Leeann Foreman, better known as the supervillain Whiplash, was having a rough day. Today was to begin her ten-year sentence at the Vault, a SHIELD operated prison in the Colorado Rocky Mountains specializing in containing tech-based criminals. Whiplash wasn't a brilliant inventor or terrorist like most of the people incarcerated there, just hired muscle. But because her electrified whips were classified as high-tech, she qualified for one of the four toughest prisons in America. Hiding her anxiety surrounding her situation, Whiplash kept her expression neutral as the guards escorted her to her cell. Despite her attempts at avoiding eye contact, she couldn't help but notice that the other prisoners were all men. Most were wearing similar orange jumpsuits to the one she had, with the odd exception of a guy wearing a parka for some reason. The man in the parka waved awkwardly to her, but Whiplash ignored him, too surprised at the apparent co-ed housing the Vault had. Was that allowed? As she arrived at her cell, Whiplash noticed a bald African-American man with a goatee in the cell next to hers. Her new neighbor was looking at her, but wasn't undressing her with his eyes like a lot of the other prisoners (and a few guards). His face showed curiosity more than lust. Still, Whiplash was hesitant to trust anyone she didn't know, so she ignored him as a guard deactivated the laser bars that served as a cell door. Another guard unlocked her handcuffs before shoving her into the cell with more force than necessary. The first guard entered in the code to reactivate the laser bars, and the two SHIELD members left her with her thoughts. Whiplash wondered if the bars were the hard-light kind of laser that was as hard as metal, or a less solid kind of energy. Despite her better judgment, she found herself reaching a curious hand towards the bars.
"I know what you're thinking, but don't touch the bars. They'll give you a nasty burn," called a voice from the cell next to hers.
Despite no one seeing her, Whiplash felt the heat of embarrassment touch her face, like she was a child being told not to touch a stovetop. While a part of her was grateful for the tip, she didn't answer her neighbor.
"Hey new girl, what's your name?" called the voice again.
When Whiplash didn't answer, the man kept talking. "Shy, huh? I'll go first then. Name's Curtis Carr, but I also go by Chemistro."
Whiplash was quiet for a while, garnering a sigh from her neighbor.
"Look, I get it. First days suck. But you'll need friends to make it in here. I'm trying to do you a favor."
"Whiplash," the red headed villain replied. "My name is Whiplash."
"Sounds intimidating. What's your gimmick?" Chemistro asked.
"Gimmick?" Whiplash answered, not sure what he meant.
"You know, your talent or specialization. Like, I built a gun that can turn any substance into another compound. I call it my alchemy gun."
"Oh, I uh, whip things. With electrified whips," Whiplash said, feeling flustered. She wasn't embarrassed by her choice of weapons, but it did occur to her that it was hard to make whipping people sound impressive compared to what other villains could do.
"That's cool. You build them yourself?"
"No, they were a gift from my last employer, Justin Hammer."
"Oh," replied Chemistro, his tone indicating disappointment that Whiplash wasn't a fellow inventor.
"Hey, I still need to know how to maintain those whips! That takes a lot of technical know-how! And learning how to use a whip in combat isn't easy either!" shouted a defensive Whiplash.
"Keep it down in there!" barked one of the guards.
After a moment of silence, Chemistro whispered, "I didn't mean any disrespect."
"Whatever," Whiplash said.
It was quiet again before Chemistro restarted the conversation. "So. . . what are you in for?"
"Industrial sabotage," answered the redhead.
"No kidding, me too! Did some asshole businessman try to steal your tech too?"
Whiplash let out a giggle at Chemistro's excitement. "No, but there was an asshole businessman involved. Justin Hammer paid me to steal some of Tony Stark's designs. He even gave me the weapons to fight Iron Man. Obviously, that didn't work out. I was going to enter a plea deal to name my employer, which would have gotten me out in only five years. But then Stark had to figure it out on his own and catch Hammer, leaving me with no way to reduce my time."
Chemistro whistled, "That's rough. My story's a little different. I used to work for this company in Denver called Mainstream Motors. I was smart enough for one of those high-paying tech designer jobs. But instead, CEO Horace Claymore stuck me in some dead-end position making parts. Since that trust-fund snob wasn't going to pay me my worth, I took some leftover parts to build my alchemy gun. You can believe he changed his tune when he saw what I could build."
"Wait, you got your boss's respect? How does this end with you becoming a supervillain?" asked Whiplash.
"I was getting there! So Horace expects me to give the blueprints for the alchemy gun, even though he didn't pay me to make it. When I said I was keeping what I made, he fired me and took the design anyway! Said since I built it on company time, he owned my work! So I designed a sweet costume and took my alchemy gun back to Mainstream Motors and showed Horace what it felt like to have something he built be taken away!" Chemistro was bordering on shouting, just keeping his volume low enough to avoid alerting a guard. Still, his tone had become bitter and spiteful, and it made Whiplash nervous to hear someone go from friendly to enraged so fast.
