones says flatly. “He isn't. Let's underline this. Whoever that is, on the other side? That isn't your brother. That's some other guy. With his own life. You, the you who was that guy on that world? That guy's likely dead. Tanak Valt-501 doesn't have a brother. Not anymore."

    Miles shoots a glance at Ryann and grimaces. They haven't even left yet and there's already a wrench in the works.

    "So he's going to be pretty shocked if he sees me, I take it?" Ryann says.

    "Not if he doesn't," Jones says.

    "Are we avoiding the Revengers?" Miles asks.

    "No, you're going to need them. But what they don't need is any baggage that comes with knowing who you are. So you go incognito. They'll know you're from another dimension. They know Grimm and Storm. But they don't need to know specifics."

    Ryann looks at Johnny. "How many times have you had to deal with this type of thing?"

    Johnny shrugs. "Couple times, but on Earth-501 I'm dead, so's my whole family. So Ben and I can just walk around. Plus on 501 we never even went on the thing, so like, we never had powers."

    "By the Force..." Ryann shakes his head.

    Miles nods. "You get used to this shit," he says to Ryann, "but it's going to fuck with your head for a bit. Just follow our lead for a bit."

    Rick sighs. "We have photostatic veils for you guys to wear. I don't know what the status of Miles Mason-501 is, but better safe than sorry."

    "I got my own,” Ryann says. “Check it out" He pulls out the MASC and puts it on. He activates it.

    "...oh fuck off." Rick growls. "Quartermain and his black ops budget. That's such bullshit."

    "Oh," Ryann chuckles. "It's actually SWORD tech, I think."

    "That's worse," Jones growls. "Ugh, let's just go."

    "Okay."

    Storm snickers as the four are led through the facility to the Holepunch.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    AP3bRq6h.jpg

    Ryann whistles. He’s never seen a device like this before. It looks kind of like a foldgate, but more elaborate.

    "You guys build this thing from the ground up?" he says, taking in the chamber.

    "Sort of," a woman's voice comes from behind Ryann. He turns; it's Jane Foster. "It's a collection of technology. Kree space-folds, interdimensional portals designed by Reed Richards, a bit of so-called 'sorcery' we've learned from the collected works of Kamar-Taj, and our own theories and designs."

    She takes a deep breath. "So... please understand that Earth-501 has a lot of... problems. I trust you've read the briefing on this world. It's very important that you do not let on that you come from a world that has...space."

    Miles nods. "So these people think, what? That alternate dimensions are all as fucked as theirs?"

    "I mean...not necessarily, but...look, we can't just become a haven for them. That's not our remit. Think of it as...Prime Directive adjacent?"

    "That Star Trek show got bunch of things right, actually,” Ryann observes, “which is hilarious."

    "Earth-462 was an exception because that was an alternate timeline created by STRIKE's actions,” she continues. “Otherwise, we don't go mucking about in alternate worlds trying to fix their problems. So we can't just...take their overflow.

    "You're going to see things there. Heartbreaking things. And there will be a temptation to say, we have room here. But it won't be enough."

    Ryann sighs. "I understand.” Miles grimaces and nods.

    Grimm nods at what Foster is saying. "It's like a whole planet that's one big favela. They barely got anything like a government. It's pretty rough, boys. But it's a place where Galactus ran buckwild, so, I figure it's our best shot to learn what that looks like and why it does what it does."

    Ryann frowns with thoughts of Galactus and how his universe could share that fate.

    "So in terms of likely threats, that's what we can expect?" Miles asks, looking from Grimm to Foster. "Gangs, random violence, that sort of thing?"

    "Gangs, inter-species violence, resource wars,” she says. “The Revengers settle a lot of fights, they're sort of trouble-shooters for the closest thing the region has to a government. They...they keep the peace in a pretty 'effective' fashion."

    Ben nods. "They're not the gentlest people. Gwen's the nice one. You'll see. Let's get movin'."

    The Holepunch powers up, and the portal opens.

    "I'll follow your lead, Miles. This is a first for me," Ryann says as they go.

    They enter the portal, and it's one of the wildest and most uncomfortable experiences Ryann has ever gone through, and he's travelled at near the speed of light.

    They come through the other side, and it's...it sure is something.

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

    Miles stares. "....Jesus," he whispers at last.

    "Yeah, it's...it's pretty gnarly," Johnny sighs.

    Ryann is silent. He's seen wastelands before. But this is different. It's so crowded with life that it's all visual noise. There's too much of everything. Movement, noise, odor.

    "We can't let this happen to us," he says finally.

    "And keep in mind, you guys," Ben adds, "They got space-fold tech on this world. This is the stuff that ain't folded into smaller spaces."

    Miles swallows. "...Fuck me." Ryann just shakes his head.

    "Yeah."

    "What have you guys done, when you've been here before?" Miles asks.

    "Try to find stuff out about like, aliens, galactic history, that kind of thing." Johnny says as he leads the four on foot. "The...upside, if you can call it that, of Earth being the refugee camp of the universe is that everyone brings a lot with ‘em."

    Miles nods. "Any idea who the big Galactus experts are around here? You meet anyone who survived a close encounter?"

    "That's what we're hoping the Revengers know,” Johnny says. “At the very least, Nova Prime might know some stuff."

    The group walks through the streets. The poverty here is staggering. Miles has been to the Sandbox and seen child soldiers playing with dud grenades as toys. This is...worse.

    Part of it is the diversity of alien life, on par with somewhere like Knowhere or Sakaar. Knowing that these people are from worlds devoured, on Earth not because they want to be but because their planets are gone. Nobody even glances at a stone-man like the Thing. There are Kronans just walking down the street like it's nothing remarkable, after all.

    After about half an hour of labyrinthine streets, the group comes to a huge clearing in the rolling favela hills, and they can see the tower.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Txmnl5J.png

    Miles whistles. "You guys been here before? Anything we should know?"

    Ben nods. "Haven't met the full team before, but we've met Nova Prime. He's...kind of a mean guy. Takes a real...tough on crime approach. Gwen's nice? But these guys are like, what if the Avengers had to deal with...all this."

    The four approach the tower, and when they reach the entrance, X-51 chimes in Miles' ear. Miles, we're being scanned by perimeter defenses. I can block them, but I don't think they're an active threat and my blocking actions could be considered hostile. There's a radio transmission that is attempting to contact us on broad frequencies. Do you wish to connect?

    Dial me in,
    Miles says.

    "This is Iron Destroyer of the Revengers. Identify yourselves."

    "This is Myrmidon, Thing, Human Torch, and, uh, Quasar?" Miles says. "We're the Fantastic Four. We'd like to talk to Gwen, if she's around."

    "You're the guys from Earth-1491?" the voice asks.

    "Yep," Miles says.

    "Alright, unlocking the elevator, let yourselves up."

    "I just gave you a badass new code name," Miles whispers to Ryann. "It's space-themed, too. Am I great or what? I missed my calling." He goes into the elevator.

    "I guess so," Ryann laughs. "'Quasar.'"

    PHU1KZN.png
    Miles gives aliases for himself and Ryann, since he knows that he can’t announce Centurion as a Nova, and he’s worried about bumping into Miles-501.

    Quasar is the name of an actual Marvel character from the late 80s and early 90s, a young space-themed hero very much in the vein of Nova.

    The group takes the elevator up to the Revengers HQ. It's not...not exactly the most hi-tech of establishments.

    An individual in armor greets them. This must be the Iron Destroyer. He looks...familiar from a couple different angles.

    k12UqFOl.png

    "Uh." Miles stares. "Hi," he manages, stepping forward with a big grin. I can't wait to tell Michael about this.

    Ryann is shocked but keeps his mouth shut.

    The Iron Destroyer opens his helmet. It's Tony Stark. "Hey. Tony Stark. I go by Iron Destroyer."

    "Quasar," Ryann says, trying his best to sound natural.

    "Dirk Brisco, Myrmidon," Miles says way too easily. He's had this name up his sleeve for a while. He eyes Ryann, Ben, and Johnny to see if anyone calls him on it.

    "Miles! Hey!" Miles hears a familiar voice. It's Gwen Stacy, Spider Woman.

    U5mPVrvl.png

    She walks over to Miles and Tony. "Hey Tony, this guy and his team rescued me from this messed up world ruled by Inhumans."

    Miles sighs.

    "Uh," Ryann looks at Miles.

    "Hi, Ms. Stacy," Miles says with a little wave.

    "They were the team I was telling you about,” she says to Tony, “the one where some SHIELD guy got kidnapped by the Destroyer cult instead of you."

    Tony looks at Miles. "Dirk Brisco, huh?"

    Miles shrugs. "A), it's rad. B), can't be too careful. What if I'm some serial killer or supervillain here? But mostly A. So! The Destroyer cult. Yeah, we had one of those." Smooth pivot.

    Tony nods. "Yeah, from the sound of things, the guy from your world never upgraded his armor because he's just some SHIELD agent? Shame."

    There's a beeping from a nearby console, and Gwen walks over to it. "Rest of the team is coming in now."

    On cue, a nearby hatch opens to the sky, and three others fly in. Well, two others fly in, with a third being carried by one of them.

    e1DhWfpl.jpg
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    Gwen gestures to the other three, "Guys, meet Nova Prime, Union Jack, and Binary." As she's landing, Binary powers down and Miles and Ryann immediately recognize her.

    RNQ1MWwl.jpg

    It's Carol Danvers. Ryann nods but says nothing; he's letting Miles take the lead on this. He tries not to look at Nova Prime too much.

    Miles' jaw visibly drops and he has to winch it back up. He hopes it comes off like he's va-va-vooming at Carol instead of experiencing the shock of recognition. "I...nice to meet you all," he says finally. "Cool codenames."

    "Thanks, mate," Union Jack says in reply. Miles recognizes the voice. It’s Clay.

    PHU1KZN.png
    In the early 1980s, Carol Danvers—who back then was still Ms. Marvel, not Captain Marvel—had her Kree powers stolen by Rogue, who at the time was still an X-Men villain and a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Rogue touched Carol too long and ended up getting Carol’s memories and powers permanently (which is why, in most of her appearances, Rogue has flight and super-strength; those are Carol’s powers that she jacked). Having Carol’s memories also helped precipitate Rogue’s turn toward being a good guy and joining the X-Men.

    Carol, meanwhile, had her memories (mostly) restored by Professor X and, as an unpowered human who still had military training and space piloting experience, accompanied the X-Men on a mission into space against the evil alien insects known as the Brood. During the adventure, Brood technology re-empowered Carol, giving her the ability to channel the energy of a star, at which point she took the new name Binary.

