_From Dr. Ian Hyde’s private journal, The Year 2097_
The patient is now a near-mindless, inhuman creature. Needless to say, the project is a success.
My colleagues and I had been contracted by Stark-Fujikawa to engineer a breed of mutates capable of surviving and thriving in the hostile
dimension known as the Negative Zone. In the process, we’ve paid tribute to the Fantastic Four – the twentieth-century heroes who discovered the Zone in the first place – by naming these mutates “The Mole Men” due to their ability to burrow through the solid rock that composes the Zone’s many asteroids.
I believe the Four would be proud of us, as we’ve let no barriers stand in the way of the project’s goal. Just as the Four were created when they stole a spacecraft of Reed Richards’ own creation, we obtained harvested mutant organs from the black market in order to speed up our progress. The Four never let anything limiting like ethics stand in their way; now neither do we.
And one day soon, we’ll experience the Negative Zone for ourselves.
Maximum Security Prison 'Octagon', The Negative Zone, Late December,
The Year 2099
Cosmic radiation from the Negative Zone burned through Ian Hyde’s
veins. The pain was excruciating; he felt as if he were going to die.
"F … fantastic…" he breathed through gritted teeth.
His colleague, Christi Wood, also let out exhausted breaths to his
left. "Yeah, I ... think I need ... a cigarette."
Ian, Christi, and their two fellow colleagues Michaela Bailey and Jesse Stamp, were strapped to a chair and injected with a formula made from the Fantastic Four's genetic material, along with trace amounts of cosmic energy. Granted, the Four in question were actually clones of the twentieth-century team of super-powered explorers, but they were close enough for the scientists' purpose.
That purpose would make gods out of Ian and his friends.
They were aided in this endeavor by a group of organleggers,
black-market street surgeons. Their leader, Bradstreet, stepped toward them and
asked, "enjoy your little cocktail?"
"This is pretty good stuff," Ian answered, his words slightly slurred,
"especially where the release of endorphins is concerned. We've only
just begun to feel the effects of the serum. Once our new powers kick
"If that actually happens," the surgeon interrupted, looking rather
pleased with himself, "I'll be very impressed."
This question puzzled him, and Michaela voiced his thoughts. "What are
you talking about? Our calculations are precise down to the hundredth
Some of the organleggers were full-flesh human, while others had been
cybernetically enhanced. "It was until I removed the decimal one place
to the left," one of the cyborgs announced. "Now your guess is as good
as ours what's about to happen."
Jesse Stamp was the meekest of the M04 scientists. True to form, he
started stuttering and panicking. "B-but ... why're y-you ... you doing
"You not only brought the Fantastic Four -- clones or not -- onto our
doorstep," Bradstreet pointed out, "but SIEGE-wearing Watchdogs as
well!" He gestured toward the Stark-Fujikawa Watchdog officers off to the
side, clad in SItuation Emergency GEar. "We
organleggers prefer not to have that kind of heat on our necks, thank you very
"They're under our control, bit-head!" Christi shouted. Indeed, her
skills as a hacker had allowed them to take control of the SIEGE armor.
Except.... "Not anymore," Sergeant Harkness of the SIEGE team
corrected. He and his men had been standing off to the side, locked in their own
armors, but now they strode confidently forward, back in control.
"Looks like your little program's just been hacked."
"Shandra..." Ian heard Christi whisper, and it made his teeth grit. Of
course it had to be Shandra Willis. She'd been their friend right up
until she discovered their connection to the organleggers, and when they
dated she'd taught Christi all she knew about data pirating.
The organleggers who hadn't been enhanced with cyborg parts fled for
the door, but not fast enough as the Watchdogs opened fire on them. Ian
was finding it increasingly difficult to pay attention to the ensuing
battle; the feverish warmth of the serum was causing him to fade in and
out of consciousness.
Ian had no idea how long he was out, but when he awoke, he heard a
deep, gravelly voice comment, "hate it when people try to play doctor." He
recognized the voice as belonging to Benjamin Grimm, one of the
Fantastic Four clones.
