Protectors of the Universe #10Written and Edited by Morfex
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Published by the Cosmic Powers Fan Fiction Group in
THE COSMIC POWERS UNLIMITED FANZINE ISSUE #34
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Protectors of the Universe
(Note: This story continues from Protectors of the Universe #9. For other stories taking place in this continuity, see the POTU Archive Page.)
more on the characters in this story, see our new
Official Handbook to Protectors Universe
Part Ten of Twelve*: "Shifting Loyalties"
(*This story will now be running for twelve issues instead of ten!)
Starfox tapped Starhawk on the shoulder. As usual, Stakar had been standing back from the others, trying to be inconspicuous and unobtrusive. He turned and smiled at the Titanian Eternal. He was beginning to feel as if Eros was an uncle to him, wise and witty. He felt so at ease around Starfox, simply enjoying his company as he could not yet with the others. Even his father, Quasar, and his mother, Kismet, did not understand what he was going through, thrust into adulthood as he had been. The mystery of his connection with the Cosmic Union remnant that had brought the Guardians of the Galaxy still plagued his mind.
But Eros was different than the others. He was such a good listener, he was such a great father figure compared to Quasar…
Too late, Stakar Vaughn realized, "What is Starfox doing here? His powers…?" By the time the questions formulated in his psyche, the two men had disappeared in a blink of teleportational energy, unbeknownst to the others who were concentrating on the crisis at hand.
The newly incarnated Phoenix had departed after Bubonicus, leaving the gathered heroes to defend themselves against the coming onslaught of the Grand Inquisitors.
The Protégé, Kireleon, quickly typed in his priority codes and passwords onto the computer before them. When they were denied, he surmised that his betrayal had already been reported to the Church databases. Fortunately, he had had the forethought to give himself numerous aliases and passwords with the highest level security access. In moments, he was ready. The Telepathic Missionary Service (TMS) was his to command. "What do you propose now, Adam?"
Adam Warlock stood transfixed in concentration. Gamora approached him and stood by his side. When no answer was forthcoming from Adam, Gamora gently placed her hand on his shoulder.
As if awakened from a reverie, Warlock replied to the Protégé’s query. "Have the Church telepaths tap into Chief Inquisitor Brotus’ memories, and broadcast them to the Faithful across the globe."
The composite entity that was Kireleon hesitated. "But… to violate my friend’s private thoughts… even under such circumstances…"
"We need only access his memories of one specific period in his life, Protégé. The rest is his to bear alone."
Gamora added to the discourse. "Adam, should you and I mind-link with Brotus too? We know details of that period as well."
"No, Gamora. As Binary put it, the people trust Brotus. We do not want the Faithful remembering the reign of the Magus as we do, but as a faithful follower does."
Gamora seemed satisfied with that. Kireleon considered the alternative as the Inquisitors finally broke through to the laboratory. With the press of a final button, he authorized the instantaneous global telepathic broadcast.
Chief Inquisitor Brotus had a secret, a secret he dared never to share. Prior to Rune’s return, the Universal Church of Truth worshipped the Dark God in absentia without interruption since Earth’s Hyborean Age. However, several years ago, a previously forgotten time-loop existed that placed the mighty Magus unequivocally as the One True God of the Church of Universal Truth. How could this be reconciled in Brotus’ mind? It was not, and he grappled with the paradox eternally in private. Until now.
But Brotus’ will and intellect were strong, and he staved off depression and insanity by immersing himself in his work. Many Inquisitors did not share his strength of character. And the result was havoc across the globe.
The thousands of Inquisitors throughout the Beehive stopped in their tracks. Transfixed by the fast-forward images of Brotus serving under the reign of the Magus in their mind’s eyes, it was too much for most of them to bear. Many dropped their weapons. Some dropped to their knees. Others passed out entirely. A multitude cried out, chaotically at first, then in rhythm like a chant across the masses: "Which God is real?"
Adam Warlock’s lips cracked into a half-smile of satisfaction. "Now, Kireleon. Interrupt current multimedia networks with a visual to this room. It is time to show the people their alternative Deity, in flesh and blood, not only in memories."
Kismet had followed Gamora over to Adam and the Protégé. She considered Adam’s next intended action. "Are you sure that is wise, Adam?" She gestured to the zombie-like newborn adult Magus before them. "This new Magus may bear an aspect of the former ruler of Throneworld, but he is much changed. He will either be a childlike somnambulant, or, far worse, revert to form and dominate the Empire."
"Kismet, rest assured, I always have a backup plan."
Gamora gave Kismet a knowing glance, and the former Matriarch impersonator, deferred to their judgement out of respect for past successes.
