Star Masters #5
Written by Morfex, Edited by Marvelite
Star Masters #5: "Allocation"
(Note: This story directly continues where Star Masters #4 left off. Check it out and other stories of the Protectors of the Universe teams at the POTU Archive Page.)
Epoch felt the changes within her mind. Each day that passed, she seemed less able to sympathize with the humanoids around her. She felt a growing intolerance with their petty ways. Was this a normal evolution, she wondered. As her cosmic awareness expanded, would her status as a being of Universal influence take her further and further from the vital interests of lesser beings? She thought of Quasar, of how her godfather had berated her for bringing together the Timeless.* Rather than feel shame, she had felt irritation at his words.
(*See POTU Spotlight #1 for details.)
Her position in the cosmic hierarchy was assured, but her dealings with mortals kept her from ascending to that rightful place. She did not know why her parent had remained so involved with lesser beings like Quasar and the original Captain Marvel. She often asked herself why she remained. Was it a sense of obligation to her deceased parent? Was it an anthropomorphic affection for the mortals with whom she interacted?
She must decide soon if she would continue to monitor and supervise the activities of the Protectors of the Universe. She heard the siren call of her own potential gnawing at the edges of her consciousness. It was as if her final stage of maturation would free her of the inconvenient burden that was once the emotion Quasar had called "caring."
Starhawk and Air-Walker entered the renovated Spinsterhood complex's library on the Jovian moon of Io. It was the preferred meeting place for the Cosmic Being known as Epoch. Air-Walker spoke first. "You called for us, Epoch?"
"Yes, Gabriel Lan. I have a mission for you. You will depart immediately and rendezvous with the Star Masters."
Air-Walker seemed unsettled by the command. "Excuse me, Epoch, but what of Starglow's report on the new Herald of Galactus? The Powers Cosmic team is anxious to investigate this matter right away."*
(* See Powers Cosmic #4 and 5 for details.)
Epoch was not swayed by the comment. "Higher priorities beckon, Air-Walker. Take Starglow, Nova, Starhawk, Aleta, and Replica with you in a shuttle to the coordinates on your datapad. There, you will relieve Gladiator, whom I require here for a time."
Starhawk seemed confused by the request. "What of the other Guardians of the Galaxy, Epoch?"*
(* See Star Masters #2 - 4 for details.)
Epoch was growing increasingly impatient with such questions. Her response was curt. "Obviously, they shall remain here."
Epoch's large yellow eye blinked at Starhawk's expression of astonishment, then begrudgingly elaborated. "As for Aleta and Replica, I cannot slow or halt their conditions as yet, so accompanying you will not alter their chances of recovery. Not even cryogenic suspension would accomplish that, as evidenced by Ripjak's continued memory deterioration. I will continue to monitor their conditions from here. At their current rate of retroactive memory loss, they will only lose a few months of subjective recent experience by the time you return. I have weighed the options, and consider it a worthwhile risk to have them accompany you. Now please, do not try my patience further."
Starhawk pressed the matter with conviction. "But then, why don't the others come as well?"
"Because I am Epoch, and my will shall not be questioned!"
Air-Walker was also taken aback by the growing attitude of annoyance the Scion of Eon displayed. "Epoch, are you alright?"
"Of course I am alright! I SIMPLY DO NOT INTEND TO MAKE A HABIT OF EXPLAINING MYSELF TO MORTALS! Now, have Drax report to me immediately. You are both dismissed."
Starhawk did not know how to respond, and looked to Air-Walker for guidance. The former Herald of Galactus nodded in assurance, and the two Protectors of the Universe stepped out of the room without another word.
Outside the library, Starhawk and Air-Walker looked at each other, dumbfounded. Stakar spoke first. "Epoch seems so hostile! What should we do?"
