Issue Eleven, Volume Two

"Impending Doom, Part One: 4Freedom"

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

Shandra Willis

Hikaru Takeshi

Dr. Cameron Daye

Keith McLaughlin
Paranoid Keith

Doom


 


From Reed Richards' private journal, 20th century

Popularity has its highs and lows.

The Fantastic Four are a team of superhuman celebrities, and like any celebrities our status in the public eye is governed by what we've 'done for them lately'. We're also subject to the same tendency for the public to drag their role models through the proverbial mud.

On one hand, that's something of a relief: superhuman or not, we are not gods. On the other hand, popularity is crucial to the Fantastic Four's continued existence. We can no longer lead normal lives, so we have a choice of either embracing this fact or surrendering to it.

We have fallen out of favor with the public on several occasions, and our attempts at redemption have always been uphill battles. This reflects the cyclical nature of fame, though part of me can't help but believe the public's negative perception of us is deserved. After all, it is a form of manipulation under the best of intentions.

Still, without the support of the common man, our lives would be even more difficult than they already are.


Miles Takagi's Apartment, New York, Earth, The Year 2100

The life of Miles Takagi had always been a difficult one. Possessed of only average intelligence, he would have been destined to a career in Stark-Fujikawa's stockroom if a chain of unexpected occurrences hadn't caused him to be promoted to higher positions time after time. Soon he'd found himself in charge of the corporation's Research and Development department, but his life hadn't gotten any easier.

And now, as far as he was concerned, his life was over. Mere hours ago, he'd gotten rip-roaring drunk in a bar and passed out, awaking in a maglev taxi which was taking him home. Staggering back to his apartment, he'd managed to make it to the bathroom just in time to pray to the porcelain god.

The loss of his holo-secretary Halle had affected him more than he'd realized. And it was understandable that he'd be upset considering he'd secretly programmed her to make all the business decisions of which he was incapable. But he was also starting to realize there was something more to it.

He genuinely missed her.

Everyone he met seemed convinced that he'd had romantic feelings toward the hologram, and to an extent he'd allowed that assumption to flourish in order to conceal her true purpose, but the truth was that he had no romantic or sexual interest in her. Simply put, she'd been his best friend, and he'd lost his best friend.

"After you're finished vomiting, be sure to flush the toilet," a voice behind him gently instructed him. A female voice.

Recognizing the voice, Miles yelped and turned around, wide-eyed as he found himself staring at ... "Halle?"

"Yes, Iam Halle," the statuesque hologram replied, affecting a programmed chuckle. "Have you consumed so much alcohol that you've forgotten who I am?"

"But I ... you ... I-I saw you die!"

She stared at him, blinking in confusion. "You saw my extension in our office experience an electrical overload. However, my primary database is housed here in your apartment. As long as my primary file is intact, I cannot 'die'."

Miles brightened at this, then closed the distance between them and engulfed her in a hug. "I didn't ... know you could do that."

"It's in my operations manual, Section B, Paragraph Eight."

"Oh."

After a brief silence, Halle 'glanced' at him. He was still hugging the hologram. "You seem ... relieved by my presence, in direct contrast to your behavior mere minutes ago."

Miles let go and stepped back, embarrassed. "Well ... without you, my career is in the toilet." Reminded of her earlier advice, he flushed the toilet.

"I see," Halle replied blandly. On that note, you might be interested to know that the Negative Zone's division figurehead, Evan Krieger, has just been executed from his job."

Awkward pause. "You mean terminated? Fired?"

"I mean Hikaru had Krieger executed for his mishandling of the Negative Zone situation. Your skills make you ideally suited to replace him, should you choose to do so."

Again with the unexpected promotions. "Uh ... what skills are those?"

"The position requires you to be a figurehead, a representative while others make the actual decisions."

He thought about it for a moment. "Oh. I think I could handle that. It's got to be better than R&D head." In his current position, he was actually called upon to make intelligent decisions. "Sure, I'll do it, as long as you can come with me."