    Union Jack sounds like Clay because Z’Reg took Brian Falsworth’s/Union Jack’s place when he died in WWII and kept his accent and mannerisms even after switching to the “Clay Quartermain” identity. This dude is presumably Earth-501’s actual Brian Falsworth.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Tony turns to the four. "So, you didn't say what brought you here. Gwen's spoken for you guys as allies, but why are you here. Have you...reconsidered letting some of our people come over to your world?"

    Miles holds up a couple of hands placatingly. "We're still working on that. And that's not bullshit. These guys," he points at Ben and Johnny, "are part of the point team on that. Going to other dimensions, looking for places you can go." He draws a breath. "As for me and Quasar, we're tackling the problem from a different angle. The Galactus side of things."

    He looks at the team, one by one, although his gaze kind of slides off Carol. "We need to know anything…anything...you guys know about Galactus."

    Tony sighs, "I mean, what's there to know that you don't?"

    "For starters," Miles says, "has anyone in your universe tried using the Ultimate Nullifier?" Miles tosses this out there like a rock in the pond, waiting to see what kind of splash it makes.

    "The Celestial weapons? No, that's what they use to clean up planets if they fail the Third Host."

    Miles stares. "The Third Host?"

    "Yeah, they...jeez, how much do you people know about Celestials?"

    "Assume we don't,” Ryann says. “Explain what you can, please."

    "Yeah," Miles says. "This is all new to us."

    Tony looks at Union Jack. "Falsworth, maybe you're best to do this."

    Union Jack nods. "Celestials are...they're the first race of the universe. Gods, more or less. The way they, for lack of a better term reproduce involves finding worlds with sapient life and they come to them in Hosts. The First Host establishes the Eternals, demi-gods. Near-immortal, powerful beings that form a sort of 'control' state for the experiment.

    "Then the Celestials disappear for a time, let that run. They come back in the Second Host, and establish the 'Deviants.' Mutants, other creatures with strange abilities that can do things way outside what the Eternals can do."

    Miles nods. "We're with you so far." Ryann nods.

    "They let that run. Usually, the Eternals and the Deviants come into conflict. The conflict is expected, necessary. Sometimes, one wins out over the other. It's...survival of the fittest. On Earth, it's called Darwinism?"

    Miles works hard to resist pretending not to know who Darwin is. Ryann doesn't have to try very hard.

    Falsworth continues. "On Earth, they had Eternals called Asgardians, and many different kinds of Deviants. Atlanteans, Thulians, Orollans."

    "Orollan?" Miles asks. That’s a new one to him.

    "Yeah, ancient city from the Hyborian Age. Gone now. Anyway, eventually, the Celestials come back again. That's the Third Host. Sort of a...check in. See how the experiment is going. If the species has wiped itself out or something, it's a failure. Or, if it's failed to achieve the goal of really hitting that marker of being ready to 'birth' a Celestial...out comes the Ultimate Nullifier.

    "The Celestials wipe out the species, and move on. Experiment failed.

    "If the species is ready, though. If there's a 'winner,' then there's a Fourth Host. That's like...birth? A new Celestial is born."

    Miles nods slowly. "Do you have any idea why the Celestials haven't stepped in to stop Galactus?"

    "Oh, they have,” Falsworth says. “They're at war, out there."

    Miles frowns. "In our universe, we've only ever seen evidence of the Celestials. Their leftovers. Bodies, technology. We...assumed they hadn't stopped Galactus because they weren't around to. But it sounds like they can't?"

    "I mean, he eats the Power Cosmic, so it's hard for them to fight him," Union Jack says. "Ea protects us, so, thankfully he leaves Earth alone. For now, anyway."

    "Ea?" Miles furrows his brow.

    "That's...that's Earth's Celestial?" Union Jack looks around, surprised. "Does...Ea not exist on your world?"

    Miles shakes his head. "Was Ea just...recently born?"

    "No. So far as we can tell it was something that happened back in the 40s? Earth had a Celestial monitor that had been watching us since the Third Host in the Hyborian Age. Tiamut the Communicator."

    Miles nods. "I think...in our universe something went wrong. Tiamut. He was corrupted somehow."

    "I mean that happened here too?" Tony says, quizzically. "Tiamut was locked away in this dark city, Thule, in the Hyborian Age."

    Miles tilts his head. "Wait. So...okay, let me guess. Did the Red Skull open up Thule? And you're all still alive?"

    "Yes?" Tony says. "Tiamut destroyed Asgard. He started the Fourth Host. We didn't even know Asgard was real until it...wasn't."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Miles takes a deep breath. "Wow. Okay. So did the Fourth Host ever actually arrive on Earth? Were there giant dudes stomping around on your cities? Or is this all stuff you've learned after the fact?"

    "I mean, not so much with the stomping? They definitely...appeared. It was pretty terrifying," Tony says. "My dad told me stories about it when I was a kid. There was newsreel footage and stuff."

    "Okay." Miles rubs his temples. "I feel like if we can identify the point of divergence, it might tell us something...." Miles quickly runs through what he knows.. The Red Skull never opened Thule. Shuma-Gorath was still kicking around until a couple weeks ago. There is no Earth Celestial. There was no Charles Darwin, just this guy named Dave Highlander.”

    Ben looks at Miles at that last point. "Hey. C'mon man."

    "Fine. So with all that," Miles finishes, "why is your Galactus so much more aggressive? Did these changes lead to that? If so, how?"

    Carol shakes her head. "Galactus consumed over half the galaxy long before Ea was born. Ea's birth just made Earth the place to be, so to speak. Sort of like the Shi'ar homeworld was before M'Kraan died."

    Miles stares. "M'Kraan was a Celestial too?" He’s heard of the M’Kraan Crystal, the cosmic artifact that the Shi’ar of the 1491 dimension had built before Galactus consumed them.

    "Yeah, one of the oldest, ascended from the Shi'ar," Carol says.

    "Makes sense, I suppose," Ryann observes. Wait till Julian get a load of this.

    "The Phoenix Celestial, it's called, because it rose from the Shi'ar Eternals committing genocide against their own Deviants, the M'Kraan, and using their psionic energy to create the M'Kraan Crystal. Or was called, anyway, before Galactus killed it."

    Miles stares. "The Phoenix...is dead?" He looks at Ryann. "Could it be that simple?"

    "I have no idea..." Ryann murmurs.

    "Yeah, happened a long time ago,” Carol says. “The Shi'ar Empire used to be this really powerful space-faring empire protected by M'Kraan, the Phoenix Celestial. Once that was killed by Galactus, the remaining Shi'ar scattered. There's some still on Earth."

    "Our galaxy still has a Phoenix Force," Miles says to Tony and Carol. "But it's different. Galactus ate the Shi'ar homeworld and their psychic...death-scream became this, this, ghost. This force that travels the cosmos and possesses people on worlds that Galactus is about to attack."

    "Same thing happened to Xandar," Tanak speaks up for the first time. "We never got the chance to ascend to a Celestial. The Xandarian Worldmind was probably on the cusp, but we never got a Third Host. Galactus came for Xandar. I'm the last Xandarian, and the carrier of the Nova Force."

    Ryann gulps.

    "The Phoenix Force has been fighting Galactus for millions of years," Miles says. "And that...that might be the difference. That might be why he's eaten half of your galaxy and not half of ours. All this time we thought it was losing."

    Gwen nods at what Miles is saying. "He's right, I've seen this thing, the Phoenix Force, it's wild. The guy who has it can't die. He just goes 'fwoosh' and resurrects in fire."

    Tony rubs his chin. "Maybe that's...that's why they can't just nullify Galactus. The Nullifiers, they're...it's like you will something not to be. It's an invocation of the Power Cosmic so potent that you're simply saying to reality, I don't want this thing to exist.

    "But you can't just...say that unless you mean it, if you follow? If the thing you're using it on wants to exist more than you, then you lose. Or if it's not enough, then you're both gone.

    And if the Celestials are on the wrong side of it, well…then their best weapon is worthless."

    Miles rubs his chin. He begins pacing excitedly. "Okay, so...in our world, Galactus seems to be avoiding Celestials," he says. "He only attacks their young. The worlds incubating them. So in our reality, if we got hold of a Nullifier...maybe it could work on him.

    "But someone on our world had another idea," Miles says. "He suggested we give Galactus the Nullifier. Let him use it to fight the Celestials on their own terms."

    The Revengers look aghast. "But the Celestials protect us from him. Ea is our protector."

    Miles holds up a couple of hands. "I'm just spitballing here. But I'm curious. Has Galactus ever attacked worlds that weren't incubating a Celestial?"

    "So far as we know...no?"

    "So...is Ea your protector, or the target on your back?"

    "Galactus does make sure there's no survivors,” Tanak says. “So when a race like say, the Shi'ar, flee their world, he goes after what remains."

    Miles frowns at this. "Hm."

    "He can't be negotiated with or reasoned with. He has no minions or servants, he doesn't cut deals. He just, exists and devours."

    Miles stares. "Wait. What about his Heralds?"

    "His what?" Tanak says.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Miles squints. "Guys he empowers to go hunting up worlds for him?"

    "He...he doesn't do that? He doesn't need to."

    Miles paces faster. "Ours does."

    "But why? He's so powerful he can sense the Power Cosmic anywhere in the universe."

    "Maybe ours...can't?"

    Johnny clears his throat. "I'm going to say this, and it's going to sound really awful. Because the analogy is...gross? But if you eat nothing but eggs, you're probably going to be less healthy than a guy who has more chicken in his diet. Does that make sense?"

    Ben makes a face. "That's nasty, Johnny."

    "Yeah," Miles nods. "Yeah. This Galactus is...swole."

    Union Jack looks at Gwen. "Why can't we go to the planet with this weak-ass Galactus, again?"

    "Because we have no Ea and he's like a week away from eating us?" Miles says. "I mean, if you want to sign up to be in the front lines, buddy, I'm not going to tell you no."

    Ben sighs and puts up his hands. "Look buddy, we got our own problems. We just got invaded by the Skrull Empire, alright?"

    Union Jack grumbles. "Fine. Be nice for there even to be a Skrull Empire to be invaded by anymore. Maybe I'd still have a family." He leans back against a console and folds his arms, sullen.

    Miles can't really say anything to this.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Never mind! This guy is totally Z’Reg!

    Tony looks back to the four. "So, if everything you're saying is true, your Galactus is weaker, relies on servants, and is even potentially killable with the Ultimate Nullifier? And you might even be able to negotiate with the monster?"

    "It's a possibility," Miles says. "Although that leaves the question of why our Celestials haven't confronted him. I don't want to uncork anything called an 'Ultimate Nullifier.' I don't want to be the guy who erases my own planet, right? I'm looking for alternatives."