Trying to focus on his surroundings, Ian saw blood on the floor. All of
the cyborg organleggers and a few of the Watchdogs had been slain.
Harkness and the remaining Watchdogs stood over them, gloating, "this has
been a service of Watchdog, Inc."
Ian focused his gaze on Harkness, who was greeting the Fantastic Four.
"Nice to see you up an' around," he told them, and Ian blinked as he
remembered they'd been confined to an operating table. "Reinforcements
should arrive shortly. You can thank your little hacker friend for
severing their control of the SIEGE armor."
Ian Hyde decided in that moment that he hated Shandra Willis more than
anyone else in history, the pseudo-Fantastic Four included. She'd
managed to destroy everything they'd accomplished--
His breath caught in his chest as he glanced over to his fellow
scientists. They were still strapped in the chairs to minimize serum-induced
convulsions they'd long since stopped having ... and they were now
bleeding from various bullet wounds, apparently from stray gunfire. A quick
glance confirmed that he, Christi, and Jesse had only been tagged by
the bullets, but Michaela....
Michaela's upper body was riddled with serious bullet wounds. He
couldn't tell if she was alive or dead.
"She's dying," Sue Storm announced. They're all injured; we need to
take them to a hospital."
Harkness remained unmoved in the face of Sue's plea. "Point one: these
people are criminals, allied with a black-market organ fencing
operation. Which leads me to point two, Miss Storm: any medical and police
protection they might get has to be subscribed to."
Ian tried to find the voice to scream outrage at the top of his lungs.
Nothing came out other than a shuddering breath.
"And I just received a message from Stark-Fuji," Harkness went on,
every word an ice pick to Ian, "these scientists are no longer on the
payroll, so their subscription's been terminated as well. So no dice. They
can sit there and bleed to death for all I care."
Ian tugged at the arm restraints on his chair, desperate to shatter
every bone in the sergeant's face. But he wasn't strong enough.
Instead, he was surprised when Harkness encountered opposition from
another source: Johnny Storm, whose flame aura matched his rage. "Are you
crazy? Aren't you guys supposed to be cops? Protect and serve?"
Abruptly, the flame that surrounded him flickered and dissipated like a candle
in a strong wind.
Ian couldn't help feeling a tinge of glee, to see the Four so weakened.
Another dizzy spell hit him, and he found his consciousness fading out
once again. He was only able to catch snippets of conversation going on
"Ben?" Sue's voice. "...all right?"
"Reed ... with our powers?" Johnny's voice. "...so weak? ...cosmic
"...no idea ... replenish...." Reed's voice. "...return to
The next voice he recognized was Christi Wood's, and he had no trouble
comprehending her one-word statement: "Burn."
Searing pain blazed Ian's mind so intensely, he completely forgot about
what was happening to his body.
The next coherent thought to cross Ian's mind occurred an unknown
amount of time later. It was, quite simply, what in the hell just
The second thought was, wasn't I sitting in a chair? He glanced
around, realizing he was sitting on the cold cement floor, surrounded
by splintered pieces of wood he recognized as the chair in question.
Around his wrists were the warped metal restraints that had bound his arms
to the chair; it looked as though he'd wrenched them from the armrests.
I did this, he realized. I broke the chair. But how? There's
no way I'd have the strength to--
His eyes widened, comprehension dawning. The serum worked. One last,
strong convulsion was all it took.
He looked around at the room, seeing all of the Fantastic Four clones,
SIEGE Watchdogs, and organleggers either unconscious or dead (he
couldn't immediately tell, except for the telltale rising and falling of a
few chests). Good. Ian liked them better that way.
Glancing over to his colleagues, he found that they had remained in
their seats, apparently un-endowed with the same strength attribute.
But at least they were breathing. That was a decent start. "Michaela?
Christi? Jesse?" he asked, trying to get their attention.
"Hurts..." Michaela groaned. Her upper body was now covered in blood.
Ian stood up and walked to her chair, wrenching the arm restraints from
the chair and from her wrists. "Hang on, we'll get you to a hospital,"
he promised her, then removed his shirt and draped it over her
bloodstained body like an impromptu towel. "Those moronic Watchdogs might be
willing to let us die, but I'm not."
