Issue Nine, Volume Two

"Four More, Part Three: Imprisoned"

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

Miles Takagi

Cameron Daye

Quentin Card

Jack Bostwick

Janice Berg

Clarice Berg


 


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

We've made a new friend today.

Her name is Shandra Willis, a computer whiz who was just transferred to our department. She was hired to use her coding skills to upgrade Stark-Fujikawa's Homegate portal to the Negative Zone. With any luck, that should stabilize the portal's bridge between our plane of reality on the Zone. Considering S-F's been sending soldiers through it in addition to the construction workers in order to tame the land, it'd definitely be a good idea to have a Homegate that glitches less.

Anyway, Shandra's one of the more pleasant people we've encountered recently. She claims she's from Pennsylvania, and her background check confirms that. Though for all we know she could have hacked her records but that's just my overly-suspicious nature.

My Section M04 colleagues and I are all taken with her, especially Christi. I caught the two of them flirting earlier, so they seem to be playing for the same proverbial team (or teams). I'll be disappointed if it turns out she's not into men, but as long as she and Christi don't decide to get my workstation sticky, I'm okay with it.


Addendum, dated the next day

They made my workstation sticky. There will be hell to pay.


Joey's Bar, New York City, Late January, The Year 2100

"My life is Hell!" Miles Takagi wailed as he sat a bar stool and drank some really strong liquor straight from a bottle.

"Yeah, you've been sayin' that at least once a minute since you first sat down," the barkeep replied, debating whether or not he should put aside his usual apathy. "If you wanna talk about it...."

"No, I don't wanna talk about it!" Miles took another long hard swig from the bottle. "Oh, gawd, Halle's gone! She's gone!"

A smug smile crept onto the bartender's face. "I figured it was a woman problem. Who's she? Your wife? Girlfriend?"

Miles buried his face in the crook of his elbow as it rested on the counter top. "She was ... snff! ... my secretary!"

"Oh, I see. Your mistress, then."

"Nooo! We weren't like that at all!"

"Likely story. So she walked out on you?"

"She was electrocuted."

"Oh, that's even -- wait, electrocuted?"

"Wiped her database clean."

Picking at his mustache, the bartender replied, "so she's one of those holo-secretaries? And you've been boffin' her?"

Miles looked up and glared at him with bleary eyes. "We. Weren't. Like that!"

"Well ... why not? I mean, I've seen some of the new models. Now that they're in full-color instead o' yellow ... they're lookin' pretty hot."

"She balanced my checkbook and kept my division out of the red."

"Oh. Well, that's nice of her, then. You gonna get another one?"

Miles finished of the rest of the bottle in a single swallow. "I'm gonna be fired pretty soon, so I don't think I'll be able to afford one." He slammed the bottle down on the counter, then fell off the stool onto the floor, passing out.


Stark-Fujikawa Division Headquarters, The Negative Zone

A fist slammed into Evan Krieger's face, sending the head of Stark-Fujikawa's Negative Zone division to the floor. He almost passed out.

Slowly opening one eye, Evan found three people -- two females, one male -- in his office waiting for him. Each wore a stylized blue-and-white uniform bearing a numeral '4', but they didn't look like the Fantastic Four. One didn't even look human. "Who are you people, and how did you get in my office?"

One of them was seated in Evan's chair with his feet propped up on the desk. "Oh, c'mon," the man conversed as he played with one of Evan's expensive paperweights. "Don't tell me you don't recognize us. Not only were we the Stark-Fujikawa scientists who provided you with the genetically-engineered Mole Men a year or two ago, but we're also the new Fantastic Four." He pointed at the '4' insignia on his chest.

Evan blinked, realization setting in. "Hyde, right? Ian Hyde? You were tearing up the S-F building on Earth earlier, weren't you? I thought the Fantastic Four took care of you." He glanced around at them. "And shouldn't there be four of you?"

"You really haven't paid much attention, have you?" a second man asked as he leaned against a wall; Evan hadn't noticed he was standing there previously. "The clones who call themselves the Fantastic Four only thought they'd beaten us. But in the end, they couldn't stop us from taking our rightful place in the Negative Zone."

Evan was still trying to calm his breathing and heart rate after he'd been startled. He recognized the man as Jesse Stamp, one of the renegade scientists, though his trademark stutter was absent for some reason. "Geez, give a guy a heart attack, why don't ya...."

