Star Masters #2
Written by Morfex, Edited by Azmodi and
Star Masters #2: "Decisions, Decisions!"
(Note: This title is a continuation of adventures established in Cosmic Union and the Protectors of the Universe. See also Star Masters #1, which precedes this story.)
Beta Ray Bill turned to the Lady Sif, then to the two Korbinite
females, then back again.
The four individuals stood inside the docking bay of the Scuttlebutt vessel. The ship spoke: "Bill, we are floating in space at the precise coordinates you gave me before we last parted. Is there a new destination?"
The ship's voice shook the adopted Asgardian from his distraction. "Oh, yes, Scuttlebutt. Please proceed to the following coordinates for a rendezvous with the Protectors' vessel, 'Township.'" Bill input the data on the computer panel before him.
The ship cheerfully complied. "Thank you, Bill. It is good to have you back."
"It is good to be back, Scuttlebutt." Bill turned again to the three women.
He noted for the first time that the two Korbinites considered his visage with revulsion. He knew that gaze of disgust all too well. Lifting Stormbreaker, he pounded the mallet's base onto the ground, activating Odin's enchantment. Once more, Bill stood in his original Korbinite body, the genetic and cybernetic enhancements mystically transformed into his unaltered flesh and blood.
Sif was quickly losing patience. "Bill, who are these women? I thought you told me that all your people had been killed by the Axi-Tun."*
(*See Marvel's quarterly Cosmic Powers Unlimited #4-5 for details.)
Bill was compelled to tell Sif the entire account of his dealings with Mistress Death.* As he concluded, he added, "I owe you all a profound apology. I dared to deal with a cosmic being beyond even All-Father Odin's power, and now we must all suffer the consequences."
(*See last issue of Star Masters for details.)
Sif looked with compassion at her beloved friend, and to the two women that were of his mortal race.
Alfarean spoke first. "I will make this easy for you, Betarebil. Although you are a cherished hero of our people, still, my mind cannot surpass this one obstacle: you are a creature that I find repugnant. Perhaps Mistress Death chose me for this very reason. I do not say this to offend you or to hurt your feelings. I merely state the obvious: by every standard I hold, you are unfit to father my children."
Sif stung at the words, but she noticed that Bill did not. "Stupid woman, to judge a person's worthiness solely by his appearance!"
"Mind your tone, stranger." Alfarean replied. "I seek to alleviate Bill's burden. Do not make this more difficult for us. Bill, I must thank you for this one year's reprieve from death. I shall take my leave of you and make the time that remains to me count for something. Even in this form you now wear, I know of the genetic tampering that you have undergone. I do not wish my offspring to carry these potential mutations. Can you understand this?"
Deltaredon spoke next. "Bill, I am willing to stay and attempt this coupling." Sif reddened at the Korbinite's choice of words. "But I too share Alfarean's understandable concerns. Can we test your genetic make-up in both of your forms for viability?"
"I suppose so," Bill said, still numb at the suggestion. He remembered agonizing over the original enhancements his people's scientists intended. They had given him full disclosure that he would likely never reproduce after the changes. It was a difficult sacrifice, but his people had needed him. Now, his people's future depended on his 'viability' as a breeder. "Of course. That would be the wisest course of action."
Sif was outraged. "What nonsense is this? You speak of creating life as if it were a clinical thing. We Asgardians require spontaneity and passion for childbearing. The mere thought of "
Bill knew he would regret his words of interruption. "Lady Sif, please try to understand. This is not about passion, marriage and family. This is about the very survival of my race." Then to the ship: "Scuttlebutt, prepare the med-lab for a gene sequencing examination."
Sif turned Bill to face her. "I want to support thee in thy time of need, Bill, but our philosophical differences seem nigh irreconcilable. Still, I shall set aside my better judgement and trust thy sense of honor in this matter."
