"Dying, yes. Trust me, it came as a shock to me as well."
"What the SHIT Michael?!"
"See, this is why I asked you to promise me not to freak out-"
"That's before I knew you were actually dying! Fuck!"
With that expletive, Jess springs to her feet (superstrength doesn't merely allow one to throw around cars like they're made of cardboard, it's apparently also great at preserving mobility in the latter stages of pregnancy) as she throws her hands in the air out of frustration. She paces a couple of times on the golden-white beach of a private island in the Bahamas I portalled us to early this morning.
After yesterday's conclusion of the Hand's millennia-long reign of terror on Earth, as well as the end of Jess' brief stint as the fiery Spirit of Vengeance, we had mutually decided to take a day off in order to talk everything through and reconnect properly. Just her, me and Susan and Python (a name I picked for my Leviathan a couple of hours ago after I remembered my musings yesterday regarding his lack of a proper title) playing in the surf, a tropical island at our back, a glittering aquamarine sea in front of us and a cheery sun shimmering above us.
A perfect day.
Until, of course, we eventually had to fill each other in on just what had happened during the time since we last saw each other, standing in the middle of a still-ruined New York. Jess was done talking relatively quickly all things considered, since she wasn't really in the driver's seat for most of her little revenge tour after all.
On my end, recapping what had happened didn't really take all that long either: a couple of new scientists to boost Othrys' power, my new station as Earth's latest Sorcerer Supreme (that one got me a raised eyebrow and required a couple of minutes of elaboration), my Top Sneaky plan for Othrys and how I was trying to make sure that my people and I would never be bothered by the US Government ever again following my fight with Carol, Jess' replacement Bucky Barnes' going out to burn Nazi-souls in her stead (that one caused the second eyebrow to raise as well and required a couple of additional minutes of elaboration) and then finally… my looming death.
Which didn't go over so well to be honest.
As was made evident by the madly pacing, occasionally (but vehemently) swearing woman in front of me who was steadily digging a small groove in the otherwise pristine beach. A lingering after-effect of her stint as the Ghost Rider seemed to be a higher affinity for her Extremis-powers as patches of sand were turned into glass as her temperature started to sky rocket.
As she turned to me, still sitting in the shade of a palm tree in glaring orange swimming trunks, innocently sipping from a coconut decorated with a festive cocktail umbrella, Jessica placed her hands on her hips, eyes distant and flitting back and forth as she tried to tackle the problem, taking deep, unsteady breaths.
"All right. All right, you're dying, no biggie. Sam can fix it. Noah can help. Fuck it, all of the Tink Tank gets a new assignment, they're gonna work their asses off and they are gonna fix you, right Michael? They're gonna fix you, and you ain't gonna die and-"
"Jessica. It's fine honey." I cut in, getting a scoff in return.
"Sure, you just happened to invent a 'not-dying' pill, so I shouldn't be worried at all." Jess replies sarcastically as she throws her hands in the air out of frustration, before she freezes in place, turning hopeful eyes towards me.
"Please tell me you invented a 'not-dying' pill?"
My smile is somewhat melancholy as I answer her.
"Over the years I have come across several… 'not-dying pills' actually."
"Oh thank god."
"But I'm afraid none of those will help me now."
Stalking towards me, Jess gently drops to her knees at my side, taking one of my massive hands into her own, holding it tightly enough that her knuckles turn white and I begin noticing the pressure in earnest.
"Why won't those work? C'mon babe, you got an entire super-secret lair full of mad scientists, something in there has got to fix you, right?" she pleads desperately.
"Unfortunately, most of what I got in that base already is inside of me." I respond gently, before we both freeze.
"Right, that came out wrong. Look, the thing is… most of what I got in there that would prevent a normal death in a human, either old age or severe trauma, involves messing with the human genome in order to give them a power boost. My problem is that I got a DNA strand that looks like a toddler's been playing Cat's Cradle with it and I got too much power flooding my body. Giving it more is the exact opposite of what I need right now."
"Can't you bleed it off?"
"If I bleed off the energy my body produces, that just leaves more room for the Light Dimension's energy to flood in and I'm not proficient with the Light Dimension powers yet to know how to bleed that energy off effectively instead. Besides, while I'm not sure on what exactly it is or does yet, I do know that it can't be a good idea to unleash a dimensions-level amount of energy onto a single planet. Hell, it might even still be dangerous if I tried it in interstellar space: you've seen the nastiness involved in tearing a hole in the dimensional fabric of the universe."
"So… what? What's the plan? Please tell me there's a plan Michael, I can't do this on my own-"
As Jess is about to start rambling, I cut her off by planting a kiss on her. She briefly freezes in surprise, before I feel her sigh as she leans into it. We stay like that for several moments, before I hear her heartbeat lower again and I break away from the kiss. Looking at her, I can tell she's still worried, but at least not on the verge of panicking.
Which, considering what we've just been through and what lies in our future, is all we can really hope for now.
"Yes, there is a plan. My soul and spirit are still strong: my position as the new Sorcerer Supreme gives me access to some experts in very… unusual fields and they've confirmed it. Their advice had been to fully embrace godhood and ascend to a higher level of existence… or something, things got weird after a couple minutes after I asked for, and got, an explanation. But there's not a chance in Hell, or anywhere else for that matter, that I'm leaving you or the kids. I ain't going anywhere, trust me. But that leaves me with the problem that my body is beginning to lag behind the power of my metaphysical self. It's no longer capable of dealing with the immense power that I now possess."
"Oh well, if it's just your body that's failing you, then I guess I should just stop worrying at all!"
"Michael! Newsflash: when people die, it's because their bodies started failing! You need a body! It's where all your squishy bits are!"
"Phineas is doing just fine and he doesn't have squishy bits. Mostly."
"Phineas is a brain in a jar! No offence buddy."
"None taken!" is the cheery response from a small speaker hidden in the frames of my sunglasses, which I take off with a heavy sigh (forcefully ignoring the muffled "hey! What did I do?!" as I put them away).
