FANTASTIC FOUR #2
"REVENGE OF THE FRIGHTFUL FOUR"
By Chris McFeely
(Author's note: The events of this story take place after those depicted in "War Machine" #4)
Reed Richards, the incomparable Mister Fantastic, unrolled the massive sheet of blueprints for Four Freedoms Plaza, and tapped his finger on the area representing the laboratory complex he and Benjamin J. Grimm now stood in.
"This is the area which concerns me most, Ben," Reed explained. "We've lost our computer access, and all the technology stored at Pier Four, leaving Four Freedoms Plaza the only storehouse of technological information available to us at this moment."
"So whoever is tryin' to keep this secret from us is likely to try an' strike here next, ya mean?" Ben inquired, examining the blueprints, tracing the outline of the lab with a massive rocky finger.
"Precisely," Reed replied. "And I don't intend to make it easy for them."
"Well, whoever they are, they're plenty tough," Ben muttered. "One a' those mooks shrugged off my patented bread-basket belly buster!" He swung his fist through the air in an imitation of the way he had punched the creature the night before.
"We're going to have to increase the defenses." Reed said, distantly, "here," he pointed, "here, and here."
Realizing Reed was engrossed in his analysis, Ben picked up the newspaper he had set down on the table, and paced back and forth across the room, reading the cover story. "Who'd a thunk it, uh, Big Brain?" he called over to Reed. "Norman Osborn was the Green Goblin! Didn' see that one comin'. An' he's dead too." (Author's Note: See Spider-Man #5)
"Yes, Ben, you can use it..." Reed said, not turning his head, evidently not paying very much attention to what Ben was saying at all. Ben rolled his eyes, and looked around the room. Reed was busy literally doing three things at once - his arms were stretched to opposite sides of the room, pressing buttons on consoles, while the rest of him stood in front of the table and pored over the blueprints.
"Whaddaya doin'?" Ben inquired. "You don't need t' be stretched every which way just to increase th' defenses."
Reed looked up. "Oh, I didn't tell you?"
"Do ya ever?" Ben replied, with a grin.
"Well, as you know, when the Thunderbolts took over Four Freedoms Plaza, it had been stripped of most of its stored technology somehow. Once we rebuilt it, and moved back in, I immediately investigated." Reed explained. "All the security interlocks were intact. The machines were certainly not stolen."
"So, where'd they go?" Ben asked.
"I conducted a full-spectral analysis of the lab with some of my remaining devices in Pier Four, and found traces of antimatter conduit energy," Reed went on. "The most logical conclusion is that the technology was somehow sent to..."
"Aw no, not..." Ben started.
"The Negative Zone," Reed and Ben said in unison.
"Who the heck would send all our stuff to the Negative Zone, fer crying out loud?!" Ben exclaimed.
"That, I don't know," Reed answered. "It was not an attempt at theft, that much is clear. Somehow, whoever did this was trying to benefit us. So I would assume it was one of the others who lived with us here at the Plaza before our supposed death."
"Y' mean like Lyja, or Scott Lang?" Ben queried. "Or that Kristoff kid, or mebbe even yer dad?"
"Precisely," Reed said.
"Anyway, gettin' back to th' question..." Ben hinted.
"Oh, yes, of course..." Reed said. "All the devices were equipped with signal generators, so they could easily be found, or our ownership could be proven. I've been scanning the Negative Zone for any trace of those signals." Reed tapped a finger of his right hand on the console.
"Any luck?" Ben asked.
"Nearly," Reed replied. "I've detected several signals, but they persist in altering their location within the Zone, and are very weak. Not strong enough to get a trace on."
"It'd be all we need right now to wind up tanglin' with Blastaar or Annihilus or one a them guys," Ben commented. "We got enough troubles as it is!
Across town, in the back streets and alleyways of the run-down and crime infested neighborhoods of New York, a man walked. It was a cold afternoon, and his yellow gloved hands hitched up his navy blue coat around his neck. The large collar of the garish purple suit that he wore underneath protruded conspicuously around his neck. He muttered angrily about the cold, though no one was there to hear him. His feet, sporting boots the same color as his gloves, shuffled along the filthy sidewalk. By and by, he reached his destination. He extended an arm and rapped upon the door of the warehouse twice, and waited for a response.
