Fantastic Four 2099UGR #8v2, November 2006



Issue Eight, Volume Two

"Four More, Part Two: Embattled"

Written by David Ellis

Edited by Jason McDonald and Mike Shirley

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

Quentin Card

Jack Bostwick

Janice Berg

Clarice Berg


 


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

I remember exactly when I first found out about the Fantastic Four.

I was thirteen years old, and I was studying about Dr. Reed Richards in school. According to the text-discs, he was a twentieth-century scientist whose theories on space travel, time paradoxes, and inter-dimensional physics became the standard throughout the rest of the scientific community. His inventions were legendary.

What the teachers and text-discs never mentioned was how Richards obtained such knowledge in the first place. He knew about space and time travel, and alternate dimensions because he and his three companions explored all of that. They were the Fantastic Four, and to use an archaic term, they were superheroes.

They had plenty of enemies as well, since heroes need villains in order to define them. The interesting part was that some of their their adversaries, like Victor Von Doom, the Mole Man, and the Frightful Four were fellow scientists and explorers as well.

But the Fantastic Four were by far the greatest explorers of any era. And since that day when I was thirteen, I've wanted to be just like them. No threat overcame them. Nothing stood in their way.


Stark-Fujikawa Headquarters, Earth, Late January, The Year 2100

"That's far enough," Reed Richards announced once he and his Fantastic Four team emerged from the Negative Zone portal into the waiting Homegate room.

Huddled there was Miles Takagi, the Stark-Fujikawa corporation's Head of Special Projects, who played reluctant host to four superhumans who also claimed to be the Fantastic Four.

Reed's teeth clenched as he addressed those four -- Ian Hyde, Christi Wood, Michaela Bailey, and Jesse Stamp. When he had last encountered them less than a month ago, they had been S-F scientists who had run illicit experiments on Reed's team. "Let the hostage go, and surrender. While we're flattered by your attempt at imitation, consider this a 'cease and desist' order."

"Surrender? What's the fun in that?" Christi Wood asked with a grin as she unleashed a psionic attack that felt to Reed as if a his brain had been soaked in kerosene and set on fire.

Reed yelped and fell to the cold floor, losing control of his body's shape on the way down.

"Torch, you idiot!" Ian Hyde scolded Christi, turning to her with fists clenched; she shrugged in response.

"Hey!" Johnny Storm shouted, indignant as he surrounded himself in roaring flame. "I am not an -- oh, you were talking to her."

Ian ignored the Fantastic Four's hothead and continued scolding Christi. "You were supposed to incapacitate all of them, not just Richards. Now we've got to do this the hard way." He moved with inhuman speed, avoiding a volley of fireballs tossed by Johnny.

"The hard way, huh?" Ben chuckled, cracking his knuckles. "Works for me." He abruptly found himself shoved against a wall by Ian, who was stronger than he looked.

Ian zipped out of Ben's reach as suddenly as he'd arrived, and an instant later he was standing behind Sue, his hands clenched tightly around her throat. "Such a slow-moving brute," he jeered at Ben. "Want to see if you're fast enough to keep me from breaking her -- huh?"

His hands were pried from her neck by an unseen force, and an instant later, Ian found himself propelled against the Gate Room's now-closed vault door. "Thank you for taking the time to be dramatic," Sue remarked.

Michaela, who'd been dodging Johnny's fireballs, roared indignation at Sue and pounced at her back. Predictably, she ended up sliding off an invisible forcefield.

Ben picked her up by the scruff of her neck. "Sorry, kitty, but it's back to th' litter box for you."

Before he could toss her aside, as sudden, familiar burning sensation lit up his mind like an exploding grenade. He let go of Michaela as he sank to his knees.

Scrambling to her feet, Michaela wasted no time in leaping at Ben, morphing her fingernails into foot-long talons that raked across his stony-armored skin.

"Hey! Now why's ev'rybody always tryin' to take a piece outta me?" Ben complained, trying to shake off the effects of the mind-blast in order to defend himself.

A stream of flame issued from Johnny's hand, spiraling around Christi until it formed a cocoon around her. "Don't make any sudden moves," he warned. "I don't wanna burn you."

Inside the cocoon, she smiled. "Then don't play with fire." A quick moment of concentration sent Johnny careening to the floor, writhing in agony from her psi-torch. He lost all concentration on the flames surrounding his body and hers.

