Fantastic Four 2099UGR #3, Volume 2

Issue Three, Volume Two


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

Shandra Willis

Jack Bostwick

Hikaru Takeshi

Dr. Ian Hyde

Dr. Christi Wood

Dr. Michaela Bailey

Dr. Jesse Stamp

Miles Takagi


Sgt. Harkness


From Reed Richards' private journal, 20th century

The multiverse is vast, the possibilities are infinite, but the key to percieving it all is actually quite simple:

In order to explore the unknown, one must remove oneself from its center. If an explorer makes the search for knowledge all about himself, he has then limited the scope of what he learns. After all, as the saying goes, the very act of observing changes the nature of what is observed.

I am appalled and frustrated by the sheer number of people who fail to understand this.

My former colleague Victor Von Doom is a perfect example of this: his thirst for knowledge was part and parcel to his thirst for power and his unbridled arrogance. He studied with me at State University, attempting to master the sciences as surely as he believed he'd mastered the dark arts. Driven toward the goal of freeing his mother from Hell, he performed forbidden and ill-advised experiments in order to increase his knowledge and power. However, in the end, his experiment quite literally blew up in his face when he ignored my warnings about his miscalculations. Rather than admit his mistake, he blamed me for what had happened for him and went into exile.

He reemerged years later, claiming his homeland of Latveria as its self-styled monarch. He attacked me and my Fantastic Four team, seeing us alternately as pawns and as insects to be squashed. We have dedicated our efforts toward exploring existence, while Doom has focused his efforts toward feeding his ego, whether through the total rule of a nation, annual journeys into Hell to free his mother (according to Stephen Strange), or continued attacks on myself and my family. In effect, he has limited the scope of his explorations by making it all about himself.

Of course, that's not to say I've never been guilty of such narcissism; after all, my dear friend Ben Grimm had expressed repeated concern about our original rocket launch project. He insisted that we had yet to fully research the effects of cosmic radiation on humans, and I was too preoccupied to take his concerns seriously. More to the point, I was too full of myself. And the result forever changed us.

It's a lesson I must keep in mind.

Station 4, The Negative Zone, The Year 2099

"So how many changes of clothes d'you think we'll need?" Johnny asked as the Fantastic Four made preparations for their visit to Earth.

Reed Richards stood at the Zone's portal, making adjustments and calculations to the equipment to ensure a smooth ride across dimensions; a recent Zonestorm had played havoc with the equipment. "We'll only be there for an hour or two," he reminded Johnny without looking up from his work. "Our only current order of business on Earth is a face-to-face meeting with Hikaru. After that, we return here because we still have construction to finish on this station and our vehicles."

Johnny ran a hand through his floppy blond hair, sighing dramatically. "You serious? C'mon, this is us we're talking about! We're going there to give Harry a piece of our minds and see the world for ourselves." 'Harry' was Johnny's nickname for Hikaru, CEO of Stark-Fujikawa. "Knowing us, we'll get in a pissing contest with him like we always do, he'll dismiss outright because we're clones like he always does, then we'll take a good look at Earth, hate what we see, try to fix something, and get into some kind of trouble that'll take days to get us out of -- like we always do!" He finally took a breath.

"You're exaggerating," Reed calmly replied.

"A little bit, but am I wrong?"

Reed paused in mid-tweak, considering this.

"My brother has a point," Sue Storm agreed as she and their friend Shandra Willis entered the Homegate room, bearing large duffel bags full of ... well, Johnny wasn't sure he wanted to know. "I don't foresee our meeting going very well," she continued, "since they did massacre a large group of Zone natives right in front of us. And even if it does go well, with all egos staying in check, all we'll end up doing is coming back here and continuing to work for S-F as if nothing happened in the first place."

"And what's the fun in that?" Shandra chimed in.

Johnny patted Reed on the shoulder. "So yeah. I'm gonna pack a week's worth of clothes and stuff. Granted, that boils down to a week's worth of boring-ol' jumpsuits, but ... be back in a few." He sprinted down the corridor in the direction of the living quarters, leaving his teammates and anyone else he encountered in his dust.

Reed regarded Sue and Shandra, two women who'd become partners in crime in the short time they'd known each other. "You're really convinced that everything that could go wrong during the course of this visit will?"

Shandra tilted her head to one side. "You're not?"

"Admittedly, it is best to be prepared. However, if we go into this meeting with negative expectations, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Jack Bostwick, Station 4's financial liaison, stood at the room entrance, arms folded. "Also, this station has twenty workers with salaries," he monotoned. "Some of us like our jobs. So try not to jeopardize that."

"Thanks, Jack, we'll keep that in mind," Sue replied cheerfully. "We'll make a point not to embarrass ourselves too much."

Shandra, predictably, couldn't pass up an opportunity to razz her humorless co-worker. "And we'll be sure to stop by a gift shop and pick something up for you. Like decaf coffee, a sense of humor ... maybe an inflatable significant other?"

Bostwick scowled, his face turning beet red. "Richards, Storm -- perhaps we should have a chat about Willis' activities."

"I thought we went over this," Shandra said quickly. "Brant fills in as Ops Chief while I'm gone, and I've updated the duty roster so everybody has stuff t'do and work doesn't slow--"

"I wasn't referring to those activities," Bostwick insisted.

"While ev'rybody's busy standin' around yackin'," Ben Grimm announced, "anybody wanna help me with this?" He carried a power pack the size of a small car on one shoulder. Designed to supply the the homegate's tremendous energy output, it weighed a metric ton, but the mountainous Fantastic Four member known as the Thing hefted it without too much difficulty; he just wasn't in the mood to carry it indefinitely.

"Ah, yes, sorry about that," Reed apologized, opening a compartment so the power pack could be installed. "Sue, if you'd like to shape a forcefield around it to support its weight...."

"Way ahead of you," she asserted, apparently doing just that as huge power pack slid off of Ben's shoulders and floated in midair. While her forcefields were invisible to the unaided eye, Sue's body language tipped off that that she was generating and manipulating them. The way her eyes unfocused and her lips parted, the small hand gestures, the way she shifted her body weight -- all of that fascinated Reed just as much as her cosmic-spawned power itself.

