"Marvel: Tomorrow Ultimatum"

Chapter 5: "Sisterhood of Fellow Travelers"

Disclaimer: The characters that appear here are largely based on character archetypes native to the universe depicted in comics published by Marvel Comics. Therefore, with the exception of characters canonically established by Marvel Comics, the characters here belong to me, but the universe they inhabit belongs to Marvel. Either way, I make no money from this story whatsoever and derive no other profit save for emotional satisfaction that someone is reading this.

Author's note: Never fear; just because Audrey is spending much of her time in school doesn't mean that there won't still be plenty of action. After all, the government isn't going to stop trying to control superhumans just because the president wants to be nicer; as real-world history will show, many decisions made by governments have never been made with the explicit or tacit approval or even knowledge of elected leaders. And there will always be a need for the anti-Initiative resistance forces, as well as possibly an overhaul of the Initiative itself. I will be taking the time to focus on and develop the other denizens of the Marvel: Tomorrow universe here, building them up for the final arc of this volume. Anyway, enough rambling from me; let's go.

Initiative director Don Pym, a blond man with an unusually metallic complexion, looked up from his desk at the woman standing before him. She was moderately tall, with a youthful face and a creamy pale complexion accented by the pinstriped black pantsuit she wore. Her black hair flowed down her back and framed her face in ebon ringlets, strangely rose pink eyes staring out from that face. Full, sensual pink-glossed lips slightly quirked upward, as though the woman was in a permanent state of self-amusement. A quadrilateral ruby gem hung from a necklace on her pale chest.

"Renko Shaw," Pym spoke. "I've heard good things about you."

Renko Shaw smiled. "Thank you. But that's not the point of this meeting, is it?"

"Thunderbolts Mountain being taken out was . . . if I may say, a blessing in disguise," Pym remarked.

"Why's that?" Shaw asked, raising her eyebrow.

"Frankly, the place was a black hole of iniquity," Pym answered. "Operatives got sent there for one thing; they were good at killing, they didn't give a damn who they killed so long as they got to kill, and they liked it. Then there's the fact that the T-Bolts were run by someone with borderline genocidal aspirations concerning those like us . . . I feel that, in time, had he amassed enough power, he would have turned them on even those of us who were willing to work within the constraints of the Initiative. No, we're not going to fall into that same old trap."

"Is there something you're getting at?" Shaw inquired. "Because it does sound interesting."

"First, we're going to revamp the Thunderbolts as a strike force to deal solely with violent resisters," Pym elucidated. "No more going after unregistered that aren't using their powers to commit acts of violence or are nonviolent in their methods of contesting the registration laws. Even with the violent resisters, there will be a better sense of actual threat levels; kids like the New Warriors who are just doing the same thing as the Avengers but without actual license will be dealt with, but not as harshly as people like Wolverine's gang or those women who invaded recently, the ones who have explicitly fought against the Initiative."

Shaw chuckled. "I see. You're taking away the malcontents' reasons to rebel."

Pym looked at her squarely. "Exactly. If we make it clear that we are not unreasoning fascists who just want power and control at the cost of precious civil and human rights, we will win over the more reasonable of the resisters and they may be able to intercede with their fellows on our behalf. By making it clear that we are not their enemy, they will have no reason to make themselves our enemy."

"And what about the ones that still resist? The ones who have no interest in compromising with us out of some deluded sense of idealism?"

"They'll be dealt with."

Shaw looked at Pym carefully. "What's the next step?"

"We need a more aboveboard team in Colorado," Pym answered. "The Thunderbolts are a black-ops team, not very suited for the home page of a news site. A team that's more . . . family friendly ought to also win over the more skeptical in the regular human public."

"Who do you have in mind?" Shaw asked. Pym pulled out a folder and handed it to Shaw, who opened it and leafed through the files. "Let's see . . . Hyperion, Darkhawk, Zeitgeist, Falcon, Chromium, Alchemist, and Nemesis; are they going to be this 'family-friendly' team you're talking about?"

"Yes," Pym confirmed. "They'll be called the Defenders . . . and I want you to be their liaison."

"I'm flattered you would think so highly of me for this position."

"Don't be. It's an honest assessment of your abilities. You'll be meeting each of them to let them know of their new affiliation."

Shaw looked at Kuris' photograph. "The Zero suit. It's been dusted off."

"Yes. The combat abilities it affords are too valuable to waste," Pym replied.

"Yes, but doesn't her look kind of fly in the face of 'family friendliness'?" Shaw inquired ironically.

"The kids will love her. Ninja are all the rage."

