FANTASTIC FOUR #7
‘BACK TO BASICS’ or ‘Gee, lookit all the italic text!’
By Chris McFeely
Alyssa Moy yawned loudly, momentarily breaking off the hours-long trawl through endless amounts of data that the computer sitting on the desk in front of her was spewing out. Millions of lines of machine code filled the screen, continuously scrolling upward, each glowing green character mocking her - for she could not understand any of the complex information that was being revealed to her. However, there was no way in Hell she was giving up; this was a colossal find, and if she let a little thing like this stop her from discovering all she could about it, then she might as well just give up now.
The computer continued to bleep and buzz, as the printer alongside it clattered cacophonously, churning out hard copies of all the computer had on this new discovery, as Alyssa rolled her chair back, and stood up from the desk. She could remember quite clearly how she had received the urgent message from Stockholm, asking her to return immediately, and to help her compatriots examine a group of artefacts recently unearthed during an archaeological dig in the area. Her old friend, Reed Richards, with whom she had been staying, alongside his family, the American superhero team called the Fantastic Four, had insisted on escorting her back to Stockholm, even putting his research on the Deathlok technology on hold (That’d be somewhere between Deathlok #3 and FF#1 - Chris). But, as per the instructions she had been given, she was not able to tell him anything about the reasons behind the summoning, despite the fact that he may have been of some help to them.
Sighing, Alyssa turned her back on the computer, and walked across the laboratory, carefully stepping over and between numerous lines of cables and wires, which ran from the computer, along the floor, and all across the lab, where they were connected into three massive ovular constructs, all made from an unidentifiable metal, and purplish in colour. Alyssa was fortunate that her lab was so large - each of the egg-like things was at least thirty feet long, and it had taken a considerable amount of work to get them into her lab in the first place, and then, furthermore to find decent places to keep them. They had repelled x-rays, so there had been no way to see what was inside, short of opening them, and that was certainly not the wisest thing to do. After finding some connection ports, she had linked them up to the lab’s computer mainframe in an effort to learn more about them. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the computer was one of the most advanced in the world, with a massive database on just about every scientific principle known to man, any and all data that they could download from the odd constructs was completely indecipherable, and of no use whatsoever.
Alyssa sighed again, angrily this time, and removed the lab coat she was wearing. Hanging it up, she marched out the door, slamming it behind her in frustration. The computer continued to download, and the printer continued to chatter. Then, suddenly, the characters on the screen froze, and inexplicably began to scroll downwards. The information taken from the pods was promptly drawn back into them - but the process did not stop there. Every single byte of information on the computer’s hard drive was taken and ingested by the ovals. The computer winked off, and the printer fell silent. The only noise in the room was a subdued humming, as the metal pods began to throb.
Franklin Richards squinted as a narrow beam of bright light shone directly into his eye.
"Try not to blink, son," Reed Richards said, as he twiddled a set of knobs on a console connected to the large piece of machinery, into which Franklin was currently strapped.
"I’m tryin’ daddy," he replied. He was only happy to aid his father in his research, but the huge cannon-shaped protuberance that was shining the light into his eyes was unnerving him considerably. He had an itch right on the top of his head, too, but he couldn’t scratch it, as his arms were held down at his sides, and there was a metal dome - an extension of the machine - on top of his skull. He liked the tingly feeling it was making on his scalp. The light beam snapped off.
Reed, studying an oscilloscope-like screen, cupped his chin and hummed quietly in thought. "Franklin, how long have you been having these dreams now?"
"Justa couple’a days, daddy," Franklin said. "I think the first one was then those bad men blew up our house at the pier."
"What was it about, Franklin?" Reed asked. "Tell me."
Franklin scrunched up his face, trying to remember. "Uhm... I ‘member... this big gold spaceship, crashin’ down... an’ there were good robots and bad robots came outta it... an’ the leader a’ the good robots went off lookin’ for sumpfin’... and then there was that bad mutant man, Maggy-neto..." (I’m sure the alert among you remember Franklin having this dream in FF #1 and the details being made more clear in FF#2 - but who among you figured out it contained the events of X-Men #4, eh? - Chris)
Reed’s eyes narrowed. He had seen the news reports of the X-Men and Magneto involved in battle with giant sentient mechanoid lifeforms. "What about the other dreams?"
"I toldja ‘bout the one where those good robots were inna big, big city inna snow," Franklin recalled. "An the other robot inna snow, an’ then when there were all those people cryin’..." (That would have been in FF#4, and I’m sure you drew the parallels with Transformers #5, but what’s all that crying about, hmn? - Chris)
"Yes, son, I remember," Reed said, comfortingly. "Were there any others?"
