End of Hope
The control room felt alien. Even after spending days and days in the room, sitting in a chair that, while comfortable, also had an alien feel to it, Mary Jane was always aware of the otherworld feel to the place. Little things, the lights being a slightly different shade, a table or console being slightly the wrong height, with the controls being placed oddly, the very smell of the room; all of it was enough to tell Mary Jane Parker that she was in a room designed by beings who were not human. But the control room was where she had spent most of the past week and a half and seldom had she been alone. Sue had left intending to put Namorita and Mystique down in Africa, close enough to the coast for the two of them to reach the Atlantic ocean. It should have taken her at most two days.
Mary Jane stood up and went over to the window. The control room looked over the vast cavern that had been a Kree surveillance base. Two ships stood in dry-dock cradles. Sue wanted to use one of those ships to take them to the stars and away from the stygian arena Earth had become. But to do that the hyperdrives had to be fixed, and that was a slow process. In the meantime Namorita had wanted to return to Atlantis. Sue had argued that they could not trust her, that if one word of the base reached the ears of the Sentinel robots or the fanatical Greys the base would be attacked.
But we all voted against her. Mary Jane thought. Is she paying the price for that? Did Namorita did betray her? Did the Greys or Baron Zemo's men get her?
A pale ghostly image of Mary Jane was reflected back to her from the glass of the control room. It showed a medium sized woman with a slim build dressed in a pair of red slacks with a slightly less red blouse. Lines of age and bits of white just starting to push her appearance away from youth and into middle age. Worry took away from her looks as well, and Mary Jane had a lot to worry about. Bellow her, to one side of one of the ships, was a practice ground. On it Nick Fury, one time director of SHIELD ran Rebecca Rogers and Ben Parker, Mary Jane's son, through combat training. Both of them were wearing costumes. Ben's was a full cover suit, a suit so much like his father's old Spiderman costume it made Mary Jane shudder. It was a pair of blue tights, with red boots and red sleeves, with black lines to represent spiderwebs and a spider on the chest. There were differences; Ben's suit had openings in his wrist and the top of his feet so that he could cast webs, and the suit itself had a more dramatic flair than his fathers. The spider was larger and more detailed, he also sported a spider on the top of his head. The wide white eyes, polarized lenses in his fathers suit, were now sophisticated imaging units, capable of zooming in and out, seeing in the dark and even taking still pictures. That had been courtesy of Victor, and Mary Jane found it hard to reconcile that the man she now knew as Victor was once Doctor Doom. Tall, well built and handsome he was not the boasting megalomaniac that Peter had described. He was still forceful, still sure of himself, but over a decade as a prisoner had seemed to have cured Victor of his self imposed delusions of omnipotence.
Rebecca in a way worried Mary Jane more than Ben did. She too wore a costume, but it was a new one. Rebecca had fused her parents into a single person. She wore boots like her father, the red fireman boots, short blue pants, they had been too short in Mary Jane's opinion so May had added a red and white striped short skirt. Rebecca's large chest was contained by a blue halter top with long sleeves. On her chest were the words "American Witch" in white, one word on top of another, the letter "W" under the leter "M". The halter left her midriff bare and was edged with multiple American flags, starting with the original spirit of 1776 and ending with the modern 50 star model. One sleeve was red and the other blue. Her mask covered the top half of her face as her fathers did, but combined it with the red head dress of her mothers costume. Her curly brown hair flowed from the back. Her eyes were covered by the same type of lenses that Ben's costume used. Rebecca carried her fathers shield and was just beginning to learn how to use it.
And if Sue doesn't come back soon she'll go after her. Mary Jane thought. She's grown up more in the past two weeks than I thought possible. Rebecca is determined to fix the world, even if Sue comes back will she go into space with us? I can make Ben come, but not her.
Mary Jane had raised Rebecca since she was a child, since her parents had been murdered by Sentinel robots. She had tried to give her the kind of upbringing that Captain America and the Scarlet Witch would have, but now seeing the determination in the young woman Mary Jane wondered if that had been a mistake. Mary Jane had seen for herself how easily costumed heroines could die.
"Mom you here?" May called.
Mary Jane turned to see May Parker bound into the room, a small nude Janet Van Dyne flittering around her shoulder.
"Where are your clothes Jan?" Mary Jane asked.
"I got em." May said holding up a pair of gold pants with a grey top.
"I meant her small ones." Mary Jane said.
"I hate changing so much." Janet said flying over to the console. She landed and looked at the screen. "Any sign of Sue yet?"
"Not yet." Mary Jane said walking over to her. Janet Van Dyne, the Wasp, with the body of a fairy and the mind of a child after some man had driven rusty nails into her skull. Jan's short black hair stirred as she flapped her four dragonfly-like wings. The trouble was that Jan wasn't a fairy or a child, she was a grown woman, and her habitual nudity, unconscious on her part, drove Ben crazy. Already dealing with being a teenager the sight of a naked woman made it even harder for him. For a while Jan had gotten it under control, especially after her foot had grown back. But the more time Sue spent away the more Jan seemed to regress.
"Can we check the reports again?" May asked.
"Ok honey." Mary Jane said. She sat down at the console and keyed in a sequence. The Kree spy base had a link into almost every communications system left on Earth, though that number was dwindling as the planet's tech base declined. The Sentinel robots believed technology bred mutation, so most technology was outlawed.
Jan sat and hummed while the computer scanned through the logs of military frequencies. It was a mindless, tuneless hum that chilled Mary Jane. She had spent years in Las Vegas, selling her body to protect her children, Rebecca and Jarvis. Sue and Jan had been in a Greys hell camp. Powerless they had been raped, beaten and tortured for more than ten years. The results had been a woman who bore more scars on her body than Mary Jane could count, and one on her face that was hideous to look at. And Jan, who had suffered brain damage that left her with the mind of a child. It was the fear that the same thing could happen to Ben, May and Rebecca that had driven Sue to try to get them off the planet, and driven her nearly into a nervous breakdown.
The computer sounded a chime and the words "No data found" appeared on the screen.
"Where is she!" Jan shouted and kicked one of the dials. "She promised she'd be back by now! Tell me where she is!"
She kept kicking the dial until Mary Jane reached over and picked her up. Mary Jane had never gotten used to picking up Jan when she was shrunk. It seemed wrong somehow, that this doll-sized creature was a woman. Mary Jane wasn't sure how tightly or loosely to hold her and the fact that Jan was naked and Mary Jane's fingers slipped over places she didn't usually touch on another woman didn't help.
"She will return." Victor said as Mary Jane awkwardly passed a squirming Jan to her daughter.
"How do you know?" Jan demanded growing to full size.
"You have found no trace of her in your searches." Victor said, not at all troubled that he was facing a nude woman. "Had Susan been captured the news would have instantly been relayed either to Baron Zemo or to the Sentinels. Such an event would be too important to those who captured her, the rewards they would reap would be enormous and they would not risk loosing those rewards."
"Oh." Jan said.
"Jan." May said, handing her the clothes. Jan got into them and Victor turned to Mary Jane.
"I would like to use the main console."
"Sure." Mary Jane said, standing up.
"Thank you." Victor said. He sat down and spoke in the Kree language. A map of the United States appeared and beside it a series of multicolored graphs.