He realized they'd finished installing the power pack and were staring at him expectantly. Apparently he'd zoned out while studying Sue.

"Sometime today, huh?" Ben groused.

"Again, sorry about that." Reed powered up the homegate, which he'd upgraded from the existing Stark-Fujikawa models used for regular crossovers between Earth and the heavily-mined Negative Zone. Since Reed was the clone of the man who'd founded those principles over a century before, he had little trouble updating the portal technology.

"Johnny'd better get back here soon," Sue warned to no one in particular, "or we'll have to--"

"Don't leave without me!" Johnny shouted from the hallway, rocketing into the portal room on a jet of flame. "One of his arms was devoid of flame, allowing him to carry a medium-sized clothing bag. Dissipating his combustion aura in midair, Johnny let his momentum carry him the rest of the way to the homegate.He somehow managed not to plow into anyone when he landed. "C'mon, what're you waiting for? Let's get this show on the road!"

Sue studied her brother's state of excitement. "You look like you're running from something," she observed. "Or someone."

"Huh? No way! I'm just excited about seeing Earth for the first time, that's all!"

She wasn't convinced. "You're running from someone."

"The 'Iceberg Sisters', right?" Ben guessed, referring to Janice and Clarice Berg, co-workers who kept trying to work their feminine wiles on Johnny.

"Let's just go, all right?" Johnny demanded, his body radiating heat and impatience.

"The gate has finished warming up," Reed announced as the homegate hummed with activity. The gate itself primarily consisted of two tall rectangular monoliths that locked together when inactive, and now slid open. A thin membrane of energy crackled between the structures, forming a portal that bridged the matter/antimatter gulf between the Negative Zone and Earthspace despite physically being one micron deep.

"All aboard who's going aboard," Sue commented as they stepped through the portal one at a time. Reed went first, walking into the energy membrane and surrendering himself to the matter shift. It was quite a bit different from the subspace fold of teleportation; portal-walking felt to Reed like wading into a swimming pool that was both ice-cold and star-hot at once, having each molecule separated from him and slingshot across the cosmos, and being reformed in an ocean of gelatin. Or at least, he likened portal-walking to what he supposed those sensations must feel like.

It was, he reflected, a fascinating experience that he'd have to repeat more often.

Stark-Fujikawa Headquarters, New York, Earth

The Fantastic Four and Shandra emerged from a waiting portal gate ... and except for Shandra, they all immediately slumped to the floor and hyperventilated.

"Breathe ... breathe..." Shandra coached them, holding back bubbling laughter. "Gate Newbies: always entertaining."

Sue and Reed glared up at her, while Johnny and Ben shot her the bird with what little strength they had.

They'd emerged in a portal room at Stark-Fujikawa's Baxter Building headquarters. Gathered there were Watchdog guards in SItuation Emergency GEar, scientists, technicians, and executives, all of whom had anticipated the Four's arrival. "Greetings," one exec greeted while he and the others bowed humbly. "Hikaru-sama eagerly awaits your presence."

"Yeah, give is a minute t'get used t'the freakin' local gravity," Ben groused; the grav simulators in the Zone installations were designed to mimic Earth gravity, but the difference between the simulation and the real effect was drastic, especially to someone as heavy as he.

Reed stood up and returned the greeters' bows. "No need to be rude, Ben. These people are our hosts."

Ben eyed the Watchdogs' armor, holstered pistols, and shock-batons. "That explains the weapons."

"Standard protocol for this type of unpredictable situation," the SIEGE guards' apparent leader stated. "I'm Sergeant Harkness; I and my team will be your babysitters for the duration of your visit."

"We are honored by your hospitality," Reed told him, deflecting attention away from Ben. Sue, Johnny, and Shandra stood up and bowed as well, and Ben reluctantly followed suit.

"I don't get why we're doin' all this Japanese custom crap," the Thing whispered to Sue. "I mean, we're in New York, right?"

"And we're under their roof," Sue whispered back. "As the saying goes, 'When in Rome...'."

"Yeah, but is there a saying for what to do in New York?" Johnny asked.

Ben's answer was simple: "Try not t'get mugged."

Stark-Fujikawa Special Projects Division

"Hey, does this place have a gift shop?" Johnny asked, attempting to maintain levity as the Fantastic Four and their chaperones marched down the long hallway and past a series of increasingly-elaborate security checkpoints. "If I remember correctly, the twencen Baxter Building had all kinds of gift shops and eateries. We could grab a bite and maybe pick up some t-shirts and snow globes if they still make--"

"Will you be quiet?" Sargeant Harkness barked. "Orders are orders, and you are not allowed to--"

Alarm klaxons rang, flooding the hall with flashing lights and noise. "Alert," a soulless automated voice declared, somehow audible over the chaos, "vital safety protocols in Section M-Zero-Four have been breached. Sealing off section to minimize collateral damage." As the voice continued, a series of heavy metallic walls slid into place around the lab section, boxing it in. Stark-Fujikawa personnel raced for the exits, most of them ignoring the Four in favor of escape; only a few noticed them.

"Let's go," Harkness ordered as he and his men attempted to usher the Four toward an exit as quickly as possible. "Move, unless you want us to have to scrape you off the--"

"There are people in there!" Sue shouted. The walls and doors connected to the imperiled R&D lab abruptly dissolved from view, revealing a state-of-the-art facility that easily outclassed the twentieth-century Dr. Richards' equipment. Four scientists milled at the center of the center of a circular workstation, panic radiating from their bodies while the alarms roared.

"We'll handle this," the SIEGE leader interjected, referring to his team. "You four -- er, five -- just hold your positions." He nodded to a subordinate, who pressed a button on his visor that caused a flood of numbers and coding to cascade down his eyewear. "Sir? It's rejecting the overrides," the subordinate reported after a moment.

Harkness whipped around to face the officer. "What?"

"I've tried every security override I know of, and it's ignoring them all. Permission to blast the doors open, sir."

"Denied! Our priority is keeping the Fantastic Four in one piece. Let's move them -- Richards, get back here!"

Reed ignored him in favor of assisting the scientists. Managing to fit his head, arms, and torso under the minute gap under the wall by compressing his body, he stretched his upper body toward the workstation inside.