"Well, yesser’ay, I had that dream about Unca Johnny, and that big bully robot," Franklin said. "I mighta had more, but I don’ ‘member ‘em." (Last issue, as I’m sure you remember. What? You didn’t? - Chris)
"That’s fine, son," Reed said, undoing the straps on the machine. "You can go now, and play with Puppy." The dog barked happily in the doorway.
"Aw, daddy, I wanna stay here and help you!" Franklin said, hopping out of the seat.
Reed chuckled. "I think it’d be best if you ran along, really, Franklin," he said, picking him up in his elongated arms. "I’ve got some serious thinking to do."
"Okay, daddy," Franklin said, dropping to the ground, and running out of the lab, with Puppy in tow. Reed stretched an arm across the lab, and hit the door-lock switch. It shut silently, as Reed slumped down at a desk, and rested his head in his hands.
What am I going to do? he thought. Franklin’s dreams have shown the future before... but this time, the dreams are more powerful, more vibrant. He looked at the brain scanner beside him. Massive energy fluctuations, right across the board. Franklin’s subconscious was acting way beyond normal human limits. The family had hoped that their experience in the pocket dimension created by Franklin had burned out his mysterious mutant reality-warping powers, but this evidence was showing otherwise. Could Franklin actually be creating these robot creatures with his powers? Reed thought. Their experience in the pocket dimension had told them that Franklin was more than capable of creating life. Could it be happening again? Or was he merely linked to these incredible beings in some unnatural way? And his predictions... he said something would happen to Sue... I can’t let this happen. I can’t! But I don’t know what to DO!
Enraged, Reed smashed his fist down on the control panel, crumpling the metal. A few sparks flew off it, and then it’s lights faded out. Reed swore. Just another piece of junk to add to the pile created by the Frightful Four and Frenzy. In irritation, he stood up, grabbed the set of goggles he had recovered from the Negative Zone from a nearby bench, and began tinkering with them.
Johnny Gallo scratched his head, as he stood with his friend, Eddie McDonough, outside of Four Freedoms Plaza. He looked up at the building, but the sun got in his eyes, and he had to shield them. "Big place."
"Yeah," Eddie said, pushing his glasses up his nose. "I can’t believe I’ve got the chance to work with Reed Richards! This is the opportunity of a lifetime!"
"Yuh-huh, yeah, okay," Johnny said. "Now, if these guys are such big enchiladas, howcum they don’t got no front door?" He gestured at the smashed hole where the revolving door had been the previous day. (Psst, don’t tell Johnny that Brawn smashed it off last issue, or he’ll freak out - Chris)
"Landscaping?" Eddie suggested.
"Leave the jokes to me, Eddie," Johnny said. "Now, go on, get in there!"
"Okay, I’ll see you later, Johnny," Eddie said. "Oh, hang on, I’ve got somethin’ for you here..." He reached into the rucksack that was slung over his shoulder, and pulled out a plain white box.
"Ooh, gee, I wonder what it could be..." Johnny said, sarcastic, yet good-natured, taking the box and popping the lid off. "Why, whaddaya know? It’s new discs!" Reaching into the box, Johnny pulled out one of a group of six yellow rubbery discs, about fifteen centimetres in diameter, emblazoned with a flamboyant ‘R’ on both sides. "Such a surprise! Cause you never make me new discs! Oh, no, this is first! Tell me before I do anything dumb with it, does this one explode?"
"No, these are normal ones," Eddie said, knowing his friend was grateful to have new discs to go with his recently repaired costume. "I learned my lesson the last time." (See Slingers #10 - Chris)
"Nice, Eddie," Johnny said. "Very nice. But, where’s that trip to Maui I asked for, eh?"
"That’s just a little out of my price range," Eddie said. "But there’s something else in there."
"Ooh!" Johnny squeaked, sounding deliberating childish. Rummaging through the discs, he came across what he was looking for. "It’s... it’s... don’t you love suspense?... it’s..." he pulled the object out from under the discs, knocking one out of the box. It hit the pavement, and bounced up violently. Johnny caught it between two fingers. "Still got it," he said, putting it back in the box. "Now, whaddawe got here?" He looked at the object. "Yoinks!" he squealed. "The new Carmen Electra swimsuit calendar! Eddie, man, have I told you lately that I love you?"
"Please don’t," Eddie said, grinning.