"Wanna help us too?" Christi asked, tugging impatiently at her own
restraints. "I'm tired of being in this chair."
Ian repeated the trick on both Christi's and Jesse's chairs, freeing
them. He was about to ask them if they'd felt the same brain-blast he
had, but a voice behind him made him freeze.
"Okay, what the hell was that?" It was Sue Storm. She and the rest of
the Fantastic Four were waking up.
Her brother Johnny was the next to speak. "That's what we'd like to
know. Feels like I just skipped the 'getting drunk' part and went straight
to the hangover."
"Could it be a psionic attack of some kind?" Reed wondered, contracting
hi shapeless body until it looked human again. "If so, where could it
have come from?"
Christi was puzzled. "Okay, are they ignoring us? Why the shock are
they ignoring us? Don't they know how rude that is?"
"Last thing I saw before we were hit," Sue commented, "Christi Wood
said something about...." She trailed off as she looked right at Ian and
his colleagues. "Reed? Everyone? Where are the scientists?" She gestured
"Hello! We're standing right here," Christi shouted, waving her hand.
She let out a shrill whistle.
"What'd they do, get incinerated or something?" Johnny asked Reed and
Sue, oblivious. "Never mind, I don't see any ashes."
"They're not invisible, either," Sue reported. "Maybe teleportation?"
"It's possible," Reed was saying, "their sabotaged formula could have
endowed them with any number of superhuman abilities instead of -- or in
addition to -- our own."
Docs-in-a-Box Clinic #5, 'Downtown' New York, Hours Later
"Either those people were rendered, blind, deaf, and stupid," Christi
commented later, "or--"
"Th-they couldn't see us," Jesse informed her. "Or h-hear us. I-I think
w-we've been --- uh, com-completely edited out of their perceptions."
Christi quirked an eyebrow. "And how would you know that?"
"Uh, juh-judging b-by the buzzing ... y'know, the buzzing in my
"Oh, for once in your life, spit it out!" Christi shouted.
"I-I think I'm the one d-doing the editing. D-don't know how I'm doing
"Will you two keep it down over there?" Ian ordered them from where he
sat in the corner of the waiting room. "We're in a hospital." Monitors
and shoddy equipment beeped around them in the Docs-in-a-Box clinic. They'd found the place shortly after escaping the organlegger hideout
right under the Fantastic Four's noses. They'd wasted no time in forcing
the staff to treat their injuries. Michaela had of course been the worst
off, so her colleagues waited impatiently while she underwent surgery.
"I have news," the lead doctor, a wiry man named Sheffield, announced
as he entered the waiting room far ahead of schedule. "Miss Bailey is
headed toward a full recovery."
Ian stood up from his chair and crossed the small room to Sheffield so
fast none of them saw him move. "Isn't it a little early for that
verdict, Doctor?" He grasped the doctor by the throat and squeezed.
"Shouldn't you be in surgery right now, keeping her alive?"
"That's just it!" Sheffield choked out. "By the time we were prepped
for surgery, her wounds had already closed up!" He took a deep breath and
rubbed his neck when Ian let go. "That woman possesses a regenerative
healing ability that's like nothing I've seen! It's far beyond
"Human?" Ian ventured, slamming Sheffield up against the wall. "Is that
what you're going to say? That we're something other than human?"
The doctor grunted with the impact, and whimpered as Ian Hyde loomed
over him. "Don't ... d-don't kill me!"
"Kill you?" Ian raised an eyebrow, glancing at his colleagues then back
at Sheffield. "Why would I want to do that?" Abruptly, he engulfed the
doctor in a tight, affectionate bear hug. "We've always wanted to
be superhuman! That's the whole point of our experiment!"
He let go of Sheffield -- who slumped to the floor, ribs damaged from
the hug -- then turned back to his fellow scientists. "This is the most
fantastic day of our--" He realized only Christi was visibly standing
there. "Where's Jesse? Is he still here?"
