FANTASTIC FOUR #3
"MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY!"
By Chris McFeely
Archibald Seismen, known to a select few as the villainous Doctor Archeville, studied the small viewscreen in front of him intensely. The Fantastic Four, along with some woman called Caledonia, were presently engaged in combat with their counterparts, the Frightful Four, in what remained of Reed Richards's lab in Four Freedoms Plaza. The Frightful Four was currently comprised of the Wizard, whom Archeville himself had hired to reform the criminal team and to attack the Plaza, the Trapster, and Hydro-Man, along with another woman who Archeville did not recognise, and who certainly seemed to be anything but a team player. Behind Archeville, his brother, Christopher Seismen, the malevolent Gotterdamerung, stood, watching along with his sibling.
"This had better work, Archie," Gotterdamerung said.
"Don't call me that!" Archeville snapped. "And of course it will work!"
"But... a cowboy, Archie!" Gotterdamerung exclaimed. "A cowboy, for Christ's sake!"
"Yes, yes," Archeville said, with a dismissive gesture, "the implant malfunctioned. But we recovered him and adjusted it. It's functioning perfectly now."
"Perhaps," Gotterdamerung said. "But this is a little too risky for my tastes. We're supposed to keep Richards from finding out about Xenotech, and we're sending in one of them?"
"Chris, it's our only option," Archeville explained. "Berger's man hacked their computer files and put the blocks on to prevent them from accessing the data, and the battle droids took down Pier Four, but let's face it, the Wizard and his squad of buffoons have a snowball's chance in hell of finishing the job. We need to use him."
"Maybe," Gotterdamerung said. "But I don't have to like it."
"...And your life... is MINE!"
"And what would ye be wanting with a life such as mine?" Caledonia inquired, playing it cool with this 'Bounty' character, sizing her up, and preparing to strike.
"In case you didn't know, sweets," Bounty said condescendingly, "there's a warrant out for your arrest valid through the sidereal continuum, and I intend to claim the reward!"
"What?!" the Wizard cried. "You mean you had no intention of joining us?"
"Of course not, Wiz," Bounty said, looking back at the moustachioed villain with an evil smile. "I just needed you to get me in here. I'm skilled, that's for sure, but even I couldn't break through the defenses of the great Reed Richards." She jerked her head in Reed's direction, as he cracked the last remainder of the paste shell he had been encased in free of his body. "Don't go getting any ideas, rubber man," she said, as he stood up, and gestured at him with one of the blasters she held in her hands. "This is a molecular disintegrator. It'll reduce you to your component atoms before you can say 'E=Mc²’."
"You want Sandy, you'll have to go through us first!" Johnny yelled at the bounty hunter.
"Fine by me," Bounty replied. "I could use a little fun." With unthinkable speed, Bounty grabbed a grenade from her belt and tossed is at Johnny. It exploded on his chest, releasing a cloud of greenish-brown gas that clung to Johnny's skin. No matter how much he increased his flame, he found he could not dissipate the gas, and collapsed to the ground in a matter of seconds, coughing uncontrollably, his body spasming. Caledonia darted to his side.
Whipping around, Bounty produced a small silver disc from another pocket on her suit, and hurled it with a flick of her wrist through the air. No-one could see what Bounty had aimed at, but it seemed evident she had missed... until the disc made contact with something, and the Invisible Woman faded into view, a few feet away from Bounty.
"What?" Sue gasped, startled. "How...?"
"Neuro-neutraliser," Bounty said, swiftly kicking the startled Sue’s feet out from under her. "Knocked out your invisibility powers. But that's not all I'm going to knock out..." Bounty swung back her leg, aiming a kick at Sue's head, but was caught from behind by Reed, stretching his arms to entwine her legs. She fell to the ground, twisting around as she did so, aiming her blasters at Reed.