"Aw, now, why’d you go an’ get me this, makin’ me feel all bad cause I don’t got nothin’ for you, now I’m gonna have ta go get you somethin’!" Johnny babbled. "Wish I could get you your gauntlets and jet pack back."
"Well, maybe I can use some of Doctor Richards’s facilities to make new ones," Eddie suggested.
"Speaking of the great Doctor Richards," Johnny said, flipping happily through the calendar, "You better get in there now, or yer gonna be late!"
"I’ll see you, Johnny," Eddie said, stepping over the threshold of the Plaza, and walking up to the reception desk.
"Just me and Carmen now," Johnny said. "I think I need some alone time with this calendar..."
"They are briefed?" a female voice rasped.
"Yes, Overseer," Shawn Berger responded, idly munching on a Snickers bar. "Their mental functions were successfully restored. They say they’ll do as we ask."
The Overseer grunted in disgust. "They think they have a choice? Fools."
Berger swallowed a mouthful of peanut before it was properly chewed, and coughed. "Regardless, they are ready."
Sticking to the shadows, the Overseer moved through the door to her right, entering the room where the four individuals had been kept previously. (Remember issue #4? - Chris) As she and Berger entered, the group, now huddled together in the centre of the room, talking quietly amongst themselves, turned, and looked at them.
"So you’re the ones we’ve got to thank, hmn?" said one of the men, the one wearing the psychedelic orange suit. "Well, rest assured, we’ll do this little job for you, but then that’s it. Debt’s paid."
"You speak as though you have some kind of say in the matter," the Overseer hissed. "YOU may ‘rest assured’ that you do not."
"Ain’t nobody tells us what to do!" the huge, muscular metallic male spoke up, clenching his giant fists.
"Then it pleases me to be the first," the Overseer grated.
"How are you planning to make us?" the woman said.
"Berger?" the Overseer turned to him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small grey box, with a single red button on it. He pressed the button, and held his thumb down on it.
The four screamed, and dropped to their knees, clutching their heads. Berger let go of the button.
"What... was that?" the third male, the last member of the group, asked, as the pain subsided.
"When our scientists were repairing your damaged mental functions, they added a few things," the Overseer explained. "At my request, of course."
The woman growled. "The Master of the World did this to us once! Nobody’s going to do it again!" With that, she got to her feet, and floated into the air. Her body shimmered, and slowly became translucent, as she slowly began to change, into a woman-shaped cloud of blue vapour. With a rush of air, she flew towards the Overseer. "Let’s see how well you breathe with ME in your lungs!" she said. With ease, as she had done it dozens of times before, to dozens of other beings, she shrouded the Overseer’s face with her substance, and began flowing inside her mouth and nostrils. Within seconds, she had disappeared. The Overseer seemed nonplussed a few moments later, when she reappeared, screaming. She fell to the ground, and became solid again, tears rolling down her face as she clutched her stomach in pain. Looking up at the Overseer, she asked: "Wh... what ARE you?"
"I’m the person you are going to obey without question," the Overseer said, looking back down at her. "Now, you have your orders! Go!"
"Nice to finally meet, you, Edward," Reed said, shaking Eddie’s hand as he stood in the doorway of the laboratory.
"You can call me Eddie, sir," he replied, "uhm, if you, uh, want to."
"Only if you call me Reed," Reed said. "I must say, I’ve seen some of the work you’ve been doing at ESU, and I’m very impressed. Your views on cybernetics are most intriguing."
"Well, if I’m successful in constructing the gauntlet, it’ll have some... uh... rewarding possible uses," Eddie explained, with a small jerk of his palsied right arm.
"Most admirable, Eddie," Reed said, leading the teen into the lab. Eddie stepped carefully, trying to avoid the large amounts of rubble and metal scraps lying all around the room.
"Uhm, sir, if you don’t mind my asking, uh, what happened here?" Eddie queried, tentatively.
"A few old friends stopped by a few days ago," Reed said, with a slanted smile. "I’ve just been too busy to see to clearing the place up."
"Busy with what?"
Reed laughed. "I see you’re eager to get down to work. Well, there’s no sense in stalling." He handed Eddie a lab coat, and helped the young man pull it on. "I take it you’ve seen the newspaper articles and TV reports about these bizarre mechanoid creatures?"
"Oh, indubitably, sir," Eddie replied.
"Tell me, what do you make of them?"
"Well, at first, I wasn’t sure. I thought maybe they were a hoax. But... uh....," Eddie coughed. "Then I saw one myself."