They heard a gunshot elsewhere in the building. Racing toward the
source of the sound, they found a janitor's closet with the door slightly
ajar. Emerging from the doorway -- seeming to materialize out of thin air
-- Jesse paid them little heed as he studied a pistol in his hand.
"Jesse, what happened?" Ian demanded. "And where'd you get that gun?"
"This is Downtown," Jesse replied. "Every doctor has at least one, or
else they'd get all their goods stolen by junkies."
"We know," Ian retorted, impatient. "We grabbed all the doctors'
weapons when we invaded this place, remember?"
Jesse grinned. "Except one." He opened the door fully and gestured
inside, revealing a dead body slumped inside the janitor's closet. The body
was of a doctor, shot in the head. His body faded into view in much the
same way Jesse's had a moment ago, and it disappeared again just as
suddenly. "I spotted him sneaking off to call the Watchdogs. He went for
his gun when he noticed me, so I shot him."
Ian furrowed a brow, puzzled. "I thought you could edit yourself out of
people's perceptions so you wouldn't be noticed?"
"I can. And my power seems to have an area-of-effect that extends to
"Then how did he know you were there, and how is it we could hear the
Jesse shrugged. "It's not an exact science yet -- pardon the pun. I
just discovered it, so working the bugs out of it will take time."
"We don't have time!" Ian snapped, getting in Jesse's face the
same way he'd gotten in Dr. Sheffield's. "The Watchdogs are probably
already on their way!"
"I said Dr. Muniz tried to call them. I didn't let him."
"The gunshot wasn't exactly muffled."
Jesse sighed and gestured toward a nearby window. Visible from outside,
the Fantastic Four clones were engaging in a rather uproarious battle
that was spreading from one street to the next like a gasoline fire. The
team was locked in combat with some creature that seemed to adopt all
four of their power attributes like a modern-day Super Skrull, and they
were assisted by someone in a silvery-white costume and hooded cloak.
"Trust me, no one's paying attention to gunshots at a time like this,"
Jesse pointed out. "As long as they don't take the fight over here,
we're free to hide in plain sight."
Christi barely paid attention to the conversation itself. She was too
busy being creeped out by the fact that Jesse hadn't stuttered once in
that entire conversation.
Docs-in-a-Box Clinic #5, Two Days Later
Michaela raised an eyebrow at Christi's whispered comment. "I heard
Realizing she'd said it out loud, Christi held out her hands in a
placating manner. "Sorry ... but you've got to admit, when the doctor said
you were going to make a full recovery, we assumed that would mean...."
"That I would look like my old self again, correct?" Michaela sat on
the hospital bed, studying her facial features in a hand-held mirror ...
though it seemed strange to think of these features as hers. Following
her massive injuries during the battle between the organleggers and the
SIEGE Watchdogs, her body had healed itself up in a very short period
of time to top physical condition. But in the process her skin had
turned as jet-black as her hair, her eyes had become so bright red they
almost glowed, and her fingernails had lengthened and sharpened like claws.
A makeover like that usually required hours in a makeup chair or
extensive genetic engineering, but these changes came for free.
"Well, uh, look on the bright side," Christi chirped. "A lot of guys go
for that exotic look ... not to mention some women. And you've got to
admit, you look really exotic like that."
Michaela continued studying her reflection, examining her face from
different angles and running her tongue along her lengthened canines. She
concentrated, and her eyes slowly restructured themselves to resemble a
cat's, with yellow irises and narrow pupils. "I do, don't I?"
Conspiratorially, Christi moved in closer and whispered in her
colleague's ear. "If this doesn't catch Ian's eye, nothing will."
Eyes widening, Michaela almost dropped the mirror. "I-Ian ... ? What
"I'm not blind, Bailey. I've seen the way you act when he's in the
room, and how you tend to go even quieter than usual and just ...
look at him out the corner of your eye. Even when I said his name just
"Nonsense. There is nothing--"
"Oh, c'mon, I think it's great." Christi sat back down on Michaela's
med-cot. "You're acting the same way toward him that I acted when we
first met Shandra Willis. And look how that turned out."
