"Marvel: Tomorrow Initiative"
Chapter 12: "Secrets and Truths"
Disclaimer: The general setting and background belongs to Marvel Comics; I'm simply extrapolating from current events in that setting and background the possible future of the Marvel Universe. I make no profit from this story except deep satisfaction that someone is reading this.
Author's note: Here is where you learn the secrets of the girl known as Fearless, also known as Karin Kusanagi and formerly known as Aya Gallo. How did she join the Initiative, and how did she come to her decision to leave? Also, what will Captain America, Iron Man, and Warbird discover as they plunge deeper into their investigation of who framed Arachne for the Power Broker's murder and how will that discovery impact their beliefs and allegiances? For the answers to those questions and others, read on.
It had been a day full of tension for Audrey and Karin, and not of the romantic variety. The secrets that lay between them were a chasm, ready to swallow one or the other or possibly both if they tried to cross it. The chasm was the reason they were so near and yet so far from each other throughout the school day.
At last, it was over and the girls were ready to go home. "Your place or mine?" Karin asked.
"Mine," Audrey replied.
Karin nodded and got on her motorcycle, donning her helmet. Audrey got on behind her and took Karin's spare helmet, placing it on her head. Karin started the motorcycle and rode away from Midtown High, though not before Troy and Jenna spotted them. Troy and Jenna exchanged a gaze of mutual confusion.
Karin made it to Audrey's house within thirty minutes. She parked the motorcycle beside the curb at Audrey's house and removed herself from the motorcycle. Audrey got off the motorcycle as well and both girls took off their helmets, putting them in the holders built into the motorcycle chassis. They walked down the path to the house and Audrey let herself and Karin in via the spare house key.
"Where do you wanna do this?" Audrey asked. "Living room? Kitchen? My room?"
"Is the last one an invitation?" Karin asked.
Audrey blushed. "No. Just asking."
"Living room will do," Karin said.
Audrey and Karin walked into the living room, Audrey gesturing at Karin to sit down. Karin sat down and Audrey sat beside her. "Now, what's this Iron Man and Warbird kept saying about you being Aya Gallo and some kind of super-thief? And having powers already when you told me you didn't have any?"
"It starts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania," Karin replied. "I was Aya Gallo, then. At least, that was my birth name. Have you heard the last name 'Gallo' before?"
"It's familiar, yeah," Audrey admitted. She blinked once, and then her eyes widened. "Gallo? As in Johnny Gallo? As in Ricochet?"
"Yeah," Karin admitted. "I'm an indirect relative of his. I suppose that's where my agility came from. When I was younger, I had a natural aptitude for gymnastics. I mastered everything they taught me within days, or rather, I got to semipro level within days. Actual professional level took me a little longer, but it didn't take me that long to get to the point where my parents were talking about putting me in the hands of an Olympic trainer.
"Then I torpedoed all that by getting into thieving. I was looking for a challenge, really. Gymnastics didn't provide that because I was just too good, in my opinion. Thus, I became a thief. I used my agility to get past security systems and take whatever I felt like taking. I was good at it. Really, really good. Alas, even the best of thieves eventually get caught, and I was no exception.
"While I was sitting in a police holding cell, I saw these two guys in suits come my way. They said they were with the Initiative and according to what they'd seen, my abilities exceeded those of a normal human by a considerable degree. They offered to make sure I wouldn't get a criminal record or be sent to juvie . . . if I came to the Initiative for training. I didn't want to go to juvie, so I said, 'Sign me up.'
"I came to Camp Hammond, and it was a whole new experience for me. I thought the gymnastics instructors were harsh? They were freaking Mary Poppins compared to the trainers at Camp Hammond. While I was there, I got pulled away for the Daredevil process. They amplified the parts of my brain responsible for processing and interpreting sensory input, which made my senses way better than normal and had the byproduct of making me even more agile. The side effect was that the fear center of my brain was damaged, which basically wrecked my ability to get scared."
"That explains the crazy things I've seen you do," Audrey mused.
