This is a movie parody of Ang Lee's Hulk. I do not claim the characters named within, I am only using them to tell a story for amusement purposes only.
The first indication of trouble were the dozens of jet copters and military fighter jets that began filling the skies over the city. At first, most of the citizens felt it was just something 'they' do that was none of their concern. And then more and more they began to wonder just what it was that was keeping the military filling the skies over their city even as ground troops and armored vehicles began pouring into the streets and taking up defensive positions.
The second indication of trouble was not long in coming either. Not long after the first ground vehicles began rolling into the city, the ground itself began to shake violently. Too far west to be known for earthquakes, the people still had to wonder if that wasn't what was happening as the thunderous trembling shook their world apart as it became more and more centralized. Until Wiltshire Blvd., that street noted for its more than usual share of vice, suddenly began to groan and crack as something from below pressed steadily upwards.
In the same instant, the military converged on the area, belying the immediate thought that some kind of volcanic activity might be at work. For these men were not scientists. They came not with research equipment, but with heavy weapons of every conceivable type currently available. And still they looked frightened as the street suddenly buckled upwards, then cracked open as huge, green fists pounded their way through the thick asphalt and concrete as easily as they had native rock. And then the creature was crawling up out of the darkness below to stand perched over the hole it had just tunneled out of, howling inhuman rage at the skies as it seemed to swell with unnatural muscle as glittering, jade eyes took in the military forces arrayed against it.
"It's the Hulk," someone screamed as those two, massive fists slammed down on the street, sending violent ripples through the ground that send men and vehicles flying in all directions.
The cry spread panic through the city as people tried in vain to flee the random chaos following the huge monstrosity that had only resurfaced in the past weeks. Fifteen years ago, the creature codenamed "Angry Man," by the army special ops team that had supposedly neutralized it had simply vanished from sight after a titanic battle with its twisted sire. Both were believed dead in the wake of the gamma bomb that consumed most of the region where they had been battling it out for supremacy. Reports had come in now and then of sightings of 'green men,' but for the most part, they were attributed to the usual lunatic fringe that loved to run around crying wolf.
Until Angry Man, aka the Hulk, had suddenly appeared in the middle of an urban city in the Midwest, slugging it out with police who had the audacity to try bringing him in when he had stopped to try to save some woman in a traffic accident. A rookie had ignored the man's protest he was a doctor, and shoved him away from the screaming woman who was trapped in a flaming car with her teenage daughter. He was following procedures, the report would later read. The report claimed the man inadvertently slipped and hit his head when he was guided away from the potentially dangerous scene.
Witnesses said the officer had beat the apparent vagrant with his nightstick. For all of two and one half minutes. After which the vagrant began using the policeman's body as a nightstick to beat back his companions before he ripped the crushed top off the burning automobile, and freed the already severely burned woman, and her child. His reaction was to then proceed to rip apart most of the city before fleeing the city as the army belatedly came in to try to drive him off.
Only a handful of people knew that the woman in the auto who expired of her injuries were Dr. Betty Ross, and her daughter. Thaddeus James Ross, AKA Thunderbolt, had covered that up as well as he could considering he was now a retired general. He had warned them all about Banner. He had finally found the man wandering on the fringes of society across several continents using his old contacts. He seemed intent upon redeeming himself. Using his medical knowledge to aid those who had no other source of help. And there had not been a sighting of the behemoth lurking within him in years.
Then he had shown up after news of Betty's husband dying filled the papers. The award winning scientist was world famous, and news of his death was just that, news. It must have brought Banner to her, for reasons known only to him. And when that fool had forced him back, forced him to step back from helping Betty out of that car after the drunk had smashed into her van, he had opened Pandora's Box all over again. And this time, he wasn't so sure there was a lock big enough to close it. Because without Betty, there wasn't a damn thing on God's Earth that meant anything to a reclusive loner like Banner.
Or to the green demon he hid within him.
"Should have put a bullet in his head five years ago," he grumbled as he read the paper recounting the death and damages that followed the latest rampage of the monster that seemed far from calming down. If anything, his rage was growing, and last reports had him over fifteen feet high, and smashing through anything and anyone that got in his way.
Only where was he going? What was he doing? Even before he had understood what Banner was, the monster had been directed by his feelings for his daughter. But if Betty was gone….?
"Jenn," he exclaimed, rushing to the phone. His granddaughter had been in that car, too. Only no one had mentioned her fate after all eyes had gone to follow the beast. What had happened to her? And did it have anything to do with the monster's constant progress west? He would have bet his pension it did.
Just what the hell had happened to her? And what was it that had Banner so enraged the bastard was still tearing up real estate as far as the southwest on a twelve state spree? He forced himself to calm down as he dialed a number from memory he had not used in over ten years. "It's Thaddeus," he told the man who answered. "I need a favor."
Only after the army had been beaten back did the monster turn back to the hole he had just climbed out of to reach down for something left behind. Or someone. The small body looked even more childlike in his massive hands as he lifted the comatose body that was covered in terrible burns and blisters. Only two days had passed since the accident, but the small girl was obviously dying of her injuries. She would not last long even with the best professional care available. Somewhere deep inside the mind of the monster, the man knew what had to be done. As unthinkable as it seemed, it was her only chance.
