Hammer Bay, capital of the Indian Ocean island nation of Genosha
Once open a time, the citizens of Genosha were justly proud of both city – named because of the shape of its magnificent natural harbor – and country. They were the most technologically advanced society of Earth. Now, in a matter of a few short and brutal months, those dreams have turned to dust… as much as Hammer Bay has been blasted to rubble. Genoshans as a rule have a much simpler and more basic goal: that of survival.
Trapped in the bodies of three Genoshans, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and Thing move cautiously throughout the war-torn, devastated area. Thing asks them to stay alert and keep their heads down, as much as possible. After all they’ve been through it would be a shame to get popped by a sniper. Sue is astounded by the desolation. Ben reminds her that Genosha always considered itself a 21st century country; they got themselves a 21st century war to go with it. Johnny retorts it’s the Genoshans’ mess and hopes they let them clean it up. Right now, they’ve got troubles of their own.
Johnny’s words come out more harshly than he intended. That’s because his new body – that of an aged, plump man – is short of breath. Not only is he out of shape, he has a heart condition. Strain and exertion have produced a pain in his chest that won’t go away and brought with it the fear that his time may well be running out. It was only yesterday that Reed Richards was kidnapped by Genoshan agents. Because of the ongoing civil war, the United Nations had placed the island under an embargo. If the team wanted to rescue Reed, they’d have to do it on their own. No government would aid them. Of course, they went – with dire consequences.
They were shot down and subsequently captured by a creature called Ayesha. She was working in concert with a recent foe of theirs, who called himself Crucible. While unconscious, Ben, Sue and Johnny’s minds were switched with those of three Genoshans. This was Crucible’s way of building his own private army of metahumans.
Seeing Johnny lost in his reflections, Ben warns Sue that her kid brother doesn’t look so good. Sue admits she knows. Seeing Johnny struggling to climb on a pile of debris, a frightened Sue cries out his name. The Torch assures her it’s okay; no fooling. There’s just something he’s got to take a look at.
In his mind’s eye, Johnny can see Crucible’s lab as it was only hours ago. Crucible’s three body-jackers, the Genoshans who now inhabit the bodies of the Fantastic Four, had no idea – especially the one wearing Torch’s body – of the terrible cost about to be exacted from their victory. Johnny tried to stop the test. He begged, he pleaded, he warned of disaster. Crucible, though, didn’t listen. He urged those with courage and faith to trust him. He asked the Genoshan “Torch” to hear him and obey.
The Genoshan achieves instant ignition, uttering the trademark cry of the Torch “Flame on!” Johnny knows that the first time you’re doing this, you don’t know what you’re doing; you don’t have any effective control. Everything happens so fast, it’s so terrifying to realize you’re on fire but not actually burning up. Before you can stop yourself, you’ve generated a nova flame. Indeed, the Genoshan inhabiting Johnny’s body generated one. It is a pulse of pure incandescence, akin to the heat wave of a nuclear blast that devastated the skyscraper that housed Crucible’s base of operations.
Johnny is gazing at the demolished skyscraper, tears streaming down his cheeks. He tells Sue that the whole building’s burning like a Roman candle. Two hundred stories tall; how many people does she think died in there? Sue tries to convince him it’s not his fault. Maybe not, Johnny concurs – but it’s his responsibility. Sue assures him he did his best. It wasn’t enough, Johnny retorts. Susan argues that the way to show that is to make certain nobody else comes to harm because of this – and make equally certain Crucible and his gang are brought to justice for their crimes. When Johnny notes that she sounds like Reed, Sue admits that, when you love someone with all your heart, some of their traits can’t help but rub off; hopefully, the good ones. “I know it’s hard, Johnny,” she tells him. Johnny believes she has no idea. He keeps remembering the island…
The maiden flight of Reed’s experimental starship had gone terribly wrong. Cosmic rays had mutated them all. Before their shocked and disbelieving eyes, Johnny burst into flame. Just as suddenly, Sue generated an invisible wall of energy to protect them from the fire. Unfortunately, she couldn’t sustain that force field. It was left for Ben to save them, covering Reed and Sue with his monstrous, rock-like body… perhaps in the hope that inferno would end his life and the torment it had brought him. Of course, Ben survived… as did they all. The four of them vowed to use their powers for the good of humanity and in its defense. Their powers may have been stolen, but as far as they’re concerned, that pledge remains in full force.
Ben screams to Sue and Johnny to get to cover; they’ve got company! Overhead, he sees some kind of armored blimp; way too heavy to be a gasbag, he deduces. They must be using some kind of anti-grav or pressor beams to keep it airborne, instead of helium. Johnny thanks him for the lecture. Did everyone but him take Reed Richards’ “big brain” pills this morning? He wonders why they are running. Couldn’t these guys be friends? Sue argues that, until they get themselves a scorecard, so they can tell which side is which, how about they assume the worst?