Air-Walker rubbed his chin contemplatively. As a former officer of the Xandarian military, he knew the value of a chain of command. "We follow orders. For the present, at least "
Epoch addressed Drax the Destroyer with the same harsh tone than she had had with the others. "Drax. I asked to speak with you because Moondragon has returned from her failed assignment on Sirus X."*
(*See Spinsterhood #3 for details.)
"What? Where is she?"
"On Titan. She is not well."
"I must go to her!"
"Your daughter has suffered partial amnesia, and should not be reminded of her time with the Spinsterhood until I deem it safe. You may not be able to be on your guard to keep this secret from her indefinitely, though. Thus, I will not allow you to approach her."
"What? She is my daughter! You have no right..!"
"There is another alternative. I can place mental blocks in your mind as well, similar to those I had Moondragon instill in Ganymede and Kismet for their deep cover operations."*
(* See Spinsterhood #2 & 3 for details.)
"Have you done this procedure before?"
"I am Epoch. There is nothing that I cannot do."
"If I agree to this procedure, will I have free reign to approach her on Titan without your interference?"
"Then, do it."
Drax the Destroyer appeared to lose consciousness suddenly while remaining standing. Epoch reached into his mind to selectively dampen the memories of the last few weeks. Epoch seemed surprised by the rudimentary nature of an organic brain. Surely, telepathy and mental programming were commonplace, certainly child's play for an entity of her capacity.
Epoch reached out to psychically adjust Drax, but the tenuous energy field that Kronos established to reanimate Drax was clumsily compromised. Something in Drax's fragile mind dissipated, perhaps the mental shielding that was established when Moondragon attempted to restore his intellect to full capacity.* Epoch recognized that further unseasoned attempts at reversing the damage would make matters worse. Power did not automatically equate to finesse.
(* See Marvel's Cosmic Powers Unlimited #2 for details.)
Epoch pre-programmed a shuttle to transport the slumbering Drax to Titan. She remembered Quasar describing an emotion once, something he had called "remorse." A strange concept, Epoch thought to herself. With that, she temporarily withdrew her physical manifestation from the primary dimension that was the Universe.
At the rendezvous point in deep space, the 'Township' arrived to find 'Scuttlebutt' waiting. Soon the Korbinite vessel was linking itself to the larger amalgamated starcraft.
Within an hour, everyone aboard both ships convened in the Conference Room on the 'Star Master' segment of the 'Township,' just as Jack of Hearts signaled his pending arrival. Those present were: Beta Ray Bill, Deltaredon, Sif, Gladiator, Quasar, Starfox, and a somewhat reluctant Adam Warlock.
Bill introduced Deltaredon and Sif to those of his teammates that were present. Several had met the Asgardian goddess before. Quasar was surprised to meet another surviving Korbinite after their conflict with the Axi-Tun.*
(* See Marvel's quarterly Cosmic Powers Unlimited #4 & 5 for details.)
Adam Warlock kept his distance and forcibly submerged his physical longing for Sif, probably the first primal urge he had ever known in his short life.* He briefly thought of Gamora and was forced to also suppress a twinge of shame. Emotions and drives were such inconvenient things. But Epoch's announcement regarding Adam's corpse had peaked his curiosity. He would remain as an ally of the Star Masters for the time being.
(* See Marvel's Thor Vol. 1 #165 - 166 for details.)
Gladiator updated Beta Ray Bill on Captain Marvel's departure, as well as on their findings in Thanos' lair.*
"I thank thee for keeping me abreast of recent events whilst I addressed several personal issues. 'Tis a shame that Genis has been so callously abducted. I must address this issue with Epoch as soon as we return to Io. Thy account of the adventure in the complex of the Mad Titan is fascinating, however," Bill continued. "I would like to see this recorded message Thanos left behind."
(* See Star Masters #3 & 4 for details.)
Sif was quick to add, "Bill told me of thy mission to apprehend Thanos, find a means of nullifying his powers, and bring him to trial before an interplanetary court of justice. Surely thou wilt not be dissuaded from determining the current whereabouts of the Mad Titan solely because of one recording? The reports of his demise are often grievously in error. Who will pay the price for thy complacence in this matter should his threat rise yet again?"
