Protectors of the Universe: Defenders #1
Written by Morfex, Edited by Marvelite
Protectors of the Universe: Defenders
"Future Crimes: Part One of Three - No Alternative."
The Universe was full of diverse life forms, many of which did not adhere to human standards of sentience, intelligence, or behavior. One such species progressed on the world of Jaranda III. The dominant species was in no way humanoid, though certainly technically advanced. What distinguished this species more than most others was the fact that it had evolved with none of the neurochemical reactions humans termed emotions. It had become a preferred hermitage stop for Adam Warlock.
Warlock hovered several feet above the crystalline ground, meditating, as he was often wont to do. He contemplated his existence, his purpose, his overwhelming emotional turmoil in the presence of others of his kind, the burdens he bore, and his as yet unwritten destiny.
His attire had changed several times in the past few years, but this was the outfit he felt suited him best. He bore cloth of gold and red hues only, as well as an elaborate golden belt and wrist bands. A coin-sized skull upon the front of his collar served as the clasp for a long, flowing red cape with gold on its underside. A long golden staff with the same skull symbol at the top, this one winged, lay horizontally over his crossed legs.
Upon his forehead he bore the last of the Infinity Gems. The others had been de-powered, abandoned by their respective abstract entities, their dimensions merged and crushed by other, larger dimensions during the Cosmic Union, and the physical gem-like containment units pulverized to less than nothing by the will and force of the mighty Galactus.* Truly the emerald Soul Gem was once again unique in the Cosmos.
(*See Cosmic Union for details.)
Adam felt a sense of déjà vu upon the arrival of the nebulous astral projection before him. Only the heightened senses of his meditative state combined with his mystical acuity revealed the trespass. "What is it that YOU want of me, mysterious one?"
Without responding, the gray figure disappeared, and Adam vanished along with it.
Doctor Stephen Strange was taking full advantage of the calm after the storm that was the Cosmic Union. He wore the illusion of elegant yet casual attire as he searched the wondrous aisles of his favorite used bookshop, "I Browse".
The young woman who had inherited the shop from her recently departed great-great-grandmother, was quite knowledgeable of the tomes that lay therein, having spent her entire life exploring the dimly lit corridors of this literary sanctuary.
Doctor Strange knew that, like his Sanctum Sanctorum, a mystic aura leant the perception that this shop's interior extended far beyond the architectural constraints of its exterior. He valued the shop as an excellent resource, and had cast several spells of protection about the place over the years to ensure that nothing untoward would happen to the Greenwich Village fixture. Within its walls, he had bumped into the likes of Agatha Harkness, Doctor Druid, and Wanda Maximoff in past visits. Strange felt certain that there was more to the family that owned the shop than met the common eye.
"Aha! Here it is, Doctor! 'Miracles of Mu', Vol. XXII by the Talmai Dynasty's court scribe, Sintor Hispon. I knew I had seen this before!" The lovely young bookkeeper was in her mid-thirties, slim and petite, with brown eyes full of wonder and an endearing naivete regarding matters beyond her domain. Her hair was raven black, and her skin tone, though not unhealthy, conveyed a lack of time spent in direct sunlight.
"Ah, Ms. Craftswitch, your grand-dame would have been so proud. Thank you!" The Sorcerer Supreme smiled genuinely; partly for the thrill of success in finding the tome he had sought for hours, and partly at the profoundly pleasing lilt of the young woman's voice.
"Please, Doctor, call me Pricilla. I feel like I have known you since I was a little girl!"
"Ahem! I am not far older than you, my dear." He laughed quietly, exhaling through his nostrils. "Please, call me Stephen, too. After so long I suppose we should dispense with such formality."
Pricilla's lips parted to reveal a pearly white smile. "Very well Stephen." She looked away shyly for the briefest moment, then looked up again. "Stephen?" Doctor Strange was nowhere to be seen. The book he had held fell with a dull thud to the floor where he had stood only a moment before.
