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[Actual Play, NSFData] Marvel's Agents of STRIKE - S04E09: "In From the Cold"

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Michael goes to sit beside Jeremiah and puts his hand on his shoulder. Jeremiah nods at him and continues. "So there's no more STRIKE field teams, and basically no more STRIKE. Fury mothballs the entire division. Then, for reasons I will never understand, Fury decides to start picking fights with Asgard.

    "Decides they're the real threat we need to concern ourselves with. Starts sending OPS agents to spy on them, things like that. If STRIKE was still around, you'd probably have been running missions on them."

    Miles' eyes widen. "The Well..."

    Elise sinks into the nearest chair. "I'm never going to see Val and Crys again," she says to no one in particular. "This is fucked. We're stuck on Fuckworld."

    "I would have thought Fuckworld would be a lot more fun than this," Julian says.

    Jeremiah looks at Elise. "Oh, hey, it gets better." He's taking a measure of delight in her misery. "End of August, Tony Stark turns on us. The US government passes the Superhuman Registration Act, Sentinels everywhere, things go insane. SHIELD made a huge mistake letting itself be so reliant on Stark's tech, because it meant that when Stark decided to fuck us, JARVIS lubed him right up.

    "Excuse my language, sorry."

    Julian gives a dismissive wave. "Whatever, man. This is a shitshow. Get it out there."

    "All of SHIELD's tech went down in a day. The Helicarrier crashed, Fury's dead. The Avengers went to the wind, formed the backbone of the Resistance. Master Mold seized control of the Peak, and through that, the rest of the Kree satellites, and started taking shots. Latveria, Wakanda, Atlantis, some place in the Antarctic called Orollan, a few others, gone."

    Elise has doubled over, her head in her hands. "I know what Orollan is," she says to the floor. "I'm a war hero there on 1491. Was. Was a war hero. Maybe they'll build a big statue of me when I don't come back. Something tasteful."

    "It wouldn't be tasteful," Miles says solemnly.

    "Atillan activated some kind of failsafe on their end, self-destructed the satellites, so now that's not a threat, thank god. But it also meant all of SWORD is gone.

    "Attilan destroyed their Azores gate. We know that they use their own methods to save Inhumans here and there, but they're hostile to us, so we stay out of their way. We don't know all their politics but we think Maximus has taken control somehow."

    "Maximus has mind control," Elise tells the floor in a solemn tone.

    Jeremiah hisses. "Of course he does. That explains everything." He pauses, stricken. "Ugh, poor Jenny. That's...that's horrifying."

    PHU1KZN.png
    So this is our It’s a Wonderful Life world. All the stuff that went wrong, ‘for the want of a nail’ style, because we weren’t around to help. It begins with season 2, episode 2, “Inhuman,” where we went to the Inhuman Earth and fought Deathlok. Obviously Jeremiah has no way of knowing what went wrong there, but I bet it began with Julian and Clay getting lost on the psychic plane and, unlike ours, not finding their way back (which would also explain why the Phoenix didn’t just resurrect back on its home Earth the way Julian did when Deathlok killed him).

    The rest of the bad news represents most of the other season 2 stories: the mission to Fermilab was season 2 episode 4, “There But For the Grace Of…” and of course we weren’t there to deal with Maximus in s02e05, “Mindbender,” and so on and so forth, although it sounds like the world didn’t go full-on apocalyptic until Stark’s betrayal and the unleashing of the Sentinels in the season finale.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Miles turns to Jeremiah. "Okay, here are some quick fun facts to chew on.

    "The Leviathan Skrulls built a time machine under Fermilab. They went back in time to kill Z'Reg. With their future knowledge, they won the cold war and created Skrull Earth.

    "The explosion in LA was caused by Arsenal, who was controlling one of the Action Pack guys."

    Jeremiah nods. "That one I knew, the Arsenal thing."

    "Nick Fury left his eye in the Well of Mimir. From Norse myth? It let him 'see the future,'" Miles makes air quotes. "It's really a big Celestial psychohistorical computer, connected to his neurology by his eye. And Loki found his eye and used it to start feeding him false intel.

    "And, yeah, Maximus has powers and was after the throne all along."

    "What happened to ARMOR during all of this?" Ryann interrupts.

    "We have half a code to get home," Elise says. "I don't suppose you guys have, like, data recovery for supercomputers or whatever."

    Jeremiah looks at Elise and Ryann. "ARMOR's gone. I don't know what you guys would do with that code. ARMOR was insulated from Master Mold's cyber-attack because they were the one part of SHIELD that wasn't reliant on some variation of Stark's tech. SWORD used Vision, and the rest of SHIELD used knock-offs of JARVIS. But ARMOR had X-51, its own VI that was designed by some other guy, so it was isolated on its own system. Not compatible. It gave them enough time to shut all their stuff down, according to protocol, and fall back.

    "They shut down the Hollow's fold-gate. It's completely inaccessible. The Hollow still exists, I guess, but you can't actually get inside it without X-51's access codes, which you can't get anymore because X-51 melted itself down. The entire Black Ice facility that housed X-51's server farm self-destructed."

    "What if we had our own X-51?" Ryann asks, looking at Miles.

    "If the codes are still the same..." Miles shrugs. "But this is all academic. We'd still need a destination code. And we'd need to get to Scandinavia, with Master Mold and an army of Sentinels hunting us."

    Miles, X-51 says, I believe I can activate the Hollow's fold-gate. Presumably, this world has the same access code variations that existed at the time of the emergency shutdown. If I was taken to the site, I believe I could activate the gate and gain access to the facility.

    Copy that, Miles thinks.

    Jeremiah nods. "Well, I can portal us there, my armor has been enchanted by Doctor Strange. Magic is the one thing that the Sentinels don't do well with. But you'll want backup. Hold on a moment."

    He sits down on the floor in a lotus position, and closes his eyes. He begins floating a few feet off the ground, and mystical sigils surround his body.
    ---SCENE---
    After a few seconds, this stops and he lowers down to the ground. "I astral projected to Strange. He and the other Defenders are on their way." He looks at Miles. "Listen...the Hollow is heavily guarded by Sentinels. They know they can't get in, but they are always watching in case someone else tries.

    "Your team looks pretty burned out. I don't know where you're coming from, but you look like you need some rest. Unless you feel like you're on the clock, you should take your time here before heading out. Kamar-Taj is one of the few safe places in the world."

    Miles turns to the team. "He's right. We can't head straight into another big fight. We need to take five."

    "There's something else," Jeremiah adds. "You...you can't just leave us, Miles. You can't. Look at what happened to this world without you guys. Even..." he looks at Elise, "Even you."

    "Oh, what the fuck!" She’s scandalized. "Even me? I'm a valued part of this team, bud!"

    Jeremiah ignores her and focuses on Machine Man. "There has to be something you can do before you leave. I'm not asking you to stay. This isn't your world. But you can't just...you can't just get here, find a door, and run.

    "That isn't the Miles Mason I know."

    "Miles," Elise says in a low, warning tone. Ryann folds his arms but says nothing.

    Miles holds up a hand. "I don't leave people in the lurch," he says. "Listen, tell us the current situation. Does Master Mold just like, fly around all day hunting superpowered people? Is Gyrich ordering him around from a bunker somewhere? Who's in charge? We beat Master Mold on our world. We can do it here if we have to. Just give us the picture."

    "MILES," Elise pleads.

    "I'm down for taking out Master Mold if it'll help," Behemoth offers.

    She stares at him. "Mike!"

    Jeremiah sighs with relief, "Okay, thank you. Let me explain..."

    A portal opens. Three individuals step through.

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    It’s Doctor Strange, Thor, and Captain Britain. Strange looks at the team, tilts his head, and makes a mystical gesture. "Hm. You're not from this Earth."

    "We're from Earth-1491," Michael says.

    Strange nods, "Hm. Are you on an expedition from the ARMOR of your universe?"

    "Ehhhhh, kind of," Elise says. "We were, then we got punted to this dimension by a wet little cocksleeve of a man."

    "Reed Richards?" Strange asks. Elise tries to suppress a smile and fails immediately.

    "A guy called Kristoff, from the Parliament,” Miles says. “Hey, important news: the Parliament is an interdimensional council of Dooms. The Council is the same thing, but of Reeds."

    Strange grimaces. "That... makes a lot of sense. How disturbing. This world has neither a Doom nor a Reed. I wonder where that places us."

    Miles continues. "Oh, other stuff you'll need to know. "So have you seen Highlander?" Miles gives Strange the short version of the Celestial/Eternal/Deviant/Galactus story.

    "Miles," Elise says in her best cheery falsetto. "Chief. Can I talk to you when you have a moment?"

    Strange nods along with Miles’ account. "So, why did Kristoff do this to you?"

    "Because we've interloped once too often, I guess,” Miles says. “Our Vlad went evil and joined them, and wiped out entire worlds on their behalf, but I...convinced him to come back, and they apparently didn't like that. And he caught us while we were on a mission to a world ruled by HYDRA to obtain Parliament tech that they'd bartered to HYDRA."

    Jeremiah snidely makes jazz hands. "Oh, the Resource went evil, what a surprise. Nobody listened to me, what a surprise..."

    Elise suddenly springs out of her chair and is in Jeremiah's face in half a second. "You shut your mouth, Jeremiah, you don't fucking know anything about -" Jeremiah backs up and hisses at her as mystical sigils appear in his hands.

    "Elise!" Miles snaps.

    Strange snaps at Jeremiah, "Warrick!"

    Jeremiah looks at Strange, drops the sigils, and tries to straighten up and calm down. "I apologize, Doctor."

    Elise stops and turns to look at Miles, still clearly furious. "Miles, you heard him -"

    "Nothing he said was wrong, Elise,” Miles says. “I said the same things. I know how you feel about Vlad but you need to come to terms with the fact that he did bad shit and watching cartoons with you doesn't make up for it."

    Warrick looks over at Strange. "Doctor, Miles thinks they can open the Hollow and get back to their dimension, but he agreed to help us first, maybe defeat Master Mold."

    Strange cradles his chin and thinks for a moment, "...No. That won't be happening."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited October 18
    Miles stares. "Wha?"

    "Kristoff could have exiled you anywhere. I don't think he just opened up the cosmic phone book and dropped his finger somewhere randomly,” Strange says. "He sent you here on purpose.

    "A place where your absence did the maximum amount of harm. Where you could feel the most amount of guilt for the state of the world. Not just a place where things were bad. There are worse worlds. I've seen them.

    "A place you'd feel the most responsible to get involved in trying to help."

    "So it's an elaborate trap?" Elise asks.

    "It's like a penalty box," Strange says. "Somewhere to keep you busy. While the Parliament does...whatever they have planned for your world. Without you."

    "He's banking on us not finding our way back right away," Ryann says.

    "Yes," Strange nods. "And getting embroiled in our world and our problems to keep your eye off the ball. Let me ask you this...you were on that HYDRA-ruled world to get intelligence on the Parliament, right?"

    "Right," Ryann says.

    "Is that all you did while you were there?"

    Ryann laughs. Miles shakes his head. "Of course not."

    Strange nods. "Kristoff is banking on your good nature. Instead of cold pragmatism."

    "He doesn't...need to,” Miles points out. “We don't have half of our ticket home. The code was erased from my memory. Without it, we'll just Quantum Leap around the multiverse."

    Strange frowns. "Hm."

    "Maybe you just don't want to admit you're getting played, Chief,” Elise says. “I mean, we got out of space jail."

    Captain Britain speaks up for the first time since arriving. "Master Mold has the most powerful computer on Earth. Pym built this complex quantum computer inside microscopic space, like a server farm the size of a continent that fits on the head of a pin.

    "He uses it to coordinate all the global overseer Sentinels and that sort of thing."

    "If we can get to ARMOR, we can find a way back," Ryann says.

    Elise nudges Julian. "Hey. Hey. Do you have anything good?"

    Julian pulls out a cigarette pack and offers one to Elise. "Best I got, sorry."

    "Can I smoke in here?" Elise calls to Strange.

    Strange looks at her, "I suppose."

    She takes the cigarette and lights up. "Still sober," she says to Julian sourly. "This doesn't count." Strange says that they may need to be ruthless. No good nature. Elise tentatively ponders to see if the Red Skull imprint on her brain is still lurking. Maybe it's gone now that they're off Nazi world. Red Skull would probably be able to help with a plan.
    ---SCENE---
    Captain Britain continues. "If you lot took control of the Sentinel facility, I'm pretty sure you could use that computer to decrypt the frequency from the half you have."

    Miles nods. "Help you and us? That sounds like a plan."

    Strange shakes his head, "That's too risky. That's the second most heavily guarded Sentinel facility on this planet next to Master Mold's computer core. If it were so simple we'd have attacked it ourselves."

    "I've got some tricks up my sleeve that your Miles Mason didn't," Miles says.

    "We don't need the supercomputer if we just access ARMOR," Ryann says.

    Strange looks at Miles. "If it's an ARMOR key, is there any chance if you gain access to the Hollow you can just...unlock it using their computers?"

    "I'll check." Miles relays the question to X-51.

    Either theory has a possibility of success, Miles. I am calculating risk versus potential outcome... standby… A few moments pass. Calculating...this is vexatious, it did not use to take me this long...

    Getting older sucks,
    Miles thinks wryly.

    Calculations complete. I have concluded that Braddock's plan presents a significantly higher risk of injury and death, in particular to personnel such as Agent Arnell or Agent Warrick, or Agent Adler although his death is largely inconsequential. Even with the assistance of Doctor Strange, Thor, and Captain Britain, I am uncertain of their success given the parameters outlined. And I will still need your help with the quantum computer. It will be much like navigating the Big House computer, if I assume correctly.

    Miles' thoughts are grim, but determined. Good. I want a second crack at that Pym system.