"Couldn't you have just sued your boss?" asked Whiplash.
"Are you kidding? I'm from a broke family in Kansas. I don't have the money to sue anybody. Besides, suing wouldn't be enough. I had to make him hurt."
"I guess I understand," replied Whiplash. If she was being honest, if given the chance between suing Iron Man and beating him to a pulp, the villainess would take the latter. The thought reminded her of another question. "Which superhero locked you up?"
"Power Man," grinned Chemistro, clearly proud of his choice in enemies. He waited with baited breath for Whiplash's reaction, but unfortunately, she had no idea who that was.
"Never heard of Power Man."
"For real? You know, Luke Cage."
"Doesn't ring a bell."
"The Hero for Hire?"
"Oh come on!" said an exasperated Chemistro. "I guess when you've fought Iron Man, no one else compares."
"I'm sure Power Man's pretty tough too," said Whiplash, doing her best to sound sincere.
"Thanks, but you don't have to patronize me."
"Lights out!" called a guard before the cell block went dark.
"It was nice meeting you," whispered Chemistro.
The chemist sounded sincere, but Whiplash was still hesitant to trust him. People aren't so nice to those they barely know, not unless they want something. The redhead couldn't shake the feeling that Chemistro would start making demands in return for his "friendship." Still, she answered him with a "you too" to avoid setting him off.
"Welcome to the Vault," Chemistro replied.
The shock hadn't quite set in yet for Whiplash on her first night, but by day two the realization was hitting her full force. She would be spending the next ten years of her life behind bars. She wouldn't see the sun, breathe fresh air, or touch grass for all that time. The total loss of freedom was now undeniably clear for the villain, and it made her feel sick. Her anxiety around being incarcerated caused her heart to jump into her throat when all the cell bars were deactivated at once.
"Cell Block A, time for breakfast!" called a guard.
As the prisoners left their cells, Chemistro peaked into Whiplash's.
"Come on, I'll show you where everything is," he greeted.
As Whiplash followed Chemistro, the latter noticed the bags under her eyes.
"Rough night huh? Yeah, the beds aren't great, but you'll get used to them in a week."
"Right, it must have been the beds," muttered the redhead, hiding the fact that she had been up all night stressing herself out.
"All the cell blocks have their own separate mealtimes, where the guards escort us to the cafeteria. Besides showers twice a week, they're the only times we're allowed to leave our cells," Chemistro explained.
"We don't get a place to exercise?" asked Whiplash, concerned over maintaining her athletic build.
"No. As supervillains, we have less privileges than 'normal' criminals. If you wanna stay in shape, exercise in your cell between meals. The guards will allow almost anything so long as you don't make too much noise."
"Is there anything else to do?"
"Sometimes the guards provide stuff to read like books or newspapers. Other than that, there's not much to do unless someone from the outside sends you something."
Whiplash's heart sank at the realization that her next ten years would be painfully boring.
"Don't make that face. Whenever you're bored, I'll listen."
Whiplash gave Chemistro a curious look. "Why are you doing this?"
"Being so nice to me. You barely know me."
Chemistro shrugged. "To be honest, there's nothing better to do here. If you're the only company I'll have for the next several years, we might as well be friends. Besides, prison's hard enough on everyone. Might as well try to make it a little easier."
Whiplash was quiet with surprise at how friendly a fellow supervillain could be, given the circumstances. Even if she didn't know how to express it in words, she was touched at how kind Chemistro was to her. As the prisoners were led to the cafeteria, Whiplash noticed that the guy in the parka from yesterday was still locked in his cell. Whiplash gave him a friendly wave, and he waved back.
"Don't worry about Donnie, someone will bring him his food separately," explained Chemistro.
"Why is he separate? And why is he wearing his costume?"
"He can't survive without his gear. Something about the accident that made him Blizzard. There are a few guys in here like that."
As Whiplash entered the cafeteria, she passed a pair of muttering guards. Despite their attempt at being quiet, she could clearly make out what they were talking about.
"Check out the new girl. Her hair goes down past her ass."
"And it's a nice ass, too. I'm jealous of whatever lady guard that escorts her to the showers."
"Maybe we should schedule a surprise search of the cell block. Wouldn't mind patting that down."
Whiplash felt a chill run up her spine. She knew she was completely helpless if one of the guards tried to abuse his power over her. The feeling of powerlessness filled her with a sense of dread and frustration.
"You really shouldn't stare at the guards, Red. They get suspicious when you do that," warned Chemistro.