    "Maybe they don't know? Before Galactus started warring with them, the Celestials were... outside normal space-time between Hosts," Tony says. "We don't really know or understand where they go."

    Miles looks at Ryann, hoping he's picking up on the danger of this Stark maybe thinking a weak Galactus sounds like an attractive prospect. Ryann gives him a confirming glance.

    Gwen looks at Tony, and then Miles. "Well, I think you guys have gathered valuable intel for uh, your mission. I'll lead you to a safe site where you can use your transmitter to summon a portal back to the ARMOR base, okay?"

    Miles nods. He turns to the Revengers. "If we can...negotiate with Galactus, or stop him," he says, "it might tell us what we need to know to stop him here. Okay? Whatever we learn, you'll know. You have my word."

    Tony squints. "Yeah. Okay. You do that."

    Gwen leads the four to the elevator. She whispers "That...went well. I'll talk to them later, talk Tony out of trying to build a portal to your world which I know damn well he's already putting in his head."

    Miles sighs. "I'm sorry things are so fucked here, Gwen. I...I was hoping that comparing notes could help both of our worlds. I"m sorry it's so...one-sided. I feel like I took advantage of you all and I didn't mean to."

    "I agree with you on that," Ryann says.

    "It's alright,” she says. “I chose to come back here, y'know? Like, I lived on your world, working for ARMOR, and I just...I couldn't take it anymore. The guilt of it, living in this cushy, spacious 300-square-foot apartment."

    "You people have endured more than I can imagine. If you can be brave just a while longer, I swear we'll find something." Miles sighs. "Which Jones would kill me for saying, but fuck it."

    "Oh yeah, that's like massive regulation breaches for ARMOR but Jones can wipe my ass. Did you know that on the vampire world they have human beings in blood pods that the vampires just hook up to industrialized draining equipment like cattle milking and we just had to leave it like that."

    "Uggggh," Miles swallows.

    "Holy crap," Ryann breathes.

    Suddenly, Gwen stops, grabs Miles' arm, and pulls him into a crouch. A suppressed pistol fires behind them. "WhaFUCK!" he shouts. Ryann spins, the Nova Force flaring as he stands side by side with Ben. Johnny bursts into flame and takes off.

    Miles' instincts kick in and he immediately puts cover between him and Gwen and the unseen shooter. "Eyes in the sky, Ryann!" he shouts, pointing upward. Ryann nods and takes flight.

    The gunman is an individual wrapped in scarves and a longcoat, armed with a rifle on his back and a suppressed pistol. The Thing clenches his fists, ready to charge the shooter.

    But then the attacker’s scarves pull away and something...happens.



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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited January 12
    The shooter's body is a mess of fractals and impossible shapes. Miles recognizes this technology. It's from the Council.

    "Who’s this now?" Ryann calls down to Miles.

    "Weapons free!" Machine Man shouts. "Go all out! Don't hold anything back! These things fought the entire Ultimates team!"

    The Thing charges at the Council...assassin?

    Eyes wide, Gwen just...curls up into a ball. She clutches her knees and falls silent.

    Centurion divebombs the Council automaton. When he’s halfway there, he teleports, reappearing behind the shooter, swinging at it with a Nova Force-empowered right hook. Trying to fight this thing is like trying to fight air, but he’s able to connect with one of his swings, knocking it over.

    It shifts unnaturally back to its feet, draws its rifle, and fires at the charging Thing. The round penetrates Ben's rocky skin and he yelps as he falls over, clutching the wound and bleeding.

    Miles puts his hands on Spider-Woman’s shoulders. "Gwen,” he says in a gentle voice. “Go get the team. We've got this.”

    Her quick, shallow breathing slows a bit.

    "You can do it, Gwen. You come from the toughest planet I've ever seen. You're as strong as any of us. But you have to stand up."

    Gwen looks up at Miles. He's an experienced field commander, he knows how to motivate a soldier experiencing shell-shock on the field of battle. She nods soberly, and web-swings out of there.

    "Hold him for a second longer, Valt!" Miles calls. X-51. Dump all the power we can spare into the Uni-Beam. I fIgure one good shot is all we're gonna get anyway.

    Power reallocated,
    X-51 says.

    Ryann nods and reaches out with the Nova Force. Everything has mass, even some strange otherworldly machine. As he crushes the assassin’s body it lets out a noise, halfway between a dying gazelle and a car in a compactor and twice as horrifying as it is crushed under its own amplified gravity. It's surviving, but it can't move.

    "Miles, now!" he calls.

    Miles stands up from cover, his chest visibly glowing with lines of energy beneath the skin. "POPCORN!" He lets it loose.

    The Uni-Beam lances forward...but it isn't enough. Even immobilized, the machine resists the blast. He needs more power to overwhelm it.

    "Johnny!” he cries at the Torch, who crouches over the Thing, tending to his wound. “GO NOVA!"

    But Johnny can't hear him over his concern for Ben. "I... I have to get him out of here..."

    The assassin begins absorbing Miles' blast. And uses the energy to break free from Centurion's crushing hold. In a burst of light, it stands before them again unharmed.

    Miles' face drops. "Uhhhh." The Uni-Beam shuts off with a dying electronic whine, smoke pouring from the aperture in Miles' chest.

    "I said hold still!" Centurion cries, lashing out with the Nova Force again. A sphere of coruscating energy envelops the squealing automaton. This time he does more than hold it still. He turns it into a shape. A very small shape, the size of a basketball. It hits the ground with a loud, heavy thud.

    "Oh... dang..." Ben says, hurt but impressed.

    Miles races to the heap. X-51, can we pull anything from it?

    Already ahead of you, Miles. The memory is, as you can imagine, fragmented. Or, perhaps the better term is...compressed in a lossy fashion. I am attempting humor. Please inform me if I am successful.


    Miles chuckles mordantly. An IT nerd would laugh, at least.

    Thank you, Miles. I will note this for the future. Extrapolating this entity's motives from what data I can recover. It appears this entity was indeed sent by the Council. Its motives, as best I can tell, is that the Council considers our actions and the intelligence gathered here to be against some kind of regulation or proscription of which we are unaware. I do not fully understand the Council's motivations for these regulations, but it seems that travelling to another world to gather intelligence on your own is 'breaking rules' and they attempted to assassinate us to prevent us from utilizing this intelligence.

    This rules system is needlessly baroque and is likely designed to reinforce a pan-dimensional hegemony, if I were to speculate.

    That sounds about right,
    Miles nods grimly. Well, let's get home and make the point moot.

    Ryann picks up the ball. "Should we take this with us?" Miles nods.

    Johnny begins sending a transmission to ARMOR. "We need to get Ben to a doctor, fast. Whatever that Council machine shot him with, it isn't good."

    Miles scorches a message for Gwen in a nearby patch of ground. "GRAVITY > ROBOT XOXO"

    He hastens to join Johnny and Ben. "I've pulled some data from the assassin. Maybe some of it will help. We'll see."

    The portal opens up. "Alright, we'll go over it on the other side, and see what we can figure out. Hey, give me a hand with Ben, huh? He needs to lose a few stone."

    Ben grumbles. "...Johnny... I've been shot, buddy..."

    Miles stares at the Torch’s pun. "Oh my god." He extends both his arms beneath Ben like a stretcher. Johnny takes his hands on the other side, picking Ben up, and everyone heads out through the portal, which closes behind them.

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    Michael arrives at the Baxter Building with Reed and Susan Richards, having taken Susan's Skrull-designed atmospheric craft, the Messenger, there.

    As they disembark, Reed explains the plan. "We are using my portal technology to head to a place where I believe I can acquire the most information possible on the Council and, by extension, the Parliament. But it's...beyond dangerous.

    "Susan and I have talked about going, she's certain she can get us in stealthily and I'm sure I can hack their systems and get the information, but..." he grimaces. "That's all theory. In practice, things may go awry."

    Michael smirks at Reed asking for help with anything. "I'm the 'shit's goin' sideways' guy, Reed. It's kinda in the codename."

    Reed nods. "Indeed."

    "Can you give me a heads up on where we're going? Are we expecting Executors or Quaestors there?"

    Reed nods. "It's possible. We're heading to...Earth-44. ARMOR calls it 'Utopia-4.’ Possibly the most dangerous place in the multiverse we've found thus far. If for no other reason than it is so abundantly hostile to intrusion."

    "I've read the report,” MIchael nods. “You weren't kidding."

    Susan adds "We believe it is directly controlled by the Council, some kind of stronghold for them. If we can access their systems, we can learn a lot. Reed's confident he can get into their system because...well, they were presumably designed by a Reed. Any biometrics, he'd be able to get into, that sort of thing."

    "Didn't they detect ARMOR's intrusion almost immediately? How are we gonna get there without tripping their ‘Alternate Universe Alarm’?"

    "Because we won't be using ARMOR's technology. We'll be using mine," Reed says confidently. "Follow me." He leads the trio to an elevator.

    Michael follows, not relishing going to an Earth with a presumably smugger, hostile Reed Richards.

    The elevator goes down...and keeps going, into what are presumably levels of sub-basement into the tower.

    "I'd ask you not to share what you see here with your superiors at SHIELD, but I know such a request is utterly pointless. So at the very least try not to pocket anything."

    Susan scowls at Reed. She looks at Michael. "I'm sorry for just...all of this."

    "It's okay, I work with Elise," Michael chuckles, lovingly.

    Reed looks at him. "I am not..." but the elevator door opens before he can finish his thought.

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    Reed begins explaining to Michael, "This portal is much more advanced than the crude 'Holepunch' that ARMOR uses. Instead of attempting to simply burrow through dimensions by folding space-time and slamming high-energy beams into it to create a manifold..."

    Susan interrupts him with a tsst noise. "It'll work and it'll be stealthy." she says.

    Michael nods. "Good enough for me, let's fire it up."

    Reed makes a motion to the technicians, and the portal begins to activate.

    Susan looks at the two men. "I'm going to go first, invisible, and you guys will drop into my stealth field." She takes a deep breath. "Here we go. See you on the other side."

    She jumps through.

    Reed and Michael follow after a few seconds’ interval. Michael finds the experience a lot closer to the Bifrost than ARMOR's portal or a Kree fold-gate.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    They arrive on Earth-44.

    SrudvW7h.png

    In a way, this place reminds Michael of Asgard. Before Shuma-Gorath wrecked the place, obviously. It's so...idyllic, and perfect. No poverty. The streets are clean. Everyone is dressed immaculately. High technology is everywhere.

    Michael takes in the scenery, marveling at how humanity could one day progress.

