Issue Ten, Volume Two

"Four More, Part Four: Destined"

Written by David Ellis

Assistant Editor: Jason McDonald

Editor in Chief: David Ellis


Reed Richards
Mister Fantastic

Sue Storm
Invisible Woman

Johnny Storm
Human Torch

Ben Grimm
The Thing

Ian Hyde
Fantastic

Jesse Stamp
Invisible

Christi Wood
Torch

Michaela Bailey
Thing

Shandra Willis

Cameron Daye

Keith McLaughlin
Paranoid Keith


 


From Dr. Ian Hyde’s private journal, The Year 2097

According to an old saying, all good heroes are defined by their villains. If we consider the Fantastic Four to be heroes -- and I do -- then their antagonists can't help but say something about them.

Dr. Victor Von Doom is the most obvious one: brilliant, arrogant, given to third-person dialogue and drama-queen theatrics. He blamed Reed Richards for something that was obviously Doom's own fault, though I still don't understand why he didn't just file a lawsuit. Must have been a simpler time.

Prince Namor's kind of interesting, in that he was also considered a superhero at times despite his tendency to declare war on the surface world. Way to uphold the Atlantean stereotype, there. He was most notable for his crush on Sue Storm, who must have enjoyed the fact that he paraded around in a speedo all the time.

The Frightful Four tried to make a statement about the Fantastic Four who inspired them -- and apparently, that statement was, "imitation is the sincerest form of ineptitude." The Frightfuls were a rotating cast of third- and fourth-rate villains headlined by the (Wingless) Wizard, who was upstaged by Johnny Storm, and who decided to upstage the real FF in terms of popularity. I don't understand why Richards didn't file a lawsuit.

Based on my research, the Four had a few other adversaries in that lawsuit-free era, like Diablo and the Mole Man, but the less said about them, the better.

Actually, on second thought, "Mole Man" seems like an appropriate name for a project I and my friends have been working on for Cameron Daye. Yes, it's a fitting name indeed; I think I'll use it.


Station 4, The Negative Zone, Late January, The Year 2100

"A rather interesting name for a supercomputer, don't you think?" Ian Hyde asked rhetorically as he ran a hand across the smooth contoured workstation of the FRANKLIN supercomputer. "But it says quite a bit about its creator. Richards could have simply named it HERBIE, after that little robot servitor his predecessor once built, but instead, he chose to name it after the first Reed Richards' own son. Such an arrogant man."

"Teapot. Kettle. Black," Shandra Willis replied as she glared at him, voice tight with annoyance. Not just at Ian, but at her entire situation; she was the Chief of Operations at Station 4, and the Operations Center in which FRANKLIN was located was her domain. Thanks to Ian's Fantastic (Shandra had dubbed them "Frightful") Four, she was now a prisoner.

"Yeah, we're kinda busy right now," Christi Wood declared as he fingers glided across FRANKLIN's keyboard; her green eyes never left the three-dimensional holographic monitor. "Trying to hack this thing takes time and concentration. So if you can find somethin' else to do...."

"Why are you giving me orders?" Ian shot back and gestured to Shandra. "You have the woman who installed the security protocols right here; why not just ask her for the password?"

"Because it's not that simple, jackass," Shandra retorted. "Reed an' I knew it would be a serious security flaw for me to have a catch-all password; then all someone would have to do is get it out of me. Y'know, like you're trying to do now. So my security clearance only grants access to the basic functions, but it won't get you into Reed's protected files."

Ian stepped closer to Shandra, standing face-to-face with her. "I think you're trying to put one over on us. You're just stalling for more reinforcements to arrive, aren't you?"

"Why would I do a thing like that?"

"Don't be coy. Obviously, you--"

The data in the computer's holoscreen vanished from the projection, replaced by the words, "ACCESS DENIED", and a three-dimensional image of a young blond-haired boy. On the child's t-shirt was the famous Fantastic Four insignia with the fraction "1/2" on its left side. "You're trying to access a restricted database," the hologram of Franklin Richards announced, waggling its index finger at them. "You've been bad, and you need a time-out."

"Heh, that was Reed's idea," Shandra revealed with a shrug. "Who says he doesn't have a sense of humor?"


Octagon Maximum Security Prison, Meanwhile

"What exactly is so funny, Dr. Richards?" Dr. Cameron Daye asked as the leader of the Fantastic Four clones laughed uproariously. Even as he and his teammates were restrained in a small holding cell and psionically tortured. "This hardly seems like the ideal time for levity."

There was no reprimand in Daye's voice; as a psychologist and the director of the Octagon prison, he made it his duty to study all kinds of psychological conditions, even unexpected ones. And the normally level-headed Reed Richards was the least likely of the Four to burst into hysterics, so this event qualified as unexpected. "Could it be that you've finally cracked under the pressure? I feel a paper coming on."

"He seems to be distracting ... the others," Keith McLaughlin observed as he sat confined to a motorized wheelchair at the center of the room. His entire body was cast in a negative-colored aura as he probed the minds of the Fantastic Four for their worst fears and experiences. "They're paying more ... attention to his laughter than ... to my illusions."