He stalked down the shattered streets of the town, dimly aware of those around him trying to rally as they realized he had someone with him. They shouted in alarm, but no one approached. No one opened fire this time. They stood back and watched, hoping the monster would not harm the child that lay so still in its massive, deadly hands.
Once free of the city's cloistered buildings, he began to run. Powerful muscles churned tirelessly as the legs moved like pistons as he picked up speed until he was moving faster than the army could follow. By the time they realized he was on the move again, he was miles away, leaving only a dust plume behind him as he cut across the dry, arid lands in search of a nearly forgotten hideaway.
"He was last seen just outside town, heading northwest away from the main road," the colonel told Ross as the old warhorse studied the ground with the binoculars he had taken from one of the soldiers in the chopper with them. "That was….twelve hours ago, give or take a few minutes, and there's been no sighting sense."
"Doesn't mean anything. Not the way he was obviously using the underground caverns in this area to travel right under your noses," Ross grunted, not bothering to tell the man his fears. The beast was learning. Or was tapping Banner's admittedly impressive intellect. Either way, it spelled trouble. A mindless brute was bad enough. A thinking monster was potentially unstoppable. And Angry Man, as he had dubbed him, had been unstoppable enough to start with.
"True. But there are no real subterranean tunnel systems in this far north of the ridge," the colonel pointed out. "Nothing out there but desert."
"Not quite," Ross growled as a distant memory surged to the fore of his mind. It was unthinkable, and yet, what else did he have? Banner had his granddaughter. And he had no idea what was going through his brutish head as he carried her across half the continental U.S. to this godforsaken place where it had all started.
"Turn due north, colonel," he advised the officer. "I think I know where he's headed."
"Where," the officer remarked. "There's nothing out here."
"There was. Desert Base is still out there. Or what's left of it."
The colonel glanced at him. "I thought that was just an old rumor."
"Your security rating just went up, colonel," Ross growled. "Now turn," he ordered the man at the stick of the chopper.
"Yes, sir," the colonel nodded curtly as he adjusted his course over the arid, Nevada flatlands.
Bruce stared down at the young girl laying on the makeshift gurney he had salvaged from the debris left behind. As he had hoped, there had been a lot of equipment left behind after his rampage years ago that was deemed obsolete. That didn't make it useless. Not even after fifteen years of neglect. He watched the centrifuge as it isolated the blood proteins from the plasma he had taken from his own body. He didn't know how long it had actually been since that fool cop had pulled him back from the wreckage of Betty's car to 'save' him, but Jennifer looked bad. Real bad. The burns and blisters looked infected, and she was so hot she might as well have been baking.
He bit down on his anger as he felt a surge of fury at the idiot who had not let him pull Betty and her daughter free when he had had the chance. Over the years, he had learned to control himself enough to let out the demon within by degrees. He could have pulled the two women out easily without losing control, if only that rookie hadn't interfered. The man was more frightened of the fire and its dangers than he had been, and reacted by venting on him.
And in his desperation, he had been pushed over the edge when the cop attacked him.
He didn't know why he, or the other him had picked up Jennifer, but when he had regained his senses, he understood her chances. Without immediate care, Jennifer was dead. He sensed Betty was already dead. She had died even as he had been changing, her horrified gaze locked on him as he had torn free of his mortal shell, and the police officers holding him back. And since he was here, and Jennifer needed immediate help, he had only one option that might just save her life.
And possibly damn her to hell.
"Forgive me," he whispered to the young woman as he injected the rarified blood into her arms as the saline drips continued to fill her with desperately needed fluids.
He waited for the heart pump that was keeping her alive to circulate the blood in her veins before he moved to the next step. He grimaced as he looked over the small apparatus that had been abandoned, and yet ironically never dismantled by the military trying to harness the elements of his creation. He fired the gamma generator at the small figure on the gurney, and stood back to watch helplessly as time became both ally and enemy in this cause.
Even as he watched for some sign he had succeeded, he heard them. Even twenty feet below the earth he could hear the dull thunder of the army as it advanced on him. They were coming back. Well, he had expected it. Leaning over the girl's body, he bushed back the dark hair from the face so like that of his beloved Betty's. "Be well," he told her as he left her there, and raced down a dimly lit hall that the auxiliary generator he had found barely managed to keep lit. Not because of the lack of power, but it was the path he had taken fifteen years ago in his bid for freedom, and there was still a lot of damage left unrepaired.
Even as the thunder intensified, he fled into the darker recesses of the tunnel, and out into the desert itself, where night had fallen like a stygian curtain. Running for his very life, knowing his chances if caught in his human shell, and not wanting another confrontation, he fled into the hills to hide away until they inevitably went away. It was a system that had worked for fifteen years. He saw no reason that it wouldn't work now.
"Spread out, and keep your eyes open," Ross yelled at the men as he strode toward the warped steel doors of the underground vault where the true Desert Base lay hidden beneath the sands.