A countdown commenced, with sixty seconds remaining until containment overload. The scientists -- two males, two females -- argued amongst themselves, oblivious to Reed's presence as they attempted to bring the crisis under control.

"Forty-five seconds until containment overload," the computer voice announced.

Reed peered over their shoulders at the workstation screens and quickly discovered that he had great difficulty making heads or tails of the readouts. He wondered whether the formulae on the screens were simply beyond his comprehension or merely more advanced than he was used to, now that the world's general level of technological advancement had caught up with him. He hoped the latter was true.

"Thirty seconds until containment overload," the computer voice announced.

The act of stretching his body was rarely painless, especially in this case, and his teeth gritted as the strain increased. He closed his eyes, attempting to reduce the chaotic sensory input to some small extent.

"Fifteen seconds until containment overload."

A loud gasp startled him, and he opened his eyes to find all for scientists staring at him in astonishment. He realized he must have looked bizarre, with a snakelike torso stretched all the way to a door that was probably still invisible. "Errr ... hello," he greeted them awkwardly.

"Ten seconds until containment overload," the computer voice reported. "Nine ... eight...."

One of the scientists snapped out of her astonishment and asked Reed a very simple question. "Well? Isn't this the part where you're supposed to save us?"

"Five seconds...."

"Good point," Reed muttered, collecting his thoughts.


Taking another look around the laboratory, he once again attempted to make sense of the situation.

"Three ... two...."

An idea struck him, but he had no time to consider it further, no margin for error.


He did nothing.

"Zero. Containment overloaded. Emergency training simulation failed."

"I knew it," he muttered, slumping shapelessly to the floor and catching his breath as the alarm system subsided.

"How did you know it was a sim?" one of the scientists asked as he unlocked the sliding walls via workstation to admit Reed's teammates and escorts.

Reed gestured toward the enormous cylindrical containment unit in one corner of the room, no doubt used to power the lab equipment. The voice kept alluding to the containment unit reaching its overload point. However, admit all the panic and chaos, the unit itself stayed relatively calm. It didn't give off the increased amounts of heat normally associated with an overload. I concluded that either this century's methods of containing energy sources had advanced far beyond anything I'd recognize, or this was simply a routine drill."

"'Routine', my ass!" Harkness roared as he and the other Watchdogs stormed in. "This is not one of the scheduled drill periods, Hyde! All surprise drills have to be cleared by upper management and security, and nobody was notified of this!"

The lead scientist -- Dr. Ian Hyde, his nametag read -- remained nonchalant in the face of enraged authority. "Hence the surprise." Addressing Reed and his teammates, he admitted, "actually, we ran this sim because we knew it would get your attention. We'd heard about your scheduled visit to Earth, and ... well, we consider ourselves your biggest fans."

"You people were invited to welcome them at the portal along with the rest of us," Harkness pointed out.

"What's the fun in that?" a female scientist -- a pretty redhead who moved with irreverent grace -- asked as she embraced Shandra in a tight reunion hug. "This way we'd have your undivided attention."

"You know them?" Sue asked Shandra, realizing by this point she was asking the obvious.

"'Course. We go way back," Shandra replied, still hugging the redhead with one arm. "This is Christi Wood." She introduced the other three scientists in turn, pointing to the lead scientist who sported stubble and long brown hair in a ponytail, the woman whose short black hair and contrasted with her icy blue stare, and the lanky man whose unruly blond hair hid his eyes from the world. "And that's Ian Hyde, Michaela Bailey, and Jesse Stamp. Genetics researchers. I met 'em just after I joined the company, an' they helped me get hired in the NZ. They're my buddies." She favored the scientists with a cheerful smile. While Shandra Willis was normally upbeat, her demeanor was generally low-key; her mood now in the scientists' company bordered on hyperactive.

"Genetics researchers. Intriguing. Would your area of expertise happen to extend to cloning? Because you may or may not be aware--"

"That you're clones, yes," Dr. Hyde answered. "We got the memo. We understand you still don't know where you came from, or you wound up in the Negative Zone. That makes you four walking enigmas."

"And enigmas excite us," Dr. Bailey stated in a complete monotone that conveyed none of her alleged excitement. "They get us hot and bothered ... occasionally even tingly."

"Wow, we're on Earth for five minutes," Johnny whispered, "and I'm already creeped out."

Dr. Stamp sidled up to Sue and ran his fingers through his sandy-blond bangs in a way that did nothing to reveal his eyes. "Uhm, hi, M-m-miss Storm," he stuttered. "I-I was ...was wondering if y-you ... you would ... y'know...."

Sue shot Johnny a panicked look that conveyed she too was unsettled by the scientists.

"What Jesse would like to say sometime before the next Ice Age," Dr. Wood clarified as she sauntered away from Shandra's orbit toward Sue and Johnny, "is that we'd be interested in studying DNA samples from you. We're more than willing to help you narrow down the mystery of where you came from." She stuffed her hands in her pockets and turned in a lazy-yet-graceful circle to include Reed and Ben in her address as well. "Besides the obvious, of course."

"And the obvious would be...?" Ben asked, finding his voice nervously as Dr. Bailey stared at him like a cat eyeing a canary.

"We know your DNA originated from the Fantastic Four of the twentieth century," Dr. Bailey answered, studying the cracks and crevices of Ben's armored skin. "But questions remain: Who cloned you? What process was used? Were you the results of genetic engineering, and/or tampering? How were you birthed?"

"And on and on, and yadda yadda," Dr. Hyde chimed in. "What d'you say? You bring the samples, we bring the equipment and the drinks, and we get to know one another and be the best of friends. It'll be fun." Reed didn't miss Hyde's leer at Sue when he said that.

Reed glanced at his unnerved teammates, then at their S-F chaperones. One executive tapped at his wristwatch to remind them they had an appointment to keep; the Watchdogs scowled as usual. "As tempting as the offer sounds," Reed spoke to the scientists, "can it wait until after our meeting with Hikaru? We're going to be late."

"Then don't let us keep you any longer," Hyde relented as the Four, Shandra, and the others began to depart. "But please, stop back here before you go back to the Zone. We have lots of catching up to do."