Daye peered at Susan Storm, Ben Grimm, and Johnny Storm, who seemed just as puzzled at Reed's laughter as Daye was. "I see. Interesting tactic. His scientific brilliance is well-known, but it seems he has a gift for strategy to match."

The psion nicknamed Paranoid Keith scowled, fidgeting restlessly in his seat. "Make him stop ... laughing."

Daye considered it. "I suppose I could. But I'd be interfering with the progression of their psychological reactions. Our role is to provide the stimulus and observe." He turned to the two security guards standing near the room's locked entrance, clad in SItuation Emergency GEar. "But if they behave in a manner that facilitates their freedom ... you are ordered to everything within your power to ensure they don't leave this room."

He noticed a surprised expression on one guard's face, and he realized Richards had stopped laughing. He whipped around to face the prisoner, whose malleable body began to rapidly lose its shape, as if it were melting like grilled cheese. Mr. Fantastic was oozing out of his restraints.

"Now, gentlemen!" Daye shouted, then stepped aside to allow the guards to do their duty. They pointed an arm at Reed and fired small bolts of electricity from their wrists, striking Richards in his fluid back and filling his body with electrical energy.

As the Fantastic Four's leader yelped, he lashed out with his extended right arm, striking Daye across his ear with the back of his gloved hand. The electrical current carried through Richards' body and into Daye's, making the psychologist feel as if he'd just been hit with a taser.

Daye slumped to the floor and observed the unfolding mayhem with blurry eyes. Richards' teammates grunted and struggled against both their restraints and their prolonged psionic assault.

The guards converged on them but slammed against an unseen barrier. The air seemed to ripple like water. "Susan Storm's using her forcefield!" one of the guards shouted to the other. "Take her down!" The guards unleashed more taser bolts aimed at the forcefield, and Sue threw her head back and screamed as the voltage traveled through her psychic link with her field.

The next voice heard was Ben's -- a loud, primal roar that echoed through the corridors as he pulled his heavy arms free of the reinforced shackles. The resultant wrenching of metallic alloys was just as loud.

Once freed of his arm restraints, Ben threw them at the closest guard, who blocked his face with his armored forearms. As the guard was busy blocking the tossed restraints, Ben -- whose orange arms were longer than most -- was able to grab the distracted man by the elbow, and swing him into the other guard. Both guards collided with the wall near the door, which slid open to admit the SIEGE guard who'd been waiting outside.

This third guard blanketed the room with a thick cloud of gas, then moved to drag Daye out of the room.

As Ben tried to find the leverage to free his legs from their restraints, he glanced over to Johnny. "C'mon, Matchstick ... flame on already..."

"Bad idea," the guard informed them as he and Daye reached the doorway. "The sedative gas is highly flammable. So unless you want to be incinerated in this tiny, little room...."

Cameron Daye thought it might have been his imagination, but he could've sworn he saw Johnny Storm -- who had been quiet and withdrawn for most of the proceedings -- turn toward him and glare.

His eyes blazed with a fire that became literal: a column of flame erupted from them, engulfing the room and surging through the doorway into the hall. Daye and the guards were consumed by the fireball, which scorched their flesh from their bones.

Somehow, Daye remained alive and conscious enough to witness something even more horrific: Paranoid Keith was out of his wheelchair and striding toward Daye, unaffected by the surrounding flame.

Daye realized he was being affected by Keith's psionic illusions. And that was the most terrifying thought of all.



"What's happening to him?" the first guard asked, panic rising in his voice as he checked on Daye, who was screaming and rolling on the floor near Keith's wheelchair. He glanced at Keith, suspicious. "You're doing this! You got past his psi-dampener somehow!" He raised a gauntlet at the seated inmate and fired a trio of tranq darts at him. Keith slumped in his seat, his heavy eyelids slowly closing.

The guard then trained his weapon on the Four, panning his arm around to encompass them all. "Nobody better try anything! I'm warning you! You're still not leaving this room!"

The Fantastic Four looked at one another and smiled. "This ain't gonna take long," Ben remarked.


4Freedom starship, Station 4 cargo bay

"It will only be a matter of time," Michaela Bailey reported as she studied the 4Freedom's instrument panel, "before I figure out the piloting controls."

"It might've been easier if they weren't built for such a huge pilot," Jesse Stamp pointed out. Indeed, the joystick, control panel, and even the pilot's chair were designed to accommodate Ben Grimm's superhumanly huge hands and heavy build.

She glanced at the chair. "Perhaps, but the seat seem seems to be adjustable to fit smaller pilots when necessary. Unfortunately, reconfiguring the controls and command protocols requires a linkup to FRANKLIN, which they're still attempting to access."

Jesse shrugged and sat in one of the human sized chairs, swiveling it around to face Michaela. "I'm sure they'll let us know when they've hit pay-dirt. Meantime, w-we have this place to ourselves." He took a moment to peer around the cabin, which basically resembled other Zone-faring ships built by Stark-Fujikawa: it had the hard lines of a battleship. Yet Jesse noticed that quite a bit of the 4Freedom's design fit Reed Richards' sensibilities: it reminded Jesse of what he'd seen of Richards original spacecraft and Fantasti-Car. "M-might as well use that time t-to get to know each other."

