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Marvel 2000 Presents

Force Works 44

"Summer of Terror."

Epilogue

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Washington DC

"You understand what is expected of you?"

"I do."

"You understand what will happen to your team if you don't?"

"I do."

"Because if you even think…"

Namorita Prentiss clenched her fist with enough strength to be heard.

"I think that if I reveal the truth, then everyone involved will be discredited instead of this nice illusion we're putting up to let us all move forward," said the Submariner, "I'm playing nice. Don't think that means you can threaten me and mine."

"Remember your lines and we'll never know."

oooOOoo

"…are you telling this committee that General Davis approached your team regarding this mission?"

"Yes, that is correct," Namorita said.

"Were you aware at that time that the General was under investigation for misconduct?"

"No, Senator, I was not."

Richard Rider, Nova, glared daggers at the TV screen. He, Mirage and Charcoal were in the media room, watching their friend and teammate testify to congress.

"This is bullshit," Nova growled, "she's lying under oath. If those assholes renege on us…"

"They'll go down and we'll be fine," Mirage said. She rubbed the back of her neck, trying to relieve the nervous tension that was folloding her body, "your girlfriend is part of the royal family. Regardless of what's going on in Atlantis, she'll always enjoy diplomatic immunity."

"What, she's not telling the truth?" Charcoal asked.

"No," Mirage said through gritted teeth, "this is something Washington wants in return for not trying to crucify us for how the mission went."

"Thought we had their permission," Charcoal said, "also, isn't lying to congress treason or somethin'?"

"We did, and it's perjury," said Mirage.

"Wasn't our fault things went sideways, either!"

"Agreed," Nova said.

"And they still would have kicked our ass for it?"

"Yup."

"That sucks," Charcoal said, "so can I have the TV? I just started Breaking Bad, and…"

Nova and Mirage glared daggers at Charcoal.

"…and I can watch it in my room. Right."

oooOOooo

Tarene was wandering aimlessly, when she heard her teammate shrieking.

"Noooo!" Technocrat screamed, "nononononono stop, don't, please!"

Tarene grabbed her war mallet, and smashed through the wall of reinforced steel and concrete as if it were tin foil. She saw Technocrat at one of his computers, hands on his head and Tarene would have sworn, on the verge of tears.

"Taki, what is it, what's wrong?" Tarene snapped her head from side to side, looking for any cause of distress.

"Everything!" Terchnocrat pointed at his computer. Tarene didn't exactly understand what was going on, but the dozens of pop-ups that said 'file not found' and 'connection terminated' were a fairly obvious clue that something was wrong.

"Are we being hacked?"

"I only wish!" Technocrat spat, "the government's locking us out of all their superhuman databases!"

"…we are in the government's computers?"

"We were!" Technocrat slammed his hand on the keyboard, "just like the Avengers, FF and everyone else who jumps through their hoops. But now we're locked out, all because of that damn mission! They think we're compromised!"

"So…what does that mean?"

Taki slumped back in his chair, "It means we won't be able to find low level villains when we need a media bump, won't be able to find targets that we want…we won't be able to stay active, much less pro-active!"

"We could try to focus more on community based outreach," Tarene suggested.

"Don't be a fool!"

"Stop yelling at the poor girl," Bruce Hoffman strolled into the room, and surveyed the damage, "unless you're doing it because she made a hole in the wall. What is with you super types and wanton destruction?"

"…there was no door," Tarene said sheepishly, "at least, there wasn't."

"Right…," Bruce rolled his eyes, "anyways, I need to talk to you, kid. Before they cut us off, we might have caught us a whopper. I need you to verify it."

"Did you not just hear me? We're out! If they catch us…!"

Hoffman dropped a manila folder in Technocrat's lap.

"Take a look."

Taki did.

"Oh…oh my."

"Yeah. So figure it out, because this fish? It could solve all our problems."

oooOOooo

Dining Room

Clarice Ferguson, Blink, watched Namorita's testimony in front of congress, the sound muted. She picked at her lunch, not too terribly hungry, but she still had the old soldier instincts that encouraged her to eat whenever food was available.

