A Mighty Tale Told in the Mighty Marvel Manner!
Rumble in the Desert
Buddy Simone coughed and scratched at his unkempt beard as the front desk bell rang. Dragging himself from his overstuffed easy chair, Buddy staggered into the front office. "Yeah?"
Two young men were standing in what passed for a lobby. The first one was short and almost as wide as the desk. "Greetings fair innkeeper, may we humble travelers perhaps enquire about lodgings for the night?"
Buddy had been a hotel clerk for nigh on fifty years, and easily slipped into his role with a polished precision. "Ten bucks for the night, twenty for the both of you."
The second man grumbled something under his breath. Buddy raised an eyebrow at him. He was dressed similar to his companion, but the oddest thing about him was his bright red sunglasses. "Hey, how come you got those weird shades on fella? You blind or something?"
"Yeah." He nodded and left with the larger fellow after the latter produced two crisp ten dollar bills. Buddy handed the big guy a key, blinking when his hand was almost completely swallowed up by other's hand.
"Huh, weird bunch of dudes." Buddy pocketed the money and went back to his television set.
"Well, that went well." Scott Summers loosened his tie and flipped on the light to the room.
"Oh come now, fearless leader, didn't I act the part of weary traveler?" Hank McCoy slipped off his custom made shoes and stretched his feet out.
"The Professor said low profile. We don't want to expose ourselves."
"Yes, and I'm sure a few words with more than one syllable has our manager calling the police as we speak." Hank perched on the back of the sole chair and popped his back.
"You never know. Right now we maintain our cover and we find what we're looking for."
"And how do we know this so-called Hulk is even a mutant?"
"We don't, but Cerebro showed us that there is a mutant in this area, one of incredible power. We have to make contact before he or she gets exposed."
"Then I suppose we'll have another addition to the X-Men's ranks no matter what, eh?"
Far off the beaten path, past twisted wrecks of what were formerly automobiles and airplanes, sat a small shack. Betty Ross opened the door and took in the familiar sight as she made her way to the small stall that functioned as her shower. Turning the faucets all the way, she stepped back as the water first poured a deep red before finally clearing up. Stripping off her shorts and shirt, she slipped inside the stall and quickly scrubbed herself before the hot water ran out.
She had been living quietly here for a few weeks. Ever since she left the Army, she had been on the run. The occasional radio broadcast or newspaper told her that no one was looking for the Hulk. Her father may have been the one behind that.
Stepping back out, she shut off the water and toweled herself dry. Dressing, she slipped on a pair of boots she kept hanging from a nearby post before heading towards town. "I want to help people, but I don't want to end up like my mother. How can I convince them to leave me alone?"
She thought about the Hulk. Since she left, she had found her ability to transform into the gray skinned goliath to be as unpredictable as ever. Her mind was still clear though, and for that she was thankful, but there was something else bothering her. Sometime she would change in her sleep. Her shack already showed signs of the occasional foot or hand being accidentally showed through the flimsy wood. She had heard no mention of the Hulk, but she had heard reports of monsters being sighted. "I'm not losing any time, and I can't see any tracks when I wake up, so I know I'm not leaving, so what is doing this?"
Changing back wasn't a picnic either, but she knew she would turn back into plain old Betty Ross without too much trouble. "Maybe I should have stayed on the base." She considered turning herself in, but questions kept plaguing her. "What should I do? How can I help as the Hulk?"
Roger Carstairs was an odd fellow. Just looking at him, you might get the impression that he was banker or some kind of middle manager. His face was youthful, but his black hair was already starting to recede, giving him a very pronounced widow's peak. His black plastic framed glasses gave him a meek air, and his usual dress of a simple suit made him appear more of a background fixture than a living being.
That was the intent Roger wanted to cultivate. Born to a wealthy family, Roger was a gifted child. He excelled in nearly every subject. His true gift, however, wouldn't emerge until his early teens.
Roger was a mutant.
After being scolded by his tutor, Roger discovered that he could project images into people's minds, images so real they couldn't tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Roger forced the images of giant wasps into the older man's mind, scaring him to death. A few misadventures later, Roger had been exposed and forced to fake his death.
Relocating to New Mexico, he had supported himself with a few small robberies (nothing major and nothing that would attract major attention) and general mental pushes get him in some degree of comfort. With the emergence of so many so-called superheroes, however, he had decided it was time to upgrade. Money wasn't a problem. With his powers, he could conjuror the image of cash into the hands of local merchants, or monsters into the minds of people he wished to rob.