Shaw chuckled. "I didn't know you paid attention to that sort of thing."

Pym smiled, his blue-silver eyes twinkling. "I pay attention to what I need to."

"I think I'm going to like working with you," Shaw remarked.

In Avengers Tower, the Avengers rested in the lounge, all of them looking at the man who was supposed to be their new liaison. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man with a close-shaven beard and close-cropped dark hair. He was quite recognizable to all of the Avengers, seeing as how he was the son of one of the most respected heroes in the age prior to the Superpower Civil War. He was Rupert Anthony Rhodes, the son of James Rupert Rhodes, the original War Machine. He stared starkly at the Avengers.

"Mr. Rhodes, it's an honor to meet you," Bobby Stephens, Captain America, greeted.

"Thank you," RAR, as Rhodes was affectionately nicknamed by his friends, answered curtly. He turned a dark stare on Toshiro Kurosaki, the Iron Man, who looked back at him impassively.

Owen Archer, Avengers Spider-Man, looked at RAR with interest. "What do you bring to the table?"

RAR stared back at Owen. "What do you bring to the table?"

"10 years of military experience, five of which were spent in covert ops," Owen replied. "Plus spider-powers."

"Not bad," RAR remarked. He looked at Toshiro. "What do you bring to the table? Other than your father's money and influence."

"Experience and knowledge of Iron-Tech systems," Toshiro replied. "Also, thanks to the nanites in my own neurobiological systems, I can remotely interface with any computer system with my thoughts alone."

RAR turned to Cara Evans, also known as Warbird. "What do you bring to the table?"

"Ten years of Air Force experience, followed by five years in the Superhuman Armed Forces," Cara replied. "Why are you asking us this question?"

"Because I want to know why the hell any of you think you're useful," RAR retorted.

All the Avengers stared at RAR with varyingly hostile expressions. "Just who the f#$% do you think you are?" Brandon McDougall, the Hulk, asked.

"I'm the guy who's charged with whipping your lily asses into shape," RAR answered. "I'm not just your liaison, I'm the guy who's going to make you into a fighting force that this country can actually be proud of. Getting your asses kicked by punk kids. What kind of Avengers are you?"

"I make no excuses for our performance, but will insulting us get you anywhere?" Bobby asked.

"No, I'm just venting," RAR responded. "The point is, you haven't been living up to snuff lately. And I'm going to change that. So I want you to think about what you've learned, what you've done, what you're capable of, and I want you to come back ready to be better than you've ever been."

"So you're not just being insulting for the hell of it?" Mackenzie Larsen, the speedster Blitzkrieg, quipped sardonically.

"No. You may not believe it now, but I want to help you. The Avengers are a proud legacy, and I want to see that legacy continue," RAR explained.

Blaise Jansen, Arcane, smiled somewhat sardonically. "That makes it much better."

"Think what you want," RAR answered.

"So where do we go from here?" Jack, the artificial Thor, asked.

"We go far," RAR replied. "As far as you're willing to go, and then a little farther. That's my job." He turned to leave. "I'll see you all tomorrow morning. You'd better be ready." He walked out.

"Who the hell does that guy think he is?" Mackenzie asked, fuming.

"He's Rupert Anthony Rhodes," Toshiro explained. "Been in the Marines since graduating high school, then moved on to the Armor Division of the Superhuman Armed Forces. Founded and ran War Machine USA before it got folded into the Stark-Kurosaki umbrella. Retired from active combat to be a SAF trainer. Has more medals than the Iron-Tech suits have weapon subroutines."

"Sounds like quite a guy," Eve, Sting, remarked.

"He is," Bobby replied. "He's a man I would have been honored to have the privilege of serving under."

"Doesn't justify him acting like a jackass to us," Brandon grumbled.

"He might have had a point," Cara remarked.

"Oh, sure, take his side," Owen muttered.

"We've been in a bad place lately," Cara answered. "I think Rhodes might be just what we need to get back on the top of our game."

"If we can put up with him, of course," Owen remarked snidely.

"I get the feeling he doesn't like you very much," Eve said to Toshiro.

"Understandable. I am the son of the man who took Stark Enterprises away from his father's best friend," Toshiro answered softly. "I'm used to blowback from my father's decisions."

"Not that fair, though," Bobby observed. "You're not your father. Why should you be blamed for what he does?"

"Because as Iron Man and as his son, I represent him," Toshiro replied. "What he does affects how I'm seen, and what I do affects how he's seen."

"By that virtue, shouldn't you be getting your dad all kinds of favorable publicity?" Owen asked. "You're a superhero. You save lives on a daily basis."