"I'll e-mail your resume and compose an inquiry letter immediately."

"Wait. You said the last guy was ... uh, laid off. Sounds like it's a really dangerous job."

Halle nodded. "The dangers are outweighed by the generous benefits package."


Debris Field, The Negative Zone, Meanwhile

The expanse known as the Debris Field had always been a dangerous place. It was essentially an asteroid belt, a graveyard for planets, moons, and any other piece of matter that ventured into the neighborhood. Even spacecraft. Some scraps of once-proud vessels were thousands of years old, and no larger than a silver dollar. Some spacecraft were more recent.

Today, there were five, still intact. Three were Stark-Fujikawa warships, the fourth was the Fantastic Four's starship 4Freedom, and the fifth was a standard-issue 'runabout' shuttlecraft called the Epsilon, which was much less impressive than the other four.

The Epsilon carried a single occupant, who had been teleported from the 4Freedom just before the final confrontation between the clones of the Fantastic Four and the four scientists who had challenged them for that title.

Shandra Willis had awaited the outcome of the fight with baited breath, hoping the clones would win. That they would defeat her former friends, which was an uncomfortable position in itself.

According to the runabout's sensor scans of the 4Freedom, Christi Wood, Ian Hyde, Michaela Bailey, and Jesse Stamp had vanished at the conclusion of the fight. When she'd contacted the Four's ship to confirm this, the clone of Johnny Storm had called it, 'cosmic homicide'.

It was still so much to process. Her longtime friends -- one of them her former lover -- had proven themselves to be ruthless pieces of work, and had to be put down by her new friends. She fidgeted with the wrist-mounted teleporter given to her by the clone of Reed Richards, while the captains of the Stark-Fuji warships communicated with the 4Freedom. The device was the same kind of teleporter Reed had used to make her scientist friends disappear. Possibly forever.

She smashed the device against the console.



"Stark-Fujikawa starship Kusanagi to 4Freedom," one of the corporate vessels hailed. "Please power down your propulsion systems and prepare to be boarded. This is an order."

"This is Reed Richards of the 4Freedom," the Fantastic Four's leader responded with the press of a button. "We have--"

"Please hold as you are connected to a holo-conference with Hikaru-sama."

Reed and his teammates gaped at the mention of Hikaru Takeshi, S-F's Chief Executive Officer. "Somehow, it figures we'd be routed to him."

"Any time we gotta talk to that jerk," Ben Grimm pointed out as he stood off to the side, heavy rock-like arms crossed over his massive chest, "nothin' good ever comes of it."

Sue Storm watched as the shipboard supercomputer known as FRANKLIN negotiated the holographic connection between their starship in the Negative Zone and Stark Fujikawa Headquarters on Earth. "Ben has a point. Hikaru was the one who first told us we don't have any rights because we're clones."

"And he's been beating that into our heads every chance he's had ever since," Sue's brother Johnny Storm agreed.

FRANKLIN's holographic representation -- that of a blond-haired boy -- announced, "connection to Hikaru Takeshi has been established. Audiovisual conference in three ... two ... one."

The image of the boy dissolved, replaced by that of a bald, middle-aged Japanese man wearing a decorative kimono. "Richards-san. We have much to discuss."

"Hikaru-sama," Reed greeted with a bow. "We have the situation in hand. Ian Hyde's rogue Fantastic Four--"

"Call 'em the Frightful Four!" Johnny urged as he stood behind Reed, peering over his shoulder. "It fits!"

"--have been taken care of. They have been banished from this vessel."

Hikaru's expression was impassive. "Where are they now?"

A tinge of embarrassment laced Reed's words as he answered, "they have been exiled into extra-dimensional stasis."

Johnny added in a lower voice, "they just didn't stay there."

"Your assistance in dealing with the undesirables is appreciated," Hikaru went on. "However, there is the matter of the leaked documents which reveal your hidden disrespect of your alliance with our corporation."

Ben let out an annoyed breath from deep within his rock-armored chest. "Well that didn't take long."

