Written by Morfex, Edited by Janus and
"Universal Truths, Part Four: Truth and Consequences"
Team Role Call:
Ganymede - Gamora - Mantis - Kismet
(Note: This story continues directly from Spinsterhood #3. The Spinsterhood Interlude that appeared in Star Masters #4 / Cosmic Powers Unlimited #11 has been revised and is included in this chapter to avoid confusion. For past stories taking place in this continuity, see the POTU Archive Page.)
Mantis reveled in the pleasures that the Imperial arboretum offered. Rare fruits that she had thought long extinct from a dozen worlds were ripe for the tasting. Brotus smiled a genuine expression of satisfaction at the delight Mantis took from their excursion. He placed his immense hands gently on Mantis' shoulders. "I hope that you are not disappointed, Mandy."
Mandy Celestine was a silly name to her mind, but it was as good as any other "stage name," and it was one she had used before.*
(* See Fantastic Four Annual #24.)
Mantis turned around suddenly and leaned up to kiss Brotus lightly on the lips. Mantis felt certain that the Inquisitor was a victim of his surroundings. In a different setting, he would have been a farmer, a poet, or a philosopher. The irony of her assignment was that she was developing real feelings for the man before her. She had always been one to feel emotions deeply and make them known. Brotus was a gentle, caring soul in his private life. If it came time for her to exact harsh retribution against the Church, would she be able to hurt him? She hoped never to find out.
Suddenly, she stepped away from their prolonged embrace as she was taken aback by a sight she could not believe. "Brotus, where is this plant from?"
"I do not know, Mandy. Why, do you like it?"
"It is not merely alive like the others. It is sentient!"
"What? A sentient plant? That is impossible! And how could you know that? Perhaps it is some kind of shape-shifting spy." Brotus grabbed the plant in question.
"No!" decried Mantis. "Do not harm it!"
"Mandy, what has gotten into you? My wrist scanner emanates a localized null-cloak field and a shape-shift disruptor. This is no spy, it is a plant. If you can tell it is sentient, then it must be analyzed and dissected."
"I will not allow that!"
"Mandy, you aren't making any sense!"
"I must return it to its native habitat at once!"
With that, Mantis and the plant were gone. Brotus looked up into the starry night, screaming, "NO!!!" He had given this woman his heart, only to discover she was no ordinary woman. Perhaps SHE had been the spy. Perhaps she never really cared for him at all. Perhaps she was playing him for a lovesick schoolboy, for the ridicule of all his peers. What would a woman like that have seen in a man like him in the first place, he wondered.
In anger, he tore at the trunk of an immense Terran tree, pulling it out, roots intact. He swung the aged oak, flattening a portion of the garden. His anger unchecked would have destroyed the entire arboretum. Suddenly, among the shadows and half-light, he was in the foreboding presence of the Dark God.
"What ails you, my son?"
"My Prince of Void! Forgive me, my Prince! There was a woman "
Mantis felt shame, for she had not abandoned her mission when she heard of Moondragon's capture. She trusted that the other Protectors would help Heather Douglas without endangering Mantis' deep cover mission.
But this sentient lifeform had no protector. She must be true to herself, even if it meant being stripped of her position as a member of the Spinsterhood. She was abandoning her post, "blowing her cover," and history would judge if her decision had been the right one or not. She transported the sentient plant being to its home, the beautiful paradise planet of Verdant.
In a musical form of fragrance only Mantis could understand, the sentient being thanked her profoundly. Mantis knew that being true to this sentient life form could not have been the wrong decision after all. She hesitated in returning to Io, not yet wishing to face reprisal from Epoch and the others. She decided to remain among the sentient plants of Verdant for a time. As Celestial Madonna, she somehow sensed that Destiny had brought her here for another purpose.
(Continued in Marvel's Galactus the Devourer #1 - 6!!)
Gamora enjoyed her newly rediscovered notoriety. Several old competitors had made attempts on her life in the past few days. Several competing underlords beneath the Grinner had made offers that most would find too appealing to pass up. Gamora, however, frequently remembered that she was on a mission. She could not risk that purpose, no matter how provocative the temptation. There were times, though, when she lived in the moment and felt freer than she had in years. She would have to regroup soon, or face the very real possibility of "going native."