"Do come in, Peter," a voice from within the building called out to him.
The man seized the doorknob and opened the battered door. It creaked nosily, and the man thought it to be a wonder that it didn't fall off its hinges entirely. In the middle of the dimly lit room, a mustachioed man sat cross-legged on one of four chairs that surrounded a beaten looking table. He wore an odd costume, a one piece fuschia bodysuit, with lavender boots and gloves. A cylindrical helmet of the same color sat upright on the table alongside him. He looked at the man.
"I was beginning to think you'd never get here, Trapster," he said, his genial tone belying his true nature.
"Don't start with me, Wizard," the Trapster snapped back. "What's this all about?"
"Please, please, calm down, my dear Mister Petruski," the Wizard said, smiling a false smile. "We have to wait for the others."
Mumbling, Peter Petruski, the super-villain known first as Paste Pot Pete, and now as the Trapster, removed the navy coat he was wearing and tossed it over the back of the chair he subsequently sat down on.
"If this is about reforming the Frightful Four, you can just forget it." The Trapster said, folding his arms.
"Just let me... plead my case," the Wizard said, grinning maliciously again.
"So, who we waitin'; on?" the Trapster inquired.
The Wizard was about to answer, when suddenly, he looked up to the ceiling. "Ah," he said. "He's here." The Trapster followed his gaze.
"Who?" He asked. All he could see was a cracked pipe running across the ceiling. A drop of water emerged from the edge of the crack, and fell to the ground. More drops began to follow it, thicker and faster, until a wave of water swept out of the pipe, and crashed down onto the warehouse floor, showering the Trapster with spray.
"What the--?" the Trapster spluttered, wiping his face with his sleeve.
The puddle of water at his feet shimmered, and all the droplets of water on the Trapster's body, on the table, on the chairs, and on the walls of the warehouse began to roll towards the puddle, which grew bigger and bigger with each passing second. The completed puddle lurched into the air, twisting and turning, morphing into a humanoid shape.
"I should have known," the Trapster grunted. "Hydro-Man."
Morris "Morrie" Bench, the criminal called Hydro-Man, ran a hand through his short brown hair and winked mischievously at the Trapster.
"Heya Paste Pot," he said, grinning. The Trapster's face flushed in anger. Hydro-Man grabbed one of the two remaining chairs, turned it around, and straddled it.
"So, what's this all about?" He asked.
"Well, seeing as our fourth member is late, it's her own fault for missing out on this chance," the Wizard said, standing. He picked up his helmet and put it on, and addressed his two partners in crime. "As you so correctly surmised, Trapster, I am indeed planning to reform the Frightful Four. But this time,"
"I told you to forget it, Wiz," the Trapster cut in. "I beat Spider-Man on my own, and Mister Fantastic too! I don't need to be part of any team any more!"
"Well, I don't care what Paste Pot says, I wanna hear this," Hydro-Man said.
"And well you should, Morris," the Wizard said, looking angrily at the Trapster. "In this instance, I have personally been contracted to reform the group and complete an assigned task."
"Since when did a big-shot like you hire out like a common thug?" The Trapster snorted.
"Since I was offered the princely sum of precisely five million dollars to do it, that's when," the Wizard snapped.
"Five mil!" The Trapster and Hydro-Man gasped. The Trapster jumped out of his seat.
"Well, why didn't you say so, Wiz, ol' buddy?" he said, putting an arm around the Wizard's shoulder. "Sure, I'll help out an old friend!" He jiggled the Wizard's jowls with his knuckles
"So, who we workin' for?"
The Wizard looked at him distastefully. "There are five of them, supposedly," he answered, "although I was contacted by only one; a man in a white cybernetic suit. He wished for both his and their identities to be kept secret. And for five million, I wasn't about to argue." He turned to the third member of the party.
"What about you, Hydro-Man?" he asked the watery villain.
"Fer five mil, I'll do anything!" Hydro-Man said, standing up.