"Sir, what if find him," one soldier asked, his fear palpable.
Thaddeus smiled grimly. "Don't piss him off. I'm here for my granddaughter. I don't care about anything else. You see anything green, you haul your ass out of there pronto. If you see anything human, shoot it before it turns green. Everyone understand?"
"Yes, sir," the ten man unit barked in reply as they followed him down into the underground base.
"Grandpa," a sleepy voice called as ten rifles were lifted at the sight of a humanoid shape stumbling toward them.
"Hold your fire," he bawled, stepping forward as he stared at Jenny. The girl was clad in a thin hospital gown, her hair tangled and matted, but there wasn't a mark on her. If anything, she fairly glowed with health.
"What happened, grandpa," she asked as she shambled forward, acting as if she were still dazed. "Where are we?"
"What's the last thing you remember, honey?"
"A….A green man carried me off," she said, shivering violently.
"Do you know where he went," he probed gently.
"No. Where's mom? Is she okay?" Thaddeus sighed heavily.
"Honey, she's dead."
"Oh, God," the girl paled, almost collapsing had he not been holding her.
"She never got out of the car in time."
Jennifer looked up at her grandpa's narrow gaze. "How….How did I get out then? I….I was burned, too," she realized, holding up smooth, unblemished arms. "Wasn't I?"
"I wasn't there, hon," he told her as he turned and passed her to the colonel. "Have your pilot fly her to the nearest facilities, and checked out completely," he ordered him. "Get the ground units coordinated, and start a complete perimeter search around this sector. He's got to still be here."
"What are you going to do," both Jennifer and the colonel asked as he continued into the dark tunnel below.
"I'm going to find out just what brought our mystery guest home," he growled as he led five of the men down with him. He already knew, though, that they likely weren't going to find anything. Banner had gotten too good at disappearing when when wanted. He just hoped his granddaughter was really okay. She really was all that mattered to him just now.
"I'm fine," Jennifer sighed as Thaddeus peeked in on her as she was doing her homework. "How many times have I got to say that this year," she demanded as she glared up at him.
"You know I worry about you," he replied gruffly as she glared up at him from her bed where she was surrounded by her books and papers. "It's part of the job description."
"Well, change jobs," she shot right back at him. "I'm eighteen now. An adult. I can even legally drink."
"Doesn't mean you're going to," he growled at her in mock warning.
"Lighten up, gramps," she grinned at him with her mother's face. "Or should I say grumps?"
"Ha, ha," he smiled at the young woman who was reaching for the remote to turn up the stereo that was already blasting some primitive beat overlaid with more cursing than he had heard even from hardened D.I.'s on the base.
"I get the message. I was just checking on you," he yelled over the music as he backed out of the bedroom.
He smiled as the music automatically went down once the door closed. Four years of life with him could not be easy considering she had lost her mother and father both in close proximity. Then she had been carried halfway across the country by a dangerous monster while mortally wounded. A monster that had somehow healed her, and left no taint of its own curse in her that could be detected. Thaddeus knew what Banner had done. He had found the residual blood serums, and the old equipment still humming with life that had been left on in his wake. He knew the man had recreated his gamma healing experiment, using his own bizarre DNA to create the healing catalyst that had saved Jenny.
He had been beyond horrified when he had realized what had happened. Dutifully, he had reported to General Whitehall at command, but thankfully, despite weeks of testing, his granddaughter had proven quite normal. Aside from her new healing ability. Unfortunately, whatever Banner had done had not been recreated since. They had tried, too, immediately thinking of how beneficial such regenerative abilities would be on the battlefield. But whatever they were missing was still locked only in one man's head. A man that had so successfully vanished this time that not even his special contacts in low places could find him.
Calling in the last of some longtime favors, he had smoothed over the creaking wheels of bureaucracy and gotten Jenny placed in his care. He had watched her carefully, part of the cost of having his request fulfilled. But it was better than having her locked away in some sterile lab where the young girl would never know a normal life. But thankfully, she remained quite normal. Sullen and angry at times. Stubborn and willful. She was, in short, a normal teenager as she felt out her way through the life that was opening up before her as she matured.
The only thing she refused to talk about with him was the green man. She had had nightmares for weeks after she had been found, and being locked up in the government labs hadn't helped. But she had not had those dreams for years since coming to stay with him. She graduated in less than a week, and she was already considering college as she planned her own future in electronics, or something along that line. She was quite bright, he well knew, and had her mother's curiosity and drive. Unlike her, she didn't want to bury herself in science labs, though. Her earlier experiences had likely soured her on such research or study, he had decided.
But she was fascinated with computers, electronics, and the myriad applications and technologies being discovered around them all the time. She had even cobbled together her own satellite radio that had better reception than most of the consumer models that required tremendous subscription fees and complicated contracts to own and operate.
He headed down to ensure the house was locked up before turning in as he thanked God everything had worked out so well. And hopefully, no one would ever see Banner, or his green-skilled alter ego ever again.