The contest between White Raven and Gamora had attracted many spectators from the planet's criminal underworld. It also caught the attention of the mysterious Grinner himself. It was said that he had made a large wager with the Protégé, and that the two monitored the gladiatorial exhibition with relish using every available technology to ensure a "fair fight". Speculation ran rampant regarding whom each had selected as their champion but their selections remained private. When the battle ended in a precise stalemate, the judges deemed that the title must be shared. The announcer presented "The Deadliest Women in the Galaxy" to the roaring applause of the thousands gathered. Gamora was surprised that the throngs did not cry out for more blood to be spilled.
Perhaps, despite her best efforts to triumph over White Raven, the fight had been fixed. Her respect for Raven increased exponentially that day. If the fight had been fixed, then Raven should have won but held back enough to call it a draw. If the fight was fair, then White Raven had risen at least two levels of skill in galactic martial arts prowess. In either case, Gamora was proud to call her fellow warrior friend. Perhaps Ganymede and Epoch would consider her for membership in the Spinsterhood. No, Gamora thought. A friend she may be, but White Raven was no hero. And despite the contest, this was no game.
Gamora later learned that the Grinner had bet, with profitable odds, on the outcome being a stalemate. He was said to be quite pleased with the outcome. This rumor explained the reaction of the crowds. Hopefully, the two women had not created a bitter enemy in the Protégé. Since the security assignment for the Church's holy pilgrimage was not cancelled, she assumed that everything proceeded according to plan.
White Raven smiled knowingly as Gamora entered the room. "Gamora, these will be your teammates in serving as the elite hired security for the Church's planned pilgrimage. Allow me to introduce you. This is Binary. Binary was a former member of the Starjammers while her submerged consciousness was controlled by the Terran now known as Warbird. In recent months she found she could free herself from that domination, and has come to the Universal Church seeking purpose."
Binary nodded with cold professional courtesy. "Apparently, the Church had been considering canceling the pilgrimage because of the telepathic infiltrator they suspected. But now that they have apprehended her and dealt their swift brand of Universal justice, the way is cleared again to proceed."
Moondragon was caught? Gamora swallowed her words and instincts. She was functioning as a deep cover agent. She could not betray her thoughts with actions. She must bide her time and remain in character; or, at least, in the character they expected of her.
White Raven continued. "Our next addition comes from within the ranks of the Universal Church's Grand Inquisitors. As a personal favor to the Protégé, I am taking one of his officers under my wing, so to speak. Gamora, meet Gehenna Midas."
Gamora nearly gave away a flinch at the sight before her. It was Ganymede! Gamora had not recognized her at first glance. She was dramatically different, somehow. She wore the uniform of a high ranking Grand Inquisitor and her facial tattoo stripes were removed, but the difference was more than just cosmetic. Her posture, her body language, everything had changed. "So this is the deadly Gamora. I expected more."
Gamora was shocked. Her speech patterns, her carriage, everything about her had been altered. Was she a master of disguise, or were these changes more than superficial?
Gamora turned to the group of women, knowing that she must respond to the insult in order to save face. "Listen well. You stay out of my way, and I'll be sure not to gut you. I'm here for publicity, nothing more. I intend to let the Galaxy know: Gamora is back in action!"
White Raven smiled again at Gamora's words, then continued. "Together we will serve as added security for the Church's 'Dark God' when he is moved from the Primal Temple here in the city to the pilgrimage site in the Corzel Mountains. Succeed in protecting the entourage, and you will be handsomely rewarded. Fail, and your deaths are assured."
The entourage gathered in the Imperial compound. Gamora watched as White Raven nodded to the handsome young human whom she referred to as the Protégé, Kireleon. He nodded back cordially, clearly not openly holding a grudge for the contest from the day before.
Despite having a pale beige flesh tone and wavy light brown hair, something about Kireleon reminded Gamora of Adam? She shook off her confusion; this was a time for intense focus. One of the reasons she chose to serve with the Spinsterhood was to regain her superior concentration. She had to put aside the thought that distracted her more than any other: why would a woman like herself EVER fall in love with an emotionally challenged, cosmically cursed laboratory experiment like Adam Warlock? He was nothing like the men she had loved before their time together. She It was happening again, the distraction; the lack of focus that had softened her edge. She focused once more on the task at hand.
The god-bearers were brought forth, carrying a hover-carriage that had had its antigrav unit purposely dismantled for the ceremony. She stood nearby the carriage, equidistant with the other members of White Raven's handpicked team of security. The carriage was moved near to an obsidian door at least fifteen meters in height. The door opened, and a fluttering, scurrying thing entered the carriage, too quickly for Gamora to catch a clear glimpse from her angle. Something about the shadowy entity at the corner of her eye caused the hackles at the base of her neck to stand on end. Why was this Dark God affecting her so? She had never met him before, had she?