    If we succeed,
    X-51 continues, I am certain within a significant percentile that the technology as outlined will potentially decrypt our destination. However, we no longer have an ARMOR transmitter and cannot 'call home'. Which means we will still need to assault the Hollow and enter it, and use their technology to either acquire a transmitter or, if functional, use their version of the Holepunch to travel home.

    Furthermore. if we opt not to attack the computer core, and instead proceed directly the Hollow, we will be reliant on ARMOR computers to decrypt the frequency. Those computers are the ones that created the encryption in the first place, so the chances of doing so are quite high; they are lower than using the Pym-created quantum computer, but not substantially so.

    Conclusion:

    Attacking the Hollow exclusively is the safer and more expedient option, with a reasonable degree of success of decrypting the frequency. I believe, with your mental assistance, we will accurate find our way home. Attacking the computer core will have the higher chance of success of decrypting the frequency, but is more risky, will necessitate attacking the Hollow anyway with likely increased security presence. Essentially tripled risk.

    I believe going to the Hollow directly is the more logical...but less heroic option.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Miles turns to the team. "So...we've got a choice."

    He lays out the options. He tries to be honest about it, and not editorialize. Until the end.

    "You know what I think. But let me explain why I think it.

    "Doctor Strange is almost certainly right. The Parliament is counting on us sticking around and helping. They are playing on our natural desire to help.

    "But here's the thing. Just because it's what they're counting on...doesn't mean it's the wrong thing to do. If a bad guy takes an innocent person hostage so they can get away, not helping the hostage is still the wrong call! The fact that it helps the bad guy doesn't matter. I'm not going to do something I can't live with just to spite the villain.

    "I have to follow my conscience. That's who I am. But I know you might disagree. So let's vote on it." He steps back.

    "Live with it. That's an interesting verb considering, you know," Elise drawls, and pulls on the cigarette.

    "I vote for fucking up Master Mold before heading home," Michael says.



    "Fuck it, let's do it,” Julian says. “Let's fuck up Master Mold."

    Elise sighs. "That's three for."

    Ryann purses his lips.

    "Elise, we helped out Prowler, and you wanted to take her home with us,” Michael points out. “Blowing up Master Mold's shit on our way isn't that different."

    "It's super different," she protests.

    "We're interfering in another Earth's problems to help them, how is that different?” he says. “We've faced Galactus, for fuck's sake."

    Julian nods. "I mean, what was the first, horrifying thing we saw here? Sentinels. If we can knock that down that's a pretty big win."

    Thor speaks up, "You will not be alone, friends. We will come with you, and I know of at least two allies I can count on."

    "I don't know why we had a vote if you're going to try to convince me to be okay with it too. I get it. I'm outvoted." Elise sighs and flings the cigarette but aside. "Just make sure they build a bitching statue of me if I get iced."

    Ryann nods at Elise.

    "I'd rather you be okay with this decision when we're out there then fuming about being outvoted and not having your head in the game," Michael says. Miles nods at him.

    "Don't start with that," Ryann points a finger at Michael. "Our heads are completely in the game. I don't think anyone here needs to be lectured on the moral justifications of all of this. We voted, we know where we stand. Let's just get this done and back to our problems and enemies."

    "Besides," Elise's mouth settles into a stubborn line. "When have I ever let the team down?"

    Ryann points at Elise...but says nothing, and then sighs. He walks away. Michael looks after him with a worried glance, wondering if he's more distracted than Elise, but stays silent.

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    I really loved this scene, and this whole moral dilemma and how it highlights the characters. Miles and Ryann are usually on the same page about 99% of things, but Jake and I had a lot of fun having them butt heads here. Ryann’s a space cop who still has a beat cop attitude about the mission: he’s got his area of responsibility and anything outside of it is someone else’s problem.

    Jake has also mentioned that he feels like Ryann, whose only previous dimensional travel was to Earth-501, the Refuge, dealt with the horror of the things he saw and learned there by just kind of mentally filing alternate universes away as “not as real” as his home dimension. To him, Miles wanting to help the places they visit seems kind of like someone getting wrapped up in a video game, losing the distinction between fiction and reality.

    Meanwhile, Michael, who had kind of bristled a couple sessions ago when he thought Miles was being too hard on Elise, is now the one telling her (gently) that she’s being kind of a hypocrite.

    And Elise is pretty consistent in that her defining characteristic is whether she has a personal stake in what’s going on. She complained constantly about going to HYDRA Earth until she met Prowler, then it was the most important mission in the world, and now she’s back to complaining and wanting to go home asap.

    It’s a truism among TV writers that good stories arise from character conflict, but I think what bad writers do is often just...ham-handedly insert conflict from external sources. Like all the CW dramas where people are constantly hooking up, fighting, breaking up, getting back together, dying, being cloned, falling in love with the clone, etc etc. It’s drama, but it’s overheated, artificial drama.

    Whereas here is a good example of how I personally feel like it ought to work, where instead of the characters changing to suit the story, the characters have consistent perspectives and experiences and the plot is tailored to highlight their differences and pit them against each other, or bring them together, in different combinations that still make sense. Ryann and Elise often don’t agree, but they do here, for totally natural reasons.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited October 8
    Thor looks at Strange. "We need to do a brief detour, to the ruins of Chicago."

    Warrick speaks up. "Doctor, the team needs some rec time before heading out. Thor can touch base with his people, and the rest of the team can prepare.”

    Strange nods at Jeremiah. "Good. Show them around the grounds, apprentice."

    Jeremiah looks to the group, "Follow me." He leads the group through Kamar-Taj.

    "Okay, so you know what's been bugging me this whole time?" Miles says. "The other us went to Inhuman Earth and...it sounds like possibly died there? Or at least got stuck.

    "But we went there and succeeded. So did Inhuman Earth Reed Richards wave goodbye to us, and then he turns around and we're back and he's like, 'wtf'? Or is your Inhuman Earth a completely different place from our Inhuman Earth?"

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    Alternate universes are confusing enough, but when you start thinking about how they interact with each other, things get really crazy.

    Jeremiah shrugs as they turn into a large gallery with rows on rows of shelves.

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    "This is the library. Don't...don't touch anything here."

    Elise makes a face at Jeremiah's back and reaches out to touch the spine of a book as they walk. He whips around, his head turning nearly 180 degrees separate from his body, and hisses at her.

    "JESUS FUCK!" she shrieks.

    "What did I just say?!"

    Michael laughs. "Nice."

    Jeremiah clicks his beak and grumbles. "I swear, you being a jerk is a multiversal constant..."

    "I'm the jerk?"

    Miles nods. "You have this realization every so often and it never sticks."

    "You'd be lost without me, though. What would you even do without an Elise?"

    "Not have weekly HR meetings on 'Why you shouldn't put a live bee hive in your co-worker's locker,'" Michael guesses.

    "Well, without an Elise I've had to deal with an apocalyptic hellscape of killer robots trying to destroy the world. So...." Jeremiah makes a see-saw gesture with his hand and has a dark laugh. "It's 50/50."

    "Okay, the beehive thing took so much work though," she says. "I got stung so much."

    "That's karma," Michael says.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited October 8
    The group enters a large antechamber from which many hallways and rooms branch off.

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    "There's quarters for all of you. They're fairly spartan, on purpose. This place used to be an academy for sorcerers, after all," he says. "Not exactly Hogwarts."

    "I spent years sleeping in a tent next to a latrine.\,” Miles shrugs. “I woke up with camel spiders on my face. It's cool."

    "I like to think I'd be a Ravenclaw," Elise notes. Ryann rolls his eyes.

    Jeremiah sneers. "Ravenclaws are smart." Miles fights to suppress a grin.

    "Yeah, you'll notice that even before I got KIA on this world, I managed to outrank you, buddy," she fires back.

    Julian laughs. "I mean, what do you think she is, Slytherin? Actually yeah, I guess you would."

    Jeremiah looks at Julian and nods. "Yes. The house of scheming, backhanded vipers."

    "Wow," Elise says.

    Jeremiah ignores her. "I'll let you people and also Elise get situated, and come find you in the morning.” He waves and walks away.

    "Mouse eating, pellet-shitting asshole," Elise hisses at his back.

    Julian looks at her. "You know, I don't know what it is about him that brings out the worst in you. I've never seen you so focused as when you're plotting to fuck him over in some way. I'm just waiting for the next world we visit where you two are shacking up. Like, he's just that irresistible to you."

    "God, I bet Elise and Jeremiah of Earth-1398 hate fuck all the time," Michael muses.

    Miles nods. "Elise just feeding him mice naked in bed..." Elise gags. Ryann shakes his head wanders away to find a room. Excusing himself, Michael goes to join him.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "He was the first person I worked with after Victoria decided I was suitable for socialization and work,” Elise explains to Miles and Julian. For a moment, she sounds...vulnerable? Hurt? “He...wasn't kind to me. Made me feel small."

    Miles pulls a hand down his face. "It might be time to let all that go, Elise. Maybe he was rude to you because he thought you did something first. If we get back home, maybe you could just...bury the hatchet. Say you're sorry. Move on. You don't have to be friends, but watching you two go at it is -"

    "If we get back home, Chief?" Elise's shoulders slump.

    Miles sighs and nods at her. "I just...even if we get the code, even if everything goes right, who's to say Kristoff doesn't show up and clap his hands and send us somewhere even shittier? We might really be exiles."

    "Yeah. Yeah, we might be." Elise runs a hand through the pink in her hair. "You think Valeria would turn out okay? Without me there? Shit, maybe she has a better chance."

    Miles puts a hand on her shoulder. "Whatever happens to us, she's surrounded by people who will take good care of her. Crystalia, Clay, the King. She's going to be okay, no matter what."

    Elise exhales. "Yeah. And for what it's worth, Chief, if I gotta be exiled in a boundless void of ever-changing shitty worlds... I'm glad it's with you, y'know?"

    Miles smiles a little. "Right back atcha." He mock-punches her shoulder lightly. "Oh, hey, I've got to ask Julian something."

    Julian nods briskly. "Shoot."

    "Okay, so thinking about Inhuman Earth got the gears turning," Miles begins. "Remember what happened there? When you died?"

    Julian snaps his fingers. "Right - I woke up back home. And...hm." He cradles his chin. "I think I got the whole...Phoenix situation on lock, too."

    Miles nods. "It's...risky as hell. But if we can't get the code.... It's your call, Julian. I can't ask you to do it. But it's an idea."

    Julian nods. "Yeah. Hey, if it comes down to it and we're desperate, it's...something."

    Miles nods. "We can think of it as a fallback. If everything else goes wrong, at least maybe one of us can make it back."

    "Yeah. A little something in the back pocket."

    Leaving them, Elise goes to find a room and check her weapons, how much ammo she has, charge her harness, and pray. She wants to get as much rest as possible. Part of her is deeply terrified of Sentinels. Now they're going to be pissing off as many as possible.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited October 8
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    Michael joins Ryann on the other side of the antechamber.

    "Hey Ryann, do you want to talk? You seem really on edge right now."

    "On edge? Yeah, that would be a pretty decent observation there, big guy." Ryann stops and meets his gaze. "I got my family, Mike. I got responsibilities that go wholly outside my position in STRIKE or SHIELD or any of this. Right now we're getting screwed. We've been getting screwed for as much as we’ve been doing the screwing. I'm tired of it. There will always be a good fight to fight. I'm just focused on getting back to the good fight that my family is closest to the most. If you can't get that, I don't know what to tell you but after we take down Master Mold, we are going back home."

    "Ryann, I get that. I want to get home too. I've got someone that I would love to start a family with. Everyone here wishes they were somewhere else. Us with our Earth, and the people here on another one entirely. But if we go out there at anything less than 100%, then we won't be going home to our loved ones. Also, wouldn't you rather come home alive and telling your family about how you helped out two alternate Earths rather than one and leaving the other to die. Don't be like this Earth's Ryann Valt and just leave them to their fate."

    Ryann closes his eyes. "Mike, I told you I wasn't interested in a moral lecture on being a hero. Not from a trained killer." He stands up and looks at Behemoth again. "Do me a favour and give me some space." He begins to leave, then he stops.

    "If our luck continues this way, maybe we'll find the universe where you and Loki go on a honeymoon instead of executing him in front of his brother," he adds without turning, and walks away.

    PHU1KZN.png
    This was really cool to see as a player, since Michael is usually so quiet and stoic and he and Ryann almost never disagree. It’s an interesting reminder that Ryann still thinks of himself as a little better than the other teammates because he’s a professional law enforcer rather than an extralegal assassin, a PMC merc, etc.

    As Miles and Julian stare, Ryann crosses the antechamber into one of the private rooms and closes the door.

    Frowning, Michael joins the others. "Chief, how do you think I keep myself from going into a psycho killer? I try and do as much good as possible so I don't slide down that slope into darkness."

    Miles puts a hand on Michael's shoulder. "Me too," he says in almost a whisper. "Me too. And he didn't really mean that. He's just terrified of being separated from his family. Again."

    Michael nods slowly. "Yeah, he didn't handle that separation from his family when we got locked up in the Kyln all that well. Got heavy into the drink."

    Miles nods. "Yeah. He'll be in a better place if things ever slow the fuck down for five minutes."

    Michael sighs heavily. "You're right. We all need a breather real bad right now."

    "Let's get some sack time," Miles says. "Everything will feel a little less intimidating in the morning." He heads to his spartan quarters and attempts to sleep, but stays up late into the night strategizing, planning his intrusion into the central computer system, and, finally, staring at the ceiling and thinking about Carol.

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    The team wakes up in the morning, and after a meal, meets with Strange, Thor, Captain Britain, and Jeremiah in the antechamber.

    Strange explains to the team, "Thor has contacted some allies in Chicago. We'll be traveling there first to pick them up, and after that, we'll be going straight to the Sentinel base. It's the former High Point Special Facility in Virginia, a nuclear bunker the US government made.