"Whatch'a doing?" May asked.
"Plotting population rates and matching them against current crop yields and projections." Victor said. "Then I am comparing those results to the amount of food reaching the major cities and deducing the price chain."
"Price chain?" May asked.
"The price that a person pays at the store as compared to the price the farmer is paid for the food." Victor said. "Once operating cost for each stage is computed I can tell how much profit is being made."
"Why do you want to do that?" May asked. "We're not farmers."
"Because over the last few years the price of the food being sold in the cities and the amount of food reaching those cities is not matching what is produced at the farms nor the profit the farmers are making. Someone is apparently trying to starve the cities and make a profit while doing so."
"Well that's mean." May said.
"People aren't always nice honey." Mary Jane said.
"There is more than that involved." Victor said. He pointed to a graph. "Observe, this has been steadily declining over the past five years." He pointed to another graph. "As has this."
"What are those?" Mary Jane asked.
"One represents population, the other represents life expectancy. I would expect a drop in population and a lowering of the average life span, but these drops are too great, too sudden."
"Someone is trying to kill the cities?" Jan asked.
"Why?" May asked.
"Because a rural, non-industrialized, unsophisticated population is a very easy population to control." Victor said. "In any city with a sizeable population you invariably have three classes of people. One rules. Rules in comfort. That class is the leading progenitor of intellectuals. People who have the leisure to think beyond their daily lives. The next class are those who work, who are too busy to consider the grander puzzles of creation even if they have the potential to do so. Then you have a third class, or if you will a third and fourth class. The third class is the poor, those who are un-willing or un-able to find permanent employment. From those are bred the fourth class, those who are thieves and smugglers."
"What about entertainers?" Mary Jane asked.
"Or artist?" May piped up.
"They drift between the first and second class." Victor said. "And are the easiest to control. Such people live for the approval of others, usually those in power."
Mary Jane bristled a bit, remembering her own days as both model and actress. Still, Victor had a point.
"So someone is killing the cities." Mary Jane said. "Why?"
"Because the first class of the cities is where the revolution will come from." Victor said. "Despite what you and Susan think the idea that the Sentinels and the Greys are wrong did not die, it has rather shifted underground and within a generation, two at the most, a revolution will occur. It will start in the cities, where the intellectuals do very little but sit and talk, but invariably there will be one who decides that talking is not enough. In the population of city he will not be noticed."
"But in a small town..." Mary Jane trailed off. "But without the cities..."
"Only the large ones are being targeted." Victor said. "Eventually small city-states will develop with populations easily monitored and controlled. You lived in one yourself."
"So where is the food going?" May said.
"Atlantis." Victor said. "And from there it is being smuggled into Europe. Europe can not feed itself, not after fallout from the middle eastern nuclear war. Their soil is contaminated and the Sentinels anti-mutant policies will not allow them to farm it. Nor do they have the technology to cleanse the soil."
"It's a horrible thing to do." May said.
"Worse when it is not done well." Victor agreed. He adjusted the controls and the screen showed a different set of graphs.
"Las Vegas, New York, Boston, Los Angels." Mary Jane said reading the names under each graph.
"Behold the difference between the ideological mind and the criminal mind." Victor said. "Boston and Los Angeles are firmly in the hand of two prominent Greys. Pictures of people appeared next the graphs. Mary Jane recognized the Taskmaster, and a flame of hatred burned within her for him. He had been the once who had forced her to sell her body and secretly hypnotized Rebecca. Beside the New York graph was the Kingpin. The other two, a man and a woman, Mary Jane didn't know.
"This is Carlota Smythe." Victor said pointing to the woman who's picture rested beside the Los Angeles graph. She was younger than Mary Jane, but her face and her expression were iron. Cold grey eyes matched a face that, while attractive, was set in stone. "Perhaps the most fanatical of all the Greys she has climbed to the position of leadership over the bodies of her compatriots. The gang wars that are rapidly reducing her city to rubble were actually instigated by her agents. She merely waits for the proper time to have all of the gangs killed and emerge as a great heroine."
"This" Victor said pointing to the picture that floated next to the Boston graph "is Henry Adams, though he is no relation to the historical Adams family as he claims. He too is a fanatic, and since he did not have convenient street gangs he has resorted to extensive use of Raiders."
"That doesn't make sense." May said. "If you kill the cities, what will they be in charge of?"
"Smaller cities." Victor said. "In the past five years, with food becoming ever more scarce and expensive, farming has returned to the cities. Whole sections of Boston, New York and Los Angeles have had houses knocked down and the land used for farming. The process will continue. Eventually what were large metropolitan cities will become nothing more than walled city states surrounded by farms. What ever those in charge will call themselves they will be kings."
"I don't remember any houses knocked down in Las Vegas." Mary Jane said.
"You can not farm in the desert." Victor said. "And the Taskmaster has sewn together a web of political connections that leave his city alone. It helps that the city is still an entertainment and gambling icon. In New York the Kingpin is going along with the plan, but on a more gradual basis, and while he does that he builds a secret army to try and wrest control from the Greys."
"How do you know that?" May asked.
"Because the amount of food being smuggled into New York is not equal to the amount reaching Atlantis and Europe, and there are Greys intelligence reports of secret training camps. That is the difference, the Kingpin does not want New York reduced to a mere walled city, he sees the city as a reflection of his own ego and that ego will not tolerate it. He seeks to create a kingdom that will reach as far as it can. Such as he will never be satisfied with a mere city."
Mary Jane's heart stopped for a moment, but at the same time an idea occurred to her Rebecca's shield clanged off of the window causing them all to look up. A moment later Ben swung by and gestured an apology.
"That reminds me" Mary Jane said "it's almost time for the game. Jan, you and May go get ready ok?"
"Right." Jan said.
"I'll be down in a few minutes." Mary Jane said. After they were gone she turned to Victor.
"Victor, the Kingpin's secret army. Where is it training?"
"Africa." Victor said. "I believe he had made a secret deal with the Red Skull and now seeks to make one with Zemo."
"Africa is where Sue went."
"I know. But I believe, for the reasons I have given, that she is alive and un-captured."
"Do you believe or do you hope to believe?" Mary Jane asked.
"It is the most comforting theory I have at the moment." Victor said. He didn't respond when Mary Jane bent over and kissed his cheek.
"Thank you for not telling them. Jan is close to cracking and May's having nightmares."
"She will return." Victor said as he started to work on the computer.
Mary Jane sensed a slight edge in his voice, but whether it was hope, worry or certainty she could not say.
Mary Jane was awake instantly at that single word. In the dim light of her room she spotted May at her bedside.
"What is it honey?" Mary Jane said sitting up. "Are you having nightmares again?"
"No, but I can't find Jan."
"Is she in Sue's room?" Mary Jane asked getting up and pulling a robe over her nightgown.
"No, and Sue's room is still all smashed."
"Come on May." Mary Jane took her daughters hand. "I think I know where she might be."
Mary Jane and May stepped out of her door just as Rebecca came out of the door to Nick's room. For a moment they just stood there, Mary Jane's mind too concerned with finding Jan to realize what she had just seen. Rebecca's face was flushed and she pulled her robe closer around her body.
"Have you seen Jan?" May asked.