The carriage rocked briefly as one of the god-bearers adjusted to the new weight. A large, handsome blue-hued humanoid stepped forward to address the bearer that had erred in balance. Gamora recognized the man as Brotus, Mantis' target.
Brotus pointed to a member of the Imperial servants and gestured for the two to exchange places. The former looked frightened at first, then relieved. Just as the newest bearer attained perfect balance with the team of remaining god-bearers, the blue skinned Grand Inquisitor grabbed the failed bearer and tossed him with one hand into the carriage. Gamora could not get a clear view of what was inside, but the curtain surrounding the carriage had parted sufficiently that the initial passenger reached to re-secure the curtain and his privacy.
Gamora stared, all but dumbfounded at the grayish brown claw that had emerged to pull the curtain closed. She knew she had seen that shriveled, talon-covered hand before, but when and where? The screaming, crunching and sucking sounds that followed were soon drowned out by the ceremonial music that filled the compound as the entourage began its departure. Gamora was disgusted by the proceedings, but she knew she must keep her opinion to herself for the time being. As with Moondragon, saving one life could cost the Universe billions of other lives. Those types of hard choices were why Epoch had assigned Gamora to the Spinsterhood.
She looked in every direction, hoping to catch a glimpse of Kismet or Mantis, but to no avail. Strangely, the Protégé remained in the Imperial compound as the entourage left for the pilgrimage site. Perhaps ceremony required it, or perhaps it was something more.
"Matriarch, are you feeling better today?" The Protégé's concern was genuine. He entered her sacred quarters with the solemnity that was due to her.
Kismet stared at the palms of her violet hued hands. "Thank you, Kireleon, yes. I still have no recollection of my existence prior to you awakening me, but my strength seems to be returning."
"Our most gifted telepaths were unable to help penetrate your mind, Matriarch. The Church enemy that is suspected of striking you down has been caught and brought to justice, however."
"Excellent. I have a sense that, if only I were to have contact with something or someone from my past, it might trigger the return of my memories."
"I have brought just such a man to meet you, Matriarch! He awaits us nearby. He now calls himself Crucible, but you may remember him as 'Father.'"
"Crucible? The name does not ring familiar. Very well, show me to this Crucible."
Kireleon led the disoriented Kismet from her quarters to a building within the Church Imperial compound, adjacent to the Primal Temple. "Out of respect for the history of your origins, we have named this place the Bee Hive. It is a re-creation of the laboratories in which you and your brethren were birthed."
"Come, Matriarch. All will be made clear within "
Kismet reeled at the sights and smells within the BeeHive. Ghosts of memories filled her head, names from a forgotten past.
Kireleon turned to Kismet, wearing an expression of concern. "Are you alright, Matriarch?"
"Yes, yes. Please, let us continue."
Entering what looked to be a laboratory, the two met up with another individual, completely covered in an armored mask and suit. The Protégé introduced them. "Matriarch, allow me to introduce Crucible."
Crucible seemed excited by the meeting. "Kismet, my daughter. Finally, we are together again. Come, see how I have gathered all of those who have come before and after you."
In an adjacent area, labeled 'Lock 42', a series of hexagonal cells interlocked. In each cell was a humanoid form. Crucible continued the tour. "Him, Her, Paragon, Goddess, Magus, Ayesha, Adam Warlock, Kismet. A visitor once gave me the means to succeed in creating you all. All came from the same source, all were prepared for a glorious destiny among the stars. Try to remember, daughter."
Her head spun with words and images, too many to sort out. She turned to the Protégé, hoping for an anchor to her current reality. In his place, she saw a blurred form, as if Kireleon were two entities striving to separate from a congenitally joined form. The Matriarch reached out her hands, each hand grasping one of the entities. The superimposed form dispersed, revealing two distinct people, apparently identical twins. "Kireleon..?"
"No, Matriarch," chimed in both simultaneously. "Noel and Erik "
Continued in Star Masters #5 and Spinsterhood #5, "Universal Truths, Part Five: Grave Concerns." Be sure to also check out our new Cosmic Union Continuity Reference Page and Protectors of the Universe Reference Page for other stories in this continuity. And don't forget to send some comments below!
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