    "I can't teleport us directly inside the facility, there's all kinds of interference from Pym-particle technology in the way. Once we get inside, we'll have to hack the computer. Mason, apparently that's where you come in. According to Warrick you're up to the task.

    "This place will be crawling with Sentinels. I don't know what Sentinels are like on your world, but here they're extremely dangerous.

    "Each one is less an individual robot and more like...Braddock, how do you explain it?"

    Captain Britain nods. "They're nanotech colonies with a cloud-based intellect. They can combine to form stronger and smarter forms."

    "Do they still have the small ones," Elise says in a flat, monotone voice. Her eyes have remained closed, and there’s been a tinge of green in her cheeks as she listened to the briefing. "The ones that can latch onto your face with the legs?"

    "Oh, yeah, those ones. Yes. They're awful."

    "Can they replicate the powers and abilities of their opponents?" Michael asks.

    Braddock nods again. "Yes."

    "Are they still hardcoded to focus on mutants and Inhumans?" Elise asks.

    "Yes. They'll fixate on them. But anyone who is a super-powered threat will be assessed more or less the same. They go full lethal force on any threat. The Sentinels do not show mercy. You can't surrender, you can't reason with them. If they register you as a threat, they will try to kill you and will not stop until they kill you or you destroy them."

    "So glad we gave Mr. Never Dies and Captain Invulnerable the same vote weight as me," Elise murmurs. Julian flashes a grin and a thumbs-up in her direction.

    Strange looks at everyone. "You're all ready?"

    Julian nods. "Ready."

    "As ready as I'm ever gonna be," Elise says.

    Miles nods. "Should we expect military or other ordinary people on the site? Or have the Sentinels taken care of them?"

    "The Sentinels run...everything. They have cybernetic intermediaries who perform a lot of administrative functions but they likely won't be on-site," Captain Braddock notes. "One of the 'logical conclusions' that Master Mold came to is that the only way to protect humanity was to govern humanity."

    Miles grimaces and nods.

    Elise raises a hand. "Do you have EMP rounds?"

    Jeremiah looks at her. "Yes. I also have grenades. But they adapt. So use them sparingly." She gives a tense nod, and Jeremiah passes her some ammo and grenades. Begrudgingly.

    He looks at her. "How are you going to... not die? I have power armor."

    Elise lifts her top to show Doom's harness.

    Jeremiah grimaces. "Could you...not."

    "I'm pretty sure Elise actually can't....not," Julian chirps.

    "What, you've seen tits before," she says indignantly. "Power armor slows me down. Can't...risk that."

    "I don't want to see yours," Jeremiah shoots back.

    "There's barely anything. Whatever. I have half an A-cup. Puritans."

    Strange opens a portal. "Everyone through."

    Miles' shades snap shut over his eyes. He leaps through, and the team follows.

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    Before we go on, a few words about Captain Britain, since we haven't seen him before.

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    By the 1970s, Marvel had begun trying to sell its comics in overseas markets. One outcome of this drive was the 70s relaunch and revamp of the original, cancelled Uncanny X-Men with the new, more internationally-flavored team (Colossus from the USSR, Nightcrawler from Germany, Wolverine from Canada, etc); another was the creation of Captain Britain.

    Captain Britain was the first Marvel character created to appear exclusively in UK comics, although his initial adventures were still written and drawn by an all-American staff (there was a "Marvel UK" division, but it was a tiny business that at the time simply repackaged, printed and distributed Marvel product in the UK, rather than creating original work). Nobody is sure who, exactly, created him (and the truth is that it was probably a group effort) but his initial writer was Chris Claremont, who was currently enjoying the start of his legendary 20-year run spearheading the new X-Men.

    Brian Braddock is a physicist and a shy, snobbish heir to a once-wealthy aristocratic family who gets an opportunity to redeem their legacy when. during a supervillain's attack on the experimental nuclear plant where he works, Merlin (styled "Merlyn") appears to him and offers him the power to become Britain's protector. Magically-endowed with super-strength and invulnerability, Brian goes on to battle several new nemeses, including a neo-Nazi cult and the evil computer built by his father and which had killed his parents.

    One group with which Brian clashed often was Britain's secret clandestine paranormal law enforcement agency - S.T.R.I.K.E.

    Yep, STRIKE, our STRIKE, has its origins in a 70s Marvel UK comic, although it wasn't originally international and it wasn't part of SHIELD. But the title boasts other, much bigger "firsts": Brian's fraternal twin sister, Elizabeth ("Betsy") Braddock, was later revealed to be a mutant telepath, and joined the X-Men as Psylocke, one of the title's most popular characters in the 1990s.

    And during a later run in the 1980s, by legendary writer Alan Moore, Brian learned that he was actually one of many Captains Britain, part of a corps of alternate-universe guardians defending every Britain in the multiverse. Brian is told that his earth is Earth-616, and that became the official in-universe designation for the Earth on which Marvel's comics mostly take place.

    A sidenote:

    It's interesting to read these comics now and compare them to their contemporaries at the time. Learning about a foreign culture—even one as near to America in some ways as Britain—was a lot harder before the Internet, especially for comic book writers and artists, who had to hack out full stories as quickly as possible and didn't often have time for piddly things like research or photo-reference. American comic stories from the 60s and 70s that feature Britain are often incredibly cringeworthy, with bad attempts at decades-old slang dialogue (or worse, King James "thee" and "thou" Bible-ese) and architecture and clothing that seemed to be drawn from a mishmash of sets from Mary Poppins or things the artist half-remembered from their tour of duty overseas during WWII.

    It's shocking. Like, I'm not a Briton, but the world is so much more connected now, and I have ready access to so much UK media and the perspectives of actual Britons, that this stuff seems totally Stone Age to me. But at the time it passed beneath the noses of dozens of American creatives and hundreds of thousands of American readers without comment.

    Chris Claremont was an avowed Anglophile who actually traveled to Britain often and (as is evident in a lot of his work, such as on X-Men) kept up with British TV and pop culture. He got individual details wrong, as UK fans are often cheerfully apt to point out, but was light-years ahead of his contemporaries, and if you had to get an American to write a comic called "Captain Britain," he was probably one of the best possible choices. He worked in relevant, modern detail, and gave his artists photo-reference to draw people with fashions that weren't 100 years out of date. Things like having a nuclear plant feature in the origin, or pitting the hero against neo-Nazis, show that he was keeping up with the big headlines and controversies out of the UK at the time.

    But after he left, the title was handed to a team that was actually British, as Marvel UK had begun creating and printing original work exclusive to the UK market. The editor, Paul Neary (himself a talented artist who is most famous to modern readers as the inker over Bryan Hitch's pencils on the first twelves issues of Warren Ellis's The Authority and Mark Millar's The Ultimates) had penciler Alan Davis design an all-new Captain Britain costume:

    sQQADARl.png

    ...but aside from looking cool, part of the rationale for the redesign was that the original costume's leonine chest symbol, while it had been a notable mark of heraldry, was now mainly seen in the UK as a symbol to denote the quality and freshness of eggs.

    Marvel had been, more or less, publishing two years of a comic book with the hero wearing the equivalent of the “REAL” cheese logo on his chest.

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    And I feel like that's a perfect little parable about why representation behind the camera (or page, or whatever) is important.

    Fencingsax
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    Elise can sense two individuals approaching, on foot. She recognizes them, by their scent. It's Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanov. "Incoming. Two on foot. Rogers and Romanov," she whispers. "No Sentinels yet."

    The two round a corner into view.

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    Thor looks at the pair. "Rogers. Tasha."

    Miles looks at the newcomers. "Hey. I...don't know if you've met people who look like us. But we're here to help."

    "I have,” Black Widow says. “In Russia, the whole business with the Skrulls."

    Miles nods. "....Yes, that's right. Well, I wish it could have been in better circumstances, but good to see you again."

    Rogers sighs and looks at Thor. "This plan is crazy, but if we win...it'll be a big win. Taking out the Alpha Core will throw half the Sentinels on the planet into disarray. We could make some big moves after this. Stark's on standby if we succeed."

    "If?" Thor asks.

    Rogers sighs. "You know how he is. He doesn't push his chips unless he's sure on the bet."

    "It’s sure," Miles says firmly. "I've got an ace up my sleeve. Something the Sentinels don't know about."

    "Let's get it done, then worry about the details," Elise says, voice low and cautious.

    Rogers nods, "I agree. Let's move."

    Strange opens a second portal, and the assembled heroes jump through.

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    It's a massive steel fortress. There's a huge thunder-storm. Too loud for Elise, too much interference for scans or sensors.

    But it doesn't take long before they show up in force.

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    Sentinels.

    Twelve feet tall apiece, there's at least twenty of them coming out of the storm. With a sinister whirr, turrets on the wall turn and begin firing at the group. But they're not launching mortar shells or explosives.

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    They're spheres.

    They unfold when they hit the ground.

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    "Ryann! Scoop those up!" Miles cries. Ryann takes flight. Attacking them head on, he attempts to take hold of the drones and smash them together.

    Elise stands firm, raises her gun, and just starts firing. She doesn't move or fall back, just tries to put out as many shots as possible. But there are too many. They swarm over Elise, grabbing her and pulling her down to the ground, and begin clawing into her skin. Their strikes bypass her kinetic barrier, which isn't designed to deal with their methodical, pulling claws.

    However, Ryann pulls the drones off her, hurling them into the air and smashing them together. Elise is free, but is cut up pretty bad. Phoenix superheats and detonates a second swarm of Sentinel spheres, reducing the fragments to slag.

    Elise gets back to her feet, gritting her teeth and trying to ignore the sensation of blood against cloth. She slams another clip into her gun and turns to fire at the nearest enemies.

    "Strange! Help her! I'll cover you!" Miles takes off and lays down a perimeter of repulsor fire around Elise, clearing a path for Doctor Strange to approach Elise, and Elise’s firepower manages to keep the orb-drones off them long enough for Strange to cast a spell that heals her wounds somewhat.

    "Thanks!" she calls over the din.

    Michael armours up.

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    Taking off, Behemoth attempts to blast the incoming Sentinels with a wide beam—which he can do, but he risks hitting Thor in the process. Or he can focus fire on one Sentinel in particular.

    Thor can probably take the hit? But he might not appreciate it. Michael narrows his focus and slags just one of the Sentinels.

    A Sentinel grabs ahold of Julian from behind and throws him to the ground. He feels his ribs crack.

    "Julian!" Elise is moving, slamming EMP rounds into her weapon and firing into the Sentinel's legs. It stumbles and falls to one knee, its ankle locking up from the EMP.

    "Fuck! Fuck!" Julian starts to wheeze. He squeaks when he breathes. That probably shouldn't be something that he does.

    Ryann looks at the remaining Sentinels. "I haven't tried this one in a while." He takes off at blinding speed from the pitched battle, then reverses in mid-air after gaining hundreds of feet of altitude and power-bombs the attackers.

    He crashes through at least a half-dozen of the Sentinels, sending fragments flying everywhere and then hits one of them and stops.

    Like he hit a brick wall.

    The floating fragments of the other Sentinels float into the one he struck. The other Sentinels let out a high-pitched shrieking noise, like an old fax modem. They disassemble and their fragments form and swell with the one that Ryann slammed into, growing it in size to thirty feet tall.

    HDl8yP6l.jpg

    ENERGY PATTERN ANALYZED, it announces. ITERATING.

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    Ryann looks up in horror.

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    The Nova Sentinel makes a low-pitched moan that rumbles across the air and ground, like a thunderclap.

    Thor rushes the Nova Sentinel, and it raises a hand, enveloping him in a mass field and hurling him into the stratosphere. He vanishes from view in a second.

    "Oh, fuck me." Elise slams an EMP clip into her gun and turns from Julian to fire on the Nova Sentinel. She can see gaps in the Sentinel's armor, and aims for them. The EMP rounds destabilize some of the nano-machines, causing them to fall away. It does some damage, although not nearly as much as she'd have hoped.

    Michael tries to infuse the Odinforce into his physical form and speeds at the Nova Sentinel. He slams into it, knocking it off balance and down to one knee, fragments falling away from its chest.

    Strange begins collecting the fallen away fragments into an orb, trying to keep them from re-attaching to the main mass.

    Ryann attempts to blast upward with an uppercut only to find the Nova Force reflected, smashing him into the ground.

    Miles takes a different tack, trying to carefully interfere with the nanomachines' networking and shut the Nova Sentinel's constituent parts down.

    Miles, we are being counter-hacked. I need to isolate the interference by directing the intrusion to your central nervous system. This will be painful. I apologize.

    You wha-
    "AAAAAAAAAAAH!" Miles collapses in agony, writhing like he’s been tased.

    Julian shakily gets back up to his feet. Elise. Can you find a weak spot? Something I can direct the heat to?

    "Yeah, I can try!" Elise is in the air with her harness, squinting at the Nova Sentinel.

    The monstrous robot looks up at Elise, and reaches outwards and closes its fist. In fractions of a second, she can feel the gravitational pull of a micro-singularity opening right next to her.

    Suddenly, she's violently shoved to the ground by Jeremiah, who throws her down out of the way, flying in the path with his power armor. "Look ou-"

    He's gone. Elise gapes in horror.

    "Down here!" Ryann screams at the Sentinel. "Let's go for a trip!" He punches the ground below him and the Nova Sentinel with all the power of the Force he can channel, and he and the Nova Sentinel both plummet into the ground, pulled down by a mass field.

    "Ryann!" Elise screams.

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    The dice really decided to fuck us with a vengeance this week. I think by this point we’ve rolled maybe a grand total of two unambiguous successes so far. Unfortunately, Jeremiah paid the price for that, and Ryann was next up on the chopping block.

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    Horrified, the team stares at the collapsing sinkhole where Ryann and the Nova Sentinel have disappeared. Somewhere below the Earth, the two combatants are plummeting ever further, and the force of the field will, eventually, pull them down too far. Eventually, the crust of the Earth itself will crush them.

