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@Morden Man Have you had a chance to see my sheet yet?

Sorry, I'd totally missed it, but everything looks fine to me. Feel free to go ahead and start posting.

Briefing Room Six, Pegasus Helicarrier

Guy Gardner and Ben Grimm walked side by side into the briefing room. It had been two hours since they had boarded Guy’s old ship, the Pegasus, at the Triskelion on the orders of Dum Dum Dugan. They had been told next to nothing. Gardner had spent most of that time catching up with old colleagues. Valentina Vostok, Gardner’s old commanding officer, had showed him pictures of her new baby whilst the rest of the crew clamoured over Ben. Even on a SHIELD helicarrier, a walking, talking rock monster was something of a novelty, after all.

Dugan was stood with his back to Guy and Ben. The old SHIELD agent was inspecting a holographic reenactment of what looked to be an assault on a convoy of trucks. His eyes remained trained on it long after the two SHIELD agents had taken their seats in the briefing room. After a few moments, Guy grew restless and cleared his throat in the hope of catching his mentor’s attention.

“You mind telling us what’s going on here, Dugan? Something tells me you didn’t drag us back onto the Pegasus so I could see my friends.”

“Heh, friends?” Ben murmured through a mischievous grin. “You ask me, your “friends” didn’t seem all that too happy to see you, Carrot Top.”

Guy scowled. He still quite hadn't gotten over Ben's little "Condiment King" prank the other day – which was made worse by the lecture he'd been given by the eggheads down at the infirmary when he'd explained how he'd broken two of his fingers. In light of both of those things, ribbing Gardner about the Pegasus proved a step too far and his famous, or perhaps infamous, ability to laugh at himself failed him for once.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about. I was the best damn ca-”

“Enough,” Dugan shouted as he finally turned to face them. “This is serious. We don’t have time for … whatever this is. I’m going to need the two of you at the top of your games if we’re going to make our way out of this godforsaken mess. So you both need to settle the fuck down.”

It was clear from Dugan’s voice that he would brook no further argument or interruptions. Usually an affable man, the weight of the task facing him was clearly wearing on him. Perhaps more than he would like to admit, his regret about what had happened to his longtime partner Nick Fury was making him second guess his every decision.

Sensing the seriousness of the situation, Ben nodded earnestly to Dugan. “We’re all ears.”

“Chin escaped,” Dugan sighed. “His transport convoy was attacked just outside of China. Nine MSS officers and four of ours are dead. Needless to say, the Chinese are livid. We’re talking the kind of angry that might end up with them pulling their support for SHIELD altogether.”

Suddenly the holographic images of a vehicle under siege made sense to Guy and Ben. The reenactment had been stiched together out of bits and pieces of CCTV footage that SHIELD had been able to collate from different sources near the scene. It wasn’t perfect, but it created some sense of what SHIELD had been up against. The attackers moved fast, using deadly force as if it were nothing, and had Chin out within a minute – in short, they were professionals.

Sensing that Dugan wasn’t telling them all of this out of the goodness of his heart, Guy frowned. “So what do you mean for us to do about it?”

“See, that’s where things get a little problematic," Dugan said gingerly. "We’ve got our hands on some reliable intel that suggests that Chin has taken refuge in Lowtown. No prizes for guessing why he's holed up in the only town in the world that SHIELD isn't authorised to operate in.”

The words left Dugan’s mouth as matter-as-factly as if he were describing water as being wet. They were accepted as much by Guy Gardner too. Next to him, Ben Grimm’s mouth was agape. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The shock was writ over his face long before he had a chance to voice his disapproval vocally so Dugan was almost prepared to field the inevitable follow-up question.

“Now I know you're yanking my chain? I thought SHIELD had the UN’s authority to go in wherever it needed. You’re trying to tell me that Madripoor is off-limits for the world’s biggest peacekeeping body? That place is as big a hive of criminals as there is on the face of the Earth.”

Guy shrugged. “It’s not a matter of legality, Ben, it’s ... well, the complete opposite. You thought Juba was bad? Lowtown makes Juba look like one of those Scandinavian countries where all people do is ride bikes and congratulate each other on how frigging perfect-looking they are.”

Ben pinched the bridge of his nose as he struggled to try and make sense of what Guy had said. Whilst his eyes were closed, Dugan shot Gardner a disapproving look, as if to compel him to silence, and then set about trying to explain the grubby little compromise that he and Nick Fury had helped broker with the Madripoorians nearly three decades ago.

“SHIELD entered into an agreement of sorts with some of the local criminal element to turn a blind eye to all the drinking and whoring that goes on in Lowtown. We don’t go after them for trying to have a good time occasionally, and they keep things fairly above board in the region.”

It was clear from Ben’s sigh that he thought that the Madripoorian agreement was ridiculous. “Just when I thought I’d heard everything.”