Karin chuckled. "Yeah. I'm the Girl Without Fear. Anyway, I made a friend there, who called himself Sonic Youth. He could manipulate the air molecules that transmitted sound for a lot of things, like selectively shutting out sounds or just blocking out all sound. He could also amplify certain sounds to the point everyone's ears bled or distort those sounds to confuse people." She smiled sadly. "And he made the most beautiful music, too."
"You sound like you were in love with him," Audrey observed.
Karin smiled. "Maybe I was. I don't know. I could have been. Of course, I never really thought about it, given the anti-fraternization rules of the camp. But he thought about it. I could tell from how his heartbeat spiked whenever he spotted me. We could have been something, anti-fraternization rules aside, if he hadn't gotten killed in training. One of the other trainees, a speedster, tripped and crashed into him going at Mach 2.
"Things went to hell with me for a long time. I could barely stand to get up in the morning for training, and it wasn't like the trainers were that sympathetic. We were just weapons to be polished and perfected, human emotions be damned. The speedster got kicked out of training, but not before being dosed with S.P.I.N. to keep him from using his powers as an unlicensed vigilante. Other than that, things went on as though nothing had happened . . . and I could tell that things weren't quite right. I kept asking about whether his parents had been told yet, but the last time I did that, they threatened to throw me in juvie.
"Clearly, I wasn't going to get the answers I needed if I just asked. One night, I waited until everyone was asleep and I sneaked out of bed. I got into my training clothes and I sneaked around the camp, looking for wherever they might be keeping Sonic Youth's body. I found it, all right, but not in the way I was hoping to find it."
Audrey looked at Karin. "How did you find his body?"
Karin breathed in deeply. "I found his body in a lab . . . where the Initiative's scientists were dissecting it. Like he was a frog in biology class!"
Audrey gently grasped Karin's shoulders. "Was it an autopsy?"
Karin shook her head. "No. From the way they talked, it seemed like they were trying to discover what factor in his DNA produced his powers so they could make more like him." She laughed bitterly. "Why not? A sound manipulator could aid the military in stealth missions. Keep special operatives inaudible to the enemy until it's too late for the enemy to do anything other than die.
"But security spotted me. I fought them to the best of my ability, but as agile I was, I was outmatched. They weren't just going to dose me with S.P.I.N.; they were going to kill me so I couldn't talk. The only thing that saved me from that was the X-Men cell that had set up shop there. They sent me to the X-Men cell here in New York, the one led by X-23. Wireless set up a new identity for me using his powers to hack the city database, which is how I became Karin Kusanagi, but it wasn't enough for me. I wanted to see the people who exploited Sonic Youth pay, so X-23 trained me and I became an unofficial X-Man."
Audrey looked at Karin, seeing unshed tears in the older girl's eyes. She leaned forward and kissed Karin's eyes, letting the tears fall on her lips. "I'm here. Always. No matter what, Karin."
"Thanks," Karin answered, snuggling against Audrey.
"No problem," Audrey whispered.
The two girls stayed like that for an indeterminately long time, just holding each other. It was a peaceful moment, until Audrey's parents came home. The sound of the lock turning and the door opening shattered the reverie that had taken both girls, bringing them back to reality. "Hi, Mom," Audrey greeted.
"Hi, Audrey, hi, Karin," Mrs. Hopkins greeted.
Audrey's parents crossed the distance to the couch on which Audrey and Karin rested and embraced both girls in a group hug. "Huh?" Karin asked.
"They know," Audrey whispered.
Karin's eyes widened, prompting Audrey to amend her previous statement with, "No, not about that, the other thing. The 'you and me' thing."
"Welcome to the family, Karin," Mr. Hopkins said.
"Thanks, Mr. Hopkins," Karin spoke.
"You're welcome," Mr. Hopkins said.