"Ever the warrior seeking battle, Lady Sif." Bill added with a smile.
"Art thou patronizing me, Bill?"
An awkward silence followed, which Gladiator quickly sought to rectify. "Also, Bill, Epoch has requested my return to Io. I suspect it may be related to Captain Marvel's current state of affairs. Several reinforcements are slated to take my place."
"Aye, Gladiator. 'Tis my hope that thou wilt return to us soon."
Gladiator nodded somberly. "I shall depart once the reinforcements arrive."
In another part of the Conference Room, Quasar tried to pronounce the name of Bill's other female companion. "Delta Ray Dawn?"
Deltaredon smiled at Quasar. "You may call me 'Dawn', if you like. The Korbinite language is not an easy one." She turned to Beta Ray Bill, who stood with Gladiator and Sif. At the sight of Sif, her smile evaporated. "Betarebil, if you will excuse me, I must return to 'Scuttlebutt' and monitor the incubators."
Beta Ray Bill nodded to her. "Of course, Deltaredon. We also have business to address here, now that salutations and introductions have been made."
Just moments after Dawn left, Jack of Hearts entered the Conference Room with Alevolen at his side. "Star Masters, I want to introduce you to Alevolen, Goddess of Light!"
Alevolen's smile was warm. "I have been looking forward to meeting you all!"
Sif instinctively drew her sword. "That is no goddess!"
Jack's outraged reaction was instinctive. "Back off, lady! Alevolen is my guest here, you've no right to threaten her!"
Bill gently placed his hand on Sif's shoulder, but she jerked it away with a quick motion. "Bill, ever since we were reunited, thou hast asked me to curtail my instincts, my very nature. Alfarean's insults, thy use of artificial fertilization, and now this! I am an Asgardian Warrior born! And I tell thee, this woman reeks of evil!"
Jack's clenched fists began to glow with power. "That does it!"
Eros whispered in Adam's ear, "Do you detect anything 'evil' about her?"
"Not at all, Eros." Adam murmured back.
Quasar spoke up. "Jack, maybe we should listen to what Sif has to say. After all, how long have you really known Alevolen?"
Malevolence thought to herself, "Accursed Asgardian wench! She was not expected here. I prepared for the others, even for Warlock." She pulled at Jack's elbow, her voice lilting. "Do you want me to leave, Jack?" Her expression was one of helplessness. Jack could not deny her.
"Would you mind waiting for me, Alevolen? Just until we settle this. I hope you understand."
"Certainly, Jack. I will await you in your quarters " She departed with a knowing smile.
Starfox and Quasar each shot a glance at Jack. The former's was one of winking approval, the latter's was one of stern disapproval. Jack ignored them both and turned to Sif. "I don't care who you think you are, you don't have the right to come in here and accuse my guest of ANYTHING!"
Sif, with sword still drawn, whispered through gritted teeth. "Mind thy tone, mortal. This 'Alevolen' is a demon most foul."
"That's it. I am out of here! Consider this my official resignation, Bill!" Jack turned and left the room.
Bill ran through the door and down the hall after his Half-Contraxian teammate. "Jack, wait!" The Conference Room doors slid closed behind them.
At that very moment, the visage of All-Father Odin appeared to Sif's eyes alone. "Lady Sif, I have need of thy presence in fabled Asgard. I beseech thee, depart anon." Before Sif could react, the image was gone.
Sif looked down at her sword. "'Tis clear that Bill has made his choice. So be it. In any case, Odin has summoned me. But heed my words, Star Masters. The creature that walks among thee is malevolence personified." Sif swung her sword with three mighty rotations, then departed through the dimensional rift that she had conjured.*
(* See Marvel's Thor #20 - 25 for more of Lady Sif.)
Bill and Jack returned almost immediately. "Where is Sif?" Bill asked.