As they take cover, Ben remarks that somebody’s sure got a mad-on for the blimp. He points them at some people on the ground opening fire against it with anti-aircraft cannons and missiles. The blimp responds with a counter barrage to devastating effect. But, even as the survivors of the firefight raise the white flag of surrender… the blimp still fires at them. “Ben, those fiends! They murdered…!” a horrified Sue screams. Ben argues that those folks aren’t dead; they’re still breathing. He then urges Sue to stay down. If the blimp sees them, they’ll be nailed just the same!
Just then, from the cover of a ruined skyscraper, a high performance car roars into view. Ben recognizes the design: a variant on the flying vehicles utilized by S.H.I.E.L.D. However, before it can get airborne, it is relentlessly blasted by the armored blimp above. A voice from the blimp orders the passengers of the car to egress the vehicle unarmed with hands in the air. The voice assures the passengers they will not be harmed – they will only fire if fired upon.
“Where the blazes you think you’re going, hotshot?!” Ben snaps as he sees Johnny moving towards the car. “To check that car for survivors, if that’s all right with you,” Human Torch snaps back. Those screams he heard just before it crashed didn’t sound like soldiers. Ben assumes he can’t prevail on Sue to be sensible; to stay back under cover where it’s safe and leave this to him. “In your dreams, Benjamin,” Susan confirms his conjecture. She stresses the Fantastic Four is a team; nobody flies solo.
Sue suddenly pauses, wondering what’s happening over there, as she sees a portal opening behind some troopers. Ben realizes this is a familiar sight: a style of transmat portal he never thought he’d see again. Sue asks him if he recognizes those troopers. Ben admits he’s got his suspicions. “What’s the sitch back there, Sue?” he enquires. The Invisible Woman explains they’re busy with the survivors they stunned. Ben suggests they move then. As soon as the troopers are done with them, they’ll be coming over here to check the car!
As the troopers carry the prisoners for teleportation through the transmat portal, one of them tells his colleagues that he gets a pod-9 reading on this particular prisoner; him, they take. He tells his men to secure the perimeter. Where there’s one cadre of hostiles, there’s usually more. No carelessness means no casualties and that’s the kind of op he likes best. He then orders the scantech to update their status. Scantech informs them that among this culling, there is one pos-9 and a couple of pos-7s. The rest are low yield or outright negs. The commander tells his men that they know the drill: they are to evac the culls they can use, as per standard procedure. They’ll sanitize the rest and move on to their next objective.
Meanwhile, Sue enters the car and tells Ben the driver’s dead. She ponders that the path through the rubble was too rugged for Johnny, too winding for Ben, so her having a small frame came in handy. She feels it’s strange to be so young again. The woman she inhabits – Farisa Mansour – can’t be out of her teens. The names and features are Hindi – another thing that’ll take some getting used to. Just then, she discerns a strong smell of gas: the tanks must have ruptured. If they blow, she won’t have her force field to protect her. It’s worse than being naked. She feels so vulnerable… and suddenly, so afraid.
Seeing four children hiding in the back seat, Sue decides to save her whining for another time; these kids need her more. She tells them not to be frightened. She’s here to help. She tells Ben there is a Magistrate in the passenger seat; alive but semi-conscious. They’ll have to do this by themselves. She asks the kids who wants to go first, when she is suddenly distracted by some “popping” sounds in the distance; they sound like… “Never mind about them, Sue,” Ben advises her. They’re distractions she can’t afford. Johnny wonders: when the kids are free, where do they take them?
Magistrate Tam, now fully conscious, reveals there’s a manhole cover, about thirty meters down the avenue. She instructs them to follow the sewer line west and south and they’ll come to a safe haven. Ben decides that Sue and Johnny will take the kids and the Magistrate and get themselves clear. Sue protests that they’re not leaving him behind! Ben reminds her that this is a war. It’s like nothing they’ve ever faced as members of the Fantastic Four – and that’s a blessing. He’s been there, she hasn’t. He knows what’s called for. That’s why he is the one who has to stay. If someone doesn’t, to keep those troopers off their back, they’ll track them down for sure. And what they did to those other folks… he won’t let happen to these kids.
Sue argues he’s the bravest and most honorable man she’s ever known. Ben, in turn, believes she brings out the best in a fellow. Johnny shakes Ben’s hand and encourages him to give them heck. Ben assures him it will be his pleasure. As Sue and Johnny flee with the kids, Tam reveals that she may have a way to resolve the situation without Ben getting himself killed. Is he interested? Ben replies it’s music in his ears and asks her what she’s got in mind. A little something for them to remember us by, Tam replies and drops a gizmo to the ground. “And to balance the scales for the lives they’ve taken,” she adds as she takes cover.