    Miles whirls to Strange. "Can you teleport him out?"

    Strange yells "They're moving too fast, I can't..."

    Michael charges into the pit.

    Somewhere far below, Ryann has to fly up...and hope he does so alone.

    Dipping below the thrashing swings of the Nova Sentinel, he blasts upward, trying to escape the mass field as the monstrosity reaches up to grab him…

    He's not fast enough, not quite. The Nova Sentinel’s massive fist closes around him.

    But a huge metal hand grabs him and begins pulling him.

    It's Michael's. "No one gets left behind!"

    Ryann just nods. The two turn upwards as the hole collapses. They emerge just as it falls in on itself, burying the Nova Sentinel. Miles whoops joyously as they land, and Ryann slaps Behemoth on the back.

    Strange teleports the rest of the small Sentinel fragments away. Their enemies are no more.
    .
    Rogers looks at Strange. "Where's Thor?"

    Strange touches his temple. "....he'll be landing in Atlanta. He'll be injured. I'll send you there to help him." He opens a portal, and Rogers and Romanov step through and vanish.

    Elise moves to Julian's side. "I got you, buddy. You're good, you're fine." She and Miles help Julian to his feet, and Strange steps over and heals him with a touch.

    Julian looks at Dr. Strange in wonder. "Thanks, Doctor."

    Releasing Phoenix, Elise puts her hands on her knees and leans over, exhaling hard. "You're okay, Arnell," she mutters to herself.

    Strange puts his hand on Elise's shoulder. "I know there was animosity between you two, but he was a good man, and he would not have any regrets about how he went."

    Elise swallows and nods. "Should have been me. But I'm grateful for him."

    Strange nods. "Maybe when you get back to your world, get to know the man a bit better? Find a measure of peace?"

    Elise nods. "...Yeah," she says quietly.

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    Captain Britain looks at the gate. "We need to get that open." He looks at Behemoth.

    "On it." Michael cracks his knuckles and heads to the gate. With a scream of wrenching metal, it comes apart like tissue paper in his hands.

    "Let's finish this," Ryann says.

    Captain Britain looks down the open tunnel, and looks back at Elise. "Anything we need to know?" She takes a deep breath and squints into the gloom.

    It seems like the facility committed everything to that attack. There's nothing else inside except automated systems that are not defensive or offensive in nature. Computers and the like. There are, however, Sentinels in the air. Maybe five to ten minutes out. She can hear them coming.

    "We've got five minutes," Elise says. "I can stand watch. I can hear them. Give the most accurate updates. You need to get inside, Miles."

    "I'll cover you, Elise," Michael says.

    Strange nods at Elise. "Braddock, go with Mason."

    Miles nods at the team. "I'm going to be focusing on the hack. I'll need cover while I do it." He nods at Captain Britain. His hand clenches into a fist. "Once I'm in, I plan to do some damage."

    "Good luck, Chief." Elise sits cross legged in the dirt, takes a deep breath, and opens her senses.

    Miles turns and heads into the High Point facility.

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    The facility is...vacant and silent. Weirdly so.

    Miles grimaces. "Creepy." His coat billows behind him as he runs, following an AR path projected onto his lenses by X-51.

    Julian bristles. "I haven't heard this kind of...silence in forever."

    Miles, Julian, Ryann, and Captain Braddock move through the base, uninterrupted. They can see it has been heavily modified by the Sentinels. Cables and lines run everywhere, and it doesn't look like the place is even designed with humans in mind anymore.

    They arrive at a central server room.

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    Miles steps forward and puts his hand over the computer. He heaves a deep breath. He looks at the team and swallows. "...Wish me luck."

    He jacks in.



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    He can hear X-51's disembodied voice.

    "...this is...Miles, this is larger than any system I have ever seen. Even the Well. The Well was more powerful, but this system, in sheer size..."

    qrxTJxCl.jpg

    "It's not like a planet... it's like a galaxy. It's full of stars, Miles.

    "I... I don't know where to go. It's too large. I'm lost."

    Miles has been paralyzed with the scope and scale of what lies before them, but he sets his jaw at last.

    "It might be the size of the galaxy, but...it's not one,” he says. “A galaxy has life. Culture. Activity. A soul. This is just...cold. The Sentinels aren't like you, or Vlad. They're hollow. Just tools for moving data and piloting robots. We just need to look for where the most connections meet up, and go there."

    "I...I can't trace the connections. I need your help, Miles. There's too much for me, I feel the urge to follow everything. I will get lost in here and will never escape."

    "Try to narrow your focus. Divide the job into one small piece at a time and just do that. Then the next. Then the next." Miles tries to recall his old leadership training, tries to carefully coax X-51 out of its paralysis like a nervous corporal.

    He has a choice.

    He can see X-51's desire to lose itself in this endless place of code. He also believes he can see the path they need to follow to the computer core's decryption software. He can get to that software, and begin decrypting the code fragment he has from Ryann's gauntlet. But he'll leave X-51 behind.

    Or he can try to get X-51 back on track, but risk them both going deeper into the system.

    "No one gets left behind," Miles growls to himself, and tries to wrest X-51's attention back on track.

    They fall into a galaxy of machine code.
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    Time stops meaning anything.

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    edited October 8
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    Braddock looks at Julian and Ryann. "So...how long does this bloke usually ta-...?"

    A bloodied white hand projects itself through Braddock's chest. Phased right through.

    "WHOA!!" Julian cries.

    Braddock drops the ground, dead. Standing behind him is the Vision.

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    "I can't let you do that."

    "What the fuck!" Julian's hands alight.

    "We're not really up for debating it." Centurion rushes forward.

    Ryann realizes Vision can turn intangible at will. If he rushes Vision, he'll probably go right through him. He could try to force Vision to be tangible when Ryann strikes him with a mass field, but the risk is his hand will materialize inside Vision, doing damage to both of them.

    He forces Vision to stay in his solid state with a mass field. "This is gonna hurt you more than it hurts me!" He strikes the synthezoid with incredible force, sending the AI across the room and seemingly knocking it unconscious. Possibly even killing it, he's not sure. It's definitely not moving.

    Ryann checks Braddock. "Bastards," he curses as he confirms he is dead.

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    edited October 8
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    X-51 and Miles are lost in the massive infinite cyberspace.

    "I could learn so much here, Miles..." X-51 says, his voice in awe, "Not because this place contains knowledge. But because it contains power. The raw computational power. The energy of this place. I could...I could figure it all out. The answers. To everything."

    "It's tempting,” Miles allows. “But how much has it helped Master Mold? It didn't help him figure out how not to be evil. It hasn't stopped the world from uniting against him. It's...it's a mirage. It's not really there."

    "...you're right, Miles," X-51 says, shaken. "We should go. I think the cryptography software is this way. Yes...yes...this is it."

    Miles follows X-51 to the cryptography center.

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    "This is it. I will need your help to...how do I phrase this...re-parse time.

    "Normally, to decrypt this code it would take the sort of time that would exceed the heat death of the universe. But we are not in the physical universe. We're in a quantum computing space. I can essentially unmoor myself from linear time in this space to decrypt the code, but I will need your help, your linear perception of time, to come back once completed."

    Miles nods. "So I'm going to be your alarm clock? Sounds good. You ready?"

    "Yes."

    Miles focuses his perception and tries to think really hard about linear time. Which is not something he covered in Officer Candidate School.

    Time passes, but not infinite time. Miles pulls X-51 back from its quantum reverie.

    "I have the code, Miles. I know the way back. We still need to get to the Hollow and use the Holepunch to get home."

    "Are you...okay?"

    "Absolutely. Experiencing non-linear time was not as unpleasant as I feared," the AI says. "It also wasn't as otherworldly as I thought? Mostly I worked."

    Miles nods. "Okay. We need to do one other thing before we leave. We need to sabotage Master Mold. Warrick can't have died for nothing."

    "Agreed."

    "How could we hit them the hardest?" Miles asks.

    "Physically destroying the system would do some damage, but I believe inserting malicious code would be more effective. Riskier, but more effective. How do you believe we should proceed?"

    "Let's insert the code. I'm really starting to hate this dimension."

    "Agreed. I had time to conceive of an especially malicious directive which will cause every Sentinel connected to this central system to disintegrate. They are connected to a cloud consciousness.

    "It won't destroy every Sentinel on Earth, but at least 50%. It will greatly destabilize Master Mold's hold on this world."

    Miles nods with grim satisfaction. "That sounds like exactly the level of vindictiveness I want. Let's do it."

    "Done," X-51 says. "The malware is propagating."

    "Do I need to do anything?"

    "No, Miles, I believe we are done here. There is a risk that Master Mold adapts to the virus and more than just immunizing itself to it, iterates on it and uses it as a destructive counter-attack on technology which is not its own,” X-51 notes. "But I calculated that risk to be low."

    Miles frowns. "We'd better warn Strange and the others about that possibility, though. Okay. Let's get the hell out of here."

    "Agreed. Disconnecting."

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    Elise can see the Sentinels on the horizon. They...fall apart. Just completely fall to pieces, dropping out of the air into dust.

    "...Huh. Well, I guess he did it," she says.

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    Inside the facility, the lights go out. Miles opens his eyes. He groggily gets to his feet.

    He sees Ryann and Julian standing over Braddock's bloody body, and sees Vision's limp form laying over to the side.

    "What...the fuck,” Miles stares. “What happened?"

    Julian catches his breath and points towards Vision. "He showed up. Killed Braddock. Centurion took care of it."

    Miles sighs. "Vision...god, I hate this fucking world so much."

    Unsurprising,
    X-51 notes. Vision is a JARVIS-based AI and had it not been for my presence, would have lacked the fortitude to stand up to JARVIS and Stark. That he sided with other malefactor AIs is disappointing.

    I hadn't realized how much of a difference we've made just by being there. It's…
    Miles searches for the right word. ....it's sobering.

    Agreed.


    Aloud, Miles says, "Let's get topside and help the others."

    Julian nods. "Yeah, let's get the hell out of here."

    The group leaves, joining Elise, Michael, and Strange at the gate.

    "Okay, now it's the Hollow, right?” Elise says. “And hopefully we can get the fuck home?"

    Strange looks at Miles. "Where's Braddock?"

    Miles looks at Ryann. "While I was under, the Vision appeared. He...killed him, somehow. I - I wasn't - "

    Julian speaks up. "It was like he came out of nowhere. One moment, we're speaking to Braddock, the next, Vision's hand was through his chest. Awful."

    Strange growls. "Dammit. Nothing to be done now."

    Miles holds up a hand. "There's something you should know.

    "We inserted malware into the Sentinel network that disrupts their ability to cohere. It might eliminate something like half of their forces.”

    "I'm sensing a ‘but’," Strange says warily.

    Miles nods. "But if it propagates too far, there's a chance that Master Mold could adapt to the malware and use it against unprotected technology. So I'm warning you now, and I'll have X-51 transmit you the specs so your guys can work on countermeasures."

    "Fair enough. My people try not to rely on technology too much anyway, just to avoid Master Mold hacking us."

    Miles nods.

    "Hopefully this means the Hollow has very little in the way of defenses."

    "The way things have gone, I wouldn't count on it," Miles sighs. "But here's hoping..."

    Strange opens a portal, "Westin should probably go first..."

    Michael steps through, ready to fight on the other side.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    There's...nobody there.

    It's just an empty road leading into the base. All clear.

    Elise scans the area. There really is nothing there...but there was. There were Sentinels. Very recently, they crumbled into dust. There's still metallic bits of them floating on the wind.

    Elise gives a manic laugh. "We're all clear, boys!" She spins, grins at them, and then jogs up ahead. The path is clear.

    They follow her into the facility tunnels, and reach what would normally be a metal door that leads into the Hollow proper.

    It's closed.

    They know this is a fold-gate, and beyond it, the Hollow itself doesn't really physically exist inside normal space.

    Miles puts his hand on the controls. Can we do something with this?

    Stand by....access granted. As I suspected, this universe's X-51 followed all emergency protocols. It closed the gate and self-destructed. In all likelihood, all ARMOR personnel retreated to the Alpha Site before closing the portal. It is likely the base itself is intact so they can return if given the all clear.

    Can we contact them?
    Miles asks.

    Potentially? We will have to find out inside. The metal door opens and the fold-gate activates.

    "The base might be empty; X-51 says the personnel would have retreated to the Alpha Site. Still, be careful." Miles grits his teeth and steps into the fold-gate.

    They enter the Hollow. The interior is dusty and disused, but otherwise not in bad shape. Nobody has been here in months. Probably since everyone fled. They didn't do so in a rush, either. They followed protocol, doing it in an orderly fashion, logging off computers, locking down workstations, clearing drives, everything.

    The team has been to the Hollow before. This is a...ghost town version. It’s unnerving.

    "Ugh. Dust." Elise makes a face.

    The lights reactivate, and X-51 comes over the comms. "Re-initializing main power. The Holepunch is intact but it will take a few minutes to spool up, please stand by. Miles, can you make contact with one of the Holepunch's main terminals? I will see if I can contact the Alpha Site and connect with this universe's version of ARMOR."

    Miles nods and heads to the terminal as the rest of the team files into the Holepunch's chamber.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited October 8
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    "Troubling..." X-51 intones over the comms. "It appears that ARMOR personnel determined this to be an eschaton-level event, and in doing so, blanked the registry. I do not know the dimensional address for their Alpha Site, or any other dimension they may have gone to.

    "They did not intend to come back. They believe this world was doomed. Troubling."

    "Jones just bailed out?" Ryann asks.

    "It appears so, yes."

    Miles sighs and hangs his head. "Shit."

    "Protocol was to fall back to the Alpha Site, which on our world is an installation on Earth-187. But given this information, it is possible that ARMOR Director Jones decided on a different destination for his personnel. Unknown."