"Excellent," the Wizard said, removing the Trapster's arm from his person. "So it's settled."
"But where's our Frightful Fourth?" the Trapster inquired.
"She's late," the Wizard said, angrily.
"Nope," a voice came from above them. A lithe shadow leapt from the rafters, and grabbed the pipe from which Hydro-Man had emerged. Performing an impressive spin, she swung high into the air and somersaulted once, landing on her haunches in front of the three startled males. Standing up, she ran both gloved hands through her long, raven-coloured hair.
"Hi boys." She said.
"Welcome, my dear, welcome." The Wizard said, stepping forward.
The Trapster ran his eyes over her curvaceous body. She was wearing a skin-tight suit of purple spandex, with a diamond-shaped area cut away at the base of her cleavage, and a long brown duster jacket. A red bandanna was tied around her head. She was armed to the teeth with all manners of weapons. Bandoleers decorated her outfit, and massive guns sat in holsters on both of her shapely hips.
"I like your fashion sense, doll," he said, and extended his hand. She grasped it, and before the Trapster knew what was happening, she had flipped him over her shoulder and slammed him off the ground.
"Don't call me 'doll'." She said, looking down at him and smiling. The Trapster nodded dumbly.
"You got a name?" Hydro-Man asked.
"That's my business," the female replied. "You'll find out when the time comes."
"I presume you heard our discussion?" the Wizard asked her.
"Sure did," she said. "What's the contract?"
"We assault Four Freedoms Plaza," the Wizard said, "and raze it to the ground."
"Sounds good to me," the woman said. "I've got some business with a friend of the FF's to take care of."
As the woman turned to help the Trapster up, Hydro-Man whispered to the Wizard; "Where'd you find this one?"
"A friend of a friend, you might say," the Wizard whispered back. "She doesn't have any connections with our benefactor. She's a free agent. She may seem a little eccentric, but she gets the job done."
"She'd better," Hydro-Man responded. "Attackin' Four Freedoms Plaza is practically suicide!"
It was just over two hours later when Ben Grimm returned to Reed's laboratory to check up on his friends progress. Looking around the lab, Ben could not see Reed anywhere, and called out. "Yo, Stretch! You in here?"
"Indeed," Reed called back. A ventilation duct grating on the wall beside Ben burst off and clattered to the ground, and Reed's neck and head stretched out. "I've just completed equipping the ventilation shafts with motion sensors and alarms," he explained, as the rest of his body followed out the small opening.
"Any luck wit'; the Negative Zone?" Ben inquired.
"I managed to identify a component's energy signature," Reed said, "and I'm presently running a trace on its location."
Suddenly, a loud buzzer blared in the lab, startling Ben. "What now?" He said, agitated.
"Correction," Reed said, smiling. "I have successfully located the component." He stretched over to the console the noise was emitting from, and flipped a switch, silencing the klaxon. The console began to spew out a long strip of paper containing all the data Reed needed. Reed picked it up and studied it intently.
"So, where's all our stuff?" Ben asked after a moment, peering over Reed's shoulder, but failing to understand any of the information printed on the paper.
"Argor," Reed said.
"No, Ben, Argor is a planet in the Negative Zone," Reed said, tutting, "That's where the component is."
"So, whaddawe do now?" Ben asked.
Reed was about to answer, when the room was filled with the sound of breaking glass, as the room's skylight was shattered. Shards of glass rained down on the room, but did no harm to Ben's rocky hide, or Reed's malleable flesh. Both men were stunned at the audacity of the attackers.
"Now..." the Wizard exclaimed, dropping into the room gracefully, "you die!"
"Wizard!" Reed exclaimed. "But... my defenses!"
"A simple matter to counteract such devices when the people you work for uncovered the principles on which they function," the Wizard said with a motion of his hand and a sly grin, eager for a chance to brag.
"You think you can take the both of us on, Wizzy?" Ben asked the villain.
"Of course not, my dear Mister Grimm," the Wizard said. "I'm not stupid." The Trapster and Hydro-Man promptly dropped through the skylight, to stand at the Wizard's side.