She arched a furry eyebrow as she studied him; her form was somewhat lupine at the moment. The floor around them was littered with the cellular matter she'd quickly grown then shed as different animal characteristics came and went. "We have known each other for over four years now. You have stuttered for most of those years, until this last month as you've grown accustomed to your cloaking power. I am curious: what has brought the stuttering back?"

Looking away shyly, Jesse ran his fingers through his hair, then forced himself to look back up at her. "I-I've just ... felt more confident this past month, l-like I could do anything w-without people staring at me and judging me. Like I-I could...."

"Could what?"

He took a breath and took her black-furred hands in his own. "L-like I could finally tell you ... I have feelings for you."

Michaela's muzzle extended as she lightly sniffed the air. "Is that what I've been sensing from you?"

"Yes. I'm not the only one whose personality has been ... liberated by our empowerment."

"Liberated?"

"Think about it. Ian is his same conceited self after out transformation as he was before. Christi is still Christi. But you and I ... we're becoming more than what we were. I no longer stutter much, as you pointed out. And you have become more primal, more ruled by sensation and emotion." His blue eyes gazed into her purple ones. "We were made for each other."

Michaela glanced away, her wolf-like face morphing into an avian, hawk-like countenance. With some difficulty -- due to the limits of her beak -- she replied, "I ... I love Ian."

But he doesn't love you. I've seen the way he acts: as if he's ashamed of you. He's just using you to scratch a physical itch."

Her voice wavered as she asked, "how do you know?"

"I've seen the two of you when you've been intimate."

Appalled, she pulled her hands away from his. "You have been spying on us when we've had sex?"

"Does that upset you?"

She grew a pair of snake fangs, long and venomous, which made it even harder for her to talk. "Yessss."

"It should upset you more that Ian doesn't feel the same way about you that you feel about him. He doesn't love you, Michaela."

"And you do?"

Jesse stood up and stared into her eyes. "Yes. I have for quite some time." He stroked the fur on the side of her face; she subconsciously leaned into his touch and sprouted a few golden feathers. "I can give you what he can't. What he won't."

Michaela's face morphed from its beak shape into something closer to a human form. The fur, feathers, and hardened skin cells fell from her face, which took on a reddish-brown hue that desperately tried to become pale peach.

"Don't," Jesse whispered to her. "You don't need to look human for me."

"But I have been practicing--"

"For Ian, who dislikes your animal form. He wants to turn you back into something you no longer are."

"But--"

"It's a contradiction, isn't it? He's overjoyed that we've all become 'more than human' ... but because your gift turns you into something truly inhuman, he hates it, for purely selfish reasons. He codenamed you 'Thing', for crying out loud!"

"That's part of the Fantastic Four theme."

"That doesn't make it right. He'll never admit it, but it's a backhanded compliment, and you don't deserve to be backhanded."

She stepped away from him, pacing around the cockpit in an attempt to make sense of all this. " I thought Ian was your friend."

"He's supposed to be, but he isn't. He makes everything about himself, and he denigrates us in the process. We're just the little people he's stepping on during his way to the top."

Michaela stopped pacing and faced away from him, placing her hands on a bulkhead, resting her forehead against it. "You are trying to come between Ian and myself."

He walked up behind her. "T-tell me to stop, and I will." He rested his chin on her shoulder and inhaled her scent.

She made a soft purring sound in her throat, then eyes a surveillance camera in one corner of the ceiling. "It is possible Ian, Christi, and Shandra can see us from Operations."

His breath tickled the growing feathers on her neck as he kissed them. "With my power? They can't."


Station 4 Operations Center

Ian Hyde gritted his teeth as he watched the 4Freedom's cockpit uplink on a console monitor. "There will be hell to pay."

Christi and Shandra looked up at the monitor, interrupted from their work on FRANKLIN. "What's wrong?" Shandra asked.

Ian whirled to face them, pointing a finger at the screen. "What's wrong? Jesse and Michaela have disappeared from view just as they started standing close to each other. That's incredibly suspicious!"

Shandra blinked at him. "So ... ? At worst, that means they're getting together. That's a good thing, isn't it?"

"It would be," Christi explained, "if she hadn't already gotten together with Ian."

"...Oh. Awkward."

As Ian moved a finger toward an intercom button to give the two of them a piece of his mind, a communications chime sounded, heralding an incoming message from the Octagon. "Oh, for the love of ... now what do they want? Station 4, Commander Ian Hyde speaking."

The face of one of the prison's SIEGE-armored guards appeared, looking apologetic. "Sir, the Fant -- the clones have escaped."

"How?"

"I ... to be honest I'm not sure. First Richards slips out of his restraints and hits Professor Daye, then Daye goes nuts like Paranoid Keith's gotten to him, so I tranqed Keith. Then the clones attacked me. When I woke up, the clones were gone."

Hyde scowled. "Have they left the Octagon?"

"Not yet. But they're making their way toward the docking bay. They're plowing through all the guards we have."

"Unleash the Mole Men on them."

"Sir?"

"You heard me. You are to delay them any way you can. Keep them from leaving the Octagon until we get there. Is that understood?"

