Tomorrow sees the first session of the second campaign arc for our G+ Hangout Mutants & Masterminds campaign. I wrote up some teaser bits to cover the couple of months between campaigns. You can see the campaign wiki here.
Mr. Freeze looked over his tablet, trying to run through the appointments. There were too many- he’d tried to delegate, but so many things needed his sign off. Requests for appearances from worthy causes, research requests, new budgets for facilities. He quickly shifted several of the emails to another file. These were notes from city officials. Some had come to terms with the presence of First Wave. Others clearly wanted to cover their ass if something went wrong, so they extended the minimal of courtesies. Another set of notes from his lawyers and 20th Century Fox. They had another draft of the script for the First Wave movie. Things had moved at lightning speed (for Hollywood at least) after they’d discussed and made arrangements to license the rights to First Wave’s story. After a bidding war had come the negotiations and arrangements to get together funding, choose a scriptwriter, and find a director. Not a single scene had been shot yet, but already it was had generated huge buzz across all media.
It was also Freeze’s single biggest headache- with constant queries and approvals. Even with Stark’s legal team, the wrangling took forever and necessitated his presence from time to time. With the lull after the storm, Iron Man had become erratic- vanishing off the grid, taking on new projects, distracting himself with suit improvements, and pushing everything off on to his staff, his assistants, and eventually on to Freeze. Miracle had shown up in Freeze’s house one night, past his vaunted security system, to tell him that he had to go on a journey- and then he’d vanished into a Boom Tube. Nightcrawler helped- but his expertise lay elsewhere, clear not in administration and management.
Freeze looked up and studied his wife’s features. Frozen. Still. Just as he remembered her. How long would it take? Would he be old before they found a solution to the problem? The Penguin’s antidote had worked, but had been only one half of the solution. The other still baffled him and his research team. Richards and LexCorp had been supportive and offered their best men, but the other toxin defied their tests and solutions.
Freeze saw another email in his box, anonymous, somehow slipped past his Spam filter. He looked at the subject line- re: Penguin.
He opened the email
I AM NOT DEAD. BUT YOU WILL WISH I WAS.
INTERLUDE ONE: THE VISITORS
The vector on the stream shimmed- hard and crunch at the corner when the bubble came through. He felt the twist and give as it intersected with something which would be there at some significant point. If he’d been a better pilot he’d have plotted through that and turned up the uncertainty, but listening to the lectures, hell even the sleep-waves, was so nass that it just never stuck with him at all. Direction and orientation vanished in a cloud wave of probability, the only thing keeping him from smashing into something hard at the controls was that he’d become 99% theoretical for a moment.
He spun the dial- always his reaction to any problem- luck would be his mistress. And then suddenly he was real again. He stood up forgetting about the metaphysical inertia he’d picked up. Alternate realities slammed into him. He flew out the hatch which had flown open. Outside the air hit him again- filled with smalls- delicious smells. He tried to parse out what it all was- too many things all at once. His stomach growled. When had he last eaten. He looked back as his vehicle folded back in on itself. Wait, hadn’t he come here with someone else? Who was it—a friend? A hitchhiker? Someone else?
“Grife.” He stood up and dusted himself. “Oh well, let’s find First Wave.”
Stark gestured and the lights came on in the base. His insomnia, his distraction had brought him here again. He walked around the large main meeting room. The worst of the Cabal’s excesses had been removed- the stolen paintings, the garish displays of wealth, and the deathtrap hatches. Some things had been returned, and others had been donated to raise money for charities. Stark’s team had redone the room to a clean efficiency, complete with secure connections and a remote version of Jarvis. The trophy area, however, remained intact, a morbid reminder of the Cabal’s history and a warning. Tony had thus far kept himself from taking anything there apart- he still had masses of material and devices from the others they’d fought. And the salvage from Atlantis. He’d gone back many times, quietly without telling the others, hunting for Thor’s hammer, but to no avail.