Hydro-Man morphed into his water form, and charged towards Ben, while the Trapster darted at Reed. The Wizard stood back to watch. As Ben moved forward to engage Hydro-Man, the liquid criminal pulled back his fist, and jerked it forward before Ben was anywhere near him. A high-pressure jet of water shot forth from Hydro-Man's fist, and struck Ben cleanly in the stomach, sending him flying backwards through the air. Gesturing with his other hand, Hydro-Man created another stream of similar force, and continually pummeled Ben with their pressure.
"Whatta revoltin'; development..." Ben gurgled, as water splashed into his mouth.
Meanwhile, across the room, the Trapster was matching wits with Reed. Streams of paste surged out of the tips of the Trapster's gloves, as Reed stretched and dodged in an effort to avoid being hit.
"Give it up Richards!" The Trapster bellowed. "I beat you before! I'll beat you again!"
"We'll just see about that..." Reed said, nimbly stretching around behind the Trapster's back and morphing his fingers into sharp claws.
"What...? No!" the Trapster exclaimed, as Reed seized his backpack, which was sewn into the fabric of his jacket. His claws tore at the material, ripping the paste container from the Trapster's back, severing the hoses that fed the polymer liquid to his pressurized firing gloves. The Trapster spun around and made a grab for the pack, but Reed easily stretched out of the way.
"You might want to step back, Trapster," the Wizard said, and he stepped forward quickly. "This will be messy." Rapidly, the Wizard pointed a finger in Reed's direction, and an energy bolt lanced out, blowing the backpack to smithereens, and coating Reed in a giant globule of paste. Reed struggled valiantly, but the paste began to harden almost instantaneously, holding his limbs solid in their elongated disproportionate state. Unable to move his legs, Reed toppled over onto his side. His arms and part of his torso and neck were equally immobilised.
"Nice one, Wiz!" the Trapster said, slapping the Wizard on the back.
"Don't celebrate yet," the Wizard said, pointing.
"Look!" Following the Wizard's gaze, the Trapster saw Johnny Storm and his sister Sue burst into the room, Johnny already in the form of the Human Torch.
"Hang on, Ben!" Johnny yelled, and soared towards Hydro-Man, shooting a volley of fireballs at the villain, in hopes of vaporizing enough of his substance to weaken him sufficiently for Ben to beat him.
Before the fireballs even reached him, Hydro-Man moved one of his arms, and the high-pressure jet it was generating shot up into the air, extinguishing the fireballs and Johnny's flame, smashing the youth backwards into the ceiling.
Sue darted towards the Trapster and the Wizard, to help Reed. Nimbly, the Wizard snapped his arm forward and flicked his wrist, releasing from his grasp an anti-gravity disc, with cut through the air with ease, and affixed itself to Sue's chest. He then pressed a button on his glove, and a red light blinked on the disc, which yanked Sue up into the air, and spun around repeatedly, disorienting her too much for her to use her invisible forcefield.
"It won't tale long before they find ways out of these gimmicks, Wizard!" The Trapster pointed out.
"Let's just do out job and get out of here! And where'd that dame get off to?"
"Forget her!" The Wizard said. "If she can't be bothered to do the job, she won't get paid!"
The Trapster turned away, and grabbed a swivel chair from a nearby computer console. He immediately threw the chair through the large computer screen, shattering it, causing a small explosion. Wrenching a piece of metal from a machine in the middle of the room, the Trapster proceeded to smash everything in sight.
"No!" Reed cried, his voice muffled by paste.
"Crude..." the Wizard said, stroking his chin, "yet effective." He turned to look at Hydro-Man, who has his hands full, keeping Johnny's flame down and Ben on the ground. The Wizard reached into a pocket on his belt, and pulled out a small, black object, about three or four inches long and two inches wide. He turned it over in his hands, looking at it.