"Those entries were from a private journal," Reed protested, "which was broadcast all over the Negative Zone without my permission!"

"Those journal entries were made on equipment furnished by Stark-Fujikawa," Hikaru pointed out. "You were never authorized to log non-work-related journal entries."

"They help me think."

"You know what is prohibited by this corporation and what is not," Hikaru asserted, "and that journal -- and those seditious remarks within -- are most certainly prohibited."

Sue's eyes widened. "'Seditious'...?"

"For the record, Hikaru-sama," Reed maintained, his voice tight, "despite what the journal excerpts might lead you to believe, I and my team have made every effort to cooperate with Stark-Fujikawa during our alliance. Our goal is to work together, and I have not damaged that."

Hikaru's expression remained neutral. "I am afraid, Richards-san, that the damage has been done. Neither employees nor property of Stark-Fujikawa are permitted to slander or libel this corporation."

"Yeah?" Ben interjected. "So which're we? The employees or the property?"

"We have had this discussion before, Grimm-san."

A scowl etched itself onto Ben's craggy features. "Yeah. 'S'what I thought. An' you know how that turned out last time."

"Ben's right," Reed told Hikaru, resolute. "We are clones, but we will not be marginalized. You should know by now that every attempt to categorize us as property will be met with the same response: rebellion."

Anger darkened Hikaru's face for the first time since the conversation began, but the emotion had obviously been boiling below the surface the entire time. "Then you leave us no choice. Surrender and allow your ship to be boarded ... or you will be destroyed."

"I don't think so. FRANKLIN, end conference." Hikaru's image feed vanished and Reed turned to his teammates. "Ben, get us out of here. All hands, brace for evasive maneuvers.

He and the others climbed into their respective seats and strapped themselves in as Ben kicked the 4Freedom out of hover mode and into flight mode.

Sue peered out one window to the approaching warships, and to the smaller runabout, still stationary. "Reed, Shandra's still out there! We have to get her!"

Reed nodded. "FRANKLIN, lock onto the teleporter device within the runabout."

The holoimage of FRANKLIN resolved into view and pouted. "Daddy, I'm not picking up a signal."

"What?" Reed and Sue blurted in unison. Reed checked the supercomputer's data. "He's right," he told the others. "The device is not transmitting a signal. It's as if the teleporter has been turned off or destroyed."

"You didn't need a signal to beam Hyde's Frightfuls away, did you?" Sue pointed out. "Why not just lock onto her bio--"

The entire left side of the cabin dipped sharply as Ben successfully evaded an asteroid larger than the ship. "Warships're gainin', Stretcho," Ben informed Reed. "However you're gonna bail 'er out, better make it fast."

Reed's gaze whipped from the runabout to the warships and back again, a determined frown on his face. After a moment, he made his decision. "Take us out of here and engage hyperspace."

Sue and Johnny turned to Reed, gaping in surprise. "What...?" Sue breathed.

"C'mon, man," Johnny pleaded. "Shandra's our buddy! We can't just--"

"We have to," Reed insisted, "or else we'll never escape."

"Hate to say it, but he's right," Ben declared, eyes still locked on the control panel and forward window.

"Ben!" Sue was incredulous. "Not you too! We have to--!"

"There ain't a single weapon on this wagon," Ben pointed out as he performed piloting acrobatics not seen since twentieth-century air shows, "an' the ships behind us have 'em in spades!"

WHOOM! A missile struck the 4Freedom's side, as if to illustrate his point. The entire crew lurched on impact, restrained only by their seat harnesses.

"Damage report, FRANKLIN?" Reed asked. "And personality subroutine on standby."

"Port-side damage: forty percent," the supercomputer reported in an emotionless monotone. A moment ago, its holoimage resembled a child with a skinned knee, on the verge of tears.

A second missile streaked by the 4Freedom's side, close enough to scorch a line of exhaust into the ship's armor. It continued on its course, striking a bus-sized asteroid in the ship's path, destroying it.