One of the troopers approaches and informs his superior that he’s found the car. He suggests they bring up the scantechs; he’s reading solid life-signs. Tam mumbles that he should never trust his sensors – a smarter piece of hardware can always lie to them! Indeed, she clicks on a button she carries and the grenade explodes. “Here endeth the lesson,” she scoffs. She and Ben quickly descend to the sewers. Tam urges him to go deep down these tunnels, quick as he can, before the blimp craters this neighborhood worse than the moon! Ben applauds her: those were some good moves topside…
Suddenly, after running for a while, he comes to a standstill, as he sees his teammates in handcuffs, in the custody of some men. Tam coldly explains this is standard procedure when you place somebody under arrest and points her gun at Ben.
The citadel, headquarters of the Genoshan State Security Service: the Magistrates.
Sue, Ben and Johnny are strapped on chairs, undergoing a relentless interrogation. “All right then, let’s start again. Lights!” their inquisitors persevere. Sue insists they’ve told them the truth; the same story, time and again; why won’t they believe them?! “Is this the thanks we get for savin’ those kids?” Ben growls. He scoffs that the X-Men sure had this dump pegged right!
Hackshaw retorts that, in his book, any friend of those mutie spikes is as good as dead. “Enough, Hackshaw,” Chief Magistrate Anderson cuts him off. She turns her attention to Ben and asks him why they should believe him. According to their database, he is Jomo Kimane and his companions are Farisa Mansour and Harry Soong. For all they know, they’re impostors, sent to infiltrate government forces.
Mr. Fantastic suddenly appears on the threshold and tells Magistrate Anderson that perhaps he can help. Hackshaw retorts this is Magistrate business. Richards doesn’t belong here. “On the contrary, Hackshaw,” Reed retorts. If the story he hears is true, this is precisely where he belongs! Hackshaw impatiently asks him whether he’s ever considered they may be an assassination team, with him as their primary target. If so, it won’t be the first time, Reed glibly responds. He’s willing to take that risk.
“Reed!” Sue screams in excitement, seeing that Reed is alive and well, and leaps up from her chair, her hands still cross-tied. “Who the devil…?” Reed exclaims, unable to recognize the woman he has opposite him. Sue implores him to ignore his eyes, forget the sound of her voice and just listen to what she says. Regardless of her appearance, it’s her, Sue, his wife! They were ambushed en route to rescue him by Crucible. Somehow, they were bodyjacked…
“Oh, this is absurd!” she suddenly cries in despair. She wonders why she’s even wasting her breath. No amount of right answers will convince the Magistrates of their bonafides – especially when every technological examination refutes them. Reed wants proof of their identity, yet the only thing she has to offer is her love for her husband and his for her. “Pretty speech,” Tam mocks her and advises her to step away from Dr. Richards before it becomes her epitaph. Sue defiantly states this isn’t Tam’s decision; it’s Reed’s. She knows there’s no middle ground here. Either Reed believes them and trusts them… or he doesn’t. Reed fondles her chin for a moment… and then entwines her with his malleable body and kisses her.
Later, in Reed’s lush private chambers, Mr. Fantastic recounts the history of Genosha to his teammates. Thanks to an escalating series of terrorist attacks by a band of super-powered mutants who call themselves the Acolytes, both the government and the economy collapsed. The country quickly devolved into the most brutal kind of civil war, with a score of hostile factions at each other’s throats. Even the Magistrate Corps splintered and chose up sides. Ironically and tragically, many of the super-powered mutates whose enslavement precipitated this crisis were themselves killed in the initial engagements. The Genegineer – the geneticist, David Moreau – designed the mutates to be non-violent. When the mobs came for them, they didn’t even try to defend themselves.
“Gotta love the land, gotta love the people,” Johnny acrimoniously states. He confesses they make him sick. He wishes they could just let them all rot. Ben retorts that’s just his frustration talking. Sue wants to know why the Genoshans brought Reed into this mess. Reed explains that the war began to wind down. Government reasserted itself. The Magistrates under Chief Anderson began to restore order and justice. There was a real possibility of peace.
Then, without warning, the situation totally destabilized, far worse than before. A new and mysterious cabal was stroking the flames of racial hatred, almost as if the people were laboratory rats and the island some hideous experiment in social engineering. Crucible’s handiwork is nothing if not distinctive. Having failed in their every attempt to defeat the fiend, the Genoshan government turned to outside help. The Avengers and X-Men proved unavailable. When they came to Reed, they were desperate. They didn’t ask his help because they couldn’t afford to be refused. The joke, of course, is on them. They hoped his genius could save them. They didn’t know that, thanks to Crucible, that “genius” no longer exists.
Reed knows he should have told them. But for so long, he denied that anything was wrong. It was so easy to hide his condition, especially from himself. Anything he invented or accomplished before, he can recreate. His memory is a precise as ever, his faculties as keen. He just can’t come up with anything new. Worst of all, without those transcendent ideas and concepts demanding his attention, he found himself taking notice of the world around him. Suddenly – joyously – there was uncontested room for the family he loved with all his heart. Sue admits she sensed something was wrong but she denied it, too. She was selfish. The way Reed acted, with Franklin and her… it was like seeing in Technicolor after a lifetime of only black-and-white. She didn’t want to lose that passion. She still doesn’t.