”It’s not perfect,” Dugan conceded. “Heck, it’s not even close to being right, but it works for both parties. Neither of you were around to see what Madripoor was like before – or what the helpless sons of bitches that lived there had to put up with. If you had, you would understand.”

It felt like a lifetime since the war in Madripoor – though no one was allowed to call it that, of course. Dum Dum had spent eight summers fishing the bodies of dead SHIELD agents out of the drink without so much as putting a dent in the colony’s drug trade. It was too ingrained in its culture. They hadn’t realised that when they went in, but they soon realised it once the bodies started to pile up. Since SHIELD had stopped operating in Madripoor, it had cleaned its act up some. Now it was mostly casinos and brothels – and fugitives from SHIELD like Zhang Chin.

Ben rolled his eyes. “Well if SHIELD can’t operate in Lowtown, then why the hell are you telling us all of this? As much as I want to see Chin's narrow butt taken down, it doesn’t sound like there’s anything we can do about it. Not unless Chin suddenly decides to take a vacation.”

Suddenly there was intent in Dum Dum's eyes as he looked at Guy and Ben, but there was also doubt. Of the two of them, Guy knew Dugan better and was quicker to sense that something was amiss. “Why are you looking at us like that?”

Dugan swallowed hard.

“Guy Darrin Gardner, Benjamin Jacob Grimm, effective immediately you are stripped of your positions as Agents of SHIELD. Director Hill has asked me to thank the you both of for your distinguished service over the past three months. You will be escorted off board this helicarrier by SHIELD security staff at the next possible juncture. SHIELD wishes you the best of luck in your future endeavours – whatever they may be.”

A knowing smile crept onto Guy Gardner's face as the true meaning of their sudden dismissal from SHIELD sunk in. “Oh, you son of a bitch.”
Nothing to see here.

Consider yourself accepted.

As for the future of the game, MB hasn't been around for a while and I was abroad for a couple of weeks, though Henry still seems active and keen to carry things on. I have a few posts sitting in the bank, so I'm happy to keep this open, and let people who still want to post, do so, rather than calling it and cutting them off midway something.

We'll save conversations regarding the long-term future of the game for two weeks, and see whether those that are still around and/or claim to be working on posts deliver the goods within that time. If so, we'll press on. If not, well ... we've had a good run by this website's standards.

Amnesty Bay, Maine

Black clouds hung over the small coastal town. Black waves crashed against its cliffs. There was a storm in the air the likes of which Amnesty Bay residents swore they hadn’t seen for years. Only the light of Amnesty Bay’s lighthouse could be seen through the torrent of rain and wind. Out at sea, the trawlers that had braved the storm charted a desperate course back to shore by that light. Over the years it had seen many a trawlerman, young and old, safely home. Yet tonight safety was in short supply in Amnesty Bay.

From the depths of the sea, musclebound Atlantean soldiers came marching. They were clad not in the proud, regal armour of the Atlantean honour guard but the black, featureless combat suits of Orm Marius’ stealth unit. The blackened water disguised their approach as they climbed the jagged cliffs and stepped onto the shores of Amnesty Bay with silent determination. It was for most of the unit their first contact with the surface-world. The respirators pumped water into their lungs and protected them from the noxious gases the surface-dwellers inhaled. They had fifteen minutes.

The unit leader, Iqula, had cut his teeth serving under Orm at Xebel. Time and time again, he had proved his worthiness in battle – laying waste to the Xebellians, sacking their temples, and exacting the bloody revenge that Orm had demanded for the colony’s support of the traitor Atlan. Though the war was ended and the throne returned to a leader that was truly deserving of it, Iqula’s unit had been called upon on countless occasions since, most notably in the struggle against Black Manta and the Drowned. They had managed to push them back, indeed they had almost wiped them from the face of the Earth, until their attack on New Atlantis. Sixty-two dead.

Iqula and his men wanted blood. Orm demanded revenge. The king would rest on his laurels no more – he would strike against all his foes in one foul swoop, above sea and below it, and Iqula’s unit had the honour of striking first. Amnesty Bay would be the site of King Namor’s revenge. The honour of all Atlantis would be restored. The boy, whose existence was spoken of only in treasonous whispers, would be killed.

A sudden beam of light shone towards Iqula’s unit and he signalled to his men to get down. They clung to the rocks and waited for the lighthouse’s rays to pass over them. Satisfied, Iqula climbed to his feet and surveyed the approach to the lighthouse. There were no signs of life for as far as he could see. He signalled once more to his five insubordinates to follow after him silently.