I focus back on Jessica, locking gazes with her. Her eyes are hard and her chin is jutting forwards in determination.
"I'm not raising my babies with a disembodied brain as a dad, Michael. You need to get better."
Briefly there's a tremble in her voice, and tears begin to form in her eyes.
"I need you to get better."
"I will. Honey, I swear that I will. I'm not gonna be a floating brain, alright? I got something better."
"No floating brains?"
"Promise. No floating brains, whatsoever."
"… alright. Alright. So, what's the actual plan then?"
"… well, I'm not going to put my brain into an artificial new mecha-organic body built by the greatest blacksmiths in the universe?"
"Yeah! Just my soul! This squishy brain is just gonna stay in the body as it dies! I'm gonna get a better, new one anyways!"
Apparently, judging by the literally flaming slap to the face, more explanation would be required.
"Jess! What the Hell?!"
"You think letting yourself die is a solution?!"
"Well, I won't be dying per se, merely my body. Zola did it before, we did the same with Phineas, the only difference is that I'm going to put myself into an entirely new, even better body. We took a whole list ofs philosophical, biological and technological texts from Xandar's libraries that deal with the question of whether or not I'll still be me, or if a copy will be created instead and the general consensus is that I will survive beyond my body in a new state, as the Me that has existed all along in this body as well. Really, it's actually rather interesting when you compare it to the major philosophical discourses we've had on Earth-"
Jess' eyes widen in surprise as her jaws suddenly clench, cutting me off.
"… I can't do this with you right now Michael."
"Honey, if you'd just listen, I'm sure I can explain-"
"No, I mean I literally can't do this right now. As in, physically not able to."
"What? Why not- argh!"
I'm cut off as Jess' hold of my hand suddenly seems to increase a hundred-fold, gripping with enough strength I'm not entirely convinced she hasn't broken a bone or two. Turning a panicked gaze towards me, Jess hisses in a low, deadly calm voice through her teeth.
"Because, Michael… my water just broke."
I make the mistake of glancing down as the sound of hissing, melting sand reaches my ears.
"Oh God! That's disgusting!"
The subsequent slap to the back of my head is powerful enough to pick me up and send me flying from my comfortable seat underneath my palm tree (which, sadly, probably won't survive its current ordeal) and face-first into the shallows with a spray of water several dozen meters high booming out from the point of impact. Susan and Python pause in their game to glance my way in clear surprise as I work myself to my feet, blinking seawater from my eyes and spitting sand from my mouth.
"I meant to say, of course, that this is the wonderful miracle of life, and we should all-"
I create a sizeable portal to the medical wing of Othrys, sending a quick message over my link to Python that everything is fine and he and Susan don't need to come along and should keep enjoying their day off in the Bahamas as I pick up a panting Jess in my arms and bridal carry her thousands of kilometres away in a single step.
Thank god that portals are such bullshit.
Within seconds of our arrival, the base is on high-alert and medical personnel are hurrying towards our location with literal superhuman speed (thanks to nearly every single person in Othrys being enhanced in some way by now, with even the baseline ones exhibiting peak human health). Phineas, being virtually omnipresent and omniscient within Othrys' halls, has already sprung into action, opening the doors to the prepped operating room without my prompting, engaging every single piece of equipment that we might possible need and activating several of his medical platforms as I walk to the maternity ward.
Or is it only called a maternity ward once the moms have actually given birth and are recovering?
No, focus Michael! Google it later, woman about to give birth to triplets first!
"It's gonna be fine Jess. We're gonna be okay. You hear me? We're gonna be okay Jess, everything is gonna be fine-"
Finally we've arrived in the operating room (considering that the birth of our children is literally unique in the history of humanity and perhaps even the universe, we weren't sure just what exactly we'd end up needing and just built it as big as possible out of precaution) and I place Jess on the large bed in the centre.
By now, she's sweating profusely, which coupled with her skyrocketing body temperature means that it almost immediately evaporates, giving her the appearance that she's literally steaming.
She's barely touched the smooth, leather surface of the hospital bed before a whole team of Othrys' doctors run in, Maya Hansen at their head. Every single one of them has been enhanced with either Amber Armor or Extremis, considering we anticipated that the heat (and other… stuff) Jess would probably give off during birth would be enough to kill a normal human on the spot.
Our main concern had been (or in my case, still was) what Jessica's strength and immense heat would do to our newborns. We expected/hoped that our unborn children already had some degree of superhuman strength and durability of their own considering they were made from already altered DNA, meaning that technically speaking they weren't exactly human anymore. Since they had survived for so long inside of Jessica, it seemed to be the case, but there simply wasn't any way to know for certain how Jess's contractions would affect them.
The mystically powered shield the Ancient One had encountered when she looked Jessica over after her possession by the Ghost Rider gave me hope, but now things had finally come to a head, every single fear that I had regarding my children (as well as a few new ones) returned with a vengeance, so it was only with the greatest difficulty that I managed to put up a brave face for Jessica in order not to worry her too much-
"Why are you the one looking constipated right now?"
-so it was only with the greatest difficulty that I failed to put up a brave face for Jessica.
Enveloping one of Jess' white-knuckled fists in both of my hands, I leaned over and softly kissed her on top of her head, before catching her eyes with my own, even as medical language was shouted back and forth among the small army of medical personnel hard at work doing… something, I suppose.
"You can do this honey. I know you can. I'll be right here with you."
Jessica nodded, before pain twisted her features as she grit her teeth and Maya resolutely stepped up to me.
"Michael, I appreciate that you want to support her, but I would still prefer if you'd waited outside. Realistically, there isn't a whole lot you can do to help right now and given how large you are, you're obstructing us in our work."
"I can help. I promised-"
Jess gasps in pain, before breathing rapidly and deeply as a chorus of hurried chatter goes up around us, the smell of flame and smoke suddenly filling my nose. Looking past Jess' baby-bump-
"Wait outside, you said? Very well, hang in there honey, I'm so proud of you, kisses, bye!"