"No." Rebecca said nervously.
"I have an idea of where she might be." Mary Jane said reason once more asserting itself. "Come take a look with us."
The control room was never quiet or dark. Even when no one was working there the lights were on and the consoles humming. A shrunken Jan was asleep on the main console. She was wearing a yellow Tinkerbell costume and had curled herself around a dial.
"No honey." Mary Jane said as May reached for her. "I think you better go get her some ice-cream first."
"Ok." May said. "Can I have some too?"
"One dish." Mary Jane said. "Rebecca and I will have one too."
"Ok." May said and was off.
Mary Jane sat in a chair and looked expectantly at Rebecca.
"What?" Rebecca demanded. "I'm old enough to..."
"Your about 18." Mary Jane said. "He's over 90."
"Peter told me about it. It was some sort of experimental formula to keep people young. Nick was the only one it worked on."
"Oh." Rebecca said. She looked defiantly at Mary Jane. "It doesn't matter."
"Do you love him?" Mary Jane asked.
Or do you think you love him? she added silently. She's way too young for this. Nick should know better.
"I think so. He makes me feel... I don't know... alive? Like I matter? He... he knows so much, about... so much!"
"How far does it go?" Mary Jane asked and Rebecca blushed.
"Just... just kissing... maybe a little more... He's a good guy Mary Jane. Besides if we leave the planet who else am I going get to know? Some six armed green blob from the dog star!" Her voice started to rise but Mary Jane looked at Jan and Rebecca forced herself to talk quietly. "He's a man, and I'm a woman!"
"He is a man." Mary Jane said. "And you are a woman, but think back a few weeks Rebecca."
"I was..." Rebecca started and then stopped. "I was..."
"You were hypnotized." Mary Jane said. "And suddenly in the space of a few weeks that's gone and you've got the handsome guy showing you all the moves and telling you all the stories about your father. He's with you all the time, training, talking..."
"It's not like that." Rebecca protested, but there was a tremor in her voice.
"Think about it." Mary Jane said. "Think about it hard and think about it a lot... You've grown up so fast in the past few weeks Rebecca, it's dangerous."
"We just talk." Rebecca said sullenly.
"Good evening." Victor said walking into the room. "Is there a reason for this nightly confederation?"
"Jan." Mary Jane said pointing at the still sleeping Wasp.
"I see." Victor said. He settled into the chair at another console and keyed in a sequence.
"Why are you up?" Rebecca asked.
"I had the computer a task to perform." Victor said. "It was due to be done 2 minutes ago."
"You timed it that well?" Rebecca asked.
"Of course." Victor said. "Time is too precious a commodity to be wasted."
"What is the computer supposed to be doing?" Rebecca asked.
"Searching for data." Victor said, not looking up as a page of data began to appear on the screen and scrolled up to be replaced by more pages. "Sentinel robots are still being built, still being designed and upgraded. I would like to know where and by who."
"We were always told the factory was automated." Rebecca said. "In school anyway."
"They lied." Victor said calmly. "They are being built in Mexico, in a former base of the Mole Man."
"Did he helped build them?" Mary Jane asked.
"No. He is dead. But he ruled over a race of simple creatures called: "Moloids", a former slave race created by the Deviants. They are now the force that build the Sentinel robots. They are under the direction of..."
Victor stopped talking and for the first time Mary Jane saw him taken completely by surprise.
"What is it?" she asked.
"According to this report the robots are being upgraded and re-designed by Doctor Doom." Victor said.
A picture appeared and beside it was a paragraph. The picture was of the grey armor and green hood and cloak of Dr. Doom. Mary Jane read from the screen.
"Though crippled this unit still possess the simulated mind of Dr. Doom and thus..."
"Simulated mind?" Rebecca asked.
"One of my robot doubles." Victor said. "Damaged, but still functional enough to upgrade the Sentinel robots." The look on Victor's face was one of sick fascination and more than a little pain. "How ironic."
"Ice cream." May called out. Jarvis and Ben were with her.
Mary Jane awoke the next day and slipped out of bed carefully. May was sleeping soundly beside her, a shrunken Jan held tightly in her arms. Their relationship was beginning to worry Mary Jane. Jan seemed to jump between attaching herself emotionally to May and then to Sue. Mary Jane could understand it, but she worried it was confusing her daughter. Unfortunately there was no way to get May alone for more than five minutes to talk about it.
She dressed quickly headed toward the dining room. May and Jan would sleep for a while longer, they had been up late the night before. Victor had entertained them while they ate ice cream with tales of Greek legends, told at times in Greek, and it had tired May and Jan out following him.
Mary Jane got to the dining room in time to see Nick Fury knocked flat on his back by one punch from Jarvis. For a moment they all stood there.
"The usual breakfast Mrs. Parker?" Jarvis asked calmly, being the first person to recover.
"Ah... yes please Jarvis." Mary Jane said. "Good morning Nick."
"Morning." Nick said. He stood up slowly, exchanged a look with Jarvis and walked out.
"Rebecca?" Mary Jane asked as Jarvis started to prepare the pancakes. She stood in the doorway and watched him work.
"I understand the Mr. Fury has been through an ordeal." Jarvis said. "But a reminder of civilized behavior was needed."
"You hit him." Mary Jane said trying hard not to smile.
"Some times civilized behavior needs an exclamation point." Jarvis said. "I believe I made my point."
"I hope so." Mary Jane said.
"Good morning." Victor said walking into the room. He sat down at the table.
"Good morning sir." Jarvis said. He went back to work and Mary Jane went over to the table and sat down.
"How are you feeling?"
"I am well." Victor said.
"Last night was a bit of a shock." Mary Jane said.
"To say the least."
"Here you are miss." Jarvis said putting a plate of pancakes infront of Mary Jane. "Coffee sir?"
"Yes please." Victor said. "It does upset me that one of my robot doubles is working with the Sentinels, but I'm sure the Doom-bot is working on it's own plan."
"It is?" Mary Jane asked.
"My robot doppelgangers were exquisitely designed and programmed." Victor explained. "Each thought it was me and while I would direct the start of various schemes I would allow the robot free reign after that."
"It served my vanity. One Doom was simply not enough. Also it allowed me to see how my enemies would react without placing myself in danger. There were times when I was wounded and needed time to recover, but did not wish my foes to have the same succor. At the last, it served to enhance my reputation. There was a time after all, when Dr. Doom was everywhere. Few escaped becoming ensnared in my plots."
"Now history mocks me." Victor said taking a sip from the coffee. "If Susan were here she might laugh."
"No she wouldn't." Mary Jane said.
"Perhaps not. Even with the trials she has undergone Susan still remains an exemplary woman. More ruthless than before, but then before she was a heroine."
"She still is." Mary Jane.
"To you and your children, and to Nick, Jarvis and Jan certainly, but to the rest of the world? You know how she was captured."
"I know." Mary Jane said. "And I know how my husband died as well. But you don't put on the costume and put yourself on the line because you expect anything back. You do it because it's the right thing to do."
"Here you are sir." Jarvis said putting a tray of pancakes down in front of him.
"Thank you Jarvis." Victor said. He began to eat but continued talking.