The red-haired girl -- Christi Wood -- smiled as she sat on his desk, hacking into his computer. "The thought crossed our minds."

Indignant, Evan got up and rushed toward Christi as fast as his three-hundred-sixty pounds could carry him. "Hey, that's mine! You can't--"

The inhuman-looking woman -- who by process of elimination had to be Michaela Bailey -- intercepted him halfway, digging her enormous claws deep into his flesh. Her gloves, like the rest of her uniform, were apparently made of unstable molecular fabric, and were thus able to stretch along with her shape-shifting body. "As Invisible said, this is our rightful place. Your property is now ours."

"We just need you to make it official," Ian announced as he gestured to the holographic communicator built into Evan's desk. "Just a brief broadband declaration that we, the new Fantastic Four, are in charge now."

Michaela sniffed the air and scrunched her green scaly face in disgust. "He urinated on himself."

"I don't think I blame him," Christi replied casually.


Evan Krieger's face was anything but casual as it showed up on every communications device in the Zone, and even a few on Earth. "Attention, all Stark-Fujikawa personnel stationed in the Negative Zone," he pronounced around a swelling jaw. "This is Evan Krieger, Executive Officer in charge of--"

"Will you just get to the point already?" another voice demanded, sounding irate. Evan's face was shoved out of viewing range and replaced by the smirking visage of a dark-haired man only a few in the Zone recognized.

"What Evan here meant to say, of course, is that he's turning over complete control of the Negative Zone to me, Dr. Ian Hyde. Isn't that right, Evan?"

Evan was heard whimpering in the background of the transmission.

The transmission's view slowly zoomed out to show the rest of Hyde's cohorts. "So. For those of you not fortunate enough to know who we are, introductions are in order: Dr. Michaela Bailey, Dr. Christi Wood, and Dr. Jesse Stamp. Formerly of Stark-Fujikawa R&D; currently the new Fantastic Four."

Station Four Headquarters, Minutes Later

Shandra Willis' jaw dropped as she watched the broadcast. "Are they serious?" she asked, glancing around at the other gathered crew-mates for confirmation. "But what happened to the--"

"Now, you're probably asking yourselves, 'wasn't there another Fantastic Four in the Negative Zone? Led by Reed Richards?' And it's a valid question. But let's face it, people: they were clones. Defective copies who believed themselves to be worthy successors to the legacy and proved themselves to be otherwise. We are going to rectify that mistake. See, we're looking out for your best interests, and we don't believe you should have to settle for second-best." Ian pointed at himself, Michaela, Christi, and Jesse in turn. "We are Fantastic, Thing, Torch, and Invisible ... and we're all the Fantastic Four you'll ever need."

"Wow, he made that sound really ominous," Clarice Berg commented as she watched. Quentin Card shhed her quiet so he could hear the rest.

Shandra, for her part, had stopped listening to Ian's self-important speech. She realized as soon as Clarice had spoken that the woman's older sister Janice wasn't in the same room with them. The two Bergs were typically so inseparable that Shandra and the rest of the Station 4 crew had taken to calling them the 'Iceberg Sisters'. In fact, there was only one other time Shandra could think of when she'd seen one sister without the other.

It was when Shandra had hacked the surveillance system for the Stark-Fujikawa headquarters.

She felt as if she'd been punched in the stomach. It was them. They were the ones who'd ratted out her hacking to Stark-Fuji. When she'd ghosted the mainframe, the sister who was absent was probably off reporting to Hikaru.

Problem was, she didn't have proof. The last time she'd (violently) accused someone of being the culprit, that someone -- Quentin Card -- had been innocent.

Ian had continued talking, but his train of thought was interrupted by a beeping noise.

"Looks like six warships have been dispatched," Christi reported, "and they're headed our way."

"Great," Ian groaned. "We have dissenters already." Turning back to the view-screen, he promised, "we've got to take care of something. We'll be right back."

Just before he clicked off the connection, he added, "oh, and in case anyone's wondering: the clones formerly known as the Fantastic Four are experiencing massive amounts of torture. Just like him." He nodded to Christi, who glared at Evan, causing the large man to scream at the top of his lungs as his nose bled.