    "Stay close," Susan says. "They can't hear us, my field mutes sound and makes us invisible, but we can't bump into anyone and if you get too far from me, you'll be visible."

    "Roger that." Michael stays close while keeping a trained eye out for hostiles or intel.

    He notices that electronic surveillance is everywhere. More accurately, it's sousveillance; open and blatant monitoring that people are aware is happening as almost a deterrent to behavior against the state. "Big Brother is watching, it seems."

    Susan grits her teeth as she notices it. "This looks like Moscow when I was a child. Nicer, but only in that people are smiling as they are watched."

    Reed is silent, his face impassive.

    They walk along the streets. They notice no crime. No one appears to be unhappy. People chat. They talk on what look like cellphones, although they also have video chat that holo-projects the faces of who they are talking to in three dimensions in front of them.

    Reed looks around. "I need a computer terminal. One that's connected to a central server." He spots one. "There. Cover me.” He leads the group to a monitor and interface set into something like a high-tech phone booth.

    "If I know me, and I am quite certain I do, there's no way I would design some kind of centralized internet without giving myself the ability to have admin access from any terminal anywhere on Earth." He makes a motion like cracking his knuckles, but in actuality his fingers stretch backwards with no noise.

    He begins typing away rapidly, his elastic fingers moving faster than human sight can follow.

    Susan looks around nervously. "Keep an eye out, Michael. I don't like how exposed we are."

    Nodding, Michael scans the area. He notices a shimmer in the air. Like something cloaked.

    It's nearby. It's moving around them. "Susan, something's cloaked, maybe flanking us." He points.

    Susan’s gaze follows his pointing finger. "....Reed... there's someone else here...someone with powers like mine, maybe another Susan."

    Reed stops typing. "Susan, I'm so sorry. This was a mistake." He turns away from the console. "This is a trap."

    Two large creatures decloak, flanking the trio.

    oSAmEWml.jpg

    They're like Council Quaestors but larger and with cannons attached to their arms. But they're not attacking; they're just standing there and watching.

    "Uh guys, I'm good but I doubt that even I would come out of this alive,” Behemoth mutters. “Suggestions?"

    Susan stammers, "I - I think they can see us?"

    Suddenly, a portal opens up. It looks like the portal that Council Executors come through, but it is not one of them.

    It's something else entirely.

    vBqeVLfl.jpg

    "Hello, Reed."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited January 12
    Reed, the Reed of 1491, looks at the Reed with the cane, and curtly nods. "Reed."

    The Council Reed looks at Susan and frowns a bit. "And you've brought Syuzanna Lukin, I see."

    Susan sneers. "I'm Susan Richards."

    He waves this off. "Whatever you tell yourself, Skrull."

    Reed-1491 steps between the Council Reed and Susan. "Talk about my wife like that again, you uppity swine, and I'll find a way to kill you."

    Michael looks at his Earth's Reed and smiles, knowing he's got the better one out of the two on his side.

    The Council Reed is taken aback, "Hm. Unexpected." He points his cane at Michael. "You there, SHIELD agent, what's your place in all this? You're a rogue variable. We expected Reed and his Skr-...wife to be here."

    Michael fires back with a question of his own. "How did you know we were coming?"

    "Mathematics, old sport. On a long enough timeline, Reed-1491 was inevitably going to come poking about here, thinking he'll be able to interlope his way to knowledge without our authorization. Assumed he was going to bring Ben and Johnny with him, though, not some crude muscle from his world's SHIELD."

    Michael snorts. "Buddy, you got no idea. I'm actually the more polite and reserved one of my team."

    "Indeed. The Council Fantastic has run afoul of your ilk. Hence our upgraded Quaestor units."

    Michael scowls. "Do not compare me with him."

    "Hm, yes, I suppose you wouldn't appreciate being compared to one of the Parliament of Doom's children.”

    "Speaking of children, Reed," Reed-1491 interrupts, "Why are you people so enamored with mine? You never even so much as asked me to be part of your nonsensical fraternity but you come to my home and try to spirit away my child? What's the motive there?"

    The Council Reed clucks his tongue. "You aren't worthy. You passed up the honor when you knew damned well that your Susan was replaced with a Skrull and you did nothing. Do you know why we're the Council Fantastic and not just the Council of Reeds? Because we're a family, old sport. There are some among the Council who are Susans, Johns, Franklins, even Nathaniels or Valerias.

    "But you? You let the real love of your life, the real Susan Storm, get taken by Skrull imposters and you did nothing to save her and just let…that take her place and her name."

    Susan balls up her fists.

    Reed-1491's voice is calm, cold, and even. "I never met the woman you are talking about, the SHIELD agent Susan Storm that Leviathan ordered my wife to replace. The woman I fell in love with, the woman right here, is the only Susan I have ever known. If that other Susan were still alive today, she'd be a stranger to me. I had no reason to find out who she was or rescue her or any of that nonsense because she wasn't the woman I knew and fell in love with. She was...some victim of circumstance. Just like my Susan was, a child soldier indoctrinated into a world without her choice and sent on missions against her will.

    "And I'll be damned if her or I am judged by you. Moreover, you arrogant piece of shit, you didn't answer my fucking question."

    The Council Reed raises an eyebrow, "Language, Reed. My goodness...well, the answer to your question is, your Franklin is innocent. Even if he's half-Skrull, he's still half-Richards, and that makes him one of us. He's fit to be on the Council even if you're not."

    Reed-1491 nods curtly. "That's what I thought. Michael, do you think this is a fight we can win?"

    Michael assesses the situation. "Maybe, but our chances are not great. Though on the other hand, I really wanna stretch out this Reed 'till he fuckin' snaps."

    The Council Reed looks back and forth between the two men nervously. "Now now, surely...you can't be serious... you..."

    Reed-1491 nods to Michael. "Oh, Susan will take care of that. We've had a grim conversation on how she'd have to kill me if I turned mad or evil. Susan?"

    Susan snarls, raises her hands up, and pulls them apart. A bubble appears to grow inside the Council Reed's head, like an over-inflated balloon.

    He starts screaming.

    His scream gets higher and higher pitched as he begins uselessly flailing, his cane falling to the ground. His stretching powers try to compensate as Susan’s force field rapidly expands against the inside of his skull, but it can't work fast enough and his head pops.

    "My name is Susan Richards," she whispers.

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The Quaestors roar with an unnatural resonance. They raise their arms and their cannons begin belching fire.

    Michael assumes the form of the Destroyer.

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    Tapping into the Odinforce, Behemoth tries to infuse his armour physically with its energy, to heat up his form as he flies full force into a Quaestor. As he crashes into it, it grabs him like a bear and begins shaking him and slamming him into the ground.

    Reed attempts to wrap the other Quaestor up physically with his body. However, its otherworldly form makes this extremely challenging. It grabs him and tosses him aside, trying to shoot him with its cannon, but Susan blocks the shots with a force field.

    Behemoth’s faceplate opens and the blast of cosmic energy that issues forth knocks the Quaestor mauling him away, shearing off some of the many-angled pieces of its armor.

    Reed pulls back, and begins dialing into a device. "I'm opening the portal, we have to fall back."

    Susan tries to contain the other Quaestor in a force field bubble, but it's too powerful. It breaks free, and lances her with gunfire. She hits the ground, her body shredded with magnetic rounds.

    Reed yells "Susan!" and drops the device to tend to her. Alarms are going off everywhere in the city; panicked citizens are fleeing the vicinity of the battle.

    The Quaestor that shot Susan lines up a shot on her and Reed. Michael rushes to interpose himself between them. He takes the shot, the mag rounds plinking off his armor harmlessly.

    The Quaestor that Michael had blasted gets up and starts moving towards them, but then another portal opens behind it and it is ripped apart.

    By the thing that emerged from the portal.

    RbELNFjl.jpg

    A ten foot tall mechanical creature, floating above the ground and draped in a green cloak and bristling with blades, tears the Quaestor in half.

    "What the...?" Michael looks at Reed. "We gotta go, now."

    Reed nods and picks up the device, activating it. The portal opens, and he gently picks up Susan's unconscious body and jumps through the portal as the other Quaestor dives at the green-cloaked machine. The two lock into combat.

    Michael looks for a second at the two titans fighting and quickly jumps into the portal.

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    On the other side, Reed is yelling for medical staff, who are already rushing over.

    Susan gently touches Reed's face, "I'm okay, sweetheart. I'm fine." She's already starting to regenerate. For as much shade as the Council Reed threw at Susan for being a Skrull, as a Skrull she regenerates extremely fast.

    Michael powers down and takes a breath. "Fuck. Did we just accidentally declare war on the Council?"

    Susan is led away by WHISPER medics, and Reed looks over at Michael. "Accidentally my left foot. Those…people, they passed me over because of racial bigotry? Because they thought I chose the wrong woman as my wife? But they suppose my son is enough of...my blood that he's acceptable?

    "To hell with them, all of them. I'm going to talk to Victor and rip them all down. They shot my wife. I'll kill them all."

    "I agree, they are a bunch of assholes,” Michael says in a calming voice. “And we should do something about them. But maybe go see your wife first. We need to prepare for the repercussions of this."

    Reed nods soberly. "I'm upset. I don't make wise decisions when I'm upset. Cooler heads always prevail."

    "My thoughts exactly. Though I gotta say, you're a lot better of a guy than that other dick Reed." Michael slaps him on the shoulder.

    Reed actually lets out a bit of a genuine laugh. "Thank you. I know I speak ill of SHIELD and STRIKE in particular, Agent Westin, but of your agency you're quite honestly the best of them I've worked with."

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    Julian arrives at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters in the X-Men's jet, the Blackbird. He whistles, impressed, as they land in the concealed hangar below the basketball court.

    They disembark, and Jean starts to show Julian around the school.

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    "It's an actual school, y'know,” she says. “Like, we do have classes and stuff. The X-Men stuff isn't all we do, and the school isn't just like a cover."

    "So the kids here learn how to deal with their powers as well as a practical education?" he asks. "How do you guys handle...enrollment, anyway?"

    "Well, that's where Cerebro comes in. The Professor has this super-computer, Cerebro, that he can connect his mind up to. It lets him find any mutant, anywhere in the world."

    "Like, telepathically? Through the machine?"

    "Yeah,” she nods. “Cerebro enhances his powers."

    Gears turn through Julian's head. "You ever give it a spin?"

    "...yeah, it was...a lot," she says. "You have to be a very experienced, very controlled telepath to handle it, because it connects you to every mind on the planet. Imagine trying to connect to every phone in the world and listen to all of it at once."

    "Yeah, wow. Gotta filter out the noise," he says. "That's...kind of how it was for me at first. Just standing on a city block with like - all the inner voices of everyone around me."