Reed’s eyes lit up. "You did?! When? Where?"
"Uhm, it was just yesterday," Eddie explained. "My friend, Johnny, and I, were out in the evening, and then, out of the blue, this land rover just... well, I guess it just transformed... into this robot."
"Amazing!" Reed commented. "I encountered the same robot myself! I’m amassing a large database on these creatures, thanks to information I’ve gathered myself, as well as from the Human Torch, and Spider-Man."
"Uhm... yeah... Spider-Man..." Eddie clenched at the mention of the webslinger.
"Eddie, do you have any theories on the origins of these robots?"
"Well, sir," Eddie began, "As you know, I know a fair bit about cybernetics and robotics. The... ability... and power this thing was exhibiting.. well, I’d have to say it was pretty much beyond the realm of current technology. I’m leaning towards a theory that these mechanoids are extra-terrestrials."
"I’m inclined to agree with you, young man," Reed replied. "Although, you say it’s beyond the realm of currently available technology... how do you suppose, then, that the attackers who destroyed Pier Four - I’m sure you heard about that, didn’t you? - how do you suppose that their battle armour seemed to be operating off of the same principles we have reasoned these... Transformers... to function on? And, then, there’s the new Deathlok..."
"Well, sir, I honestly don’t know," Eddie said, then chuckled, adding "but you know what some people say about the government and aliens..."
Reed was completely silent.
"Uh... sir? Are you okay?"
"Hmn...?" Reed grunted, as if he had just come out of daze. "Oh, yes I’m fine, Eddie... just fine..."
"Sir, would it be presumptuous of me to ask you if I could utilise some of the facilities you have here to aid in construction of my gauntlet design?" Eddie said, suddenly, changing the subject, for fear of Reed zoning out on him again.
"Certainly, Eddie!" Reed said. "Would you like me to go over the specs with you some time?"
Eddie brightened. "Yes sir!"
"Sorry. Yes sir, Reed!"
Sue Richards drummed her fingers on her thigh distractedly, as she sat on the couch in the main living area of the Plaza. It was just past noon now, and she was growing concerned for her brother. Johnny had left the previous night, following the revelations imparted to them by Spider-Man (Check out Spider-Man #7 for the details - Chris), to, she presumed, search for the missing Caledonia, and had not returned. Sue had a strong idea of how Johnny must be feeling - it had taken so long for him to admit his affections for Caledonia, and when he opened his heart to her, she bolted, gone, to God knows where. Sue had experienced much the same sort of trouble with Reed when they first met. Reed had taken up living in the boarding house owned by her mother, and Sue had instantly taken a shine to him. It was a similarly long time before she could get him to pay her any attention in that way at all. Only the difference here was, Reed hadn’t tried to run.
Why? was the thought that dominated Sue’s mind. Why did she run? Caledonia had a shadowy past, that much was true, as an apparent former member of the Captain Britain Corps, but also as a slave to parties unknown. There was obviously something more...
Sue’s thought were interrupted by the sound of a slamming door. "Rassum frassum no-good stinkin’..." wafted into the room as Benjamin J. Grimm thundered in, fuming with anger. His rocky hide was plastered with vegetable fragments, portions of burst water balloons and pie remains of assorted flavours.
"Yancy Street Gang?" Sue hazarded a guess.
"Give the lady a freakin’ prize!" Ben grumbled.
"You know, Ben," Sue said, looking at him, as he tried to pick the various foreign objects out of the cracks in his skin, "I’ve always wondered why you even go anywhere near Yancy Street, when this always happens."
"I do my best not ta, Suzie-Q," Ben said, flicking pie crust out of his armpit. "But, I was just... well, I hadda... I wuz..."
"Looking for Johnny?"
Ben sighed. "Yeah, I wuz lookin’ fer the Matchstick. Kid has me worried... I know how he feels."
"I think we all do, Ben," Sue said.
"Yeah, but if you tell Johnny I was even in the least li’l bit concerned about him, I’m takin’ you with me next time I go down there!" Ben said, grinning, then returning to the oblique mutterings as he ripped a handful of lettuce leaves from his right eyebrow.
Eddie turned the fragment of black metal over in his hand. "Interesting," he said. He actually had no idea what to make of it. "This actually came from one of the creatures?"
"Indeed," Reed replied, studying the metal shard with Eddie. It was a small portion of Frenzy’s cranial cover, which had been smashed clean off by the girder that had rearranged his face. (Issue #3 - Chris) "It’s metallurgical composition is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before."
