The gun was just inches from Miguel’s face, so close in fact he could see down the chamber. In truth it wasn’t a gun but a photon pistol, at this point though he didn’t care too much about the minor details.
The owner of the gun stood on the other side of the room, an easy feat for Reed Richards. Miguel’s mind reeled do to the situation he was in. Richards was his idol, a scientific genius up there with such greats as Einstein and Darwin, and yet here he stood with a gun to his head, grinning cruelly through his ratty beard.
Just a few short months ago the young scientist known as Spider Man had been living his life happily in the year 2099, until it was wrenched away from him. Now he would die in some foreign reality, killed by a man he had idolised his whole life.
“I’m disappointed it had to end this way,” said Richards coldly.
He pulled the trigger.
12 hours earlier, Earth #170983
The reality hopping heroes known as the Exiles stood about the offices of the Daily Bugle, recovering their strength. Just a few short moments ago they had escaped from the clutches of the dangerous villain, the Void, rescuing the future of this world in the process. With their mission over, Sabertooth, the team’s link to mission control, requested extraction.
“What?! Who the hell is this?” he yelled into the Tallus, a bracelet like alien device used to communicate with Heather Hudson, their mission co-ordinator.
“What’s going on Victor?” asked Blink, the team leader.
“Asher! I knew we couldn’t trust you!” screamed Sabertooth.
“Asher? Uh oh,” Morph was too worried to even attempt a joke.
Axel Asher, the reality traveller who had smashed into their home, the Crystal Palace, a few weeks ago, had been catatonic the whole time, until now it would seem. But what does that mean for Heather?
Without warning, a small man dressed like a butler appeared in the centre of the room. Everyone but Zarda, who lay on the floor recovering from a psychic attack, was startled.
Miguel had only seen him once before, on Zarda’s world when the Squadron Supreme put them on trial, he was the Timebroker. The Timebroker wasn’t an actual person though, rather a projection used by someone in the Crystal Palace for communication with people on various worlds. Once upon a time he was used by the alien Timebreakers to manipulate the Exiles into cleaning up their mess for them.
“I thought it would be easier to communicate with the group on a whole rather than through him,” he waved his hand casually at Victor.
Victor ran over to the projection although he knew he could do nothing to harm it, “What’ve you done with Heather?!”
“Heather’s safe…probably. She…She didn’t understand. I had to remove her from the equation,” It was odd to watch the little man with the refined English accent speaking as if he had sever issues.
“If you’ve hurt one hair on her head…” threatened Morph, transforming into a very vicious looking demon, a side of him Miguel hadn’t seen before.
“Stop acting like you’re all in control!” screamed Asher through the Timebroker, “I’m in charge now, and that’s how it needs to be!None of you would understand…the Monolith…oh god it’s so close…”
“He’s nuts,” growled Victor.
“Shut up!” yelled the Timebroker, “just do what I say and you’ll get Heather back…and your pretty pink castle,”
Blink confidently looked the Timebroker in the eye, “We took you in Asher, we healed you and cared for you, and this is how you repay us?We threw off the shackles of the Timebroker once we’ll do it again,”
“Oh yes, your little bug friends here have been telling me all about that, they’re quite chatty. Unlike you’re old boss though, I’m watching yooouuu heh heh. If you so much as hint you’re trying to come home, I’ll dump you all on the worst hell hole of a reality I can find and recruit a new group of Exiles who’ll do what I say,”
Blink’s shoulder’s slumped in defeat, “Fine, just don’t hurt Heather, please,”
“Fine, say your goodbyes and get ready for the next mission, time is running out,”
Miguel’s mind was racing, the past few months with the Exiles, while dramatic had been some of the happiest times of his life. He and Heather had formed a special friendship during that time, due to their mutual love of science, and now in just a few short minutes he had lost his freedom and friend.
“Are you ok my friend?” asked Longshot, placing a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder. Unlike Miguel Longshot seemed completely at ease.
“Aren’t you worried?” he asked the man.