Within Avengers headquarters, Captain America, Iron Man, and Warbird were busily studying Operation: Justice Like Lightning. Most of what they found was unsettling. Operation: Justice Like Lightning was the program under which the Thunderbolts acted. The membership at the moment consisted of Terence Osborn, the Goblin and the great-grandson of the original Green Goblin Norman Osborn; Jodi Vars, wearer of a living protoplasmic suit cloned from the Venom symbiote; Kevin Jenkins, the successor and grandson of the original Beetle; Chizuru Yoshida, the cryokinetic Yukionna; Evan Ansara, the pyrokinetic Flashfire; and Manfred Foley, the high-speed lethal weapon known as V6. Despite that, there were a number of other operatives working for the Thunderbolts, which the three Avengers studying them had deduced to be essentially a black operation.
"Hell," Warbird uttered. "We weren't the first ones sent after this Arachne girl. The Thunderbolts went after her first."
"To kill," Iron Man added. "They were going to kill her. They nearly succeeded, too."
"Why?" Captain America asked, clearly horrified. "Why would the CSA send the Thunderbolts after Arachne?"
"She embarrassed them," Iron Man answered bluntly. "She made the CSA and S.H.I.E.L.D. look like fools for not being able to capture the Power Broker with all the resources that they commanded. People with power don't like looking like idiots; their power depends largely on public faith in them and anything that makes them look like idiots lessens that faith unless it's dealt with decisively. Therefore, Arachne had to die, not only to redeem the CSA and S.H.I.E.L.D., but also to teach a lesson to the vigilantes associated with her."
"What about the Power Broker's death?" Warbird asked.
"Considering the Thunderbolts' aborted mission to kill Arachne, I wouldn't put it past them to kill the Power Broker and set up Arachne for it," Iron Man replied. "And I'd bet anything on Venom being the one who actually did him in."
"What do we do?" Warbird asked. "Do we go in and arrest these guys?"
"I don't think we can," Captain America replied. "You know what black ops means, Cara? It means plausible deniability. Since the Thunderbolts are not officially on the payroll of the CSA, the CSA can deny that it gave them any authorization to go after Arachne or kill Power Broker."
"Bobby's right," Iron Man agreed. "Like it or not, there's nothing we can do legally about the Thunderbolts."
"What are you saying; that we should go after the T-Bolts anyway and become outlaws?" Warbird asked.
"We have no other choice," Iron Man confirmed gravely. "Or do we?"
"What are you thinking?" Captain America asked, worried about what his colleague might have in mind.
"An anonymous leak to the media," Iron Man answered.
"Are you insane?" Warbird asked. "Gyrich will trace it back to us!"
"And how is he going to do that?" Iron Man asked.
"He can check around, see who was snooping around about the Power Broker's death," Warbird explained. "Then it's only a matter of time before he finds out which one of us actually talked to the press."
"He won't know," Captain America stated. "Unless one of us actually opens their mouth to him."
"I still don't like this idea," Warbird insisted.
Iron Man stared at her. "I can live with that. What I can't live with is an innocent girl, unlicensed or not, being hounded for the rest of her life by a crime she didn't commit."
Captain America looked at Iron Man. "Do it."
That night, Audrey and Karin were in the Knights' clock tower with their fellow vigilantes when the computer network detected a news bulletin. All the screens instantly displayed the bulletin, depicted by a virtualized image of a reporter. "In tonight's news, an anonymous source revealed that the murder of Wilfred Meyers, otherwise known as the Power Broker, while in a holding cell was not committed by the unlicensed vigilante known as Arachne. The real killer's identity has not been divulged, but it has been insinuated that the real killer is in the employ of the U.S. government via the CSA."
"That's a relief," Artemis said.
"Uh-huh," Iron Cage agreed.
Iron Fist had his bandana off, revealing pale blond hair and green eyes. Tsukikishi had his mask and hood off, revealing a shock of white hair and silver eyes set in a young Japanese man's face. Audrey and Karin were in costume, but sans masks as well. Out of all the formally masked heroes, Winter Soldier was the only one who refused to take off his mask.
The virtual reporter continued on. "Niles Gyrich was quoted in a press conference as saying that any allegations of the Power Broker's real murderer being a federal agent were false and whoever made such claims would be dealt with harshly when they were discovered."