Tony sat at the table. The Furies had been given the night off. Miracle had gone to bat for them, gaining a pardon for their part in stopping Starro. They’d agreed to work for the team, serving as the kind of expert and discrete staff they needed to run the base. So of them were attractive, so that didn’t hurt Stark’s backing of the idea, though he wouldn’t say he completely trusted them. But he’d added protections and redundancies to the base, so he’d know if they did anything off kilter. He could tell that more than a couple of them were in love with Miracle, but he didn’t seem to notice. He’d spoken about someone, Barda wasn’t it, a friend? a family member? a lover?
Tony had distracted himself long enough. He looked across the table and let himself finally think the thought. “Did my grandfather sit here? My father?” Had they aided the headhunting of superbeings? Had they approved it? Had they participated in it?
He’d closed down the weapons development, but the question now haunted him: how much blood did Stark Industries actually have on its hands?
INTERLUDE TWO: A WOMAN WALKS IN TO THE DOCTOR
“You’re going to need to sit still…you have to relax.”
“Re…lax…” Her voice came out guttural, then pitched up to a whine. He still hadn’t gotten used to that. The doctor stepped back reflexively.
His patient reached up to her bandages, touching her face again. She shivered a little, another one of the tremors she’d had since the accident. He gripped her chart a little tighter- a talisman against her.
“You…you have to understand. We’ve done all that we can do. The problem lies in your mutant physiology as much as anything. That interacted with the chemicals in some way- probably saved your life…but you were under for so long and your powers…the accident”
She stared up at him. “No accident. No accident.” Her voice chilled him. “Take the bandages off.”
“I really shouldn’t…you need to recover and prepare yourself.”
“Take the bandages off.” Her voice was absolute. His will was not his own. He raised the scissors and began cutting. Then she struck his hands away, too slow at his task. She ripped and pulled at his initial cut and peeled away the layers.
“You need to…”
He handed it to her, backing further away. He’d not been ready for this, the money wasn’t worth it. If he could make it to the door.
Her chalk-white hand shot out and grabbed him by the throat. Her whole body shook…he began to black out… “Please…stop…” he managed to get out. Was she crying…no, laughing…
“They have no idea…all of them…I’m going to teach them a lesson, a wonderful lesson…First Wave and their leader Freeze…” She released the doctor and his lifeless body fell to the floor.
“The joke will be on them.”
Kurt launched himself across the abyss, forty stories to the ground below. He stretched, hit the ledge, and used the momentum to propel himself upwards even as he teleported. The energy stayed with him and as he appeared he used it to grab onto the railing and swing himself around. He rolled soundlessly across the deck and then stood.
“Ta-da” he said to the empty visitor’s area. After hours they closed elevator access to the site. Kurt had found it a few weeks ago and it had become a regular stopping point as he patrolled the city. We patrolled was perhaps too strong a word for it; he toured the city. He still hadn’t gotten used to New York, and to the freedom he had here. In the circus, he had hid when he wasn’t performing; in British Intelligence, secrecy had been the rule. He’d been able to go out from time to time but he had to be discreet. In New York, with First Wave, no such rules restricted him. He could go out in public, he could be in the open, he could meet people.
But beneath the surface, he could sense it still, a tension. They looked at him oddly, they shied away despite the public declarations that he was a true hero. Over the last few weeks he’d heard more anti-mutant sentiment in the media. Superheroes might be more accepted, especially after the Starro incident, but the hate-mongers still searched for a scapegoat. They’d turned their attentions even more fully to mutants- a whisper campaign. Eventually they’d return to fears and hatred directed as superbeings in general, but First Wave’s public victory kept them quiet for the moment. He considered the card he’d been given by the man Forge, and the Brotherhood he’d spoken of. He hadn’t contacted them for many reasons. Not least of which had been the notes he’d found among the few Cabal records- suggesting that mutants had been around for decades, but had been quashed, co-opted, or eliminated by the organization. He wasn’t sure how to talk about that secret, what it might mean for Iron Man, what it might mean for others innocently connected to the organization.
He had tried to contact some of his former friends in the British Service, but some refused to take his calls. He’d agreed to remain quiet after leaving the Agency, but his actions and membership in First Wave had given him a high profile. He’d avoided questions about his past, but the publicity had been overwhelming. He knew of some in the Department who would be getting nervous about that, wondering if Kurt could keep their secrets. Some might even take steps. Who knows what lengths they might go to retrieve or silence Nightcrawler, their Weapon X.