"I said no," Jennifer hissed at Bart as the big senior pressed her back into the seat of his convertible. She found it hard to push back the burly athlete that was the school's star quarterback though. He was too big, too strong, and she was just a small, skinny girl beneath his powerful body. "Now, let me up."
"C'mon, doll," the ball player grinned as he ground his swollen crotch against hers. "This is going to be our last real chance to have fun. You're going off to college. I've got that scholarship at UCA."
"Then go find a cheerleader if all you want is fun," she yelled at him, moaning in frustration as he easily pinned her arms back by gripping her wrists together in one of his big hands. She couldn't believe she had let Susana talk her into going out with this jerk. Now she saw why she had dumped him. Meanwhile, the guy's free hand sliding down to boldly cup and fondle her breasts.
"Damn it, Bart, this is rape," she spat at him as he angled their bodies, pushing her almost flat in the wide bench seat in the front of his car.
"No," he grinned, reaching for the hem of her skirt to jerk it up over her hips. "This is rape," he said as he ripped her panties away before he began fumbling with his fly.
"No," she screamed as she stared at the zipper being pulled down, and the long, thick shaft that was being freed to probe between her legs.
"You'll be yelling yes in a minute," Bart grinned as he shifted his position to press between her slender thighs with his male sex.
"I….said…no," she screamed, and shoved at him with all her might.
Bart's scream was still echoing as she looked up in surprise to find herself laying sprawled out in the car, alone, and Bart now screaming and splashing from the middle of the lake over a quarter mile out from shore.
She jumped up, heedless of the straining cloth of her blouse and skirt as she stood in the seat of his old convertible, and glared at him with a furious expression. "What the hell did you think you were doing," she demanded as she climbed out of the car, slamming the door behind her as she stalked to the shore.
Bart, who had recovered enough to start swimming back, stopped and tread water as he stared at the woman on the shore. He knew damn well little Jennifer Walters was only five-eight, but the woman on the shore yelling at him was well over six feet high. "Don't you ever touch me again," the woman was railing as she turned and stalked off into the darkness. Bart stared after her for a long time before he risked coming to shore. When he did, he found large footprints in the sand. Too large to have been Jenny's, though she was gone, too. He groaned when he saw his passenger side door. The polished green panel had been shoved in almost three feet as if something had rammed into the side of his beloved antique car.
"What the hell is going on," he moaned, hating the damage done to his car more than he worried about Jenny, or the freak who had just stormed off with her.
"You're going to pay for my car," Bart told Jennifer the next day when he finally found her alone. "Your friend ruined the entire door. Do you know what that's going to cost me," he spat as he shoved her against the wall of the men's bathroom he had pulled her into as she had been passing on the way to class.
He didn't worry about being found out. He had two of his friends and teammates standing outside to watch the door. They'd keep the wrong kids from coming in, and warn him if any faculty was headed in their direction. The latter was unlikely on this side of the building, and by now most of the students would be settling into their fourth period classes.
That left him plenty of time for a little righteous vindication.
"Leave me alone, you jerk," Jennifer swore at him as she turned and jerked her arm free. Neither of them seemed to notice how easily she had done it at the moment. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"I'm talking about the She-Hulk you left with last night," he spat. "The one that tossed me into the lake, and cussed me out while you ran away."
Jennifer stopped cold, her anger suddenly cooled as his words penetrated her mind. "The…She-Hulk," she smirked. "You really are an ass, aren't you? Is that what you've been telling people?
"I shoved you off me, Bart-man," she drawled, coloring his nickname with all the scorn she could summon. "No one was out there last night except you and me."
"No fucking way," he spat, grabbing her by shoulders and slamming her into the wall again, tearing a groan of pain from her at the impact. "Do you think I'm stupid?
"No way a shrimp like you like you tossed me anywhere. And you sure couldn't have pounded in my door like it was," he said as he pressed his body back against hers as he held her against the wall.
He grinned down at her. "But there is something you can do. You can finish what we started last night, since your bitch friend ain't here to help you this time."
She gasped as she felt his groin pressed tight between her legs, just as he had last night. "What is it with you guys," she gasped as she struggled to lift her arms so she could push him away. "Don't you know what no means?" Bart only laughed as he reached for the hem of her skirt.
"I….said….no," she growled, and Bart released her backing away as he stared at her in horror.
"No fucking way," he rasped as Jennifer's low, throaty growl penetrated even his lust.
Jennifer still stood against the wall where he had slammed her, but she was staring at him with blank eyes that looked like they were darkening, changing color even. Her hands had risen slightly, curling into tight fists as her body seemed to swell under her jeans and tee-shirt, stretching the fabric of both as she took a first tentative step toward him.
And she was growing, Bart realized. Already she was three inches taller, and her slender body was filling out with thick, hard muscle as she glared at him, her eyes filled with fury. "James! Tom," he all but shrieked in fear as he backed against a stall wall as she continued to advance toward him with that blank mask of pure anger. "Help," he screamed even as the girl before him continued to grow, and started turning a suspiciously jade tint from hair to toenails, which he was looking at just then as her sneakers began to pop and tear apart as her body continued to expand.