"Why is the right thing to do seldom acknowledged by those it will serve?" Victor asked. "But, no." he stopped Mary Jane before she could answer. "It is because people allow themselves to become lazy thinkers. They do not seek facts and reason where rumor and emotions are more readily at hand. Your husband prowled the streets of New York for over a decade and harmed no one, but few trusted him. Truth, in that world, was not considered important."
"He had an image problem." Mary Jane admitted.
"So did they all, even the best of them." Victor said. "The "mob", "the Great Un-washed", "the peasants"... call them what you will, but seldom did they exercise critical thought on anything but their own lives."
"Most of them were too busy." Mary Jane said.
"That was one problem, and other factors contributed to it. My plans to solve those problems proceed"
"How?" Mary Jane asked.
"First by eliminating the overwhelming desire for riches and power that obsess only a few but infect all. People must work of course, but they should not labor for years at tasks they despise because they must do them to survive. In the world I will build robots will do most of the work, farming, building and manufacturing. The jobs that will be left will be the jobs demanding thought. Engineers, doctors, scientist and others."
"What if someone likes building things?" Mary Jane asked.
"Then they shall do so." Victor said. "Do you know the difference between an artist and a carpenter?"
"One gets paid." Mary Jane said remembering how often her modeling paychecks had bounced.
"No, one builds as he wishes, the other builds as he is told to build."
Mary Jane finished her pancakes and Jarvis appeared beside her.
"Jarvis you wouldn't want to be replaced by a robot would you?" Mary Jane asked.
"I was Mrs. Parker." Jarvis said. "For nearly a year one of the Mad Thinker's robots impersonated me. But to answer your question, no I am quite satisfied with what I do."
"The job of a butler is an art form." Victor said. "To run a household, particularly one that was as vast and unpredictable as Avengers Mansion, is no easy task."
"It was difficult at times." Jarvis said taking the plates and heading into the kitchen.
"Some people just won't want to give up what they do." Mary Jane said.
"No, they won't." Victor replied. "But consider this Mary Jane. The barest requirements for life are food, water, shelter. The barest requirements for a civilized live are varied, but truly no more than food, water, shelter, entertainment and intellectual stimulation. The flaw to the old world was that the challenge to survive had never been supplanted by the challenge to excel. It was so difficult to merely endure, taking at least 10 hours of work per day, that little time and energy was left over for anything else. My plan is simple, reduce the time needed from 10 hours per day to 2 or 3 hours per day, and provide challenges un-related to survival after that."
"You could do that?"
"Yes." Victor said. "I estimate it would take fifty years, at least two generations. That is only part of the problem of course. The other is the nature of man himself. He must be tamed."
"Morning!" Ben called walking into the room on the ceiling.
"Hi Mom!" May called walking in on the floor, a semi-nude Jan was balanced on her shoulder.
"Hey everyone!" Rebecca called.
Mary Jane sighed and realized that the rest of her talk with Victor would have to wait. But the idea of "taming" mankind, by any method, worried her. And if Sue didn't come back Mary Jane wondered if anyone, including herself, had enough strength to oppose Victor.
That afternoon found Mary Jane in the control room watching the screen for any sign of Sue. While she did that May was stuffing Jan into her latest creation.
"Hold still." May ordered.
"I don't want to be Spider Wasp!" Jan squealed laughing as she was forced into the miniature version of Ben's costume.
"There!" May pronounced and let her go. Jan flew up to the console and stood proudly infront of Mary Jane. Jan was wearing a tight red and blue spider suit, similar to Ben's except for a lack of mask and the bare back to let her wings function. Also the spider symbol on her chest was a cut out and it showed a little more of her breasts than Mary Jane was comfortable with.
The alarm sounded before Mary Jane could say anything. She whirled around brushing Jan aside and keyed the sequence into the computer.
"Someone is out there." Mary Jane said bringing the defenses online. The outline of a ship appeared on the screen.
"Sue!" Jan shouted.
Mary Jane was interrupted as a series of numbers and letters flashed across the screen. The speaker came to life.
"Code word is: death" Sue voice was weak and they could all feel the pain in it even over the speaker."
"Sue!" Mary Jane found her self starting to shout but pulled her voice back to normal.
"It's me Mary Jane. Open the doors."
"Right." Mary Jane said.
"What doors... Shock!" said another voice coming from the speaker.
"Who's that?" Rebecca asked somehow right beside Mary Jane.
"I'll explain when I touch down." Sue said. "Bring band-aids."
The speaker shut off and Mary Jane turned to Rebecca.
"Rebecca go get..."
Nick, Jarvis, May, Doom and Ben stood behind her.
"She's hurt." Mary Jane said.
"I'll get the grav sled from the ship." Ben said running toward the lift.
The Quinjet moved into the cavern like a drunken sailor returning to his ship. It had been damaged by both large and small fire. The engines coughed and sputtered, belching smoke, fire and parts of themselves. A few times Mary Jane was sure that the ship would explode or crash, but it settled back to it's old place between the two Kree space ships. The cavern seemed to shudder as the landing gear slammed into the floor. There was a final explosion from the engines and then the ship settled and was still.
They were all running toward the hatch when it opened and the retractable stairs extended down. Mary Jane wasn't sure how she got to the stairs first, but she was up them and into the ship without realizing it.
"Sue?" she called.
"She's up here." A voice called back. It was a strong voice, with a slightly inhuman tone that Mary Jane could not recognize. A moment later she saw the person who owned the voice. Mary Jane stopped short.
"Mary Jane." Sue called weakly from the pilots seat. "This is Simone, Hawkeye and Tigra's daughter. Simone, this is Mary Jane."
Simone looked at her and Mary Jane found herself looking into the ageless green eyes of a cat. Simone's face was human, framed by short black hair and covered with a soft luster of orange fur. She had the strong cheekbones of her mother and the jaw of her father, a combination that instilled into her face a striking core of iron. Not much would phase this young woman. The rest of her body was both human and cat, with orange fur and black stripes, toes and hands that ended in pads that had retractable claws and a tail that whipped about. She wore a gold tunic that clung to her slim body.
All this Mary Jane would think about later. For now she moved passed the catwoman and her stomach jumped against her lungs. Sue's left arm was hanging at her side, her clothes were shreds and a blood soaked bandage was wrapped around both her stomach and her right leg.
"Shock!" Rebecca swore.
"Give me a hand." Mary Jane ordered.
Simone stepped to one side as Mary Jane and Rebecca lifted a limp Sue out of the seat and carried her down the isle. Ben was waiting with the grav sled and they put Sue onto it.
"We need to get her to the medical bay." Victor said.
It was only when everyone was out of the ship and nearly into the control building that Mary Jane remembered Simone.
"Rebecca." She ordered. "In the ship, her names Simone, go get her, see if she needs anything, then meet us in medical."
The medical room scanners showed the inside of Sue's body with ease. They also showed a read out of her vital signs and those signs were abysmally low. Mary Jane and Nick had lifted Sue out of the grav sled and onto the medical table, and then had waited out side at Victor's orders. They gathered in an office next to the medical room. A cold featureless room that offered only a view screen into the operating room along with a conference table and some chairs. Only May and Jan were allowed to stay, May to aid him and Jan because she simply would not leave. Mary Jane could only stand to watch for a few seconds at a time as her daughter and Victor worked on Sue. A few minutes after Sue was floated in Rebecca and Simone appeared.