Johnny exclaims he wants his body back. He wants the creep who took it punished. He looks at the damage the Genoshan inhabiting his body has done. He thinks of what he will do once he masters his flames. He can’t let that happen. Too many have suffered already. It’s his power and his responsibility. Even if it costs his life, he won’t allow one more person, innocent or guilty, to be harmed by his flames.
Ben advises Reed to listen to Johnny, because he’s on the right track. Is he hearing right? Is Reed saying the Fantastic Four can’t win this fight? Has Crucible got him spooked? If Reed wants a reason why they can’t walk away, he can look out the window. Better yet, he can talk to those kids they saved this morning. Thanks to Crucible, they’re orphans. And if that mook has his way, they won’t be the last. As for the rest, where is it written that just because Reed is a genius he can’t be a loving and caring father and husband in the bargain?
To Ben it sounds like a challenge; he always figured rising to challenges is what Reed does best! If Ben is wrong, if Reed can’t hack that, then he should at least be a man about it! He should shoulder that responsibility himself and not use some cheap super-villain as his excuse.
“You don’t pull any punches, old friend,” Reed sighs. “He figures you’re worth it. So do I,” Sue tells him. These past months have been a dream come true for her. But he’s Reed Richards. He needs his genius to make him whole. And that’s how his family needs him, too. She suggests he finds a way to make her dream reality and teach Crucible a lesson he’ll never forget: nobody steals from the Fantastic Four. Reed tells her that the good news is he has a plan. The bad is there’s a terrible risk. “Dear, darling husband… what else is knew?” Susan quips.
Just then, without warning, the ground shudders. The team wonders whether it’s some kind of earthquake. Mr. Fantastic urges them all to relax and let his pliable body absorb the impact. Outside, one of the guards alerts all units: “This is Defcon 1 alert! The citadel is under attack!” Farisa, Jomo and Harry, owning the bodies of Invisible Woman, Thing and Human Torch respectively, make their violent entrance. Harry clarifies to the Magistrates that they will make this offer once, on behalf of the Enclave: surrender… or die!
Magistrate Anderson hurriedly enters Mr. Fantastic’s apartments and apologizes to the Invisible Woman: she was telling the truth, after all. “Lemme guess… an’ now you want us ta stop them?” Ben scoffs. “If not us, old friend, then who?” Reed replies.
Outside, the three Genoshans revel, realizing they have the Magistrates on the run! Farisa grouches that’s not fair. She was hoping for a decent fight; this is too easy! Jomo, who owns the Thing’s body, howls this is glorious! Walls of armored steel crumple like paper in his hands. The most powerful of bullets do him no harm! Now at last, Genosha shall suffer… as he was made to suffer!
Inside Reed’s chambers, Ben is at loss. Those imposters have their powers but no real experience. How come they’re winning? We’re allowing it, Anderson explains. As everything around them begins blowing up, the Fantastic Four, together with Anderson and Team, begin moving on. Mr. Fantastic tells them they have two objectives. One is to restore Sue, Ben and Johnny to their proper bodies. The modules built into the uniforms they now wear should enable them to do so. At the same time, a way has to be found to neutralize Crucible; that’s Reed’s job.
Ben retorts that Crucible was tough enough all by his lonesome. Teamed up with Ayesha, they may be more than he can handle – especially considering his condition. Susan reminds him that Reed’s led this team from the start. She trusts his judgment. Reed thanks her. Her faith in him means more than she can possibly imagine. Sue argues that once they regain their bodies and powers, Reed won’t have to stand alone. “That’s a tall order, Suzie Q,” Ben quips. Sue reminds him they’re the Fantastic Four; they’re up to it. The party splits in two, as Reed and Anderson depart together.
While running next to him, Magistrate Anderson tells Reed that his wife is one in a million. Reed confirms that no man could wish for a finer partner – or truer friends than Johnny and Ben. Crucible may have stolen his “genius” but not his memory. Anything he’s built before, he can recreate. In this case, the transmat portal Sue and the others described.
Clicking on a button on his glove, a portal is generated before them. Reed tells her that their sensors confirmed his own suspicions: this is a device they’ve encountered before. As he’s about to jump into the portal, he sees Anderson following hot on his trail. Reed tells her he appreciates her company but… Anderson suggests he saves his breath. This is her country. She brought him here to help, not fight her battles for her. They both jump through the portal.
Nearby, the malicious Farisa has used the Invisible Woman’s powers to knock out several Genoshan guards. She wonders in disdain if this is the best they can muster, when suddenly she feels a powerful gust of wind blowing behind her. She wonders if it’s some kind of fan… until she turns around and sees it’s a wind tunnel generating typhoon velocities! As everything around is pushed towards the wind tunnel due to the huge energies it unleashes, Farisa realizes that if she can’t find a way to stop it, she’ll also be sucked into the blades! Her force field should protect her… but if it fails… Finally gathering her strength, Farisa uses her field to jam the blades and shatter them, remarking that this way is better!
