He puffed deeply, grey smoke curling around his head. Absently, he looked around his sterile ready-room. It was small, all metal with a raised crescent of control panels and monitors which he now rested his feet on. The large viewport before him looked out into deep space, distant stars twinkling as if winking at him.
For some inexplicable reason, he had a palpable feeling of dread. And he always trusted his intuition. It was usually right, after all. But this time, it was worse, and he hadn't a clue what could be putting the fear of God into him.
Fury knew it wasn't the Asgardian Destroyer. That had been dealt with nearly a day ago by the Fantastic Four and Avengers and hadn't posed a major threat. No, something else was going to happen, or already was happening, that he didn't know about. Something far, far worse than the Destroyer.
But despite his dread, Fury couldn't help feeling some exhiliration as well. Perhaps this new threat would allow him to use the orbital defense grid. Twenty platforms outfitted with particle beam weapons and photon missles, along with the Star Wars atmospheric laser grid. Projections estimated that earth could now withstand a battle with any alien force, including the Shi'ar, who had unknowningly contributed to the planet's defenses. No foreign threat short of Galactus could pose a serious hazard to earth, and more importantly the United States, anymore.
His brow furrowed over his eyepatch as he sucked in another mouthful of carcinogens. What the Hell was going on? Shaking his head, he looked back out into space, reverie shattered.
Then everything went straight to Hell.
The room spun, and Fury was dumped from his chair onto the hard floor, grunting as he landed. He pulled himself up on the control panel and looked out the viewport at space pinwheeling. Something had jarred a kilometer long modified asteroid command post. Whatever could've done that was a good candidate to pin his dread on.
Slowly hauling himself up, the grizzled colonel shook his head and got his bearings. Staying near the wall, he slowly groped his way out.
The operations center was a mess, electrical haze filling the cramped space, sparks occaisonally shooting from damaged equipment. Fury made his way up the four stairs that brought him to the command deck. He always like to above his fellow officers while issuing orders.
"What in the name of God is happening?" he shouted.
"They just came out of nowhere, Colonel! Long range sensors weren't able to detect them." one of the young officers said in the command pit, several feet below Fury's position.
"Well, put them on the viewscreen!" Fury said gruffly, chewing into his cigar with vigor.
The main screen at the front of the command chamber quickly faded out to reveal the scene outside. Four ovular ships floated far away, silhouhetted by the moon. Large forms were slowly moving closer, as if plodding to earth.
"One of them has already entered the atmosphere, sir! He was so fast, we could barely track him!" the young officer announced.
"And you didn't do anything?" Fury shouted back, "Activate the Star Wars grid now, and bring the weapons platfroms online! Those are Celestials out there. We don't what the Hell they might do..."
"Doing so, sir!"
Fury shook his head in frustration. Would good was the most advanced defense system if the people running it were incompetent? The Celestials returning to earth had never been anticipated, no strategems developed to defend against them. Fury figured that the scenario would have closely mirrored the "Galactus Prospect," had it been calculated. Total destruction. They'd survived the World Devourer a few times, gotten lucky. Fury didn't think it was going to be so "easy" this time.
Bits of brown wrapping fell into his mouth as the Colonel ground his teeth, watching the huge armored shapes slowly coming more clearly into view. They were heading straight for earth. He wasn't sure if SHIELD could stop them, but he'd always followed the motto, "If you're going to go down, take as many of them with you as you can." He was preparing to do just that.
"So he caught you by surprise is what you're saying?" Johnny Storm asked the large Thunder God sitting across from him on an identical couch. He took a deep drink of vodka and looked out at the storm as Thor responded. Rain beat down on the glass, rivulets running down in irregular patterns. Occaisonal streaks of lightning illuminated the clouded sky and thunder rumbled in the background.
"Aye, but the varlet ran soon after. He knew that facing the Odinson in fair combat be like battling a raging thunder storm." He craddled his enchanted hammer in the crook of his arm, occaisonally looking down at it as a father does a newborn baby.
Storm gave the pair an odd look, especially the hammer, and drained his glass. Wiping his mouth, he said, "Yeah, well next time we see him, I say we kick his ass. And maybe find out where the Hell Sue is, too."
"Aye." Thor nodded.