Flying high above Anaheim, California, Genis-Vell watched in horror as Disneyland exploded at the stroke of four. "By Kronos, there must have been several thousand people in there!"
Rick Jones was nonchalant. "Relax, Marv. The ol' Cosmic Awareness is acting up again. That won't happen for hours. We've got plenty of time to find the terrorists, defuse the bomb, and receive a standing ovation from our adoring fans! And after that, 'I'm goin' to Disneyland!'"
Before Captain Marvel could respond to Rick's cavalier attitude, he disappeared without a trace. The clock struck noon on the theme park's Main Street.
The Silver Surfer soared the spaceways, content for the first time in recent memory. Despite his preference for solitude, he also had a strong urge to belong somewhere, with someone. As a young man, he belonged by the side of his first love, Shalla Bal. As a Herald of Galactus, his place was by the World Devourer. Even during his exile on Earth, there were moments when he resigned himself to his fate and accepted the planet as his reluctant home. He had longed for the stars since his youth, but had not taken into account the loneliness that could result from his choice of exploration. This was not his concern anymore, however.
The Silver Surfer no longer soared alone.
Suddenly, Norrin Radd vanished from the midst of his fellow former Heralds. Nova was the first to react. "Silverado..?"
Quasar bit his tongue gently in concentration. He strained to form the quantum sculpture as he envisioned it in his mind, but to no avail. He thought that the pastime might prove relaxing, but his frustration was plain. With no formal training he was like an amateur doodle sketcher envisioning the Mona Lisa in his head, only to create Lucy from the Peanuts on paper. What Quasar lacked was formal training. He promised himself he would research the possibilities the next opportunity he had.
He began again. First the quantum energy form before him was a rounded-edged, rough cube shape, a half-meter in length on every side. From that he envisioned a life-sized human head from the shoulders up. He imagined feminine features, long wavy tresses of flowing hair. He smoothed the fine cheekbones with his mind's eye.
He was surprised to find that the face before him had begun to resemble the appearance he desired. "I did it! That looks just like "
In mid-sentence Wendell Vaughn disappeared. The quantum structure that had honored the visage of Kismet dissipated to ambient energy in moments.
Thor and his fellow Avengers battled the olive colored shambling monstrosity that overwhelmed nearly an entire city block of Manhattan's lower eastside. His mighty hammer Mjolnir spun so rapidly, it was impossible to follow with the naked eye. "Foul creature! Thou shouldst return to the depths that spawned thee. Thus does the Son of Odin decree!" With the leathery strap released, the Uru hammer flew with canny precision toward what passed for the creature's eye. The hammer sank into the creature's form with a resounding "SPLORCH!" but to no effect. It soon exited the opposite side of the mound of mossy flesh and returned to its wielder's original position. Only Thor was nowhere to be found. The hammer continued eastward, seeking out the hand of its master. Thor's comrades were still too busy evacuating innocent bystanders and battling the leviathan to notice their missing teammate.
The six heroes found themselves on a flat, dull gray surface that stretched interminably in every direction. Above them a darker gray sky seemed to lack a specific light source. The temperature was a chilly four degrees Celsius. A musty, moldy odor filled the air.
Thor was the first to speak. "Mjolnir! Hammer, return to thy wielder's grasp!" The thunder god noted that he was the only hero present without his weapon or tool of choice. The others had been abducted with their implements intact.
Thor seemed concerned that Mjolnir could not remain away for too long, or his identity would alter. The tense seconds passed, but Thor remained permanently in his godly form. He sighed relief, then thought with concern, what of the mortal essence I bore?
Quasar reviewed his fellow abductees. "Who could have done this, and why us, specifically? Of course, the one thing we all currently have in common is "
A gray hued entity appeared before them. It was stoic in its address to the heroes gathered. Its words interrupted Quasar. "Silver Surfer, Captain Marvel, Quasar, Adam Warlock, Thor, and Doctor Strange. Do you six comprise the reserve division of the so-called 'Protectors of the Universe' known as the Defenders?"