They ran across the shoots of green towards the lighthouse, each staying low to the ground as they did so without losing speed. Once at its large doors, Iqula reached for the handle with a cautious look. His hand hovered over it as if he expected it to be booby-trapped or wired. When his webbed fingers wrapped around it safely, he breathed a sigh of relief and pulled the door open. A purple eye looked in, scanning the first floor of the lighthouse, before being trained on his men. Two slimy, scaly fingers commanded soldiers to climb the outside and a simple point of the head insisted the other three stick with him.

The four Atlanteans stepped inside Amnesty Bay Lighthouse quietly with their weapons primed. Iqula, the largest of them, silently directed two of the soldiers towards a door at the other side of the ground floor room that seemed to serve as a greeting area. He pressed on with the other at his side and quietly inspected the room. He was taken aback by its contents, offended by the smell of the place that permeated even his respirator, and desperate to see his general’s orders out.

A shock of lightning made the soldier look out of the lighthouse window and out at the sea. There was a truck out on the road that seemed to slow as it passed the lighthouse. Iqula’s finger tightened around his trigger as he prepared for battle. The driver, a fat mustachioed man with a red hat on, peered out of the passenger side window, squinting in an effort to see through the rain, and then shrugged and carried on. Iqula’s finger relinquished its suspended grip on the trigger and was about to relax when a sudden static noise sounded.

“Well, you've got your diamonds and you've got your pretty clothes
And the chauffeur drives your car
You let everybody know
But don't play with me, 'cause you're playing with fire”

He looked at the other Atlantean and was met only with a confused look. They both hugged their weapons tighter and began looking for the source of the noise. Iqula lifted what looked to be a toaster to his ear and shook it. Old toasted crumbs came tumbling out and he wrinkled his nose, aghast at the scent. The other Atlantean soldier pointed towards a box that he deemed to be the source of the noise and Iqula nodded.

“Your mother she's an heiress, owns a block in Saint John's Wood
And your father'd be there with her
If he only could
But don't play with me, 'cause you're pla-”

The soldier clamped his fingers tight around it and the music stopped dead. The other soldiers on the ground floor returned and shook their heads to Iqula to confirm that they had found nothing. He grimaced and then walked towards the stairs slowly with the soldiers following after them. Despite their efforts, their feet made the slightest of squelching noises as they climbed the steps of the lighthouse. Two-by-two they entered rooms as they ascended, each confirming upon their reappearance that they had found nothing. When Iqula reached the last door he found it open and the two soldiers he had sent to climb the lighthouse from the outside were stood inside.

It was a teenager’s room. There were clothes scattered across the floor and the walls were adorned with pictures. Iqula entered slowly, making sure to inspect every last inch of the room as he walked, before stopping in front of a cabinet covered in medals. He lifted a trophy to his eye and made an effort to read it. The words “All-State Swimming Champion 2018” were engraved into the base. He threw it contemptuously to the ground and then ran his scaly fingers along the dozens of golden medals that adorned the cabinet.

The scaly fingers formed a fist and Iqula sent it smashing through the cabinet. The trophies and medals fell into a heap onto the floor among the broken varnished wood. The soldier turned, breathing heavy with frustration, towards the table beside the unmade made in the corner of the room. There was a picture atop it that Iqula’s fingers seized upon angrily and lifted to his purple eyes.

“Bay Harbour High School” read the words across the swim team’s chest. They were all dark-haired and unimpressive looking, even to Iqula’s untrained eye, but one among them stood out. There in the centre stood a teenager that looked more man than boy, with hair as fair as the sun. Iqula’s eyes looked down at the names that were listed beneath the boys and rested on one: Curry, A.

“Kordax,” Iqula murmured as he stared at the picture of the surface-dweller he was there to kill. “The pretender bears the curse of Kordax.”

Iqula smashed the frame and pulled the picture free from it. He took one last disapproving look around the room and then signalled unhappily to their men that they were leaving. They made their way down the stairs and out of the lighthouse. As they approached the sea, Iqula thought only of the punishment they would face at Orm’s hand when they returned to Atlantis.

If he were to return home empty-handed, he would enjoy some destruction tonight.

He lifted his weapon from beneath the waves and held it at chest height pointing at Amnesty Bay Lighthouse. One of his long fingers flicked a button on his weapon and it made a confirmatory noise. With a squeeze, a blast of energy was launched from the nozzle of the weapon towards the lighthouse. There was a loud boom as it tore into the side of it and sent the light atop it dark on impact. The building set fire almost instantly and piece by piece it crumbled, falling into the sea.

A smile crossed Iqula’s thin blue lips and he turned to follow his soldiers into the sea. One by one they disappeared beneath the waves leaving only a crumbling lighthouse in their wake. The fire raged so strong that even the tempest looming over Amnesty Bay could not extinguish it.