Storm narrowed his eyes and stood, realzing the Asgardian not to be much of a conversationalist. He slowly ambled out of the living room and down a long hall before turning into an expansive laboratory. At the center, crowded around an unseen examination table, were the Vision, Captain America, and Iron Man. The others were downstairs playing pool.
Or something like that. Johnny didn't really care as he pushed his way to the fore, looking down as Reed Richards bent over the comatose form of the Destroyer, laid out face-down on the table. A bright, sterile light shone down on the rupture in the back of the Asgardian suit's head and the small instrument Reed was using to pick out small bits of ruined machinery. He placed them delicately on a tray nearby.
"You find anything yet? You've been at this for almost a day."
"Indeed." said Reed, not looking up, "It seems that some type of highly advanced device was controlling the Destroyer from within. Whoever built it, judging by the remains, knew his robotics very well."
"If that thing could burrow through this mystic metal, its designer must have access to some pretty advanced technology as well." Captain America interjected, his mind obviously already beginning to spin with the possible culprits.
"In addition, I've picked up residual energy traces that could only come from a Cosmic Containment Unit." Reed continued.
"A Cosmic Cube...Think it might be connected to Sue's disappearance?" Johnny asked.
Reed stopped abruptly, hand poised over the crevice, tweesers held tightly. He sat like this for several moments, before resuming his work, "Possibly, though this 'Mordrin' left no trail to follow. It's an interesting turn of events, though."
Johnny sneered at this, but said nothing. He watched the leader of the Fantastic Four as he worked for several more minutes, the only sound being that of distant machinery humming away and the click of Reed's tweesers. Finally, he turned, elbowing his way out of the crowd.
Walking down the hall, looking for another drink, he passed Thor. He still held that hammer as if it were a prized child. What the Hell is up with that?
Entering the living room again, he walked to the small kitchenette and grabbed a bottle of scotch, seeing that the vodka was empty. His hand trembled a bit as he poured. It had been a tough couple of days.
Walking over to the large picture window, he lost himself in the storm.
Thor strode into the expansive laboratory and took up a place behind the crowd. He could easily see over their heads without any strain.
"Well, that's about done." Reed said, dropping the tweesers alongside the ruined bits of machinery on a tray off to the side. He pulled the harsh light away and then just as quickly pulled in a wide scanner that radiated a soft purple glow. He tapped a few buttons on its side and then positioned it several feet above the crevice in the Destroyer's head.
"Mister Fantastic, would you like me to begin analyzing the device fragments?" the Vision asked.
"That would be most helpful, Vision." Richards responded, once again not looking up.
The android walked over and gently lifted the tray, taking care not to jostle its contents, and made his way over to a large machine on the far-end of the laboratory. Sitting, he set to work.
"That's odd..." Richards said to himself more than anyone else, his brow furrowing.
"What is it?" asked Captain America.
"I didn't pick this up before. I must've uncovered it while removing that damaged machine. I've never seen anything like it." Richards stretched his arm and tapped a few more buttons on the side of the scanning device, narrowing the field of detection. He looked carefully at the little screen near the control panel, not wanting to miss a thing, "Amazing..."
"Mister Fantastic, what have you found?" asked Iron Man, this time.
"It appears...It appears to be an entire galaxy, a living bioverse, the size of a human fingertip! Incredible..."
Thor's eyes slowly grew wider as Richards announced his findings, face growing dark at the same time, "We must dispose of it immediately, or they will come for it!" he shouted.
Everyone turned around to look at the Thunder God and Reed asked, voice calm, as though he were talking to a child with a mental disability, "What's wrong Thor? Who are 'they' and why will they be coming to retrieve what I've just found?"
"Dost thou see? That is a Black Galaxy, an infant Celestial! Surely they are already on their way here to retrieve their child! The entire planet could be destroyed!"
"Fascinating." was all Reed could muster.
"We may stumbled onto something big...Someone's manipulating all of us..." Captain America said.
"Yeah, maybe, but I think we should get rid of this thing now, in case Thor's right." Iron Man cut in, voice painted with a touch of concern, "We can worry about who sent it and what's going on later."
"Susan's powers can greatly affect Celestials, and we were sent this Black Galaxy. Surely there's a connection..." Richards said to himself, lost in thought now.