Briefly I see Jess' wide, disbelieving eyes and then the double doors close in front of me, leaving me outside in the hall by myself. Well, this is Othrys, so I'm never really alone, Phineas' holographic head popping up from a lead strip running across the wall.
"My hero." He deadpans with a decidedly unimpressed expression on his face.
"Oh shut it." I mutter annoyed (at him or myself, I can't really tell).
It's easy facing down monsters after what I've experienced. I've become pretty much desensitized to fleshy, crawly, toothy horrors straight out of Lovecraft's nightmares. Blood, flame and worse have been constant companions of mine for multiple lifetimes by now and I'm used to having such horrors happening to me.
It was a whole different kind of horror to see it happen to the woman I loved with nothing I could do to help her.
I remain motionless for a couple of moments, hands in the pocket of my swimming trunks, unsure of what to do with myself, until a pained scream from the room behind me sends a chill down my spine and causes me to flinch.
I wish I could help, but Maya was right: there was nothing I could do to help the birth along (outside of using the Time Stone to fast forward the whole thing but that brought its own risks with it) and if I were to go in there I would just be in the way of the people best suited to make sure my family made it through this alright.
Still, restlessness took hold of me and briefly I debated simply pacing in front of the double doors until the whole thing was finally over and done with. That plan was quickly dashed as another scream rang out and on pure instinct Harpe flashed to its regular size and was in my grasp before I was even consciously aware of it.
No, I should be doing something, anything to give my family every advantage I could-
… hang on. That just gave me an idea.
"Phineas. Set up a conference call with Hogarth and Dr. Hall."
"Right away." My friend pipes up, his face immediately replaced with still images of the people I requested in greyed out-boxes appearing side by side in his stead.
I don't have to wait long until Dr. Hall picks up, the still image replaced by a live feed coming from what appears to be his laboratory in one of my deepest sublevels, judging by the background.
"Ah, Mister McCole. I was wondering when you'd contact me." The aged scientist pipes up, looking at me inquisitively over the edge of his glasses.
A few moments later, Jeri joins as well, the skyline of New-York showing that she's likely at work somewhere down-town, something that's confirmed as she speaks up with a frown.
"This had better be urgent Michael, I was just in the middle of a meeting regarding-"
She's interrupted by yet another of Jess' screams and both her and Hall start in surprise, looking at me in wide-eyes surprise.
"Michael, what the fuck was that?" Jeri asks in a worried tone and it doesn't take the Mind Stone to see that her mind immediately jumps back to the day my first base was torn to shreds and she lost both an eye and her lover.
"It's Jess. It's finally happening. She's giving birth." I hear myself saying, the facts appearing strange to my own ears even as I say them out loud.
"Oh my god. Portal me." Jeri immediately responds.
I blink in surprise, and the lawyer gives a frustrated sigh.
"I've been friends with the two of you for too long to not be there for this Michael. Portal. Me. Now."
"Yes ma'am." I respond with a small smile and a circling motion of my hand.
Within seconds, the lithe form of Jeri Hogarth steps into my base, immediately looking past me towards the closed double doors, picking up the panicked sounds of commotion from within, before looking back at me again. Briefly she seems to internally struggle with something, before to my great surprise, she steps up to me and gives me a strong hug. Even on her tiptoes she's too short to place her arms around my neck, so she settles on wrapping them around my middle, resting her head on my sternum.
"Congratulations, Michael. I wish the both of you the very best." She says in an earnest tone of voice.
Before I even get the chance to hug her back, she's stepped away, tugging her jacket into place and appearing as if nothing at all had happened if it weren't for the wetness of her eyes and the smile playing around her lips.
"Ah, yes. Congratulations are in order I suppose, Mr. McCole. My best wishes to the happy couple." Dr. Hall pipes up over the screen.
"Thank you. Both of you. It's in regards to this that I wanted to talk to you."
"Don't worry about it. All forms and certificates for all three children are already completed and merely need your signature before you can drop them off at city hall." Jeri immediately responds in a confident tone.
"I must confess, Mr. McCole. I understand why you called for your lawyer, even if she's a corporate lawyer, but that's your prerogative I suppose. But I hardly have any qualifications regarding childbirth, not to mention that I haven't had my enhancements yet, meaning that stepping into that room might very well spell my death." Dr. Hall speaks up in a confused tone, and I raise both my hands to shut both of them up.
"I was actually going to ask the two of you where we are regarding Project Sovereign. And if it can be expedited."
Dr. Hall's eyebrows rise in clear surprise.
"To be honest, I thought that is why you contacted me in the first place. Clearly you haven't been idle in my absence, considering how much of Project Sovereign was already in place by the time I set up shop here. I even saw the plans from Dr. Sterns where he hypothesized the use of Vibranium as a catalyst instead. Of course, this would've severely increased the cost, complexity and time required for the Project to be successful, but with the amounts of Gravitonium you've placed at my disposal, combined with my own genius and previous research, I hypothesize we can have everything up and running today, tomorrow at the latest. Still, what does any of this have to do with the birth of your children?" the scientist asks in a confused tone, but I can see/feel how Jeri arrives at the correct conclusion, turning wide eyes towards me.
"So that was what all those papers from the UN were for! Michael, this… this is just dastardly. I'm impressed." The lawyer says with a cunning smile, one which I reciprocate with a awkward one of my own.
"I'm pretty much useless in there right now… but I still wanted to do something for them. Give them something. I think this makes for a pretty neat gift. Something that'll be of use to them, protect them for years to come."
"I agree. How long until they're born?" Jeri responds with a smile.
"Hang on, I'll ask." I reply, before turning on my heel and opening the double doors, peeking my head inside.
"Uhm, Maya? How long until- oh god…" I trail off, before pulling my head back and softly closing the double doors again, muffling the panicked shouts and screams from the other side, my face ashen and my eyes wide.
"Uhm… Mr. McCole? Are you quite alright?"
"Fire. Blood. Flaming blood. Coming from... there." I mumble, causing Jeri to roll her eyes.
"Men." She mutters, before shouldering past me and smoothly striding through the double doors with an air of confidence.