Not bad for a novice, the true Susan Richards stresses as she makes her entrance. However, she notices that Farisa took too long deciding on her response. That hesitation makes her vulnerable. She suggests Farisa gives herself a break: she’s out of her league. “Return what you stole,” Sue demands. Farisa scornfully declares that if Sue wants her precious body, then she takes it – if she can! She then vanishes, as Sue cries out in surprise. Farisa snickers: what did she expect from someone the world calls the Invisible Woman?
Sue irritably contemplates that power applies to one sense; she still has four more and they all work just fine. She attempts to strike the invisible Farisa but misses her. Farisa commends Sue on her splendid form and flawless martial arts technique. “Such a shame you missed,” she sarcastically adds. She loves Sue’s body and she’s going to keep it; that means Sue will have to die. “Not today, young lady,” Sue retorts. “And certainly not at your hands!” She begins relentlessly pummeling Farisa, boasting that she was taught how to fight by the very best. She honed those skills against the likes of Dr. Doom and Galactus! Farisa retorts that those skills won’t save her. “I have the power, remember?” she scoffs. Her force field will squash Sue like a bug! “You think? Then girl, take your best shot,” Sue snarls. Grabbing Farisa, she argues they’ll see who has the last laugh, as they are both bathed in light.
Not far from there, Jomo uses the Thing’s superhuman strength to wreak havoc to the installation and terrify a number of Magistrates. He snidely reminds the Magistrates that they always claimed to serve the cause of justice. But the only cause they truly championed was that of state-sponsored prosecution! How does it feel to be on the receiving end for a change? They do well to cower, he complacently adds. But it will not save them. He asks them to make their peace with their creator: they will meet him presently.
“You want those wounded troopers, buster…. you gotta go through me!” Ben suddenly intervenes. “If you insist… it will be your funeral!” Jomo roars and lunges at him with his fist, only barely missing him. Ben defiantly states that he’s heard that line before; he wasn’t impressed way back then; he isn’t impressed by Jomo either. “You mock me?” Jomo rages. Ben happily explains that’s Johnny’s department. He’s just telling it like it is!
Suddenly, Jomo finds himself tangled into several slimy binds that Ben had been planting around him during the fight. Jomo wonders what’s happening; why can’t he move? Ben explains it’s something Reed cooked up. Basically, it’s the same adhesive used by the Trapster. Crucible may have taken away Reed’s ability to invent new stuff but he can still swipe from the best. Seems only fair, since the Trapster is always using this gunk on them. It’s layered inside the walls: the more Jomo smashes the room, the more tangled up he gets, like a dinosaur in a tar pit. “Do you truly believe this paste can hold him?” Jomo roars. However, it seems to Ben it’s doing just fine!
Jomo, however, breaks out of his binds and tells Ben he guessed wrong; nothing can hold the Thing! Ben notices it’s just like he figured; he broke loose, but not completely. The past is slowing his punch down enough for Ben to catch it. He finally used Reed’s gizmo, hoping it can finish the job. Grabbing Jomo’s hand, he tells him he’s wrong. There’s only one bashful, blue-eyed thing and he’s looking at him!
In another part of the facility, Harry is flying around in his Human Torch body, realizing he has lost contact with his comrades. He thinks of them as willful, headstrong children, determined to go their own way, regardless of the risk. They should have remained together; as a team, they are unbeatable. No matter – he shall find them and, if necessary, affect their rescue.
Watching Harry’s moves from her hand-screen, Tam asks Johnny if he’s sure this plan will work. Johnny explains that Reed designed these uniforms as a kind of body armor, able to withstand the Thing’s punches and the Human Torch’s flames. And for the psyche-reversion process to work, he has to make direct physical contact. “Suppose he’s wrong, boy? The consequences?” Tam asks him. Johnny retorts that nobody knows them better than him. However, there’s no other way.
Annoyed, he asks her what with this “boy” stuff – they’re pretty much the same age! Point taken, Tam admits. Addressing him as “Storm,” she admits that, were she in his boots, she doesn’t know if she’d have that kind of courage. Johnny stresses that his friends call him “Johnny.” Considering the circumstances, he suggests a kiss for luck. Tam unflinchingly kisses him in the mouth. She urges him to come back safe and successful… they’ll see what they can do for an encore.
Putting on Reed’s special uniform, Johnny mentally urges himself to joke all he wants; maybe then he won’t feel quite so scared. What’s really funny is, nobody will fault him for backing down. Not when the slightest mistake could mean being burned alive. But it’s his power; his responsibility. Facing it has nothing to do with being a hero. It has everything to do with being a man.
Tam clicks on the device handed to her by Mr. Fantastic, according to plan. All of sudden, strobes and some kind of siren are unleashed on Harry who realizes, in horror, that the noise and the light are more than he can stand! Johnny seizes the opportunity and enters the room where Harry is, now kneeling on the floor, weak and disoriented. Johnny tells Tam, through their radio, that he’s inside and asks her to seal the room. Studying Harry’s condition from afar, Johnny realizes that this guy’s good. Disoriented as he is, he’s still maintaining his flame. All he has to do now is reach him; easy as pie.