"Yes sir."

Ian whirled to face the two computer experts. "Have you made any progress with the digitized brat yet?"

"See for yourself," Christi replied as she jerked a thumb at FRANKLIN's avatar, who abruptly stuck out its tongue and gave everyone in the room the loudest, rudest razzberry imaginable.

"You'd better come up with something quickly," Ian ordered as he headed for the docking bay. "We're leaving for the Octagon shortly, and we need piloting access to the 4Freedom. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to have a word with the lovebirds."

"Uh, Ian?" Shandra called out.

He stopped in mid-stride. "What is it now?

"You know that progress you wanted us to make?" She gestured at the holographic projection, which showed "Franklin" in a much more cooperative mood.

"Access approved," the avatar chirped. "Welcome, daddy."

Ian stepped back into the Operations Center, a wide grin spreading across his face.


Octagon Maximum Security Prison, Minutes Later

Ben's heavy orange fist struck the face of the nearest Mole Man hard enough to drive the creature to the floor. Unfortunately, there were at least two dozen right behind it.

Sue raised a forcefield between the creatures and her team, straining as the Mole Men pounded and clawed against the invisible barrier. "Get to the docking bay," she shouted. "Hurry!"

Reed stretched his upper body toward the corridor's ceiling, then reached out and felt for the barrier. Finding a narrow space between her forcefield and the ceiling, he compressed himself to a paper-thin breadth and slipped through it to the Mole Men on the other side.

"Reed, what are you doing?" Sue shouted, still adding as much thickness to the barrier as she could.

The Fantastic Four's leader pulled the rest of his body to the Mole Men's side and weaved himself in and out of the crowd of furry creatures. "I'm attempting .... nghh ... to restrain them ... eghhh ... so the rest of you can ... rhhh ... get to the ship!" His ribbon-like body was soon entangled around the entire group of Mole Men, constricting them like a python. "Now go!"

Ben, Sue, and Johnny stayed in place. "We're not leavin' without ya, Stretcho," Ben asserted.

"I'm not ... nghh ... asking you to! I'll catch up soon ... rhhh enough, so find a ship ... hrghhh ... before the guards arrive!"

"Too late," an armed guard in full SIEGE armor announced, as he entered the corridor flanked by six more like him.

The Fantastic Four faced them down, ready to unleash their powers ... except for Reed, who was already overtaxing his body, and Johnny, who refused to flame on. Sue sized up the guards, her brows furrowing with concentration. "Ben, Johnny: on my command--"

Then they heard a familiar pompous voice over every loudspeaker in the prison: "Greetings, denizens of the Negative Zone," he announced. "Once again it's Ian Hyde, the Fantastic Four's leader and the new commanding officer of both Station 4 and the Negative Zone itself. I'm speaking to from the cabin on the newly-minted 4Freedom starship."

The Four and the guards stopped what they were doing to listen; only the Mole Men continued to struggle.

"I and my teammates are currently en route to the Octagon in order to quell an escape attempt by the clones who have mistakenly referred to themselves as the Fantastic Four. The trip shouldn't take long given the starship's impressive capabilities, but since I have a few minutes, I thought I'd share with you all something I recently uncovered."

The next voice over the speakers was Christi's, sounding bored and annoyed. "Y'know, by the time you're finished explaining, we'll already be there. Just tell them that we've hacked into Reed Richards' FRANKLIN computer, and we found his journal entries."

Ian harrumphed. "What she said, I suppose. So without further ado: 'Personal Journal of Dr. Reed Richards, Entry One, Dated...' well, I'll skip to the body text. 'I have memories of a personal journal my predecessor, the original Reed Richards, used to keep in order to compose his innermost thoughts, musings he didn't feel he could share with anyone else -- his wife included. This will be an attempt to do the same, because while I am Richards' clone, I am no less sentient, and our recent alliance with Stark-Fujikawa has given me quite a bit to think about. Once I finish building the supercomputer, I'll transfer the journal entries there for safer keeping, but that won't be for at least a month, as Station 4 itself is still under construction.' More boring stuff follows...."

"Can't believe he's reading your diary out loud to everybody," Johnny told Reed. "What a dick!"

"Ah, here's something interesting a few entries in," Hyde's voice continued. "This one's from December: 'Our visit to Earth qualifies as nothing short of a disaster. Our intention had been to confer with Hikaru in order to' blah blah blah. 'It turns out Shandra's scientists friends were not who we thought they were, or even who she assumed them to be. They were involved in an illicit organ-bootlegging operation, and when we confronted them about it, they attacked and brought us to a squalid section of New York so they could harvest our powers.' Honestly, Richards makes it sound like there was something wrong that."

Sue used the general distraction caused by the public address to flatten the guards with a battering ram composed of invisible energy. "Let's go!" she shouted to her teammates. "You too, Reed."

"Then he talks about how Stark-Fujikawa guards bailed them out with unnecessary amounts of bloodshed, then the search for Ben Grimm, blah blah blah ... 'but it was the words of the enigmatic Moon Knight that haunted me the most.'"