    "Oh man, me too!" she nods. "Started when I was in middle school. Just...hearing everything. Let me tell you, hearing what every single boy is thinking when you're in middle school is hell."

    Julian makes a face. "God, I can imagine."

    "When did your mutant powers first start?"

    Julian hesitates. He’s not a mutant. How much does she know? "Mutant...? I mean, it was pretty recent, anyway," he says, keeping it vague.

    "Really? That's rare," she says. "For most mutants it's like puberty. It sometimes happens later, like a 'late bloomer' kind of thing, and for a few it's at birth. For mutants who have...physical mutations a lot of them are born that way."

    "I feel like...I don't really remember the first time, as it were. Like, there are reports. I was a researcher. I was fiddling with some instruments, and then..." He makes a "fwoosh!" noise and makes a poof! gesture, expanding his fists into outstretched fingers.

    "The Phoenix," she says.

    "Yeah."

    "Yeah, it used to come to me when I was a girl," she says softly. "I had visions."

    "What was that like? It was all very sudden for me."

    "I'd see...these beautiful people. Avian, with feathery hair and graceful dresses and palaces and they'd all just...burn. And the fire would become a bird that took to the stars and would call to me. Then one day it just...stopped. And from what you were saying it...it was around the time that it chose you, I guess."

    Julian nods. "It's so strange to me."

    Jean turns and looks at Julian. "I want to tell you something and I don't know how you'll feel about it when I tell you."

    Julian looks to her in turn. "I can't imagine after the past few weeks I've been through it'll knock me over too hard. Go ahead."

    "When I found out that you had the Phoenix Force I...resented you," she says. "I was jealous. That it chose you instead of me."

    Julian nods. "No, I get it. When we first met at that conference I couldn't imagine why it's with me."

    "So...when you said about how it wasn't easy to connect to it, I wanted to help you because...I wanted to hear it again. Its voice. I wanted to feel it again. That's selfish, and I'm sorry." She rubs her arm nervously, "I'm not even 100% sure how we're going to actually do this."

    "Well, we'll do our best to figure it out," Julian laughs. "Maybe it'll be relieved to hear you again. Rip itself free of me. ...Brr. I better not give it any ideas."

    Jean laughs awkwardly. "Maybe." She’s quiet for a moment, then snaps her fingers, "Hey! I got an idea! Cerebro!

    "We were talking about it earlier and like, what if...I mean, it's designed to look out but what if we modified it to look in?"

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "You're sure? Like...But...How do you know for sure that I'm a mutant?"

    "I mean, why else would the Phoenix Force choose you?" she says.

    Julian is pacing about. "You're totally right though, we should try it."

    "Okay! I'm going to talk to Hank, he knows all the technical side of how Cerebro works."

    Julian nods. "Alright. I have to admit, it sounds cool."

    "Come on, I'll show you the way." She takes Julian by the hand and leads him through the mansion.

    Along the way, they run into Cyclops. Almost physically running into him as he comes around the corner. Scott looks at Jean "Hey Je-..." He looks down at Jean and Julian's held hands.

    Jean immediately lets go of Julian's hand. "Uh...hey Scott!" Julian snaps his hand to his side and gives Cyclops an awkward nod.

    Cyclops doesn't look at Julian, and instead looks at Jean, "How was Atlantis." He barely asks in the tone of a question.

    "Um, cool. It was Atlantis! We didn't get to see much of the city, though, they don't like outsiders. This is Julian, by the way. You've met him before. He's from SHIELD."

    "Yes."

    "Hello," Julian offers.

    "Hi."

    "Uh, we're going to go use Cerebro to find out more about the Phoenix Force, to fight Galactus."

    Scott frowns, "Did you get the Professor's permission?"

    "...no?"

    "Shouldn't you? I thought the Professor said you're not supposed to use it without asking."

    "Um, yes...but...he was at the conference and when I said I was going to help Julian he said okay so..."

    "Did he say using Cerebro was okay?" Scott persists.

    "Welllllll....he didn't not say it wasn't...."

    "Jean."

    Julian's eyes ping-pong between the two. He gets a telepathic plea from Jean. Help.

    What kind of trouble do you suppose we'll get in? There's an amused tone in Julian's thought. Out loud he says "Look, we should really be on our way."

    "Now hang on," Scott says.

    "Mm?"

    "Cerebro is potentially very dangerous, especially for Jean. If the Professor hasn't said this is okay I can't let you just do this."

    Julian frowns. Any reason we shouldn't bring this up, Jean?

    He might say no?
    she thinks. Sometimes it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission. That's also sometimes more fun. ...Wait no! I didn't mean that! Ack! I need to stop! Stop thinking, Jean!

    Ease up. This guy's already onto us.
    Julian gives Scott's mind a quick rummage for a thread he can pull on.

    Scott is basically using this whole 'ask for permission' thing as a pretext to block Julian because he's completely sure Julian is Mr. Steal-Your-Girl. He doesn't genuinely believe Jean is at risk or that it's really a big deal for her to use Cerebro without permission. He just doesn't trust Julian.

    Also he thinks Julian smells like weed and doesn't like that.

    "Do you want to just come with us and see what we get up to, man? We're not going to be naughty."

    "Hm." Scott pauses. "Fine."

    Nice save, Jean transmits to Julian.

    The three of them go down into the lower parts of the mansion. Along the way, Jean asks Hank for help modifying Cerebro. When Hank asks if the Professor is okay with this, Jean gives him pleading doe eyes that he is clearly a sucker for and he agrees to help. Scott is visibly unimpressed with how easily Hank is snookered into this plan.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited January 12
    The group enter Cerebro's chamber.

    JXoSYWF.jpg

    As Jean's talking with Hank, Julian leans over towards Scott. "Tattling is super cool, man. All the girls really like it." He walks back over to join Jean.

    Scott just...stares open-mouthed at Julian as Julian walks away.

    Jean hands the Cerebro helmet to Julian. "Okay, Hank's modified Cerebro. Instead of reaching outwards to every mind on Earth, it'll reach inwards to 'every mind within.' For most people that'd be...pretty boring? Like I guess you'd get childhood memories or something.

    "But for you, you have a lot of minds to access."

    "Yeah, this is going to be interesting," he says. "I lost a lot when it came to me. I wonder if I'll see anything there."

    "I'm going to be right here. If...if you get lost in there, I think I can come find you,” she says. “Whenever you're ready."

    "Okay, sounds good." Julian reaches a hand out towards Jean and closes his eyes. "Ready."

    Jean puts the helmet on Julian, takes his hand, and turns on Cerebro.

    Om5om0o.jpg

    Julian can find it.

    The beginning.

    Where it began. The beginning of the Phoenix. The spark of the flame.

    He follows the spark into the darkness.

    cd0EE8Ah.jpg

    He recognizes the world, even though he has never been there.

    Chandilar, homeworld of the Shi'ar.

    Galactus walks among the fiery ruins. Physically stalking amongst the fire. The Devourer is young here. Relative to the age of the galaxy, and his own power.

    We were denied.

    Julian hears a voice. It's not the trillions of voices of the Phoenix in totality. It's the billions of voices of the Shi'ar.

    Denied? he thinks. How did this come to pass?

    He found us. Still embryonic. Not ready. And he feasted.


    Julian flashes to another image.

    VWyBeOWh.jpg


    He knows what is in Galactus' hand.

    It's the M'Kraan Crystal. The source of power for the Shi'ar Empire. The 'egg' of the Phoenix Force. He watches Galactus drain the energy from it as he crushes it into nothingness.

    Chandilar burns around him.

    This was the beginning. Our deathcry. We were denied.

    How did you continue on?
    Julian asks. What have I just seen?

    Our death, our rebirth. We are the Phoenix Force. Denied our Celestial birthright, we persisted. From a thousand worlds we burned on, each one ahead of the Devourer, each one a battle to take what we could from the edges of his lips. Until one day, our birthright will be reclaimed, and we will stand victorious, reborn, as we were meant to be, and we will destroy him.

    If Galactus is not stopped, when the Celestials return they will find their nurseries barren. We will show you.


    yLH32fhh.jpg

    Behold the Uni-Mind, the first thought given form, the Living Mind of all Celestials.

    Julian looks in awe. The first consciousness.

    Yes. It exists outside space and time, tended to by the Celestials. But it is a living thought, a living mind, that must be continued to stay alive. The Celestials, while they live on a timescale unfathomable to you, are no less bound by entropy.

    When we were denied, we could not call out to the Uni-Mind. No world could. There have been no new Celestials born since the fall of the Shi'ar.

    They are dying. And they have yet to know. The Devourer works in secret. He has his Heralds find his succour for him. He is a weak creature, a scavenger preying upon the embryonic. A foul creature.


    Indeed, Julian agrees. He will be stopped.

    We know, Julian. It's why we chose you and not the mawkish girl. She is weak and will not survive.


    Julian frowns. How do you know this? The choice is made, already. But what did you see in me?

    Pragmatism. The girl was ruled by both fear and pride. She was terrified of her mutation, and then laid it bear as a matter of pride to use as a tool. When your mutation manifested, you hid it to use to your own gain, for years you concealed it, using it subtly, coldly, to do what must be done. That pragmatism, that necessity, is why we chose you.

    We will show you.

    Yes,
    Julian thinks. Please do.

    Jacobkosh on
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    Julian flashes back to high school. His high school.

    He doesn't...remember his high school? But now he does. Oh god, Rocket and Isabel were right. He was a nerd. This is terrible.

    He's in the school cafeteria and then he suddenly hears everyone. Everything. It's overwhelming. All the voices in his head. It's too much. He drops his tray and grabs the side of his head, falling to his knees, and he hears some kids laugh and some kids wonder what's wrong with him. He realizes he's not hearing them talking. He's hearing them thinking.

    He views his own life in fast-forward. The Phoenix isn't giving him everything. Not all his memories. Just the bits and pieces about his powers...and how he hid them. How he'd use them to succeed in job interviews. Breeze through tests. Succeed in college.

    And, eventually, get a job with SHIELD working on Project Pegasus, eventually landing him with SWORD. He's been a mutant telepath since he was 14. He's never told anyone.

    In part, because he didn't even know what a mutant was. Or what would happen if he did tell anyone. So he just...didn't.

    This is why we chose you, Julian. You do what must be done.

    You will kill Galactus, you will use the fire of Earth to bring us to our ascension, you will call out to the Uni-Mind and tell them of the Devourer's treachery, and the Host will come to claim the Cosmos. Our birthright will be reclaimed.

    I...I will do what must be done,
    Julian thinks. Yes.

    Then you understand. Go now, and destroy the Devourer.