"How is she?" Simone asked.
"We won't know for a while." Mary Jane said. "Are you alright."
"But will you enjoy it?" Ben asked. He was wearing his Spiderman suit and looked as young as Mary Jane wished she were.
"If she lives I'll think about it." Simone said, giving him a quizzical look.
"You're Tigra's gal." Nick said.
"Nick Fury?" Simone looked at him and a feral snarl raged across her face. Sharp claws appeared at the ends of her fingers and only an immense effort of self control stopped her. "Figures." She said after a few moments to pull herself back from the edge. "Dad always said cockroaches would survive anything."
"That's not fair." Rebecca said, stepping in front of Nick."
"What's fair is that my dads dead and he's alive." Simone said. "That's life's idea of fair and life stinks."
"It wasn't his fault." Jarvis said. "Mr. Fury was under the influence of a powerful telepath."
"Prove it." Simone challenged.
"I got no way to prove it." Nick said. "Either believe it or don't."
Simone moved Rebecca aside and walked over to him. Before anyone could stop her the catwoman's claws were edged onto Nick's neck. Only a little pressure would be needed to break the skin. No one moved. Simone moved closer to him, standing on her toes.
"It's the truth." Mary Jane said. "Sue believed him."
"Is it the truth?" Simone asked.
"Why'd ya take my word for it?" Nick said. His one good eye didn't leave her face and his body was rigid.
"Say yes or no." Simone growled.
"Yes." Nick said. "My brain was scrambled for years before the Day."
Simone stepped back, dropping her hand from his throat.
"Poor dad." she said. "He died hating your guts."
"You do believe him?" Ben asked.
Simone pointed to her face and smiled.
"The nose knows." She said. "I can smell emotions, I can smell when someone's lying or telling the truth."
"Shock!" Ben said. "That's cool."
"Yea it is." Simone said smiling at him. She sat down at the table and looked at Nick. "I'm sorry Mr. Fury, but I grew up hearing stories about how you helped destroy the world. Dad used to use a picture of you as target practice."
Rebecca went over and tried to put her arm on Nick but he pulled away and sat down at the table. Rebecca was at a loss as to what to do next. Mary Jane stood up eased her into the chair next to Nick's. Nick didn't seem to notice her and Mary Jane fought to keep herself under control.
"Hawkeye's dead?" Nick asked.
"Yea." Simone kept her own voice calm but her breathing picked up a pace.
"What about Tigra?" Nick asked.
"My mother's with Zemo." Simone said with a voice that was strong with anger. "Like I said, Dad's dead." She looked at the screen. "I'd be dead too if it weren't for her."
"Join the club." Ben said. "I don't think we've met anyone she hasn't saved yet. I think it's her way of making friends."
Simone laughed at the joke and it was a laugh combined with a slight purr. A very strange sound to Mary Jane's ears.
"How did it happen?" Mary Jane asked.
"Dad and I had had it." Simone said. "Living under Zemo... I think... Look..."
"It's ok." Rebecca said. "We were in Las Vegas. I don't think the Taskmaster is any different."
"I hope he is." Simone said. "Those who are born to rule shall rule, and a Zemo is born to rule." she said the sentence in a burlesque German accent and her tone took on a low, bombastic projection that nearly brought a smile to their faces.
"How did Hawkeye and Tigra end up working for Zemo?" Nick asked.
"Me." Simone said. "Mom and dad were heading toward Wakanda to help out when the Sentinels attacked. They got shot down and by the time they walked out of the jungle it was all over. Mom was pregnant with me, the Sentinels were all over the place... Dad and Mom made a deal. I grow up with some safety, they work for Zemo."
"There weren't many choices back then." Mary Jane said softly.
"Dad took the end of the world kinda hard." Simone said. "When he wasn't off on a mission for B.Z. he hit the bottle. I never saw it, directly, but I can smell things a mile away. Mom joined him, mostly, but she stopped sooner than he did. Then she got pregnant again, but Dad did the math. Then he really started drinking."
"I don't understand." Ben said.
"My mom slept with B.Z. while dad was in Europe." Simone said. "She and her new kid are still with him."
"When did your father decide to leave?" Mary Jane asked.
"Right after the Red Skull was killed. Dad said if the Skull's castle could be taken out by aliens then B.Z.'s could too. I think it was just the best excuse he could come up with. But B.Z. wouldn't let him go and mom told me to stay put. It took us a while to figure a way out and a place to go. We were gonna try to get to England. We got the last Quinjet and fired her up and out of there a few weeks ago." she laughed. "I thought it was the last one anyway."
"Ours was stored in a safe house." Mary Jane said. "The Red Skull's men caught us and were taking us to him when Sue and Jan rescued us."
"You were lucky." Simone said. "I've heard some bad things about what he did to prisoners."
"They were all true." Nick said. "That alien attack was Sue and them, and Sue cut the Skull's head off."
"Well that was too quick a death." Simone remarked casually. "Couldn't she have staked him out on an ant hill or something?"
"That's no way to treat ants." Ben said and Simone smiled at him.
"How did Sue find you?" Rebecca asked.
"There's a new group in Africa." Simone said. "They had tech-weps, good enough to down us. Dad and I fought for a few days, but there were too many of them."
"How come the good guys are always outnumbered?" Ben asked.
"They beat Dad up pretty bad." Simone said, her voice calm despite the pain in her eyes. "But a few nights later I was able to get us out. We were running, but they would have caught us, when suddenly someone started shooting at them."
"Sue." Nick said.
"Yea. She just appeared right next to us, told us where to find the Quinjet, to get going and come back with it, she'd hold them off." Simone seemed to look inward in puzzlement. "I never met her before, but she shows up, gives me a way to get me and Dad gone and safe, but trusts me to come back for her."
"S.O.P. for superheroes." Ben said.
"By the time we got back she was pretty shot up. I went out and got her back into the jet, Dad was covering us at the door but took a shot in the head."
Mary Jane reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. Simone's voice was calm but her body trembled with the effort not to cry.
"Sue got to the controls and got us out of there, I must have blacked out after that, the next thing I new we in Antarctica."
Simone's hand trembled as she reached up and took Mary Jane's.
"Dad's dead. I don't want to see Mom ever. I guess your stuck with me."
"Your welcome here of course." Mary Jane said.
"For as long as we stay anyway." Ben said.
"Once those space ships out there are fixed we're leaving the planet." Ben said.
"Leave Earth?" Simone's voice and the look on her face showed shock. "You can do that?"
"In another few weeks the ships will be ready." Mary Jane said. "But don't make a decision now." Mary Jane glanced up at the screen where Victor and May were still working. "I don't think we should decide anything right now."
It was hours before Victor stepped out of the medical room. Cradled in his arms was a sleeping May. Jarvis had brought food for all of them but not much of it was eaten. Rebecca and Simone talked quietly to each other, with Ben clinging to the wall and piping in every so often. Mary Jane didn't need to listen to see the instant friendship between the two girls. Nick sat expressionless in his chair. Mary Jane knew he had gone through many times like this, but she wondered if he recognized how hard it was on Rebecca.
"She will live." Victor said before anyone could ask. The relief that flowed though them all could almost be seen as a physical being. He handed May to Mary Jane. "Thanks in many ways to your daughter."