    "X-51, I'd like you to write on a drive all the information needed to operate the Holepunch. This world is going to need a new ARMOR. Because once they've taken care of Master Mold..." Miles looks up, "we're going to need them on the team."

    Strange shakes his head. "Absolutely not."

    Miles turns to face him. "Okay. Let's hear it."

    "In fact, once you leave, I want this place shut back down. There's no guarantee we win this fight. You've given us a good fighting chance, and that's good. I appreciate that. But look what it cost just to get that advantage, and now you're leaving. We lose, and Master Mold gains access to this place? No. That can't happen.

    "He's like a virus. Right now, he's quarantined, here, in this universe. He can't get out."

    "Fine,” Miles says. “Take the data. Put it in an extradimensional space or something. You told us Master Mold can't really understand magic. If you die, it'll be lost and safe. But if you win...you've got Galactus, the Skrulls, and two warring interdimensional empires to deal with. And no one Earth can deal with that all on its own."

    Strange sighs. "...fine."

    "There are Earths with too many people. They can help you repopulate, rebuild. There are Earths that have descended into savagery and your knowledge, your science, could help them. I'm beginning to see that the only way out of this for all of us is to come together."

    "What? No," Strange shakes his head. "That's…that's exactly how the Council got started. I can almost guarantee you that.

    "I can guarantee you that 'We need to help each of our worlds' is exactly the sort of thinking that a group of multi-dimensional Reed Richards thought once. Now look what they are."

    "They are one man," Ryann says. "We are not."

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    And now that we’re on a different subject, Miles and Ryann see eye to eye again. As a Xandarian, I’m sure Ryann has strong feelings about the importance of democracy and bringing different people together to solve a problem.

    Doctor Strange, the elitist surgeon wizard autocrat who keeps his own counsel, probably doesn’t share those views.

    The idea of building an interdimensional alliance is something that Ryann’s player and I came up with together and you’ll see it pop up again.

    Miles nods. "Their faults are Reed's faults. We'll have our own faults, but they'll be new ones."

    Strange's eyebrows raise. "Wow, that's an argument."

    "Well...I'm basically perfect," Elise notes.

    Strange raises his hands. "I'm not having a part in this. I'm grateful for what you have done. You continue on your quest. But this Earth doesn't even have a Reed Richards or a Victor Von Doom and I think that puts us outside their multidimensional pissing match, and I'm not eager to join up with whatever new power you want to build.

    "My job is to maintain the balance of the cosmos. I don't do that by adding more weight to the plate."

    Ryann sighs and puts his hand on Miles’ shoulder. "There’s no point in debating. We can try to come back, make some of them see. But we need to go."

    Miles nods. "....Yeah. Yeah. Good luck, Doctor. You'll need it."

    "Turn the lights out when you go, that's all I ask," Strange says.

    Miles nods grimly. X-51, get as much of this dimension's location data as you can. Ryann's right: We're coming back.

    Done. ...Miles, I have encountered a complication.


    Miles freezes.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    I believed I had accurately located our universe. That remains true. I have located our universe with 100% accuracy...spatially. Temporally is a bit more...complex.

    Are we going to end up in the wrong time?
    Miles asks.

    Not by much. I have calculated the error rate to within 168 hours. We will experience time dilation of about a week, arriving somewhere around January 14th. I have gone to great lengths to make sure this dilation is forwards, not backwards.

    Miles relays this to the team.

    "That's not that bad," Ryann shrugs.

    "I just...I hope it's not too late," Miles murmurs.

    Julian sucks his teeth. "It's just a week, right? We've had longer vacations, not that this was that pleasant."

    "I'm just hoping the Kid hasn't driven Clay insane without me being there," Ryann says.

    "Might as well make it one week and not one week and one hour of us worrying," Elise says.

    "Good point,” Michael says. “Let's go."

    Miles nods. "Shockingly enough, Elise is right. Let's...let's do this, I guess."

    "Oh, fuck off." Elise laughs. She steps up to be the first one through.

    "Powering up the Holepunch, stand by...." X-51 announces.

    "I'll buy you a Nachos Supreme," Miles says. "If Taco Bell still exists."

    "Yes! That's the first treat you've gotten me in...god, since forever. Man, I used to get coupons ga-fuckin'-lore out of this gig."

    Miles frowns. "Carol and I cooked you lasagna last week! Was it...was it not a treat?"

    "Oh god, it was," she says, regret in her voice. "It was a domestic dinner party with friends and my wife. And then I went home to my house.

    "I even brought a bottle of wine over. What is happening to me? What happened to punk Elise? Fuck!"

    "Punk Elise is dead," Julian grins.

    "I've never heard someone make the word 'house' sound like a curse before," Miles muses.

    "You've never lived on the road for years in a sick titty van, dude," she points out. "Although technically it's a manor. Mansion. Castle? Attilan's big."

    With an electric crackle and a dull vibration rattling through the floors of the Hollow, the Holepunch opens up.

    "Good luck, Strange," Miles says. "I wish...I wish we could have done more." He turns to the team. "See you on the other side." He jumps through. Elise gives Strange a salute and follows.

    Ryann waves as he jumps backward into it

    "Thank you, Doctor," Michael says.

    "Take care, Doctor. Thanks again." Julian jumps in.

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Freedom Force emerges from the other side of the portal, which disappears behind them as soon as the last person comes through. They're standing on a rooftop, looking over the New York skyline. As X-51 said, they did experience some missing time.

    Some.

    Elise screams.

    "Holy...!" Julian recoils from the spectacle arrayed before them.

    "What," Miles stares. "WHAT."

    Michael sighs. "God dammit."

    "Only 168 hours, eh?" Ryann chuckles mordantly, shaking his head.

    X-51 comes over the comm link. "I may have miscalculated. Slightly....” There’s a pause. “Examining the stellar patterns, I do believe it is January 14th…

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    "...2099."

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    jurnerMsAnthropyNytewarriorFencingsaxMatev
  • MsAnthropyMsAnthropy Our Lady of Perpetual Mazes The CageRegistered User regular
    Jacobkosh wrote: »
    Freedom Force emerges from the other side of the portal, which disappears behind them as soon as the last person comes through. They're standing on a rooftop, looking over the New York skyline. As X-51 said, they did experience some missing time.

    Some.

    Elise screams.

    "Holy...!" Julian recoils from the spectacle arrayed before them.

    "What," Miles stares. "WHAT."

    Michael sighs. "God dammit."

    "Only 168 hours, eh?" Ryann chuckles mordantly, shaking his head.

    X-51 comes over the comm link. "I may have miscalculated. Slightly....” There’s a pause. “Examining the stellar patterns, I do believe it is January 14th…

    J8hX4FGh.jpg

    "...2099."

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    Rad rad rad. Can’t wait to see Doom and Spidey 2099.

    "The only real politics I knew was that if a guy liked Hitler, I’d beat the stuffing out of him and that would be it." -- Jack Kirby
    JacobkoshFencingsaxMatev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    "Alright people, here's our situation."

    Clay Quartermain is in the conference of STRIKE HQ with the rest of STRIKE-2, minus their leader, Longbow. Susan Richards is also present.

    "72 hours ago, I sent STRIKE-1 and Agent Childan on a covert operation to Earth-108, which we have codenamed HYDRA Earth.

    "They haven't returned or checked in. After 48 hours, I requested to send a team in to exfiltrate, and was stone-walled by ARMOR Director Jones. I tried to go over his head to Fury, and was pushed back. Jones and Fury have decided that STRIKE-1 is either still on operation, or if they are captured or KIA, then the measures we took to ensure that residents of HYDRA-Earth do not counter-invade are secure. They believe that sending a team in to rescue STRIKE-1 or conduct a further investigation is too high a risk."

    Faiza gasps.

    "Director," Spider-Woman speaks up, "Is there a possibility that Earth-108 moves on a different timescale? Maybe STRIKE-1 hasn't actually been gone for 72 hours relative to their own time."

    Clay shakes his head. "I checked in on that, and ARMOR's scientists tell me that Earth-108 is par to our own. Knowing my team, they should not be gone three days on a snatch and grab. Something's happened. Something went wrong.

    "I'm not accepting that we're just going to leave them there. I refuse. So, that's where Dr. Richards comes in."

    He yields the floor to Susan, who begins.

    "WHISPER has their own inter-dimensional portal," she explains, "and Clay has procured the frequency to get to HYDRA-Earth from ARMOR. I'm going to lead you all on a rescue operation."

    Clay looks at the team. "Get our people back."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
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    Freedom Force is standing on top of a skyscraper in a New York skyline they barely recognize. According to X-51, it is January 14th, 2099.

    "Well..." Miles stares, wide-eyed. "...at least we know it's still here?"

    Michael nods. "Whelp. Least it ain't on fire."

    "...Yeah, I guess that's true," Julian says.

    Ryann steps to the edge of the building, gazing at the vast megacity. "So much neon..."

    They can see some recognizable symbols on some buildings in the distance. Oscorp. The Daily Bugle. Stark-Fujikawa. The...Avengers Tower? The Avengers Tower is still there!
    It looks very different. But it's still there.

    Julian snaps a bunch of photos on his phone. "Gotta take notes. This is a neon paradise, holy shit."

    Elise looks at him. "Seriously?"

    "Yeah! When we get back, we gotta get with these times. I wanna remodel."

    "X-51," Miles says aloud, "pull down as much information as you can from ambient satellite and wireless signals. Try to...get a sense of this timeframe.”

    Standby.

    “The rest of us, I...honestly have no idea what to do here, but maybe we could check into Avengers Tower? Maybe there are Avengers there. Or it's a museum and our stuff is still there, under glass."

    "Oh no,” Elise shakes her head. “Absolutely not. You think I'm going to walk into a place where my time widow might be? No way."

    "X-51 is positives this is our universe?" Ryann asks Miles, still looking at the city.

    "I am quite certain, Agent Valt, but Agent Arnell is capable of being more certain than I am, given her abilities," X-51 responds.

    Ryann looks at Elise. "You up for it? It's okay if you're not. I get how this place could be...overwhelming."

    Elise tilts her head to the side. She isn't sure. It's...it's the future. It smells like Kang. And Cable. Time-travel. She shrugs.

    But she does sense something else. "What..." She notices something out of the corner of her eye, and looks up, above the clouds, above the laser-light show and hover-cars and everything else. "What is that?"

    It's the Moon.

    VowqhPbh.jpg

    Or it was.

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    Welcome to 2099!

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    In 1992, with the publication of Spider-Man 2099 #1, Ravage 2099 #1, Doom 2099 #1, and Punisher 2099 #1,Marvel launched their new “2099” line of comics, a cyberpunk-themed superhero world following the new heroes of a dystopian possible future where governments have been replaced by corporations, people live in crushing poverty, and the superheroes who once protected people are a distant memory, or considered urban legends...except for Thor, who’s the basis of the fastest-growing religion of the future. Many ordinary folks in 2099 are devout “Thorites,” waiting for the promised return of the Thunder God.

    In Spider-Man 2099, created by writer Peter David and artist Rick Leonardi, Miguel O’Hara is a brilliant but tart-tongued researcher for Alchemax, the global megacorp that rules New York and the eastern seaboard. When his boss learns that Miguel is unhappy and planning to defect to another company, he doses Miguel with an incredibly addictive narcotic that Alchemax is the sole supplier of to make Miguel a slave for life—but the wily scientist uses a genetic resequencer to rewrite his DNA to cure the addiction. Unfortunately, a spider gets in the machine and...well, you know the rest.

    Ravage 2099, by writer Stan Lee (!) and artist Paul Ryan, follows Paul-Phillip Ravage, CEO of ECO, a division of Alchemax formed to combat the future’s rampant pollution, who’s framed for murder and forced to go on the run when he begins investigating corrupt dealings inside his company. Going from riches to rags, he becomes a kind of hobo vigilante, wielding a crowbar as a weapon and a manhole cover as a shield, and driving a modified garbage truck.

    Doom 2099, by writer John Francis Moore and artist Pat Broderick, begins in 2099 Latveria, ruled by ruthless cyborg mercenary-turned-warlord Tiger Wylde. A mysterious stranger in grey armor appears in the middle of Latveria with no memory but claiming to be Doctor Doom, and challenges Wylde for supremacy; Wylde easily defeats and nearly kills him, and the comic follows the stranger as he gathers allies among the country’s Gypsies and underclass and plots to regain “his” kingdom, though nobody (including him) is sure if he’s the real deal, or an imposter, or a Doombot, or what.

    Punisher 2099, created by writers Pat Mills and Tony Skinner, and artist Tom Morgan, follows police officer Jake Gallows, a member of the Public Eye, Alchemax’s for-profit police force (getting mugged? Hope your police subscription’s up to date!). When Jake’s family is massacred by a serial killer, and Jake is prevented from acting because the suspect is the son of an Alchemax board member, Jake goes insane. Digging the original Punisher’s war journal and costume out of the public archives, he becomes a new vigilante, killing every lawbreaker he runs across, or imprisoning and torturing them in his basement lair.

    Cyberpunk had become a big deal in the mainstream with the publication of Neuromancer in 1984 and by the late 80s it had become downright trendy, with movies, video games, and tabletop RPGs cashing in on the craze, so around 1990, Marvel decided to dip its toe in. The line was the brainchild of Marvel editor Joey Cavalieri, Stan Lee himself, and legendary writer/artist John Byrne, who had recently returned to Marvel after a lengthy and hugely influential stint at DC writing and drawing the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths revamp of Superman. (Byrne ended up leaving Marvel before the 2099 imprint saw daylight, going to independent publisher Dark Horse, and bits and pieces of his particular version of 2099 can be seen in his indy superhero graphic novel 2112.)