He had been fairly careful. There were of course the occasional slips. He had been targeting drunks and the few random teens, as no one would believe their wild tales of monsters and pink elephants. When he forced the image of a giant Gila monster into the mind of a state trooper, he knew he had made a mistake.
Gathering up his money, Roger mapped out his plan. "Should I move to a bigger city?" The East Coast had become fairly crawling with super heroes. That was an annoyance he wished to avoid. West was tempting, but there were still characters like the Ant-Man to consider. "Perhaps carve out my empire here?"
Roger knew he would need allies. "But how can I trust anyone? And who?" He put down his pencil and stepped away from the desk. "There must be someone I can use, but who?"
The next day, Scott and Hank made their way through the quiet desert town. A few shops were open, including the local diner. "Perhaps we should confer over a hearty breakfast before we begin our quest?" Hank jerked a thumb at the flashing 'open' sign.
"Good idea." Scott seemed more relaxed. Entering the small eatery, they took seats at the grease-stained counter. When the waitress came by, Hank flagged her down.
"What sort of culinary delight would your recommend for two starving young men about town?"
The waitress, an older woman with more than a few lines on her face, smiled. "Well, for a strapping young thing like you, how about the chef's special?"
Hank returned the grin. "Sold, and make it double for my friend here."
Betty made her way into town. Walking half a block, she entered the combination post office/grocery and picked up a few items. Her pocket change was running out. "What can I do for a job?" The fact was foremost in her mind as she dropped the meager amount of coins onto the store's counter and took her food with her.
Heading towards the main strip, she sat down on the local bench and took out her food. "Well, since my schedule is so free, maybe I should make a day of it." She bit into her apple. "Beats staring at four gray walls, I guess."
Hank and Scott were staring at the two giant mounds of pancakes, bacon, and hash browns that loomed before them. "Now you two eat up!" The waitress smiled as she went back to refilling coffee.
"Hank, I'm not sure I could handle this much." Scott eyed the food uneasily.
Hank's answer was muffled by the sheer amount of food he had stuffed into his mouth. Swallowing, he slapped his teammate on the back. "Slim may become an ironic nickname after all that, I admit, but" a loud buzzing from his jacket silenced him.
Racing out side, Hank pulled out a small device. It looked like a remote with a small screen at the top. "Here, of all the places!"
Scott excused himself from the counter and joined Hank. "The mutant is here?"
"Off the scales fearless leader." Hank turned, trying to pinpoint the exact location. "He, or she, is in town and not fifty yards from us."
Roger adjusted his tie as he walked down the main strip. "This has been such a peaceful town, but I think it's time to move." Hopping onto the stone steps of the courthouse, Roger unbuttoned his jacket and concentrated. "A little confusion should work first, then a simple bit of mass insanity to cover my escape." He had seen the mayor's car parked off to the side with the keys already in the ignition.
The plan was simple. He had used it so many times before it was almost second nature to him. A few well-placed mental commands would usher the people out towards him with all the money they could carry. After placing it inside the waiting car, he'd simply leave, putting in a final illusion of giant monsters to cover his tracks and help block their minds.
Slowly, carefully, Roger raised his hands like a conductor. He briefly hummed "Ode to Joy" as he began his reign of terror. "I wonder what my father would think if he could see me now."
Hank scanned the surrounding areas with the mini-Cerbero. "The mutant is close, but I'm detecting an unbelievable amount of energy!"
"Hank, you might want to look at this." Scott was dumbfounded as he looked inside the diner. The staff and customers all marched mechanically outside. The cook had emptied the cash register and dumped the contents into a large sack.
"I say!" Hank stepped aside as the assembled group marched towards the center of town. "This calls for some investigating, wouldn't you agree?"
Betty finished her lunch and leaned back on the bench. She was still pondering on what to do when she saw the crowd marching towards her. "Eh?"
She sat silently as the group, consisting of as near as she could tell the entire town, marched past her. Many were carrying large sacks or briefcases. "What's going on?"
She felt the all too familiar signs of the Hulk. Darting past the slack-jawed and glassy eyed population, she slipped into an empty store just as the changes took place. She only had time to slip off one shoe before the transformation hit. Slender tanned flesh paled and grew gray as thick muscles built up under the skin. Her already long hair grew longer still, darkening to a deep black. Her clothes, loose and threadbare, did little to hold back her new dimensions but they did allow for some modesty on her part.
"Guess the Hulk should lend a hand." The Hulk, towering titan of power, strolled out and joined the crowd.