"Especially you, Shandra," Dr. Wood added, grinning.

"Count on it," Shandra answered as she and the Fantastic Four were soon on their way to see Hikaru. "So what d'you think of 'em?" she asked once they were all in the elevator.

"They're, uh ... different," Johnny stated. "Definitely warm and friendly, in that 'Addams Family' sort of way."

"Okay, so they're eccentric, but you guys ain't exactly normal, either."

"Yeah, thanks f'r that," Ben grumbled.

Sue focused on a different impression of them. "I'm guessing Christi Wood is your ... girlfriend? Ex-girlfriend?"

Shandra blushed profusely. "Ex, yeah. Met the rest of 'em through her. Had to break it off with her, though, when the NZ job opened up. Didn't want that long-distance thing hangin' over us."

"You certainly seem like you're in high spirits with them around," Sue further observed.

"Well, yeah, they're my friends, an' I missed 'em a lot, y'know? Plus it's kinda jagged watchin' you guys meet 'em -- all my favorite peoples in the same room."

"Yeah, it's a barrel o' laughs," Ben commented. "'Specially with those big-brains lookin' at us like we're their next science project."

"Or next conquest," Reed found himself inserting with a pointed look at Sue.

She glared back. "And what is that supposed to mean?"

The elevator chimed and announced they had reached the floor which held Hikaru's conference room. Reed was thankful for the interruption.

Stark-Fujikawa Private Conference Room

"I am honored by your visit," Stark-Fujikawa's CEO Hikaru began, "and by your interest in a face-to-face visit ... but please, Richards-san, do not overstep your bounds."

"I'm not overstepping my bounds," Reed insisted, pacing back and forth in the conference room. "Or at least, I'm not trying to." His efforts to maintain his composure were only marginally successful. Surrounded by peaceful Japanese architecture and in the presence of a middle-aged businessman in a green kimono patiently trimming a small bonsai tree on a low table, Reed looked like the picture of frustration.

"I urge you to try harder," Hikaru replied. "We have expended considerable resources to retake the Negative Zone headquarters from invasion by unruly natives -- something you and your teammates were unable to do -- yet you appear ungrateful."

"That's funny," Reed shot back, "one of your SIEGE agents told me I should be grateful they intervened as well. But we'd had the situation under control before your men interrupted us. Tell me how I'm supposed to be grateful that they turned the situation into even more of a bloodbath than it already was. Tell me how I'm supposed to applaud your continuing efforts to wipe out every last indigenous--"

Hikaru's stern glare stopped Reed in his tracks. "Again, you overstep yourself. You forget that I am in control of this company, and this company is in control of the Negative Zone. Any threat to that realm is, therefore, a threat to Stark-Fujikawa and must be dealt with accordingly."

Sue spoke up. "Even if that threat involves people who lived there before you ever heard of that place, and who just wanted their home back the way it was?"

"Hikaru held her gaze as if acknowledging her for the first time. " I do not believe I was speaking to you, Storm-san."

Sue bent over and placed her hands on the low table, locking eyes with him and giving him her undivided attention. "Save the condescension and antiquated chauvinism for someone who cares," she asserted. "Whether or not it's convenient for you to admit it, those beings were people. People who were kicked out of their homes. People who were scared. People who were killed. Just because you decided their lives weren't as important as your profits."

"They were not the innocent victims," Hikaru countered. "They attacked us."

"Because they felt they had to. They felt threatened, and lo and behold, you use that as another excuse to thin them out!"

"You do not have the authority to instruct me on how to protect my company's assets. I remind you that if this corporation had not established itself in the Negative Zone, the four of you would have remained in stasis. Would you claim that was wrong as well?"

Sue opened her mouth, preparing to respond, then closed it, apparently unsure of how to respond.

"We appreciate all you've done for us so far," Reed declared to Hikaru. "Thawing us out, sheltering us, working with us on Station 4 -- we're honored by all of it. We're simply concerned about possibly conflicts between your goals and ours. We feel if we address these concerns, we could come to an understanding that would benefit our alliance."

Hikaru continued trimming the bonsai tree. "The terms of our alliance, as I recall, are that you Four aid us by stopping all threats to us -- whether in the form of marauding species, or in the form of the Negative Zone's imminent collapse." He paused. "In return, we supply you with the necessary resources to accomplish that." He glanced up from the tree to gaze at the Fantastic Four and Shandra. "That deal expires when you yourselves become threats."

"And let me guess," Shandra piped up, "to you, 'threats' are anybody who disagrees with the way you do business."

Hikaru shot her a withering glare. "An excellent guess. I would also define a threat as one who tampers with security measures."

Shandra uttered a nervous, guilty chuckle, which Reed found odd.

"This deal stinks," Ben stated to Hikaru on no uncertain terms. "You're gettin' more outta this deal than we are, an' you've set it up so you can just blow us off when it's convenient."

"I fail to see how that would be upsetting," Hikaru replied blandly. "That is simply how business is done in this day and age."

"Yeah, the little guy gets hosed," Johnny jeered. He cupped his hands in front of his mouth and called out, "your policy sucks, Harry!"

Sue elbowed him. "Knock it off!"

Hikaru raised an insulted eyebrow. "'Harry'...?"

"As much as we might disagree," Reed interjected, trying to keep the peace, "we are still working toward a common goal. The Negative Zone is still an endangered dimension, and only by working together can we hope to change that."

"So you've said," Hikaru replied. "However, do you realize the basis for your theories on the Negative Zone's collapse are based entirely on your memories of a long-dead scientist's research?"

"Well, yes," Reed admitted. "As clones, we were given a working grasp of our predecessors' head-knowledge. In my case, I was endowed with Dr. Reed Richards' scientific knowledge."

"Can you definitively prove you possess such information?"

"You've seen the research notes I've provided on the Zone," the Fantastic Four's leader pointed out. "They're very much in keeping with the underlying theorems used by Stark-Fujikawa. Your corporation has based its Negative Zone principles on the Fantastic Four's twentieth-century findings, correct?"