Octagon Maximum Security Prison, Meanwhile

Other than the sounds of Evan Krieger screaming himself hoarse, the room was silent.

Reed Richards and his teammates lined three walls of a small cube-shaped cell, confined by heavy restraining devices that kept them from moving a muscle. They were a captive audience to Krieger's agony, which was projected as a hologram with full audio from a small projector that had been wheeled in.

"Turn it ... turn it off," Reed Richards urged the man running the projector.

"Sorry, I'm afraid I can't do that," Cameron Daye replied as he pressed a series of buttons. His deep, resonant voice allowed him to be audible even above Evan's screams, and his words were delivered with a sharp, measured cadence, as if he chose every word carefully. "I am under orders to play this broadcast on loop, just to remove any lingering doubts you've been replaced."

"Takin' ... orders from Hyde now?" Ben Grimm asked slowly. He and his teammates had yet to shake off the effects of Christi Wood's earlier psionic attack and their trip through the Negative Zone's Distortion Area. The Area played absolute havoc on the perceptions of a human operating at full mental capacity, and the Four weren't. The result was like experiencing a perpetual hangover.

"Not that I necessarily have to answer your question," Daye replied, "but yes, Ian Hyde and I go way back. When he contacted me with his plan to take over the Zone, I was more than willing to lend a hand."

Sue Storm's eyes tried to focus on him, though the room's harsh artificial lights made her squint. "Why...?"

Daye paced around the projector as Evan's voice died down, illustrating the inflections of his words with sharp hand gestures. "Surely you've interacted with the people Stark-Fujikawa put in charge of this dimension. People like Evan Krieger are idiots. The Negative Zone would be a much better place with Ian and his Four in charge."

"And let me ... guess," Johnny Storm whispered with a glare of betrayal directed at Daye. He seemed to be the most lucid of the Four at the moment. "You get the bonus ... perk of torturing us. I thought you were a shrink. That you're supposed to ... help people."

Cameron Daye chuckled as the looped recording of Ian chattered on in the background. "Johnny, my boy, do you really think a man with a psychology degree is put in charge of a facility like the Octagon so he can improve inmates' minds? The prisoners are here because they're the worst offenders Earth has to offer. The undesirables to Stark-Fujikawa. Their ultimate destination is to be turned into Mole Men and spend the rest of their lives as near-mindless laborers. I'm here to study them, Mr. Storm. I'm here to ensure their transition from prisoner to Mole Man is as smooth as possible." In a low voice, he added, "psych evaluations of the Zone employees is just something I do on the side."

Reed's elastic face sagged as he tried to both hold his shape and maintain his train of thought. "And since we're ... prisoners ... is our fate to ... become Mole Men?"

Daye smiled. "Absolutely. That is why Ian's Four arranged to have you transported here, after all. But before that, I'm allowed to have some fun with you. Case in point, I'm going to give you a break from the recording." He pressed a button, turning off the projector. "Lights to one quarter ... for ambiance."

At his verbal command, the lights dimmed, and Daye nodded to a nearby guard in full SItuation Emergency GEar, who opened the door. The second SIEGE guard wheeled the projector to one corner of the room to make way for a new arrival: a figure restrained to a wheelchair being escorted into the brightly-lit hallway by a third guard.

Back-lit by the hallway, the face of the gaunt newcomer in the chair was obscured by shadows, but when he came to a stop at the center of the room, there was enough light to make it all too clear who it was.

"I'm sure you remember this gentleman from back in November," Daye stated, his smile growing more and more pleased by the moment. "He's certainly been looking forward to seeing you again. He talks about you often."

Johnny grit his teeth at the sight of the guest. "Paranoid Keith." The air temperature around him rose sharply.

"Say hello to the clones, Keith," Daye urged, as if speaking to a child.

Keith McLaughlin's blank stare fixed on them and intensified. "Hello to the ... clones."


Station 4 Headquarters, Security Bunker

The process of putting a facility as sophisticated as Station 4 under lock-down was an involved one. Heavy perimeter shielding had to slide into place. Personnel had to be herded into a protective bunker deep within the station's planetoid. And the automated defense systems had to emerge, such as energy projectile turrets, forcefields, and other hidden surprises.