"Oh, God," James spat as he ran in first, stopping to gape at the wall of green muscle that was positioned between him and his friend.
"What the fuck," Tom's astonishment was more crude as he stopped and stared. "That ain't Jenny Walters," he exclaimed as the woman stopped growing at just under seven foot.
"Don't bet on that, genius," Jennifer's voice, now deep and husky chided him as she turned to face them with gleaming, green eyes, and a wide smile. "I'm just the new and improved model, is all," she said as she turned back to Bart.
"Isn't that right, Barty-boy," she teased him as she took a step closer, leaving her ruined sneakers behind as she did.
"Holy shit, look at that body," Tom was all but drooling as he took in the stretched tee shirt that barely clung to the woman's massive torso that was still sensually curved for all her size. Her jeans were little more than a makeshift loincloth, having torn open, and split from waist to hip, and from ankle to near her rounded bottom. Those few threads still holding looked suspiciously tight though.
"Look," Jennifer Walter's told them, glancing back briefly as she pressed Bart against the wall with one hand. "Don't try touching. That would be naughty. Wouldn't it, Barty," she turned to scold him.
"I'm sorry," Bart screamed as she stood smiling down at him with the kind of smile cats must reserve for their prey. Or so he felt just then. "God, I'm sorry," he wept.
"No, you're distressed. You're upset you were caught. Stopped. Thwarted. But you aren't sorry. Not yet," Jennifer smiled that cold smile as she raised a large fist and aimed it at his head.
"No," he screamed as the fist came down hard, missing his ear by a centimeter as it slammed through the thick block wall and sent crumbling concrete raining down Bart's shoulder.
"Ah, did little Barty wet his britches," she cooed as she looked down with a smirk.
Bart whimpered, and slid down the wall. He was unconscious before he hit the floor.
"You're going to pay for that, bitch," James spat, pulling a folding knife that he snapped open with a practiced flick of his wrist.
"Yeah," Tom nodded his support, though his eyes had yet to rise above Jennifer's chest. "Gonna pay."
"Oh, please," she rolled her eyes as the two burly boys advanced on her. "You boys have seen too many bad movies."
Which was when fifteen year old William Jenkins shoved open the door, screamed at the top of his lungs, and wet his jeans all at once. He was running back down the hall before any of them could even think of reacting.
"Fuck," James summed up the situation. "Let's get out of here."
"What about Bart," Tom whined.
"Screw Bart," James dismissed his loyalty that quick. "In three days I plan on graduating. You think we can do that from jail," he demanded as he fled the bathroom, leading the perennial follower Tom behind him.
Jennifer stared at the door as it slowly closed before glancing back down at Bart who was still unconscious on the floor. Then she slowly turned to the nearest mirror. "Oh, my," she murmured, staring at the lovely, if powerfully built green female staring back at her. "Oh, my," she murmured again, holding up her much larger hands before she glanced back at the hole in the wall she had just punched without even thinking about it. And her knuckles weren't even sore.
"The green man," she murmured, and turned her head as the sounds of many voices, and stampeding feet reached her.
She was about to head for the door when it was shoved open from the other side first, and a bearded security guard bulled into the bathroom, gun drawn. He stared at her, caught sight of the fallen Bart laying in a puddle of his own urine, and fired point blank at her.
Jennifer screamed in protest, but even as she expected to die, the bullets began whipping around the bathroom, ricocheting wildly as the man fired his weapon until only dry clicks could be heard. "Look," she said, holding up her hands. "I'm not…." The man gave an unearthly screech, and fled the bathroom. His cries that the Hulk had invaded the school sent the students into a panic as she heard alarm bells, panicked announcements, and people screaming and crying as they fled the school. She turned and glared at the unconscious jock, and glared all the more as she told him, "Now see what you've done, you jerk," she swore.
She gaped when her stamped foot drove down through the floor, and into empty air. She pulled her foot free, and looked down into the hole even as she felt her jeans give up their last threads, and fall from her muscular legs. "Oh, God," she groaned, staring at her naked body from the waist down as her snug panty had been stretched to rags as well, falling away with her jeans. And her tee-shirt and bra were not faring all that well either. She could just imagine being arrested on television stark naked. That would really make her day.
Then she remembered the gym below. Locker rooms had clothes. Sweat clothes for oversized athletes. She could find clothes there. Kneeling back down to the hold she had inadvertently created, she now purposely pounded her fists down, ripping and tearing at the widening crater until there was a gap large enough even for her to drop through. There was a second crater left behind when she dropped in the center of the gym floor, splintering the highly polished wood that her coach would have had a heart attack over if she saw it now.
Thankfully, everyone had already vacated the gymnasium, and despite the sounds of the police now arriving in force, she felt a little more confident as she pulled oversized sweats from out of a boy's locker. Knowing the average girls in school, she hadn't even tried their lockers. But after ripping a few lockers open, she found sweats that just did cover her bare, green butt, and the majority of her chest. A very healthy chest, if size was anything to go by. And to think she had been complaining she was too small for years.