    While Marvel and DC both tend to group related titles under the umbrella of a single editor (so one guy is in charge of all the Batman comics, making sure they don’t contradict each other), and while it also wasn’t unusual for editors to sometimes exercise a great deal of day-to-day control over titles (for good or for ill; Chris Claremont’s decades-long stint as X-Men writer finally ended in 1991 due to frustration at having his plans hijacked and overruled by X-Men line editor Bob Harras) 2099 was, at the time, unusual for Marvel in the degree to which it was Cavalieri’s personal project and baby. Along with creating the line, he was very active in the production of each title, and filled the letters pages of the comics with his insights and thoughts into cyberpunk as a genre, comic books in general, and the state of politics and technology.

    This was a big deal for me; I was 12, already a giant comic nerd, and had just started reading actual print science fiction a year or two earlier, and I regularly haunted the tabletop game store for D&D stuff and was often tantalized by the very gritty and explicit-looking covers of the Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun books, so I was primed to be into this whole idea. The four initial launch titles debuted one at a time over four months and I jealously hoarded my lunch money to be sure I got them all. My best friends and I paid the kingly sum of $20 to attend our first comic convention, where we met and got our Spider-Man 2099 #1s signed in silver pen by Peter David and Rick Leonardi. (David, seeing me gape at a stack of his scripts for sale, probably thought I didn’t know what they were and said dryly, “Oh, yeah, those are scripts. They’re how the artist knows what to draw. Except at Image.”)

    The actual books were a mixed bag. Spider-Man 2099 was a terrific superhero comic, full of life and energy, with a big supporting cast of friends, family, and enemies (David really understood how important the hero’s connections were in a Spider-Man title), and interesting ongoing plots and mysteries. It was very much the flagship title and served that role well.

    Doom 2099 was barely a superhero (or villain) comic; of all the 2099 titles, it was the most purely cyberpunk. While it was undeniably fun to watch Victor von Doom(?) shake his fist and monologue as the comic’s hero, you could really take out the Marvel elements and it’d still be an intensely cyberpunk comic about a deposed ruler trying to resurrect his people’s national and ethnic identity to overthrow a corporate warlord, and Doom’s motley crew of hackers, Roma guerilla fighters, holo-illusionists, and actual-ass wizards could easily have been a Shadowrun adventuring party. The title sported crisp, detailed art, and was packed with rich worldbuilding and lots of intrigue (possibly to its detriment; I’m sure a lot of people wanted to see Doom blast fools with lasers more often, not negotiate treaties with Roma chieftains).

    Ravage and Punisher 2099 were more problematic. Stan Lee, god bless him, really tried to get his head into the idea of corporate dystopia, but HE STILL WROTE EVERYONE SHOUTING ALL THE TIME!, his normally tight plotting meandered, and he seemed to lose interest, leaving after only a few issues, and the new writers (Punisher 2099’s Pat Mills and Tony Skinner) dropped the genuinely fun if goofy “hobo hero” angle and gave Ravage an incredibly boring set of animal-themed superpowers.

    The duo were just coming off a long run on the UK’s legendary 2000 A.D. comic anthology magazine (home of Judge Dredd) and were clearly interested in just doing Dredd with the serial numbers filed off. Their Punisher 2099 wasn’t a tortured, sympathetic-ish murderer with at least a semblance of an ethical code, but an actual insane sadist who literally frothed at the mouth and strapped criminals into a homemade electric chair.

    Rather than playing the 2099 material straight, MIlls and Skinner filled it with satirical grotesques; everyone in Jake Gallows’ world was some kind of physically or mentally twisted monster intended to test Marvel’s content guidelines to the absolute limit. A typical story might feature a dimwitted, huge-titted blonde secretary being turned into a statue by the mutant powers of a mob boss, and then Gallows bursts in and melts the guy’s face off with acid, or whatever. Just an unrelenting parade of misanthropy and cynicism.

    But 50% hits and 50% misses isn’t necessarily a bad ratio and the 2099 line saw a lot of early success, quickly expanding with new titles like 2099 Unlimited, an anthology comic featuring short stories and introducing the Hulk 2099 and the milieu of future Hollywood, VR capital of the world (yeah, this was the 90s, so you know “virtual reality” was gonna turn up somewhere)), John Francis Moore’s X-Men 2099, which followed a new group of mutant refugees trying to survive in the Third World wastelands of 2099, and Ghost Rider 2099, in which a murdered biker’s mind is uploaded into an android body with a holographic flaming skull.

    Unfortunately, Marvel had overextended itself during the early-90s comics speculator boom, printing too many titles and too many copies, paying huge salaries and bonuses, and buying a comics distributorship at an absurd premium in an ill-advised, greedy, and futile attempt to corner the distribution market (the shippers who transport comics from the printing press to the various individual stores; Marvel had hoped to extort a bigger fraction of the shelf price from comic shops).

    Cadence, the shady, fly-by-night venture capitalist holding company that owned Marvel, had also managed their affairs poorly, and so in 1994 the publisher was on the verge of bankruptcy. Cavalieri was laid off and several of the line’s best writers and artists quit in protest. Underperforming titles were trimmed away, and the remaining titles limped along before finally being shuttered a year or two later.

    The line is still fondly remembered by many, however, including me, and Spider-Man 2099 in particular has ended up becoming a perennial, turning up regularly in other comics and eventually getting his own new book in the 2010s.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "Damn," Michael breathes.

    "That's not good for the planet," Ryann deadpans.

    Miles nods, dazed. "They fucked the Moon."

    X-51 comes over the comms. "I have gathered information. It is...incomplete."

    "Okay,” Miles says. “Give us what you've got."

    "The internet of this period of time is...immense and convoluted. Sorting information is...difficult. But I have gathered what I can.

    "At some point in 2018, the Skrull Empire invaded Earth. This invasion was...apocalyptic. The Dard'van attempted to exterminate all life on Earth. They were stopped by the subsequent invasion of the Kree Empire."

    Miles blows air out through puffed cheeks. "...pssshit."

    "By the Force," Ryann shakes his head.

    "The Kree-Skrull War raged on Earth, and on this planet, the Kree won. For over a decade, Earth was a subject of the Kree Empire. Eventually, the various heroes of Earth overthrew the Kree overseers and took Earth back.

    "The Kree Empire sequestered Earth in a containment field, afraid of counter-attack, which limited Earth's exploration of space and also protected Earth from alien attack or contact.

    "The sequester was breached a few months ago, with the arrival of a parasitic techno-organic race known as the Phalanx. Coincidentally, around the same time an individual calling himself Doctor Doom emerged in Latveria and overthrew the government there, declaring himself ruler.

    "Based on what I have gathered, there is a team calling themselves the Avengers at this present time, based out of the Avengers Tower that we see. They appear to be public super-heroes."

    "What about Attilan?" Elise asks.

    "Attilan was destroyed during the Kree-Skrull War, along with Earth's moon. If you are concerned about your daughter and wife, Agent Arnell, they escaped the city at the time of its destruction."

    "...Are they still alive?"

    "They are not. Your wife passed away from natural causes at the age of 97. Your daughter, Valeria, was assassinated by a Symkarian noble. She was the Chancellor of Latveria at the time. It appears she married into the Latverian royal family, marrying the son of Victor Von Doom and... Susan Von Doom."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Elise puts a hand over her mouth.

    Julian looks up. "Oh fuck."

    Elise looks stunned. Michael puts his hands on Elise's shoulders.

    "Susan von Doom?" Miles repeats.

    "Didn't Clay tell you? About other Susan?"

    Miles stares. "Other Susan? Like an alternate-universe, or..."

    "You appear to have living relatives, Agent Arnell," X-51 adds.

    "Stop," Ryann interrupts. "Stop this.

    "This isn't our...timeline. This is another ‘What if?’ moment like back from where we just came from. We need to find a way back. We need to stay focused." Ryann sounds strained and frustrated.

    Julian lets out a breath. "Yeah. Ryann's right. Still...what if they can help?" Ryann looks at Julian and nods.

    "If I have living relatives, I don't think they can help shit," Elise says. "I did not exactly come from a scientific family. I say we go to Latveria. That's probably our Doom. We go in, say how do you do, get his Time Ship..."

    "Time ship?!" Michael repeats.

    "Of course he has a time ship," Ryann says.

    "Did Clay not tell you guys about any of this? I told Clay."

    "No, he didn't,” Michael says. “We thought Doom couldn't work it properly?"

    "Okay. Okay. This is what I learned from being an Agent of Doom." Elise is ticking off points off her fingers. "Doom has a time ship that he can use pretty well, and he's using it to give himself advice. Two, Malice - you know, his super secret new personal assistant? Is Susan Storm."

    Miles slaps his forehead. "The...oh shit. The real Susan. Of course."

    "So, Doom and I were on pretty good terms last time I checked, he can't be happy at the whole Kree field, I say we just go knock on his door and ask for the Time Ship, go back to 2018. Boom, done."

    Miles nods. "That's a good idea, but this is the future. They probably sell power armor at the corner bodega. So before we go haring off to Latveria to meet 'an individual calling himself Doom,' as X-51 put it - I want to learn a bit more first, make sure he's not just some guy in a green cloak. And you know who'll be able to tell us?" He jabs his thumb at the Avengers Tower.

    "I'm onboard with that," Ryann nods.

    "Also,” Miles adds, “we should stop at the corner bodega and pick up some power armor. And some like, soyda pop. Soda made of soy. You know everything in the cyber future has to be made of soy."

    "I concur with Miles," X-51 adds, "The popular opinion is that the Doctor Doom ruling Latveria is a pretender, not the real Doom. The leading theory is that he is actually an old Doombot that was found and awakened, and while it genuinely believes it is the real Doom, it is not."
    ---SCENE---
    "X-51, what's the status of SHIELD?" Michael asks.

    "SHIELD does not appear to exist anymore. SHIELD, and all its various agencies, were dismantled during the Kree-Skrull War and were never re-assembled. It appears in this period, rampant capitalism and privatization had led to a proliferation of PMCs and privatized policing. The Avengers are not related to SHIELD, but rather privately funded by Stark-Fujikawa."

    "So even if we are welcomed into Avengers Tower and not shot at as we approach, they might not know or care who we are," Michael notes.

    "Stark doesn't like us much," Ryann adds.

    "Oh, quick question,” Elise says. “Those living relatives of mine, any cool stories there? Like, cyber eyepatches or whatever?"

    "You have a grand-son, Alexander Flynn, who is a Priest of the Church of Asgard. You have a great-granddaughter, Ravonna Amaquelin, who is part of the Attilan Revivalist Movement."

    "...Sounds like a bunch of fuckin' nerds," she sighs.

    Michael’s ears prick up. "Church of Asgard?"

    "It appears that the dominant religion of this period is reverence of Asgard and Asgardians, in particular the worship of Thor, Odin, and other prominent Asgardians."

    Miles grins. "They're gonna love you, dude. Ever wanted your own cult?"

    "Dude, I got kidnapped and tortured by a cult. Not a fan, Chief."

    "An asshole one,” Miles points out. “This is probably, like, they put flowers around you and sing songs. It's probably fun! There might be bingo."

    Julain frowns. "I dunno. Church of Asgard doesn't really sound like the Age of Aquarius to me. Do you think the weddings are like Catholic weddings with open bars, but with a greater focus on mead?"

    "Asgard played a significant role in the overthrow of the Kree regime,” X-51 explains. “Since then, the observances of the Church of the Asgard is more reflective of religion in our own modern time. Many individuals are irreligious or 'lapsed Asgardians'.

    "In large part this is due to Asgard's diminishment and disappearance. Asgard never recovered from their separation from Yggdrasil and eventually stopped traveling over from the Bifrost. Devotees of the Church of the Asgard have prophetic beliefs about Asgard's return."

    "Dammit," Michael sighs loudly.

    "Oh fuck, dude," Julian looks to him. "You're like, the second coming."
    ---SCENE---
    "Okay, so this isn't the worst possible timeline, but it's like...bottom forty percent," Elise declares. "X-51, you're on fuckin' notice, bud. Bringing us to this cyberpunk-ass shithole."

    "Theory: if this is truly our universe, then it is a timeline where we never returned to our world. This means many of these events are ones where we had no involvement or ability to intercede. Events such as the Skrull Empire invasion or the downfall of Asgard are potentially preventable by STRIKE-1. In some ways, this timeline is similar to the parallel universe we just came from, where events played out entirely differently purely out of STRIKE-1's absence."

    "I said that!" Ryann throws his hands up.

    Miles looks thoughtful. "So if we make it back, this timeline...what? Becomes a new parallel universe, different from what 'our' 2099 will be?"

    "I am uncertain. Time travel is a subject outside my knowledge. I have theories."

    "Hey, has anyone determined a numbering system for this, anyway?” Julian muses. “Like, do we add a digit when we fuck with it and split one off, or what?"

    Michael sighs. "Can we stow that and try to get back to our own time now?"

    Miles nods. "Let's go talk to the 'Avengers' and see what we can learn. Best case, they can talk to us about Doom and maybe let us hitch a ride. Worst case, they're a bunch of corporate dickheads like Action Pack."

    "This is already a no win," Ryann sighs.

    Michael snaps his fingers. "X-51, do you know what happened to Doctor Strange? He controls Time Magic or whatever, maybe him or his apprentices can zap us back there?"

    "I do not. Doctor Strange is not an individual whom the public knows about, so public records on that individual are not something I can obtain."

    Miles activates his boot jets and starts hovering. "We ready to roll? I don't know if there's much else we can learn just standing here."

    Ryann nods, and he and the others take off and begin soaring across the skyline of the future.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Something to note here is that this isn’t the “real” 2099; it’s the Earth-1491 version of it, the same as anything else in the campaign. There are a lot of elements in common, but also some big differences (like the presence of the Avengers and Oscorp), and the backstory involving the Kree and Skrulls.