Hank and Scott, or as the two costumed figures would have preferred, Beast and Cyclops, emerged from the shadows. "Beast, move ahead and see if you can figure out why the people are doing this."
"In the words of the Immortal Bard," Beast's soliloquy was interrupted when the crowd began to freak out. "Never mind!"
Roger concentrated as the money was piled into his trunk. "Excellent, excellent!" The sound of concrete being cracked behind him gave him pause. "Eh?" Turning around, he almost lost control of the crowd as he found himself staring up into the Hulk's eyes. "Gah!"
"Nice to see you too. Mind telling me what's going on?" The Hulk had her arms crossed. Her expression was not one of happiness.
"Attack!" Roger hopped off of the step and darted towards the car, putting the crowd between himself and the Hulk. With a quick burst of mental energy, he directed the crowd towards the Hulk with the force of a hurricane.
From the town people's perspective, the Hulk was every thing they had ever hated and feared. With a collective scream, they rushed towards her in a maddened rage. Roger laughed to himself as he started the car and drove off.
The Beast and Cyclops watched from a distance as the crowd turned from docile into deranged in seconds. Rushing forward, they swarmed over a gray skinned woman in tattered clothes. "We have to help her!" Cyclops raised a hand to his visor, but the Beast stayed his hand.
The Hulk was momentarily stunned. The crowd swarmed over her, biting, kicking, and clawing. She took the blows without complaint. When the crowd surged over her head, however, she had enough. With one flex and a none-too gentle push, she dislodged the crowd and scattered the rest like bowling pins. "Ok, so who's the wise guy?"
She easily pushed aside the crowd, even as they broke down into further madness in efforts to stop her. She just kept walking through the crowd and paid them no mind. She saw a figure driving away, seemingly unaffected by the madness. "Maybe that joker has something to say?"
"Beast, you handle the Hulk, I'll go for the car!" Cyclops broke free from his friend's grip and readied his aim.
The Beast bounded via the use of awnings and a few locals to reach the Hulk. "Greetings fair maiden, perhaps I might have a moment of your time?"
The Hulk stopped and looked down at the black and yellow figure. "Out of my way runt, I'm busy." She brushed him aside, but found to her annoyance he tucked and rolled, forcing himself in front of her again.
"Again, I ask you hold your marching, least until after my friend has proven himself the alpha dog."
Before her, a similarly clad figure fired a brilliant red beam from a visor and blew out the speeding car's front wheels. It skidded and flipped over. The Hulk shook her head and knocked the stranger aside. "Move you fools, I want to know what is going on here!"
The Beast took the shove and rolled with it. Bounding back up, he cleared the cobwebs from his brain. "As Marlow once said, what a lady!"
"Hold it!" Cyclops marched towards her, one hand on his visor.
The Hulk stopped. She cocked an eyebrow at the younger man's attitude. "You really want to try that on me little man?" For a response Cyclops let loose with an optic blast that sent her flying into the wrecked car.
Roger had to feel himself to make sure he was alive. "What happened?" He reached around to undo his seat belt, collapsing to the ground a bloody heap. The window had been rolled down, providing him with some ease as he crawled out of the car.
His feet had barely left the front seat when the giant gray woman came crashing into the back of it, rupturing the fuel line and dosing everything in the interior with a healthy hosing of gas, oil, and various other fluids. The other costumed man approached, his visor still glowing a hellish red. Roger forced himself to his feet. "What are you?"
Cyclops reached out a hand. "My name is Cyclops, and I'm a mutant."
"Good for you!" Roger spat. With the barest effort, he blasted apart Cyclops' mind with images of fire. "Now be a good little pest and die, won't you?" Roger turned his attention back to the car, to see if he could salvage any cash. In lieu of money, however, he found himself eye to chest with a particularly annoyed Hulk.
"Move." The rumbling in her voice jostled Roger's glasses. Without a word, he stepped aside and moved as fast he could away from the scene.
"Ok little man, let's see you do that trick again." The Hulk reached out and clamped both hands around Cyclops' head. Ignoring his cries, she threw him through a nearby storefront window. "Now, where did that little runt go?"
"Hold it!" The Beast bounded and bounced, landing squarely on the Hulk's back. "Now I admit my friend may be lacking in the social graces, but that hardly excuses such boorish behavior!"
"Don't you ever shut up?" The Hulk tried to swat him off, but the Beast flipped over her head and landed before her.
"I admit," He dodged a kick that would have crippled him had it connected, "We may have come on too strong, but believe me, we have a point in being here!"
"Which is?" She continued to move forward, still striking at the Beast.