Not wanting to cause anymore panic, having a good idea what showing her face might cause out there, she tore through a locked security door, and left through a rear exit that thankfully no one was watching. Once outside, she ran like mad, shocking herself at her speed and endurance as she made short work of crossing the wide meadow behind the school, and losing herself in the forest beyond. After that, it was only a short five mile run to her granddad's house, where she hoped she could figure out just what had happened to her, and reverse it. Before anyone else saw her, that is.
She got to the house even as her granddad was coming out the back door, heading for his humvee. He stopped in time to look her way, gaping at her as he stared at her with wide, round eyes as filled with shock as the boys back at school.
"Jen," he rasped, not moving from where he stood by the back door as she stood just outside the carport near the corner of the old house he had bought to restore.
"Yeah, gramps," she sighed, her broad shoulders sagging. "It's me."
"You…. You can talk," he gasped. "I mean…."
"Of course I can talk," she huffed, glaring at him.
"Calm down," he hushed her, using his hands to signal as if she didn't understand.
"Gramps," she rolled her eyes as she started toward him. "What's going on? I was just…. Gramps," she asked, seeing him pale, and back away from her.
"I… I don't understand this," he shook his head as he backed away from her. "Not one damn bit."
"I'm kind of clueless here myself," she complained as she stopped beside his humvee. "So how about a few hints. You know something, don't you? This is about all those tests you made me take after you found me in the desert. What did they do to me," she demanded, her face darkening as she scowled down at him.
"Jen," he swallowed thickly, holding his ground as he took in the large, green woman before him. "No one did anything to you. Not….Not at the lab. Not at our lab. Do you…. Do you remember the day your mother died?"
"How could I forget," she sighed, and some of the bright gleam faded from her dark, green eyes.
"Do you remember the…..green man you mentioned?"
"Only…. Only snippets. Him pulling me free of the car. Then I remember him carrying me….someplace. Not much else."
"His name was Dr. Bruce Banner," Thaddeus told her, breaking an oath of security he had held for years. "He is also called the Hulk by the press."
"The…Hulk?" Thaddeus nodded as she looked off into the distance, frowning. "I don't think I've ever heard that name.
"No, wait. One of those idiots that attacked me called me that. He said I was a….a she-hulk."
"Someone attacked you," he asked. "Is that what started this?"
"Bart Emirs. He tried to rape me last night. I…. I threw him into the lake. A…. A good quarter mile into the lake."
"Oh," the old general murmured, staring at her thickly muscled arms. "Oh, my."
"Then, he and two of his goons jumped me in the hall today during break. He dragged me into the restroom."
"I think I see where this is going. You…..changed."
"Oh, yeah," she grimaced, recalling Bart's shock and fear. "You could say that."
"Well, the man I mentioned, he changes, too. Only…. Only when he changes, he becomes a mindless, destructive force that nothing known to man can stop. Only your mother was ever able to calm him down enough to force his change back to a normal man."
"She was working with Banner when they devised the gamma regenerative technique," he nodded.
"Gamma? Isn't that… Isn't that radiation," she squeaked, looking slightly smaller as she slowly lost some of the dark green coloring of her skin.
"Yes. They used a specially programmed nannite in conjunction with gamma rays to try to excite the human healing factor, hoping to stimulate superhuman regeneration of diseases or wounds. Banner was exposed to it, but only later did we realize he already had a mutated DNA. DNA that absorbed the radiation, and transformed him into the Hulk whenever he became enraged."
"Oh, hell," she murmured, looking down at her hands that were still green, and still larger than normal, though not so big as before. "Then every time I get upset, or….. Hey, wait a minute. How did I do this at all if I had nothing to do with….the green man," she frowned.
"You were badly burned. And severely injured in that wreck, Jenny. The officers on site that survived didn't think you would live long even before you were hauled off by that jade monster. When we found you at Desert Base, we also found evidence that Banner had used his own blood serum to inoculate you before exposing you to the regenerative experiment's gamma generator."
"He…. He mutated me?"
"So it would seem," he nodded as he noticed Jenn was much smaller now. Closer to six foot than seven, and starting to look a more normal shade of tan. "I suspected as much when I found what he had left behind, but…."
"So that was why all the tests," she realized, cutting him off. "You thought something like this would happen?"
"We….hoped it wouldn't. But, Jenny, we didn't find anything abnormal. Nothing except for the fact you had healed so well you didn't even have your appendix scar any longer. You were in perfect health, and had suffered so apparent ill effects. So I brought you home…."
"To keep an eye on me," she asked grimly, her eyes flaring as they seemed to darken again briefly.
"Yes," he nodded, feeling that honesty was best suited for this situation. "But not just because of that. You are my granddaughter, girl. I do love you, and hoped like hell you were going to be all right. You were all the family I had left," the old man sighed. "I….I didn't want to lose you, too."
Jennifer sighed, then froze as no less than five police cars came speeding up the gravel lane to pull into their yard from all directions. Jennifer cursed, and almost immediately, Thaddeus noted she had swelled back up to near seven foot, and bulked out into that overly voluptuous creature she had been when he first spotted her.