"Okay, can we get subtitles in here?" Johnny complained. "I mean, I think they're speaking English, but I can't prove it."

"The issue itself, simply stated," Hikaru answered, "is one of proof. As clones, the four of you possess your progenitors' knowledge, but not even you know if that knowledge is complete."

"So you're saying we might not know everything the original Fantastic Four knew," Sue ventured, "and you're holding that against us."

"I am simply calling into question the information you have been given. Bearing in mind that you still do not know who cloned you--"

"Some friends of mine could find out that last part," Shandra chimed in helpfully. "They're scientists, and they work for you...."

Hikaru's face split into something that could have been a smile. "Ah, yes. The four from Section M04 who arranged a costly ruse to attract your attention." He gave the matter some thought. "Very well. I will allow them to run tests on your DNA. I believe I will also ask them to run a memory scan--"

"Absolutely not," Reed barked. "Once you've downloaded our memories, you would have no further use for us save gene fodder."

"I remind you that you are clones--"

"Who, contrary to established laws, are perfectly capable of free will."

"Only by Stark-Fujikawa's benevolent graces, Richards-san," Hikaru finished. "Do not forget that."

Hikaru sat in quiet contemplation after the clones of the Fantastic Four and Shandra Willis departed, trimming his bonsai tree.

"They didn't openly rebel, Hikaru-sama," his aide, an ambitious young man named Kudo commented.

"They came far too close," Hikaru replied.

"About the Willis woman ... the data pirate. What should we do about her?"

"I am well aware that she penetrated the Negative Zone headquarters' heavily-protected surveillance system. That involves an impressive amount of skill. She might yet be useful to us, given her close ties to the clones. She will serve our purpose ... and then she will be disposed of." He snipped an unsightly twig from the tree.

Stark-Fujikawa Special Projects Division, Section M04 Office

"Still can't believe what a jerk Hikaru was," Sue muttered. She, Shandra, and the rest of the Fantastic Four had met back up with Shandra's scientist friends. Hikaru had given Miles Takagi, the Section M04 supervisor, the order to run tests on the Four. They were currently in a meeting to go over specifics.

"Y'can't?" Ben whispered. "I coulda sworn he made it obvious he was a butthead back in th' Zone when we first talked to 'im."

Sue had to admit he had a point. Neither Ben nor Johnny had seemed terribly surprised by the outcome -- in fact, her brother had seemed to genuinely look forward to their disagreement escalating once again into violence; he was currently moping because it hadn't.

And Reed? Not for the first time, Sue wasn't exactly sure what was going through his head. He was frustrated, of course, by the proverbial glass ceiling they were hitting with Hikaru, but now that he was in an environment with other scientists, he was more relaxed.

Sue observed as Reed conferred with Takagi and the scientists, taking in the small details about each one. She'd already met the scientists, so Ian Hyde's arrogance, Michaela Bailey's subtlety, Jesse Stamp's shyness, and Christi Wood's energy all came as no surprise.

Miles Takagi was interesting, however: he was a twenty-something Japanese-American man who seemed only marginally comfortable in the role of supervisor. He seemed to have been thrust into the position, and he had a habit of glancing around nervously as he spoke. Most of his furtive glances landed on Halle, a sophisticated holographic secretary made who look like an attractive African-American woman.

"So feel free to make yourselves at home while you're here," Takagi declared. "We're confident that our genetics facilities will be sufficient. While they're not quite on Alchemax's level--"

"Oh, they're beyond what Alchemax is capable of," Ian Hyde asserted. "Alchemax just doesn't know it yet."

"Yes, well, in any case," Takagi went on, addressing Reed, "feel free to put your heads together with these geniuses. I figure with all of you working together, you should be able to get to the bottom of the cloning mysteries in no time."

He then shot his scientists a serious look. "But please. No more funny business. That fake meltdown stunt has put me in the hot seat with Hikaru-sama. I hate it when he asks me questions."

"Okay, we promise no funny business," Hyde assured him. He turned to his colleagues, Shandra, and the Fantastic Four. "Right guys? We'll get along famously." Sue noticed he was looking right at her when he said that.

"Good," Takagi stated, "because if any further trouble happens around here, I'm holding you all personally responsible, and I won't be a nice guy about it.".

Halle the holo-secretary had been 'seated' at the edge of Takagi's desk during the meeting. "Takagi-san, it is 1700 hours, and time for our ... 'dictation' session," 'she' announced, and Sue realized the hologram had said very little the whole time. 'She' sauntered toward Takagi like the lead actress in countless erotic thrillers.

Takagi nervously straightened his tie. "Ah, yes. Well, in that case, this meeting's adjourned." He managed to usher nine people (four of them superhuman) out of his office faster than Sue would have thought possible.

"What was that all about?" Reed asked as the office door slid shut behind them.

"Is there something going on between Mr. Takagi and his secretary?" Sue asked, hazarding a guess.

"There has been for about a month now, regular as clockwork," Hyde explained, "ever since he upgraded her."

"So, what," Johnny spoke, "they're ... you know...?"

"'Interfacing'?" Christi supplied. "'Cybering'? 'Jacking in'? 'Filesharing'? 'Fuc--'"

"It's actually fairly common these days," Hyde continued. "I mean, personally I prefer a real flesh-and-blood member of the opposite sex, but I suppose whatever works." He jerked a thumb behind him at Takagi's office. "They obviously think we haven't caught on."

"They're under the impression we're having sex in here," Halle informed Takagi as she continued to sit on his desk. "Their body language and behavior confirm this."

Takagi shrugged. "Let them think that. I uploaded as many business and psyche programs into your A.I. as I could afford, so you can help me run this division. If they want to think you're just a holo-bimbo, that works out in our favor."

"Understood. Onto business, the Fantastic Four must be watched closely."

He raised an eyebrow. "That goes without saying, doesn't it?"

"Perhaps, but more to the point, the scientists under your employ must be monitored as well, especially where the Fantastic Four are concerned."

"I was afraid of that." He pondered the matter. "They're up to something, aren't they?"

Stark-Fujikawa Special Projects Division, Section M04 Laboratory

"So you and Reed aren't an item?" Ian Hyde asked Sue hours later, as they were winding down an extensive series of genetics tests the scientists had run on the Fantastic Four.