She's gone for a long couple of moments, before the double doors crack open again and Jeri strides back out again, idly patting out the flames consuming the right sleeve of her suit jacket as if its nothing out of the ordinary. Turning to me, she wipes the black soot off her face without much fuss, speaking up in an even tone, though her eyes are somewhat distant and slightly haunted.
"Well, that was... an experience. Hansen says it's probably going to take nine hours in total: three hours per birth. Apparently, she has conferred with the Ancient One in the past on precisely this situation and it seems the former Sorcerer Supreme was pretty convinced, saying something along the lines of 'mystical influences being stronger than expected'. Everything is looking good so far and it's unlikely they'll have to use a Caesarean at this point, which judging by the sheer size of the blades one of the Soter-platforms was standing ready with, is probably a good thing. I can't imagine creating and then keeping open a cut in the abdomen of a super-durable woman with a regeneration factor who's in labour is going to be easy." She sums up.
The image makes me slightly queasy for a brief moment, before I shake it off, taking a deep breath, before refocusing on the lawyer and the scientist again.
"Alright. Three hours until the first birth. That's our window. Can we get Project Sovereign up and running in those three hours?" I ask in a serious tone, getting a nod from both.
"I'll only need one." Jeri says with a confident smirk as she crosses her arms (one now missing its sleeve) in front of her chest.
"I'll need… probably all three, to be honest." Dr. Hall says somewhat awkwardly.
"I'm assigning both Dr. Sterns and Dr. Radcliffe to the Project as well, including as much of their own staff as they can spare to miss. Considering they already began working on the project long before you finally joined Othrys, they should have a sufficiently in-depth knowledge to be of adequate use to you. That should help things along, right?"
The scientist briefly ducks his head at my slight admonition (for the majority of his first day at Othrys, Phineas recorded the scientist kicking himself over and over again for taking so long to join my Think Tank when I was sitting on such a ludicrously large amount of Gravitonium) but he answers with a confident nod.
"We'll get it done before the labour is over Mr. McCole, you can count on that." He says, picking up a thick stack of notes from a nearby desk as he tucks a glass tablet underneath his other arm, hurrying out of frame with an excited look on his face, the feed closing immediately after.
"Do you need a portal back to down-town?" I ask Jeri, glancing at her from the corner of my eye, but the superhuman lawyer quickly shakes her head.
"No need, everything I require should be available here. I still have a room to my name here, right?"
I nod, but before I get the chance to respond a green arrow lights up on the wall, pointing towards the residential area. The fact that Phineas' doesn't pipe up with a quip of some kind is a testament to just how much of his attention is focused solely on Jessica, which makes me smile slightly.
"Phineas will show you the way."
Jeri quickly strides off, following the arrows that light up along the way, leaving me standing alone again, with only the muffled screams from behind me filling the silence. Until it's suddenly broken by a soft, thoughtful voice.
"Interesting. And worrying."
It's only because I felt her arrival and recognized her signature that I didn't react on instinct and lash out with Harpe in hand. Instead, I merely glance down to my left, meeting the undecipherable gaze of the Ancient One as she looks back up at me.
"Care to explain?" I rumble in a low, dangerous voice.
So I don't like the words 'interesting' and 'worrying' when they're said in regards to my children, so sue me.
"Their birth is something… significant, Michael. In more ways than one. We are all products of those who came before us. Those titles you bear aren't just for show: they will affect the course of their lives as well."
"Say what you mean." I rumble, hands balling into fists as an uncomfortable feeling settles in my gut.
"Their birth… this moment… it's a lynchpin in the tapestry of destiny. A crossroads of chances and changes. Undeniable and unknowable. I have a feeling that this… this will have far reaching consequences Michael. One our enemies, your enemies might use against you… if they haven't already." The Ancient One slowly speaks and her eyes are distant, as if she's trying to see something happing far, far away.
"Thanos." I respond, unease now growing into full-fledged dread.
A small nod is her response. Seeing me tense up completely, she elaborates.
"A change of destiny, Michael. The visions have changed, irrefutably so. The entire board has been upended; a new game begun. And I strongly feel… you're not the only one responsible for the sudden twist in the narrative of the universe. You may have to consider the strong possibility that the tale you knew from your previous life now no longer applies."
"He's made his move. Too soon. Why? How?" I press, but the old sorcerer merely shakes her head, a melancholy expression on her face.
"I'm sorry Michael. Truly, I am. But that, I have not yet Seen. Whether by foul design or merely my own failings, I cannot tell."
For a few moments, we're standing side by side in silence as the ramifications of the Ancient One's words fully register with me.
"I need to hurry." I say out loud, mind going over all of my plans at blinding speed as I examine them from all possible angles again.
"Indeed. For all our sakes." The Ancient One responds, patting my on my arm, before moving past me, palm resting against the double doors as she briefly pauses, looking back at me over her slim shoulder.
"Oh, and Michael?"
"Yes?" I respond, glancing in her direction, surprised to see a small, soft smile on her expression.
"Congratulations. May you all live long and prosper."
I blink a couple of times, before I respond with a smile as well.
"Thanks. Also, I didn't know you were a Trekkie?"
"Well, what can I say? Leonard, well, he left an impression on me and I still remember our time fondly."
For about a second, I merely gape at the centuries-old woman.
"W-wait, you and Spock?!"
But before I even got the last word out, the edge of her fluttering robes has disappeared into the delivery room, the double doors silently closing in her wake, leaving me alone in the hallway again.
Shaking my head, I place my fists on my hips, looking through the full-length windows at my side out over Othrys' central courtyard, the sun shining down brightly on my face.
"Right… now what?"
The Ancient One's words had lit a fire under my ass, but in truth my options were limited (which led to the frustration about my inaction regarding Thanos adding itself to the already existing frustration about my inaction regarding the birth of my children). There were only two Infinity Stones left unaccounted for: the Soul Stone on Vormir and the Reality Stone which was hidden Bor-knows-where.