"Jen, calm down. Just go inside, and I'll handle this."
"But, gramps," she growled, her voice sounding more like a husky drawl now.
"Inside," he hissed as over a dozen officers spilled out of the cars as even more began arriving. All of them carrying guns they had already pulled.
"All right. But maybe I should just…."
"Go inside," he ordered her.
"Man," she huffed. "You grow up, and they still boss you around," she grumbled as she shoved the door open, then gaped when she ended up jerking it off the hinges. "Sorry," she quipped in a singsong voice as Thaddeus groaned at the casual destruction.
"Just….be careful," he begged her, staring at the splintered oak panel she set back in place to almost cover the door. The restored oak panel had cost him hundreds. It had been solid, two inch wood, and weighed almost as much as she did. Or had. And she had ripped it off its hinges and cracked it in several places just pushing it open.
"Okay," she muttered as he heard her stomp through the house.
"General Ross," the local sheriff shouted. "Are you all right, sir?"
"I'm fine, you damned fool," he bellowed as he went out to meet him. "Now what the devil do you mean by coming up here like this scaring me half to death."
"Sir, your….your granddaughter has been implicated in the injury of a student at the school. The young man said she's some kind of….monster. A she-hulk," he said anxiously as he looked toward the old manor house with a grim expression.
"My daughter is nothing of the sort," he shot. "And if you're talking about Bart Emirs, then you might want to question him on the assault, and attempted rape of my granddaughter."
"W-What," the sheriff choked.
"She just informed me of the situation. The boy is likely trying to cover his own culpability in this matter. And while it is true, I did train my granddaughter to take care of herself," Thaddeus lied smoothly. "She is no monster."
"Unless you let her into the kitchen," he grinned then, deciding to try lightening the situation. "Then God help you."
"General," the old sheriff told him. "I may not be a hotshot like you, but I know a stall when I hear one. What are you up to here? Just what do you think to…."
"Just waiting on my boys," Thaddeus smiled as the muted thunder of stealth copters began to fill the sky as no less than a dozen of the sleek, black gunships filled the air. "And here they are now."
The sheriff and his men looked up as four of the sleek machines touched down and dozens of men spilled out. All of them were in full combat uniform, right down to the mean looking M21's they carried. "General," he growled. "This is not how I wanted this to happen."
"You handle your bailiwick, Don," he told the man. "I'll handle mine," he growled.
"What does this have to do with your granddaughter turning into a monster," Don shouted back as the machines grew louder by the moment as more of them filled the skies.
"She's top secret, Don. I've been sitting on her for years. And your boy Bart opened the Pandora's Box. Talk to him. Ask him how it happened. Like I said, he's no innocent."
Don grimaced as an officer came over and saluted the general.
"I thought you were retired," Don accused.
"Shall I handle this, sir," the colonel asked.
"No. Just hold your men back, and keep these boys from making a mistake. We've got a rare opportunity here, if we don't blow it."
"Understood, general," he man saluted, and went to relay his orders, spreading his men out between the confused deputies and the house.
"There is retirement," Thaddeus told Don, "And then there is retirement. But old war horses like me, we don't ever really quit. Now, why don't you take your men, and go home. Trust me, we're handling my granddaughter."
"You do that, Thaddeus," Don told him grimly. "But I don't expect to see her again. Ever."
Thaddeus stared hard at the man, and finally he did look away. Only then did the old general turn from him and face the colonel. "All right, Neil. Have the medical team stand by. I'm going to go in and get her."
"Are you sure it's safe," the colonel asked anxiously, having been a lieutenant when he and his men first faced the original Angry Man.
"More than safe. Unlike Banner, she remains cognizant when she changes. I don't think she has anything near his power levels, either."
"Thank God," the colonel muttered as Thaddeus headed toward the house with a slower gait this time. His heart really wasn't in this, but he knew his duty. And while he hated to admit it, he was getting older, and slowing down.
"Jenny," he called as he entered the house through the back door since it was already open.
"In here, gramps," she said morosely as he entered the living room to find her standing silently in the window. And completely human once more, as evidenced by the sagging, oversized sweats that hung on her body.
"You called them, didn't you?"
"Hon, I had to. The moment I got a call saying a….a she-hulk was tearing up the school….."
"So what happens now?"
"We'll be taking you to a safe place…."
"A place like it," he nodded as she looked back at him with the saddest eyes he had ever seen. He had expected resentment. Anger. Anything but this silent misery.
"Do what you have to General Ross," she told him in a quiet voice. "Then I never want to see you again."
"You heard me, general," she spat his title at him with all the contempt she could manage. "Go to hell! We're family. That's supposed to mean something. But instead of helping me, you couldn't wait to turn me over to those people to be….dissected."
"No, honey," he protested.
"Go to hell," she told him, and opened the front door.
She spun back in a half circle, crying out as the bullet slammed into her chest. She fell back sprawling on the ivory rug, glaring up at him weakly as he gaped at the bloody hole in her body. "Yeah," she spat weakly at him. "Real safe," she rasped, and then closed her eyes.