Sue leaned against a computer workstation and eyed him with a combination of annoyance and amusement. "That's right. I decided not to get into a relationship with him just yet, because I want an identity separate from the original Sue."

Ian appeared thoughtful. "I see. And you believe that you wouldn't be able to explore your own wants and feelings if you're attached at the hip to Reed--"

"To anyone," Sue corrected.

"To anyone?" Hyde echoed with surprise. "Does that count simply for romantic entanglements or more short-term activities like dates?"

She shrugged. "I haven't honestly decided." She briefly glanced at Reed, who was watching raptly nearby, then she locked eyes with Hyde. "Why, are you interested, Ian?"

Hyde flashed a charismatic smile. "As a matter of fact, I am. And just between you and me, I'm much more interesting than Reed."

"I'm standing. Right. Here," Reed reminded them through gritted teeth.

Sue smiled serenely. "Well, Ian, I really don't want to turn this into a competition between the two of you, but I have to say that I do find you intriguing."

This drew various expressions of surprise from the others; everyone's attention was on them.

"You do?" Ian asked. "And what might that be?"

"The fact that you're wearing rubber-ducky boxers. Do other people still wear them in 2099, or just you?"

Ian glanced downward, realizing with horror that Sue had just turned his slacks invisible, revealing that he was in fact wearing boxer shorts with rubber-ducky designs. Reed Ben, and everyone else watching this finally released the gales of laughter they'd been holding back. Johnny high-fived Sue, while an embarrassed Hyde walked away, insisting, "this is not how the Fantastic Four are supposed to act!"

"What do you mean by that?" Reed asked, sounding somewhat stung by the remark.

Ian turned around to face the group, deadly serious. "I mean the Fantastic Four were explorers. Rulebreakers. Butt-kickers. They came, they saw, they conquered!"

"I thought that was an Alexander the Great quote about himself," Sue commented.

But Reed was upset. "The Fantastic Four were never conquerors."

Ian was skeptical. "Oh, come on! Look at everything they discovered: the Negative Zone, the Microverse, and all those other places, all those races they came across -- they kicked all kinds of butt! Are you gonna tell me they played nice? No, they did all this for one reason only: to dominate. That's why they're my heroes."

"What kind of crack are you on?" Johnny demanded. "What makes you think the FF were anything like that?"

"Can you prove they're not?" Ian challenged, holding their gazes.

Ben realized Michaela Bailey was staring at him intently, studying him.

"Okay, y're creepin' me out," he informed her.

"My apologies," Michaela replied. "I have to admit I'm ... fascinated by such a unique physical specimen."

"Hey, there's a human being underneath all this rocky stuff, lady," Ben pointed out. "I get tired o' people always seein' me as a science project."

"Again, I meant no disrespect. From a scientific standpoint, you have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. You are a unique organism. There is no other being in existence with your physical makeup."

"Sure there was. I'm a clone, remember?"

"Your progenitor is dead. You live on. Therefore, you are unique." She ran a finger along a few of the deeper crevices in his rocklike skin. "These indentations are not natural, correct? They were carved into you by artificial means."

"Y...yeah, I've been used f'r target practice a few times. Stuff hurt like hell."

"But those injuries would have killed any normal humans, correct?"

He shrugged. "Yeah, maybe."

"In that case, your superhuman enhancements are not only unique, but useful. Again, from a scientific standpoint, you have nothing to be ashamed of."

Ben scratched the back of his neck. "Guess so. I'd still trade places with ya in a second, though."

"As a matter of fact," Michaela declared, emotion actually seeping into her voice for the first time, "my colleagues and I are working toward such a goal."

He raised an eyebrow. "Wha...?"

Michaela started inputting commands into a console. "We specialize in superhuman biology. The conversion of normal humans into ... something more ... is nothing new in human history, but it is currently all the rage. Our task is to build a better superhuman." Her screen displayed a computer-generated image of a human body, with its varied structures each rendered transparent so the entire gross anatomy could be seen at once. "We theorize that while outside factors contribute to superhuman endowment, interior factors within human biology--"

"Y're losin' me," Ben grumbled.

She paused, considering how to phrase her statement in layman's terms. "We think there is something inside of humanity which makes it all possible," she simplified. "Mutated humanity -- the small contingent of superhumans once erroneously dubbed Homo sapiens superior -- holds a tangible piece of the puzzle, as they rely on far less trigger stimuli than do other humans."

"So ... y're sayin' that there was somethin' inside Ben Grimm -- th' first one -- all along that made 'im -- and me -- look like this?" He gestured at his own craggy physique. "Even b'fore the cosmic rays?"

"Evidence has been leading in that direction, yes." Michaela cycled through a series of menu commands on her screen. Each option changed the human figure in some noticeable way. One option covered it in scales; another increased its size and muscle mass; others caused it to glow, sprout extra limbs, emit various forms of energy, and so on.

"So I never did have a choice about lookin' this way, did I?" Ben uttered through gritted teeth.

"You make that sound like a terrible fate," she commented. "There are many who would trade places with you in an instant."

"Let 'em!" he snapped. "I don't want this! I never frickin' asked f'r this! It ain't some kinda honor t'be this huge, hidebound monster! All I do is get people hurt!" Realizing his rant had attracted the attention of everyone else in the lab, he looked away in shame. To Michaela, he mumbled, "please tell me there's a way you can undo this. Make me human."

She nodded. "There are definitely ways your transformation can be reversed. It would be a matter of determining the most effective course of action--"

"Just make it happen. Please."

"There is no guarantee the change would be permanent," she pointed out. "Especially if your genetic destiny is to be the 'huge, hidebound monster,' as you phrased it."

Ben clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. "Y'know what? Forget I said anything."

"Mr. Grimm. If this is so important to you, we can arrange it. In fact, we have recently made a breakthrough in studying DNA from harvested mutant organs that might--"

Wait, hold on," Ben interrupted, not liking the way she'd said that. "Harvested organs? Harvested from who?"

"I have a hard time believing that," Christi told Johnny as they hung out near a workstation. The argument over the original Fantastic Four had subsided. "I mean, I can't picture Johnny Storm without a girlfriend."