"That works better with the sound," observed Irene Basheda.

"They're not saying anything I want to hear," said Blink.

"Then may I ask why you're watching it?" Irene said, "or, more to the point, what's troubling you?"

"We spent weeks on this thing," Blink sighed, "weeks drilling, drafting up contingency plans, and it went all to hell in less than twenty minutes, and now two countries are breathing down our necks, and don't get me started on the pundits."

"It's not easy making the hard choices," Irene said, "but if it hadn't been for you, those children would still be there, in that terrible camp."

"It's not that, it's just…" Blink sighed, "I know we did good. But after all that effort, only to get crapped on, it just makes it hard to take that win, ya know? And man does that sound selfish out loud."

"It only sounds human to me," Irene said, "believe me, you're not the only person in the world to be discouraged by the reaction of the public to a good deed."

"I don't need a pat on the back, but…"

"But you don't need people second guessing you, either," Irene said, "you put your life on the line, you made hard choices in battle, did the best you could and now people who were never there are questioning every action."

"That's about the sum of it," Blink said, "in a fight, there's nothing more important than your instincts, and this mission has made me begin to doubt them."

"I wish I could say that it gets better," Irene said, "but unfortunately, that's the nature of Force Works. There will always be people who disagree with what we do, and they will have some valid points."

"Yeah, I know," Blink said, "I know, but that may be a problem…"

oooOOooo

Mandipoor

Josh Eaton didn't bother to check as he opened the door to his motel room. In his profession, he relied on anonymity. If someone knew where he was, they'd be on him like a starved dog on a steak.

"Another day, another launder," Josh sighed. He'd just negotiated a deal between some of the Mandarin's people and Hydra, earning himself a two million dollar commission, but acting as the mediator for men used to resorting to murder over the slightest offense was nerve wracking at the best of times.

He took off his jacket, and tossed it on the bed. He went to the bathroom, splashed some water on his face, and when he looked at the mirror, he saw a beautiful young woman who hadn't been there a moment before.

"Duchess, right? Is this about a job, or a kidnapping?" Josh asked.

"Neither," Duchess said, "this is murder."

Josh's eyes went wide, but to his credit he didn't panic, "You do know about my black box, right?"

"I do," Duchess said. She nodded over her shoulder, and Josh saw himself.

"Latest life model decoy?" Josh said, "it won't do anything about my various log-ins and weekly contacts."

"We know."

Josh just shrugged. He'd been on the wrong side of the law long enough to come to terms ith the fact that he wasn't going to die a natural death. His mother would be cared for, his son would never know the life he'd been forced to lead, and his black box contingency would ruin the lives of the clients he secretly hated, but could never move against in life.

"Well then, what are you waiting for?"

oooOOooo

Elsewhere

Adam Sol, The X-Treme, swung his sword with a dismissive, casual ease, slicing two Dreadnaughts in twain.

William Bitzer, alias Techmaster, shook with fear as X-Treme effortlessly destroyed the twenty thousand dollar robot he'd purchased for self defense. The alien warrior had an utter disregard for everything he'd thrown at the hero, and the man wasn't alone.

"These things are older than me!" Arsenal observed as he tore apart a ten foot tall sentinel.

"It's like antique's week, only with cool stuff," Sabre said. She pulled one Sentinel apart at super speed, then reassembled it again.

The steel giant tipped forward, and fell apart into a pile of junk.

"Hey guys!" Sabre said, "modern art!"

In under a minute, Techmaster had watched his defenses shredded as if they were made of tissue paper, and he was left at the mercies of X-Treme.

"Now then," X-Treme wiped some oil from one of his sharper knives, "we have some questions we think you could answer."

Later

"I still think you should have roughed him up some more," Sabre muttered, "he didn't tell us anything!"

"Because he didn't actually know anything," X-Treme said, "that's how things goes, leads don't always pan out."

"Yeah, but we've been at this for days, and we still have no stinkin' idea who hired the Serpent Society!" Sabre huffed, "we need a new approach!"

"We should keep with this," Arsenal said, "we turn over enough rocks, and we're bound to find something."

"But so! Boring!" Sabre whined.