Scuttlebutt interjected. "Bill, I have found some genetic test samples in the re-activated labs that you may find interesting "
Jack of Hearts bowed before the throne of the being known as
Alevolen. "I have done exactly as you have instructed. I bathed in the antigrav falls
of Petrus IX. I drank from the sacred wine cup of Urona of Zent. I touched the holy star,
Krisma Elonicus. I learned to read the scriptures of Sintor Hispon aloud. I listened to
the night song of the rare ileni beast. I immersed myself in the scent of Rythallian lotus
blossoms. I brought you a vial of Antusian Realm spice as an offering. All these trials
and feats and tasks I have accomplished, and still I remain trapped in this energy form,
imprisoned in this containment suit. What of your promise to me?"
The being that sat above him appeared to be made of solid white light. Hairless and without clothes, but clearly a humanoid female in shape, Alevolen stood, then descended several steps to where Jack was. "Stand, hero. Stand and look into my eyes."
Jack did as he was told. Alevolen continued. "Jack of Hearts, your trials were not pieces in a puzzle whose solution will free you. They were a means of teaching you the skills necessary to succeed without outside assistance. Patience, dedication, discipline, determination, appreciation of subtlety and beauty, self-awareness, focus, and will. You are now ready to evolve into your next stage of development. You have but to truly want it and to seek the answer from within. I have led you to the instruments, now you must apply them."
Jack nodded nervously, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. He remembered a favorite verse from the mystic scriptures he had studied and repeated it like a mantra in his mind. "Change, Growth, Power " Jack felt a change inside of him. Subtle at first, but now recognizable. He seized that subtle alteration and expanded on it. He knew what he wanted. He ached for it. He encouraged the swelling growth in his chest, despite the sharp pain like a knife stab. He saw past the pain and focused on his self-image, as it had been before his initial transformation. And then it happened, something he had not felt in what seemed like years. "A a heartbeat?" He did not let this distract him. He concentrated all the more. Soon he felt blood pumping though his veins, muscles straining to be free. He opened his eyes. His containment suit lay at his feet. He was truly human again. "Alevolen!" he said as he embraced the energy being before him. "How can I ever repay you?!"
"I'll think of something," was Alevolen's reply, as she returned his embrace. Her features changed slightly, her essence solidifying, become corporeal. Her pigment reddened almost to the same skin tone as that of her infamous father. Malevolence smiled wickedly and pulled Jack closer.
Drax and Stakar approached the hole in space-time. It shimmered and
fluctuated in its erratic orbit around the planet Earth.
"This is the place I was drawn to, Drax, when I made contact with my future self during the first wave of the Union.* It has grown slightly since my last visit here."
Drax passed the telemetry equipment over the temporal rift. "Tell me again, Stakar, what were your first memories of this place?"
"My memories seem clearer the closer I get to the aperture. I emerged from a cocoon at the very instant that the first Cosmic Union shock wave struck simultaneously throughout the cosmos. Still disoriented, I was swept here by the second wave. The third wave carried me to the edge of Asgard, where I encountered Thor."*
(*See Cosmic Union #1 for details)
"You say when you were here you made contact with the future?"
"Yes. This was before the Union wave that nullified all trans-temporal distortion. I was compelled to enter the flux before us and I found myself in a realm outside of time. My future self was there as well. We touched hands, and a telepathic connection was made. I lived his recurring lives in that timeless instant. I felt his emotions, his personal connections with others, as if they were my own."
Drax reviewed the telemetry data, concerned. He turned the mechanism toward Stakar. The readings corroborated his suspicions. "Stakar, your cosmic energy is somehow synchronized with this Union remnant, for lack of a better term. Given sufficient time, it may expand to the point that a premature recurrence of the next Union event would transpire. I have forwarded our findings to Io Central Command and Epoch agrees that the aperture must be sealed."
"Shouldn't Epoch call in her covert temporal team, the Timeless?"
"No, this has more to do with you than with time-travel. Your very birth is somehow intimately entwined with the Cosmic Union. Your existence may be the reason this rend in space-time even exists."
The two allies were suddenly bombarded with ripples of energy from the rift. Drax yelled, "Starhawk, retreat! Your proximity may have exacerbated its instability!"
Before Stakar could respond, the aperture seemed to pucker a moment, then exude a metallic mass that seemed larger than the opening it penetrated. The near-blinding display of light that accompanied the vessel's arrival disoriented both Protectors of the Universe.