Only five people on Station 4 knew the extent of those 'hidden surprises'; of those five, only Shandra was aboard. Even so, it quickly became clear to the rest of the crew was convinced that the defenses weren't working when the only measure that actually happened was the exodus to the bunker.

"Errr ... the defense sequence was initiated," Clarice Berg asked Shandra as she and the others huddled in a bunker almost too small to hold all the employees. "Why isn't anything happening?"

"Yeah, aren't the defenses run by Richards' supercomputer?" Clarice's sister Janice asked now that she was once again in the same room.

Glancing bashfully at two other technicians, then the floor, Shandra murmured, "integrating that is on the to-do list ... for tomorrow."

Janice and Clarice were incredulous. "Tomorrow?!" they shouted in unison.

"Hey! Coding F.R.A.N.K.L.I.N. to run all the defense systems is time-consuming work, an' I had a bunch of other jobs ahead of it! It's not like I knew this place was gonna be invaded today."

"Perfect," Quentin Card complained as he leaned against one wall, arms folded. "So that means we're sitting ducks like this, huh? That means we wait for them to come plant their flag here?"

"We could ... wait for the Fantastic Four to come back and bail us out."

Quentin shook his head, trying to keep his temper under control. "Weren't you listening to their little 'State of the Union' address? They're the FF now. They kicked the clones to the curb."

Shandra glanced nervously at the gathered co-workers. "Uh, okay, why's everybody looking at me like this is my fault?"

Quentin glared. "Aren't they your friends?"

"They were ... before I knew they were involved with stuff like organlegging! Now will you get off my case? I don't even like them anymore. If they were standing right here, I'd--"

A deep metallic clang resonated through the planetoid and the bunker within, signaling that a vessel had just docked at Station 4. "That's probably them now," Clarice pointed out. "So .... what would you do to them?"


Station 4 Headquarters, Docking Bay

A quartet of SIEGE officers waited in a docking bay corridor, weaponry on standby. They were the last line of defense standing between the new Fantastic Four and Station 4, and they'd been briefed on what little was known about their opponents' abilities.

The leader of the Four was reportedly super-strong and super-fast, so their current SIEGE armor was equipped with motion sensors and performance enhancers.

Another member could apparently attack minds, so the officers wore psi-dampeners on their foreheads inside their helmets.

Another could mimic animal traits, so the officers had extra-dense armor and sonic weapons to compensate.

They had no idea what the fourth's power was, and that worried them immensely.

They'd been assigned to guard Station 4's Homegate when the FF clones had journeyed through it to confront the upstart FF. Yet when both parties entered the Earthside portal, the upstart team reportedly ended up in the Zone headquarters, and the clone team ended up in the Octagon, leaving the SIEGE team rather useless at Station 4.

Still, the officers were vigilant, as the upstarts' arrival at Station 4 was inevitable. According to their armors' info-feed, they'd done battle with the crew of six warships and defeated them with their various powers, taking one of the warships on a flight path toward the station.

The officers considered themselves as prepared for this so-called Fantastic Four as they could possibly expect. At least until a moment or two before the airlock opened. Then all hell broke loose.

"Sir, losing signal on psi-dampener!" one officer reported to the leader.

The squad leader checked his own dampener and groaned. "Shock! What idiot designed these things to transmit a signal that can be--" He abandoned that train of thought as the airlock chimed, alerting that that the door was about to open.

"Fire!"

The officers opened fire as soon as the airlock slid open, but somehow their forearm-mounted cannons jammed and exploded. This not only knocked them off their feet and stunned them, it also mangled their arms past their elbows.

"Wh-what," one of the officers had enough presence of mind to ask. "What th-the shock just happened?!"

By now, the airlock was fully open, and three members of the new Four strode out into the corridor. The fourth, Ian Hyde, resolved into view amid the sprawled SIEGE officers. "Allow me to explain," Hyde answered, crushing the officer's faceplate -- and the skull underneath -- with a hard kick. "I jammed the weapons with my inhuman speed."

"Yeah, don't take all the credit," Jesse warned. "This tactic was my idea in the first place, and Christi hacked their psi-dampeners. And if I hadn't cloaked you, they'd have known you were there and mowed you down before you could get close."

Ian waved it off. "Semantics."