Starfox could not help but express his disappointment. "Bill, you really don't know a thing about women, do you?"
Jack of Hearts muttered under his breath, "Good riddance." His disgust over Sif's apparent overreaction soon ebbed, as he turned to his comrades. "I don't care what Sif said about Alevolen. She helped me accomplish this!" Jack peeled his containment suit off his head and rolled up his sleeves past the elbows. "I'm human again! I can't wait to tell Ganymede!"
Quasar was the first to respond. "We're all very happy for you, Jack. After all these years of searching for a permanent solution, this must seem like a dream come true for you. What miraculous quick fix did Alevolen use?"
Before Jack could determine if Quasar was being facetious, Gladiator spoke up. "That brings us to your next mission, Star Masters. Epoch has determined that you are needed on Sirus X."
Jack was taken aback. "The Spinsterhood needs back up? I'm surprised."
"You are not 'backup' per se. You are the next wave against the Universal Church of Truth. The Spinsters' undercover missions go well for the most part, but the threat is far graver than anyone could have predicted. The Spinsters' function was strictly reconnaissance. Yours will be offensive. Here is a list of the reinforcements that will join you there." The Praetor of the Shi'ar Imperial Guard passed around his personal datapad for all to see. Once it had completed its rounds among his teammates, it was returned to him.
Gladiator then bid the group farewell. "I return now to Io, per Epoch's orders. I wish you all victory in the days ahead. Though I would have preferred to stand at your side, I understand the need to place forces where they can achieve maximum effect."
Bill and Kallark shook hands at their forearms in Shi'ar fashion. Gladiator excused himself from the others with a polite nod, then departed.
With that, the Shi'ar Praetor exited the 'Township' and flew by his own power into the starry background toward the Sol system.*
(* See Protectors of the Universe: Captain Marvel #1, then Marvel's Galactus the Devourer #4 - 6 for more of Gladiator.)
Jack of Hearts returned to his quarters to find Alevolen quietly napping on his bed. She seemed so at peace, so beautiful.
Jack's mind was filled with thoughts of the last several days. Alevolen was no ordinary woman. Her presence was captivating. What was this power she had over him? She had helped him attain so much in such a short time. He was free to remove his containment suit at will. He felt like a true man for the first time in years. His half-Contraxian heritage and his immersion in Zero Fluid were now surmountable challenges thanks to her. Her radiance filled his mind's eye constantly. She was more beautiful than anything he had ever witnessed. More beautiful than Ganymede? His mind reeled. He felt physically ill. What was happening to him?
Alevolen stirred from her light slumber. In an intoxicating whisper she said, "Jack? Come here "
Jack could not resist her summons. He slowly sat next to her on the bed. "Sif has left, Alevolen." His voice was a stale monotone.
Her soft, alluring words continued. "I know, Jack. I also sensed Gladiator's departure. Who will be the reinforcements of whom he spoke?"
"How did you ? Air-Walker. Nova. Starglow. Aleta. Replica. Starhawk."
"Really? Aleta, here? How very interesting. I must prepare a proper welcome "
The 'Township' once again orbited Sirus X. A Spinsterhood shuttle rendezvoused with the vessel there. Starhawk, Aleta, Replica, Air-Walker, Nova, and Starglow joined the Star Masters as they prepared for descent to the planet.
Once reunited, Starhawk described his confrontation with Epoch to Quasar in great detail.
"Father, ah Dell. You have had the most interaction with Epoch since her birth. Does her erratic behavior seem typical to you?"
Quasar's brow furrowed in frustration. "Before the Cosmic Union, I would have said no, but lately "
"I hope I have not upset you, Dell." Starhawk seemed intimidated by Quasar's presence. The fact that Quasar was his biological father still made him feel awkward and self-conscious, despite their efforts to come to terms with the unusual circumstances of Starhawk's origins.