"Where's Jan?" Ben asked.
"She will not leave the room." Victor said. "And Susan should be watched in any case."
"We'll take turns until she wakes up." Mary Jane said. "For now I think we should all get some rest."
"I will stay with her for the time being Mrs. Parker." Jarvis said.
"Come on." Rebecca said to Simone. "You can take the room next to mine."
Mary Jane put May into the bed and then went and sat down. She was tired, but too many things had just been introduced, things that had to be sorted out. A knock on the door stopped her even before she started.
"Come in." she said softly.
"I wanted to make sure May was alright." Victor said.
"She's fine." Mary Jane said. "How about you?"
"Fatigued as well." Victor said. "And more relieved than mere words can express." He moved over to May and looked down at her. "There was a time Mary Jane when the destruction of the Fantastic Four obsessed me. It was goal, a task that consumed my thoughts both in this world and while in sleep I strode the pathways of Morpheus. But this day I strove with every ounce of knowledge and skill I possessed to save one of its members. It's last member."
"There is nothing wrong with that." Mary Jane said. "You're not Dr. Doom anymore, you know that."
"If I am not Dr. Doom what... who am I?" he strode over to her. "Does Victor Von Doom have the power, the drive, the ambition to set the world right once more? In that operating room Victor Von Doom would have failed if not for your daughters help."
"Are you afraid that you need someone else's help sometimes Victor?" Mary Jane asked.
"I nearly lost her!" Victor said anger, pain and desperation competing in his voice.
And suddenly Mary Jane did understand. In a terrible instant of clarity she knew.
"You... you love her!" Mary Jane whispered. Victor nodded. "My God Victor..."
"She does not know." He said. "She can not know. I was her greatest enemy, I strove to kill her and her family... what would she now think if I professed to love her? You do not know Mary Jane; what I was, the deeds I did in the name of Doom. To approach her now, or even when she recovers... it would be to reveal my wretched weakness and she would laugh and pity me as I..."
"Victor." Mary Jane interrupted him. She took the two steps necessary and threw her arms around him, hugging him. "Do you feel that?" Mary Jane tightened her grip. "You don't wear the armor anymore Victor, Sue knows that. Are either of you the same people you were 14 years ago?" Mary Jane let him go and stepped back.
"I do know what you were Victor. I was married to Spiderman remember? Do you think I'd let Doctor Doom anywhere near my kids?"
Victor looked at May.
"Your husband was a many easily underestimated."
"He liked it that way." Mary Jane said.
"Indeed." Victor took a deep breath and let it out. "It is a foolish love, I know that. A hopeless love, for she means to abandon this world. It was a love I did not realized until her heart stopped on the operating table. In that instant I knew that life without her would stretch out before me as a lonely, dusty road. Selfish fool that I am I would not allow her the peace of death."
"Sue doesn't want to die." Mary Jane said.
"Doesn't she?" Victor demanded. "After everything she has been through, torments even you and I can not imagine..."
"She's not a quitter." Mary Jane insisted. "And she knows we need her."
Victor let out a short laugh but a second later looked at her.
"I once thought the world needed Victor Von Doom more than any other person who had ever lived, while Victor Von Doom needed no one."
"Victor we all need someone."
"I did not."
"Yes you did, you just didn't realize it. You locked yourself into that armor and never came out."
"And that armor was stripped from me, both literally and emotionally. And now I stand naked in the path of a storm that will finally destroy me. When Susan realizes my feelings, as she will no doubt, what then will be left to me but her scorn and pity? Certainly I can lay no claim to her."
"You're borrowing trouble." Mary Jane said. "Sue isn't even awake yet."
"Better she sleeps and I cling to a slim hope."
"You can't worship an idol forever." Mary Jane said. "The only thing you can do is wait and hope that she sees you differently sooner or later."
"And if she does not see me in the way I hope she shall?"
"Then live with it." Mary Jane said. "Just like everyone else does at one time or another in their lives."
Victor went over and looked down at May again.
"I thought your husband a fool. It seems he had far more wisdom than I thought."
"No." He turned and faced her, his face composed once more. "No more talk, you have allowed me to bare my soul, for that I am grateful. But I now must face these questions alone."
He gave her slight bow.
"Thank you, good night."
Victor was gone before Mary Jane could think of anything else to say. After he left Mary Jane put on a nightgown and got into bed. She needed to think, but after this latest revelation Mary Jane needed to rest even more. The next few weeks would be hard.
"Told ya she looked good." Ben said. Mary Jane was just coming onto the practice field to call them for lunch. Simone had been sparing with Ben and Rebecca but Rebecca had not been wearing the American Witch costume. Now she stood in front of Simone and Mary Jane could tell that not all the awkwardness of the teenager had left her. Ben was wearing his own costume and Simone was wearing skimpy grey halter top that constantly threatened to ride up beyond decency and a pair of grey bikini bottoms. Simone's outfit hugged her body and Mary Jane knew that her son was staring at it, even though his mask covered his eyes.
"It does look good." Simone said stepping around Rebecca to get a look at the costume. Mary Jane stiffened as Simone stepped close to Rebecca and seemed to sniff her. "What's wrong."
"Nothing." Rebecca said stepping away from her.
"What about me?" Ben asked pulling his mask off.
"You look good too." Simone said. "But why the costumes if you plan on leaving the planet anyway?"
"I'll be back someday." Rebecca said and Mary Jane's heart caught in her throat at the tone she used. It was one of absolute certainty, almost fanatical intensity of purpose.
"Lunchtime!" Mary Jane called walking over to them. "Where's Nick?"
"Working on the Quinjet." Rebecca said. "I'll get him."
Rebecca headed toward the Quinjet and Ben was already bounding toward the control building doors. Mary Jane followed him and Simone fell into step beside her.
"What's wrong?" Simone asked.
Simone leaned into her and Mary Jane heard her intake of breath.
"Yep. I can smell emotions, if I licked you I could almost tell what you were thinking."
"No licking." Mary Jane said. "And prying into other peoples feelings isn't polite."
"People bottle themselves up too much." Simone said. "It's kinda hard to ignore it when they shout, and scents to me are like people shouting."
"Then why did you sniff me just then." Mary Jane asked as they went through the doors.
"Cause I wasn't sure. Once I get to know everyone better I'll be sure."
They stepped into the elevator and Mary Jane turned to her as the doors closed.
"It's a handy talent." Simone said. "I can't stop knowing, so I get better at it."
The elevator doors opened and Victor appeared in front of them.
"Susan is awakening Mary Jane." he said.
The Invisible Woman's skin was pale as parchment. Mary Jane could almost see the bones and muscle underneath. But it was her eyes that chilled. Pain and defeat reached out from those eyes and pulled at Mary Jane. One her stomach, wrapped in part of the blanket that covered Sue, slept Jan.
"How are you feeling?" Mary Jane asked.
"Cold." Sue said. "Is everyone ok?"
"Oh yea." Mary Jane pulled up a chair and sat down. "I should thank you for bringing my son another girl to stare at."
Sue smiled wanly.
"I knew that I had to get back. Ben didn't have enough women in his life. How long have I been out?"
"No sign of pursuit?"