Considering Odin's dad specifically hid it "somewhere where nobody will ever find it"… yeah, that might take a while to track down. The Convergence was still a couple of months off, though Selvig had reported that he was beginning to see the first indicators that the Nine Realms would link up again for the first time in 5000 years and relatively soon at that.
Which meant that I might have to wait a few months before I could claim the Reality Stone, which was bad, but it also meant that Thanos would have to wait those couple of months as well, which was good.
Unless he found the hiding spot of the Aether before the Convergence even happened, which was very bad.
That left Vormir. Currently, the only one other than me who knew that one of the most powerful objects in the universe was on that barren piece of rock was Gamorra, that is if she had found the map to Vormir by now. If she hadn't yet then either I had to find a way to get (someone) close to her when she did, or, if she had found it already… well, then hopefully she'd already burnt it, which basically meant that I still had to get (someone) close to her.
And considering she was probably glued at the hip with my least-favourite person in the entire galaxy… that might prove to be problematic.
However, whether or not Gamorra had burnt the map to the Soul Stone or not would prove to be moot if Thanos knew she'd found it and had tortured it out of her (or rather, Nebula) as he had done in the canon timeline, which would prove to be far worse than merely problematic.
I needed to get Gamorra (and Nebula) away from Thanos as soon as possible, which was easier said than done. It was something that I was hesitant to try myself considering my body was already unravelling at the seams and I would probably need to use quite a substantial amount of my power if I wanted to win against the Mad Titan.
Which brought me back to my problem of general inaction. However, I can indirectly address both issues. For the Daughters of Titan, I need someone who possesses both great knowledge of the layout of the galaxy and the power necessary to break through armies, the Black Order and subdue the Daughters themselves if it came down to that… and I just happen to have the perfect person for the job sitting in my base.
"Phineas, tell Beta-Ray Bill I have a top priority mission for him. He leaves as soon as he is ready. He can take Quill, Rocket and Groot with him if he decides they can be useful. I'll give him the mission details once he's suited up."
It takes less than twenty minutes (twenty-five if you count the exchange of congratulations as well) before I find myself sitting at my desk in my office, my personal version of the Guardians of the Galaxy standing at attention in front of me.
Well, only Bill is really standing at attention. Quill is trying to imitate his strict stance, but is failing miserably, Rocket is eying several of the gadgets and valuables in my office with undisguised greed and twitching fingers and Groot… Groot has walked around the desk and is happily poking my face with a dopey smile on his face, a large sunflower peaking from the top of his head.
"Gentle… beings. I have just received intel that Thanos is on the move."
That snaps Rocket's attention to me, though Quill merely looks confused, whereas Groot… is still prodding me. Bill's blank white eyes narrow, his rumbling Hellboy-voice sounding thoughtful, but unafraid.
"Tell me about it. Thankfully, I have a rough idea of what he might be up to. There are a few weak points in his overall goal, one of which are his own daughters. Gamorra possess vital information and requires extradition ASAP. If you're unable to retrieve her, do not risk her falling back into Thanos' hands, but execute her on the spot. Her sister Nebula is both her greatest rival and one of her closest confidants; it's highly unlikely that you'll be able to get to Gamorra without crossing paths with her as well. Bring her with you if you can, but if she refuses, let her. If she attacks you, retaliate with whatever level of force you deem necessary." I explain, throwing up screens with relevant information, such as the closest guess at where exactly in the galaxy Sanctuary is, as well as mugshots of both Daughters and the members of the Black Order.
Seeing Quill's uncomfortable expression when I mention executing Gamorra, I turn fully towards him.
"Peter. I know this sounds cold. But Gamorra found something unimaginably powerful. It cannot fall into Thanos' hands, or all life is in mortal danger. He will torture the information from her and she won't be capable of keeping it safe from him."
The sole Human Ravager shifts on his feet, a weak smile on his face as he rubs the back of his head.
"I, uh, thought you said this Gamorra is Thanos' daughter, or something?"
"Yes, she is. Adopted, but he sees her that way. And he will torture her, physically and mentally, until she has no other choice but to bow to his will."
Briefly, a heavy silence fills my office (Groot has even stopped pocking my face), before Rocket speaks up with a scoff.
"Sheesh, and I thought my family was fucked up."
"Didn't you only remember the scientists that experimented on you?" Bill asked in confusion, to which he only got a shrug in response.
"Considering they got their hands on me, I'm guessing my family weren't exactly upstanding citizens, if you know what I mean."
"Right, so we go to the lair of the most feared asshole in the universe, kick the asses of everyone that gets in our way and save the daughters of said feared asshole or kill them if saving them proves too difficult. That about right?" Peter sums up, getting a heavy nod from me.
"You leave immediately. Oliver's made ready. He no longer possesses the Tesseract as I have need for it for another, crucial, project. However, the Boom Tube technology Dr. Sterns installed should make travel to the nearest Jump Gate relatively fast, even by Nova or Kree standards. From there, I trust you can find your own way to the objective. Any further questions?"
Seeing a small furry palm reach just over the edge of my desk, I let out a small sigh.
"Any actual, serious questions?"
The palm slowly lowers out of sight again.
"Good. Dismissed and good luck."
Bill sharply salutes, Peter sloppily salutes and Rocket doesn't salute at all. In the Raccoon's defence, he was rather busy pealing a sapient tree off of his boss' face. As the team finally left for their (admittedly very dangerous) mission, I regarded my second problem, namely how I could help Jessica and my about-to-be-born children.
While I was pretty much useless inside the delivery room itself, like I told Hogarth and Hill, I could still give my children a leg up in this world before they were even born through the completion of Project Sovereign. I'm certainly not on the level of some of the geniuses in my Think Tank but my intelligence was still firmly superhuman and my strength was second to none, so I should be of some help at least to getting Project Sovereign up and running before the first of the triplets was born in little over two and a half hours from now.
So, rolling up my sleeves (metaphorically and literally) I portalled to Othrys' lowest level, where the massive team I had assigned was already running around in a mad scramble in a mirror to the situation in the delivery room. Many of the people there waved at me and called out congratulations even as they kept working at a rapid pace, running final tests and security checks even as the last parts of the absolutely massive structures lining the Hangar-like cavern were put into place with the utmost care.