After a moment to recover their vision, Drax and Stakar stared in surprise as the Union remnant sealed off completely behind the vessel that had emerged.
"Life signs?" Stakar inquired anxiously.
"Several eight apparently." Drax replied, trying to understand the data before him. "Strange. The vessel also emits residual energy signatures from a variety of known super-powered entities: you, Justice, the Phoenix, Ghost Rider, Wonderman, Vision, Yellowjacket, and Firelord; none of whom are currently on board. What do those diverse beings have in common?"
Stakar swallowed loudly, then whispered, "Guardians "
According to Drax's datapad, the ship was losing internal atmosphere. It had clearly gone through great distress recently. Perhaps a battle, perhaps a planetfall, perhaps battered by the timestream itself. Starhawk and Drax lowered the vessel to the edge of the Mojave Desert. Drax, with logical precaution, informed the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. of their arrival.
Stakar opened the vessel's portal with an access code he did not remember knowing prior to that moment. One person rolled down the opening plank and landed on her back in the early evening sand.
Stakar's heart jumped at this vision of loveliness before him. Was this what romantic love felt like? "Aleta! Aleta, my love!!"
Quasar watched as the Spinsters' 'Io' vessel made its descent to the
planet Sirus X below. He was unhappy with the way he had left things with Kismet,* but he
could not let personal issues distract him from the mission at hand.
(*See Spinsterhood #1 for details.)
The 'Township' left the Sirus system and resumed its course toward its destination.
Gladiator and Starfox sat with Captain Marvel and Quasar at the
conference table adjacent to the bridge of the 'Star Master' portion of the 'Township'.
Gladiator began. "With half our number, including our field leader, away on other missions, the task of briefing you on our assignment falls upon me. We four have been chosen to determine the current whereabouts of Thanos of Titan. We are to apprehend him, find a means of nullifying his powers, and bring him to trial before an interplanetary court of justice."
Starfox was the first to respond. "We four alone? All twenty-eight Protectors would find the task difficult. What makes Epoch think we have a chance of bringing my brother in?"
"According to communications, Beta Ray Bill and Jack of Hearts will be joining us shortly at the designated rendezvous point. This will substantially increase our capabilities."
"How did you get twenty-eight?" whispered Genis to Eros.
Gladiator stiffened. "Marvel, no more interruptions, final warning."
Quasar stared at Gladiator in disbelief. "Gladiator, that was uncalled for "
But before Quasar could continue, Genis lifted his hand to stop him. "It's all right, Dell." Then to Gladiator, "Yes, sir. Sorry, sir." There was not a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
Quasar and Starfox looked at each other incredulously.
Starfox recovered with a smile, then responded to Genis' initial query despite Gladiator's attitude. "Our eight, the Surfer's five, Ganymede's five, Epoch's secret six, plus Adam Warlock, Thor, Doctor Strange, and Epoch herself." Starfox sat back and lifted his hands behind his head, apparently pleased with himself.
Gladiator looked at the Titanian Eternal with clear impatience. "May I continue now, gentlemen?"
"Please proceed, sir," said Genis crisply.
"Very well. Before Bill and Jack come aboard, we will proceed to one of Thanos' last known bases of operations: his farming planet. This will be intelligence gathering only. Thanos is not expected to be there."
The Star Masters descended to the unnamed planet, cautious of its
potential defenses. A worn scarecrow stood near a simple dwelling. They entered the
domicile through the unlocked front door. Eros was the first to speak. "Thanos!
Quasar spoke. "According to the Silver Surfer,* Thanos has an elaborate underground lair beneath this structure. We should probably start there."
(*See Marvel's quarterly Cosmic Powers Unlimited #1 for details.)
Gladiator pressed a series of buttons on his handheld datapad. "That is odd. I detect absolutely no technological defenses, recording devices, or the like on the surface."
Eros responded. "What about mystical ones? Thanos is no novice in the mystic arts."
"That is where I come in," said a voice from the doorway.
Eros turned to the door. "I should have known. Adam Warlock!"
This story continues in Star Masters #3: "Remnants." Be sure to check out the Cosmic Union Continuity Reference Page for more information on this continuity. And don't forget to send some comments below!
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