Longshot shrugged, “Heather’s a smart resourceful woman, and you are the smartest person I know. I’m confident you’ll find us a way out of this. Plus, luck is on our side,” he smiled.
A second later they disappeared in a flash of pink light, teleported to the next world.
Universe #180208, location unknown…
Spider Man and Longshot reappeared in a darkened room a second later and were blinded by the sudden change in light. Trusting in his luck, Longshot reached out and by chance struck a panel which immediately illuminated the room.
They found themselves in a sparsely decorated steel room, surrounded by a dozen black boxes each as tall as the two of them. Each box was covered in lights and hummed gently.
“I think these are computers of some sort,” muttered Spider Man, more to himself than to Longshot, “but they’re like nothing I’ve ever seen,” he reached out to touch one when Longshot gasped, “beautiful,”
Surprised by the man’s sudden appreciation for technology, Miguel looked up to find Longshot was not in fact admiring the computers but was looking out a small window nearby. When he joined the leather glad man, he too gasped in shock; outside the window a stunning blue star. They were in space!
Without warning a door slide open nearby and a dozen well armed and heavily armoured men charged into the room, each aiming their weapons at the two men with professional ease.
One of the soldiers shouted, “Unidentified intruders, you will submit to detainment by the Terran Military or face immediate execution!”
Aboard the Swooping Talon, in orbit above the Shi’ar capital Chandilar.
Meanwhile, Blink, Sabertooth, Morph and Power Princess appeared somewhere else entirely and were immediately met with the piercing sound of alarms. Victor especially didn’t appreciate the noise, due to his advanced hearing.
The noise was disorientating, seemingly affecting their senses, and thus no-one noticed when a lone woman entered the room behind them. Creed was the first to recognise her presence, smelling her odd scent as soon as she entered the room. Upon spinning around to face her though, he was struck in the forehead with a thin tendril of energy and collapsed in a heap.
This quickly drew the attention on the others, leading to surprise by Morph, “Hepzibah?” he asked, before also being struck in the face by a tendril. This time though it had no affect.
The feline woman did look remarkably like Hepzibah, with one notable difference, she had no tail. She grimaced in frustration and launched another energy tendril from her fingertip; this one cutting Morph’s head clean off.
“Hey!” yelled Morph’s head as it rolled across the floor. His body fumbled around looking for it.
Blink and Zarda, who was back on her feet and quickly regaining strength after the Void’s assault, were still standing. The Hepzibah look-alike attacked Blink first, thinking she was the weaker target, but the mutant easily teleported clear of the tendril.
She reappeared behind the woman and kicked her in the back, sending her stumbling forward. The cat woman was more agile on her feet than expected though and dove into a roll, before spinning about and firing an energy tendril from each fingertip. Ten tendrils whipped around her like a jellyfish’s tentacles and Blink was unable to teleport away fast enough. She went down like a sack of bricks.
Only Zarda remained and the Utopian was irate; the Void had humiliated her in battle and now it was time for her to regain her honour. “Time to face a true warrior, witch!”
She charged the feline woman, and used her energy shield to protect herself from dangerous tendrils.
WHAM!She slammed into her opponent full force, sending her flying backwards into the wall, leaving a small dent.
Twin red beams of burning hot energy struck the warrior woman in the back knocking her to the ground. She ground in pain and rolled over to look up at her new foe. What was left of a handsome purple face looked down upon her with disdain. The tall mohawk was instantly recognisable, but the cyborg jaw and left hand side of his face was not.
“Gladiator…” she groaned.
“Yes,” was his cold reply, before punching her in the face so hard in knocked her out cold.
Several hours later…
Zarda awoke with a throbbing head and aching cheek where Gladiator had struck her. She seethed at the humiliation she had received at his hands. Twice in a few hours she had been bested in such spectacular fashion; perhaps she had grown too confident in her abilities?
The indignity grew worse when she realised both her wrists were shackled above her head by bonds formed of green energy. It would seem she was the last one to regain consciousness as each of the other Exiles hung along the wall to her right, though she noticed Longshot and Spider Man were missing.