"Now that Station 4 is ours," Michaela spoke as she snapped another officer's neck, "what is our first order of business?"

"We fortify it from further intrusion," Ian replied. "Torch, what's the status on the station's crew?"

Christi studied her new palmtop computer screen. "They're all cooped up in the bunker downstairs. They're not goin' anywhere."

"Good. Once we get settled, we can introduce ourselves."


Station 4 Bunker, Half an Hour Later

"Greetings, personnel of Station 4," Ian greeted with a wide smile. "Effective immediately, you are no longer working for Stark-Fujikawa, a fact that should bring you immense relief. You're not even working for those clones. Instead, you'll be working us -- the real Fantastic Four. Any questions?"

Janice raised her hand. "So, you're hereby taking over all rights and responsibilities that go along with being the Fantastic Four?"

Ian rolled his eyes. "That is what we've been saying the entire time, yes."

As there was limited remaining standing room in the crowded bunker, Janice and Clarice strolled right up to the Four. "And this includes taking responsibility for our payroll, now that ties have been severed with S-F?" Clarice asked.

"Yes, yes, of course," Ian replied, sounding bored. "Are there any other questions?"

Janice and Clarice glanced at each other and shrugged. "Nope, that's just what we wanted to know," Janice replied as she abruptly fired off a right hook aimed at Ian's jaw.

Surprised, Ian ducked the lightning-fast punch in time, and Janice's fist collided instead with Christi, who was standing behind him. She dropped to the floor like a sack of flour.

Ian retaliated by throwing a punch at Janice, but Clarice caught his arm, twisted it behind his back, and slammed him face-first against a wall before pummeling him with her other fist.

Michaela roared and pounced at Clarice, but Janice caught her in midair and bent over backward, slamming her headfirst onto the ground in a suplex maneuver.

Clarice kept a hold on Ian as she launched a high side kick into the empty space where Jesse was last seen. He reeled from the blow, materializing into view as he fell against the wall. From the first punch to the final kick, it had taken the Iceberg Sisters four seconds.

"See," Janice explained, we're under orders from Hikaru himself to take down the Fantastic Four if they cut out of line. And since you bitheads volunteered to be the FF, you gotta take your lumps fair and square."

Two gunshots rang out in the confined space, and the sisters fell to the floor, gunshot wounds oozing from their foreheads.

"'Fair and square'?" Jesse quoted as his pistol appeared in his hand, having previously been cloaked. "Sorry, not interested in that." He whirled the gun on his finger like a gunslinger.

Shandra's gaze was fixed on the two slain sisters. She hadn't known them very well, and now she realized that she knew even less about them than she'd thought. Not only had they been secretly working as plants for Stark-Fujikawa ... but they apparently had strength and speed enhancements? And they'd been planning to take out the other Four -- the clones -- if they pulled something like this? And now they were dead.

All of this was too much to absorb. When she finally realized Ian was calling her name, she looked up at him and glared. "You really think you're the Fantastic Four? You ... you caused all these deaths without any remorse at all, and you call yourselves the Fantastic Four? You're more like the Frightful Four, you ask me."

The Four leaned against the wall and laughed for at least half a minute. "We didn't ask you," Ian pointed out. "And, come on, the Frightful Four? We aspire to loftier goals than simply trying to beat the Fantastic Four at their own celebrity game. Leave the Frightfuls in the past; we're the future."

Christi slipped her hand into Shandra's, interlocking their fingers. "C'mon! I've got so much to show you! We could catch up on old times, get reacquainted, hack the supercomputer--"

"Hack the supercomputer? You mean F.R.A.N.K.L.I.N.?"

"What else?" Ian answered. "Clone or not, Richards has been amassing quite a bit of knowledge in the short time he's been alive. Well, everything that's his is mine now. Especially his secrets."


Octagon Maximum Security Prison

"You have no ... secrets from me," Paranoid Keith McLaughlin whispered as he sifted through the minds of the Fantastic Four clones. "The last time we ... met, you were very ... young. You didn't have ... enough experiences for me to twist. But it's been ... months. Now you have more ... than enough."

The Four writhed in agony against their restraints as their heads were flooded with images and sensations. "St ... stop it!" Johnny shouted, his shackles glowing red-hot as his body heat increased. "I don't want to see this!"