"I'm just a little nervous about the way they're staring at me."
"Don't let them get to you. We don't get any real moments of privacy where a guard could try something without being noticed."
Somehow, this failed to make the villainess feel better.
Whiplash took her place in line for food. She expected the food to be served by other prisoners, but was surprised to see robots bearing a resemblance to Iron Man's armor serving the food.
Oh that's right, Stark used to work on projects for SHIELD. I guess the Vault was one of them.
The redhead scowled as the robot-likeness of her enemy placed a danish and a carton of milk on her tray, resisting the urge to punch it. After leaving the food line, she rejoined Chemistro, who had been waiting for her. The chemist led Whiplash past several tables.
"That's Hydra's table. Best to avoid them. That's AIM's table. They keep to themselves. There's the one I sit at. Come on, I'll introduce you," said Chemistro before noticing that Whiplash had stopped moving.
"Maybe it's best if I eat separately," said the villainess.
"What? Why? Eating by yourself marks you as a loner, and is just all around painful. Take it from me, I made that mistake on my first day."
"Well, you weren't the only woman prisoner in a jail filled with male villains," retorted Whiplash.
"Oh, I see. You don't have to worry about that with me. Do you really think I'd introduce you to people I thought would hurt you?" asked Chemistro.
Whiplash thought about it. Chemistro had been nothing but helpful to her, but that didn't mean he would know how his friends would treat the Vault's sole female inmate. As she rolled his question over in her mind, she accepted that in spite of her nerves she trusted Chemistro.
"No, I don't think you'd do anything to hurt me. At least not on purpose."
"Have a little faith in me," Chemistro reassured.
The pair sat down next to a few other inmates. The one closest to Whiplash was a much older man with gray hair and a stocky build. The man looked at her suspiciously.
"Who is this person, Curtis? I don't like you bringing people I don't know," asked the older man in his Russian accent.
"Relax, Dynamo, she's new here. This is Whiplash, she fought Iron Man too."
"Is that so?" replied Ivan Vanko, his expression becoming more friendly.
Whiplash remembered something that might help her win Dynamo over. "Wait, you're the Crimson Dynamo? I reviewed footage of your fight with Iron Man to prepare!"
When Dynamo didn't respond right away, Whiplash worried that she laid on the flattery too thick. Her fears were erased when Dynamo grinned widely and gave her a friendly slap on the back.
"Good girl, learning from the best. You know, I invented my own suit of armor that is far superior to Stark's in every way. The pampered boy couldn't accept being second best, so he accused me of stealing his design!"
Whiplash nodded. "That's so like him. He acts like he discovered the entire concept of armor. Like no one's ever thought to put suits of metal on their bodies before the great Tony Stark did. You think he goes to Medieval museums and accuses the knights of stealing his idea?"
Dynamo let out a hearty laugh. "I like this one, Curtis. She can stay."
Whiplash returned to her cell more confident than before. After the guards had left, she turned towards Chemistro's cell.
"Thanks for what you did back there. I needed that."
"We have to look after each other, because no one else in here will. Little tip: most people here have fought Iron Man, so just by telling everyone you did too, you'll have a pre-made community."
"Thank you, Chemistro. You're a good guy."
Whiplash was having another rough day. Months after the Breakout freed supervillains from all four SHIELD prisons, Whiplash had been recaptured. This time, she was incarcerated at a new artificial island prison called Hydro-Base. Whiplash thought it was risky for SHIELD to make their new HQ and only remaining prison in the same building, not that she would tell them that.
This time it wasn't Iron Man, but Hawkeye and Black Panther who took her into custody, qiuping over her the entire fight. Whiplash had dismissed those two as the Avengers' C-list members, right until Panther had seen her in the dark and Hawkeye shot her with a freezing arrow. The worst part was that she hadn't even been committing any crimes since escaping the Vault. Despite her attempts to lay low, the Avengers had been able to find wherever she hid and arrest her. Unlike many other villains, Whiplash wasn't considered dangerous enough to be sent to the mysterious Prison 42. Blizzard and even some AIM drones had been sent there, but apparently no one felt threatened by a woman who could use a whip. As a punishment for escaping the Vault, the judge added five years to her sentence, which she found unfair given that Stark had set the Vault to explode. Granted, she would have escaped regardless, but she would have been killed if she remained in her cell. Whiplash had never endangered so many people, but everyone still called Iron Man a hero. There was no justice in that.
As the guards led Whiplash to her new cell, she considered how everything surrounding her recapture was humiliating. Superheroes didn't take her seriously, SHIELD didn't consider her a threat, and she couldn't stay free even when she wasn't drawing attention to herself. Maybe this was a sign that being a supervillain wasn't for her.