No sooner had Adam Warlock spoken those words, then from the chaos of the Inquisitors stepped forth Chief Inquisitor Brotus once more. Still reeling from the telepathic onslaught, he nevertheless managed to proceed, having already been familiar with the conflicting histories that impaired all the others. Eyeing Replica and Aleta disdainfully, he turned to Kireleon, weapon in hand. "I will not allow this to continue, Sire. You cannot subject the Faithful to the torment I have known."
Kireleon turned to his former security officer. "Very well, Brotus. Shoot me."
Brotus looked at the gathered group once more: the Protégé, Kismet, Adam Warlock, Gamora, Binary, White Raven, Crucible, Gehenna Midas, Ayesha, the Magus, the Goddess, Aleta, and Replica. All eyes were transfixed on his next move.
Ganymede, posing as Grand Inquisitor Gehenna Midas, took a calculated risk and spoke. "Mandy would expect more from you." She was referring to Mantis of the Protectors, who had been assigned to earn Brotus’ confidence. Ganymede was uncertain of Mantis’ whereabouts, but had no doubt that the Celestial Madonna could affect this man’s heart.
The comment did not have the desired effect. "Mandy? I see… She was working with all of you… You violated my emotions, and now my mind. You claim to be heroes, but your methods are as despicable as any villains!"
The Protégé stung at this remark, still regretting the telepathic incursion. "Desperate times call for desperate measures, my friend. But it is still not too late for you! Please, I beg of you, reconsider! When Rune falls, all those loyal to him must fall as well! The Universal Church is fractured, there can be no turning back. But this schism can also be an opportunity for the ambitious… More importantly, I trust you, your sense of ethics, your loyalty. Help me turn the Church into what it could never be under the Dark God!"
Brotus struggled inwardly, knowing deep inside that neither Rune nor the Magus truly merited worship. But acknowledging the flaw in so personal a tenet of faith broke a part of him that had been straining past the breaking point for years. "I…" Brotus holstered his weapon, uncertain of whether he was surrendering or finally being true to what he knew was right. "…Very well…"
The Protégé did not attempt to disguise his obvious relief. "Thank you, my friend. You will not regret the decision." The man known in the Ultraverse as Gemini turned to Adam. "Shall we proceed with your plan?"
Adam nodded succinctly. "First we must make contact with the other Protectors on Throneworld."
Brotus could not believe the words that were coming out of his mouth. Had he switched sides so readily? Where was his self-doubt? "Several have been captured, and your allies Starfox and Alevolen have betrayed you. I can show you where they are…"
Adam Warlock addressed the Chief Inquisitor. "Take Aleta and Replica with you. The rest of you are required here. Where is Starhawk?"
Beta Ray Bill, Quasar, and Nova watched in helpless frustration as Alevolen dropped from the platform with the stealth of a jungle cat. "Destroy her!" she commanded her thrall, the Jack of Hearts. She pointed at the Protector known as Starglow.
Alevolen quickly surveyed the heroes that had empowered the dimensional gateway. Starglow was free, but rapidly reaching critical mass. Air-Walker was partly liberated, but clutching at the back of his neck with his free hand as if to forcibly remove something just beneath his flesh.
Suddenly, Jack of Hearts tore at his eyes with his palms, elbows pointing skyward. "No! I will not kill for you!" Then just as suddenly, Jack stood erect and took a tenuous step toward the suffering Shalla Bal.
Alevolen grinned malevolently. Her control over the half-Contraxian Protector was reasserting itself.
Without warning, from behind Alevolen, Replica attacked.
The Skrull female was transforming into a species with razor sharp claws, which sought the self-styled goddess’ heart. Alevolen spun about, deflecting the onslaught. Although unharmed, the Goddess of Light was shaking in fury, her dark magics disrupted.
Replica cried out, "Now, Brotus!" Brotus loathed the Skrull, but finally understood that their interests converged this day. He activated his wrist-device, piercing the illusion of Alevolen’s beauty and revealing the true demoness within.
Aleta was the first to cry out in rage. "Malevolence! Daughter of Mephisto!"
Starglow realized despite her anguish that her problem was the opposite of Gabriel’s. She took advantage of the momentary confusion to reach out to him once more and embrace him tightly around the neck. Suspecting that something had gone wrong with the energy siphoning mechanism in the base of his neck, Shalla Bal focused her overflowing energies into the spot as best she could, hoping Gabriel could convert the raw Power Cosmic into something he could ingest.
Slowly, her overabundant energies began to wane as his hunger subsided. As a stopgap measure, at least, her plan seemed to be working.