Seeing him approach, Harry reveals that he was hoping for this moment – and for the opportunity to put an end on Johnny Storm forever! Calling Harry by his real name, Johnny challenges him to take his best shot. Harry demands he doesn’t use that name; he is the Human Torch! Enraged, he bombards Johnny with his thermal blasts. Withstanding these thanks to his costume, Johnny presses on, reminding himself to walk slowly, as the body he inhabits has a heart condition. However, he also wants to make a point: that there’s more to him that a costume and his Human Torch powers. Outside the room, Tam is watching her device: the sensors are off her scale! She realizes the room can’t withstand much more… how can the man?
As he gets nearer Harry, Johnny realizes it’s working: Harry’s using up all the available oxygen in the room and he’s losing his fire! Johnny grabs him by the wrists and asks him if it bothers him what happened in the test; what Crucible made to him? Does he care anything about the people who died there? This power may be a gift but the right to use it has to be earned!
In her sensors, Tam can see that Johnny’s stress factors are redlining… and just then, the wall gives way! Human Torch appears before her, fully flamed on! Tam realizes the inrush of fresh air created a backdraft effect and reignited the Torch’s flames. The question is… which Torch is he? Tam points her gun at him. The Torch pleads her not to shoot. Tam asks him to give her a reason. “Well… howzabout that encore?” a smiling Torch replies.
Meanwhile, nestled deep within the ridgeback range that effectively splits the island diagonally in two are Mr. Fantastic and Magistrate Anderson. “As I suspected!” Reed exclaims upon entering a room. Anderson asks him if he recognizes the place. Reed explains he recognizes the place, the technology, the uniforms: most call this “the Beehive.” The official title of this complex and the cabal who run it is the Enclave. It’s home to scientist who’ve perverted their brilliance for personal gain and conquest.
Seeing an army of armored guards approaching and shooting at them, Anderson assumes that, since Reed has obviously fought the Enclave before, he must have some means to deal with them. She decides he’ll leave that to Reed, while she keeps their army of rent-a-thugs from getting in Reed’s way. Whatever the Genoshans’ mistakes in the past, some of them were learning from them. Some of them were trying to make this land once more the paradise it was and a decent hope for all its people! She exclaims that they had a chance of success, they had hope – until creeps like these mercenaries showed up. They owe her country for a world of pain – here’s where that debt gets paid in full, she exclaims as she opens fire against them.
While Anderson distracts the guards, Reed advances further inside the complex. By the sound of things, he realizes Chief Anderson’s involved in a serious firefight. She’s buying him all the time he needs; he won’t allow her sacrifices to be in vain. From their previous encounters with the Enclave, he managed to establish a fairly comprehensive database of their cybernetic protocols and encryption algorithms. All that’s required is stretching his fingertips to filament size and plugging them to an I/O dataport; the uniform itself will do the rest. After all, the molecular structure of the fabric is a self-contained computer net, capable of displaying data and touchpad controls of his gauntlets.
Reed indeed gains access to their system and, as everything is revealed to him, he can’t help but exclaim “What the devil?!” Before him, he witnesses a seemingly endless array of tubes wherein helpless humans are being kept in a state of unconsciousness. Reed realizes that it was bad enough the Enclave banded together originally to create a whole new genetically-engineered lifeform from scratch – but now, they’re experimenting on human beings.
“You sound so surprised, Richards,” a voice comes from the other side of the room. It is Maris Morlak, one of the scientists of the Enclave. Morlak admits that he thought Richards of all people would surely understand. “This abomination, Morlak? Never!” Reed gnashes his teeth. Morlak wonders: what matter the sacrifice of a few for the good of all? They seek a better world and a better humanity to populate it. What is wrong with that? Grabbing Morlak, Reed replies there’s nothing with their goal. But their methods…! Morlak retorts that the ends have always justified the means. They’d reached a roadblock in their work; they needed fresh perspectives, a brilliance to match their own. It was Morlak’s idea to appropriate Reed’s.
As he begins pummeling Reed, Morlak explains that the integration of impartial muons into a charm set when establishing a Devonian matrix leads to a 23% increase in the efficiency of a trans-temporal jumpgate. Bigger ‘worms’, more stable ‘wormholes’. There’s so much to see, to learn, to comprehend! How did Reed keep track of them all?