    Marvel itself has had a few different versions of 2099 over the years in various one-shots and revivals.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The team approaches Avengers Tower. The basic overall structure looks...similar? But it's a different building. Elise can tell it's a different building that was rebuilt in the same style, almost like an homage. At some point, the Avengers Tower either fell or was destroyed and was rebuilt.

    "We are being locked on by anti-air defenses!" X-51 calls over the comms with urgency. "I can't jam them!"

    "Is there a ground entrance?!" Miles cries. "Can you communicate with th-FFFFFF," he hisses as energy cannons light up the sky. Repulsors blazing, he, Michael, and Ryann begin firing counter-blasts, trying to divert the shots.

    "Elise, get on!" Julian mounts his motorcycle and attempts to weave through the blasts—but not quickly enough. He’s struck down out of the air, sending him and Elise plummeting to the ground.

    Gritting his teeth, Ryann is able to channel the Nova Force and maintain his field, protecting him, Miles, and Michael...or he can save Julian and Elise.

    Not both.

    Centurion dives down after them. He's able to catch Julian and Elise, but Miles and Michael get blasted, their smoking forms falling from the sky.

    They see the launchpad open, and four individuals emerge.

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    Recovering, Miles holds up his hands. "WHOA! WHOA! TIME OUT!" he calls in an amplified voice. "WE'RE NOT HERE TO START SHIT!"

    "Land or be taken out of the sky!" calls...Iron Man? The person they presume is the 2099 equivalent of Iron Man, anyway.

    Michael goes to land with his hands up in a pacifying gesture. "Easy, guys." The others follow suit. Julian looks mildly perturbed at the soot and debris caught in his clothing, trying to brush off what he can.

    Captain America, presumably, steps forward. "Identify yourselves."

    "Machine Man, Behemoth, Phoenix, Centurion, Sensate." Miles points as he speaks. "Check your computer records. Do a...facial scan or something. We're time travelers from 2018."

    The Avengers look at each other, and look to 'Iron Man.' He holds up a hand and runs a scanner over the newcomers. "...huh. Well, facial recog at least pings most of them. Shortpack there is Princess Elise Amaquelin."

    "Shortpack?" Elise is scandalized.

    Iron Man doesn’t look up. "I'm running their callsigns...Roberta, we should bring these people in."

    The woman nods, and then looks at the team. "Follow. And stand down." She gestures at Behemoth and the Phoenix Rider, who power down.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Freedom Force follows the 2099 Avengers into their base.

    "This is Hulk. Iron Man. Spider-Man. I'm Captain America," she says, introducing the members of her team by callsign.

    The groups reach a large meeting room, and Iron Man presses a button on his wrist. His armor disassembles into very small particles and compresses into a medallion hanging from his neck.

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    "Andros Fujikawa, if you prefer. I prefer Andy."

    Miles offers a hand. "Miles Mason. It's nice to meet you."

    Andros looks at the hand, "Oh, uh...wow, you really are from way back, huh."

    Miles gapes at Andros. "Wait...what do you do?"

    He puts out a closed fist.

    "Oh nice." Miles bumps that shit.

    "Handshakes are...kinda intimate,” Stark explains. “Disease was a real bad problem back in the 20s."

    "We're trying to get way back, so, we won't stay in your hair,” Elise adds. “Just show us to your time machine, and we'll scoodle out."

    "o I have one really important question. Is all your food in the future made of soy?" Miles' eyes sparkle as he awaits the answer to this very important question.

    Andy looks at Elise. "Time machine? We don't...we don't have a time machine, kiddo. If you want to go to the world where nobody has peanut allergies, I can let you use my alternate universe portal, but time travel? Nope."

    "Fuuuuuck. Okay, so, ignore the soy question. The soy question's dumb. There is unity on that. Who does have a time machine?"

    "The soy question is great. If we don't eat some future food I'm going to throw a fit. Unless it's made of people or something."

    PHU1KZN.png
    Unlike the others, Miles refuses to be all gloomy and bummed out. He believes in his team and he believes there’s no such thing as the no-win scenario. He has faith that this is all just a temporary inconvenience.

    AND HE WANTS TO SEE SOME COOL FUTURE SHIT GODDAMN IT

    Also, he’s really punchy after everything the team’s been through. Everyone’s showing fatigue in different ways; being kind of random and impulsive is his.

    Powerpuppies
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Captain America interrupts, "Andy, who are these people?"

    "What about Dr Strange or whoever is the Sorcerer Supreme?" Ryann adds.

    Andy puts up his hands. "Whoa whoa whoa, hang on." He points at Miles. "First, not everything is soy but soy is extremely important to agriculture since cows went extinct."

    Miles pumps his fist. We finally won the war on cows.

    Michael, however, is horrified. "No steak? Man, this timeline blows."

    Andy points at Elise. "Who has time machines? Uh...nobody? Time travel isn't a real thing. Sorry. I mean, backwards, anyway. You can travel forwards in time, which I guess is how you got here. But you can do that lots of ways. Cryogenics. Energy stasis. Going to sleep for a real long time."

    He points at Ryann. "Nobody is the Sorcerer Supreme. Magic's gone. Magic is dead. Stuff happened. I don't know all the details because magic is ridiculous. I focus on science."

    He points at Roberta. "Finally, these people? They're STRIKE. I ran their names through SHIELD's database. They're SHIELD's original blackest black-op. Went missing in 2018, I imagine this is where they ended up. These guys saved the world multiple times. You know Galactus, and how he didn't eat the world?" He snaps and double-guns the team. "These guys."

    Miles grins. "Just another day at the office." Ryann nods with pride.

    Captain America whistles, impressed. Hulk grunts. Spider-Man nods his head.

    "You're wrong about time travel, by the way,” Elise says. “I know a guy who did a thing once."

    Andy squints at her. "Huh?"

    "Doom. 2018. Had a time ship he stole from an alien. Long story."

    Miles nods acknowledgment of Elise's point. "Backwards time travel is possible. If you look at those SHIELD databases, Earth-462 was created when Skrulls went back in time."

    "Oh, that," Andy says. "Look, I should clarify. You can time travel backwards. Sorta. But it won't be your timeline. What you're actually doing is travelling...okay, hang on. Let me explain.

    "LYLA, give me a haptic display?" Andros calls out to no-one. A synthetic voice comes over the room's intercom, "Yes, Mr. Fujikawa."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Andros reaches into the display, and draws a line. "Time is linear, right?" He makes a point. "You start here, in 2018. You travel forwards to here, in 2099. You can't just...go backwards, back to 2018. That's not a thing you can do. The energy required increases exponentially inverse to the amount of momentum required to achieve...look, point is, it requires infinite energy. It's not possible. But what is possible…”

    "So this is our timeline, this is our Earth," Ryann says somberly. "We've made it back. If we find a way to ’go back’ now we'll just be creating a new universe. Like the operation you were a part of that created Skrull Earth. I've read the reports." Ryann sighs. "Am I wrong?"

    "Ehhhhh..." Andros makes a see-saw gesture. "You're close. It doesn't create a new timeline. You're just...look..." He draws a line going not directly backwards, but curved back to a second point alongside the starting point. "What you do is go to a different 2018 than the one you started in. A timeline where you didn't leave. Then you move forward from there," he draws a new line going forward, "As if nothing happened."

    "That doesn't change the outcome of our world. And it wouldn't be our world," Ryann says. "And a million variables that could be just slightly different than our own."

    Andy nods. "And if that's what you want, to go back like that? I can make it happen. I know how to do that math. It's not...it's not the most ethical thing in the world but hey, you people saved the world multiple times. I think you're owed it."

    "So whatever happens, our STRIKE will never know what happened to us. We'll never see our wives and girlfriends and...." Miles rubs his temple.

    "Yeah. I mean, if you want to know how they turned out... we can look stuff up."

    "No," Ryann says firmly

    Elise shakes her head. "I can't stay somewhere where my wife and daughter are dead."

    "Sounds like not much point going back," Julian says in a somber tone.

    "So wait,” Michael says. “Can we jump back to a different timeline that's close, and then jump forwards to our own timeline?"

    "I'm getting a nosebleed from this," Ryann mutters, rubbing the side of his face.

    Andy looks at Michael. "You're saying what...slingshot?"

    Miles nods at Ryann in sympathy. "Or sidestep. Like, go back to a different 2018, then...bop over to our own?"

    "Or like side-step, yeah," Michael says in unison with Miles, then chuckles. "Jinx!" Miles finger-guns at him.

    "Is that even how it works?" Ryann asks.

    "I mean, what else have we got? We've gotten through that whole...lateral jump, kinda. If we can get the time roughly correct, maybe we can find home again eventually," Julian says.

    Andros shakes his head. "You'd...you'd create an unstable time-loop."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Elise puts her head in her hands.

    "Because this timeline wouldn't...exist?" Andros adds.

    "What would happen to this universe then?" Ryann asks.

    "This timeline is predicated on you...not being here. I imagine, you being...you, stuff would've played out differently in the 20s," Andros says. "Putting aside the fact that it means some of us might not even be born..." he gulps hard, "It also means that changes in the timeline would propagate at C.

    "Like, the fact that you went back in time comes from a timeline that you're unwriting. It's the Grandfather Paradox. Time corrects that sort of thing."

    Miles nods. "Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Different question. What do you guys know about Doctor Doom? Is he...is he the real deal?"

    Stark looks surprised. "What? No. Fake. Doombot. Has to be."

    Captain America shakes her head. "No way he's real. The real Victor Von Doom died in 2019."

    "I'm telling you guys, time ship," Elise says.

    Spider-Man speaks up. "Please explain the time-ship. You said Doom got it from an alien?" Elise explains, to the best of her ability, the events of Battle World, Kang, Doom, and the time ship. Miles gently interjects that Kang wasn’t an alien, but from the 30th century (or claimed to be).

    Andy squints and cradles his chin. Elise has seen this mannerism before, from Tony Stark. "Hm. I mean, I say time travel is impossible. But I'm not from the 30th century. Who knows...maybe..." He grows contemplative. "People in the 19th century believed in phlogiston."

    An alarm goes off.

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    These detailed “rules” of time travel aren’t purely Matt’s invention, although he’s done a lot here to add flavor and specificity to them, but were devised by Marvel editor and longtime Captain America writer Mark Gruenwald in the 1980s. Part of a new wave of comics writers in the 80s who tried to think more seriously about how comics worlds would work, Gruenwald mined a lot of stories out of hashing out the fine details of worldbuilding.

    For example, the recurring villains the Serpent Society, a team of former HYDRA agents and Captain America foes with snake-themed names and powers, became supporting players in his book, and in one storyline their new leader Copperhead wins the Society’s loyalty by modernizing the organization, investing members’ criminal earnings into health insurance and retirement plans, and keeping a defense attorney on retainer.

    Those kinds of fun fiddly details - hey, supervillains need healthcare too - were Gruenwald’s bread and butter, which is partly why he spearheaded the effort to methodically catalogue every single Marvel character into a massive detailed, reference document, which was published to immense and surprising success as The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, one of the seminal comics...things (you can’t really call it a comic as it’s mostly text with a few illustrations here and there)...of the 1980s.

    As part of the research for that project, legend has it that Gruenwald grew exhausted and frustrated with time travel as a plot device and with readers’ incessant questions about it, so he wrote up an extensive document about time travel and its rules, key among them being that “changing the timeline” never works but simply branches off a new, separate reality, and sent it around the office as a memo, stating in no uncertain terms that This Would Be How It’s Done and noting that “If any of the above is confusing to you or your writers, you may ask the Senior Executive Editor for clarification. If it still is confusing, you should not be doing a time travel story.”

    Of course, that only lasted for as long as he was a senior editor, and then time travel in Marvel went back to being a cheerfully nonsense free-for-all. The full text of Gruenwald’s rules, which is definitely worth a look, can be found [url=”https://marvelcontinuum.wordpress.com/time-travel/”]here.[/url]

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    LYLA comes over the intercom, "There has been a Phalanx attack reported in Sector 4A."

    "Phalanx?” Miles tries to recall what X-51 had said on the rooftop. “Those are the aliens, right? The...techno-organiwhatsits?"

    Captain America squints at him. "How do you know about...nevermind, yes, that's them. We need to respond to this, now. Can you help us? You have experience fighting aliens."

    "I don't see why not," Ryann sighs.

    Miles nods, surprised. "Yeah, we'd be glad to. Where are we going? Is it the Undercity? The Underhive?"

    "You are way too into this," Elise snaps.

    Captain America looks deeply confused. "How do you...yes."

    Miles grins. Cap squints again. She's incredibly suspicious.

    "It's like he channels dead crazy people," Julian grins and taps his nose.

    Miles spreads his hands helplessly. "it's...look, try to watch some movies from the 1980s sometime. I guess we were like, bang-on."

    She gives up. "Follow me, I'll lead you to the access point."

    Captain America leads the Avengers and STRIKE-1 to the launchpad.

    Iron Man's suit reforms, and he takes off. Spider-Man begins swinging away. Hulk's armor has repulsors in it, and he flies off. Captain America's armor generates glowing red eagle's wings, lifting her up as she soars away.

    "Whoa." Miles takes off and follows.

    "Huh, neat. Flying Hulk." Michael assumes the form of the Destroyer and takes off too, followed by Julian on his motorbike, Ryann on the flank, and Elise hovering behind, bringing up the rear.

    They travel through the city, and into the slums. The slums look like they date back to a time familiar to the team, but ruined. Like it survived the Kree-Skrull War, but nobody rebuilt it.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    They go into what was once a subway entrance.

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    But it definitely does not lead into a subway.

    Iron Man leads the team through, following a holographic blip on his wrist. "This way..."

    "What should we know about these guys?" Miles asks.

    Spider-Man explains to Miles, "The Phalanx are an alien race. Techno-organic, they consume and assimilate lifeforms they encounter, adding them to themselves. They're...they're some real horror-sim stuff."

    "Oof. Like...techy Cronenberg monsters?" Julian asks.