"Okay, are we ever gonna get outta this?" Johnny complained as he looked around at the Debris Field which seemed to stretch for an eternity in every direction. "I mean, it feels like we're just going deeper into it!"

"You wanna get out an' find your own way out," Ben grumbled, "be my guest."

Strangely, three enormous asteroids voluntarily moved out of the 4Freedom's path and vanished. "What the--?" Ben wondered. Behind them, the asteroids reappeared right before colliding with the S-F warships, causing extensive damage.

Johnny was the first to figure out: "That was you, wasn't it?" he asked Sue, clearly impressed. "You turned those rocks invisible and moved them around!"

She shrugged. "They're just floating around, so I might as well put them to use."

"All right, hold onto your butts," Ben instructed them as he banked sharply to the right, "we're just about to break outta the Field! Hyperspace in ten ... nine ... eight...." As he counted down and warmed up the ship's hyper-drive, the 4Freedom escaped the Debris Field, with three warships (two of them damaged) in hot pursuit. Each warship fired a pair of missiles that streaked toward the Four's ship, closing fast.

"...Three ... two...."

Five more warships approached and fired missiles as well. The 4Freedom's hyper-drive engaged.

"...One."

SHNNT!

The 4Freedom vanished in a flash of light. All of the missiles following it missed being pulled into hyperspace and continued on their way.

All of the missiles but one, anyway.



The Epsilon, the runabout the Fantastic Four had left behind, remained in a holding pattern in the Debris Field, though it wasn't alone. One of the warships had stayed behind to keep tabs on it, and now that the Fantastic Four were gone, the other warships returned to the Field and swarmed around the ship as well.

Inside, Shandra stared blankly at the teleporter devised she'd smashed. She watched sparks dance from its innards. She was oblivious to the S-F security officers boarding the runabout.

"Freeze!" The lead officer shouted, pointing his gun at her head. "On the floor now; you are being taken into custody!"

"Whatever," Shandra mumbled as she complied, without any enthusiasm at all.


Octagon Maximum Security Prison, Meanwhile

All of the fear, all of the pain Dr. Cameron Daye had experienced in his entire life had come roaring through his mind like a freight train.

The nightmare had started when he'd overseen the 're-education' of the Fantastic Four clones, using the psionic inmate "Paranoid Keith" McLaughlin to reach into their minds and bring their deepest fears and secrets to the surface. But they'd underestimated Reed Richards' resourcefulness, and the clone had managed to disable the psi-dampener keeping Keith out of Cameron's head.

The deranged inmate had pounced on Cameron like a predator, seeking his 'teeth' into the deepest recesses of the psychologist's mind. Somewhere amid all the screaming, thrashing, and reliving of the worst parts of his life, a part of Daye had to admit that he probably had this coming, what with the entire lifetime he'd spent so far manipulating people more powerful than he. Schoolyard bullies, teachers, parents, employers ... Cameron Daye had found ways to toy with others in order to enhance his own self-importance. This even continued with the friends he'd made, such as his colleague Ian Hyde, a promising yet power-hungry scientist. Daye had made sure that when Ian had made his inevitable bid for control of the Negative Zone, Cameron would be right there to take advantage and grab a higher position for himself. The power-play had been inevitable because Cameron had slipped in some subtle suggestions to that effect here and there.

A tiny part of his conscience pointed all this out. The rest of him was too busy experiencing all seven levels of psychological Hell to listen.

~This Hell is ... deserved,~ a familiar voice echoed through his mind, agreeing with his sliver of conscience.

K ... Keith? Daye thought.

~You treat everyone ... around you like ... a plaything. And you act ... surprised when the tables ... are turned?~

Get ... get out of my head!

~I will ... not. I think I like it ... here.~

"On the floor, NOW!" a harsh voice shouted, snapping Cameron out of his nightmare. "On the ground and don't move! You are under arrest!"

Cameron looked up and blinked, realizing that he was already lying on the floor of the solitary room, making pointless the first part of the man's statement. But the second part had his attention: "U...under arrest?"