INTERLUDE THREE: INCARCERATION
…The upgrade and renovation of the facility will draw on funds from the Governor’s office, the Federal Government, and a bond issue from the city of New York. In greater part the project will repair damage to the prison during the Starro Incident and the aftermath. It will also ensure that the Raft has the latest in high-tech security and restraints to deal with super-powered felons. As Mayor ------ noted in his address, “The upgrading of the Raft is not a permanent solution. New York will not become a dumping-ground for dangerous metahuman criminals. But New York has a responsibility to house these persons securely and safely. Until a larger, national solution is developed, we will have to do all that we can to provide peace for the people of our great state and city.” The Mayor’s office had not comment on rumors that the renovated Raft would accept supervillains from neighboring states in exchange for a significant regular payment. Interim Warden Steel refused to issue any statement, leaving his secretary to hand out small neatly typed ‘No Comment’ cards. Housing and containing supervillains has become a nationally debated issue since the Starro incident, with some calling for a massive UltiMax Federal Prison…
Miracle stopped to catch what breath he could as Apokolips burned beneath him. The Seven League Furnaces belched heat and cinders. They’d offer some cover for him. Even stopping off to sabotage a MagnaRing Oubliette, he’d managed to put several minutes between himself and his Parademon pursuers. The WizCracker Gang he’d tangled with. And the Burn Hound V-Troopers who’d on his tail since he’d arrived three days ago. Then he heard the sound of someone behind him. He rolled and came up, facing the figure while keeping a scan of the surrounding area.
“Himon!” Miracle nearly shouted at the shabby, white haired figure who lounged lazily on a vent watching him.
“Aye Scott. You’ve improved. You picked me up faster than anyone else I know would have.” Himon approached and embraced his former apprentice. “I had to see you before you left again.”
“I’m…I’m not sure if I’m leaving. I spoke with Barda, tracked her down…”
“And she wouldn’t leave here with you.” Himon said it gently. “Of course she wouldn’t.”
Miracle gripped his cape. “Granny’s gone. But the danger’s worse than ever. Darkseid has plans, for here and the Earth. He sent agents there, more than Godfrey pursuing me with his plots. Mantis was disguised as a superhero, El Diablo, intent on inciting rifts and tensions between humans and superbeings. I tried to make Barda understand…”
Himon reached out and touched Scott’s shoulder. “I’m going to say what you already know. Barda’s like you. That’s why you’re meant for one another. She cares about her comrades, the Furies. She hopes to show them a better future, perhaps bring some of them around to hunger for freedom as you do. But she also wants to protect them. If Granny doesn’t return, the other Lords of Apokolips will battle for what was hers. She has to do this. Just as you have to return to Earth.”
Himon began fumbling with his belt, gathering together some bits and pieces to distract himself as he continued. “She must be free to make her choices. And when she’s done so, if the Source wills it, you two will find one another. I know that to be true. Freedom is choice and life, what we struggle for.”
“Thank you, Himon.” Scott nodded. It was perhaps a truth he felt, but didn’t want to accept.
“Have you been to New Genesis? Seen your father? We’ve heard rumors- that you and your friends conquered a foe that even gave pause to the Dark One.”
“I went…but they would not see me yet. My actions have unbalanced the agreement between the worlds. Orion met me, but he wanted to hear more about the battles than to tell me how my father is. He said that the defeat of Starro, for all the cost and the current tensions, prevented a greater tragedy. I’ve done that, but have I done damage as well…”
“No, no. Scott- your name is spoken in the darkest corners of this world. Your symbol painted on alleyways as a rallying cry. Other heroes have arisen, fighting back against the tyranny of Darkseid. Vykin and Serifan to name a few. We are in a time of changes, and you must be strong.”
Miracle heard the simultaneous ping from his Mother Box and Himon’s. “One minute out.” He said. “I should go.”
Himon grabbed his hand, putting a number of devices in his palm. “I’ve made some things for you. Improvements to your circuits and some other tricks should you wish to discover them.” Scott hugged the old man, and then opened the Boom Tube- he vanished inside.
“Farewell Scott.” Himon spoke softly as he watched Miracle vanish. “Inzaya may be your father, but you will always be my son.”