"We came here looking for a mutant, a very powerful one, and we suspect" He ducked a right cross and rolled to the side as she brought her foot down into the asphalt, cracking it. "That you might be it!"
"Really? Don't care." The Hulk continued to move. She snagged the Beast's legs and spun him around. "Doesn't matter how I was born. I'm the Hulk, nothing else matters." She let go, sending him flying down the street.
Roger's lungs were burning. His side felt like it had been punctured with a broadsword. He glanced back. He had gone less than ten yards.
"Why don't my powers work on her?" He gasped as he slowed down. "Forget this running jazz, I'm going to blast her brain into nothing!" He stopped and concentrated on the approaching figure. Images filled his mind; horrors beyond belief, things that crawled, slithered, and just plain moved unnaturally flooded through his imagination. When the Hulk was scant inches from him, he thrust out his hands, scrunched up his eyes, and unleashed the psychic torrent.
He stayed in that position for several seconds, but the sound of the Hulk's breathing never changed. Slowly opening his eyes, Roger gasped up in horror. "Boo." The Hulk gently flicked her index finger against Roger's forehead, knocking him out instantly.
At once, the townspeople stopped in their tracks. The Hulk ignored their confused looks as she picked Roger up and slung him over her shoulders. Stomping towards the Beast and Cyclops, she dumped the dazed man at their feet. "Lose something?"
For once, Hank McCoy was speechless. Cyclops examined Roger first, and when satisfied, looked at the Hulk. "Look, Hulk, we just came here to find a mutant."
"And I'd say you found one." She poked Roger's side with her foot. "Enjoy the present, but call ahead next time."
Before either X-Man could protest, the Hulk turned and leapt away. She was already a spot on the horizon before either of them could protest. Taking the dazed Roger off the street, Cyclops and the Beast changed back into their civilian clothes before the townspeople spotted them.
Stepping back onto the street, they wandered past the confused humans and made their way back to the hotel. With all the chaos, no one thought to question the two young men carrying an injured third away from the scene. Once Roger was securely bound, Scott dialed the cracked and barely functioning phone as Hank examined their reader.
As Scott explained the situation, Hank examined their findings. He finished parallel to Scott. "So, what did our grand and glorious leader suggest we do?"
Scott rubbed the bridge of his nose. "The Professor is putting a mental block on this guy's powers so he can't use them for a while. It's tough, so we have to hustle him back to the mansion pronto." Pointing to the scanner, Scott raised another question. "So, did we have one mutant or two?"
Hank glanced down. "That's the problem, I don't know."
"Sad but true. Our unwitting guest was so powerful it warped the inner workings. The Hulk may still be a mutant, but we can't be sure at this point."
Scott nodded. "Shame we didn't prove it, but no harm done." Jerking a thumb at their guest, Scott began to pack. "Come on, we can discuss this more with the Professor." Hank agreed and began to gather his equipment.
"A shame we ended on such a note, but I suppose there will be other chances in the future."
The Hulk was already Betty after she landed. She had cleaned herself up and tossed away her rags. She took one last look at her home before turning away and heading towards the main road. "Maybe that fight had a point. I can't just sit here and hope nothing happens."
She had packed her few meager belongings into a knapsack. "Do I go back to the base or do I do something different?" The road ahead offered no promises. The only thing she saw was the future. She intended to make that count for something.
Holy crap, what a time! Two disks lost during the making of this, an omen perhaps?
Time for fan mail
From They Call Me BruceThis fanfic is astonishing! Even if you are still writing one chapter fanfics
Yeah, I sort of got into this habit. New series will be contained though, so have no fear of that.
Now that was some issue, the Hulk VS the Black Widow
Also next issue the Hulk VS a Marvel Mutant, I wonder who it is, if it isn't Wolverine then it could be any of the X-Men of their enemies. Please keep up the good work as this series progress.
Well, as you can see I went with a bit of an old school X-Men, so everyone's favorite Canadian feral will have to wait a bit longer.
DarciWow! Really didn't expect the Golden Age Black Widow, Claire Voyant! Thanks
And there will be more Timely and Atlas character in the future. Watch for them!
And finally, Tiffani
Yeah, you did an excellent job with this story, as you always do.
The preceding tale was original. The character of Roger Carstairs first appeared in Man Comics#28 (September 1953). Be sure to be here next time when the Hulk goes down a rabbit hole.
And of course, be sure to keep your peepers peeled for the following titles and perhaps a few other surprises.
Amazing Fantasy#4-Now Strikes the Tarantula!
The Avengers#1- Earth's Mightiest Heroes