Reed extricated himself from the cluster of half-conscious Mole Men, who had the good sense to flee once they were no longer entangled. He was slow in contracting his body to its standard human shape, so Ben picked him up and carried him.

"'During our misadventure in Downtown against an Adaptoid-class automaton, the man calling himself Moon Knight discovered we were working with Stark-Fujikawa and gave us a piece of his mind regarding his experiences with the corporation. He said it was a mistake for us to trust them. Even now, as I sit here, attempting to construct a supercomputer that will allow us to devise better ways to save the decaying Negative Zone, I cannot say with certainty that he is wrong.'"

The Fantastic Four had vacated the corridor rather quickly while Ian's narration barreled on. The docking bay was in sight, but four more guards stood between them and the entrance.

"End of the line," the guard in front asserted, smiling as he and his squad-mates pointed their gauntlets at the Four.

The nearest loudspeaker continued to broadcast the transmission from the 4Freedom, but this time the voice belonged to Shandra. "FRANKLIN: override controls and revert them to Shandra Willis' voice command! Authorization code -- mmph!"

Sounds of a struggle followed, and Jesse's voice yelped as if he'd just been bitten. Shandra followed up with, "eight-two-one! Take us into the Debris Field!"

Sue and the others could hear FRANKLIN's voice confirm the request, as well as more sounds of a struggle. This time the voice heard making pained noises was Shandra's.

"Shandra!" Sue shouted, causing the SIEGE guards' gauntlets to explode with rapidly-expanding forcefield bubbles. Ben plowed through them like the ex-football player his predecessor was, and the Fantastic Four finally entered the docking bay.

"Sorry about that, ladies and gentlemen," Ian's voice apologized, sounding rather frantic. "We're experiencing some technical difficulties; we'll be back shortly."

Six vessels were stationed in the docking bay; four were incredibly large prisoner transports, and the remaining two were smaller runabouts the size of moving vans. "The transports are similar to the Heracles, right?" Sue asked Ben, referring to the old cargo vessel the team had once commandeered in a similar escape situation. "So flying it shouldn't be a problem?"

Instead, Ben hustled to one of the runabouts. "We're gonna need to take one of these into the Debris Field. It's more maneuverable."

Johnny looked puzzled. "Are we all gonna even fit inside it?"

Sue glanced over her shoulder at Reed, who had stretched himself back over to the unconscious guards outside the docking bay. "Reed! Are you coming or not? This is no time for scientific--"

"This is the perfect time for it, Susan," he corrected her, studying the guards' equipment. "We need to be prepared for them this time. We need to go in with a plan."


4Freedom starship, Negative Zone Debris Field, Soon

"That was your plan?" Ian asked Shandra, unfastening his seat harness to stalk around the ship's cabin and glare at her. "That was your brilliant survival tactic? Steer us into the Debris Field so we can crash into an asteroid or two?"

Shandra glanced sidelong at Ian as Michaela's extended talons hovered centimeters from her face. "That was the idea, yeah."

"And it never occurred to you that you would be killed in the process?"

"Of course it did!" she snapped. "Of course it occurred to me; I just don't care anymore! It wasn't a survival tactic!"

Ian opened his mouth to respond, but Christi stopped him. "Ian. Let me handle this."

"Christi, I'm the leader here, and--"

"But I was her girlfriend. I still know her better than the rest of you." She unfastened her harness, then moved to kneel next to Shandra. "I still care about you, Shandra. Why don't you care about yourself?"

Shandra looked away, staring out the windows at the asteroids without really seeing them. "I don't have anything left. My gang -- my family -- is dead. My friendship with Sue is pretty much over. I'm Stark-Fujikawa's slave, and now--"

"Stark-Fujikawa is no longer the major power in the Negative Zone," Ian explained. "We are."

Christi turned to glare at him. "Ian! Just -- could you please stop talking for five minutes?"

He returned her glare, looming over her. "Would you like to rephrase -- aah!" Caught off guard by Christi's mind-torch effect, he staggered to his knees.

"Thank you. "She turned her attention to Shandra. "You said you were Stark-Fuji's slave. Having worked for them myself, I can understand that. Well, now you don't have to be. You're working for us. You can be our token human friend, just like you were for the clones, and just like Alicia Masters was for the original--"

Shandra's reply was explosive. "Don't you get it? I don't want to be a part of this? I don't want any more to do with you! You're murderers! Sociopaths! I wish I'd known what you were really like before I got involved with you! I just want this to be over with.

Jesse placed a gun at the back of her head. "It's about to be over for you."

The 4Freedom's panel started pinging. "Attention," the ship alerted them in FRANKLIN's voice. "Incoming vessel, approaching the Debris Field and this ship's location."

Michaela brought the information from her console screen to the main monitor. "It appears to be a standard Stark-Fujikawa runabout. Judging by its trajectory, it seems to have come from--"

"The Octagon, I know," Ian shot back, holding the bridge of his nose; Christi had given him a massive headache. "And I don't even need a sensor sweep to know who's aboard it." He turned to the hologram of FRANKLIN. Are there any weapons on this crate?"