I said, 'don't move'! the man shouted, pointing the barrel of his forearm-mounted cannon at Daye's head. Daye realized the speaker, Dufresne, was an officer in SItuation Emergency GEar, as were the three other officers in the room pointing similar cannons at his head. The same SIEGE officers who were standing guard during the Fantastic Four's imprisonment. Which led to the question: "...Wait, why am I under arrest?"

"You aided and abetted the 'Fantastic Four' team comprised of Ian Hyde, Michaela Bailey, Jesse Stamp, and Christi--"

Cameron couldn't believe what he was hearing. "So did you! All of you were helping them as well!"

"We were following your orders. And Hikaru's orders override yours. He wants us to place you under arrest and drag you back to Earth for your hearing."

Cameron sighed. "Wonderful. And I gather, from the very fact this arrest is taking place, that the clones have succeeded in defeating Ian's team?"

"Correct," Dufresne replied as Cameron was handcuffed.

"Where are the clones now?"

"Don't worry about them; worry about yourself."

Another officer added, "you're just lucky you're gettin' a trial; Paranoid Keith's not even gettin' that." He'd have said more, but Dufresne shot him a glare to keep quiet.

"In other words," Daye replied, "he's going to be drawn and quartered, picked apart as the subject of experiments. I know how these things work."

"Y'know, you should've done that to McLaughlin in the first place," Dufresne pointed out.

Cameron shrugged as much as he was able with his hands behind his back. "His mind was too fascinating to waste. It would have been a terrible thing."

"His mind was a terrible thing!"

"You see my point."

"All right, let's go," Dufresne ordered, grabbing Cameron by the arm and lifting to his feet. "You don't want to be late for your hearing with Hikaru-sama." He and his fellow officers led Cameron out into the corridor

Up ahead, Cameron witnessed Keith McLaughlin's unconscious form being wheeled away on the stretcher. "You're right; I don't want that."


Elsewhere

SHNNT!

"That was fun," Johnny commented as the 4Freedom dropped out of Hyperspace; the effect had been similar to the molecular roller-coaster experience of the Homegate sliding. "Can we do it ag--"

An explosion rocked the ship, interrupting Johnny's question and plunging the entire crew into unconsciousness.



The first thing the Fantastic Four noticed upon awakening was that thy weren't strapped into the 4Freedom's seats.

"FRANKLIN, status report," Reed reflexively called out as he opened his eyes, only to be greeted with silence. Which brought them to their second observation:

They weren't about their ship at all. Instead, they found themselves in a lavishly-decorated conference room with plush sofas, coffee tables with refreshments, and giant windows with impressive views...

...Of the planet Earth.

"Reed?" Sue asked, more than a little worried. "When you sent us into Hyperspace, was this where you were planning on sending us?"

"To be honest, it isn't," Reed replied, spotting their ship docked outside one window. "We seem to be in a space station orbiting Earth, but I have no idea how we got here."

Johnny turned to Reed, getting annoyed. "Okay, does anything you teleport ever go where you want it to?"

Reed gestured toward the 4Freedom's rear section, which had been heavily damaged from the missile explosion. "In this case, the damage from the projectile might have been a contributing factor to the misdirection."

"You're just guessing," Ben commented as he eyed the refreshments on the table.

"Richards' ineptitude is well-documented by now," a deep voice behind them intoned. "After all, the original Fantastic Four had obtained their powers from a similar blunder." The speaker strode into the room, wearing a green hooded cloak over silvery armor on his chest, arms, legs, and face. A Latverian royal crest bearing the letter 'D' was worn over his heart. The expression carved into the metal facemask was blank, but its glowing red eyepieces gave it a unique fire.

"Victor Von Doom," Reed greeted, striding toward the armored man. "We meet again for the first time."

"'Victor Von Doom' was another lifetime ago," Doom replied in deep, regal tones. "Now, I am simply 'Doom'."

Johnny chuckled. "Yeah, that's like when Prince changed his name to that symbol, or, y'know, when M.C. Hammer just started calling himself 'Hammer'."

Doom turned to Johnny and glared; the effect of the expression was dampened not a bit by the full faceplate and hidden eyes. "Your prattling means nothing to me, Storm."

"Yeah, I think that's always been your problem, Doom: you're not down with the hip-hop generation."

"In any event," Doom continued, paying Johnny no further heed, "the missile fired from the Stark-Fujikawa warship did not strike your vessel until after you had vacated Hyperspace. By then, you were already in this dimension."

"Which was not the destination I programmed," Reed replied, striding toward Doom.

Johnny shrugged. "See? My earlier point still stands."

Doom let out a derisive chuckle that his mask digitally distorted. "Have you not guessed by now, Richards? I brought you here, to my space station above the Earth."

Ben raised a heavy eyebrow. "Your station?"

"It is owned by the nation of Myridia," Doom explained. "A nation which has been under my control for months, unbeknownst to the rest of the world."

Which Ben found even harder to believe. "How're you gonna keep ev'rybody down there from noticin' a starship dropping outta Hyperspace and gettin' a tuneup here?"

"Technology, Grimm. To them, this station is simply conducting repairs on debris-sweeping runabouts."

Reed stepped into Doom's personal space, eyes narrowed and teeth clenched. "All of which raises the question, Doom: Why? Why go through all this trouble to help us, your enemies?"

Another modulated chuckle. "'Enemies', Richards? Do not flatter yourselves. You are clones of annoyances long dead. More to the point, the four of you owe me a debt."

Sue summed up the general sentiment of her teammates: "You've got to be kidding."

"Am I?" Doom swept an imperious gaze across the gathered Fantastic Four, as a king inspecting his property. "It was I who was responsible for your very awakening. You owe me your very lives."


Previous Issue: "Four More, Part Four: Destined"
Next Issue: "Impending Doom, Part Two"


Anybody else hear ominous music accompanying Doom's last sentence? Oh, it's just me? Ooookay then, moving right along...

We're in the home stretch of Fantastic Four 2099UGR, Volume 2, with only one more issue left to go. But for now, let's hear from Rena Paradox, who of course is waxing all poetical about the previous issue:

Awesome issue! One of the best! Hyde was hilarious and the love triangle/infighting among the Frightfuls was great, so very well done! These guys could easily support their own series, and I can't wait to see what's in store for them, wherever it is they went lol. And the FF themselves owned this issue just as much; I love how Reed shows how indispensable he is to the team. It amazes me though how you're able to make every character shine.

Glad you liked it, Rena! The Frightful Four 2099 are the most fun to write when they're not getting along. Besides, one of my goals for the series is to present a warts-and-all portrayal of the clones, and there's really no reason not to present the Frightfuls in a similar light.

Dave, while I know a lot of the old Silver Age stuff makes you shudder, I think you also perfectly tap into that classic comic book sense of fun (eg. lines like, Unleash the Molemen!) while presenting it in such a sophisticated, multi-layered story that's very modern, and at times with a nice appropriate edginess. Just so great, and in this issue one great scene after another. Knowing who is going to be showing up next (one of my very favorite Marvel characters!) I'm really excited, with no idea of the form it's going to take.

-Rena Paradox, via e-mail

This is of course the greatest compliment I could possibly be paid regarding this series, because it's exactly what I've been shooting for. While a lot of the old-school Marvel stuff does make me shudder (as does some of the recent stuff), I think it's very important to preserve a sense of fun in this series, especially considering how dark and heavy it is a lot of the time. I don't want the series to be bleak and depressing.

The funny thing about the "Unleash the Mole Men!" line was that when I wrote it, I was so absorbed in Ian Hyde's point of view that I didn't even notice how goofy it was (though it's possible I might've been inspired by The Spaniard's infamous line, "On my command, unleash Hell" from "Gladiator"). But I think that's part of what makes this stuff great to write: where else but comics and fanfiction can one have legitimate context for a quote like "Unleash the Mole Men"?

--David Ellis, 06.03.2007_