Earth-717: Fantastic Four Vol 2
Chapter 12: The Adventure Continues
The Pariah took another step forward, closing in on the shield generator. The remaining Nova starfighters tried to fire everything they had at it, but none of their attacks were capable of damaging the gigantic war machine. The one surviving defense cannon desperately launched multiple energy blasts at its target, but they only managed to slow the Pariah momentarily.
One laser blast from the Pariah's main cannon sliced down the last defense tower, and seemingly, Xandar's last hope.
Tarcel closed his eyes in defeat as the Pariah drew ever closer to his position. All of the Nova Corps officers in the command room stood up in silence and solidarity, acknowledging that their defeat had come. Anelle, who was standing at Tarcel's left side, hung her head in shame alongside the Nova officers, with tears streaming down both of her cheeks.
The battle on the ground had completely ceased. Soldiers on both sides knew that the fight was over, and simply stared up at the Pariah as it took another step. The mechanical monstrosity sounded its horn, the hellish noise piercing everyone present to their soul. Even Ben's spirit was crushed, and he stood by and watched, just as quiet and helpless as all the rest. Johnny flew down and stood next to his friend, with even he being silenced by the weight of the situation.
Susan was the only person who wasn't completely incapacitated by grief and despair. Certainly these emotions were swirling in her heart, but she realized that she still had one final card to play, one final act that may vindicate her. Flying on her force field disc, she positioned herself between the shield generator and the Pariah.
Ben and Johnny both dropped their jaws at the same time.
"Sis! What are you doing?!"
Susan did not respond. Whether she was ignoring them, or if she did not want to pain them with a response when she knew what she must do, they could not ascertain. Forming a spherical barrier around herself, she put all of her mental energy into reinforcing it as much as possible, more than she had ever attempted before.
As all this was happening, Reed's shuttle warped into the sky via a portal that disappeared immediately afterwards. While Herbie was spinning around and clearly dazed by what had just occurred, Reed was not concerned with his robotic companion at that moment; rather, his eyes scanned the entire portrait of the situation before him, consuming all of its knowledge and instantly realizing the terrible event that was about to take place.
There was no time for Reed to call out to the woman he loved, and Susan was not cognisant of her lover's arrival on the scene. Just like all of the people who were present when the battle's tide had turned, Reed was completely helpless to affect the condition of what was happening before him, and was struck, as everyone else was, into the role of powerless observer.
Then, he heard something come in through his com link. Something he hoped he would never have to hear.
"Tell Reed . . . . that I'm sorry."
Reed felt his heart sink in his chest. He had the time to hear the words, but not the time to respond.
Everything had been reduced to the confrontation between Susan and Morrat. Although Susan could not see him, Morrat sneered upon realizing who he was facing. Clenching his metallic fist, he screamed for her to be shot out of the sky. The Pariah fired its laser, but Susan started to fly forward, weaving her path around the deadly beam.
Susan knew that what she was doing would most likely end in her death. She knew that she was potentially sacrificing everything for the lives of people she had never even met. She knew that she was never going to get the chance to reconcile with Reed, to say all the things she never got to say. She knew that this was her last act of defiance.
She knew all of that, and still did not hesitate.
The Pariah fired again, and again Susan weaved out of the way. She refused to lose her forward momentum, barrelling right towards the Pariah's laser cannon. She knew it was the one point in the armour where she was certain to penetrate. She knew it was the last chance that anyone on Xandar had for survival.
Before the Pariah could fire a third time, Susan's barrier smashed right into the front of the cannon. The force of the impact shredded the metal and shattered the glass. She had turned herself into a bullet, piercing the cannon's barrel and causing the weapon to implode on itself. As she crashed through the Pariah, she immediately lost consciousness due to the pressure.
Morrat screamed at the top of his mechanical lungs as the command centre of the Pariah exploded. Cracks quickly formed on the exterior shell of the monstrous walker, splitting apart the frame and causing ripples of red energy to lash out from between the fractured plates. The leg joints buckled and snapped apart, and the release of energy from the ruptured warp core generated a massive explosion that sent thousands of metallic shards flying in all directions.
Everyone was stunned into silence as they watched the spectacle. Everyone but Reed, who cried out in agony as he watched Susan become truly invisible.
At least once a day, Veranke made sure to spend some time staring out into space. It was something that brought peace and quiet to her mind, and enabled time for simple reflection. While she commonly thought about all the worlds that she was destined to conquer, she also sometimes cast her thoughts back to what her life was like before she became the queen of the Skrull Empire.
It was a life she swore that she would never return to.
She was standing inside of her throne room on the Exile's Intent, staring out one of the side windows. Usually she preferred to do her stargazing in the observation area, but that part of the ship had been heavily damaged by her altercation with the Fantastic Four, and there had been no time for repairs because the ship had to be moved.
"Do you see me now, mother? Do you see what I've become? The most powerful person in the galaxy . . . . a queen. The likes of which has never been seen before. For the first time, by the will of providence, one woman will rule a galaxy."
"And I'll have done it without you. You who would have had me held back, who would have preferred I follow in your footsteps, to stay a worthless peasant in the dark alleys of Skrullos. You told me that the light was not for people like us. You told me to stay on my side."
Veranke looked down at the Keystone that was hanging around her neck. She touched it with two fingers on her left hand, and it momentarily glowed brighter.
"Well, I stepped into the light, mother. And now . . . . the light is mine. And with it, I will be forever remembered . . . . while you have long since been forgotten."
Veranke's musings were interrupted by the sound of the door to her throne room opening. Sighing, she turned to look at who had come to see her.