“Well that didn’t go as I’d hoped,” said a familiar voice derisively, “I thought you were the best,”
The Timebroker appeared before them, smiling infuriatingly. Oh how she longed to wipe that smirk off the hologram’s face.
“Asher, if I ever get my hands on you, you worm…” she threatened.
“One day you’ll realise this is for the best Princess. You can’t come home…although I’m starting to enjoy having complete control over your lives,”
“What’ve you done with Longshot and Miguel?” demanded Blink.
“They’re screwing things up as much as you have I imagine,” sighed the Timebroker, “I thought I’d save some time by sending them off to complete some intelligence gathering,”
“Look Axel,” said Blink, trying to remain as calm and level headed as possible, “you don’t split up the team; we work better as a unit. Bring. Them. Back. ”
He ignored her, “I think it’s time for a history lesson,” smiled the butler, “early on in the history of this universe civil war broke out between amongst the Eternals of Earth. One faction desired to conquer weak, pathetic humankind, whilst the other wanted to protect them. Ultimately the conquerors prevailed, and within a short amount of time they enslaved all the peoples of Earth,”
As the Timebroker spoke, various images flashed through each team mate’s mind; thousands of humans in chains, an ancient city burning and one hulk of a man surveying it all with pride in his eyes.
“Earth wasn’t enough though, and soon the Eternals set their eyes to the stars. Within a few thousand years the Terran Empire had expanded to encompass the entire Milky Way galaxy,”
“So wait, humans are the bad guys in this universe?” asked Morph
The Timebroker shrugged, “They wouldn’t say that; the Kree, Skrulls and Shi’ar don’t have the moral high ground either…why should I even try to save them…” his mind wandered off.
“Hey! Stay on track. What’s our mission? How do we get Longshot and Spider Man back?” demanded Blink.
“Uranos, the leader of the Eternals, has grown weary with ruling just one galaxy. Who wouldn’t, I guess?Terran armadas are waging a war on three fronts; against the Kree, Skrull’s and Shi’ar respectively,”
“The fools are attacking three enemies at once?” baulked Zarda, “I thought you said they were experienced with warfare? Their empire is doomed,”
“And yet they’re winning,” sighed the Timebroker, “The bugs up here tell me you’re an expert in the ways of battle. It doesn’t look that way to me. Maybe I should replace you with someone smarter, like the Hulk,”
“Impertinent whelp!” spat Power Princess, although she was angrier at herself than anyone; she had indeed failed to prove herself since joining the Exiles.
“Asher! What’s our mission?” asked Blink for the second time.
“Its imperative that Shi’ar must win the battle for Chandilar, not just for this reality but for all,” said the Timebroker grimly, “You have to help them drive the Terrans back,”
Sabertooth snorted derisively, “Yeah? And how’re four prisoner gonna do that?”
“If you were paying attention I said Longshot and Spider Man are gathering intelligence,” his voice took on a maniacal tone, “I sent them into the belly of the beast,”
“You son of a-”
“Relax Creed, Spider Man is the only one with the tech savvy to pull it off and with Longshot at his side he’ll be fine,”
Aboard the Eternal Hammer, the Kythri solar system.
Miguel was far from fine; after being captured, the soldiers decided not to take any chances and immediately stunned both of them. He had awoken later with a throbbing headache and no clear idea of how much time had passed.
After trying to sit up he realised he was unmasked and shackled by his ankles and wrists to an uncomfortable metal table. From his vantage point nothing save the dull grey walls and ceiling were visible. By focusing his enhances senses though, he could feel rather than hear a faint humming that reverberated through the table he was strapped to.
If we’re in space, on a ship or space station, then that’s likely the engines, he thought. That wasn’t Earth’s sun, which implies they possess faster than light travel.
Thinking about science calmed him and provided a distraction from the abysmal situation he was in. Why had Asher dumped him and Longshot away from the rest of the group?
“Well you certainly in a pickle,” said a voice right next to him, causing him to cry out in surprise. The Timebroker stood no more than one foot to his right.
“Axel!” he cried in surprise, “What are you doing?”