Toshiro sniffed. "Thanks for the compliment."

Within the headquarters of the New York X-Men cell, Peter Parker stared at the object in his hand. It was a black bracer with red sides and a digital clock face surrounded by what appeared to be a dial. The device was a modified version of the activation bracer for the costume he had initially made for Audrey. Contained within the bracer was a new, better costume – one incorporating the best of StarkTech innovations and with a two-way communication link that absolutely did not enable remote control of the suit. He'd learned his lesson. . . .

However, the costume hadn't been made by him. He could recognize vague elements of StarkTech in the suit, but the technology itself was far more advanced than anything he'd seen in his seventy-plus years of living. To an extent, it reminded him of the technology the would-be mutant messiah Cable had brought over from his time. That didn't necessarily mean he fully understood it, but like many scientists who didn't quite understand how certain technologies functioned, it didn't stop him from tinkering.

"You've been staring at that thing since you woke up," Laura Kinney remarked.

"Yeah," Peter acknowledged. "It's . . . it's like and unlike anything I've seen before."

"Are you going to use it?" Laura inquired.

"No," Peter replied. "I'm thinking about giving it to Audrey."

"She's retired."

"I tried retiring. Multiple times. Never stuck. Always remembered what my Uncle Ben used to tell me."

"She's not a carbon copy of you."

"I know that. And I guess that's why I resented her so much. I saw her doomed to make the same mistakes I did and ruin her life the same way I did." He palmed his face briefly. "If I still believed in God, I'd be thanking Him right now that she didn't turn out that way. That she could come back . . ."

"What else would you thank Him for?"

"May. I'd thank Him for keeping May alive, for giving us the chance to be together again. It's just a shame she'll never know her mother."

"She has a mother," Laura observed.

"You mean Cuayin?" Peter asked.

"Yes. At least, that is how she sees her."

"If that's a mother-daughter relationship, it's a little too close for my liking."

"You think they're in love."

"It's possible. Not that I mind my daughter being a lesbian or bisexual or anything like that, but . . ."

"You're concerned it's with the same woman who tried to forcibly reshape the world according to her own desires and ambitions, in a manner not entirely unlike men such as Magneto and Apocalypse," Laura remarked.

"Yeah. I'm just not sure of the hold Cuayin has on May."

"She saved her. Twice. Bonds do form from that kind of thing."

Peter sighed. "Fine. Fine. I'll give them a chance. But if my spider-sense goes off . . ."

"Your spider-sense could go off from any danger within immediate proximity," Laura observed. "It wouldn't be right to assume it was because of Cuayin."

"I have a right to be worried about who my daughter dates."

Laura managed a brief smile. "But not too worried. May can make her own decisions."

Peter turned to Laura, a sad expression on his face. "I just . . . I missed out on so much of her life! So much that we could have shared! That we could have done! That I could have taught her! And I can't get that back!"

"No. You can't. But you can move forward. It's your choice."

"Thanks . . . I needed that."

"You're welcome." Laura moved closer to Peter.

"What are you doing?" Peter asked.

Laura's answer was to straddle Peter's lap, uncomfortably close to the original Spider-Man. "Comforting you." Before he could voice any kind of objection, Laura sealed his mouth with hers in a surprisingly gentle yet demanding kiss.

Elsewhere, Don Pym was looking at the new Thunderbolts team assembled before him. One was dressed in a metallic red costume with a large blue spider emblazoned on his chest and blue highlights on his arms and legs. Another was a woman dressed in a black costume with a red hourglass symbol on her stomach and a multi-eyed visor covering the upper half of her face. A third was a strangely androgynous, almost genderless being dressed entirely in form-fitting black, like a living shadow. A fourth was a man with silver-and-black hair dressed in a dark gray uniform with lighter gray accents. The fifth was a woman garbed in what seemed to be a suit of black living metal with blades and spikes extending from the joints. The sixth was a man garbed in vaguely insect-like black-and-yellow armor with a flight harness that resembled wasp wings.