"A very strained breakup."
"Before that. We hooked up. We dated. We were in love. And I bet you
an' Ian would last longer than I lasted with Shandra. You two were made
for each other. I mean, shock, the two of you already--"
"Ssssh!" Michaela hissed, dropping her voice to a raspy whisper. "He's
coming; I can hear him." And smell him, she mentally added.
Sure enough, a moment later, Ian entered the room and leaned against
the doorway. "Evening, ladies. I just wanted to inform you that now that
we all have a clean bill of health, we're moving out of this
Docs-in-a-Box and finding shelter elsewhere. We can't stay in one place too long,
after all; two days here is more than enough."
"Where else would we go?" Christi asked.
"I've staked out a few places," he replied. "All in Downtown,
obviously, because Uptown has more surveillance."
"Down here has more Watchdogs, and it's Stark-Fujikawa we're hiding
"Noted. Guess that means we'll have to be extra careful, and develop
our powers more." Ian moved off the door frame and turned to exit the
room. As he did so, he glanced over his shoulder at Michaela.
Christi squealed with delight. "See? Told you! You're made for
Annoyed at her friend's matchmaking, Michaela rubbed her ears. "Please
do not make that noise again."
'Downtown New York' Streets, Five Minutes Later
Too much thought-noise clouded Ian Hyde's head. He needed to clear it
through physical activity, as he considered himself something of an
athlete. His two favorite ways to accomplish that were through jogging or
through sex. Despite the risks involved with briefly leaving the others
when they were supposed to be keeping a low profile, he chose the
The latter option was ... complicated. Ian had known Michaela Bailey
for years, and she'd shared his bed often. No strings had been attached
to that arrangement, because the two of them saw intercourse the same
way: it helped clear their heads and keep their bodies in shape. Once
they scratched that particular itch, they could get on with their
research. Friends with benefits, to use an archaic term.
The problem was that now, if he'd overheard Michaela's conversation
with Christi correctly, emotions had entered the mix. At least on
her part. She had feelings for him beyond their usual relationship. On a
good day, maybe he could even deal with that.
But the way she looked now....
'Something other than human.' Those were Ian's words, less than two
days ago. At the time, the idea that he and his colleagues were becoming
superhuman like the Fantastic Four was the best thing he'd ever heard.
He was excited. Thrilled.
As long as they all still looked human, he realized. And Michaela
didn't. Ian had been watching her progress as she healed from her injuries,
and he guessed that her regenerative properties stemmed from a
shape shifting ability. He'd noticed that her eyes briefly looked catlike, as if
she had the characteristics of the entire animal kingdom at her
He thought it was a fascinating concept ... as long as he didn't have
to sleep with the end result. It bothered him, and it bothered him that
it bothered him. It seemed a petty, outmoded concern, but there it was
So he ran through the cracked streets of Downtown as fast as he could.
The Fantastic Four had been rounded up and taken back to Stark-Fujikawa
headquarters over a day ago, so he could do this. All he had to do was
watch out for the Watchdogs.
Assuming they could catch him.
Abruptly, Ian realized how fast he was running. His surroundings were a
blur, and not just because he was preoccupied. It was because he'd just
raced through three city blocks in the time it might take a car to
travel through one.
Intrigued, he picked up speed.
The next thing he knew, he was in a junkyard on the outskirts of New
York, Uptown and Downtown included. Stopping to catch his breath and to
keep from running over any debris that might injure him, he admired his
progress. And took off his shoes to cool down his feet.
That was his power: superspeed, like Meanstreak from the modern-day
X-Men ... or like twencen heroes such as Quicksilver and Whizzer.
Though perhaps Whizzer was better left forgotten.
A huge smile split Ian's face, and he laughed out loud as he realized
the implications. "Fantastic...."
And then he had an idea.