The seven-year-old boy in the holo-image shrugged. "Nope. This is just an exploratory vessel; onboard weaponry would be a violation of the arrangement with Stark--"

"Richards is a shocking idiot!" Ian shouted, then winced and immediately regretted raising his voice. He took a breath. "Fine. Are they in range for one of Torch's mind-whammies?"

FRANKLIN looked confused. "There's no record of the Human Torch ever possessing psionic powers."

"He means me, dumbass," Christi corrected the supercomputer. "And no, Ian, I can't reach them from here. "I can't feel their minds yet."

"Teleportational energy signature detected aboard the runabout. Four lifeforms are coming here to play with us."

A remote corner of the ship's cabin shimmered as four figures materialized into view. They were, of course, the clones of the Fantastic Four. "Cool, you managed to 'port us to the right place this time," Johnny remarked to Reed, who had rucked up the end of his long glove to remove a small electronic device from his wrist.

Ian turned to Christi. "Can you feel their minds now?" He raced toward the clones ... and promptly bounced back after colliding with Reed's flexible body.

As Reed stretched his body around Ian to restrain him, Christi concentrated. "Uh, that's weird. I can't."

Reed stretched his arm over to Shandra and handed her his wrist device, telling her, "press this button and you'll be teleported to the runabout where you'll be safe for the time being."

Shandra did so, and she promptly disappeared.

Her body's characteristics fluctuating amongst different animal traits, Michaela circled around Reed and Ian, looking for an opening that would allow her to attack Reed without injuring Ian. Then she realized Ben was approaching her, so she assumed the general appearance of a bipedal rhino and charged at him, ramming into him and pinning him against the thick metallic walls. As he wrestled her to the floor, he heard the firing of a pistol and glanced up that two bullets meant for him had been intercepted by an unseen barrier. "News flash, pal: we can see ya."

A surprised Jesse was sandwiched between two of Sue's forcefields, which Christi concentrated on all four clones. "C'mon ... work! Why can't I access their minds? It's only a little agony; why is that too much to ask?"

Sidestepping the chaos around him, Johnny walked right up to Christi. "It's over. You guys are done."

"Oh, an' what're you gonna do? Beat me up? Set me on fire?"

He held out a fist. "It's only a little agony, right?" He was obviously trying to sound as tough and ruthless as possible, but he was failing miserably.

Ian watched the battle as he struggled against Reed's hold. The battle was fascinating to watch: Fantastic versus Mister Fantastic, Torch versus Human Torch, Invisible versus Invisible Woman, and Thing versus Thing.

Problem was, the wrong side was winning, as far as he was concerned. And upon closer inspection, he figured out why:

"They're wearing psi-dampeners," Ian and Jesse declared simultaneously. Surprised, they glared at each other. The staring contest was cut short when Jesse was knocked senseless by a high kick from Sue.

Ian struggled to break free of Reed's constricting hold, but Reed's elastic body possessed a surprising amount of tensile strength. However, endurance seemed to be another matter, as the clones' leader was becoming increasingly worn out by the strain. Finally, Reed's body slackened just enough for Ian to free an arm and punch Reed in the face; the rest of the body slackened after that.

He then grabbed Reed's head and looked closely, finding what he was looking for in Reed's left ear. It was a tiny earbud device, similar to a hearing aid; Octagon personnel wore it to keep Paranoid Keith out of their heads. It was also good at keeping Christi's mind-torches and Jesse's perception cloaks from working on the wearer.

He started stretching Reed's ear so that the device would pop out, but Ben put him in a headlock from behind, and it was all Ian could do to break free.

Christi, who was being restrained by Johnny, appeared to have another plan in mind. "FRANKLIN, jam all frequencies in the following range...." She started to name off the radio frequencies transmitted by the psi-dampeners, but abruptly she screamed when Johnny placed the palm of his hand against her forehead.

"Johnny, what are you doing," Sue demanded, "melting her brain?"

"Trust me, her head's the opposite of melted," he replied. "I can absorb heat just as well as I can give it off, so ... instant brain freeze."

Ian noticed that Ben was having a difficult time keeping Michaela pinned face-down on the floor with his right arm while holding onto Ian with his left. He further noticed that Michaela had grown a tail that lengthened and formed the mother of all scorpion's stingers. The tail whipped upward at high speed, its sickle-pointed end burying itself in a crevice between the rock-like plates on Ben's right arm.

As Ben yelped and let go of both of them, Ian rained a series of high-speed punches and kicks on the mountainous clone. He then left Ben in Michaela's care and raced around the cabin, pummeling Johnny and Sue ... or at least Sue's forcefield.

Then FRANKLIN piped up. "Command override successful. Returning control of 4Freedom to Reed Richards."

"What?" Ian bellowed, turning his attention toward the holographic child. "Didn't we just return control to us after Shandra's little...."

He trailed off; his eyes narrowed. "Shandra." He glanced at his teammates, then raced to one window to peer out at the Negative Zone expanse. "She hacked into FRANKLIN from the runabout!"

He heard what sounded like Michaela yowling; a moment later, a sudden impacting force slammed against his back, pinning him face-first against the cold window. He heard Sue Storm speaking the same words he himself was thinking: "brilliant strategy, turning your back on me like that."