"But I ... want to," Keith replied. "There's so much to ... see."

"Tell me, Kieth," Daye asked in a soothing voice as he stood off to the side. "when you sift through their deepest secrets, what do you see?"

Keith appeared to squint. "I ... see what they try to hide from each ... other." Keith turned to Ben. "The guilt that ... drives you to faith." To Reed. "The responsibility that drives ... you to hide." To Johnny. "The fear of your ... own gift." To Sue. "And the drive for new ... passions in unexpected ... arms."

He addressed all four of them. "I see it all. Feel ... it. I want to make ... you choke on it."

"Stop it!" Johnny shouted, whipping his frantic gaze around in horror. "Fire ... can't control it! Not again! Make it stop! Make it--!"

His body lit up like a star, an aura of fiery radiance surrounding him and melting his durable restraints like grilled cheese. His blue-and-white uniform was obscured by orange-white plasma; his eyes seemed to glow.

The room was illuminated like a beach on a summer day; the air sizzled around him. Johnny exhaled, his breath sharply hissing as a cloud of steam. "Make it stop!" He reached out and grabbed Keith by the throat, squeezing tightly as flesh barbecued on contact.

As the SIEGE guards raised their forearm weapons and spray flame-retardant foam, Johnny simply waved his hand and produced a solid wall of flame that dissipated the foam. He then sent the wall of flame outward, blanketing the guards. The SIEGE armor easily withstood the fiery onslaught, but the humans inside weren't as lucky.

Daye was also caught in the wall of flame, and with no protection at all, he burst into flame and ash almost as easily as his attire.

Johnny glanced down at Keith, finally removing his hand from his enemy's throat. Keith was now a charred corpse in burning clothes and a molten wheelchair. His face was frozen in a wild-eyed howl of excruciating pain.

Backing up from Keith, Johnny felt his hands begin to tremble. "No ... no, I didn't mean to...." Panic laced his voice as tears attempted to stream down his face, turning instantly to steam. "Flame off ... flame off! Why can't I...?"

He stopped in his tracks, then slowly turned around toward his three teammates. He wasn't sure he wanted to know what condition they were in. He closed his eyes tightly until he'd turned a full one-hundred-eighty degrees to face them.

He opened his eyes. What he saw felt like a punch in the stomach. "...no..."

He slumped to the floor, shaking uncontrollably. "No ... what have I ... flame off ... I can't ... I can't...."



As Johnny babbled to himself, still powered down and restrained to a wall, Dr. Cameron Daye watched as Johnny's three teammates went through his or her own private nightmare. He patted Keith on the shoulder, and replied, "you are correct, Mr. Storm: you can't. None of you can withstand the breaking of your spirits."


TO BE CONCLUDED

Previous Issue: "Four More Part Two: Embattled" Next Issue: "Four More, Part Four: Destined"


That's right, the "Four More" storyarc will conclude next issue, but speaking of conclusions, I have an announcement to make concerning Fantastic Four 2099UGR.

This current volume will end with May's #12v2, with Volume 3 launching at a later date. The reason for this is that the last time I had any real issue backlog with the series was during Volume 1, the mini-series. Any initial plans I had to get some backlog going with Vol. 2 very quickly went out the window, so I'm not going to launch Vol. 3 until I have at least three issues of it ready to go. That might be a while, as I'd also like to recharge my batteries on the series and focus more on my many other fanfic projects.

But I haven't turned my back on the series by any means: FF2099UGR is my baby. If anything, think of #12v2 as a season finale, and #1v3 as a season premiere. That kind of season-based storytelling is all the rage these days with comics, fanfiction, DVDs ... oh, and TV shows. Let's not forget TV shows, the reason for the season.

So. Thus concludes that announcement. Onto Rena's (brief this time) letter regarding last issue:

Oh and I read FF #8 on Saturday. I did not see that ending coming. So this was Hyde's plan I take it. Keep the clones alive, held securely, so they can watch what a real FF can do lol. I have no idea how they got the Octagon people to go along with this.

-Rena Paradox, via e-mail

Hopefully, this issue answered your question about how the "new" FF were able to arrange this with the Octagon staff. I'm delighted to see you were surprised by that twist, and I'm curious to see how much of this issue's events surprised you.

--David Ellis, 01.31.2007_