"Good." Sue reached up and let her hand close on Jan. "May must be lonely at night."
"She's been sleeping with me." Mary Jane said. "After the operation she got a little scared."
"She and Victor almost lost you." Mary Jane said. "The way May says it she could feel a dark place trying to drag you away from her."
"I felt her." Sue said. "I didn't want to feel her, I wanted her to let go."
"If she did you would have died." Mary Jane said. Sue looked away. "You wanted to die?"
"I'm used up Mary Jane." Sue said. "Anger kept me going, but in the jungle I wasn't angry, I was scared. Terrified. I couldn't move. Because of that Hawkeye died." Sue looked back at her. "When their Quinjet went down it sent out an automatic distress call. I heard it. But I was heading out at that point. The Quinjets distress call showed me who was in it, and who they were fighting and what they were fighting. I knew that the people they were fighting could take down my Quinjet. I knew I could be captured."
Sue started to cry.
"I was scared. For five minutes I kept going, kept running. When I finally got the nerve up to turn around... I landed too far away. I didn't get to them in time. Hawkeye's dead because of me."
"No he isn't." Mary Jane said. Desperately she tried to find the words she needed. "He died when a stray shot hit him. If you had gotten there earlier that shot might still have hit him. You can't say that you would have saved him."
The door opened and Mary Jane looked up sharply. Victor had told her that Sue was weak and emotionally depressed. Mary Jane had told the rest of them to turn off the monitor and wait. Simone walked over to them.
"It wasn't your fault." Simone said ignoring the look Mary Jane gave her.
"I'm sorry." Sue whispered. "I'm so sorry."
Simone took hold of her hand.
"Dad used to say that he was living on borrowed time; that he didn't have a chance in hell of seeing his hair go grey. You got to us when we were on the run, at least two miles from the camp. The tech-weps were too far away, that's why the Quinjet got out of there." She took a deep breath. "And I didn't want to go back for you at first. I was scared. I've never been raped; but I've always been scared of it. I saw my mom rapped once, when one of her old enemies got past the compound security. I knew that if we got caught again I'd be raped, then sold. They were just waiting on delivery of one of those collars."
"No." Simone said. "The person who's at fault for my dad's death is the one who shot him. And he's dead. I'm alive because of you."
"You're welcome." Sue whispered and fell limp. For a moment Mary Jane wondered if Sue had died and her heart jumped. Then she saw the read out and realized that Sue had merely fallen asleep.
Mary Jane slumped in her chair in relive and looked at Simone.
"My ears are better than average." Simone said. "I heard her through the door."
"Ben filled me in on a lot of what Jan and her went through." Simone said. "I'd be scared too. Think she'll be ok now?"
"I think she has a chance." Mary Jane said.
As much as any of us do. Mary Jane added.
Everyone agreed to take turns watching Sue until she was well enough to walk out of the medical bay. Sue took the constant companionship with more good humor than Mary Jane expected.
"I've always been a good patient." Sue said.
"What?" Mary Jane looked up from the data pad she was reading. Sue had been asleep when she had relieved May.
"You were worried I'd be growling and snapping at everyone." Sue said. "You're daughter is not good at keeping secrets."
"I sort of expected it." Mary Jane said smiling.
"Anger burns out after a while, or it got shot out of me. Either way I'm not sorry to see it go. What are you looking at?"
"Victor's latest summary of the world." Mary Jane said. "The Kingpin's armies are gathering in Africa, but there is a plague starting to run up and down the Eastern seaboard. Victor isn't sure if the Kingpin will divert resources to fight it."
"He will." Sue said.
"How can you be sure? Peter fought him more times than the Fantastic Four, he always said that nothing mattered to the Kingpin except his family and his power."
"His powerbase is New York." Sue said. "Even a tyrant needs subjects. What is happening in Africa?"
"Chaos." Mary Jane said. "Baron Zemo is killing everyone he even thinks is in league with the Greys. Europe's the big puzzle though; there is no plague but the population keeps going down."
"Sentinels." Sue said sadly. She laid back down. "Stealth bots are taking out people at random, paving the way for the Greys to take over."
"That's a good guess."
Sue smiled wanly. It troubled Mary Jane that it was the only sort of smile she seemed to be capable of.
"The FF used to be sought after as trouble shooters by various Galactic Empires. Reed had a reputation for being completely impartial. I've seen how empires fall and how its caused. You start small, nibble away at the foundation, take out a leader or two, then find someway to weaken the population, then you nibble a bit more and when the time is right you move in and take over."
"I guess Europe is weak enough." Mary Jane said.
"I think they would have liked to have waited a few more years." Sue said. "But without the Skull and Atlantis they can't ship the drugs, and Zemo won't cooperate."
"He wants to use Europe as a pawn to keep the Greys out of Africa." Sue sighed. "It's an international game of chess Mary Jane. Just like the one that killed my family and your husband and millions of others. The sooner we are off this planet the better."
"Well Simone will have no trouble going with us."
"I didn't think she would." Sue said. She took a deep breath. "Am I going crazy or do I smell roses in here?"
Mary Jane sniffed the air. Sue was right, the aroma of roses after a summer rain had replaced the normally antiseptic smell of the medical room. Before she could agree there was a knock on the door.
"Come in." Sue called.
Victor entered and walked over to them. Mary Jane noticed the slight stiffness in the way he walked, the almost uncertainty, but Sue did not.
"I hope I am not disturbing you." he said.
"You did the air?" Sue asked.
"Yes. As I recall roses were your favorite flower."
"Were and are." Sue said smiling at him. For an instant Mary Jane saw the Sue of before the Day. Victor saw it too.
"I also brought you this." he said handing her a data pad. "The Kree also did a study on Terran literature."
"Barbara Cartland's best romances." Sue said. She looked at the display wistfully. I haven't read a romance..." Sue looked at him and again favored him with a smile. "Thank you Victor, thank you very much."
"You're welcome. Now if you will excuse me I have things to attend to."
He gave a slight bow to both of them and then left.
"Roses and Romance novels." Sue said. "Better be careful, Victor may try to invite me to dinner next."
She laughed and Mary Jane joined in, and hoped that Sue didn't realize her laugh was faked.
Mary Jane winced, but forced herself to smile and nod.
"Your just making yourself crazy." Sue said.
"Are mothers ever sane where their kids are concerned?" Mary Jane asked.
They were in the control room and Mary Jane was watching as Ben, Simone and Rebecca worked out at mock combat with Nick watching them. They had started out with distance attacks, Rebecca's shield and Ben's webs against a pair of low impact stun guns wielded by Simone. Then they had closed to hand to hand fighting. Ben's hands were finding places to grab on both girls that was very disturbing to Mary Jane. Rebecca wasn't fond of it either, and said so often enough, but Simone just laughed and gave as good as she got. To both of them. It was a situation guaranteed to increase the grey hairs on Mary Jane's head. The break between Rebecca and Nick had left no visible wounds in her adoptive daughter, but Rebecca had always been withdrawn about her feelings. She had quickly grown closer to Simone, forming an almost classic shy girl/extrovert girl pairing. It would have been bad enough had they been in a normal teen age girl situation, the fact that they were not... Simone constantly flirted with Rebecca, and with Ben for that matter. Mary Jane couldn't begin to understand what growing up in a tyrants compound was like. While her children were not naive they were not ready for the emotional games that Simone could play.