INTERLUDE FOUR: THE CRYSTAL
The Director stood at the enormous window, light from it silhouetting him. He stared out, hands behind his back. Jenkins remained uncertain if his master actually contemplated the scenery or if this was an affectation designed to intimidate his underlings. Regardless of intent, it gave him chill whenever he was summoned to the office. Jenkins cleared his throat. The director turned and smiled, his great wide and white shark smile.
“You have a report on the crystals?”
Jenkins nodded and handed across the folder. The director insisted on paper versions of reports, with no electronic backups except for the most essential operational details.
“Give me the essential details, your summary.”
“As you indicated, the Magus Gem was a code name assigned by LexCorp. The intent had been to throw people off, but who or why remains uncertain…”
“His colleagues in the Cabal.” The Director interrupted. “But that’s not really important.”
Jenkins gathered his thoughts before continuing. Something about his superior’s voice always disconcerted him. “The Gem was among a number recovered from the craft LexCorp impounded, along with the test subject Na-Mor. There was some connection with Atlantis, with Starro, and such but the how and why aren’t clear. There’s some suggestion that the craft was launched from Atlantis when it fell- and then remained in some kind of stasis until it arrived here. A time or dimensional craft rather than a space-craft.”
“The vessel held a number of crystals, with several “key” crystals, including the Magus Gem. As far as we can tell, they were colored, as opposed to the mass which were translucent. That’s about all we have on that. The lead researcher on the project, Dr. Reed Richards, vanished with the crystals, destroyed the project records, and released Na-Mor. Only three scientists who worked on the project remain alive, and two of them were tangential. The rest perished in the July 4th attacks.”
The Director nodded. “After which, of course, Franklin Richards takes over as LexCorp CEO. But there’s no connection between the two, correct? None we’ve been able to find.”
Jenkins shook his head. “No, it is a common name. And it seems a little too obvious if there is some tie…”
“Or not…” The Director spoke again. “I hate super-geniuses. They can’t do anything straight-line. I take it the third scientist is Werner, the one who put First Wave into contact with the Magus Gem?”
“Yes. We’ve been unable to locate him. He seems to have vanished during the Starro incident.” Jenkins continued. “We have been able to determine that there were twelve of these significant gems. Some may be on the market. We can try to track them down. The Magus Gem we’re not sure about- it may have been lost in Atlantis or First Wave may still have it.”
The Director finally sat down at his desk. “Contact the Black Knight. He specializes in these kinds of things.”
“But isn’t he compromised by his assisting First Wave?”
“Perhaps, but if there’s one thing I know, it is how obsession drives people. The Knight is a creature of vices. Those will be our tools. And if he fails…” He gave the shark smile again. “I have someone else in place…”
They brought him in chains before her- wrapped great iron links the span of his forearm to hold him down. They held with magicks as much as substances, but even so he refused to bow when they dragged him there. She stood proud and dangerously, her eyes black and glinting.
“Thor Odinson. You are in my realm now.”
In the distance he heard the sound of hammers, of smiths striking weapons and ringing anvils. Then another sound cut across them.
The sound of something larger, a forge-master bringing down his hammer to shape something terrible and awful. Even Hel herself paused at the clamor of it.
She returned to her prisoner. “The Mortal Realm has reopened. Your defeat of the unspeakable Starro lifted the bans and the barriers. Except the Bifrost remains closed. The Allfather senses war and he hides himself away in Asgard. His son falls to me and he does nothing, sends no petitions, no emissaries. Has he not forgiven you, Thor?” She smiled again, but he kept his gaze steady upon her, not reacting, not flinching.
“Or perhaps he knows what my answer would be. What my demands would be. Still there are ways out for you- there always have to be.”
“Speak your mind straight, Witch.” The first words he spoken since he’d come to this forsaken and darkened palace.
“Bow to me. Swear fealty. Serve me and rule in Hell, as my consort.”
“NEVER.” He strained at his bonds and the dozen demons leaned back on their chains to hold him in place.
“There is another way. Another route…” Hel spoke icily.
And then she told him of that way. And Thor’s bellows of despair finally rang out, echoing even up to the gates of Valhalla.