“I’ve come to give you your briefing. Sorry about the circumstances, I guess I’m still learning the mission control ropes,” he laughed a little too loud, before adding softly “…maybe I should’ve kept Heather around…”
“What did you say?”
“Your mission, gather intelligence on the Warpring; how it works, where it is and how to destroy it,”
“Fine, whatever, but what did you say about Heather?”
“Just do your mission,” the projection faded away. Miguel noted the fake British accent seemed to be tinged with guilt.
The second the Timebroker faded away the sound of metal doors sliding open could be heard and heavy boot steps soon followed. A tall haggard looking man with a long grizzly beard and unkempt hair walked into his line of sight. Despite the Nick Nolte hair style he instantly recognised the man from dozens of history and science textbooks he had pored over in his youth. It was Reed Richards A. K. A. Mister Fantastic of the Fantastic Four on many worlds.
Richards payed him no notice, instead pressing some buttons on a holographic screen before talking to no one visible, “Subject is a Caucasian human male, cell degradation scans indicate twenty-five to thirty years of age. It appears his genetic code has been altered in a primitive fashion to include DNA of the arachnid family Araneae, though what abilities, if any, this provides the subject is yet to be ascertained,”
“Hey! Stop talking about me like I’m not here!” yelled Miguel.
Richards ignored him and continued, “The subject’s attire is not consistent with any of the Terran Empire’s required uniforms and seems to be composed of unstable molecules, albeit a less advanced form than those utilised by the Empire,”
Miguel didn’t like the idea that Richards was describing him the way a coroner would a corpse about to be autopsied. He shook the table, trying to break loose but the bonds were more than even his super strength could handle.
At last Richards seems to notice him, although he stilled looked down his nose, as if he was examining a bug in a jar.
“My apologies for being rude, I don’t like to deviate from my routine,” he spoke in a tone that suggested small talk, although his face didn’t match his words.
“Uhh apology accepted. Now that you mention it these shackles are a bit impolite as well…”
Richards failed to see the humour and ignored the captive’s comment completely, “Despite the most advanced technology in the universe you and your accomplice somehow managed to gain entry to Admiral Ikaris’ command vessel. Our best tracers detected a pan dimensional teleport,”
“Um…we got lost?”
Again Richards ignored him, “Now my superiors,” and his inflection implied he didn’t in fact see them as superior to him, “suspect you’re utilising technology to teleport to a pocket dimension before travelling to your destination, but I think differently,” he leaned in very close, as if sharing a secret, “You’re not from this reality are you? Your clothes and your primitive genetic manipulation suggest as much,”
The surprise was evident on Miguel’s face, he tried to hide it but it was too late; he had already given him self away. He shouldn’t have been surprised; Reed Richards was the smartest man on any number of Earths.
Richards smiled, though it didn’t instil him with any sense of warmth, “You seem like an intelligent young man. I think you should tell me how you came to be here. I’m very interested,”
“L…look, you got this all wrong, my friend and I just got off at the wrong bus stop,” how did Morph do this; crack jokes under pressure?
The false smile dropped, “Very well then, you could have made it easy on yourself but now you’re going to suffer the same fate as your friend. I do have to say thank you though, you’ve provided me with the chance to test another of my latest creations. There’s always a silver lining…”
He reached under the table and picked up a nondescript metallic rod. Glowing blue lines ran up and down its surface, but other than that it didn’t look like it did anything at all. Richards ran his fingers up and down a few of the lines before touching the end against Miguel’s forehead. At first nothing happened, but quickly the blue lines turned red and his entire body was in agony.
His torturer held the rod there for a full sixty seconds before removing it, the pain gradually eased, though his body still ached. Richards leaned in close; there was no false smile this time, only cold, calculating eyes.
“I’ve just stimulated every pain receptor in your body, and that was only at the lowest setting. Have you reconsidered?”
He almost couldn’t get the words out; it felt as if even his vocal chords hurt, “I…think you had it on the wrong setting…it tickled…”
Reed said nothing, instead making a few adjustments on the rod before again touching it to his captive’s forehead.
This time Miguel screamed.