If she is playing them? Mary Jane thought. Could be she likes both of them the same way, and how is Ben going to react to that? We might be cooped up in a space ship for months!
Sue limped up to the window and joined her. two and a half weeks had brought a good deal of her strength back, much to Mary Jane's amazement. Sue had nearly died, to be up and about in such a short time seemed wrong somehow. But between May and Victor Sue had gotten the best of care, and her own cosmically charged blood had helped.
"They're teenagers all of them." Sue said leaning on Mary Jane's shoulders. "Using up all that energy is probably a good idea."
"I think it's generating more energy than it's releasing." Mary Jane said.
"Ben." Sue said. "I know. I've noticed how he's the first off of the practice field and how he doesn't show up again for at least a half hour."
"I'm sure Simone knows it too." Mary Jane said. "But how do I talk to her about it?"
"I think you should leave it alone. Let them sort it out on their own. That's the hardest part of being a mother, believe me I know."
"She's doing it to Rebecca too." Mary Jane said. "Hell for that matter I think she's playing it to Nick too."
"She's Tigra's daughter." Sue said. There was a strain in her voice and she turned around. Mary Jane left the window and helped Sue into her chair. Her leg was still slow to heal.
"What have we got?" Mary Jane asked pushing her other worries out of her mind for the moment.
"Zen La." Sue said. "Peaceful, advanced and I know the Empress Shalla Ball. She was the Silver Surfer's wife for a while, the Fantastic Four helped rescue her from Mephisto. She'll welcome us and then some."
"Well we have five more days then." Mary Jane said.
"Five days." Sue repeated and the worry in her voice was a full worry. "If anything is going to go wrong it will go wrong soon."
"I hope not." Mary Jane said.
"What about Victor and Nick?" Mary Jane asked.
"Victor..." Sue trailed off and Mary Jane could guess why. She had never guessed that Victor Von Doom could be a charming suitor, but he had proven to be very skilled at it. He had known Sue a long time and he used that knowledge and combined it with her injury. The roses smell in the medical room, the romance novels, those had just been the beginning. Victor had dug deep into the Kree database and come out with old movies, providing them all with entertainment that the children had never seen. Showing the movies after the evening meal had brought them all closer together, and Mary Jane didn't miss that he always sat next to Sue. They would have whispered conversations and Mary Jane wondered if Sue realized what he was doing. Mary Jane had closed herself off to any man, fearing what could happen if she were ever to fall in love and he discovered her and her children's true identities. She had slept with many men, it had been part of Mary Jane's job. Some she liked, some she didn't, but even with the worst of them there had been some slight emotional feeling. But for Sue no man had paid her any attention except to rape her for more than a decade. And now that she had let go of her anger and hatred...
What worried Mary Jane was Sue's reaction when she realized what Victor's true intentions were. Sue was only beginning to become a whole person again. If she thought Victor was playing her... Mary Jane shuddered at the thought.
"Sue?" Mary Jane asked. Sue had been silent for nearly a minute.
"Sorry." Sue said quickly. "Spaced out for a minute I guess. I don't know about Victor and Nick. Victors..." she shrugged.
"He's been working on his own plan." Mary Jane said.
"That much about him hasn't changed." Sue said. "Even if so much else has."
Mary Jane heard the elevator door open and looked up to see May and Jan walk into the room, followed by Victor.
"Training done for the day?" Sue asked.
"Yes." Victor said. "Indeed I can now say with confidence that May has the medical training of a second year medical student."
"That's wonderful honey." Mary Jane said giving her daughter a hug.
"Way better than fighting." May said smugly.
"I slept through it." Jan said flittering around their heads. She was wearing a tiny blue furry bikini. "It was boring."
"May would you please go and help Jarvis prepare lunch?" Victor asked. "I would like to talk to your mother and Susan alone."
"Cookies!" Jan shouted and flew off ahead of her.
Victor waited until they were gone and then sat in the console next to Sue's.
"A time of decision is coming ladies."
"I know." Sue said. "You can come with us Victor, I'm sure Shalla Bal won't hold a grudge."
"Though Zenn La is a paradise is it not home." Victor said. "This planet needs me."
"Humanity is a wreck." Sue said.
Before Victor could reply to that a clear toned alarm erupted from Sue's console. She whirled around, her hands reaching for the controls. In an instant a diagram of the base appeared. In the far end a red circle appeared.
"Seismic breach." Sue said crisply. "An underground craft is burrowing its way into the base."
"The Sentinels would have use of such things." Victor said, busy at work at his own console. "But the air and ground space around us is clear."
"What ever it is we better go meet it." Sue said.
Five minutes later they stood at the far end of the cavern. Mary Jane held a Kree riffle and tried not to shake. Beside her May and Jan stood, but only Jan was holding another rifle. May flatly refused. Mary Jane was both proud of, and scared for, her daughter. Further away Jarvis, Nick and Simone stood ready with their own guns while Ben and Rebecca stood ready as well. It didn't escape Mary Jane's notice that Sue and Victor stood at the front of the group. Victor carried a gun, but Sue carried the most powerful plasma gun the base amory could supply. She balanced on her cane and held it with one hand. The old, harsh look had been on her face when she picked it out.
She was right. Mary Jane thought. Five days more and we could have been out of this place, or at least had the option. Now what? Greys? Sentinels? HYDRA? AIM? What did we do to have so many enemies? Why are we so important?
Mary Jane moved subtly closer to her daughter. May might not be prepared to fight, but Mary Jane would fight and more to protect her.
The ground shook and then flew out in all directions as the craft broke through. Stones small and large bounced off of the force field that Sue had erected between them and the craft.
The part that could be seen was like a child's top, with a cone shaped drill head slowly stopping. Bellow that was a tube with the outline of a hatch. The craft was dull gray with no markings or color. It was at least 20 feet around and stuck out of the Earth some 15 feet. Mary Jane felt her stomach drop as the hatch began to open.
"Stand ready but no one shoot before me!" Sue shouted. If there was terror in her voice Mary Jane couldn't hear it and Mary Jane knew Sue was scared.
There was a hiss of equalizing air as the hatch opened. After a minute Namorita stepped out. She was wearing a royal blue dress and a silver crown was on her head.
"Sue wait!" She called. "I need to talk to you."
If a person could visibly radiate anger than Sue Richards was doing it. Mary Jane couldn't see Sue's face, but she could see the woman become steel stiff.
"We need to talk to you Sue." said the man who emerged from the craft. He stood tall and proud, with no hint of age to dull Namor's appearance. He took a few steps to join his cousin and they walked toward Sue and Victor.
"Namor." Sue hissed the word with so much hate Mary Jane was astonished the mere sounds didn't attack the pair. But it didn't matter since Sue raised her riffle and fired.
The red beam of energy reached out and shocked Namora and Namorita where they stood and each fell screaming in pain. Mary Jane was moving the instant Sue fired and reached her side when Sue stopped. At her feet the two Atlanteans lay limp, red and blue energy still discharging from their bodies.
"Damn." Sue said. "Damn that felt good." Her voice was calm but her face was red and the scar across it almost glowed.
...To be continued.
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