Doctor Strange responded for the group. "Yes. We do."
"The Defenders are hereby convicted of attempted genocide."
Strange continued as spokesperson for the Defenders, having taken part in more incarnations of the team than any other member present. "Convicted? On what grounds? Who are you to make such outrageous claims?"
"As you well know, Sorcerer Supreme, we are called the Tribunals." *
(*See Marvel's Defenders #124.)
Quasar asked, "Doctor Strange, Tribunals? Any relation to the Living Tribunal?"
"None that I know. They are energy beings who can take whatever physical form they desire. They possess untold psionic energy-manipulative abilities, capable even of moving objects through time. They summoned the original Defenders before them several years ago in order to persuade us to disband permanently. We later learned that their prophecies were a deception."
"Untrue, Sorcerer," responded the Tribunal. "We did so for a reason, a reason we can no longer keep to ourselves. Our investigations indicate that in a vast majority of alternate futures, the Defenders are responsible for the destruction of our race. This cannot be allowed."
"How can we be convicted of crimes that have not yet been committed?" asked Warlock.
"We are not limited by three dimensions as you are. Suffice it to say that each of you will, in the future, become a creature of total evil, eradicate us as a threat to your dreams of isolationism, and proceed to endanger the entire Cosmos."
Adam Warlock fell silent, knowing he could not deny the claim. He had come face to face with his personal "creature of total evil" twice before.
"What can we do to prove our innocence?" asked Captain Marvel.
"There is no possibility of reprieve. The sentence has been passed, and must now be carried out."
"Is there no means of reasoning with you?" offered the Silver Surfer.
"We have reasoned enough. Your punishment will be swift. Banishment from this primary reality, to a near future you irrevocably affected. Once there you have no hope of retracing your steps to this eventuality."
The Surfer spoke up again. "What of those who depend on us for support and survival? What of our destinies in those futures that do not lead to your destruction?"
"They were given due consideration and dismissed as necessary losses for the preservation of the greater good."
Adam Warlock shook his head grimly. "I should have dealt with you nuisances when I had the chance."
"Let those words condemn you and seal your fate, mortals." With that, the gray being disappeared, as did the gray plane of existence around them.
The six heroes found themselves time-tossed and dropped onto an abandoned street in a run-down human-looking city. They immediately discovered that they were without their tools or weapons. Adam had no Soul Gem. Genis had no Nega-bands. Thor still had no Mjolnir. Strange had no Eye of Agamotto nor cape of levitation. The Surfer had no board. Quasar had no quantum bands.
Adam was the first to speak. "I I am free! The voices have stopped! I am whole again, for the first time since before the High Evolutionary imparted me with the Soul Gem! I am whole, and I feel no withdrawal symptoms " Adam was incredulous. He slowly, cautiously stepped toward a nearby broken window to confirm the lack of a gem in his reflection.
Thor again summoned Mjolnir, but to no avail. "'Tis as if our powers be not functional "
Norrin Radd tested Thor's theory. "To me, my board!" Moments passed, then more. There was no response from the cosmic surfboard. He could not sense its presence anywhere on the planet. He could not even sense the planet.
Thor commented. "Norrin, thy silvery sheen hath departed hence."
"As has your traditional garment, friend Thor. We are dressed in naught but tattered rags of cloth."
Echoing Thor's internal concerns, Genis said aloud, "Rick? Are you there, Rick? Rick! This is great! I'm back to my normal self, like I was before the Destiny War! Wait a second! Rick could be stuck in the Negative Zone! We were about to avert a major terrorist attack! We have to find my Nega-Bands!"
Doctor Strange chanted an incantation from memory. Nothing seemed to happen. His gestures and spells were accurate, simply ineffective. "It is as if the source of all magic is cut off from the Earthly plane "
Quasar was quick to consider their safety. "Out here we're exposed, powerless and disoriented. Until we know what's going on, I suggest we keep a low profile. Follow me."