Christi began to step out of the circle to which she'd been confined, but the surrounding stretch of red-hot metal floor caused her to reconsider. Glancing around, she found the one member of the Fantastic Four clones whom she hadn't yet mind-torched: Sue Storm.

Sue was busy maintaining her forcefield as Ian hammered away at it in a flurry of punches from all directions. She appeared to be weakening as she continued to receive mental feedback from the impacts.

Christi decided she wasn't feeling enough pain, and readied another attack.

Then Ian finished his assault with a hard kick that struck the invisible barrier and sent Sue staggering to the floor.

"Hmmph. I was going to do that," Christi lamented with a pout.

An enraged Ben stood up, grabbed a spike-covered Michaela, and tossed her at Ian, who zipped out of the way faster than the eye could track. Ian rained punches on Ben from all directions, much as he'd done with Sue's forcefield. Though he seemed to be slowly down somewhat.

Abruptly, Ben flung a heavy arm out to the side, clotheslining Ian as the latter circled around from behind. "What? Didn't think I'd figure out your pattern? Rookie."

Ian had landed on his back on the red-hot patch of floor that was just starting to cool down. It was like landing on a hot plate; Ian leaped to his feet, hissing in pain.

He attacked Ben with renewed vigor, neatly sidestepping a punch that ended up crumpling the heavy vault door. Moving behind Ben, he performed a flying kick that sent the large clone through the weakened door and into the hallway.

Christi watched the fight spill out into the hall, then she saw that Sue was busy fending off Michaela, who had morphed her head and neck into that of a rattlesnake. Johnny was still incapacitated from her psi-blast, which left Reed--

A very large fist struck Christi's temple. As she fell to the floor and lost consciousness, she heard Reed Richards' voice mutter, "my apologies."


Station 4, The Negative Zone, Meanwhile

"You can keep your apologies," Quentin Card replied, arms crossed. 'After what you did, you need to stay as far away from me as you can."

Shandra Willis frowned. "But Quentin, I--"

"Save it. I'm not in the mood. My arm still hurts from when you twisted it behind my back." He placed his hand on his shoulder and rolled it around in its socket, wincing at the effort.

"Quentin--"

"You're the Operations Chief here," he pointed out, "which means you should be setting an example for the rest of us. You shouldn't be abusing your position to manhandle your coworkers, regardless of what you think they did!"

"Listen, I--"

"Shh! You didn't listen to me when I told you I didn't blow the whistle on you to Stark-Fuji, so it's my turn." He held her gaze with a dead-serious expression that brooked no further argument. Turning on his heel, he walked briskly away, looking as if he were about to punch the next object in his way.

That next object turned out to be Jack Bostwick, Station 4's financial liaison, who sensed Quentin's mood in time leap out of the taller man's path. Bostwick flattened himself against the hallway corridor until Quentin had passed. "Wh-- what is the matter with him?"

Shandra shrugged and started off down a different corridor. "Takin' a beating in the Fantasy Nukeball league, from what I hear. You should join that sometime, Jack; it'd put hair on your chest."

Bostwick blinked a few times as he watched Shandra walk off; he was positive that something else was going on. But he knew from experience that confronting her about it would get him absolutely nowhere.

Glancing behind himself, he found Janice and Clarice Berg, the engineers known infamously as the Iceberg Sisters, spectating with obvious fascination. Noticing his glare, they looked away and started whistling mock-innocently.

Bostwick shook his head and sighed, heading back to Station 4's bookkeeping. "I need a drink."


Stark-Fujikawa Headquarters Hallway, Earth

Miles Takagi was having a terrible day, and it was only getting progressively worse.

First, he'd spilled hot coffee on the lapel of his brand-new suit.

Next, some smartassed hacker had accessed his holographic assistant, Halle, and tampered with her coding so that she'd looked like a fat, naked man of roughly ninety years of age. While she and Miles were in a meeting with all the corporate heads at Stark-Fujikawa ... including Hikaru the CEO.

Then, it had taken him the next three hours after the meeting to debug Halle and save her many databases from corruption. The one he'd tried the hardest to recover held all the business programs that had been loaded onto her mainframe. He'd installed them into her so she could help him run Stark-Fujikawa's R&D division; he certainly wasn't competent enough to do it on his own. But in the end, the hack had damaged her business programs beyond repair, leaving her just another pretty holographic face who managed his schedule -- and leaving him just another potential warm body on the unemployment line.