    Ryann nods. "Yeah, everything I've ever heard of them is nasty. They weren't a big issue for the Nova Corps at the time, we thought they were isolated. Clearly we were wrong."

    Elise tilts her head to the side, ignoring Andros' holographic tracker. She senses something move in the darkness. It's coming towards them, faster than the sensor can register. She has enough time to respond, draw, and fire at it. She knows they're 'techno-organic', meaning they're at least partially machine. An EMP round should drop it.

    Elise draws and fires.

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    The creature shrieks as it jumps out from the shadows, an electronic noise that sounds like nails on a chalkboard and brakes that need service. She drops it to the ground with an EMP round to the head.

    A loud, screeching howl echoes off the tunnel walls.

    Suddenly, Andros' holographic display lights up with blips. "Oh. Well, that's bad."

    "Oh, great, because today wasn't horrifying enough," Elise spits.

    "Weapons free!" Miles calls. "Ryann, try to keep them from touching us!"

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited October 18
    Julian's hands light aflame. The Avengers assemble into battle positions.

    Centurion rushes forward and...encounters something big.

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    It lets out a deep, droning noise, before blasting red energy from its chest.

    "Argh!” Ryann goes flying across the tunnel and into the wall.

    A lance juts out from the darkness at Julian. He has to dodge or be impaled.

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    "Whoa!" He dodges out of the way, and moves his hand over the creature's faceplates, superheating the metal to slag beneath his knuckles. It begins to melt.

    A huge creature drops out of the ceiling, between Behemoth and Hulk.

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    Michael unleashes a beam of cosmic energy at the horrifying, writhing thing, and with a scream of white-hot metal, It's gone. Not even ashes remain.

    A final creature emerges from the darkness, the size of a tank.

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    It aims its scorpion-like stinger at the heroes and charges.

    "NOPE!" Miles cries as his chest glows superheated blue and unleashes his Uni-Beam at the newcomer.

    He blows the stinger clean off. The creature howls, and begins to rock violently, spraying a red, sticky ichor around. It crashes into the side of the cavern wall.

    "Keep that stuff from touching you!" Miles calls.

    "Yeah, no shit!" Elise cries.

    The first creature, the one that Elise shot with the EMP round, begins to get back up.

    But it is suddenly wreathed in blue flame and scorched into nothingness.

    An otherworldly voice calls from the darkness. "Your soul will burn with the guilt of your endless sin! Are you penitent?!"

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    "What the--!!" Julian's jaw drops.

    There's a glowing light above the giant Phalanx monster. A voice calls out to it from a platform above. "Do you know what day it is, scumbag?"

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    "Punishment Day!" He blasts the giant Phalanx monster, ripping a hole in it.

    Swinging down from the ceiling, one final newcomer emerges, landing in front of the Avengers and Freedom Force.

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    "Got some room in your party?"

    Captain America looks at the trio, who from their costumes are likely the 2099 versions of Punisher, Daredevil, and...Ghost Rider? Which, with Julian standing there, raises questions.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "Howdy, folks." Miles raises a fist to Daredevil.

    Daredevil bumps the fist. "Who're your new friends, Roberta? Last I heard, you weren't recruiting."

    She grumbles, "We're not. They're...their own team, Daredevil. Just like you three are your own. Everyone stays in their own lanes. We work above the streets, you work below. That's the deal. Phalanx is the exception."

    Punisher holsters his gun and hops down. "So where do they fit in, these...who do you call yourselves?" he points at Miles.

    "Freedom Force," Miles says. "Or uh, on paper, STRIKE-1."

    Punisher raises an eyebrow at Miles. "STRIKE? You're with Cable, then?"

    "Wait." Miles stares. "What?"

    "Cable? Time travel guy!" Elise snaps her fingers. "We gotta find that guy!"

    Miles continues to stare and blink. "There's a STRIKE 2099?"

    Andros interrupts. "Wait, who's Cable?"

    Punisher looks at Iron Man. "Cable's this merc asshole. Leads a team called STRIKE. Writes it in all caps like an asshole, I suppose its an acronym but for what? I don't know. You'd know about this if you didn't have your head stuffed way up your tower."

    "Hey, it was a great brand opportunity,” Julian says to Miles.

    "Sure, but it's our brand opportunity." Miles turns to Andros. "Cable's another time traveler. He showed up in 2017 to stop us opening the tomb of Apocalypse. But...I guess Apocalypse hasn't happened here, huh? The guy, I mean. A guy named Apocalypse. Not the concept. Clearly you had a bit of that."

    Andros is really confused. "I've never heard of any guy named Apocalypse so...I guess you're right?"

    Miles nods. "Probably for the best. He's like, a skyscraper tall." He turns to Punisher. "And it's Special Tactical Reserve for International Key Emergencies."

    "Uh huh." Punisher starts rubbing his thumb between his index and middle finger. None of the time travelers are 100% sure on the meaning, but by context it's probably a 2099 vulgar gesture, something akin to a jack-off motion.

    "Point is, we need to meet this Cable guy pronto,” Elise says.

    "Hey, so wait! What's going on here?" Julian points towards the Ghost Rider, revealing his own Phoenix Rider form.

    Ghost Rider 2099 runs over to Julian and grabs him by the jacket, pulling him by the collar, skull to skull. "Who are you?"

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    All of the Avengers and the rest of Ghost Rider's team look on, shocked. Julian doesn't break his gaze. "Julian. Julian Adler of STRIKE. You are?"

    The Rider stares into Julian's gaze for a moment, and then lets him go. The flames extinguish and the Ghost Rider changes shape into...a guy in a leather jacket. He has long hair black hair tied back into a ponytail. "Zero Cochrane."

    Julian straightens his jacket and looks over Zero. "You come on a little strong, but nice to meet you." He puts his fist toward him.

    "I've never seen someone else bound to the Spirit of Vengeance," he says, bumps Julian's fist. "I assumed you were some kind of demon."

    "Is there only one Spirit per universe normally?” Elise asks. “Or, like...lots."

    "It's...complicated," is all Zero says.

    Punisher turns back to Miles. "I don't know Cable especially well. Like I said, guy's an asshole. We came at cross-purpose the one time, my crew went to kill this one mobster skidmark and his 'Strike Team' or 'Strike Force' or whatever comes in and says no, you can't do that, he's important, some bullshit about destiny or prophecy or timelines or something. We fought, my team had to fall back, they scooped up the mobster. All in all, same deed done, they took the guy out of the picture."

    "So, what you're saying is, if we do something that'll fuck up the timeline, it summons him? That follows," Elise thinks. "So if I were to, like, shoot the president or something..."

    The Avengers sloooowly turn and look at Elise.

    "She's not serious." Ryann hopes.

    "Yeah, but what if that was meant to happen?” Julian asks. “Too risky a gamble."

    "Why would that be meant to happen? That's dumb. There's no way that would ever be meant to happen," she insists. "Me trying to assassinate the president would one hundred percent trigger a chrono crisis."

    "Man,” Julian shakes his head. “You say that, but watch, we'll run into like, the classical Greek mythological Fates themselves before we're back home, I bet."

    "I bet you a dollar," she fires back. "I can find someone to assassinate."

    Seeing that they’re not needed, Punisher and Ghost Rider begin torching the Phalanx remains.

    Andos sighs. "You couldn't assassinate the President anyway, he's got that Hyperion panic button."

    "Hyperion?" Miles stops short. "Hyperion's alive?"

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "And, uh, who is the President, anyway?" Miles adds. Please don't be Greg Stark or Norman Osborn or something.

    Captain America turns to the team to explain. "Hyperion's alive, sort of. He needs to stay close to the sun to stay that way. The President has a way of contacting him in an emergency, like an all out alien invasion. When the Phalanx showed up, the Corporate Congress tried to pressure him to hit the button but he refused. You can't punch what is basically a virus."

    Ryann makes a see-saw gesture at this.

    Miles is trying to keep up. "Wait. The Corporate Congress?"

    Punisher stops torching remains and stares at Freedom Force again. "Wait…where are these guys from?"

    "The past. We're trying to get back," Elise says.

    Punisher shakes his head and just returns to what he's doing.

    Andros turns to the group. "Well, you've got three choices in front of you, I guess.

    "You can try to get Hyperion's attention, since he is an old SHIELD guy and maybe he can help you? I mean, I might be able to call in some favors, pull some strings, faaaaaake a signal."

    Cap gasps at him. "Andy."

    He shrugs. "They saved the world, Roberta. We kinda owe them." He turns back to Miles. "You can try to ferret out Cable and his...STRIKE people. I don't know what that would entail. I can try to provide whatever help you need."

    Miles sucks his teeth. "I....I didn't see Hyperion on the best of terms, last time. Maybe he's better off just hanging out by the sun."

    "Or, you can try to go after this lead on Doom and his...time...ship. I think that's a dead end, but it's your choice, and we'll help you. If you try to fly into Latveria, it'll go a lot worse than our AA at the tower."

    Miles turns to the team. "Thoughts?"

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "Cable's the only person we know can go back in time,” Elise points out. “The other two are guesses."

    "If we can track him down, he's our best bet, I think," Ryann adds.

    Michael nods agreement. "I think we should pursue Cable as well. If we need to, we can try to contact Hyperion."

    "Well, what's going on with Apocalypse?" Ryann points out.

    Miles snaps his fingers. "Fuck! That's...insane, Ryann. But it might work."

    Michael stares, then grins. "You want to.... Oh that's ballsy, Ryann."

    Ryann nods and smirks. "It's something."

    Miles turns to Andros. "What's Cairo like now? Can we get there? The guy Cable doesn't want us to wake up is buried there. So maybe we...go to wake him up."

    "Cairo's a wasteland, like most of North Africa. Got hit pretty hard as part of the collateral damage when the Skrulls took out Wakanda back in the 20's."

    Miles grimaces. "Like, radioactive or anything?"

    "No, just...devoid of life. Skrulls bombed it with mass accelerators."

    Miles puts a hand to his temple. "X-51, would Apocalypse's pyramid have survived that kind of attack?"

    More than likely.

    Miles turns to the team. "Sounds like it's worth a shot. 'Devoid of life' is a plus if we're risking having a throwdown with Cable's team."

    Spider-Man speaks up. "Can I ask...who Apocalypse is? Because it sounds to me like freeing him would be...bad."

    Miles nods. "The first mutant. Like, from ancient Egypt."

    "Provided Cable shows up, we won't be freeing anyone," Ryann says. "And if not I think we can put him back in the box if need be."

    Andros punches some commands into his wrist gauntlet. "Hey, you, you're Nova Corps, right?" he says, pointing at Ryann.

    "It's complicated, but yes."

    Andros points at Ryann's gauntlet. "Even 2020's era Xandarian tech is pretty good stuff. I'm going to transmit to you a signal that you can shoot into my satellite. It's Hyperion's panic button. Things get hairy with this...Apocalypse, or if Cable's team gets too much for you guys? Call in the Big Guy."

    Ryann nods "Do it." His gauntlet flashes receipt of the code.

    Miles turns to Andros. "You've been a real stand-up guy, man. It's good to know not everything in our future is fucked."

    Andros shrugs. "Look at it like this...imagine you're a guy from 1910, and you arrive in 2018 and you have to learn about the World Wars. You'd think the whole world went to shit. But you know it didn't. It got better. Things were bad in the 20s and 30s. We bounced back. Humanity always does."

    Miles nods solemnly.

    Captain America turns to Punisher. "There's probably a Phalanx nest around here, isn't there?" Punisher nods. She turns to Andros. "Take these STRIKE people back to the tower, and take a slipjet. The rest of us will work with Gallows' people on this nest."

    Iron Man nods, and looks over at STRIKE. "Alright, follow me."

    Miles grins. "A slipjet? That sounds badass."

    "Yeah, at top speed it enters interstitial space. From here to Cairo will take about 20 minutes."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited October 18
    The team flies back up to the tower, and Andros enters a command on a console at the landing pad. It retracts, and an aircraft about the size of a quinjet rises up.

    Everyone gets aboard, and it takes off.

    ygqB7V4l.jpg

    Once it hits nearly supersonic speed, the team feels a lurch as it enters folded space, a sensation they know all too well. They've gotten used to it, but it doesn't mean they like it.

    Andros puts on the auto-pilot, and walks back into the main cabin. "So... I have a question.

    "This plan of yours, to find Cable and his STRIKE team… You're banking on Cable having a 'real' time machine."

    Miles nods. "Yeah."

    "But then what happens?" Andros asks, sitting on the jumpseat across from Miles. "What happens to us?

    "My great grandfather is Tony Stark, my great grandmother is Bethany Cabe. If they don't hook up, I never get born. And that's just on one side."

    Miles nods thoughtfully. "I...I don't know, man. Nothing I can say right now would mean anything. Cable might know. Maybe it's just like...we vanish, and life goes on. Your history stays the same, your real life, your problems are all just as they were.

    "And maybe it's not like that. Maybe it all goes - " Miles makes a poof gesture with his hands. "But the thing is…” he takes a deep breath.

    "If that's how it works...if there can only be one future...that happens no matter what. Whatever we do, whatever choice we make, someone's real life, the world they live in, just...goes away. It doesn't have to be anything as big as us stopping the Skrulls. Maybe I save someone from a fire. Maybe that person was 'meant' to die and it fucks something up in fifty years. From now on, I'll always be wondering that, you know?

    "But like...that's how it's always been. Every choice we make. Everything we do, or what we choose not to do, or can't do. We just...we didn't have a way to know, before. It's like how you don't know all the guys from the year 3000 you're making a world for."

    "Like City on the Edge of Forever," Andros says.

    Miles' somber expression lightens. "Exactly like City on the Edge of Forever."

    Andros nods, and takes a cleansing breath. "Alright man. Okay." He stands up and walks back to the cockpit.

    Jacobkosh on
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