Holden and Sam were bent over a truly massive desk filled with blinking monitors, machinery and exposed wires engaged in a heated debate, but when they saw me both scientists cheered up. Holden called out a greeting and congratulated me by clapping me on my pec (as he couldn't quite reach my shoulder), though he briefly shook his hand out with a slight wince on his face.
Sam just threw any notion of decorum out the window and gave me a massive hug, using his Doc Ock/Iron Spider arms to lift himself up to my height in order to do it properly. Pulling back slightly, I could see tears in his eyes as the egghead tried (and failed) to recompose himself.
"I'm… just… so… happy for you two!" he exclaimed through hitched breaths and overcome with emotion I fiercely hugged him back (though being careful enough to keep from hurting him).
As we stood there, I subvocalised so that only he could hear me.
I could feel him smile in response, patting my broad back and when he whispered back the utter conviction in his voice was unmistakable.
"You're gonna do great."
Breaking the hug with a small smile, I nod down at the big-headed scientist as he lands on his own two feet.
He merely shrugs in response, wide smile still firmly planted on his malformed face. Before we can continue our conversation, Hall strides around the corner, face lighting up when he spots my form towering over the general hub-hub going on.
"Ah, Mr. McCole! Just the superstrength-wielding tower of muscle I was looking for! If you would be so kind to carry that capacitor ring over to section D-4 and keep it place for a moment, that's a good man. Dobson! Where are my converters?! I specifically requested a series of 2 and 4 banks in parallel, or else we can do maintenance on the whole lot every month!"
Without even pausing for breath, the harried looking scientist kept on walking, overseeing everything in his domain with a keen eye and zero tolerance for failure (which, considering just what Project Sovereign was, I could get behind as failure could mean serious injury to my people). Normally I would've taken affront to the brusque way he addressed me, but since I came down here looking for something to occupy my hands and mind with anyways, I decided to let it slide and for the next two hours or so I got lost in the work as we all finished up the final stages of the immense Project.
I was only interrupted in my work by a quick call from Jeri, who had an almost shark-like grin when she told me she had every single possible piece of documentation we might end up needing signed, sealed and ready in her hands, meaning that, on paper at least, Project Sovereign was a success. Sincerely thanking her with an equally large grin on my face, I returned to assisting as best I could in making the Project reality.
As Dr. Hall had noticed, I hardly had been idle during the entire year that it took the prideful scientist to finally drag his butt through Othrys' entrance gate. The plans for Project Sovereign had existed in a nebulous form in the back of my mind before even the foundation of Othrys had been poured and I had been slowly working towards it over time. With both Sterns and Radcliffe having given their own input at one point or other, the bones of the eventual structure had been put in place long before Hall had even set foot on my island. Honestly, all that was left was inserting a proper catalyst and hooking it up to a sufficiently powerful energy supply. I had been on the verge of giving up on Hall entirely and just using the meagre remains of my own Vibranium stores, and had seriously considered going that route when I picked up the truly massive shipment of miracle metal from Wakanda as payment for putting T'Challa back on the throne.
However, with Hall finally in my grasp and his expert knowledge on my relatively vast store of Gravitonium at my disposal, going through those last steps turned out to be child's play and we still had about half an hour left before my first child was due to be born when every last test and safety check came back green.
Dr. Hall (looking slightly dishevelled and decidedly sweaty) stood next to me at the immense desk where I had first spotted Radcliffe and Sterns, said scientists standing on my other side. The Gravitonium-obsessed scientist wore a proud grin as he handed me a silver key.
"Care to do the honours, sir?"
"Don't mind if I do, Doctor." I replied, taking the key carefully from his hand before turning towards the simple control panel in front of me.
It really only consisted of a couple of switches, a keyhole and one large, red button. Flipping the switches in the correct order, I place the key in its slot and twist, long strips of light humming to life all around us in the cavernous room we were standing in, massive engines letting out rumbling roars that made the very floor underneath our feet vibrate. Finally, I moved my hand over the large button, hesitating only for the briefest of moments as I considered the global consequences activating my latest project undoubtedly would have. But then I thought of Jessica, far above me, giving birth to our children and my decision was made before I could really even question it.
My family was the most important thing on this planet, so screw it if in about five minutes virtually every single government paper pusher around the planet suffered an aneurysm.
I pushed the button and the previous rumbling from the massive engines tucked against the walls and into the corners of the cavern roared to life as a steadily rising pitch could be heard, before it finally left the range of human hearing (and eventually, mine as well). The vibrations underneath our feet seemed to increase more than tenfold, until it felt like we were at the epicentre of an earthquake, but Othrys' construction (based on stolen Wakandan designs and built with a fair amount of Vibranium and later strengthened with alien technology and materials) meant that the rest of the structure barely felt anything, which was confirmed by a long list of readouts on a nearby monitor, showing all green.
"Gentlemen… we are live." I muttered with a small smile, which was immediately followed by a chorus of cheers and yells as the team congratulated each other and (most importantly) themselves.
"Can we go look?!" a young voice called out from the back and the sentiment was quickly echoed from all around me, so I laughed and held up my hands in a placating manner.
"Very well. Everyone, follow me, and no pushing please." I called out, creating a large portal off to the side, stepping through and emerging onto the lawn in front of Othrys' towering walls, Hall, Radcliffe, Sterns and the rest of the team following in my wake.
I had dropped us off close to the edge of the island itself, where the packed earth met the cold waters of the East River… which was steadily falling away. Looking up, I glanced at the high-rises on the opposite shore and watched with an odd sense of pride and elation how their top floors, previously so far above us, slowly but surely began drawing eye level with us. Cars shrunk until they looked like toys, people began to look like ants and the air became noticeably colder as the wind picked up in strength.
There's probably a spell for that. I'll look into it once I get the time, it's not a real priority considering the strength of my people meant that nobody would be really bothered by it. Turning on my heel and spreading my arms wide, the skyline of New York as my background, I addressed the gaping crowd in front of me with a wicked grin on my face.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you all… to the sovereign nation of Othrys!"
Cheers and whoops are my response as behind me a flock of birds is startled from their flight as they register the floating island hovering serenely above New York.
After all the commotion had settled down, the other residents of Othrys came out to have a look as well, many responding with awe, though a few (mostly parents with young children) gave the ledge and subsequent several hundred meters tall drop to the ground far below a nervous glance.
Note to self, have railings installed asap.
With all the commotion said and done, I retreated to the privacy of my office as the team that had worked so hard on Project Sovereign took a well-deserved break. Jeri had put her legal team on standby and was already bravely facing the storm of phone calls coming from concerned citizens, to airfield controllers, to officials of New York City, to the US Government and even the UN.
There had even been phone calls already from countries across the ocean who realistically weren't even affected by Othrys' new position in the New York skyline, or it's new status as a sovereign nation.
The most interesting call had come from the Avengers, who had been calmly freaking out about the floating island in their city, but since I could prove that everything was above board (on paper at least), they didn't really have any cause to try and stop me. They were immensely curious though, so I had graciously extended a standing invitation to the team stating that they were free to visit as long as they notified Othrys staff in advance and brought proper travel documentation.
Considering Othrys' rather... unique current location and the people living within its tiny borders, it was safe to say that Othrys Customs was probably the most difficult to breach out of any other country on the planet, so the team of superheroes grudgingly agreed.
Many of the higher officials were outraged, but my time buttering up every sleazy politician I could find (meaning virtually all of them) when I went to collect the Ancient One before she made me the next Sorcerer Supreme had born fruit. Concessions that had been made through backroom diplomacy and greased palms now payed their dividends and every aspect of Otrhys' relocation was perfectly legal.
Not that something being legal in this universe meant someone wouldn't try to undermine it, but that was what I had Jeri and her army of interns and lawyers for. Some calls that came from truly high up she patched through to me and I managed to immerse myself in fending them off for the next several hours with great difficulty.
I had felt the birth of my first child, a girl, not long after Othrys had fully settled and because my new country employed the principle of jus soli, they were the first people in existence with Othrysian citizenship, making them exempt from virtually all laws due to a special diplomatic immunity clause integrated in the official documentation drawn up surrounding Othrys' creation and her status as a princess.
Right, I almost forgot that I'm literally a King now.
Anyways, while I knew that my daughter had been born (which resulted in a near-hour long freak-out until Sam managed to calm me down) she was kept close to Jessica and the large medical staff, being rigorously checked for any dangers to her health by both doctors and mystics.
Not that they needed to bother as I could feel her even from across the fortress, a constant awareness at the back of my mind, registering as a soft, warm feeling, small and yet to fully develop, but still stronger and healthier than humanly possible.
A new god had just been born.
Eagerness and apprehension warred inside my chest in equal measure. More than anything I wanted to run over to the wing in which she was kept and hold her in my arms and never let go of that brilliant, soft little light. At the same time, fear gripped me every time I thought on how it now was my responsibility to protect that little light against a vast and frightening universe, and depending on how either Bill's mission went, or my negotiations with the Dwarves went… I might have already failed in that regard.
Which of course brought on a brand-new panic attack, meaning a slightly exasperated Sam had to talk me down again.
Still, between alternatively burying myself in work and freaking out, I managed to spend the next three hours until I felt a new light come into existence on the edge of my awareness: my second child had been born, a boy this time. This light was stronger than the first, blazing bright as if wanted to burn away its surroundings and ascend high above all else, fierce and eager.
Again the complicated mix of feelings returned, stronger than before even, but by now I was becoming exhausted, my body running haggard and my mind becoming fatigued. I can't even imagine how Jessica must feel by now, though I suppose if nothing else, the extreme pain is good for keeping one awake at least. Frustrated and tired, I sink into the large couch of my office, Sam at my side as I slowly work my way through several bottles of limoncello in a partially-awake state, one eye always on the clock sitting on the wall behind my desk.
Down to the second, after the ninth hour is finished, my third child is born and this time I vault of my seat and nearly burst through the walls of my office in a direct line towards my second daughter, before I truly realize what's going on. The light this time had felt weak, far weaker than even the light of my first daughter and my first thought had been that the newborn was sick somehow. It was only after a few moments, with the entirety of my attention focused on the light, studying it down to its most minute details, that I understood that it wasn't truly weaker, but merely… subdued in a way, paler and more withdrawn.
However, when I felt the little light being moved into the same room as where the other two thirds of the triplets were currently resting, I saw with relief how her own light brightened, a reflection of the blazing shine pulsing from her brother and the soft glow coming from her sisters.
She wasn't sick, or weak. She'd be fine.
An explosive sigh of relief comes from deep within my chest as I slump against a wall, looking up at Sam's worried eyes.
"They're all okay. They made it. My children have been born, Sam. They're okay." I mumble in slight disbelief as a massive smile crosses my best friend's face.
"Well, in that case, you should probably go visit them, don't you think? I'm pretty sure Jess won't need the Ghost Rider to track your ass down and extract some Vengeance if you decide to get cold feet now and bail on them." He jokes.
"… do you think I'm ready?" I ask in a small voice, and Sam's wide smile turns smaller and softer as he regards me with kind eyes.
"Honestly? I seriously doubt that any of us are really ready straight out of the gate. But, I believe that you will give everything you have and try. And that accounts for a whole lot in my book." He says softly as he walks up to me and pats my arm.
Then a wide grin is back on his face again as he gives me a wink.
"Besides, no worries! If you can't cut it, they still got a Godmother in their supersoldier-aunt, a Fairy Godmother in the greatest Sorcerer on the planet and, most of all, the greatest damn Godfather in the entire universe in me. Those kids are gonna be fine Michael, trust me."
"Thanks, Sam. For everything."
With those words said, there's no delaying anymore, no preparations left to make. My phone is still ringing red hot, but Jeri's got it handled for now and the rest of the world will just have to wait until tomorrow.
I have to go meet my new, expanded family.
I'm so dazed that I completely forget I can just portal straight to Jessica's side and end up walking for a few minutes to the medical wing instead (which, in hindsight, was probably the correct move to make, considering that Jess feels rather out of it herself as well and would've probably slugged me out of sheer instinct if I suddenly appeared that close to her). As it is, the few minutes prove enough time for her regeneration factor to kick in, (mostly) having patched her up to her old self by the time I reach the maternity ward and my second daughter has been all cleaned up, clothed and put to bed beside her siblings.
As I approach the doors to where Jess is resting (thankfully another room than the one she had given birth in as that one will probably have to be condemned on account of structural damage), I take a deep steadying breath before opening the door and peaking inside.
There's a couple of luxurious hospital beds, but only one is occupied. Jess turns her head towards me, her hair matted and her expression exhausted with deep bags under her eyes. And yet, when we lock gazes and she extends a hand with a small smile, all my worries and troubles simply seem to… fade. Turned into smoke as if they hadn't even been there.
With a few large strides I cross the room, cradling Jessica's outstretched hands in-between my own as I stand by her side.
"Ugh, don't look at me, I must look horrible." She says, tiredness lacing every word she says as she turns her head away from me with a slow roll of her eyes.
Gently, I place a thick finger under her chin, turning her face back towards me, before I slowly lean in and place the most tender kiss I've ever given on her chapped lips, before pulling back and looking her straight in her (somewhat glazed over) eyes.
"You look absolutely beautiful."
I meant every single word I said.
Jess once again rolls her eyes at me, but her smile grows wider and her grip on my hand strengthens. We stay like that for a few precious, silent moment, before both our heads snap towards the door of the ward simultaneously.
Interesting. It seems I'm not the only one that felt the little lights of our children approaching.
Sure enough, the door opens and a small team of nurses walks in, three of them carrying heavily swaddled bundles of the most precious cargo in the entire multiverse.
No, I'm not biased… shut up.
With beaming smiles, the nurses approach us as I straighten and Jess almost instinctively extends her arms towards the tiny bundles. Two of the nurses steps up to either bedside, and gently transfer the children, no, my daughters, into her arms, making sure to nestle both properly against each side of her chest.
I barely catch a glimpse of soft, rosette cheeks and button noses, before a nurse approaches me as well, holding out my son towards me with an encouraging smile. Slowly extending my own hands, I take my child into my arms, moving at a snail's pace, as if he's spun from glass, absentmindedly listening to the nurse's instructions on how to properly hold him as I nod along.
But then he's there, sleeping soundly in the nook of my arm, looking ridiculously tiny against my massive frame and I fall completely silent, standing as still as a statue. I am completely captivated by this little light.
"So I take it you're still set on the names?" Jess voice breaks me from my trance, and I glance down and to the side as she glances up at me with the largest smile I've ever seen on her, our daughters nestled against her in a secure, but not too tight, grip, sound asleep as well.
My mind flashes back to the Ancient One's comments, about how my titles now reflect on my children as well, and I numbly nod.
Jess merely minutely shrugs so as to not disturb our daughters and looks from them to their brother still almost hidden in my massive arms (seriously, his entire body could probably fit in a single one of my hands).
"Fine by me. I like the names, they sound pretty. Hello, Helios." She softly coos, before looking back down at the babies in her arms, looking from the softly glowing light, to the more withdrawn, paler light.
"Hello Eos. Hello Selene. I'm Jessica. I'm your mommy. Yes I am. I don't know the first thing about being a mommy, but I swear I'm gonna do my very best to figure it out for you guys alright? I'm gonna try and be the best mom I can be and I'll never abandon you, you got that?" she whispers, planting soft kisses on the foreheads of Eos and Selene.
She looks back up at me, still smiling softly.
"Well, pappa bear? You wanna chime in here?"
I open my mouth in response… and realize that I have absolutely zero clue as to what I should say. I looked from the tired, but satisfied Jessica, to the softly snoozing Eos and Selene and finally to the tiny Helios in my arms, who has woken up, turning brilliant golden coloured eyes on me, a curious gaze in those luminous orbs as he locks eyes with me.
As I stare down at my son, a speech from a show I watched in my previous life suddenly rushes to the fore of my mind unbidden, when one of the characters found themselves in a somewhat similar situation. Briefly I hesitate, but ultimately, I can see how it's almost fitting: this new life that I've built, the future that I'm trying to safeguard here, are all coalesced into this tiny being currently lying in my arms.
Somehow, it feels appropriate to greet him with a quote that I once considered equally fictious to the world I have now irrevocably changed and become a part of.
"You are the love of my life. Everything I have… and everything I am… is yours. Forever."
Helios merely glances up at me for a few moments, before the corner of his glowing eyes crinkle and he twitches his arms as a gurgle comes from his pouty little lips and I glance down at Jessica, who's looking at me in slight surprise and a soft smile.
"How was that?" I softly whisper with a grin.
Once again, Jess' gaze glances over our children. Our little lights.
"Perfect." She whispers back.
Fun Fact: Numbers have had significance in story telling for a very long time, especially in folklore. Just look at the Three Bears, the Three Piglets, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves or the Seven-League Boots. This significance in numbers can even be traced back to Ancient Greece and is what I used in this chapter: Three represents harmony, since One means unity and Two means Disorder. As Nine is Harmonyx3, Nine was seen as Triple Perfection. Meaning in this chapter, three births, each lasting three hours.
Huge thanks to all of patrons! Sadly, it's 2:47 right now and I'm dead tired, but I will give you all a proper shout-out in the edit of tomorrow, so check back then if you wanna see your name in beautiful cursive! For now, thank you for your support and your patience with me regarding the dreadful lack of updates. Thanks again, Daniel Dorfman, Luis Zepeda, Carn Kraus, ReaperScythe, Sage Nameless, Garret Cartwright, RC Oprea, Josh Tucker, Kyle Reese, RLStrained, Vu and Roman Krupkin!