"It's not that, Stakar," Quasar placed a firm hand on his son's shoulder. "It's just that Epoch is not the only ally raising suspicion lately."
Quasar recalled his last encounter with Ganymede before the Spinsterhood mission on Sirus X.
Quasar had approached Ganymede in the Training Facility to resolve the tension he imagined existed between them. "May I speak with you a moment, Ganymede?"
"Quasar, what is it? Why do you interrupt my training?"
"Well, it's about your abrupt departure in the galley earlier "
"Ah that "
"There is no need to be embarrassed, Ganymede. What happened in the shower "*
(* See Star Masters #1 for details.)
Ganymede had interrupted Dell. "The shower? Oh! You think my reaction in the galley was because I saw you " Ganymede had attempted to suppress the laughter that was building inside her.
"Well, it seemed to me that you had never seen anyone before with my uhm attributes "
Ganymede could not maintain her composure any longer. "Hah! Hahahahahahahahahah!"
The laughter had gone on for what seemed to Quasar to be an eternity. As humiliated as he had felt, he also had been strangely curious, for he had never heard the Spinster laugh before this. "But I thought "
Finally, Ganymede had wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes and covered her mouth to stifle the recurring chuckles she involuntarily released. "What an ego you men have, Quasar. No, the galley was not about you." Suddenly her tone became deadly serious. "It was because of Eros."
"Starfox? What did he ever do to you?"
"I do not wish to discuss it with you. Suffice it to say that he and I have a history. Mark my words, Quasar. Beware his powers. His influence over others is insidious "
"Starfox? Are you sure we are talking about the same happy-go-lucky Eternal from Titan that everybody loves? Besides, he told me that he knew almost nothing of your ancient culture."*
(* See Star Masters #1 for the conversation.)
"He said that? Ask yourself, Quasar. Has he ever used his powers on you? And if so, why do you still feel so at ease around him? Why DOES everybody love him and trust him? Has he earned it? Or has he simply willed it to be?"
"I don't know what you're talking about! And if it were true, why didn't you bring it up with Epoch or the Surfer or someone before now? You're being paranoid!"
"Fine. Let down your guard. It is your life. But do not expect the same of me." With that, Ganymede had turned and left the room abruptly.
Quasar remembered sitting for several long minutes contemplating her words. "Eros?! Couldn't be "
The Timeless, Alevolen, Starfox, Epoch. Why were supposed friends falling under suspicion?
The smaller vessel dubbed 'Shuttlebutt' arrived at the main spaceport of Sirus X. As with the Spinsterhood,* all of the passengers aboard did their best to disguise their identities with clothing appropriate for the society and the climate. The planet was a crossroads for hundreds of sentient species, so anonymity was not a difficult task amid such diversity.
(* See Spinsterhood #1 & 2 for details.)
Beta Ray Bill reviewed the list of personnel on board via his personal datapad. Himself, Jack of Hearts, Quasar, Starhawk, Starfox, Adam Warlock, Air-Walker, Nova, Starglow, Alevolen, Replica, and Aleta. Twelve passengers were aboard.
Deltaredon had insisted on staying aboard the 'Township' to monitor the various incubators she oversaw. Bill did not want to place her in danger, and he trusted that 'Scuttlebutt' could defend her and the embryos in an emergency.
Just as 'Shuttlebutt' successfully docked, a shrill alarm rose. At first, Bill feared that they had somehow revealed their presence. The onboard computer quickly translated the Universal Church of Truth language. "Spaceport lockdown in effect. Planetary defense grid activated. This is not an exercise. Please exit your vessels and seek appropriate shelter. Repeat, this is not an exercise."
Bill was perplexed. If not us, then what had caused the world of Sirus X to maximize its defensive conditions?
Continued in Spinsterhood #5.
Hope you enjoyed this issue of Star Masters... Now leave us comments below, and be sure to check out the Cosmic Unionverse and POTU Archive Pages for more information on this continuity and more stories in this continuity.