Some fifty metres or so along the shoreline, two shivering figures watched on in silence. A young red-haired woman named Mera hugged Arthur Curry close to her with her hand clamped around his mouth. She felt the soldiers stalking through the sea on their way home, using her Xebellian gifts to bend the water around them and hide them from their gaze

Amid the rain, she could feel the surface-dweller’s tears against her hand as he watched the only home he had ever known burn to the ground.

Mount Sorcista, Latveria

The Future Foundation trudged their way up the side of the Latverian mountain trail. Given free reign of all of Latveria, the five of them had decided that Mount Sorcista, Latveria’s highest mountain, was ripe for exploration. They had travelled unescorted from Castle Doom to the mountain. The journey had been easy enough. Latveria’s public transport system was without equal. They made use of the regular mag-lev trains that ran from the centre of Domstadt out to its outskirts. Loring in particular found it hard to believe when they were allowed to disembark without paying.

A cable car carried them up towards the beginning of the carefully-cultivated mountain trail. Once there Thinker had charted a course that ran off the trail that he had calculated would result in something he had described as “optimal ocular divertissement” – and the others had happily agreed to follow it. It was only after a good thirty-five minutes of hiking that it became clear how arduous the undertaking they had entered into was going to be.

Though breathing heavy, Cho found the time to shout toward to the sentient AI. “You know, Think, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”


“Don’t think you maybe this whole “STATEMENT” thing is a little redundant?” Amadeus said with a sympathetic smile. “I get that we might not all be sentient super-computers, but I’m sure we’ve all got enough going on upstairs that we can work out when you’re asking a question.”

The Thinker’s empty eyes stared off towards the Doomstadt skyline. At least, it looked almost as if he was staring at it. Cho had learned by now that half of the time when “Think” – as he had taken to calling the artificial intelligence – was looking at something, he was almost always looking through it. The numbers on Think’s body ran wildly as he considered Cho’s statement and tried to formulate a response of his own.


“Come on. Throw me a bone here, Think. Just try speaking one time without it and I promise if you don’t like it I’ll never ask you to do it again.”

This time it was clear that the Thinker was looking at Amadeus. Though Holt and Khan had pulled ahead of them, there was still time for the two of them to stop to talk. Loring was lagging way behind the four of them, to the point that Cho and the Thinker had been stopping from time to time to ensure they didn’t lose her altogether. This time the cause of their delay had been to allow the AI to attempt to break with the code that governed his every action. It seemed to cause him great discomfort, but with the reassurance of Cho, he managed to find the strength to do so.

“See?” Cho said with a warm smile. “You can’t tell me that didn’t feel a little liberating? Next we'll try to work on the whole 'inside voice' thing.”

From behind them, Loring appeared. Her face was red from exertion and were it not for the white Future Foundation costume she was wearing, she would almost certainly have been soaked through. She stopped for a moment, resting her hands on her knees, the Atom logo on her chest expanding and shrinking rhythmically as she fought for breath.

“Could you two shut up for a minute? You’re using up all the oxygen," Jean complained with a tired glance at them. "Well, Cho is anyway.”

Michael Holt came sprinting down the trail. He stopped in front of Loring. There wasn’t a drop of sweat on him. He was in incredible physical shape compared to the rest of them. Cho was certain he could have run up and down the mountain half a dozen times without his heart rate increasing at all. He seemed to take particular pleasure from the sweat pouring from Jean’s every pore.

Holt extended a patronising hand in Jean’s direction. “What’s wrong, Loring? Are you struggling? I’d have thought all of daddy’s millions could have bought you a half-decent personal trainer or something.”

“I am not struggling,” Loring growled through gritted teeth as she slapped Holt’s hand away.

Cho let out an ‘oooh’ at the smack. Khan appeared just in time to see it and raised an eyebrow at the scene, but the Holt and Loring melodrama seemed no closer to ending. They had been at each other’s throats from the moment they had met – pointed silences followed by slanging matches followed by pointless competition after competition. To Loring’s frustration, Holt always seemed to win.

“Oh right, you’re still annoyed about the way that Doom blew you off back there. God, that must have been really tough for you, not feeling like the most important person in the room for all of … what, fifteen seconds?”

Never one to miss an opportunity to lob a grenade onto an open fire, Cho corrected the Future Foundation’s de facto captain. “Ten at most.”

Holt and Cho laughed among themselves, Khan seemed so taken with the horizon that was was barely paying attention to the argument, and the Thinker, as always, was next to incapable of reading. The expression on Jean’s face however was instantly recognisable. Loring's embarrassment swelled into an impotent rage that finally came jutting out from her mouth in the form of a particularly ugly insult.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t grow up in some ghetto in Southside Chicago like you, Holt.”

Kamala Khan gasped in shock. Even she had been torn from staring at Castle Doom in the distance by the sound of Jean’s Ivy Town accent spitting ‘ghetto’ at Holt with such intent that it might well have been a weapon.