Deferring to their teammate's experience in security, and unused to being powerless, the other Defenders followed. Quasar kicked open the side door of what was apparently an abandoned tenement building. The six colleagues shuffled into the building's deep basement. It was surprisingly warm there. An aging furnace was still burning, the only dim source of light. Old books and pictures were strewn about everywhere. Broken furniture lay about in small piles.
Quasar continued in his temporary field leadership role, as none of the others seemed to mind. "All right, we need to find out exactly where and when we are. To do that, we need to do some reconnaissance. From the broken pictures in here, the atmospheric content, and the gravity, I am assuming we are on Earth. That means Doctor Strange, Thor, Genis, Norrin, and I have the best chance of fitting in. Adam, your unnaturally golden skin gives you away as something other than a common Terran." Wendell turned to Captain Marvel. "Genis can you access your Cosmic Awareness?"
Genis concentrated, but to no avail. "I don't understand. Where could all our powers have gone?"
Doctor Strange and Adam Warlock attempted a meditative state, but were unable to accomplish even the simplest mystical summons. Levitation was also impossible.
None could fly, nor did they demonstrate their super-strength. Thor was particularly frustrated. "How can I have human level strength? Mine others powers, I can understand, but my strength is not a power. 'Tis my birthright; a physical characteristic of members of the Asgardian race. Our lack of powers is more than it seems. I suspect our abilities are being tapped somehow."
As agreed, Quasar exited the building. Two hours of restless pacing in the near-dark followed for the other Defenders. Thor and Genis in particular seemed uneasy and anxious for some form of action. Soon, Wendell Vaughn returned, carrying a hamper full of clothes and shoes.
As the others began to dress themselves in simple trousers, shirts, socks, and shoes, Norrin spoke. "Dell, did you steal these?"
"Surfer, I did what I had to do, given our situation. I assure you, I'll make amends to the true owners, even if it's by eradicating this bleak future."
"Future?" asked Doctor Strange. "How can you be so certain ?"
Quasar threw a damp newspaper onto the makeshift table that the others had cobbled together from the broken wood they found about the basement.
"Here. See for yourself."
Norrin lifted the periodical from the table and leaned it closely toward the furnace for light. He read aloud. "March 22, 2000. The Defenders revoked the United States Constitution, siting its internal inconsistencies."
"By the Hoary Hosts of Haggoth! That date is mere weeks away from our present! What have we done? What happened to the other heroes?"
"Quiet! Someone is coming!" The heroes pressed up against the wall adjacent to the door. They heard the sounds of one set of footsteps. They watched as the door knob began to twist back and forth. Then the door slowly pushed open. A small cone of light from the hall penetrated the room's darkness.
The shadowy figure entered, then walked up to the center of the room. In one movement, Quasar slammed the door shut and tackled the male figure, causing his flashlight to roll across the floor. Doctor Strange recovered the light source and aimed it at the intruder.
Genis was the first to speak. "Rick! Rick, it's you!"
Rick Jones rubbed his beard covered chin, which had hit the floorboards brusquely with Wendell's tackle. "Remind me never to challenge you to a game of football, Quaze."
Genis spoke. "Rick, how did you find us? What has happened to the Earth since we last spoke? What happened to your arm?" The group noted that the young man's left arm was missing. His shirt sleeve was folded and pinned closed.
"Right on schedule! You six look like you did right after the Cosmic Union!* No costumes or paraphernalia, but otherwise unchanged. You have to help me overthrow this world's Defenders. The six of you have set yourselves up as gods!"
(*See Cosmic Union, the Directors' Cut, for details.)
The group looked at each other incredulously. Despite the Tribunal's reference to the same fate, they still could not believe it was possible, after so many acts of selfless heroism, for them to devolve into villains like those that they so often opposed.