I'm making a promise to myself. When I get out in fifteen years, I'm going straight. Is this how rehabilitation works? Just get embarrassed while committing crimes until you don't want to do it anymore?
Once again, she noticed that this prison didn't segregate their male inmates from the female ones. As a guard deactivated the forcefield that functioned as a cell door (better than laser bars, in her opinion), Whiplash noticed that the cell next to hers was empty. Another guard unlocked her handcuffs before shoving her into the cell with more force than necessary. Nice to know that SHIELD's guards hadn't gotten any nicer since the breakout. After getting her bearings, Whiplash's thoughts turned to Chemistro. She hadn't seen him since the Breakout, when he had watched her back and led her to the room where SHIELD held prisoner belongings. The redhead hoped her friend was safe, wherever he was.
Whiplash was spending another day locked in her cell when the sound of squeaking wheels roused her from her daydream. Looking up, Whiplash saw two SHIELD guards pushing a hand truck used for moving heavy objects. What caught her attention was what, or who, was being moved. Even covered in gold, the villainess recognized Chemistro's armor, which he had showed off to her during the Breakout. She couldn't see the face under the mask, but the body's pose communicated terror. She hoped it was just a statue until the guards started talking.
"Are you sure he wasn't turned solid? This guy's way too heavy!"
"They said there's a person under all the gold, so I guess so."
Whiplash leapt up from her bed. "Curtis! Who did this to him?" she called to the guards.
One of them scowled at her. "Shut up, prisoner. This isn't your business."
"At least tell me if he's alive! Is there anyone who can get him out?"
"You want me to go in there and make you shut up?" asked the guard as he reached for his stun gun.
The other guard gave his partner a dirty look. "Dale, no need to be an ass. Look lady, we're wheeling this guy to someone who thinks we can chip off the gold. The Avengers said he's still alive, someone just shot him with his alchemy gun."
Whiplash sat back down as the guards continued on their way.
"I don't know why you humored her, Bill. None of the prisoners deserve our time."
"You're all heart, Dale."
Whiplash tuned out the guards. Her friend was alive, but who knows what condition he'd be in once they got him out. Feeling powerless, all she could do was worry over Chemistro.
Hours later, SHIELD had successfully separated Chemistro from his armor-turned-gold. He couldn't walk after his ordeal, so one of the guards had to help him limp to the cell next to Whiplash.
"Muscle atrophy my ass, I bet you can walk. You're just being difficult."
"Give me my gun and we'll see how great you feel as a statue," muttered Chemistro.
Dale punched Chemistro in the back of the head. "Don't talk back to me, prisoner!"
Whiplash wanted to tell the guard off, but knew she was powerless to do anything while locked up. As the guard tossed Chemistro into his cell, Whiplash noticed something strange about the chemist's foot, or rather the lack thereof.
"Curtis, I'm so glad you're alive! But what happened to your right foot? Did SHIELD have to amputate it?"
"Nice to see you, Red. I mean, it's not nice that you got caught again. But I could use a friendly face right now. SHIELD didn't do anything to me, my foot has been a prosthetic since I started being a villain. I. . . accidentally shot it when I fought Luke Cage. There was no reversing it, so I had to cut off my metal foot and replace it. It's a little embarrassing, so I don't tell people about it."
"Where's your prosthetic now?"
"When Enchantress shot me, my fake foot got turned into gold and fused with my armor. They had to remove it completely. Until they can ship in a new one, I can't walk." Wanting to change the topic, Chemistro continued. "So. . . who caught you?"
"Hawkeye," Whiplash said through gritted teeth.
"No kidding, me too! Man, I hate that guy!"
"He's a dick," Whiplash agreed. "Before he froze me, he wouldn't stop mocking me, telling me not to interrupt his stupid banter with Black Panther because 'the grownups were talking.'"
"He punched me in the face during the Breakout! Then he pretended not to remember it by calling me Paste-Pot Pete and Hypno-Hustler!" Chemistro exclaimed bitterly.
"He's the worst. I think I hate him more than Iron Man," Whiplash said, almost not believing her own words.
"Hey, how 'bout we take him out together after the next Breakout!" said Chemistro with the same excitement he always had when talking about a shared interest.
"Curtis, I don't think something like the Breakout happens twice. We got lucky back then."
"Oh," Chemistro replied, disappointed.
Just then, the forcefield doors around the cell block disappeared. Guards came to escort the low-risk inmates to lunch. Whiplash immediately went to Chemistro's side and placed his arm over her shoulders. Helping him up, the redhead led her friend towards the cafeteria.
"Thanks, Red," said Chemistro with a grateful smile.
Whiplash returned a grin. "Prison's hard enough on everyone. Might as well try to make it a little easier."