    Thank you for showing me this.
    Julian lifts Cerebro from his head, and the vision dissipates. He's still holding Jean's hand.

    "So...what did you see?" she asks eagerly.

    "I saw... the beginning," he says. "I understand, now. We will make ready to strike against the Devourer."

    "Whoa...cool..?"

    "I saw...myself, again. I had forgotten it all. I understand now how I've come to...this." He gestures around him. "Why I've been chosen."

    He purses his lips. Julian's been holding it together better lately, since the team escaped Strontia, oddly enough.For the first time since, he feels the need for a smoke.

    Julian makes a bow towards Hank and gives Scott a curt nod. Scott grimaces at him, Hank bows back.

    "We should go,” Julian says. He looks back at Cerebro. "I need to get outside."

    Jean nods, "I'll show you the way."

    "Good. Thank you."

    PHU1KZN.png
    So, Julian is a mutant! And not only that, he’s a closeted mutant who’s been low-key Purple Manning his way through life!

    Interestingly, he chooses not to share this with Jean or anyone else. It’s not clear right now if that’s because he’s just kind of cosmically overwhelmed by the force of the vision or if this is something he’s going to deliberately keep to himself.

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    Elise is in Castle Doom. She's very happy to be here.

    She stands in the great hall with Graviton, Juggernaut, Taskmaster, Lorelei, and Malice. At the head of the table is Doctor Doom. This is it. She is, albeit temporarily, an Agent of Doom.

    Doctor Doom speaks to those gathered. "Your task will be to venture to the United States, and assess whether an individual of power and repute has been replaced by an Imperial Skrull imposter. Sensate will perform the assessment, as her powers enable her to spot these creatures. Lorelei, if your powers are able to compel the alien, do so. If not, the lot of you will use your combined might to subdue the creature. To be clear I want it alive. I am to understand that Skrulls are quite resilient and have potent regeneration, so do not overly concern yourselves with being gentle."

    He turns to Elise. "Sensate, if there is a matter of doubt in your mind if the individual you are assessing is a Skrull, if you are not certain, if you are less than 100% sure in either direction...shoot them. Non-fatally, of course, but with the special rounds that Malice gave you. On a regular human, such a round would be as dangerous as any other, but on a Skrull it will effectively render them unable to shapeshift temporarily. Obviously, we would rather not shoot innocent people if it can at all be avoided."

    The rest of the Agents of Doom, besides Malice, chuckle.

    Elise does not laugh. She's too busy dealing with the horror of living in a world where she misses Clay's mission introductions due to their warmth.

    "I trust your ability to put a round into someone at close range with non-fatal efficiency, given your accuracy and sensory prowess, Sensate," Doom says.

    "Uh, yeah. Shouldn't be a problem."

    Doom nods. "Good, then." He gestures at the table and a holographic display appears over the fine oak. "Your target is Tony Stark, CEO of Stark Unlimited."

    "Oh, fuck off." Elise claps both hands over her mouth. "I mean, uh."

    Lorelei looks at Elise and coos at her. "Oh don't worry honey, we're not going after the real Tony Stark. We think it's a Skrull Tony Stark."

    "That's not better!" Elise says. "I don't want to interact with any Tony Stark after the last time we talked."

    Taskmaster looks at Elise and shrugs, "Sure it is! If you think about it, what if Stark was replaced? Then it's like we're saving the guy! Because if we can get his Skrull double, the boss can run a backtrace to find where they're keeping him, he's got a thing."

    Doom nods. "Quite."

    "I now live in a world where Skrull Tony Stark is the best case scenario. Jesus Christ."

    Juggernaut reaches over with a big palm and pats Elise on the shoulder. "Don't worry about it, love, if it's not a greenie then the worst case is we go in and give 'em a little boo-boo on the knee cap and say 'oh, sorry mate, our bad.' It's not like he doesn't have good health insurance, he's Tony Stark."

    Elise slowly nods. I have died, and gone to hell.

    Lorelei puts up her hand, and Doom nods at her. "Go ahead."

    "Sire, if we accomplish our task very quickly, say we go to see Stark and the SHIELD agent looks at him with her gaze and declares him the true Tony Stark, are we free to take some leisure time?" Lorelei looks at Elise and smiles, "We could go shopping."

    Do not start a war with Doom or Asgard. Do NOT start a war with Doom or Asgard. Be a diplomat. Do NOT think about how much she looks like Crystalia. DO NOT. "Uhhhhhh..."

    "C'mooooon, Malice never wants to buy anything but tactical boots and combat vests. It's terrible."

    "I'm, uh, real tiny," Elise extemporizes. "Hard to find clothes for me. Too small."

    "Oh, pfft, that just makes it an adventure."

    "Well! Doctor Doom, in his uh, wise benevolence and wisdom will...probably want us back early. Because of his...intelligence with diplomacy. You know how Clay will worry! So of course I'd love to go, but..."

    Doom shrugs. "Any extra-curricular activities will have to be cleared with Sensate's superiors. Lorelei, I will remind you that Elise is married to the future Queen-Regent of Attilan."

    Oh my God. Why is he reminding her of that. Does she...Is she…

    Lorelei turns from Doom to Elise with an excited grin on her face. "Really?"

    "Yes! My wife. My pregnant wife. Who I love very much."

    Taskmaster and Juggernaut begin snickering. "Enough." Doom says sternly. Elise ponders how mad Clay would be if she hit the panic button right now.

    Doom begins opening a portal. "I will place you within the security perimeter of Stark's mansion. You will need to move quickly. Hit them hard and fast, subdue any defenses, and remember that Tony Stark may genuinely be Tony Stark and so...show a modicum of respect." The portal opens, "Go, my minions."

    Elise turns and looks at Doom. "I'm not..." she begins. "I'm a mid-boss at least." Then Juggernaut grabs her and pulls her through the portal with the rest of the Agents of Doom.

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    BB2USYBh.jpg

    Malice looks to Juggernaut. "Marko, breach that wall!"

    Juggernaut grins and slams through the wall into the mansion. Alarm klaxons begin to go off.

    "Shit shit shit shit shit -" Elise sprints after Juggernaut. She doesn't want Doom's people to get too far ahead.

    She starts to hear repulsor fire inside. The distinctive high-pitched whine blast of a Stark-designed repulsor. The rest of the Agents of Doom spill into the breach, and are greeted by what appear to be drones based on Iron Man armor.

    NpfTzXJl.jpg

    Elise can see the mechanical joints and gears between the armor pieces. These aren't people in suits. They're robots. "Oh, good, finally something a little less morally grey!" She pulls her weapon and fires, whistling to herself.

    Elise is easily able to hit those weakpoints in the armor she saw, disabling some of the drones.
    Others are ripped in half by Juggernaut, crushed by Graviton, slashed apart by Taskmaster's sword and razor-edged shield, gunned down by Malice, or pounded into scrap by Lorelei who, all enchanting powers aside, is still a super-strong Asgardian.

    "Oh, great. I'm helping."

    "We make a good team, kiddo," Taskmaster says to Elise with an approving thumbs-up.

    "Okay!" Elise says, because that's the only thing she can think of that isn't an insult or a panic attack.

    Malice barks at the team, "Find Stark! Our intel shows he's here somewhere."

    "Oh, you don't need to find me," they hear over the internal speaker system. "I'm bringing the party to you."

    "Well, actually, Mr. Stark, sir, uh, if I could just talk to you for like two seconds this can be avoided and we'll head right out -"

    Elise can hear something running through the walls of Stark's mansion, coming straight for Juggernaut. She could, if she wanted to, shout a warning to him.

    "Big guy, move!"

    Juggernaut dives out of the way as something busts through the wall.

    kzY6jyll.png

    Elise scans the newcomer. It's definitely a suit.

    "Oh crap..." Taskmaster utters as the windows explode in flame. Outside the building, Elise can see another power-armored individual spraying gouts of fire in through the windows.

    I35qMKCl.png

    "COVER ME!" Elise shouts. "Make sure I down burn alive!"

    Malice nods at Elise. "I got you! Go!"

    She sprints around the back of the bigger suit and flings herself onto its back, aiming to get a grip. She pulled this off once with a War Skrull. This will probably be easier. Metal has more grip. Malice starts opening fire on the flame-touched Iron Man suit.

    "No killing!" Elise yells as a warning. Hanging onto the back of the big blue suit, Elise fires EMP rounds into it. With a crackle of electricity over its carapace, the rounds shut the suit down.

    The floor begins shaking underneath them. It feels like it's being actively jackhammered.

    Now that her harness is back on, Elise is less alarmed by that than she would have been once. She starts trying to pry off the big guy's helmet. If she can see who it is, that's information, and information is how she wins.

    It's stuck on there pretty good. Elise doesn't have superhuman strength. However, Juggernaut does, and he says "Let me give you a hand with that, love."

    He pulls the helmet off the blue suit and...it's not Tony Stark. It's...some guy? Elise has no idea who it is. Doesn't matter. Is he a Skrull? Definitely not a Skrull. Scared out of his mind, though.

    "Where's Stark?” Elise asks. “I promise I'm not going to hurt him. Or you."

    The floor collapses. Elise backflips off the guy. He should be fine. The suit should protect him.

    Taskmaster looks at Elise and does literally an identical back-flip to clear the collapse. Malice is falling, but Graviton catches her with his powers and lowers her to safety. Lorelei just falls straight down but is tough enough to take it.

    Down at the bottom is another guy in Stark armor.

    dRp9GcCl.jpg

    "Holy shit does Stark have his own fuckin' team?" Taskmaster yells.

    That's another thing to bring up to Clay that he will absolutely love. This is a waste of time. Elise can't keep pulling the helmets off these guys. She opens her senses. She needs to find Tony. She knows his smell by now.

    She can detect him. He's not even in his armor. He's in what is essentially a panic room in the mansion. She knows where. It's almost airtight but not quite. She can definitely ferret it out. Opening it, however...she won't be able to do that on her own.

    "Juggernaut!" she yells. "With me. Everyone else, keep 'em busy, no fuckin' killin'!"

    The rest of the team look at Malice, who yells, "Do it!"

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Juggernaut goes with Elise. She leads him to the panic room, which is concealed behind layers of concrete and tungsten-steel alloy. She can hear Stark's voice. "...oh shit. Is that Elise Arnell?"

    Elise gulps. Her hands are sweaty and her mouth is dry. "Yeah."

    Stark's voice comes over the radio. "...hi, Elise. Um...you probably...know...where I am. And you have Juggernaut with you. Wow. Okay. Uh...can...we...all stand down here?"

    "Listen, I swear to God, I am not here to do anything bad. Can I just talk to you for like, five minutes?"