Johnny shyly ran his fingers through his hair. "Well ... I'm two weeks old; what can I say? Even finding a girlfriend takes time."

"So does confidence," she pointed out. "You strike me as a lot more bashful than twencen Johnny."

He shrugged. "It's a learning curve."

Christi moved closer. "I could help you learn...."

Shandra cleared her throat. "Uh, Christi, could I talk to you for a beat? Alone?"

Stepping away from Johnny, Christi asked, "what is it?"

The two of them took refuge in a corner of the lab, hopefully away from eavesdropping ears. "So you're taking interest in Johnny, now?" Shandra inquired.

"Well yeah, I think he's cute ... I mean, even cuter than I'd imagined the Human Torch to be; the old vids didn't do him justice." Christi raised an eyebrow. "Why, jealous?"

Shandra opened her mouth to reply, closed it to reconsider, then finally came up with, "well, no ... I just ... I missed you. It's been a while."

"And you broke it off so you could go play in the Zone," Christi pointed out. "So don't act surprised if I decide I've moved on."

"But, c'mon, Johnny?"

"Just because you stick to one side of the fence doesn't mean I--"

A guttural roar interrupted their conversation, and they whipped around to face another corner of the lab where a giant gene-scanning machine was being wrenched from the ground with a sickening scream of metal. The SIEGE Watchdogs stationed in the lab activated their armors' combat systems as they and everyone else converged on the source of the disturbance: Benjamin J. Grimm, who'd gone ballistic.

"You are ordered to cease and desist immediately," Sergeant Harkness ordered Ben, who turned to glare at them the way a bull would regard a swarm of mosquitoes. The Thing swung the heavy machine toward them, causing them to keep their distance to avoid being hit. But rather than let go of the object and let it fly toward the crowd, he held onto it and continued to spin around until he faced a closed storage room door at a far end of the lab. He let go then, and the machine flew toward the heavy door like a missile. But when the object struck the door, it failed to leave the slightest dent. Strangely, Sue yelped as if she'd been struck.

Ben took a wild guess. "You're protectin' the door with a forcefield, Suzie?" He grappled with two SIEGE guards who surrounded him. "Try makin' the door invisible instead! These big brains're -- uhnn! -- hidin' somethin'!"

"He's delusional," Hyde protested as Takagi and Halle emerged from their office. "What could we possibly be hiding?"

Ben continued to struggle with the Watchdogs. "How 'bout organs harvested from mutants -- who were still alive at th' time! Michaela told me! I asked 'er where they got th' organs, an' she said 'organleggers', thinkin' I didn't know what that was! But I keep up on current events just like anybody else!"

"Is this true?" Takagi asked his employees.

"Why would it be?" Ian shot back. "This pile of rock is out of his mind!"

"Let's see for ourselves," Sue declared, and most of the wall faded away to reveal a view of the cold storage room beyond it. Container upon cylindrical container filled the space, and a moment later opaque plastic coverings became transparent -- no doubt thanks to Sue -- revealing various disembodied organs floating in the liquid.

"They're all legit," Hyde insisted. "Check for yourself."

"I have," Halle announced. "A scan of the salvaged mutant-origin body parts in those containers reveals an extensive cyber-document trail--"

"See?" Hyde shouted, vindicated.

"--that has been forged by Ian Hyde, Michaela Bailey, Christi Wood, and Jesse Stamp. The organs have in fact been illegally obtained."

"Shock..." the scientists cursed in near-unison.

"If that's the case," Harkness began, "you are hereby placed under arrest by Watchdog, Inc. on behalf of Stark-Fujikawa Corporation." He and his men let go of Ben and moved in on Hyde and his colleagues.

"No, you can't do this," Christi protested. "Takagi, tell them they can't do this!"

"They can, and with my full permission," Takagi corrected her. "I've given you free reign up until now, but only on the condition that you use legal methods in your research. "Well, you screwed up."

Ian whipped around to face the Fantastic Four. "Don't just stand there! Help us!"

"Why should we? You brought this on yourselves," Reed replied.

"We thought at least the Fantastic Four would understand us," Ian lamented. "Looks like we were wrong." Ian turned to Christi. "Time for that failsafe we cooked up."

"On it," Christi confirmed, producing a palmtop computer and inputting a succession of quick commands.

"I don't think I like the sound of that," Reed commented as he stretched an arm over to her to grab the device. "Shandra, get Takagi and Halle to safety!"

Spooked, Sandra did just that, ushering the executive and his holo-secretary out of the laboratory and into the hallway as the Four and the SIEGE teams moved to deal with the rogue scientists.

"Too late," Christi announced with a triumphant smirk.

"What the shock? Armor froze up," Harkness reported, dread creeping into his voice. His team promptly confirmed that the same was true of their gear as well.

"Actually, the good news is," Christi sweetly pointed out, "your SItuation Emergency GEar will only be frozen for another couple of seconds."

Sure enough, the Watchdogs began moving again a moment later, when they opened fire on the Fantastic Four with potent stun blasts. They hit their targets with chilling accuracy, causing Reed's team to drop to the floor, weakened.

Due to their durable bodes, Reed and Ben still had a small amount of fight left in them. Reaching out, Reed slowly stretched his body toward Christi and her palmtop, while Ben sluggishly rose to his feet.

The Watchdogs moved in; two of them zapped Reed with their shock-batons. Voltage coursed through his pliable body, making it difficult for him to keep his shape. Three more grappled with Ben, who tried shrugging them off to confront the scientists masterminding the attack.

Just as Ben began shouting, "it's clob--", Harkness fired a trio of pellets into Ben's mouth, interrupting his battle cry and releasing thick clouds of knockout gas into his lungs.

Ian Hyde couldn't help but add his two cents. "Y'know, that 'Clobberin' Time' phrase you utter all the time ... I have to say, it's classic, but it's horrifically outdated."

Ben coughed and choked, fighting a wave of exhaustion as he sank to his knees. "Gonna ... pay for ... that ... he managed between coughs.

"Just hurry up and pass out, will you?" Ian shot back impatiently.