"Fine, then get a real job," Arsenal said.

"Okay, who do we beat up now?"

"We go home," X-Treme said as they piled into their jet, "that was our last solid intel that we had. Now we have nothing, unless the brain trust can scrounge up something new."

"And if they can't?"

"We'll be fine," Arsenal said dismissively, "I'm sure Taki and Dani already have something for us. We need to just keep shaking down the middlemen."

"I don't know," X-Treme said, "we've been doing it for a week now without a single h'ahn to show for it."

"We just need to try harder!" Arsenal protested.

"No, it means we need to face reality," X-Treme began going through the jet's start up sequence, "we were ambushed, taken to class…"

"Taken to school," Sabre corrected.

"Whatever, we were ambushed by professionals in the middle of a secret mission, nearly killed and over a week later, we still have no idea how it happened."

"Sounds bad when you say it like that," observed Sabre.

"It should," X-Treme said, "because it could happen again, and it'll be even worse."

oooOOooo

Elsewhere

"I…saw yuir team on the telly," Reverend Craig said with the care most men reserved for walking through a minefield, "how…are ye holding up?"

Father and daughter had met for dinner, but Rahne's heart was hardly in it. She was glad that Adam was on a mission, if only because his absence made this whole thing a little less awkward.

"My team is doing just fine," Rahne Sinclair snapped, despite herself.

She didn't want to feel the anger that she felt, the disgust. After all, the man sitting across from her was her father, her own flesh and blood.

But at the same time, in its own way that was reason enough to hate him. Craig may have been her father, but to Rahne, growing up, he was more her own personal boogey man than he was ever blood. He abused her as a child long before her mutant powers developed, and when those emerged, he was the man leading the mob, declaring her a demon without regard for the fact that he raised her her entire life.

But part of that upbringing was included a faith ironically instilled in her by the once hateful man that sat across from her, a faith that insisted she forgive him for the terrible upbringing she suffered through.

"Rahne, please, I don' mean tae tell ye yuir business, I'm jus' tryin' to help…"

"Well, if you must know, our latest mission was a complete disaster…"

"The Special forces team that accompanied us have no doubt lost their careers by now…"

Specialist Jack O'Hare dropped his dog tags into the bay, and sighed.

"Ya know, I kinda like that name."

"In our profession, it never pays to get attached to a name," said Corporal Henderson, as he followed suit, "say, who won the pool?"

O'Hare shrugged, "Everyone surviving, and mission accomplished? Who do you think won?"

"Well, guess that means it'll be bigger next time then."

"An army of superhumans were unleashed on the North Korean country side…"

Jun Young motioned for his friends to stop. With his lizard like skin and strength, his friends considered him the natural to act as point man. But those physical assets paled in comparison to the enhanced senses, which enabled them to avoid the army patrols.

"We're only a half mile from the camp."

"We should hit them now!" said Sung-Ho, cursed with cybernetic arms, "get them while they sleep!"

"Better we hit them after drills, when they're exhausted," replied Jun, "and then we free our families."

"Dozens of children revealed as mutants, and God only knows how their family will take that," Rahne spat. She felt a bitter sense of satisfaction, watching her father wince.

Jin Dae Kim shook as his mother towered over him.

"You're a mutant?"

"Yes, but…"

"And you never told us?"

"I was afraid! I heard what happened Daigo, when his parents found out…!"

"I'm not those idiots!" she snapped, "Jin, I love you! I'm just hurt that you felt you had to keep this secret from me!"

"But if there was one bright spot in all this mess, it's that the sociopathic leader of the Apocalypse Dawn is dead."

"Anyone dares stand in my way, everyone dies. Stand aside, and live one more pathetic day."

Gorgon limped away from the smolder crater, his sword dragging on the ground. The North Korean soldiers gave him a wide berth.

"I'm just glad we can begin to put this entire mess behind us."

A terminal inside of Force Works' tower sent a short, coded burst.

Halfway across the world, the burst was received, and message translated.

"Phase one complete. Beginning phase two."

Next Issue: Phase two begins, as Force Works finds itself in the deadliest trap yet!