“That’s really not cool.”

“What?” Loring said with a shaky smiled that seemed suddenly conscious of the fact she had misread the room. “You’re all allowed to make jokes about my upbringing but if I make one joke, I’m suddenly the bad guy here? Come on, Mike. You know I didn’t mean it like that, right?”

Mike. It was the first time that Loring had called Holt by his first name. She was staring at him apologetically in the hope that he might provide her with some support. Unfortunately for Jean, she was met only by an icy stare. Holt’s hands were balled into fists and Cho and Khan exchanged desperates glances, both unsure how to cut through the tension. When Holt began walking towards Jean, they considered getting between the two of them but froze in the moment.

Holt lifted one of his balled fists towards Jean and unclenched it. His index finger pointed in her direction and Jean smiled at him uneasily whilst she was trying to deduce what was happening. Slowly Holt’s stare faded and a comradely grin replaced it.

When he finally spoke it was correct Loring, not to fire a barb back in her direction. “I grew up in New York, not Chicago.”

Thinker watched on in silent, calculating bemusement as the four of them burst into laughter – all with varying levels of sincerity and nervousness. Holt gestured to Loring to jump on his back and after a minute or two of arguing reluctantly agreed to it. The students made much quicker time up through the mountains, eventually finding an isolated pool of water that was almost emerald green. There was wildlife all around it. Deer and rabbits hopped around freely only minutes from the harsh cold of the mountainside.

Kamala almost exploded with joy at the sight of the luscious clearing. “Whoa, this place is beautiful. What did you say it was called again?”


The sound of clapping caught the Future Foundation off-guard. They turned to face its source and found a slender fifty-year old man stood on his own. His skin was grey and lifeless. His lips were so thin that it was almost difficult to discern where one ended and the next began. There was not a single grey hair out of place on his head. Most telling of all, he was wrapped in the deep, distinctive Von Bardas pink that had once adorned every flagpole in Latveria.

“Very impressive. For a piece of machinery, you seem to have quite the understanding of Latverian myths. In fact, finding the Lake of Refuge alone is no mean feat. For that, I applaud you – I applaud all of you. But I am afraid that having ventured this far, I cannot allow you the five of you to return home. You see, though we may not be adventurers, as such, we do have our own demon that needs to be felled.”

Holt's attempt to make a move was met by a tut from Wyncham. In the cliffs overlooking the Lake of Refuge, two dozen men appeared with state-of-the-art weaponry pointed in the Future Foundation’s direction. Holt and Loring looked at one another as if silently trying to devise an escape plan but both drew a blank.

“I take no joy in what happens next,” the Marquis of Death smiled unconvincingly. “Oh, why pretend? I shall take a great deal of joy from it.”
There's a slight issue in that this game has already had a Green Lantern exist IC – albeit in the first half of the first season.

Perhaps take a look over @Bounce's sheet and see what changes you could make to your Kyle concept to accommodate the existence of Kai Ro. At the point the game is at, I'm pragmatic enough to allow for you to continue with your concept as is if need be, but if you can accommodate for Ro, please try to.

The Raft, New York

It had taken Johnny Storm and Rachna Koul the best part of thirteen hours to get to New York. They had driven through the night in a car that ‘Jim Hammond’ borrowed from Horton’s Auto-Parts with Phineas’ blessing. The old man seemed to be able to tell from the look in Johnny’s eyes that he wouldn’t be coming back. Once the dust had settled, Johnny would make sure to send some cash through to the old man for the kindness he’d showed him since showing up in Indiana. Though as Johnny and Rachna sat opposite the heavily-sedated Hector Hammond, it felt like it would be an awful long time before the dust had settled.

Hammond looked even lousier than he’d done when he showed up at the Baxter Building. Perhaps the power cosmic had temporarily invigorated Hammond’s old flesh, because now it looked to be almost falling from his bones. Hector looked like he was rotting. He smelled like he was rotting too. Koul and Johnny did their best to cover their disgust – if only because they might never have recovered if they’d succumb to it.

~I must say, your visit comes as something of a surprise.~

Johnny sneered. “Yeah, well, you and me both, egghead. If it were up to me, I’d have burned you alive for what you did to Guy and Ben.”

~But then what incentive would I have to keep your secret? I presume it is still a secret? I can’t imagine the public would take too kindly to the thought of interdimensional travellers crossing over into our world and assuming their counterpart’s identities. The world hasn’t changed that much since they put me in this place.~

The heft collar around Hammond’s neck dampened his powers to the point that he could only use his telepathy to communicate. For all intents and purposes, sat opposite them was a normal middle-aged man, albeit a grotesque one.

“You’re just as ugly on the inside as you are on the outside, aren’t you, Hammond?”