"E=Mc²," Reed said with a grin, and deftly stretched his body into a massive loop, just as Bounty pulled the triggers, allowing the bolts to pass harmlessly by him, only to strike a large chunk of remaining machinery, dissipating its atoms to the ether. The Trapster stood with the Wizard on the other side of the room, as Hydro-Man rose up beside them, having successfully reassembled himself after the Thing had blown him apart. "Maybe this wont be so hard after all!" the Trapster commented. "The FF and the doll are gonna do all our work for us!" "Quite..." the Wizard mumbled, and shot a glance back at the tape recorder he had inserted the strange black and red cassette into moments earlier. Still nothing. "My Aunt Petunia always told me never to hit a lady," Ben said, balling up his fist, "but you sure as heck ain’t no lady!" "No offence, handsome..." Bounty said to Ben, deftly jumping aside and seizing his wrist as he swung the punch, then turning her attention to the Trapster, "...but I told you not to call me ‘doll’!" she yelled, hoisting Ben of the ground with ease, and hurling him directly at Petruski.
"Holy crap!" the Trapster exclaimed, and dived for cover as Ben hurtled through the air towards him. Ben shot over the paste-powered felon’s head, and crashed into a support beam in the wall, and slumped to the ground, unconscious, as the Wizard pointed at Bounty.
"It seems our alliance, such as it was, is over!" he said accusingly. "Get her!"
Hydro-Man launched himself towards, and the Trapster scrabbled to his feet and charged alongside the watery criminal, as the Wizard took to the air and primed his blaster-gloves. Gesturing with outspread palms, the Wizard fired a volley of energy blasts in Bounty’s direction, as she proceeded to perform a series of impressive acrobatics, weaving and dodging in and out of a maze of energy beams, water jets and elastic limbs, heading towards Caledonia, who sat by the side of Johnny, trying to calm the spastic reaction Bounty’s gas had caused.
"Come on!" she said, laughing. "Can’t you even make this a challenge?"
"If you insist, doll," the Trapster said, as her somersaults brought her to land right in front of him. Without compunction, the Trapster formed a fist and punched Bounty square in the jaw with a strong right hook. She staggered back, and almost lost her footing. Massaging her jaw, she looked back at the Trapster.
"That actually hurt," she said. "Allow me to return the favour." She jumped forward and grabbed him by the protruding collar of his costume, picking him up off the ground, and forcefully slamming his face into a wall. Releasing her grip, Bounty allowed the criminal to drop to the floor, out cold. She turned back to the crowd of remaining superhumans. "Who wants some?!" she yelled at them, whipping out her blasters again. "I’ll take those, if you don’t mind," Sue said, forming an invisible forcefield around the guns and yanking them free of Bounty’s grasp. "That neutraliser you put on me may have stopped me from becoming invisible, but it doesn’t restrict my forcefield!"
"Dammit," Bounty muttered. "I’m going to have to work on that."
"And before you try anything else..." Reed said, quickly stretching his arms out towards Bounty while she was distracted by Sue, and wrapping them tightly around her body, from her neck to her ankles, immobilising her.
"You know..." Bounty said, "I just can’t stand a guy who’s ‘all hands’!" A massive energy surge threw Reed across the room, inadvertently releasing Bounty from his hold. The bounty hunter tossed a small bronze-coloured device into the air and caught it again in her open palm, and winked at the disoriented Reed. "I’ve got more tricks up me sleeve than you can imagine, spaghetti man," she said, slipping the object back into a pouch on her belt.
"Impressive," the Wizard said, "but hardly comparable to my genius!" With that, he gestured at Bounty again, and blasted her square in her ample chest with an energy beam from his glove. She went sailing backward through the air, and crashed into a console, which sparked and sputtered.
"Jerk," she said, as she spat blood. Grabbing a small orb from one of the bandoleers that decorated her costume, she tossed it at the Wizard, who gasped, and ducked. Unfortunately, Hydro-Man, who was standing right behind the Wizard, was not as fast. As the orb contacted with his liquid body, it exploded, spraying his chest all across the room. He looked down at the giant hole where his torso should have been.