In his peripheral vision, he could see Michaela stagger back to her feet, slightly wobbly as if she'd been hit by one of Sue's battering rams. She raised her scorpion tail, readying it to strike.

And then she started wheezing, suddenly unable to breathe. "And you," Sue told her, absolutely furious. "Nobody hurts Ben while I'm around!" Michaela released a primal scream as her tail was broken in three places by an invisible force.

"And I'm just getting started," Sue added.

The sound of Michaela in such intense pain was too much for Ian to bear. Which surprised him; he hadn't realized he cared that much about her. Grunting with effort, he pushed back against Sue's forcefield and felt it give a little now that the Invisible Woman's attention wasn't fully on him. That little became a lot as he shoved with all his might, the backlash causing Sue to stagger to the side as if he'd shoved her personally.

Ian advanced toward her, cracking his knuckles. "And nobody hurts Michaela while I'm--" He stopped when Jesse stepped in front of him, aiming his pistol at Sue. "Step aside; I'll take care of her."

Jesse's gaze never left Sue as he replied, "no. You won't. I love Michaela more than you do, so I'll be the one to defend her honor!"

Michaela glanced up at them as she took deep ragged breaths, free of Sue's hold. "My honor...?"

Ian was marginally aware of her moving to keep Sue in check, but he kept the majority of his attention focused on Jesse. "Stand down, Invisible. That's an order."

Jesse chuckled. "An order? Are you serious, 'Fantastic'? I am so sick of following your orders! If my gun weren't pointed at Sue, here, I'd be holding it to your head and pulling the trigger!"

"Really." Moving with superhuman speed, Ian placed himself between Jesse and Sue, leaning his forehead against the barrel of the pistol. "Prove it. Shoot me, if you have the guts."

"Y-you think I don't?"

"What? Is that a -- did I just hear you stutter? I thought you were done with that!" His laughter echoed through the cabin. "You really don't have the guts, do you? All this false bravado ... just because you have a cloaking power--"

"SHUT UP!" Jesse shouted, pulling the trigger. His eyes widened as he found that in that split-second, Ian had moved his head to avoid the bullet.

"Wow. Good thing that gun has a silencer, or that would've been deafening," Ian commented. "I think your little act of mutiny is over. I'm in charge. This is my ship--"

Reed cleared his throat. "Correction: this is my ship." Ian turned to find Reed sitting at FRANKLIN's terminal, a very complex mathematical formula hovering in three holographic dimensions above it. "And I want all four of you off of it." He pressed a button to execute his command.

Ian felt the air warp around him and his teammates. His body followed suit as a bright glow surrounded them that intensified into a blinding flash of light.

And then he felt nothing.



Reed slumped in his seat, rubbing the bridge of his nose with gloved fingers. He closed his eyes and let out a relieved breath.

"Reed? Buddy? What did you just do?" Johnny asked as he stood up and walked toward him. "Where did they go?"

Sue moved toward Ben to check on him. "Ben? Are you all right? How do you feel? Stay with me...."

Ben met her gaze. "I'm ... I'm fine, Suzie," he told her, his words slurred. "Just ... feel a little numb. 'M sure it'll wear off...."

"Reed? Answer me," Johnny insisted, turning Reed's seat so he could meet the leader's gaze. "That energy effect ... you teleported them away, didn't you?"

Reed nodded, then glanced back at the console.

"Where did you send them, Reed?"

"It's very complicated to explain...."

"Try me."

"Answer him, Reed," Sue demanded from where she sat with Ben.

The Fantastic Four's leader sighed, then pointed to his wrist device. "As you know, we teleported here using this, a teleporter similar to the one I'd used to transport the four of us to the Negative Zone's HQ. Both devices operated on a set of principles inspired by the teleporter worn by Oldskool--"

"Get to the point!" Johnny shouted.

"The point is, I'd stored those teleportational principles in FRANKLIN's memory for later use, and I just called them up to duplicate the necessary conditions."

Ben spoke up, his deep voice sounding half-asleep. "Stretcho, he ain't askin' how y'did it."

Reed nodded. "Yes, well, as to 'where': I sent it them to the same place I'd once sent that Negative Zone bomb with the previous teleporter: a stasis realm between dimensions where they would be rendered inert."

Johnny's eyes widened. "You mean ... dead?"

"I mean, they are in suspended animation." He pressed a few buttons to change FRANKLIN's holographic display. "See for yourself."

His teammates looked up at the image. "Either my vision's goin'," Ben muttered, "or I'm not seein' anything up there."

Reed blinked, seeing that Ben was correct: the display was blank. "That's strange. The lifesigns of the four of them should be visible. Perhaps the sensors are simply not picking them up; I'll recalibrate."

Sue sounded concerned. "Reed? Before you get too far into that ... maybe we should see how Shandra's doing, now that she's in the runabout, all by herself?"

"Epsilon to 4Freedom," Shandra's voice announced over the comm system. "I'm fine over here; is everything okay over there?"

Johnny jabbed a comm button with his finger. "This is 4Freedom. Everything's fine over here, and by 'fine', I mean we're in need of medical attention, and we're trying to figure out if our fearless leader's just committed cosmic homicide."