Hammond’s dewy eyes turned to Rachna. Though his limbs were lifeless and unmoving, there was something perverse in Hammond’s gaze. He looked Koul up and down and then eventually, once his skin-crawling assessment had come to an end, returned his gaze back to Johnny.

~Who is your lady friend, Jonathan?~

“I can speak for myself,” Rachna said with a click in Hammond’s direction. “My name is Professor Rachna Koul and I am nobody’s lady friend.”

Hammond’s expression flitted from revulsion and curiosity as he looked again to Rachna – though this time not Rachna the woman, but Rachna the scientist. Eventually, something resembling a wet, whistling sigh left Hector’s drool covered lips.

~A shame.~

Koul rolled her eyes at the statement and with an encouraging nod from Johnny steered the conversation towards its true purpose. “We’re here to talk to you about Franklin Storm.”

The mention of Franklin Storm’s name seemed to set Hammond into an instant rage. At least, the nearest to a rage that a man incapable of moving his limbs could manage. The sickly-looking veins on Hammond’s forehead began to throb angrily and spittled leapt from his mouth and down his chin. His bulging eyes became fixed on Johnny Storm.

~This is another one of his tricks, isn’t it? He’s sent you here to torment me. He wants to know what I know about him because he’s still out there. That Agent Gardner of yours was lying. Gardner helped him to pretend that he was dead.~

“This isn’t a trick,” Johnny said with a solemn shake of his head. “He’s really dead, Hammond. That’s why we’re here. We’ve recently come into some … information that suggests that maybe Franklin didn’t kill himself at all. We think he was murdered. Maybe even by people he trusted.”

Upon hearing the words leave Johnny’s mouth, Hammond’s rage seem to be punctured. For a second, he almost appeared to be saddened by it. His forehead drooped, his breath sharpened, and his gaze dropped to the ground as if reflecting upon a lost friend. As soon as the moment had arrived, it passed – and it became clear that the sharpening of Hammond’s breath was not sadness, but excitement. There was a caustic quality to his eyes that seemed to indicate that Hammond was laughing – or at least trying to.

~It would not surprise me. You see, beneath that carefully-maintained veneer there was a cruelty to Franklin. He was a man with many enemies – and a man that deserved each and every one of them.~

“That’s not true,” Koul shouted across the room at a volume so loud it made Johnny jump. “There wasn’t a cruel bone in Franklin’s body.”

Out of Hammond’s sight, Johnny slipped his hand to his side and gently touched Koul’s wrist. It wasn’t a romantic gesture. Far from it, in fact. Johnny was simply worried that Rachna would lose her cool and end up saying something that couldn’t be unsaid. Without turning her head, Koul subtly nodded by way of confirmation and Johnny returned his hand to his lap.

~Trust me, my girl, I have known Franklin Storm a lot longer than you.~

When Johnny spoke, he intentionally lowered his voice. “You said that Franklin had a lot of enemies. Who else wanted him dead, Hammond?”

Hammond seemed to clam up in response to the question. The quadriplegic’s body language was difficult enough to read in normal circumstances, almost entirely restricted to micro-expressions and tiny facial movements, but when Hector decided not to play ball it was almost impossible to read him. Worse still, Johnny noticed that the end of the fifteen minutes that Koul had wrangled with Hammond were nearing an end.

~Let’s just say that Franklin lost a lot of friends when he decided to climb into bed with SHIELD.~

Koul let on a frustrated sigh and ran her prosthetic hand through her silken hair. “What does that mean? Stop talking in riddles, Hammond.”

~Why should I tell you anything? What do I stand to gain? If Franklin was murdered, he was murdered – and I regret only that I was not the one that murdered him. You come here offering nothing and expect my cooperation in aid of a man that I despised? Have you no sense at all?~

There was the rub, Johnny thought to himself with a smile as his eyes met with Hammond. For all his talk of despising Franklin Storm, Hector’s opposition to helping them wasn’t principled at all – they just hadn’t brought enough to the table. It made him sick to his stomach to know that Guy had been beaten half to death, Ben’s face had been permanently scarred, and their way home had been destroyed by a man so wretched and insignificant.

Johnny swallowed his contempt for Hammond and asked the follow-up question the villain had so clearly sought. “What is it you want?”

~This body of mine is useless. My brilliant mind languishes in a prison of my own making within this prison with nought to entertain it. But you, Jonathan Storm, possess that which I covet most.~

There was shame in Hector Hammond’s eyes. His face said that knew that the request he was about to make of Johnny Storm was pitiable but he was going to make it all the same. Johnny cast a quick look up to the clock on the wall again as he waited for Hammond to claw together the gumption to make his demands. Both men seemed to sense that something untoward was coming. Yet whether Johnny liked it or not, Hammond held all the cards – and the super-villain seemed to very aware of that fact.