Jack could not believe his eyes. "Mephisto? But then everything I’ve achieved…"
Aleta and Replica poised to press the attack, but Jack of Hearts waved then back abruptly, intent on resolving this himself. The two Guardians of the Galaxy and Brotus waited at the ready to see how the scene would play out.
Malevolence addressed Jack, unmasked for the first time. "…Was due to my power, and a little help from the Rigellians! You sold your soul to me, Jack of Hearts, in exchange for flesh and bone. That was our bargain!"
"But I never agreed…"
"You said you would give ‘anything’, dear Jack. I filled in the blank of your verbal contract, as was my right! You were to be my first claim! The first addition to a plot of underworld that my father bequeathed to me. He thought my first target too ambitious, but I knew you could be won! It will be glorious, Jack! As the first, you will be my consort. We could reign together for an eternity! Among the Protectors you will always be a mediocre, second-string hero, the others laughing behind your back at your ridiculous costumes and your lukewarm commitment. But with me, you would control more than just your form! You would control an entire dimensional plane! A realm still unshaped, that we could design together!
"Ask yourself, why was Quasar or Captain Marvel invited to join the Defenders division as well as the Star Masters? Why not you? First-string heroes! Ask them, if you do not believe me!"
"You manipulative…! Fine, if that’s the way you want to play it! Our verbal contract made no stipulation against a complete and unconditional refund!" Jack concentrated, clenching his fists flexing his arm muscles with the exertion. Suddenly, his skin began to crack into a thousand shards, white light spilling from between each crack.
"No! You cannot sacrifice the flesh! That was not a part of the bargain! You cannot do it!" Her shriek of anguish was nearly unbearable to mortal ears.
Jack’s last bit of dried and flaking skin shed from his energy form. His costume, still in place, kept the integrity of his humanoid shape and features.
"Curse you! Curse you all! I will make it my life’s purpose to collect your spirits one by one until every Protector is mine!" With that, in a flash of brimstone odor and smoke, Malevolence was gone, presumably to elsewhere on the planet, given that the planetary grid was still in place.
Jack turned to his teammates. Seeing Shalla Bal freeing Gabriel, Jack began freeing his nearest teammate, Beta Ray Bill. "I’m sorry, my friends. I never meant to hurt any of you." Jack’s remorse was clearly genuine.
Quasar knew, as did the others, that Jack was not in control of his actions against them. "Jack, it was not your fault."
Jack shook his head. "She was right, you know, about my mediocre heroism and lukewarm commitment. But those aren’t your fault, they’re mine. I know the way to permanently defend myself against her wiles. As the Surfer and Thor have done with Mephisto for years, I have to rededicate myself to the singular purpose of righteousness. As corny as it sounds, it’s that simple. I’ve had enough of sitting on the sidelines. It’s time I went out and started earning the title of ‘superhero.’"
Jack turned to face Bill as the Korbinite stepped away from the shackles that had bound him. "Bill, you have been a good and honorable friend since we first met. I owe you and Sif an apology for my behavior on board the ‘Star Master.’ Sif even left because of me…"
"You are forgiven, my friend. Let us learn from this and move on. Lady Sif left for many reasons, but our problems are not your fault. Come let us free the others." Soon Quasar and Nova were disengaged from the dimensional portal as well. Starglow had kept enough reserves to temporarily satiate Nova’s hunger for energy too. As long as the dimensional gateway siphon was not forcing the former Heralds beyond their limits, her two comrades should be fine. She was far more concerned with Norrin Radd and Pyreus Kril, who were beyond her ability to help.
Just then, the gateway opened once more, empowered by something from the other side. It was the newly reborn Phoenix, bearing the familiar corpse of Hyperstorm. Tears of flame still filled the Phoenix’s eyes.
"Ah!" stated the Prince of Void as Starfox and Starhawk arrived by teleportation before him. The Sirusian technology proved invaluable in this circumstance. Rune licked his fangs with sweet anticipation. "Excellent, Eros. Your betrayals amuse me to no end." Then, addressing Starhawk, "Welcome my boy! It is good to see you again!"
Starhawk knew that this might be his only chance to rid the Universe of Rune’s threat. He took off at full speed toward the Dark God, vowing not to let himself be captured again as he had been by Alevolen. As he neared Rune, the Dark God pulled a small pulsating object from behind his back. Too late, as contact was made, Starhawk regretted his impetuous assault on Rune. Bubonicus’ Cosmic Union remnant made physical contact with Starhawk… and two universes collided!
Continued in Protectors of the Universe #11
Continued in Protectors of the Universe #11! Be sure to also check out our 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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