Abandoned Warehouse, 'Downtown' New York, Christmas Eve
"This is your idea?" Jesse Stamp asked as he and his colleagues
held four blue-and-white uniforms in their hands. "Not that I don't
appreciate the Christmas present, but this has been the master plan
you've been hinting at all these weeks? We're supposed to dress up like
the Fantastic Four?" He pointed to the large white numeral '4' on each
"I'm saying we're going to be the Fantastic Four. The clones in
the Negative Zone are imposters. They're imperfect copies who don't
have what it takes to be the Four. They don't have the drive, the
ruthlessness, to be explorers." He raised an eyebrow. "And be careful with the
uniforms, would you? It took all this time for me to get my hands on
some unstable molecular fabric."
Christi snorted. "I thought the whole point of UMF was that it was
sturdier than normal fabric."
"Well, yes, but these are the only four UMF uniforms available to us
for the foreseeable future. We've slowly been amassing the necessary
resources, but under the radar, through our black-market contacts. We've
been experimenting with our powers, figuring out what our experiment
endowed us with, and determining what we can and can't do." As he wasn't
above showing off, he sprinted around the room and skidded to a stop
right where he started within a single second.
"So all that's been building up to this?" Jesse argued. "I hate to
point this out, but I can cloak myself from biological and electronic
perceptions, not truly turn myself invisible. Michaela's a changeling.
Christi can attack people's minds. And you have an increased physicality
that includes super-speed--"
"And superhuman strength; don't forget that."
"And strength, yes, you've been bragging about that since you
discovered that last week." Jesse shook his head. "My point is, these aren't the
Fantastic Four's powers -- our experiment failed in that regard. So
what's the point in calling ourselves the Fantastic Four?"
Ian chuckled. "Do the modern-day X-Men need the powers of their twencen
predecessors in order to call themselves X-Men? What should matter is
our attempt to follow in the original FF's footsteps."
He gazed at his colleagues' expressions and sighed. "Okay, granted, we
didn't end up with the powers we wanted, but we can still give those
clones a run for their money. They don't deserve to be the Fantastic
Four, and we do. Now are you in, or out?" He held out his hand, palm down.
"I am in," Michaela agreed, far too predictably. She placed her hand
Christi shrugged and followed suit. "Yeah, sure, count me in too. Can't
start a fire without me."
Jesse stood there, arms folded.
Michaela raised a scaly eyebrow. "Jesse?"
After a moment, Jesse sighed and placed his hand atop Christi's. "Guess
this means we'll have to come up with embarrassing nicknames."
"As a matter of fact," Ian replied with a sly smile, "I already have
some in mind."
Alchemax Research & Development Lab, 'Uptown' New York, Early January, The Year 2100
Hurry up, Fantastic!" Christi scolded Ian as the latter carried a
car-sized machine toward an even bigger hole in an R&D lab wall. Five
minutes ago they'd arrived to steal a Zero-Point energy converter from an
Alchemax lab. Despite dealing with building security, they hadn't planned
on staying this long. "I thought you were supposed to be the fastest
one on the team!"
Ian grunted with effort and annoyance. "Only when I'm not
carrying a two-ton machine! That kind of hampers my super-speed, you know!"
"Take all the time you want," Jesse's disembodied voice commented,
seeming to issue from no particular point in the damaged room. "Thing and I
are having fun with these guys." Michaela could be seen tearing into
the pack of Public Eye guards , her feet and legs morphed to resemble a
Gritting his teeth, Ian shouted over his shoulder, "Invisible, how many
times have we told you to at least let us know where you
are? You have enough control to do that without giving yourself away to
A trio of energy bolts lanced from seemingly nowhere and perforated two
guards who moved too closely to the slow-moving Ian. "Look,
'Fantastic'," Jesse's voice countered, pronouncing Ian's chosen codename like an
insult, "do I tell you how to use your powers?"
Ian judged the distance between himself and the hovercar waiting on the
other side of the damaged wall. "You would if you were team leader," he
replied, then hurled the heavy device through the hole in the wall.
"But you're NOT!" Taking a deep breath, he raced at top speed
through the hole as well, and leaped onto the car just in time to catch the
machine. The car dipped sharply in reaction to the sudden increase in
payload, but it remained aloft. Ian set the energy converter on top of
the car and strapped it into the harness. Turning to the others, he
shouted, "we have what we came for; now finish them off so we can get the
hell out of Dodge!"