"That just ain’t nice," he said, looking back at Bounty. "Let’s see how you like it!" Hydro-Man pulled back his arm, and then jerked it forward again, shooting a jet of water straight at Bounty’s stomach. Nimbly, the lithe woman backflipped out of the way, and the water collided with the damaged console Bounty had stood in front of. Electricity leaped along Hydro-Man’s watery, conductive arm from the exposed circuit boards, shocking the villain. "AAAAARRRRRRGGGGGH!" he screamed, and lost consciousness almost instantaneously, morphing back to his human form as he did so.
Bounty looked around herself. Her only remaining foes were the Invisible Woman, the Wizard, and her target, Caledonia. This had been easier than she would have thought.
"Archie, I seriously doubt his ability to defeat that woman, if she can take down the entire Fantastic and Frightful Four!Richards will be free to examine the body!"
"Don’t call me that!" Archeville said again. "And this is my damned operation! The Overseer just let you tag along!"
Gotterdamerung folded his arms across his massive, muscular chest, and looked daggers at his brother with his flaming red eyes. "On your own head be it..." he said menacingly. "...Archie."
Archeville’s face flushed red with anger, and he stabbed his finger down on a button beside the viewscreen. "Let's see, shall we?"
"So, who’s gonna be next?" Bounty inquired of her remaining opposition. The Wizard took a step backwards, and Caledonia got to her feet.
"P’rhaps ye would like to test yuirself against me?" Caledonia challenged the bounty hunter, brandishing her sword.
"Gladly, Red," Bounty said, discarding her duster jacket and unholstering a large, particularly threatening-looking plasma rifle from a sheath on her back. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Sue take a step towards her. "Don’t even think it, Blondie," Bounty snapped, jerking around and squeezing off a round from the rifle. Sue only had time enough to throw up the crudest of forcefields, before the plasma blast collided with her. However, such was its force, and such was the weakness of her shield, that she was still sent crashing into a large hunk of machinery. While the blast did not do much damage, the whipcrack effect of the collision made Sue smash the back of her head off of a jutting out piece of equipment, and the world went dark.
"Hmn," Bounty grunted. "I’d hoped for more of a challenge than that from the Invisible Woman. Oh well. Can’t win ‘em all. Oh, wait... yes I can!" She immediately turned the rifle towards the Wizard, who took to the air as she pulled the trigger. His aerial manoeuvrability allowed him to dodge Bounty’s shots for a while, but he soon began to tire, when suddenly, he noticed activity across the room. The console into which he had inserted the mysterious cassette given to him by his contractor, beside which the Thing now lay unconscious, was shuddering. Bounty saw it too, as the cassette itself shot of the slot the Wizard had put it in with incredible velocity. As it soared through the air, it began to... well, the Wizard could think of no better term to describe it... it began to transform. The sounds of sliding gears was heard as legs and arms swung downward from the side and top of the cassette, respectively, and a white face, with a red visor, and a black helmet emerged from between what had become shoulders. As this process went on, the cassette’s proportions increased, so much so, that when the transformation was complete, a black and red robot, with two silver guns affixed to its back, of at least six and a half feet in height, stood in the middle of the room.
"A robot in disguise!" the Wizard marvelled. "Ingenious!" Less than a second later, the Wizard was hit by a plasma blast from Bounty’s rifle, and set spiralling to the floor, where he landed, head-first, and lay still.
"Whoo..." Ben Grimm said, getting up and rubbing his head. "Did anyone get the number of that truck?" He blinked his eyes a couple of times, and looked around the remains of the lab, to be greeted with the sight of the unconscious forms of the Trapster, the Wizard, Hydro-Man, the Human Torch, and the Invisible Woman. Looking around for Reed, Ben saw his friend lying on the floor, dazed, pulling his elongated limbs back to their normal length. He stood up unsteadily, and saw the same sights as Ben – the unconscious bodies... and the bounty hunter who had felled them all squaring up against a robot which had seemingly come out of nowhere, with Caledonia nearby, watching.