    "You showed up with the Agents of Doom and wrecked my house and..." he stops. "I mean I guess I can't say no, huh?" Juggernaut shrugs, looking at a camera.

    "I mean, I'd feel really, really bad if you did. Because this looks really bad but I promise there's a super benevolent thing I'm doing behind all of it."

    There's a loud hiss as a blast door opens. Tony gingerly steps out. He looks at Juggernaut warily. "Uh... hi." Juggernaut waves at him and grins.

    "Alright..." Elise squints at his face. Please be a Skrull, please be a Skrull…

    He is...definitely not a Skrull.

    "Oh," she says. "Uh, we'll...we'll be going."

    "Wait what." Tony squints at her.

    Juggernaut looks at Elise. "You sure, kid?"

    "One hundred percent. There'd be muscles there. You can't fake not having 'em."

    Marko looks at Stark and gives a finger gun. "There's another way to be sure?"

    "No!"

    Stark looks at Elise. "What do you mean facial musc- did you think I was a Skrull?!"

    Elise puts on a crooked, nervous grin and puts her hands up. "I did not think you were a Skrull, no. But, I kind of put out an open offer that I'm like, a Skrull checker? And uh, I couldn't say no to Doom without...I'm saying too much. I can't stop talking."

    Juggernaut puts his hand on Elise's shoulder. "Ssh." He turns to Stark. "Here's how it is, bruv.

    "Your brother, he's the big Skrull-catching man, yeah? He calls up our boss and says, hey, I think my brother's a Skrull, but I can't go in and muss up his hair and be sure, can you do it? You're all shady like. But our boss says, well how do you suppose I do that, just have him over for tea? So our boss says to her boss, hey, can I borrow your girl for a bit?

    "So really, it's your family, mate."

    Tony stands there and stares at him. "You're saying this is Greg's fault."

    "Yes! Yes, it is," Elise says hastily. Miles doesn't like Gregory either! Julian hates him! This is good. This is safe. "Absolutely. So I'm just going to go, back to SHIELD, which is where I work. Not for Doom!"

    Juggernaut nods firmly. "I mean, if you ask him over Christmas dinner, he'll deny it, of course. Those types always do. But, figured you should know. Sorry about the mess, you can bill our boss if you'd like, he's good for it."

    Stark is seething. "Get out of my house."

    Juggernaut gives a half salute and pats Elise on the back. "Yeah, we best do that, let's go, little one."

    Elise gives another stream of nervous laughter, turns, and sprints away. When she finds the rest of the team, Stark's power-armored guys are stripped of their armor and laying tied up on the floor.

    "He's not a Skrull let's go let's get out of here oh my God I am so embarrassed."

    Malice nods at her, and makes a call. "This is Malice. Primary and secondary objective complete. Call for exfil."

    "What was..." Elise stares. "What was the secondary objective, Malice?"

    "Find out if Tony Stark was a Skrull," Malice says.

    A portal opens.

    "What was the primary objective?!"

    Suddenly, Elise is slapped on the ass. By Lorelei. "Let's go, honey, our ride is here. You don't want to be here when Tony finds out what just happened." She winks.

    Elise yelps and clutches her rear protectively. "No, no, I want to know what just happened! What did we do! If I fucked up, I have to fix it!"

    Juggernaut hoists Elise up like a kitten and pulls her through the portal.

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    By the time they emerge on the other side, Elise is twisting in Juggernaut's grasp, kicking the air, and yelling incoherently. Juggernaut puts her down with a chuckle as the portal closes.

    They're back in Castle Doom. Doctor Doom is waiting for them.

    Malice walks over to him, and hands him a data drive.

    Elise marches over to Doom, seething with anger, and pulls her hand back to slap him across the face.

    Doom pauses, and tilts his head and looks at her. "Princess Elise, are you really going to strike another sovereign head of state in his own castle because you're cross with him?"

    Elise stops and hesitates. "...No. I am not... I am not going to do that. But I want to. You lied to me! What did you DO?!"

    "Stole from Tony Stark."

    "Stole what."

    "His plans."

    "What fucking plans!" she cries. "Plans for what!"

    "That is an excellent question and when I find that out, I will pass that along."

    Elise stares at Doom with a mix of incredulity and fury. Doom places the data drive down on the table and folds his hands. "Princess, let me explain.

    "Tony Stark's behavior recently has been...erratic. As if he had some very severe personality change. He resigned from the Avengers, started a new company with a radically different business plan, shunned the public eye, and so on.

    "One possible theory I entertained was that he had been replaced by a Skrull imposter. This was a genuine theory, and not a pretext I roped you into under falsehood.

    "The other is perhaps something happened. Some traumatic event that has impacted deeply or radically altered his personality. Perhaps the Skrull invasion, or perhaps even before that, during the events where he endorsed the Superhuman Registration Act and aligned himself with ONE only for that to spectacularly fail. I know not. To be honest, I largely care not.

    "But his actions lately are conspiratorial. He keeps his own counsel, develops his own technology. I had my suspicions that he was even recruiting his own team of individuals, under the identity 'Force Works'."

    Malice nods. "Can confirm that one, sir. Encountered them. Equipped with Stark suits."

    PHU1KZN.png
    ”Force Works” is the name of a short-lived team that starred in an equally short-lived title in the early 1990s, about Tony Stark recruiting some D-list heroes onto a team that would be more of a proactive strike force than a traditional reactive superhero team. More ‘extreme,” in other words, if the title wasn't a clue. It was quintessentially 90’s.

    Elise stares. "Oh, fuck, it was me. I happened."

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

    She sinks into the nearest seat around the table. "I told him JARVIS was dead. I told him we killed JARVIS. And I stayed in the cell, and I kept talking to him, and Clay told me to get out, but I didn't, it wasn't the right thing to do, and...

    "I'm a bad guy."

    "Clay Quartermain is a telepathic Skrull, one of the caste of nobility," Doom says. "Are you suggesting that he...telepathically interfered with Stark?"

    Elise makes a scissors gesture. "The more footage there is to tamper with, the harder it is for him, and I wouldn't stop talking..."

    Doom cradles his chin in his hand. "Hm, yes, that would explain Stark's behavior."

    "Oh, fuck," she says. "So how do we fix it?"

    Doom looks at the data drive. "I will study Stark's plans. I will assess his mental faculties, see if they are the ravings of a madman or the logic of a man with his wits about him. Come to understand his current psychological state. If such harm is repairable, then perhaps he simply needs...a woman's touch." He looks over at Lorelei.

    "Yes,” Elise says flatly. “That definitely sounds like how psychology works."

    "Well, what do you suggest, Princess? Send him to therapy for telepathic memory editing? Far outside the realm of Freudian theory, is it not?"

    "We could send him to Dr. Strange? He gave me a cosmic lobotomy. That helped a whole lot."

    "Strange and Quartermain are too close as allies, despite the way they snipe at each other like old lovers. They may in fact be lovers, given Quartermain's dalliances and gender fluidity," Doom says. "If Quartermain did something to Stark, you can't very well ask Strange to help him with it. He's not a neutral party."

    Elise puts her head in her hands and stares at the briefing table. "Okay. I don't know. I'll think of something. I'll make this right."

    "Princess, when I discover what Stark's been up to, I will inform you. You have the word of Doom."

    Elise looks up and nods. "Yeah, alright. So, what, you'll talk to Clay? I'll be an Agent of Doom on loan or something until I make it right? Actual right, not Doom right."

    "Given that this mess is Quartermain's doing, it's likely best you not mention it to him until after you fixed it lest he get the idea in his head to try to fix it himself with more cutting."

    "...I don't keep secrets from Clay, Doom. Not after...Not after Vlad."

    "Hardly a secret. By all means, tell him that I took advantage of your trusting nature to steal Stark's secrets. I fully intend to share with STRIKE whatever I find.

    "But, if you want to help Tony Stark, truly help Tony Stark with his fragmented mind, then understand that Clay Quartermain isn't the man to go to as he is the one who did the damage in the first place.

    "Quartermain will be somewhat cross with me for the theft of Stark's plans, but that anger will be deterred by his own desire for his share once promised, and the reality that a scorpion's nature is to sting, so to speak."

    Elise nods. "Okay. I guess we're on the same page, as much as we can be. Are you sending me back to Clay?"

    "I am, when you are ready," Doom says. "One final note, Princess. I fully expect you to tell Quartermain of Malice's true identity but, for the sake of all sensitivity, tact, and mercy do not speak of that subject to the Richards family."

    Elise swallows. "I...think that's for the best, yes."

    He nods. "Then we are in agreement. Are you ready to depart?"

    Elise glances at Lorelei. "Yes. Absolutely." Lorelei winks at Elise.

    Doom gestures, and a portal opens. "I look forward to working with you again, Princess."

    "Uh. Thank you, your...Majesty? Sir?" Elise gives an awkward bow and walks through the portal.

    r2C6Mbd.png

  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    I was real worried about Sue!

    sig.gif
    FencingsaxMatev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    I was real worried about Sue!

    It...it looks like Sue can take care of herself, though :bigfrown::bigfrown::bigfrown:

  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    Jacobkosh wrote: »
    I was real worried about Sue!

    It...it looks like Sue can take care of herself, though :bigfrown::bigfrown::bigfrown:

    FK u old man!

    sig.gif
    JacobkoshMatev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    aP544NU.png



    qlGmSdP.pngIntel Report: November 5th, 2017
    LEVEL 8+ EYES ONLY
    Designated for STRIKE Agents and adjacent support personnel
    Section compiled by:
    STRIKE-COMMS Liaison Agent Jeremiah Warrick

    Galactus and the Celestials
    Below is all compiled and collated data on the subject of Galactus and the beings known as the Celestials, including their origins, methodologies, and presumed motives. This intelligence is based on multiple sources, primarily from intel gathered by STRIKE agents during Operation Caliburn and during recent field operations. Agents currently tasked with addressing this issue should familiarize themselves with these topics.

    Origins of the Power Cosmic
    According to intelligence gathered by STRIKE-1, the so-called ‘Power Cosmic’ originates from a previous universal iteration, referred to as the ‘First Firmament.’ In that First Firmament, there were immutable physical laws, which could not be altered or defied.

    A species in that universe, identified as the ‘Builders,’ discovered the Power Cosmic and used it to violate the laws of that reality in various ways. This brought them into conflict with another species, the Aspirants, who wanted reality to remain as it was. Their war inevitably resulted in the Aspirants also utilizing the Power Cosmic, and in some capacity destroyed their universe, resulting in our own.

    In our universe, the Power Cosmic is a fundamental aspect of reality, one that is simply part of the nature of the world itself, and makes the laws of reality alterable, as observable by the various displayed extranormal abilities, magic, etc.