Kl'rt and Bishop Grixx entered the room. Veranke walked back over to her throne and took her seat, with Torgo standing and waiting patiently at her right side. Kl'rt and Grixx both respectfully bowed before her.
"What is it?" asked Veranke.
"We have received troubling news," said Grixx. "It appears that the assault on Xandar . . . . has failed."
Veranke immediately sat forward. Her fingers clutched the ends of her arm rests ever tighter as her voice turned shrill and piercing.
"FAILED?! What do you mean, failed?!"
Grixx gulped and looked down, shrinking away from her gaze. Kl'rt stood up tall and addressed her directly.
"We have multiple confirmed reports that Morrat's attack on the shield generator was unsuccessful. Both Pariahs were destroyed. As far as we know . . . . he was killed in action."
The bones in Veranke's face started to wobble as the implications of the news slithered through her soul. Her left eye twitched multiple times before she responded.
"And what of Nebula?"
"We have lost contact with her," answered Kl'rt. "We don't know where she is."
Veranke started to hyperventilate. Torgo looked at her with concern, but did not move. After a few seconds, Veranke closed her eyes and consciously slowed her breathing, reasserting herself. Sitting back in her chair, she then spoke with a forcefully cordial tone.
"Recall the Pariahs. Bring them here."
Kl'rt and Grixx looked at each other for a moment in confusion before returning their gaze to Veranke.
"Which ones?" asked Grixx.
"All of them."
"All of . . . .?"
"Every last one," she said. "They are to form a defensive blockade around the planet, alongside the Exile's Intent."
Veranke turned her head to look out at the planet which she could see just outside her window.
"Earth was to be the impetus for my final conquest," she said. "Now, it will also serve as the stage for my ultimate victory."
Veranke looked forward again and sneered.
"The Nova Corps. The Kree. They want a fight? They just got one."
As the dust settled on the capital city of Xandar, the shield generator was still standing. The golden beam was still maintained, and the defensive matrix around the planet did not falter. The explosion from the destruction of Morrat's Pariah had killed many of the Skrull ground forces. The survivors had all immediately surrendered, knowing that there was nothing further for them to accomplish, and that there was no hope for reinforcements.
Tarcel, Anelle and Rhomann all accompanied Reed, Herbie, Johnny and Ben as they made their way into the wreckage of the Pariah. Herbie was leading the group, with everyone else following behind. Herbie had told them that he was still receiving a signal from Susan's tracking device, and so everyone was eagerly chasing after the small robot.
"Over here, Doctor Richards! Her tracker signal is coming from over here!"
Suddenly, Herbie stopped in his tracks. He blinked a couple times before slowly turning around.
"What is it?" asked Rhomann.
"I lost it," answered Herbie. "I lost the signal. I don't understand. I'm not receiving it anymore. As if it just . . . . vanished."
Reed closed his eyes and looked down. Johnny took a step back, a frown growing on his face. Ben put his hand on Reed's shoulder.
"Hey . . . ."
"I heard her," said Reed. "I heard her say . . . . say she was sorry."
"Reed . . . ."
"I never got to tell her . . . . that I was sorry too."
For a few moments, everyone was morose. Even Herbie and the Repair-Bots looked depressed. They had saved a planet, but had lost a family member.
Then, Reed saw something in the distance. From behind a mountain of wreckage, a shadow fluttered in and out of sight. Reed squinted to try and get a better look as it drew closer. Finally, emerging from on top of a pile of smashed metal, Susan trudged into view, holding her side in pain. Standing as tall as she could, she smiled upon seeing everyone there waiting for her.
No words were necessary. The look on everyone's face was enough to say what needed to be said. Most important of all, Susan saw that the spark in Reed's eyes was brighter than it had ever been. She slowly marched towards her family, her head held high. She was eagerly embraced, and the Fantastic Four were reunited.
Before anything further could happen, Anelle shrieked and pointed into the sky. Everyone looked up to see the flaming, half-destroyed form of the Dark Revenant plummeting out of orbit. It slammed into the ground only a hundred metres away from the group. Susan instinctively threw up a force field to shield them all from the wave of dust that washed towards them.
After everything had settled, the group approached the downed dreadnought. They looked at it with curiosity, not knowing what happened to it. They received their answer when a panel on the side of the hull was shot off from the inside, and a group of five people emerged from the smoke.
"Next time, instead of the guy who just uses his hammer to solve every damn problem, I'll be the one to deal with the critical engine failure!"
"We survived, and our foes are vanquished, are they not?"
"By pure luck, you Cabaret reject!"
Reed, Susan, Johnny and Ben were all stunned upon seeing Tasha Stark in a blue and white armoured suit. She was followed by the Hulk, Carol Danvers in her Ms. Marvel costume, and the Mighty Thor. At the centre of the line was someone they were expecting even less.
"Captain America?" said Reed.
"Reed Richards," said Steve. "We've been looking for you. It seems we have a lot to discuss."
The Fantastic Four Will Return
High above the surface of Earth, the Exile's Intent was sitting in orbit. While it had arrived with just a small escort, dozens of Pariahs had now entered the system. They had flown in from all corners of the galaxy, and more were on the way. As per Veranke's instructions, they formed a defensive blockade around the planet and the Exile's Intent.
As the army of Pariahs took their positions, a blue beam shot up from the planet's surface. It struck the Exile's Intent, which channelled the energy of the beam to form a defensive matrix around itself. As the impenetrable energy barrier solidified, and the fleet of Pariahs continued to amass around her, Veranke folded her hands together.
She devilishly smiled as she waited for her enemies to come to her.