Ben met Reed’s gaze, and arched an eyebrow, as if to ask, "What now?"
"I... don’t know..." Reed said in answer to Ben’s unspoken question.
The unnerving silence was broken by the sound of Bounty cocking the plasma rifle. The robot lifted one optic circuit ridge. "I’m a-callin’ you out, pilgrim," it said in a high-pitched, electronic voice. "Draw!"
"I thought you said you’d fixed that!" Gotterdamerung bellowed.
Archeville thumped his fist down on the console, and on the viewscreen, he saw the robot freeze, arch its back, and then proceed with its actions.
"I did," Archeville replied.
"Pilgrim?" Bounty said, looking oddly at the robot, which suddenly froze in its tracks, arched its back, and then relaxed, and continued to advance towards her. When it had said ‘draw’, she had assumed it was going to attack her with one of the guns mounted on it’s back, and, as such, as not prepared for what happened next. The robot lifted both arms, palms splayed, and opened what passed for its mouth. Bounty dropped the rifle and put her hands to her ears, as a wave of sheer sonic force bore down upon her, deafening her, pushing her eardrums to their limit of tolerance. She crumpled to her knees, as the robot pressed forward, moving ever closer, assaulting her with a barrage of sound. Its metal mouth twisted into a deranged grin as it steadily increased the pitch of the sound wave, moving in for the kill.
Bounty looked up to meet her would-be killer in the visor that served to represent its eyes, and saw no hint of mercy there. Her face contorted in pain as the robot moved his hands closer. She shut her eyes, waiting for the embrace of oblivion. But it did not come. Instead, what she heard was a dull, metallic thump, followed by a loud crash, and then, quite suddenly, the pain was gone.
The Thing stood over Bounty, rubbing the knuckles of his right hand, while the robot was lying halfway through a massive hole in the wall, its legs hanging over the side facing Bounty.
"I don’t like you, lady," Ben said, not bothering to help her up. "But I ain’t gonna sit by and watch some T-1000 wannabe commit murder."
"Justify it however you want, handsome," Bounty said, flipping herself upright, and leaning in close towards Ben. "You just saved my life."
"Whatever," Ben muttered, shoving the bounty hunter away, and walking over to Reed, who was examining the inert mechanoid.
"I can’t be sure, without time or the tools necessary," Reed said, "but a cursory examination indicates some startling similarities between this construct and the technology exhibited by the beings who destroyed Pier Four."
"You don’t say?!" the robot said, a crimson light returning to its darkened visor, as it began to stand up. "Well, isn’t that just peachy?"
"Yer a glutton for punishment, ain’t ya?" Ben said, cracking his knuckles.
"That hurt!" the robot squawked. "Howzabout you let ol’ Frenzy see how youlike it!" With that, the robot - ‘Frenzy’, had it called itself? - threw a punch at Ben, contacting perfectly with his stomach. Ben just looked back at the robot. "OW!!" it shrieked, recoiling his fist from Ben’s rocky gut. "Ow! Owowowowowowowowow!" The robot proceeded to hop and dance around the lab, clutching its injured fist. Reed, Ben, Bounty, and Caledonia just looked at it and each other.
Gotterdamerung and Archeville stared at the viewscreen, open-mouthed.
"I don’t believe it," Gotterdamerung said, throwing his hands up. "Of all those creatures, we had to put the implant in that one. The Overseer will have our heads for this, Archie."
"Shut up, Chris," Archeville said. Gotterdamerung’s eyes glowed scarlet in vexation. Archeville went on. "It’s simply a case of the robot’s original personality trying to reaffirm itself. Easily remedied." Archeville tapped a few buttons, and toggled a switch. "There."
The robot suddenly stopped hopping, allowing its arm to drop to its side, as its eyes glazed over and it stood rigid.
"This is pretty messed up right here, Reed," Ben commented.