"Oh." An awkward pause. "Well, the good news is, it looks like some Stark-Fuji ships are headed toward us, so you may get some of that medical attention."

This captured the undivided attention of everyone onboard the 4Freedom. "What's the bad news?" Sue asked.

"The bad news," Shandra informed them in a hesitant voice, "is that it looks like some Stark-Fuji ships are headed toward us. They're not lookin' very friendly."


Previous Issue: "Four More, Part Three: Imprisoned"
Next Issue: "Impending Doom, Part One"


Whew! Thus concludes the "Four More" storyarc, which jumps right into another two-parter. I'm tuckered out. But not so much that I won't cheerfully read and respond to another etter from Rena, this one about last issue:

Good issue! Very good issue! I kinda got spoiled so I know how the next ish is going to end, but it'll still be enjoyable to see how it gets to there lol. As I said many times before, Reed's journal entry that opens each issue is such a great idea and a device to bring insight into the man's head. What I don't think I've ever asked is whether this journal is somewhere in existence in the story's universe? Like has clone Reed discovered the journal among historical records, or within the archives of Stark-Fuji, that might've somehow fallen into their hands over the last century? Something Shandra might've dug up and gave to him? I could see Reed wanting to read them, out of curiosity to fill in the gaps, and just get insight into himself, and understand himself better. Some of the reason why he is the way he is.

As you've seen in this issue, Rena, the clone of Reed Richards is fully aware of his predecessor's private journal, and he has adopted the practice of making his own. This has its own implications about the Four's implanted knowledge, and the next two issues will delve into that.

Anyway, switching to Hyde's journals is nice fun, and as I suggested, I'd love to see you write more of them for fun, something that could be included as extras in the commentary, or the FF 2099 UGR v2 TPB.

I suppose I could do more Ian Hyde journal entries if the mood strikes; it could be fodder for future "Out of My Head" editorials.

I've considered the idea of doing TPBs for 2099UGR storyarcs, but it seems to me that the point of trade paperbacks is to collect various issues of a certain type in one place. And on this site, the issues are already clustered together. And I'm not sure I'd want to subject readers to putting all the Fantastic Four 2099UGR issues on a single page. But I suppose that would also be up to you, dear readers: would you like to see 2099UGR virtual TPBs?

Miles' discussion with the bartender was amusing, although I kinda thought that with the advanced technology and morality of 2099 that the relations between human beings and artificial life wouldn't be so unusual, like something the bartender might've heard many times before lol.

Human/machine relationships is still a societal concept that's slowly gaining a foothold and experiencing opposition by the general public. An issue of the 2099 Unlimited comic series showed a mob of bystanders lynching a man and his robot wife, while shouting "'Chine Lover!" I interpreted that as a thinly-veiled metaphor for the gay rights movement in the twentieth century. Now that there's no such stigma against LGBT in 2099 (as evidenced by Shandra Willis), persecution of another minority has become in vogue, sadly.

Still, notice that the bartender didn't seem to object to the idea of Miles dating his holographic secretary; he was somewhat intrigued by the idea, and he admitted that he'd found some of them to be attractive. Whether or not he would be willing to date one, or whether that would extend to robots that don't look as human as holograms ... that's a whole 'nother talk show.

Hyde's takeover of the NZ and how they became everybody's bosses was well written, explaining convincingly the surprise twist ending of #8. I really like these characters, and while I would like to see them evolve, I hope they don't completely reform. How misguided they are representing the 2099 mindset in its worst way, yet not stone cold evil, that you can relate to them and understand their thought processes and why they think the way they do makes them so great. I don't think I want to see them ever go "Sorry guys, we were just so wrong about everything."

I'm glad you thought the explanation of their takeover worked well. I was sweating with that one, as it was a challenge to write convincingly. And fear not: the Frightfuls are too set in their ways to change immediately. That would be like asking the Fantastic Four clones to start acting like base villains. Besides, I've been having too much fun with them just the way they are.

I wasn't too surprised with the reveal of Cameron Daye, however I was fooled about him wanting Johnny to kill Keith. I pictured Keith being someone who infuriated Daye, and he thought he could manipulate Johnny into toasting Keith. But that Daye would turn on the FF the way he did, that I could see him doing. As for the Berg sisters, I was surprised at the reveal they were undercover sleeper operatives, which reminds me that everybody has a purpose, even if it may not seem like it, to me. Now I'm even more wondering what you have in store with Miles.

-Rena Paradox, via e-mail

Daye's intention was never to have Johnny kill Johnny, or at least that wasn't the ends to his means. He wanted to twist Johnny's mindset and convince him to commit murder, just to see if he could. If Johnny succeeds in killing Keith, whom he hates more than anyone, great. If he doesn't for whatever reason, Daye would learn that much more about him. While none of that turned out the way Daye thought it would, this isn't the last we've seen of Cameron Daye.

I'm delighted that the reveal about the IceBerg Sisters surprised you. I've had this in mind for them from the very beginning, which is why they've seemed like such surface-level characters until now; if I'd revealed more about them, it would have prematurely tipped off the surprise. Now that they're dead, I can reveal more....

--David Ellis, 03.07.2007_