And all that had been before Miles' former scientist employees showed up out of nowhere and ran through Alchemax like a meat grinder. Takagi himself had only been spared because of his access to the Negative Zone portal.

Halle, on the other hand, had been erased. Murdered, as far as Miles was concerned. And if he didn't get out of the building as fast as possible, he was going to be next.

He reached the nearest elevator, only to find it dismantled. Its doors lay open, and smoke rose from the exposed wiring within. That left the stairs; Takagi raced toward the nearest stairwell.

He found it filled with smoke and bodies.

Behind him, the sounds of battle grew louder and closer. Ian and Ben were locked in battle; apparently breaking down the Gate Room's door hadn't been enough; they were pounding on each other.

"All right, that does it," Ben asserted between the punches he both gave and received. "It's clobberin' time!"

Ian stopped for a moment out of Ben's reach and sighed, shaking his head. "It was 'clobberin' time' five minutes ago, Grimm. Try to keep up." With that, Ian launched himself at Ben once again, and landed several hard kicks on Ben's upper body within the span of a second.

Hiding in a cubicle, Miles watched as Ian finished with a powerful side kick to Ben's chest that sent the mountainous clone through one of the windows leading outside. The window was reinforced and was designed to withstand a missile attack. Yet it shattered under the impact like cheap wine glass.

Somehow, Ben managed to reach out and grab Ian's foot as he fell backward, dragging the smaller man with him.

After a few minutes, Miles finally mustered the bravery to emerge from his hiding place to peer out the shattered window. Down below, Ben and Ian were on a narrow walkway filled with pedestrians ... and they were still fighting. They'd moved well away from the impact crater Ben had made when he'd hit the ground.

Miles judged that solid ground was a good fifty stories down. He'd been looking for an escape from this building, and jumping out the window seemed like an excellent escape from ... well, everything.

He considered the idea for quite some time.


New York Streets, Five Minutes Later

Considering there were two brawling superhumans battling in the middle of a crowded walkway, one would expect the bystanders to be screaming and running in all directions. Instead, the majority of them just stood and watched.

"What're we, a pay-per-view boxing match, minus the pay part?" Ben wondered aloud as he threw punches.

"Of course it is," Ian replied with a smirk. "They want to see me grind you into dust."

In a louder voice, he declared, "stand back, citizens, and let me handle this impos-- oof!" He was interrupted by a left hook from Ben.

"You get that from the back of a cereal box?" Ben inquired, pressing his attack with a series of punches and uppercuts. "An' anyway, you're the bad guy here ... or weren't you payin' attention when you an' your pals killed all those people at Stark-Fuji?"

Ian dodged each punch with inhuman speed. "They were in the way." He retaliated with his own lightning-fast barrage of punches and kicks.

"You really think that's how th' Fantastic Four are supposed to act?" Ben demanded as he blocked the punches with his forearms. "We ain't murderers!"

"Oh, please," Ian retorted, moving faster to sneak some of his strikes past Ben's guard. "The great figures of history left countless bodies in their wake. Alexander the Great. Christopher Columbus. The leader of any nation you could name. Reed Rich--"

Ben caught his foot and swung him off the walkway and onto a parking lot further below. Ian bounced off the windshields of two parked cars and landed on the pavement. Grimacing with pain and outrage, Ian gripped the nearest car -- a cherry-red Whisper 3000 whose owner had been searching for a parking spot -- and lifted it as if it weighed almost nothing. The sound he made as he threw the car at Ben was somewhere between a grunt and a roar.

"Hey," Ben protested as he caught the sports car as carefully as he could. Unfortunately, Ben at his gentlest still jostled the man around the inside of his car like a pebble in a clothes dryer. And the car's paint job would never be the same.

Slowly setting the car on the walkway, Ben checked on the driver, only to find him mumbling about insurance. "Well, uh," Ben tried. "At least you got your health, right?"

The man looked up at Ben, blinked in dawning comprehension, and suddenly clutched the back of his neck, howling in agony. "Aaah, my neck! I have whiplash! You're responsible for this! I have witnesses! I'm going to sue you for every...."

Rolling his eyes, Ben turned his back on the motorist and looked around for Ian. Letting that maniac out of his sight for any length of time was a bad idea.

A clanging impact to the back of his head proved that theory correct. An enraged Ian was going to town on Ben with a sign from the parking lot. "You think you're better than me?" Ian shouted between swings. "You think you deserve to be in the Fantastic Four? You think you deserve to be cloned from them?"

Noticing that his opponent had stopped using his superspeed -- relying instead on superhuman strength -- Ben backhanded him against the hood of the sports car, causing him to drop the sign pole. Pressing Ian's face against the windshield, he growled in Ian's ear. "Take a good look, pal! You just tossed this car at me with him in it. That even registering with you? Huh? What was this guy 'in the way' too?"

"Yet even after ... rrrh ... you saved his life," Ian pointed out as he struggled, "he tried to sue you. They're meaningless sheep, Grimm. Their lives are meaningless."

"It's not up to us! We don't get t'decide who lives an' who dies!"

The corners of Ian's lips crooked into a smile. "Tell that to Martin Waylon."

Ben's jaw dropped.

"You remember him, don't you? He called himself 'Oldskool'. You killed him when you were just a few days out of the cloning tank ... or did you think I didn't know about that?"

"Shut up."

"We both have blood on our hands, Grimm. We've both killed. We both have power over life and death. But only one of us understands what that means, and it's not you."

"Oh, I don't understand? I don't understand, huh? I oughtta punch your head straight through this car and out the other side!" Every word roared through Ben's massive chest as he shouted in Ian's ear.

"So do it. Prove you understand power."

Ben drew back a heavy fist and raised it high in the air like a hammer. Then he took a deep breath and dropped his hand. "No, I ain't gonna. Screw you. I ain't a murderer. The Fantastic Four ain't murderers. Get it through your thick head."

He became aware of a background roar that he'd been too focused on Hyde to notice. It was the crowd of bystanders, chanting two words over and over:

"Kill him! Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!"

"Looks like we are putting on a show," Ian observed and shoved Ben off of him. The mountainous Thing fell backward off the walkway ledge toward the waiting parking lot.

Ian glanced back to the crowd of onlookers and waved to them before leaping off after Ben. "So let's give them a finale they'll never forget."


Stark-Fujikawa Headquarters, Homegate Room, Christmas Eve

Sue had the distinct feeling she was forgetting about something. She'd been keeping the unconscious Christi in a particularly-thick forcefield while her brother and Reed tried to corral Michaela. The deranged woman was currently finding creative ways to slip out of Reed's hold as he stretched his body around hers; in the process, she was tying him up in knots.

Then it occurred to her: "Uh, Reed? Johnny? Aren't there supposed to be four of them, not three?"

Johnny hovered in midair and scratched his enflamed head. "Er... come to think of it, there were four when when we first got here, yeah. Wasn't his name Jamie ... Jimmy...."

"Jesse Stamp."

"Yeah, him! Think he could've left?"

She narrowed her eyes in thought. "Maybe, but I doubt it."

"I'm not sensing any heat signatures," Johnny reported. "What about you? If he's invisible, can you make him visible?"

She narrowed her eyes in concentration. "I'm trying, but nothing's showing up. Hyde's probably still tangled up with Ben, so if Jesse's on the loose, it could mean huge trouble."

Reed grunted with the effort of Thing-wrangling. "Some assistance would be appreciated," he told his teammates while rendering his body limp enough that Michaela's venom-laden fangs wouldn't sink into him.

Johnny lit the hairs on the back of Michaela's neck on fire, causing her to leap off of Reed with a startled yelp. "Yeah, and if Hyde's taken Ben down, we're really screwed."

"Oh, ye of little frickin' faith," Ben grumbled as he reentered the room, Ian's limp body slung over his shoulder. "I wore 'im out. Guess it was past his nap time. We finished here?"

A muffled clapping sound occurred near the Homegate's control panel, followed by a gunshot. Jesse Stamp filtered into view and staggered against the panel, looking like he'd just had a door slammed in his face. A pistol fell from his hand and clattered against the floor.

"There you are," Sue chirped, then knocked him out cold with another forcefield, then used it to levitate him toward the others. "Now we're done."

Johnny glanced from the fallen energy pistol, to the hole burned into the wall near his head, and back again. "Was he trying to shoot me?"