"Indubitably," Reed said, tentatively moving towards the inert mechanoid. As he was about to touch it with an elongated finger, it snapped back to life and swiped its arm in his direction. Reed rapidly jerked out of the way, as the robot turned on him and Ben. Again, it raised its arms.
"Hit the dirt!" Ben yelled, and grabbed Bounty, Caledonia and Reed as he flung himself behind a smouldering chunk of metal that looked like it might have been important before the Trapster busted it up. Another sonic blast tore up the air, ripping the makeshift shelter to shreds, and assaulting the ears of the trio. "Fortunately..." Reed said, standing up amidst the sonic maelstrom, groggily, but in better shape than Bounty or Ben, "this sonic weapon of yours is designed to disorient and deafen. However, my consciousness is as malleable as my body. It can do little to affect me for any sustained period of time."
The robot grimaced, but said nothing, and allowed its arms to drop, ceasing the barrage. It promptly charged towards Reed, eerily silent, and collided with his rubbery body. Reed frowned as the robot squirmed and writhed , yanking his elastic flesh in all directions, entangling itself within Reed. Suddenly, inexplicably, so as not to give his mechanical assailant time to react, Reed began to rapidly contract his body, applying crushing pressure to the robot. It emitted an electronically distorted shriek, as Reed grunted and continued to squeeze.
As the others watched the scene before them, Ben turned to Caledonia. "Sandy, where’s Frankie?"
"Ah left him downstairs, wi’ Puppy," she replied. "I thought he’d be all right..."
"Maybe not," Ben said. "You better make a break fer the stairs, go get him outta here. The whole place is liable t’come down if that metal mook does any more damage."
"Aye," Caledonia said in agreement, and made a move to rush past Reed and the robot that called itself Frenzy, when suddenly, she felt something cold and metallic touch her temple. She swivelled her eyes.
"Ah-ah-ah, Red," Bounty said, holding yet another blaster up to Caledonia’s head, her trigger finger twitching. "Crazed robot killer or not, you’re still mine." Ben moved a rocky fist a quarter of an inch before Bounty said: "Don’t try it, handsome. One wrong move, and you’ll be seeing the inside of Red’s pretty little head. I’m taking her back to my contractor, alive or dead."
"Ah dinnae think so," Caledonia said, catching the bounty hunter off-guard, elbowing her in the stomach, and grabbing her wrist, just as she pulled the trigger, causing the shot to go wild.
"Son of a --!" Bounty gasped, slightly winded, staggering backwards. "Nice moves, Red, but you don’t get a second chance."
"Oh yeah?" Ben quipped, grabbing Bounty’s gloved hands, and twisting her arms around behind her back, forcing her to drop the blaster.
"Ooh," Bounty said, obviously angry, but taking some perverse pleasure in being manhandled by Ben. "How’d you know I like it rough, handsome?"
Ben made disgusted face. Then, inexplicably, he yelled: "Reed! Look out!" The shot from Bounty’s blaster that had gone wild had hit a beam in the ceiling, loosening it from its fixtures. Even now, the beam was plummeting towards Reed and Frenzy. Looking upwards for a fraction of a second, Reed saw the approaching beam, and stretched from its path. Frenzy felt the human loosen his elastic grip on him, followed his gaze.
"Uh oh," he squeaked. The beam slammed down into his head, shattering his optic visor, and cracking his helmet into two pieces. Reed untangled himself from the robot, which staggered around blindly, clutching at it’s face. It collided with a console, and slumped over, striking buttons and switches with its madly waving arms, as he collapsed to the ground.
Ben gestured at the main door to the lab. "Go on, Cal! Before things get worse!" Caledonia did not need telling twice, and sprinted towards the doorway. When she was halfway across the room, a loud humming noise abruptly began, drawing her attention. With a hiss of compressed air, a large circular hatchway built into a machine beside her sighed open.