~Your memories. The feel of a woman’s touch, the sun’s warmth on your skin, of sand beneath your toes, and the way they look at you, the adoration they pour on you. I want it, Jonathan. I want to feel again, but not just any life, I want your life. That is the price of my cooperation.~

Johnny nodded and stood up from his seat. He was halfway across the cell when he felt Rachna’s hand pulling him back. “Johnny, no.”

“You want to be a hero, Hector? So be it,” Johnny said as he pulled his arm free. “I’ll give you what you want, but in return you give me everything you know about Franklin Storm. You so much as hold back a single thing and the next time you see me, I really will burn you alive.”

Johnny's hand pressed against Hammond's skull. His skin was sopping wet but cold to the touch. Johnny could feel the veins on the villain's head throbbing against his palms. It would have made a lesser man's stomach churn. Hammond seemed to cherish the physical contact. Johnny wondered how long it had been since he'd been touched. Not long enough he thought, as a breathless phrase left Hammond's lips.

~We have a bargain then.~

Hector Hammond's eyes rolled back in his head and suddenly both he and Johnny Storm began to convulse noisily. Johnny's limbs flailed about wildly and he seemed to be making noises that were more befitting beast than man. Koul watched on in terror through her fingers, sending a silent prayer to whichever deity would listen that in aiding her find Franklin's murderer, Johnny had not lost himself completely.

EDIT: Since Morden doesn't like bad posts: Sorry to hear that, Wil. Appreciated that you gave it the good ol' college try, and I hope to see ya around the Guild some more in the future. Like always, you're welcome to come back if you get that itch again.

But yeah, sorry to see you go @Witryso – all the best in your future endeavours, etc.

The Triskelion, SHIELD

The sound of Ben Grimm’s heavy fists slamming against the custom-made vibranium laced heavy bag reverberated around his quarters. On the couch a few metres away from him was a recuperating Guy Gardner with a copy of The New York Post in hand. Every few seconds, as Ben’s punches landed, Gardner would grimace and look away from its pages. After a few minutes of trying and failing to persevere despite the noise, Guy set the newspaper to the side and turned on the large flat-screen television on the wall.

A familiar face flashed appeared onscreen. Though he looked a little worse for wear and was still limping from taking a bullet through the leg, it was clearly Zhang Chin. Grainy footage of the chemist being bundled into the back of a truck played whilst some talking head ran through a list of his crimes. Guy rolled his eyes at the sight and reached to change the channel but the sound of Ben’s workout ending stayed his hand.

Ben let out a grumble as he sat next to Guy on the couch. “Can you believe this baloney? Last week Chin was sitting in a cell in The Hague awaiting trial and now that scumbag is free as a bird. And why? Because some bigwigs in China put the screws on Hill and she blinked.”

“Chin’s not free," Guy sighed without looking away from the screen. "He’s going to live out the rest of his life on house arrest in deepest, darkest China. It might not be the outcome we wanted, but it’s better than knowing he’s still out there selling his wares to the highest bidder.”

“Oh, I bet he’s out peddling that poison of his again before year’s end. You think the Chinese are doing this outta the goodness of their hearts? If they aren’t intending to put him to work, they’re gonna profit from having him out there, making those toxins of his. It makes me sick, Carrot Top. I don’t know how you’re sitting there so calm. You took two bullets to bring that sucker in, for pete’s sake.”

Ben was right, of course, the Chinese never did anything out of the goodness of their hearts – but the Americans weren’t any better. SHIELD was a United Nations-sanctioned body and that meant it worked above national interests. Gardner had spent his entire career making decisions that put global peace above the interests of his own country, and if Hill said this was a price worth paying, he would go along with it. Once decisions like this were made, they weren’t unmade. He’d learned that much from shadowing Dugan for years.

“Let’s just say this isn’t the first time I’ve been on the wrong side of diplomatic manoeuvring,” Guy responded with a slightly wistful smile.

It was met with a chuckle from Ben. “From what I seem to recall the only manoeuvring going on was you getting beneath Namor’s cousin.”

Guy rolled his eyes and turned over the channel. Amongst the dozen or so Guy flicked through, there was a live feed of New York mayor Calvin Cassidy giving a speech to students at NYU, some kind of game show presented by a man with fiery red hair and clownish clothing, and some Canadian football highlights. He landed on another news channel and was about to flick back to the football highlights when another familiar face appeared on the screen.

“<Reed Richards and the inaugural class of his new academic institution the Future Foundation touched down in the Democratic Republic of Latveria this morning. Recently-elected Latverian president Victor von Doom is, of course, a fellow graduate of the now-defunct Baxter Buil->

A smile appeared on Guy’s face and he pointed towards the screen. “Well, will you look at that? Doc's taking those kids of his to meet Doom.”