"Fine with me," Christi replied, concentrating on the small group of
guards who were still standing. In unison, they dropped to the floor,
screaming and bleeding from the eyes and ears.
Offended, Michaela turned and glared at her with red eyes, and Jesse
faded into view to do the same. "We were not done with them," Michaela
Christi shrugged. "You were too slow." She glanced over at Ian, who was
still standing on the hovercar outside the building. "What about you,
Speedy? Got that overgrown vending machine strapped down yet?"
"Yes! Remember the super-speed?" I'm waiting on the three of you to
hurry up--" Before Ian could finish his sentence, one end of a thin strand
of purplish thread covered his mouth with a wet splat sound. An
instant later, he was yanked from atop the hovercar and pulled upward
to the roof of the building.
Christi and her teammates raced to the hole in the wall to investigate.
They heard three very loud thumps.
Then a very fast figure dressed in midnight blue rappelled down the
side of the building and swung through the hole, plowing into them with
The impact knocked Christi, Michaela, and Jesse halfway across the
room. When they stopped rolling and looked up, they recognized the
"Spider-Man," Michaela hissed, taking in the sight of the lithe figure
clad in a dark blue bodysuit decorated with a short web-like cape and a
bright red design that was somewhere between spidery and tribal.
"What are you supposed to be," the angry-sounding vigilante asked,
eying their uniforms, "the Fantastic Four?"
"Our predecessors and yours were allies back in the twencen," Jesse
pointed out. "I don't suppose we could continue the tradition. After all,
you've also attacked Alchemax in the past."
"Unless you're a sellout," Christi added, an accusing tone in her
Spider-Man's fist connected with Christi's jaw, sending her sprawling.
"Alchemax couldn't afford me."
Michaela leaped at Spider-Man, morphing the upper half of her body into
that of a lioness, while keeping her lower half in the form of a
The wall-crawler had to dodge to the side to avoid the claws and fangs.
Once he did, he had an opening to slice at her side with his own finger
talons. As he raked his claws across her ribs, her agonized screams
didn't sound even remotely human.
Six white-hot energy blasts singed Spider-Man's back, leaving him open
to retaliation by Michaela, who shoved him against a wall. Her head
morphed into that of a spider -- flat-round with bristly hair and four
pairs of shiny black eyes. And of course, long mandibles that dripped
"Copycat," Spider-Man commented, then head-butted her.
She reeled back in pain, and he used that to roll up his full-face mask
to expose his mouth. Then he plunged his own venom-laden fangs into her
Her scream was even less human that time.
A sudden surge of pain assaulted his mind, nastier and more primal than
anything else they'd inflicted on him so far. The raging inferno in his
brain sent him staggering, and suddenly he could feel the six energy
burns on his back that the adrenaline of the fight had masked.
Then, distinctly, he felt every other injury he'd ever experienced in
his life, from minor paper cuts to massive beatings at the hands of
super-powered beings. All at once.
"Burn." Christi giggled with delight, fully in touch with everything
she was doing to his mind. She'd known she could induce a blaze of agony
in a victim's mind, but this was a new angle entirely. The power was
intoxicating. She wasn't able to actually read his mind other than brief
glimpses of sensation, but perhaps with time and practice....
So lost in thought, she belatedly realized Ian -- Fantastic -- had
returned. His arrival hadn't been hard to miss, though, as his super-speed
made him a motion blur that pummeled Spider-Man from all directions.
Christi tried experiencing Ian's onslaught through her link with
Spider-Man, but the flurry of super-strong fists nearly gave her sensory
overload. She had to cancel the link with his mind to keep from getting
Ian stopped punching an instant later and let Spider-Man slump to the
floor. "How's that for a team-up." Turning to the others, he
asked, "everyone all right?"
"Other than Michaela's current paralysis thanks to that wall-crawler's
poison," Jesse answered as he resolved into view, tucking his blaster
pistol into his uniform, "we're fine."
Ian walked over to Michaela's convulsing body. "She'll live, right?"