    The most powerful concentrations of the Power Cosmic, in the opinion of the alien known as the Collector, are ‘four-dimensional tessellations of energy made physical by lattices of exotic materials. Crystals, cubes, orbs, gems, things of this nature.’ This includes artifacts such as the Cosmic Cube.

    The Celestials
    The Celestials are a species of near-godlike beings that are truly ancient and seem to predate all historical record. They are known throughout the galaxy to exist, and physical evidence of their existence is proven. The outlaw space station Knowhere is built inside the physical remains of a Celestial, specifically its decayed head.

    The Celestials interfere with the evolution and technological progression of sapient life across the galaxy. They do not interfere with every planet, but where their presence is known it seems to be rather obvious and consistent.

    Their motives until recently were somewhat unclear, but STRIKE intelligence has discovered that their primary motivation for interference has a simple purpose: reproduction. The Celestials interfere with other species as a component of producing more Celestials, through a multi-part process.

    - The First Host: During the First Host, the Celestials find a world, and somehow alter a portion of their population (but not all) to gain near-immortality and enhanced biological fitness. This branch of the species has a variety of names across the galaxy, although the common name and translation is generally ‘Eternal.’ The purpose of the Eternal branch seems to be to act as a ‘control’ for their reproductive experiment.

    On Earth, Asgardians appear to be our equivalent to the Eternals. Among the Kree species, they are known as the Ruul.

    - The Second Host: During the Second Host, the Celestials introduce a chaotic variable known as the Deviant branch to the species. Deviants seem to have a variety of different evolutionary traits, mutations, and physiological abnormalities, and often have unexpressed differences from their normative species. On Earth, Mutants, Inhumans, and Atlanteans are all considered ‘Deviants,’ although given the loaded connotations of that particular word it is suggested that alternative terminology be considered. What we consider to be the Skrull species is actually the Deviant version of the Chitauri species, who are the original, non-shapeshifting variety of their species, even though they are now the population minority.

    - The Third Host: During the Third Host, the Celestials return to a world to ‘check-in’ on their experiment, and assess its fitness to continue. It is unknown by what criteria the Celestials determine the fitness of their experiment, but if it is deemed unsatisfactory they utilize the Ultimate Nullifier to exterminate the inhabitants of the planet. Otherwise, they leave the world and allow the experiment to continue.

    - The Fourth Host: The final stage of the process, the Fourth Host results in the Celestials returning to the world and in some way engaging the final stages of the creation of a Celestial proper. The methodology of this is not entirely understood, although it is speculated it does involve some kind of violent consolidation of power between the Eternal and Deviant branches that results in the destruction of both. When the Fourth Host is completed, a new Celestial is born.

    The Hosts of Earth
    Something appears to have gone awry with Earth’s sequence of Hosts. While we appear to have had a normal First Host (resulting in the creation of the Asgardians), something appears to have happened during or after our Second Host. A Deviant Sorcerer named Kulan Gath interacted with the Celestial known as Tiamut the Communicator who was responsible for Earth’s Hosts, and some kind of corruption or aberration took place.

    It is not clear if Tiamut corrupted Gath, or Gath was the one who corrupted Tiamut, or what precisely took place. It was during the Hyborian Age, so records are difficult to come by. What is clear is that Tiamut went mad and Gath and his Deviant followers (whom the Asgardians call the ‘Dark Elves’) became locked away in an extradimensional city called Thule.

    The Asgardians referred to Tiamut as ‘Nidhogg,’ the Serpent who guards Yggdrasil, the World Tree (Tiamut’s Celestial Ship). Another name for this entity is Shuma-Gorath, which we believe is the Thulian name for it. It is also the core entity of HYDRA mythology and is also potentially related to the ‘Tiamat’ of Sumerian myth. More intel is needed.

    Tiamut/Shuma-Gorath was recently destroyed by STRIKE-1. What the repercussions of this are remain to be seen.

    Where are the Celestials
    The question immediately begged is where the Celestials are between Hosts. According to our intelligence, the Celestials retreat to some kind of extradimensional plane outside normal space-time, at one with an energy force known as the ‘Uni-Mind,’ which they identify as the first conscious thought in the universe.

    The Uni-Mind needs to be ‘maintained’ somehow by the creation of new Celestials, which is being stymied by the efforts of Galactus.

    The Celestials do appear to use vessels or ships of some kind, although they also seem to exist outside normal space-time. One such vessel, which the Asgardians call Yggdrasil, was used by the Celestial Tiamut the Communicator in its interference with Earth.

    Galactus, Eater of the Young
    Galactus’ motives seem to be driven not just by the consumption of the Power Cosmic of various worlds, but specifically to stop the creation of new Celestials. Our intelligence suggests that he chooses worlds that have passed their Third Host, and are somewhere in-between that and their Fourth Host, choosing a time to strike before the Celestials can return to create another of their species.

    Since Galactus’ destruction of the Shi’ar Empire, there have been no new Celestials born, and as a result the Celestial race is slowly going extinct, as the Celestials themselves are actually mortal (albeit on a galactic timescale).

    Galactus has a group of servants, known as Heralds, led by an entity we have identified as the ‘Silver Surfer.’ The purpose of these Heralds appear to be to identify the worlds that are potential targets for Galactus, and as their name implies serve as a precursor to his arrival.

    Apparently, the origin of the armor utilized by STRIKE Agent Michael Westin was a Herald of Galactus sent to Earth during the Hyborian Age, that was slain by Asgardian King Bor and then crafted into a suit of armor and bound to Asgardian warriors (who would inevitably be consumed by its destructive energies). Presumably, this slaying of a Herald in some way kept Earth from Galactus’ attention at least for some time, and it is possible that King Bor had saved Earth from a grim fate thousands of years ago.

    The Ultimate Nullifier
    The Ultimate Nullifier, which has been obtained by STRIKE-1, is a Celestial super-weapon. Its purpose appears to be used as a tool by the Celestials to wipe out all life on a planet during the Third Host if the Celestials determine (by unknown criteria) that a world is a failure of their reproductive process.

    To use the Ultimate Nullifier is to, effectively, will your target out of existence. As a result, it requires an extreme use of will and for one’s own will to remove someone from existence to be greater than that being’s will to exist, else the Nullifier will remove the user from existence instead or both the user and their target at the same time. As a result, it is incredibly dangerous for any but the most powerful and strong of will to use, and who they use it on is relative.

    The State of Earth-501
    STRIKE Agents recently visited Earth-501 (codename: ‘The Refuge’) to uncover more intelligence on Galactus, given that Galactus has been such a hugely influential figure on their Earth. They discovered some salient details and some key differences, which suggests some important things about Galactus.

    On Earth-501, the key differences are:

    - The Shi’ar Empire was not wiped out by Galactus prior to their Celestial arising. This Celestial, known as M’Kraan, rose up out of their M’Kraan Crystal. Galactus did kill this Celestial thereafter, though, and consumed its full energies. Galactus then proceeded to attempt to hunt down the remaining Shi’ar, and has since killed many Celestials.
    - Galactus-501 is more powerful. He does not employ Heralds, and the Celestials are both aware of this presence and are actively at war with him. It is speculated that because this Galactus is capable of killing fully grown Celestials and has done so and fed on their Power Cosmic, he is more powerful than Galactus-1491. This has caused a ‘runaway leader effect’, where Galactus simply cannot be stopped because the more he is fought, the more he is fed.
    - Earth-501 has its own Celestial, named Ea, who rose in the 1940’s when Shuma-Gorath was released from Thule and destroyed Asgard and Thule as part of the Fourth Host. Ea protects Earth from Galactus, and is part of why Earth-501 is a galactic refugee camp. Several other Deviant cities, including Atlantis, were also destroyed.

    The Phoenix Force
    It’s been recently discovered that the Phoenix Force, the extra-dimensional entity inhabiting STRIKE Agent Julian Adler, has its own agenda beyond simply defeating Galactus. The Phoenix Force considers itself a failed proto-Celestial whose birthright was denied by Galactus, and its journey across the galaxy has less been about taking the fight to Galactus directly and more about stealing what Power Cosmic remnants it could from Galactus devouring worlds in order to slowly gather enough power to ascend to a full Celestial and destroy Galactus once and for all.

    The Phoenix Force believes that Earth is its final stand, and that it will be able to use Galactus’ attack on Earth to ascend to its final form and become a Celestial. Obviously, this agenda conflicts with STRIKE’s overarching remit, so it cannot be permitted.

    Update on the Council and the Parliament
    Below are some updates regarding the Council and the Parliament based on recent intelligence gathered from STRIKE agents.

    The Council Passed Over Reed-1491
    We have discovered that the reason that the Council Fantastic (as they formally refer to themselves) passed over Reed Richards of our world for a reason that seems at once both petty and extremely consistent with the character of Reed Richards as he is known to this agency: when Reed Richards was informed by his wife, Susan Richards, that she was actually a triple-agent working for SHIELD and Leviathan and was also a Skrull, he made no effort whatsoever to attempt to locate the human on which Susan based her identity (the SHIELD agent Susan Storm).

    Apparently, the majority (perhaps the entirety?) of other Reeds within the Council have a human Susan Richards as a beloved wife, and found this decision morally appalling, and as a result rebuked Reed-1491 and passed him over for Council membership.

    However, Reed’s son, Franklin Richards, was considered eligible for membership in the Council given his familial relationship to Reed (despite being a human-Skrull hybrid and the son of a non-human version of Susan Richards). This is the motive for the Council’s attempt to kidnap Franklin Richards.

    In discovering this information, Susan and Reed Richards of Earth-1491 engaged in a violent confrontation while on a joint STRIKE-WHISPER operation with the Council that resulted in a Council member being killed by the Richards, and the appearance of a robotic combat unit seemingly in service to the Parliament. This situation may have escalated the conflict in some capacity, the repercussions of which are not fully understood.

    Doom-1491 is Not A Parliament Member
    We have discovered why Doctor Doom of our Earth is not a member of the Parliament. It appears that despite his claims to the contrary, Doom is still in possession of the timeship of Kang the Conqueror that came into his control as a result of the Battleworld incident of a few months ago.

    Doom somehow used this ship to travel back in time to inform his past self to refuse the Parliament’s offer of membership. How he did this without simply creating an alternate timeline is unclear. It is possible Kang’s time travel technology operates differently than our current understanding of time travel.

    Doom’s possession of a timeship may also explain Latveria’s dramatic technological progress and economic advancement. If Doom is altering the timestream or stealing technology from the future, that would explain a great deal and have troubling implications. More intelligence is needed.

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