"Sir, may I make I suggestion?" Eddie asked.
"Of course," Reed replied.
"Well, I noticed those goggles over there," Eddie gestured with his good arm. "Full spectral analysers?"
"Yes," Reed replied. "But what..." he stopped, and smacked his forehead. "Of course!"
There was a hint of a smile on Eddie’s face as Reed grabbed the goggles and took the metal fragment from him. He’d managed to impress Reed Richards. Oh boy, he thought. My life is complete.
Hastily, Reed strapped the goggles on and primed them. The thought of using them to examine the piece of alien metal had never occurred to him, because he didn’t have them when they fought Frenzy - just a large scale scanner he had used on the whole lab that led to his tracking the component down in the Negative Zone, which wasn’t nearly precise enough to scan such a small article - and then after he retrieved them, because he was so distracted. He twisted a knob on the side of the goggles and looked down at the metal. Lights bleeped inside the goggles as information was fed to him.
"Fascinating!" Reed proclaimed. "There are traces of... some kind of pure element existing within the substance of the metal itself like I’ve never seen before!"
"Par for the course, I, uh, suppose," Eddie said.
"Hold on..." Reed said, examining closer.
"This element is in the advanced stages of decay," Reed said. "It’s breaking down after some fashion... slowly dissolving into nothing."
"What do you suppose that means for the robots?" Eddie asked.
"I don’t know," Reed replied, slipping the goggles off, "but it can’t be good."
"Been waitin’ for this for a long time!" the metal-skinned goliath said, grinning.
"Indeed," replied the group’s leader, the one wearing the orange. "It does seem only, fitting, though."
At present, the quartet were airborne, soaring high above Manhattan, making a beeline for Four Freedoms Plaza. The orange-costumed male was telekinetically propelling himself and the silvery-skinned hulk, while the other, younger man shot through the air, leaving a burning trail in his wake. The female floated calmly behind them, in her gaseous form. She did not look happy.
"What’s wrong, sis?" the glowing male asked.
"That Overseer person," the woman replied, "I’ve... never felt anything like that before. She... can’t be... human..."
The flaming youth did a mid-air somersault. "If we need to, we can take her down," he said. "Ain’t nobody’s going to do what the Master did again."
"Attack formation!" the leader barked, as they began encircling Four Freedoms Plaza, just beyond its sensor range. Then, to the metal behemoth, he said: "Assume the position."
Curling his bulky body into a ball, the muscular male flickered with orange light, and was then hurtling towards the Plaza, with but a thought on the leader’s part.
Aside from rats, there was one thing that Eddie McDonough reeeally didn’t like, and that one thing simply happened to be loud, sudden noises. So, when the entire laboratory shook with what seemed to be an explosion, he was notably distressed.
"What’s going on?!" he yelped, falling on his back.
Reed attempted to take stock, stretching his body across the room and lifting Eddie up, as machinery and rubble were thrown everywhere by the shockwave. "We would appear to be under attack," he said, sighing and adding, "again."
Eddie, blubbering just ever so slightly, realised that working with Mister Fantastic just might not be all it was cracked up to be.
Sue and Ben had taken the worst of the initial assault, having been caught off guard as a huge metallic man had cannon-balled straight through the wall of the living room, sending debris everywhere, obscuring their vision.
"Ben!" Sue yelled out, coughing wildly as dust kicked up by the intrusion her lungs.
"I’m okay, Suzie!" Ben called back, unable to see her.
"Not fer much longer," a third voice came, unrecognisable to either of the two heroes, followed by a rapid succession of punches to Ben’s face and gut. He staggered back, winded.
"Whut inna sam hill...?!" he yelped.
"Only the beginning for you, my dear Thing," another voice came, as the dust and muck was swept up, and dispersed, as orange light flickered in the room. His vision clear, Ben looked up, and saw four costumed figures - three men, one woman - standing in front of the massive hole that had been smashed in the wall.
"Who are you supposed to be?" Ben asked, watching Sue out of the corner of his eye.
"Most would call me Vector," the man in the orange costume replied. "And my associates, Ironclad, Vapour, and X-Ray," he added, indicating the metal-skinned one, the female and the youth in turn. "But I doubt you’ll have any need for our individual names. You may call us... the U-Foes!"
TO BE CONTINUED!
Next, prepare yourselves for a knock-down slugfest as the FF take on their copycats, the U-Foes for the very first time! Plus, where’s the Human Torch? More on Alyssa Moy! And, get ready for the requested return of that riotous rebel, the rambunctious RICOCHET!