The spider-costumed man was the Scarlet Cyber-Spider, the result of extensive study and reverse-engineering of the VR nano-graft technology that had transformed an ordinary cop into a rampaging cybernetic Spider-Man some decades back. The woman with the multi-eyed visor was the Black Widow, a composite clone of Natasha Romanoff and Steve Rogers, the Black Widow and Captain America of the pre-Superpower Civil War era, created to exploit the best advantages of the American and Russian versions of the Super-Soldier Serum and further augmented by cybernetics. The androgynous "living shadow" was Dusk, who wore a costume made of a black cloth sourced from the Negative Zone, which enabled "him" to completely blend into the darkness. The man dressed in varying shades of gray was Northstar, the son of Jean-Paul Beaubier, the original Northstar, by way of surrogate mother and a speedster in his own right. The woman garbed in what seemed to be a suit of living metal was Armory, the user of the Tactigon, which had been converted through reverse engineering from a gauntlet into an entire battle suit. The man in vaguely waspish black and yellow was indeed the Wasp and the younger child of Don Pym himself.

"Run this by me again, because I'm having some slight difficulty understanding," Cyber-Scarlet said.

Don Pym smiled briefly. "My friend, we're going to save not only this proud republic, but the world itself. And we're going to do it . . . quietly."

"Quietly," Dusk remarked in a strange tone that made it hard to tell "his" gender. "You mean we're going to be spies and assassins."

"Spies? Yes," Pym admitted. "Assassins? When necessary. In fact, you were all chosen based on your abilities in either or both particular fields. You will be required to undertake missions involving the acquisition or protection of sensitive information, as well as missions involving the protection or the termination of sensitive individuals."

"Like I said," Dusk remarked, "spies and assassins."

"It's not pleasant work," Pym acknowledged. "But it's necessary work. You all signed on to protect the people. Oftentimes, the people need to be protected from the threats they can't see . . . the threats they shouldn't have to see. With your talents and skills pooled together, we can prevent things like that invasion from ever happening, we can stop those kinds of threats from ever doing the amount of damage that invasion did."

Black Widow looked at Pym, her blue-green eyes meeting his blue-silver ones. "Who's going to lead this team?"

"You are," Pym answered. "You have the most espionage experience and the best espionage training of everyone here. You're well-suited as a field leader for the Thunderbolts."

"So if she's field leader . . ." Armory started.

"Then who's your ops director?" Pym finished. "I'd like you to meet that woman . . ." A woman with most of her dark hair in a bun save for one long fringe framing her face and purple-tinted glasses covering her eyes, not to mention wearing a tailored lavender business suit, entered.

"Hello," she greeted. "I'm Brie Wyngarde."

"Wyngarde?" Northstar echoed.

"You're thinking more of my less-than-upstanding relatives by that name," Brie said amiably. "I assure you, I'm very different."

"That's good news," Northstar remarked.

"Not only will she be your ops director," Pym resumed explaining, "she'll also be the one to keep your names out of the press and coordinate whatever official line of B.S. we need to feed the public so they don't get too worried about what's going on."

"Yes, Director," Wasp remarked almost snidely. "Because Lord knows the public couldn't take finding out about us and our dangerous missions."

"It helps that one of you is too fast to be caught by cameras and the rest of you are fond of face-concealing masks," Pym added in a slightly ironic tone. "But take me seriously when I say that you must be maximally careful on your missions; after all, despite Brie's talents at spin, there is only so much we can keep out of the public eye."

"In other words, if we screw up too badly, the Thunderbolts get exposed but as a 'rogue operation' without official Initiative license and any records proving otherwise get wiped," Cyber-Scarlet deduced.

"Quick on the uptake, isn't he?" Brie observed.

Pym allowed himself a brief smile before getting serious. "Yes, Scarlet Spider, it's true. We will be forced to throw you under the bus if all other options become untenable."

"At least you're kind enough to tell us upfront," Dusk remarked.

"'Forewarned is forearmed,'" Pym quoted.

Black Widow looked at Brie. "I imagine we're going to get along well."

"Keep it professional," Brie teased.

Somewhere else, in a dark, dank underground temple lit by candles and torches that revealed walls covered in runic symbols of various cultures, two women in black leather stood facing each other. One was an imposing dark-haired, pale-skinned woman in a black corset and thong with thigh-high leather boots and elbow-length gloves. The other was a smaller but no less imposing green-eyed redhead dressed in a black leather catsuit with a thick belt wrapped around her waist and smaller belts wrapped around her upper arms and thighs. While their facing each other would have looked like nothing more than a soulful stare between lovers, the true nature of it was the cycling of poisoned psychic energy between them, amplifying each other's psychic reach and grip.

These women were the ancient psychic vampire Selene and her protégé Madelyne Pryor, the dark doppelganger of legendary X-Man Jean Grey. Selene had spent centuries, millennia even, manipulating the developments of this world to her advantage. The Hellfire Club, for a time, had been a suitable vehicle for that, but while it persisted to this day, it was more like a forcibly reanimated corpse awkwardly shambling about. The time had come, Selene was convinced, to find a new way . . . and this new Sisterhood was such a way.