"Move, Caledonia!" Reed shouted, above the roar of the air in the room being sucked into the portal. But his cries did not reach her in time. Before she could do anything, Caledonia was picked up off of her feet by the vacuum from the portal, and sucked inside. "NO!" Reed cried. Anchoring himself by stretching his legs around one of the remaining cement columns in the room, he stretched his body towards the opening, tried to grasp Caledonia’s hand. The woman flailed madly as she reached for Reed’s hand. They were mere centimetres apart, when, quite suddenly, Caledonia was gone. Reed snapped back, as the portal doors slammed closed. "Damn!" he swore.
"What the hell was that?" Bounty asked.
"Ditto, stretch," Ben said, bemused.
"Ben, you recall a short while ago that my computers locked onto a signal from the missing equipment, that had somehow found its way into the Negative Zone?" Reed queried.
"Yeah," Ben grunted, wishing Reed would cut to the chase.
"Well, the computers were programmed to download the transportation co-ordinates directly to the Negative Zone gateway, to prep it for our journey. Frenzy, or whatever his name is, must have accidentally opened the doors when he struck the controls on the console."
"Ya built another doorway to the Negative Zone?" Ben exclaimed, eyes wide. "Reed, ain’tcha learned yet that place ain’t nothin’ but trouble?"
"Lets hear it for the rubber man," Bounty chided, ripping her arms free of Ben’s grip at last. She retrieved her duster jacket from where it lay on the floor and slipped it on. "I assume you’ll be going in after her?"
"Of course," Reed said.
"Then I’m going with you," Bounty said.
"Out of the question," Reed replied. "You’re going the same place they’re going." He gestured to the forms of the Trapster, Hydro-Man, and the Wizard, still spread-eagled on the floor.
"I don’t think so," Bounty laughed. "Look, you’re going to need all the help you can get if you’re going to the Negative Zone."
"You know of it?" Reed asked.
"Sure," Bounty replied. "Been there a couple of times on my ...travels. And anyway, I don’t see anyone else here who’s fit to go on a mission like this."
"You’re quite a piece of work, lady," Ben commented.
"You better believe it," she said.
"Fine," Reed grunted. "You can accompany us. But make no mistake, should you try to in any way harm Caledonia, you will answer to us."
Bounty laughed again. "Whatever."
"What are we gonna do about him?" Ben asked, pointing at Frenzy. He walked over to the inert form of the robot, where it lay beside the console, and kicked it. He jumped back as the robot suddenly sat up, what remained of its visor glowing with red light again.
"What the hell happened to me?" it said out loud, to no-one in particular. "Where am I? Who the hell are you people?" Instead of waiting for answers to its questions, the robot checked its internal chronometer. "Aw, MAN!" it exclaimed. "Soundwave is gonna KILL me!" With that, it jumped to it’s feet, and soared up into the air, out the skylight, and into the sky, until it disappeared from view.
"What in the name of my sweet Aunt Petunia was that all about?" Ben pondered, rubbing his head.
"I only wish I knew, Ben," Reed said, looking out of the shattered skylight. Sighing, he turned his attention back to the contents of the room. "Come on, help me with the others. We’ll have to see to them before we can track down Caledonia."
"The Negative Zone...," Ben muttered, as he propped Johnny’s body up against a wall. "Could things get any worse?"
"You LOST him?!" Gotterdamerung cried.
"The implant has ceased to emit its homing signal," Archeville said, not meeting his brother’s gaze. "It has been damaged. Our control over him is lost. But the nanites I outfitted it with will see to it that it is repaired before long."
"Well, that’s one saving grace," Gotterdamerung said, scowling. "But now, thanks to you, the Fantastic Four are getting that much closer to uncovering the truth...!"
NEXT ISSUE: Reed, Ben, and Bounty take a trip into the Negative Zone to recover Caledonia! But at the end of it all, who gets to keep her? And before they face that problem, they’re going to have to go through a certain Living Death Who Walks...! Plus: More on the mystery of Franklin’s dreams, and what they mean for the fate of the superheroes and the Transformers!