“Curse you, Richards… why can’t I stop thinking?” Morlak growls. Every waking moment, one concept after another, idea after idea. He can’t look at anything without having an idea how to improve it! Worst of all, a single glance at the data presented to Richards by Alyssa Moy and he beholds the fate of the world and of all creation! Ever since, he’s been searching for an answer, only there’s none to be found – and it’s Reed’s fault! His brilliance which provided this revelation! He believes it is better to die in ignorance than behold the future and be helpless. Lying on the ground, Reed considers he could strike back but realizes Morlak’s unbalanced, more a danger to himself than him. He needs to try and talk him down…
“As you desire, Maris,” a voice coldly states – he believes Maris has said more than enough to their guest. He fires at Morlak with a weapon that causes his body to distintegrate within seconds. As he dissipates in pure energy and dissolves, Morlak smiles and whispers that it’s over at long last. He thanks his old friend. He is free…
Dr. Wladyslav Shinski appears, wearing an identical Crucible costume. Shinski remarks that inspired tinkerer he may have been, but in no way was Morlak fit to wear the mantle of the Crucible. He believes Morlak has been judged as their world and their race shall be. Tempered in the transcendent furnace of conflict and forged into a new and better breed, fit to claim their ultimate birthright, the cosmos itself! Morlak was not worthy of that destiny, nor to serve as consort to Ayesha.
Reed asks him whether he reserves those roles for himself. Indeed, Shinski believes himself to be the geneticist-prime of the Enclave. Ayesha is the product of his genius. Now, creator and creation will be one, as they were always meant to be. Putting the Crucible helmet on, Shinski admits that it amused him to allow Morlak his moment of glory; to wear Shinski’s armor and play Shinski’s part. But Morlak was a weakling, in flesh and spirit. He knew Morlak would ultimately fail – that was why he had to die.
Shinski explains that, even blessed with Reed’s precocity in addition to Morlak’s own, he knew Morlak could not prevent Reed from finding a way to reverse the process. Best, he thinks, that none of them possess that genius than they allow Mr. Fantastic to retrieve it. However, just to make sure, Shinski proposes that Mr. Fantastic joins Morlak… and just then opens fire against him! Reed realizes these are disruptor bolts; he can’t afford to be hit even by a graze! For all his boasting, though, Shinski’s a lousy shot. Reed stretches his arm and grabs the lever he needs, which opens a steam valve right beside Shinski. His armor should protect him from serious harm but a momentary distraction is all Reed requires!
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the vast and labyrinthine complex, Anderson still holds her ground against the Enclave’s mercenaries. She mumbles to herself that whatever Richards has in mind, he’d better make it quick. She doesn’t how much longer she can keep the opposition occupied.
Ayesha suddenly appears behind her and wonders why Anderson is causing such disruption to the order and harmony of her domicile. Anderson fires at her, telling Ayesha that she could demand the same from her about her country! Ayesha retorts they did not begin the conflict that laid waste to Anderson’s homeland. Their goal is to bring about its resolution. “By murdering us?” Anderson scoffs. By kidnapping their children and making them slaves? Ayesha retorts that it is no less than what Anderson herself has done in the past – also for the “greater good.” Anderson wonders what gives them the right to interfere.
Impervious to Anderson’s bullets against her body, the nigh-invulnerable Ayesha approaches her and socks her hard. Ayesha stresses they are the superior being. She argues it is the natural order of things that they impose their will on those who are inferior and grabs Anderson by the throat.
Simultaneously, in the Beehive’s main control center, Crucible’s operators watch a holographic projection of his three accomplices – actually, the genuine Fantastic Four posing as them – informing the operator that they are returning via the blimp, since the transmat grid appears to be inoperative. The Fantastic Four ask them to disengage the defensive shield array, so that they might land.
Elsewhere, Shinski warns Mr. Fantastic to join with them… or die! That’s his only choice! Before he elaborates on his threat, the Fantastic Four crash through their roof, still posing as Crucible’s lackeys. Invisible Woman remarks that it was rude of Crucible to start a party without them. The Thing apologizes about the roof but the MCC said the Enclave was under attack. They wanted them on-site in a hurry. Shinski points at them and tells Richards to behold the future: the first recruits in the army that Ayesha and he shall lead against the world!
The Fantastic Four, however, show their true colors, as Johnny tells Crucible to guess again! Good as they thought they were, when Shinski’s replacements went up against the real deal, they lost! Now it’s his turn, Sue warns him. A battle, perhaps, but their war is from decided, Shinski retorts and flees the scene. The Thing roars that it doesn’t matter – there’s nowhere he can run or hide from him! Reed urges him to let him go; they’ve more important work here. In these tubes are people gathered from all over the island, to provide raw material for the Enclave’s army of conquest. They’re innocent victims of Shinksi’s mad ambitions. Before they take on the Enclave, they have to evacuate them to safety.
Sue assures him that’ll be her pleasure. However, she realizes that, even though assuming her invisible force field can lift all these people to the blimp they captured, there isn’t enough space aboard to carry them. Reed assures her that’ll be his job and asks her to lay every unconscious person on his body. Ben notices that’s a heck of a lot of stretch he’s pulling; can he handle it? Reed notes that, under the circumstances, he just has to.