"Of course he'd say that, the goddamn fascist," Iron Fist grumbled.
"Yeah," Nightshade agreed. She looked at Audrey and Karin. "Hey, Spider-Lady. You and Karin make up?"
"Yeah, we did," Audrey replied.
"And then they made out," Tsukikishi muttered, prompting a punch in the arm from Artemis and a mumbled utterance of "Men" from the red-clad ninja.
"I've never seen a young man with white hair," Audrey remarked. "Is it dyed?"
"No," Tsukikishi replied. "It's the mark of those blessed by Tsukuyomi."
Audrey peered at him confusedly. "Tsukuyomi?"
Tsukikishi smiled slowly. "The Japanese god of vengeance and the moon. It is from him that I derive my power. I am his Fist."
"Oh, it sounds crazy to all of us, too," Iron Cage remarked, catching Audrey's aghast expression. That statement earned him Tsukikishi's cold silver stare. "Ooh, scary."
"Don't trifle with Tsukuyomi no Ken," Tsukikishi hissed.
"You don't frighten me," Iron Cage said.
"Ok, we get it," Karin said. "You two are complete and utter badasses. Now be badass when we're actually fighting crime instead of just posturing like little wannabes."
Both Iron Cage and Tsukikishi backed down, not wanting to cross their unofficial leader. "Speaking of fighting crime," Winter Soldier spoke up, "isn't there an MGH ring we still have to shut down?"
"Yeah," Karin replied. "I know it leads to Black Tarantula, but the problem lies in getting at him through these guys. He has an entire chain of command between him and them."
"Then we just climb that chain," Audrey said.
Karin smiled. "I knew there was a reason I liked you."
"Let's go," Audrey said, willing her mask to materialize over her face. Beside her, Karin put her own mask on, becoming Fearless once more. Iron Fist wrapped his bandana around his head, concealing his eyes. Tsukikishi donned his mask and hood, hiding his unusual visage.
Soon enough that night, the Knights were scattered all over metropolitan New York City fighting gangs hopped up on MGH. When Fearless was through battering the gang she was fighting, she picked up one of them and slammed him into the wall. "Where'd you get the MGH?" she asked.
"Some dude," the gang member replied.
"You remember what he looked like?" Fearless interrogated.
"No," the gang member replied. "He stuck to the shadows. I couldn't see his face."
"Then you have nothing useful to tell me, don't you?" The dark growl in Fearless's voice could be heard quite clearly to the gang member. "In that case . . ." She threw him down to join his fellows and swung away on an energy cable.
In the central hub of his headquarters, the Black Tarantula watched as the gangs his street soldiers had given MGH were taken down by the Knights. He couldn't see two of the Knights, even though he knew they were there. Cloaking tech designed for electronic surveillance, he was certain. It didn't matter; he knew who the "omitted" two were: Arachne and Fearless. One had been a thorn in his side for the past year or so, while the other was a more recent nuisance.
He already knew plenty about Arachne, thanks to his moles in the CSA. He knew that the CSA had developed a retrovirus from his genetic originator's DNA and he knew that Arachne had been the unintended beneficiary of that. She was certainly a piece of work, from what he'd seen of her through third parties loyal enough to act as watchdogs for him. She'd be even better if she was on his side . . . which was where his plan came into the equation.
He switched his screens to views of several superhuman assassins. One was a purple-haired woman in a lab coat with metal tentacles writhing around her. Another was a white-haired man in a high-collared black coat playing with a deck of cards. A third was a young man in a tarnished silver costume resembling Tsukikishi's. A fourth was a young woman with black hair, red skin, and batwings extending from her back and her head, the head wings being much smaller than the back wings. The fifth was a man dressed in a sleeveless black outfit with a mask covering the lower half of his face and a headband with a metal bar on the front covering his forehead.
"They'll do nicely," he said to himself. "I just need one more . . ." He snickered. "Oh, well. I suppose I should be that one more. They do need a good leader, after all."