Ben looked conflicted. He watched as Reed made his way down the steps of the private jet with his students following behind him. They were all decked out in white costumes, with a few personalised flourishes here and there, with overawed expressions splashed on their faces. It was probably the first time most of them had even been on a plane, let alone to Europe. Latveria was a hell of a place to take your first vacation.

“Reed did always want to teach someday ... but Doom? Christ, I mean, I know the whole world’s gone mad but ‘good guy’ or not, the Stretch I knew would never have waltzed a bunch of teenagers into the heart of Latveria. What was it that Johnny said? Once a Doom, always a Doom.”

“That reminds me,” Guy said with an accusatory look. “When we first met back on the Pegasus, you said something about us having met be-”

Ben shook his head abruptly and interrupted the SHIELD agent. “Can’t do it.”

“What?! You don’t even know what I was going to ask.”

“Of course I know what you was gonna ask, Stretch expressly forbid me from talking about this kinda stuff with people, Carrot Top. Something about it throwing off the time-space continuum and the whole universe collapsing.”

Guy was so taken aback by Ben’s refusal that he found himself springing to his feet. The shock of pain that ran through his side made him almost instantly regret it but he did his best to mask it. It was, at least to Gardner’s reckoning, the first time that Grimm had ever refused him anything, and though he was aware he was about to sound slightly entitled, he couldn’t help but hold his indignation back.

“Are you being serious? I’ve heard you talk about Doom being a bad guy on your Earth a thousand times. You and Johnny even said it to his face. And what about the kid telling Spider-Woman about that Spider-Man guy back on your Earth? Where was the continuum thing then?!”

“Look, rules are rules,” Ben shrugged. “I’d love to be able to tell you, I really would, but what happens if by telling you I set in motion a course of events that brings about the zombie apocalypse or something? You ain’t thinking this through.”

“Come on, Benji.”

Ben let out a heavy sigh and gestured to Guy to return to the couch. “Alright, alright, but if the Horseman of Death comes charging through that door or an asteroid wipes us out two minutes after I tell you, it’s on you.”

Guy’s indignation melted away and he nodded bashfully before launching himself back onto the couch. Ben used one of his craggy digits to indicate to Guy to learn towards him and deployed his gravelly voice at a whisper so low that Gardner had to strain to hear him. His bright blue eyes sparked with earnestness. Guy’s twinkled with expectation.

“On my Earth, you were a hero.”

“I knew it,” Guy said as he launched a spontaneous fist punch high above his head. “I knew I was a cape. What was my name? What were my powers?! Was I more powerful than you? I bet I was. If you can lift a firetruck over your head, I should be able to lift a mountain at least.”

“I ain’t even gonna lie to you,” Ben nodded. “You were about as powerful as they came. Your powers … well, they were really something. Like, I thought Stretch and Suzie could pull off some crazy stuff with theirs but you were something else – like a force of nature. Lowlifes and creeps all around the galaxy knew your name.”

“Super-Guy? Incredi-Guy? No, no, that doesn’t work. Strong Guy? Oh, that’s just ridiculous. What was my name, Benji? I’m dying over here.”

Ben looked over his shoulder as if he were being surveyed, perhaps suddenly cautious of having revealed too much already. “Your name?”

Guy nodded. His green eyes were overflowing with excitement. His entire childhood Guy Gardner had wanted nothing more than to be a superhero and here Grimm was on the cusp of confirming that in some world, if not his own, he had been one. All those years spent burying his head in General Glory comics had been building towards this moment. Guy felt his heart stop as Ben opened his mouth to speak.

The Condiment King.”

The moment the words left Ben’s mouth, all of the blood and the excitement from Guy’s face seemed to drain away. “You son of a bitch.”

Guy launched a punch in Ben’s direction. It landed with a crunch against Ben’s shoulder and the SHIELD agent fell backwards in his seat cradling his knuckles. He’d broken at least two of his fingers. Not that Ben seemed to care, he was too busy leaving back in his seat howling at the top of his lungs so loudly it could be heard outside of their quarters.

“Your face! My god, I really had you going there for a second, didn’t I? Guy Gardner – the Condiment King. Striking fear into the heart of bad guys all across the galaxy one squeezy bottle of ketchup at a time. Oh christ, that was priceless. I wish Matchstick was here to see your face!”

Gardner shook his head angrily, plucked up his copy of The New York Post, and left Ben's quarters. The Thing was still laughing to himself when his gaze returned to the television screen on the wall. Reed was shaking hands with a Latverian diplomat and inviting the teenagers to do so one-by-one. Ben's laughter tapered out slowly until he was left, silent and alone, staring vacantly at his best friend's smiling face.
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