He stretches his extremities to Ben, standing in the blimp’s open hatch; Ben functions as his anchor. Sue worries whether he can contract his muscles enough to lift so much weight. Judging from the angle and in this position, Reed finds it doubtful. That’s where he needs her. Ben pulls Reed’s pliable body from above, while Sue lifts it from below. Sue realizes the strain is incredible – but with those lives and Reed counting on her, she mustn’t fail! Johnny tells them not to worry about the Beehive’s defensive weaponry; the Human Torch is on the job!
Meanwhile, Shinski joins Ayesha and informs her that the Fantastic Four have been restored to their rightful bodies. Ayesha, still holding Anderson by the throat, reminds him she dealt with them before; she shall do so again. Anderson argues she won’t have that chance. Ayesha mocks her: who is there to stop her – she? Absolutely, Anderson gleefully replies. She wonders: has Ayesha ever seen a black hole grenade before, up close and personal? This one Anderson carries just detonated!
“C’mon, you two!” she sneers at Crucible and Ayesha as a black hole is released from the grenade and begins sucking them in! Anderson maliciously invites them to go explore the universe together! Crucible realizes she has opened a gateway to another dimension – he can’t break free! She asks Ayesha to save them! Ayesha, however, informs him they’re within the event horizon. The attraction is too strong, even for her! Shinski howls that it can’t end like this – and then vanishes in the black hole, together with Anderson and Ayesha.
Reed realizes that the Enclave base is collapsing in upon itself – Chief Anderson must have used her grenade. Its effects are limited, but he dares not be caught within its influence… or they’ll suffer the same fate! Piloting the blimp, Tam tells them to hang on; they’re blowing this pop stand big-time! She curses the blimp, wishing it to push its engines to the max. “Climb, curse you, climb!” she snarls. Richards implores her to wait before she flies off – his wife is still down below!
Seeing the building collapsing all around her, Sue exclaims that whatever’s happening here, she really doesn’t want to be a part of it; time to go! She uses her dynamic force field to elevate herself and escape the grenade effect. Suddenly, she realizes that some kind of distortion effect coming from the Beehive is playing havoc with her power – she can’t sustain her force field! Human Torch appears and tells her not to worry herself. Whenever she starts to fall, he will always be there to catch her! Indeed, he carries her to the blimp.
Ben asks if everybody’s clear and okay. Reed, still stretching outside the blimp, suspects he’ll be sore as can be come morning, but otherwise he’s fine – as is their cargo. Johnny inquires about Crucible and is made-to-order babe. Reed believes Chief Anderson must have sacrificed herself to stop them. And by doing so, she may well have also saved her nation.
Some days later, after the Fantastic Four have been returned home by a grateful Genoshan provisional government, they’re visited by Dr. Valerie Cooper, presidential special assistant for mutant and metahuman affairs. Val wishes she had better news. When they went to Genosha, she told them that Washington couldn’t officially sanction their rescue mission. Unofficially, though, they had the White House blessing and also knew that they’d be interested in any intelligence they could provide about the country and its current situation.
Evidently, she was wrong. There may well be serious repercussions for their violation of the United Nations embargo, though she hopes they’ll stop short of outright prosecution. Johnny wonders: doesn’t it count that they actually did some good there? Val is afraid not. What’s worse is that no one seems much interested in helping. Genosha is to be left to its own fate, wholly without any outside involvement. People see Genosha and are afraid it could be all their futures, that the genetic war raging there could spread. Too many people in key positions are deluding themselves that by turning Genosha into a mutant ghetto the problem will go away. That kind of thinking has always led to the worst kind of consequences. Johnny knows that this isn’t her fault but still, he admits it stinks. Val seconds that: “Amen to that, Mr. Storm”. As a government official, her hands are tied. As a human being – for all that they’ve done in this affair – they have her gratitude and if it means anything, her lifelong respect.
After Val leaves, Reed remarks she’s an honorable woman. Ben believes she’s caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. He asks Reed what he figures the sitch is here. Insufficient data, Reed replies – he hasn’t a clue… yet. But he means to find out. Too many wheels are turning and he’s not sure he likes the direction they’re taking the world. Whatever comes, the Fantastic Four have to be prepared to face them. Whether they’re welcome or not? Ben asks him. Precisely, Reed replies.
The Thing tells him to look on the bright side. At least, they don’t have Crucible and Ayesha to worry about anymore, since they got swallowed by that black hole. Reed retorts that if he believes that, he’ll also accept that they’ve seen the last of Doctor Doom – and everyone knows that trick never works. In the meantime, there’s a ton of work to be done, data to process, experiments to complete. Enough work to fill the day to bursting. Ben deduces Reed is heading for the lab, then.
Reed disagrees: where is it written that Reed Richards can’t be a genius and a loving, caring husband and father? He reminds Ben it’s play-off season! They’re off to see their home team, the New York Yankees, take on the world! Before he leaves together with Sue and an exhilarated Franklin, he tells Ben one final thing: when he sees Alyssa Moy, he can tell her his latest move for her in their game of phantom chess. Pawn takes rook, level two, translates to queen… checkmate.