"First, you destroyed the Jovian moon Io, killing all the other Protectors of the Universe and Epoch. Then you banished every Cosmic Being to the Dimension of Manifestations and sealed it off, somehow. You returned to Earth and gathered every costumed adventurer and hero in one place to mourn the passing of the Protectors. It was a bigger turnout than Mar-Vell's funeral. You destroyed the ceremonial site, ridding Earth of every hero. The villains you picked off one by one. 98% of them have been accounted for.
"Mutants, Inhumans, Eternals, Deviants, all exterminated in concentration camps. You systematically destroyed every race of underground dwellers and every hidden realm on Earth. Dimensional apertures? Sealed permanently shut. The Nexus of Realities? Dispersed to less than nothing. The Cosmic Axis? Forcibly shifted beyond our solar system. You left Earth a human mudball devoid of magic, wonder, marvel. You executed Gaea, the very embodiment of Earth's life force. It was as if you were obsessed with creating a xenophobic, isolationist world. You deemed it all justifiable in order to truly defend the human race. Any means justified the desired end.
"You destroyed every trace of technology in the solar system that was not Earth's. Titan fell, the Blue Area was decimated, Uatu the Watcher was banished and forced to watch from beyond Pluto because of the barrier you erected. Your hyper-exaggerated sense of defense caused millions of deaths.
"And now you are here, just like the prophecies said. You're here to make things right again."
Doctor Strange addressed the haggard man before them. "Rick, if there is one thing I have learned in my journeys, it is that an alternate reality cannot be erased or averted, only diverged. Even if we return to our time and avoid the decisions that led to this tragic state, your reality will continue to exist. We will simply be 'jumping tracks' to another sequence of events."
"Then help us make this reality a better place. Don't tell me you have some Alterniversal Prime Directive?"
"No, we will fight injustice, especially since alternate versions of ourselves are to blame. But we must depend on you to inform us of what we are up against."
Rick looked around as if checking for spies. "Each of you has become the worst possible creature your dark sides would allow.
"Dr. Strange, you are an egomaniacal narcissist, consumed with your own vanity. You have nurtured a cult of personality around you. You literally draw power from your worshippers.
"Adam, you are everything that the Magus was and more. Perverse, cruel. You derive emotion from the suffering of others. You are an anguish vampire, thriving off of torture and sadism. You have given in totally to the whims of the vampiric gem entity, feeding it with glutinous abandon.
"Quasar, you are a delusional paranoid. You somehow managed to override your bands' worthiness defense, averting self-destruction. You kill wantonly, afraid of anything that might one day threaten you. You plot against the others, but do not act for fear of joint reprisal.
"Surfer, you value nothing but amassing power. Life is cheap in your eyes; you consider most life forms beneath you. It is your goal to surpass even Galactus in ability to manipulate the Power Cosmic. The energies of all former Heralds are now a part of you. Through taxidermy, their carcasses are on display in your private chambers.
"Genis, you are loathsome. A drunkard, womanizer, and petty thief, addicted to substances and depravities I cannot even describe. You embody everything your father opposed. You derived great pleasure in the ultimate destruction of Titan, and you killed Mentor and Eros personally.
"Thor, you are their leader. This all began when you attempted to free the imprisoned gods of the Celestials' Desecration Annex, and emerged a twisted amalgam of them all, defeating Godstalker easily. After pillaging every pantheon of god known to man, you set out to eliminate the gods of others throughout the stars. Then you resorted to matricide. You are now called 'Mythbreaker'. You have absorbed more godly energy than even the Demogorge ever had. You are the new neo-Atum, vigilantly choking back the birth of a new pantheon ready to burst from your loins. You are the epitome of everything you once opposed."
Rick let out a long sob at the horrors his memories conjured in his mind. He lifted his only hand to cover his eyes and rub his forehead, attempting to regain his composure.
His concluding words stabbed straight to the hearts of the gathered heroes that he had idolized for so long. "You all sicken me."
See the continuation in Defenders #2! Now leave us comments below or e-mail them to email@example.com, and be sure to check out the POTU Archive Pages for more information on this continuity and more stories contained in it.
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