"I got a ... uhm ... I-I got a question," Jesse Stamp timidly spoke up. W-we c-captured the Fan ... Fantastic Four, took c-control of some ... y'know, SIEGE guards...."

"Get to the point, Jesse."

"What, uh, w-what do we do with 'em?"

Ian shrugged. "Obviously, the SIEGE boys are now our own personal action figures. As for the FF...."

Michaela stepped forward. "If I may make a suggestion .. we become them."

NEXT ISSUE: "Old Neighborhood"

Hi guys!

First up is regular FF 2099UGR reader/feedbacker Rena, making her triumphant return to the Fantastic Futures lettercol! Well, sort of triumphant....

Hey, my laptop died on me in September so I haven't had net access really in awhile. I'm on my new comp now though, finally, and one of the first things I wanted to check out was the 2099UGR. Happily I found not just one, but two whole FF issues to read. Yay! I just enjoyed reading them back-to-back, and of course they were both great. Again, I love how you tell a story and how perfectly in character everybody is, and how you make me long for more. I could go on and on, but it would just be endless praise and compliments for your writing, your handling of the FF, and this series, how well conceived and executed it is, etc.
Glad you're liking the new series, Rena! Now let's see just how extensively I can disappoint you from here on out, muwahahahaHAAAAH! ;)

Seriously, though, my condolences on the old computer and congratulations on the new one. As you know, I can relate to both.

It's funny Marvel doesn't try to take legal action against internet fanfic cuz its probably where most people get their Marvel fix nowadays, so it's a big competitor for their readership and something that usually outshines the current poor excuse for comics that they mostly are putting out.

Actually, I don't think it works out that way. Marvel and other companies that own the characters don't often go after fanfic writers (and notice the word "often", not "ever") because no monetary profit is being made from the stories -- in fact, it's customary to include a disclaimer to that effect in the first place.

Plus, a lot of fanfic writers (and it's certainly true in my case, and in the case of a lot of authors I know) are still fans and consumers of the source material. It's rare to find a fanfiction author who isn't in some way a fan of the source material in the first place. I spend upwards of $20 on comics a month, and quite a few of those are Marvel comics, so it's not as if the fanfiction I read and write has replaced the company's offerings. It's simply a case of what fanfiction offers that the company doesn't, and vice versa.

Anyways, looking forward to the FF getting to see earth and their reactions. That was something I was real interested in seeing since the beginning of the mini, not that the Zone story hasn't got me hooked, more and more. That Hikaru wanted the bomb, this Death-bringer, I have ideas on all this but I'll spare you my speculation. I'm sick today so it might not make all that much sense and you'll just be smiling to yourself at how off the mark I am lol. Will issue #3 be released before the year is out? I hope!

As you can see, I actually managed to get this issue out before year-end. it was a struggle and a headache, but I managed to do it. *collapses in a fit of exhaustion*

Get well soon!

Oh, and as regards to Reed's journals being too easy reading, well he's never been limited to just hard scientific techno-babble, and these are like select excerpts. This reminds me of some quote I heard once that if a scientist can't relate to the average person the knowledge/discoveries/insights he or she makes (am I pulling a Bh'Ryck?) these knowledge/discoveries/insights into the universe then become worthless.

Good point on the journal entries, Rena. Still, I'd argue that Reed (even the more mature, seasoned twencen version) can only relate to the rest of humanity in a marginal capacity; I think that's one reason he has Sue, Ben, and Johnny with him on his explorations: no matter what he encounters, he'll end up percieving it from three different points of view other than his own. Those perspectives are more in keeping with the rest of ours.

Speaking of scientific curiosities, I got an idea for a Blade/FF crossover. A Zone vampire! Yes, I still want to see Chen again! Maybe he knew OldSkool? They were both cyborg mercenaries.

Actually, Chen is a biochemically-enhanced mercenary. His enhancements were brought about by something similar to a Super-Soldier serum rather than cybernetic enhancements. But as to whether or not he and Oldskool knew each other? I suppose it's possible. And wow, it seems Oldskool made quite the impression on you despite only appearing in two issues.

Zone vampires? Iiiiiiinteresting!

Finally, I'll just inquire on the status of the other titles, Moon Knight, Null, etc. Like when to expect them. And, oh yeah, if the Doom project in some new form is back on? *crosses fingers*

--Rena, via e-mail

Let's see ... John Bush's X-Men 2099UGR series begins with #0 this month, and #1 is set for February. It'll be on a bimonthly schedule. Jason McDonald's Moon Knight 2099UGR ongoing is scheduled for February as well, and will also be bimonthly. Chris Munn's Ghost Rider 2099UGR ongoing is resuming, but the schedule will be be infrequent 'cause Chris (one of comic-group fanfic's most well-known writers) is a busy man. James Stovall's Null 2099UGR is currently unscheduled, but will hopefully be ready sometime in 2006. The Daredevil 2099UGR mini is also unscheduled at this point; I or someone else might write it -- we'll see. 2099UGR Unlimited returns in January with a Blade story by yours truly. And Doom? Stay tuned. *catches breath*

And now for two quick hits from the guestbook, courtesy of another fanfic writer:

Simply awesome. The Fantastic Four of the future. Can't wait till the next issue


This series is seriously building up to be a real kick. I wonder -- is there more to this FF then meets the eye?

-- Mick Edwards, via guestbook

Thanks, Mick! Considering it still hasn't been revealed who cloned them and why, I'd have to say it's a safe guess that there's more to the FF of 2099 than we've yet seen. Stay tuned!

--David Ellis,

December 22nd, 2005

2099: NEW YEAR'S EVE SPECIAL (Next Week): Check out multiple short stories on various 2099UGR characters, including the Fantastic Four!
How will the FF clones spend the final evening of 2099? In seclusion, if two of them have anything to say about it. Will the other two be able to drag them them kicking and screaming into a festive mood?

NEXT ISSUE (February 2006): The Fantastic Four's visit to Earth continues!
What are the Section M04 scientists' plans for the FF, and will the Four be able to survive it?
Plus, the FF make an unscheduled stop on Yancy Street, a familiar neighborhood now housed in Lower New York ... a decaying section its denizens call "Downtown".