"That remains to be seen."
"Let's get her -- and our new toy -- back to base, then." He slowly and
carefully picked up Michaela and slung him over his shoulder -- though
'slowly and carefully' for Ian was probably faster than her body should
have been moved.
"Another disappointment. He might even be the original's clone. Either
"Too late," Jesse interrupted, gesturing toward the spot vacated on the
floor where Spider-Man had just been.
Sirens and floodlights illuminated the building from outside. "Forget
about him," Christi told them. "Public Eye reinforcements are here. If
we don't leave now...."
Ian leaped through the hole in the wall and onto the hovercar, still
carrying Michaela. "What have I told you people -- I give the
orders on this team. We seriously have to work on our teamwork. Now let's
Stark-Fujikawa Headquarters, 'Uptown' New York, Late January
"I have to say, our teamwork has improved," Ian remarked as he surveyed
his team's handiwork. They'd infiltrated the Baxter Building via
Invisible's cloaking ability, used Torch's mind-blasts to incapacitate the
soldiers, then caused massive amounts of mayhem with Thing's
shapeshifting and Fantastic's combination of strength and speed. The zero-point
energy generator had done its job in amping their power levels nicely.
In less than five minutes, building's the interior looked like a
hurricane had rampaged through it, and littered around Ian and his colleagues
were the bodies of Stark-Fujikawa employees, either dead or dying.
Only two employees in the Research & Development division qualified as
neither, because they were hostages. And because they had a history
with the scientists. "Miles," Ian spoke to his former supervisor. "Been a
while, hasn't it? Did we catch you at a bad time?"
Wide-eyed, Takagi trembled as Michaela's very large claws pressed
against his neck. He glanced over to the other hostage, his holo-secretary
Halle, hoping she might somehow have an idea.
"Your little girlfriend can't help you now," Ian informed him, idly
passing a wand back and forth through Halle's holographic body. The wand
in question was a standard-issue Stark-Fujikawa shock-baton grabbed from
the corpse of a fallen security guard, and the electricity from its tip
disrupted Halle's matrix and made her scream. "She's too busy
finding out one of the drawbacks of being designed to mimic humans."
"Wh-what do you want from me?" Takagi choked out.
"The security door to the Negative Zone Gate room requires your
presence, retscan, and access code in order to enter. We need all three. After
that, all we require from you is a slow, painful death. Preferably an
"B-because I ... fired you?"
Ian glanced at his teammates, who all chuckled. "Well, yeah. You make
that sound like a ridiculous reason. We happened to like our
"I'm not going to cooperate," Takagi sneered, oddly spiteful. "I can't
let you near the Negative Zone. It's too--"
Ian idly slid his thumb across a lever on the shock-baton, ramping it
up to its highest setting, then plunged it into one of the hallway's
many holo-projectors. Halle screamed even louder, her voice dissolving
into electronic static as her body did the same. In the distance, an
electrical explosion was heard coming from Takagi's office; the energy
feedback had overloaded Halle's base computer.
Takagi winced, yelping as if he'd been electrocuted himself. "All right
... all right." Then in a quieter voice: "How could you be so ...
"Heartless? Hardly. We're the Fantastic Four." Ian tapped at the large
'4' insignia on his uniform. "We're explorers, which means we have to
be willing to take risks and do what's necessary to get things done. You
have to believe me, we take no pleasure in...." He glanced around at
his teammates and at their war-zone-like surroundings. "Okay, so we take
a little pleasure in what we do." He gestured for Michaela to
drag him to the Zone Gate room's security door.
There, Takagi was pressed up against the door's scanners so he could
perform a retinal scan and input his security code. The heavy vault door
slid open to reveal the Negative Zone portal in all its hi-tech glory.
And standing in front of that were the clones of the Fantastic Four,
fresh from the Zone itself. They were waiting.
"That's far enough," Reed Richards announced, striding forward with his
team. "Let the hostage go, and surrender. While we're flattered by your
attempt at imitation, consider this a 'cease and desist' order."
Christi grinned. "Surrender? What's the fun in that?"