In Milton Labs, Sandra Coley – along with several other scientists – were watching the progress of their latest attempt at creating a Spider-Man. "That's 50 times his body weight so far," Coley noted. "Increase it to 60."
"Ok," a subordinate scientist replied, increasing the weight on the machine their subject was holding up. They continued in this vein until their subject was now lifting a hundred times his own body weight. He still didn't seem to have a problem holding it above his head, so the scientists increased the weight even further, until he was lifting 150 times his body weight. At that point, his muscles began to show signs of strain according to the monitors in the observation room.
"That's enough," Coley said. "No need to break him."
The subordinate scientists reduced the weight on the machine until it was only a small fraction of the subject's body weight. "Colonel Archer, how are you feeling?" Coley asked.
Colonel Archer, a brunet man of lithe build and lean muscle, looked at Coley from the exercise room. "I feel great, Dr. Coley. I could probably take on an army right now, the way I feel."
"On the treadmill," Coley ordered.
"Yes, Doctor," Archer answered. He got on the specially designed treadmill and attached the monitor nodes to his chest and temples. He turned on the treadmill and began to run, building up speed even as he remained stationary. The monitor measured Archer's speed as 65 mph and accelerating further.
"This . . . this is amazing," a subordinate scientist uttered. "His speed . . . it's phenomenal."
The scientists watched as Archer's running speed increased, to the point that he was moving at close to 100 mph. He maintained that speed for about twenty minutes before slowing down to a respectable 75 mph, at which he lasted longer. About two hours later, he was still maintaining that speed on the treadmill without showing any signs of slowing down.
"That's enough," Coley said.
Archer shut down the treadmill and removed the monitor nodes from his chest and temples. "What now, Doctor?"
"Try the gymnastics equipment," Coley ordered.
Archer obeyed, first trying his hand at vaulting. He shot up about fifty feet into the air, twisting gracefully in that same air before landing safely on the other side of the bar. Next he tried the balance beam, first walking on it with careless ease and then flipping forward and backward on it. Following that, he practiced on the uneven parallel bars, performing gymnastic moves that would have taken even the most experienced gymnast a lot of childhood training and adult practice to master.
The subordinate scientists – and even a stoic Coley – watched in awe at Archer's agility. Finally, Coley spoke up. "Impressive as that is, we've seen enough."
Archer flipped onto the ground. "What about these?" he asked, holding up his hands, revealing inch-long talons curving down from his fingertips.
"They're probably how you scale and adhere to vertical surfaces," Coley replied. "And they're useful as natural weapons."
"And my gums itch, too," Archer added.
"Show me your teeth," Coley instructed.
Archer smiled as widely and as toothily as he could, revealing that his canine teeth had lengthened and sharpened. "Is there something wrong?"
"You have fangs," Coley replied. "Like a real spider. Now this is an interesting development."
Archer touched his bare arm with one of his talon-tipped hands, causing the talons to retract upon contact with his skin. "Whoa. Hell."
"A little combat training with your new powers in mind, and you'll be ready," Coley commented.
"Ready for?" Archer prompted.
"The Avengers," Coley replied.
Archer whistled. "The Avengers . . . that would just be awesome."
"Indeed, it would . . . and they would benefit from someone of your skill and ability – as well as your new power-set – on their team."
Archer touched his bare chest with the hand that was still tipped with talons and those talons retracted on contact with his skin. "Looks like I'm the new Spider-Man."
End Notes: This is the end of Marvel: Tomorrow Initiative. Well, not really, it's only the end of the first volume. The second volume begins soon, and each volume will consist of 12 chapters. The next volume will cover a lot, such as the introductions of the future's Ghost Rider, Dr. Strange, Black Panther, and Punisher. New versions of old villains and enemies unique to the Tomorrow Initiative universe will emerge, and some of the new heroes depicted in this first volume will make decisions on where their allegiances lie that could result in some earthshaking changes to their personal status quos. For these events and more, come out for the next volume of Marvel: Tomorrow Initiative and let me know what you thought of this first volume.