"Aye, aye!" Thor said hastily, beginning to push his way to the fore, ready to take the Destroyer's body into space immediately.
There was the sound of shattering glass from the living room, and soon afterward came Johnny's pronouncement, "Holy shit! You guys better get out here, now!"
Captain America and Iron Man looked at each gravely and ran out of the room. Reed recovered from his reverie quickly and was soon following. The Vision was right behind. Thor stayed, and walked over to the table, testing the Destroyer's weight.
The two Avengers thumped noisily down the hall before stopping in the midst of the living room, surveying the scene in one glance. Johnny was standing back from the large picture window, broken glass sparkling in the carpet several feet in front of him. The two heroes' gazes were naturally drawn to the expansive window.
Something huge was obscuring it, almost as if an irregular canvas had been thrown over it to block out all light. But bolts of lightning, far more numerous now, illuminated a portion of the thing. It slowly floated up and down, and appeared to be pink and green in coloration.
"It's a Celestial..." said Iron Man with disenchantment, his repulsor emitters beginning to glow. Captain America nodded curtly, raising his shield unconsciously.
"It certainly seems that way." said Reed from behind the two Avengers, Vision at his side. His voice was unconcerned, as if he were talking about buying a new computer program.
The wind suddenly howled and there was a flash of light far too bright to be natural. Thick glass shattered.
As their eyes slowly opened, the quartet looked over their intruder. The huge bulk of the Celestial outside was gone, replaced by the tall, reed-thin form of an older man dressed in a grey trenchcoat cut in a style reminiscent of the 19th century. His clean-shaven face was creased, but his cobalt blue eyes shone with intelligence, and an unworldly coldness. Even before speaking, the heroes could tell he had a haughter about him.
"I am Eson the Searcher." he pronounced, voice like a thunderclap. Iron Man could have sworn the building shook, "I have come here to retrieve that which you have stolen from us."
"Stolen?" asked Captain America.
"You hold one of our number in captivity. Release it, now, and the Judgement will be less harsh."
"We didn't take anything, Eson." Reed responded cooly, "It simple appeared here nearly a day ago. Someone used a Cosmic Cube to transport your 'infant' here. It seems this unknown agency masked their involvement quite well."
"Return what you have stolen, or we will take it from you." Eson continued as if Reed had said nothing.
"Look at that!" shouted Johnny suddenly, his speech slurred, hand pointing at the sky. The stratus clouds glowed crimson some above and the sky was suddenly painted with hazy streaks of color.
"The defense grid..." Captain America said, "You're invading the planet!"
Esonn inclined his head as if studying a bug, "We arrive in a five-mile radius around this building. Surrender your prisoner, now."
"Take it!" shouted Thor from the hall, slowly dragging the Destroyer on the ground by its arms. He let it down with a tremendous thump.
Eson slowly raised his hand, and the Destroyer's body rose with it. A golden glow enveloped it for several seconds, until a small orb tore itself from the fissure in the Destroyer's skull and race toward the Celestial's outstretched hand. It floated there for several seconds, then winked out, returning to whence it came. The Destroyer crashed to the ground.
"Now, leave us, Celestial!" Thor shouted, raising his hammer, "Or face the wrath of the Odinson and the mighty Avengers!"
"We await the Judgment." Eson said simply, "You have commited the third greatest crime against us in all our history. You will be held accountable."
"I say thee nay!" Thor roared as he flung Mjolnir at the Celestial's head. A foot from its target, the Uru hammer shattered into bits, spraying over the room.
The Thunder God gaped and began another war cry, but was cut off as he was slapped into the wall by some giant, unseen hand. He slid down to the floor, head lolling to his chest.
"Hey! The glow's gone!" Johnny said now, still looking at the sky. Indeed, the warm crimson glow had disappeared entirely, but the sky streaked with ragged yellow bolts even more furiously.
"They've penetrated the Star Wars grid." Iron Man said grimly, "They'll be here any minute."
"The Judgement will commence soon." Eson said, looking at all of them, yet looking through them at the same time.
Johnny's brow furrowed as large dark shapes slowly slipped down through the clouds, drifting far above the tallest building.
Continue to Chapter 10
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