"It would appear Sue's forcefield caused him to miss," Reed observed, then stretched his body over to the Homegate's control panel. "The deeper question is, 'has he been at this panel all along?'" He pressed a few buttons. "According to this activity log--"

A sudden and familiar blast of agony scorched the insides of the Four's heads. As they struggled to regain coherent thought, they witnessed Ian and his colleagues get up and open the Negative Zone portal.

Grinning at the Four, they entered it.

"No! They're getting away," Sue shouted as she fought off the effects of the mind-torch. "On your feet, everyone -- I can't hold the portal open forever!"

The Fantastic Four dashed toward the portal, stumbling thanks to their diminished coordination. Johnny was the first one through, followed by Reed. Ben made sure Sue made it through, so they entered together as Sue's forcefield and the portal collapsed behind them.

And then--


The Negative Zone

They entered through the other side and promptly fell on their faces. The lingering effects of Christi's mental attack had hampered their ability to adjust to the phenomenon of crossing realms through the Distortion Area.

"So glad you could make it," a voice greeted them. To their mangled perceptions, the voice sounded slow and deep, like a recording played at half-speed.

Looking up, Reed tried to focus on the speaker. "Hyde...?"

"Not exactly," the man replied. As their awareness aligned with the Negative Zone, they watched the vaguely-human shape coalesce into a tall bald African-American man with a neatly-trimmed beard and a confident gaze.

"C...Cameron Daye," Johnny whispered.

Sure enough, they realized they were sprawled not in their Station 4 headquarters, but in a hallway corridor inside the Octagon Maximunm Security Prison. They were greeted by the man in charge and surrounded by a detail of security guards wearing Situation Emergency GEar.

"Welcome to your new home."


TO BE CONTINUED

Previous Issue: "Four More, Part One: Empowered"

Next Issue: "Four More, Part Three: Imprisoned"


Another fine mess the Fantastic Four have gotten themselves into....

Anyway, cue Rena, who has plenty to say about last issue:

Though I wouldn't recommend it, and wouldn't like it too much if it happened, it would be interesting and very shocking if Ian and the gang actually killed the FF clones and took over the title to truly become the new FF 2099. Everybody would be totally OMG!!? I can't believe he really did! After reading this issue I could almost imagine this happening since so much thought and care have been put into making Hyde and the gang such solid characters, easily carrying the issue. I do hope the opposite at least doesn't happen, that the FF kills them. I'd like to see the Frightfuls become one of their regular antagonists like the original Frightful Four was for the original FF. I would enjoy seeing a Unlim spotlight issue and the four continue to make the rounds of the 2099 'verse. That is if they survive after the next issue and/or don't end up as residents of the Octagon with Keith.

Glad you're liking what I'm doing with the Frightfuls, Rena! It's definitely hard work to make them strong enough characters to hold their own for an entire issue. As for whether or not they'll survive past this storyarc ... well, that'd be telling.

As you've seen from this issue, a certain Four did end up as Octagon residents ... just not the ones you were expecting. Hee.

Some other thoughts. Ian toying with the idea for a moment of calling himself the Whizzer. It'd match his powers and kinda sounds like the Wizard, but instead entertainingly they all adopt names based off the FF. Cool fun idea and telling, if it needs to be any more clear about them. Looking at how you recreated the Frightful Four, I was thinking of their motivations, and really, they're not all that different than the first ones in some ways. The Wizard and Trapster were also scientists, brilliant ones, but instead of using their own great accomplishments in the field of science to inflate their egos they felt this deeper need in them, overriding common sense, that they had to measure up to the Fantastic Four. The fame and that feeling of being one of the gods of modern day, a superhero or supervillain. If the real world did have superheroes flying around, there would be people acting just this way, pursuing that power and status. And the Fantastic Four are arguably the greatest superhero team of all time. It's understandable some people would want to attach themselves to that. Although for Hyde and crew its not a celebrity crazed superhero culture like the original Frightful Four but a myth that they're chasing, which is also a fun part of the whole concept I like.

-Rena Paradox, via e-mail

Yeah, the initial concept of the Frightful Four being inspired by the Fantastic Four's celebrity status was preserved in the 2099 versions; I'm just exploring a different variation on the theme. Instead of merely wanting to destroy the FF, Hyde and the crew want to BE the FF. They're not even interested in becoming the Frightful Four. Still, next issue will reveal how they get saddled with the 'Frightful' moniker anyway, so stay tuned for that!

--David Ellis, 12.01.2006_