The mysterious white-suited contractor had given it to him, but had not told him what it was. He said it was an ace in the hole... a little something extra to help them. It looked to the Wizard to be nothing more than an ordinary audio cassette, except for the strange, triangular, purple symbol imprinted on its side. Darting to one of the consoles that was still intact, the Wizard ran his eyes across the innumerable buttons, switches and levers, until he found what he was looking for - a tape recorder, built into the console, so that Richards could keep an oral record of his experiments. Deftly, the Wizard inserted the black cassette into the slot, and stepped back a few paces, as if he feared it would spring to life and perform its destructive function on him. But instead, nothing happened. The Wizard pursed his lips, and decided to return to the fight, before anyone noticed what he was doing. Whatever that thing was supposed to do, it had better do it soon.
Several floors below, the woman known as Alysande Stuart, and sometimes as the warrior woman, Caledonia, sat with Franklin Richards and Puppy in the lounge.
"So then," Franklin said, "the big robot said 'They're sentient bein's, an' they have the right t'be free' and then another robot appeared, and then the bad guy got real mad, an..,"
Irate barking from Puppy, and the sound of a blaring siren cut off Franklin's story. Franklin kept close to his canine companion, and looked up at Alysande.
"What is it, Sandy?" he asked, scared. "What's wrong?"
"Ah dinnae ken," Alysande replied, as she examined the computer screen built into the wall to locate the source of the disturbance. "Looks like there's trouble in Doctor Richards' lab."
"You better go help my daddy," Franklin said.
"Aye," Alysande agreed. "You stay here, y' wee bairn, and y' can finish telling me about yuir dream later."
"Okay," said Franklin, nodding his head vigorously.
In a flash of light, Alysande shifted into her Caledonia form, wearing her armor fashioned in the design of the Scottish flag, with her sword in it's scabbard at her hip. As she ran up the stairs towards Reed's laboratory, she was given pause to wonder about the dream Franklin had been telling her about. The members of the Fantastic Four had said that Franklin had often had precognitive dreams when events of great importance were on the horizon, and the detail in which he could recall these dreams he had been having the previous night of giant robots... could it be possible it was happening again?
"Awright!" Ben exclaimed. "That does it!" Gritting his teeth, he positioned his legs correctly, and, fighting against the power of Hydro-Man's water jet, raised himself to a standing position. Shocked, Hydro-Man increased the pressure, but Ben remained standing. Then, slowly, he began to move forward.
"What are you doing?" Hydro-Man yelled at Ben, over the roaring sound of the water jets. "You can't hurt me! Your punches will go straight through me!"
"That's what," Ben struggled to say, as he fought on, "I'm countin' on!"
Suddenly, he swung both his arms wide, with Hydro-Man right between them, and then slammed the palms of his outspread rocky hands together again, right through Hydro-Man's torso. The shockwave from the powerful clap dissipated Hydro-Man, spraying water all across the room. Ben exhaled with relief, and shook off his wet hands. Johnny flitted into the air, his flames now re-ignited, drying off his wet costume. The Trapster and the Wizard were absolutely soaked, as was Reed, saturating the paste, and weakening it enough for him to free one arm. Before attending to himself, Reed stretched his free arm towards Sue, and tore the anti-gravity disc from her. She fell to the ground, but cushioned her own fall with a soft invisible forcefield. As Reed proceeded to morph his fist into a chisel and crack the paste cocoon away from him, the Trapster and the Wizard assumed defensive positions, and Hydro-Man slowly began reconstructing himself, Caledonia charged into the room.
"Blessed ancestors!" she exclaimed. "What in the name o' god?"
"It's the Frightful Four, Sandy!" Johnny called to her from the air. "Old friends' of ours!"
Alysande looked at the trio of villains in front of her, and looked up to Johnny. "I like ye, John Storm, but yuir skill as a mathematician is obviously low," she called back. "I see only three o' these hallions!"
"And that would be my cue!" a female voice said, and the raven-haired woman, the supposed fourth member of the Frightful Four, dropped through the skylight, two heavy-duty blasters in her hands. Immediately, she pointed them at Alysande, who whipped her sword from it's scabbard and assumed a battle stance.
"And who the divvil might you be?" she asked the newcomer.
"You, Alysande Stuart, also known as Caledonia," the woman stated, "may call me BOUNTY! And your life... is MINE!"
NEXT ISSUE: MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY!