Don't dance in darkness, you may stumble there and you're sure to fall
Don't write in starlight, 'cause the words may come out real
Don't talk to strangers, 'cause they're only there to do you harm
Don't dream of women, 'cause they'll only bring you down
Ronnie James Dio - "Don't talk to strangers"
"I want him to know, really know, that it's over. To fully realize there's no forgiveness for what he's done. That there is a price and he's finally going to pay it. That there's no mercy for men like him, and even if there is, he doesn't get any. I want him to know this is how it ends. And more than that… I want him to know… it was me"
Some weeks ago
At the FF headquarters
Sam: Richards has saluted Fury. He's about to leave the building.
Sue: Keep him watched. Have the special camera take all possible readings.
Tony: He's casually walking away and... disappears? Sam, is he somehow disrupting the video signal?
Sam: No. Heat, movement, sound, everything matches: he was there, now he isn't.
Tony: Perhaps he's so smart that he can send us false readings to all those systems
Sam: But why? And why bother letting us sense him in the first place? Besides, even if he was there and we couldn't detect him, the air currents would go around him, but they move undisturbed. No, things are exactly what they seem to be: he's not there anymore.
Sue: Hmm. Can you detect a small trail of ion particles in the area?
Sam: Yes, there it is. What does that mean?
Sue: It means that he has perfected the device that we have first worked with, which was meant for instant teleportation. It failed back then, but clearly he has finished one now.
Tony: You mean, the one that malfunctioned because Victor messed with the configuration, and made you five get superpowers instead?
Victor: Shut up, you fool! Richards had all his equations wrong! So wrong, that not even one with a keen intellect like mine could fix them in time!
Tony: Sure, mr. perfection, you can't accept that you made a mistake even if it blows up on your face! I'm sure that…!
Sue: Enough, you two! Whatever happened back then, it happened, it is pointless to discuss it now. The important thing is that, although the Maker eluded us, now we know what to seek. I can configure the readings of this ion particles when they are generated, and next time we will have a clear idea of where did he teleported himself to.
The next day
Sam: There. Richards is leaving the building.
Sue: Let's see. Yes, he's being teleported. And… got it. Hm, he has teleported miles below Manhattan. It seems that he must have a headquarters below there. Of course, we can't get to him directly.
Sam: We would also need evidence that he's up to something. A hidden headquarters sounds suspicious, yes, but is not enough to conclude anything.
Victor: It would be unwise to try to spy him inside this secret location. He will probably have ways to detect such intrusion, he would notice that we are spying him, and we would lose the advantage of surprise.
Tony: And why do you suspect that?
Victor: Because I would do that.
Sam: Wait a moment, I have new readings. He's teleporting again.
Sue: Back to Fury?
Sam: No. He's teleporting to… wait a minute… he's in the Gobi desert, in southern Mongolia.
Tony: What? What is he doing there?
Sam: Whatever it is, even if well intentioned, he's too close to the Chinese border.
Sue: Activate the spy drone we have in the area, and send it to the vicinity of the Maker. Not too close, just enough to check what is he up to.
The camera flew to the location of the Maker, and the FF watched it on their screens. They were surprised when the area got a sudden red tone. But, more than the Maker, they were surprised by what they saw in the sky.
- I'm not sure I understand what I see - said Tony Stark. - Is he making an holographic image of earth in the sky? What for? And why is everything red?
- What is the Maker up to here? - mussed Sue Storm, checking the data and trying to figure things out.
- It doesn't seem to be just an image - reported Sam. - Weird as it sounds, all the readings suggest that there is an actual planet out there.
- But where did it come from? - asked Doom. - A celestial body of this size wouldn't get so close to the planet before being detected. There would be a worldwide emergency right now.
- That's right! Why there isn't any? - Tony Stark suddenly found himself agreeing with Doom, but ignored the snarks about that that he briefly thought. - Shouldn't everyone be seeing this right now? Shouldn't we have all sorts of warnings and people calling for aid? Even if this planet was teleported here, we wouldn't be the only ones seeing it. Perhaps…
He could not continue. The Maker fired a weapon against the planet, which was blown to pieces. They saw a once full planet turn into fragments… and, suddenly, before those fragments fell to the ground, it ended. The red tone of the air was gone, and the sky was showing an all too normal shiny day.
- What has happened here? - shouted Sue Storm. - What have we saw? What did happen?
- Awe-inspiring… humbling… feats dwarfing the wildest imaginations of the gods! - Doom could not believe what he saw
- That was, indeed, a planet - replied Sam, checking data in his computer. - And yes, it had many similarities with Earth. Not just visual appearance: atmosphere, big oceans, one satellite, oblate spheroid shape, size, rotation speed, gravitational field, and some readings suggest a biosphere. But the continents were not quite the same as ours. The distance between their South America and Africa was way larger, we would need a million years for the plate tectonics to achieve that.
There's more - added Doom. - That world had a portion well-lit and another in shadows, but that was not consistent with the direction sunlight was coming at that moment. Something else, not our sun, was casting light on that planet.
- And to add more confusion, I was right before. - said Stark, visibly confused. - I have checked some major news sources, and they are still talking about the usual things. Alabama strikes down the state-ban on same-sex marriage, Obama's State of the Union address, controversy over the lethal injection protocols in Oklahoma… nothing about another earth suddenly showing up, blowing up and the disappearing. That would take over the headlines for weeks. It is as if only us, and the Maker, knew about it. And if we weren't following him, not even us would have suspected. And of course, not even SHIELD in its heyday could have kept something like this under wraps.
- In any case, it's all speculation - pointed Doom. - We do not have enough data to figure out the full details, or to stop Richards from whatever he's planning.
- But are we sure we have to stop him? - Sam tried to keep himself open to all possibilities. - We don't know if he caused this, or if he merely reacted to it. And yes, blowing up a planet seems terrible, but let me remind you that if a planet of the same size as hours got so close, there was no other possible action. Even if it stayed there and did not crash with us, the gravitational field would derail us from the orbit around the sun.
It's possible - Sue accepted that Sam may be right. - But if that's the case, he can't be the only one who knows about this. We'll keep an eye on him, and as soon as he teleports to some strange place, we'll follow and take action.
The Maker teleported himself back to his base, and for some days the FF stayed in the dark about the events that transpired. Finally, the alarm sounded: he had left the base. He was talking with Nick Fury again. As he was in Fury's new headquarters, they saw and hear their whole conversation. Nick Fury was explaining him that he was rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D., and the need for contingency plans for doomsday scenarios. Nothing new. Of course, the Maker did not mention at all the incident of the other earth. And then he left, again to his base. Two days later, he left it again. According to the readings he went to a forest in the northern Patagonia, in Argentina. Again a strange location, so the FF got in their ship to try to get him and intervene in whatever he was doing. They had another camera monitoring him in advance. And then, a new earth shows up in the sky. Only in there. And the air, that had a red color before, now was blue. But, before even the Maker could do anything, it ended. He did not fire anything to the planet, he could not even touch his machines, the planet simply exploded a few moments after showing up. And more, a group of people fell from the other planet as it was exploding. So the FF halted their ship and tried to figure out those new events. One of the new visitors simply stood up, as if the fall had been just a mere inconvenience, and said "soon, my sweet mistress. But not yet." Stark was the first one to talk.
- Well, well, that is surely a group of super villains, or a group of really ugly people. Except for that white broad, grrr. Anyone of them ring any bells?
- The one to the right, he surely looks like Namor. He does not have the same clothes, but he has pointy ears, wings in his feet and a similar arrogant gesture. Of course, we all know that Namor is dead- pointed Doom. - And the one with the curly hair seems to be one of the Inhumans I met in that zombie dimension, but of course not a zombie.
- In any case, this seems to confirm that we are dealing with alternate universes here. Those earths are from other universes, and for some reason both ones become visible to the other. Those people moved here from there, so it stands to reason that they could see our planet just as we saw theirs. Don't you agree… -Sam turned to ask input from the Invisible Woman, but he was surprised when she saw her pale and in shock. - Sue! What's happening? You seem like you saw a ghost!
- That one… the purple one… that's Thanos! Thanos! - was her shocked answer.
- Thanos… - said Sam, as if remembering something
- Thanos? What's a "Thanos"? - asked Stark - What do you mean?
- That's Thanos, the king of Acheron! Or an alternate version of him, perhaps, but that's a face I will never forget! He's a galactic dictator, he once influenced Reed to create the Cosmic Cube to get infinite power, he used it to destroy earth, and intended to do the same all over the galaxy!
- Are you sure about that? - asked Stark. - I mean, I think I would remember it if our planet was destroyed.
- You don't remember it, -Sue slowly came back to her senses - because we managed to get the Cosmic Cube from him, kill him and roll everything back to normal. We erased earth's destruction from history.
- I see. There was a form of ontological inertia then, allowing you four, and only you, to remember things from a timeline that you erased. - pointed Sam. - In any case, it's safe to assume that this isn't the same Thanos, but a Thanos from another universe. In any case, it's bad news. Tackling the Maker alone was one thing, but now that he's with this Thanos and those other people, they may outgun us. We need some plan.
- Do you know something about this Thanos? - asked Doom. -The way you said his name earlier, it seemed that this isn't the first time you heard it.
- Nothing relevant at this point - dismissed Sam. - But what are they up to? Their Namor has some numbers floating over his hand, and they seem to be giving some instructions to the Maker. Wait, he's materializing something… a bomb! According to the readings, that bomb has enough power to blow the whole planet!
- Wait a moment- said Stark, -there is another earth in the sky, again! And those people… are leaving? With the bomb? And the Maker is staying behind?
- That's our chance! - Sue finally found the right moment to take action. - We have to go, stop the Maker, prevent him from setting off that bomb, and cut him off from his newfound allies!
The ship landed and the team approached the Maker, with Sue keeping them invisible. When they were close enough, she dropped the invisibility and shouted "Maker!". He turned, completely surprised. "Sue? What are you…?". They did not took any chances. Sue attacked with her forcefields, Sam with his machine guns, Iron Man with his missiles, and Doom with his bazooka. Their combined firepower took the Maker down, but also destroyed his machines. The bomb blew up on the other planet, and the portal closed. Nobody returned from it.
The Maker woke up some minutes later, and found himself trapped inside one of Sue's forcefields. "You should have killed me while you had the chance", he said.
- My sentiments exactly- replied Doom to his old enemy. - That's exactly what I have told them, that we should not take any risks and kill you while you were down. But Dr. Storm refused. She said that she had two reasons to wait for you to wake up, and considered that you wouldn't be able to escape from her forcefield anyway.
- You are alive, Maker, because I want to know why are you doing this. - said Sue with a harsh and severe tone of voice. - When you visited that other world, during Galactus' attack, you saw that our alternate selves got married and had a daughter. You claimed that it changed your perspectives, and tried to atone for your crimes since then. But now, we have been following you, and we found this. You are destroying worlds in secrecy! You allied yourself with an alternate Thanos, and gave him a bomb to destroy yet another world!
- What do you mean, that I destroyed that world? It was you! - replied the Maker with his sarcastic voice. -With your ill-conceived attack, you destroyed my machines and the bomb exploded earlier! Those deaths are your fault!
- Don't try to play games here.- Sue did not buy his manipulation for a second.- It was you who made that bomb and send it there. So what if we had not been here? You would have detonated it all the same, just a minute later perhaps. No, you are still alive because I want to know why. I need to hear the reason for all this.
- Because I dream a millenium into the future, and wake up to this reality. I am not an idea that can be erased on a whim. I changed… and there is no going back...
- Save the poetry for the birds, Maker! - interrupted Sue. -I want the truth, the real truth!
- The truth? You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Tony Stark? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom…
- Please, Reed. - Stark calmy interrupted him. Doing a Jack Nicholson impression is below you.
- Yes, you're right Stark.- he replied. - I think I simply couldn't resist it. Very well, the truth. Yes, when I saw the photo of that other Richards and his family, I questioned my own actions, and sincerely tried to atone for my crimes and make amends with you. I opened my heart, I declared my love and… what did you do? You tried to cut my stones! Just because the pig of destiny said so!
- What? - Sue had her eyes wide open, unable to believe it. -You have been destroying world after world… because of that?
- I don't expect you to understand it. - replied the Maker in disdain. - I may be the most intelligent man that ever walked the earth, but still, I'm a man. You are not. And there's nothing more sacred for a man than his… personal parts. But don't take my word for it: you have three other men with you. What do you say, guys? Can you swear that you wouldn't become the most terrible villains if someone cutted your stones?
- Don't be absurd!- yelled Sue. -Do not compare yourself with them! They are heroes! Even Doom! They wouldn't… - and she turned, expecting support, but they were all embarrassed and looking guilty.
- Well, if you put things in those terms…
- He may have a point there, y'know…
- I refuse to lower myself to this discussion. - Doom soon recovered his arrogant stance. - It is true that I do not have a reproductive system since my body mutated to its current state, but given my reputation, I'm sure that Richards would try to use me to justify his pathetic point.
- AAAARRGGHHHH! MEN! Men you had to be! I hate you! I hate you all!
- Dr. Storm, remember that you insisted that you wanted to know. You wanted to hear why, now you had heard it. - pointed Doom, without losing his cool. - We should proceed.
- Ah, yes. You mentioned that you had two reasons for waiting me to wake up. Which is the second reason, then? - asked the Maker, again with his sarcastic tone. Sue recovered then the harsh and severe tone.
- You are alive, to know that everything is over. There is no forgiveness, escape or redemption for you. You will pay the price for everything you have done. I wanted you awake to know that you were about to die, and I wanted you to know that it was me who killed you. - the Maker simply started to laugh.
- Ha, ha, ha! Nice speech! But how do you expect to kill me, exactly? Your forcefields are useless against me! You may contain me, but what then? Crushing me won't do me any harm, and you can't suffocate me because I don't breathe. And you can't pierce me either… now that I think of it, my stones were quite safe from you!
- That may be true, if I was just a mere housewife with superpowers. - replied Sue with a slasher smile. - But I'm a great scientist, remember? I can shape the forcefield into a circular tunnel, like a small version of the Large Hadron Collider, and use an extra forcefield inside to push you in it. My forcefields do not generate friction, so they can accelerate the speed without limit. But your body… yes, it can surely resist the friction of the air better than most other substances, but at one moment it will move so quick that it will disintegrate, like any small object would do during atmospheric entry. I don't know which is that speed, but we will find out together.
- Very well, - said the Maker, after being speechless for some moments.- If I have to go, I guess that this way is fitting, and may work. Can I say some last words? - Sue made him a gesture, and he proceed.
- This is not over. According to my calculations, there are only two alternate universes left. Our own one, and the universe of the adult Peter Parker and those uses that are happily married. The incursion will take place in, roughly, a week, in New York. The only way this universe can survive is by destroying the other. There is no other way. I am the most intelligent human that ever lived and could not find another way, do you think you will? You claim to have the moral high ground, but I would like to see how do you get out of this mess and keep your precious principles intact.
- Duly noted.
- Goodbye, Sue.
- Goodbye, Reed.
And then it started. At first, it was clear that Sue was moving the maker inside the invisible circular tunnel. Then it started moving faster than the naked eye could follow. Then it was moving so quickly that it turned into a complete ring of color. And then it started to vanish, and finally nothing remained. Sue fell to her knees. Sam approached her.
- Don't worry, Sue. At last, it is over.
- No! It isn't! Haven't you heard? There is another incursion coming! This is bigger than us, this is not something we can handle alone. We need Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. We need Spider-Man, the new Ultimates, the remaining X-Men. All those who are still around. We have to assemble them all.
What's hell without a paradise
What's the night without a day
We would think it's bright
What's a fall if we can't rise
What's a hero at a play
Without a fool to fight
We live to fight the hand of doom
We got the pride to strike a fool
Vain glory be my wicked guide
We live to fight the hand of doom
We got the pride to strike a fool
Vain glory be my wicked guide
Edguy - "Vain Glory Opera"