Just then, other women began to arrive. One of those women wore samurai-styled silver armor and wielded a katana blade of sterling silver. Another of those women was an attractive blonde in a skintight black catsuit with one-inch spikes running down the front, shoulders, and arms, while her face was concealed by a stitched-together leather mask. A third woman was green-haired and green-eyed with green lipstick and dressed in what appeared to be a black eight-strap harness over a black mesh shirt, the top and bottom straps attached to a leather collar and a leather belt respectively, the belt holding up leather pants. A fourth was a dark-haired woman with an unearthly pallor to her skin, which was only emphasized by the dark clothes she wore, which were considerably more conservative than her blonde and green-haired companions', being a simple leather skirt and tight black blouse. The fifth was a silver-haired but young-seeming woman dressed in skintight silver-and-dark green.

The five new arrivals were the Silver Samurai, Malice, Majesty, Miss Sinister, and Quickstep. Silver Samurai was Mitsuru Harada, the daughter of original Silver Samurai Kenuichio Harada and inheritor of many of the original Silver Samurai's traits, particularly his mutant abilities. Malice was Natalie Richards, the daughter of Franklin Richards and master of "bending," or the outright defiance of the laws of nature and physics in a manner akin to a certain character from a certain science-fiction movie about a virtual simulacrum of reality. Majesty was Alexia Summers, the daughter of veteran X-Men Havok and Polaris and capable of imploding, exploding, or even reshaping any object she "infected" with her energy. Miss Sinister was Claudine Renko, a female clone of the long-gone "mad scientist" Mr. Sinister and inheritor of his knowledge and will. Quickstep was Katarina Shepherd, blessed with speed, strength, and resilience all well into the superhuman range.

Claudine had been the first to join Selene and Madelyne's movement, having grown weary of Sebastian Shaw and distrustful of his actual capabilities . . . but not before birthing two children by him. Of course, there had been some initial problems between Claudine and Madelyne due to Claudine's "father's" crimes against Madelyne, chief among them being using her as a mere broodmare for his vaunted new race of mutant super-beings. In short order, though, Claudine had made it clear that with the Grey-Summers genome still lingering, she had no need to do such an unseemly thing to Madelyne.

The others, though, had been recruited with a combination of various persuasive methods, all of which designed to play on their frustrations and desires to convince them to join. Some had been easier to convince than others, while others were still to this day barely manageable. All of them had ultimately been brought over, and their allegiances kept through repeated tastes of the power and pleasure and respect such allegiance allowed them to have. More than the taste of power, though, the ecstasy of true freedom was an intoxicant to all of them.

"It seems everything is finally starting to come together," Selene remarked. "I suppose we should thank Cuayin and her forces."

"Indeed," Claudine remarked. "Without the deaths they caused among the Initiative's staff and combat ranks, we wouldn't have had the opportunities that we did."

Madelyne smirked. "Your daughter's in charge of the new Defenders, isn't she? And, if I recall right, the Zero suit is being used by someone who could prove to be a valuable Bishop."

"Don't be vague, Red Queen," Malice sneered. "Who is she?"

"Rumiko Kobayashi," Madelyne answered. "I believe our dear Silver Samurai knows her very well."

"Yes," Silver Samurai acknowledged stoically.

"A certain Miss Frost-Summers has been more helpful to us than she's aware," Claudine remarked. "Even if her mother is worthless compared to . . ."

"Compared to Jean Grey," Madelyne sneered. "Why all of you are so besotted with her and the idea of her and her offspring with Summers is something I will never understand."

"Nevertheless, Cousin Ruby has been quite helpful," Alexia remarked. "Her school is a field of delectable morsels ripe for the picking. All that remains now is to find those with the most potential and help them realize that potential . . . in service to our Sisterhood."

The next day, at Claremont-Gruenwald Academy, there was a knock on the school counselor's door. The counselor, a young woman known as Jasmine Wynn, looked up from her desk and called out, "Come in."

"Miss Wynn?" Mina asked as she entered. "You wanted to see me?"

"Yes, Miss Jacobs," Jasmine answered. "Sit down. We have much to talk about . . ."

End Notes: And so ends chapter 5, and it seems that not all is well in the paradise Ruby Frost-Summers believes she has created. The Initiative is reassembling, but is it being compromised from within? Just what exactly does the Sisterhood want and how far will they go to achieve their goal? And what role will Cuayin and Callisto play in this new drama? For the answers to those questions and others, read on and thank you for making it this far.