"God damn it," he roared, and jerked the door open to face the men outside. "Who fired that shot? Who?" All eyes went to one of the younger deputies who was trying to sidle back behind his car. "Neil, I need a medic now," he shouted. "She's hit bad."
"Gramps," he heard her ragged whisper as he turned and looked down at her. She had not opened her eyes, and she was looking bad.
"What is it, honey," he rasped, feeling a nagging pull in his knees as he knelt beside her.
"Let me….die," she sighed just before she passed out.
"What the hell is this," Thaddeus demanded as he came out of Jennifer's room.
Behind him, she was strapped to her bed, and so dosed with tranquilizers that she only stared blankly ahead while drooling all over herself. The thick padding of her bandages had been removed, and after only four days, the wound was already a puckered scab that showed signs of continuing to heal at a phenomenal rate.
"Take it easy, general," a man in an expensive suit smiled as he came down the hall. "We felt it best if we didn't take any chances with this specimen. Not like my predecessor did with Banner."
"If you morons had bothered to read my report, you would have known she isn't on the same level with Banner. And when she changed, she kept her rational mind. She was completely cognizant the entire time."
"Right, and she just happened to tear a high school apart because it was the reasonable thing to do," the suit smiled snidely.
"I know your type, Baker. And if you don't listen to me…."
"Your days of giving orders are over, general. You've used up the last of your favors. In fact, I want you out of my facility. Now. Guards, this man's security pass is hereby revoked. See to it he leaves at once," Allen Baker smirked at Thaddeus as he gave the order.
"This isn't over, Baker. Bet on that," he growled at the disdainful young man.
"I won't hold my breath, general," he smirked.
Only after the two sentries had escorted Ross from the wing did Allen enter the room. He smiled at the unconscious woman on the bed before him, and looked at the instruments to measure her vitals. "Amazing. Simply amazing," he remarked as he studied the increased levels of barbiturates required just to keep the woman unconscious. Her body was actually adjusting, and neutralizing the affects almost as fast as they could administer new doses.
"It's only a matter of time," Dr. Baker told the young woman. "And we'll figure out your biology and metabolism. And then I will be famous."
"Doctor," a nurse cut in just then as she entered the room. "I was just about to administer her new medication. Was there something else you wanted?"
"No. No. Just keep her on schedule until she's completely healed. Then our real testing can begin."
"She's a sad little thing, isn't she," the nurse commented as she placed the new medicine into the IV that ran into her left arm.
"She's a specimen, and potentially dangerous. Keep that in mind, nurse."
"Yes, doctor," she nodded, though she was far from convinced as she finished up her check on the girl's vitals, and entered the data on her chart. Only then did she leave the room, but not before casting the girl a last, pitying look.
"Might have to transfer that one," he decided as a janitor came into the room. No, an intern, though he was carrying janitor's equipment.
"What are you doing," he demanded of the bearded man who looked as if he all but swam in the white coveralls that covered his scrawny body.
The old man grinned at him as he approached Allen. "You the granddad," he grinned, squinting through overly thick glasses. "I'm just the guy they picked to look after the practical matters. Easy enough to do, since she don't move," he added, moving to empty and change bedpans with an ease that spoke of experience.
"I thought the nurses did that," Allen protested as the man began to moved her slightly as he expertly moved the linen around to change sheets under and around her without moving Jennifer much at all.
"Nurses are for medicine. Interns for the sh….ah, dirty work," the old man grinned, giving him a wink.
"Right," Allen spat, and turned and left the room in disgust as the man went about his work with a cheerful whistle.
Ten minutes later, the man emerged from the room, pushing a cart filled with dirty linen, trash, and the dirty bedpans. "See you at five, if you're around," the old man waved at Allen who had been standing outside. The man headed down the hall to the next room, still whistling the same, tuneless melody.
"Well, I can see why he was picked," Allen smirked. "That one is about as harmless as you can get."
It was the third day since David Barnes, AKA Bruce Banner, entered the room where Jennifer lay bound to her bed. No one was in the room this time, so he immediately replaced the IV bag with the clear saline he carried hidden in his mop bucket, dropping the drugged solution into the bucket of dirty water to be hidden by the mop's thick head.
"How are you doing, Jen," he asked her as he looked down at the girl sleeping on the bed.
Or appearing to sleep.
"A lot better since I could start thinking again. And not so sick since that crap is pretty much out of my system now, thanks to you, David. Or should I say, Dr. Banner?"
"Figured it out, did you," the 'old' man grinned as he winked at her.
"Who else would risk what you're doing in the heart of a military research institute where you're the bigger target?"
"I owed you," he told her. "I was hoping…."
"I figured out some of it, from what gramps told me later. It was you that carried me off."
"Yes. I guess I had enough wit left to impress upon my other side the need to get you someplace safe. Someplace where I could work on you. I have to admit," he said as he made short work of his other duties in the room, including falsifying the data regarding her drug treatments, "That even I was surprised to find myself standing outside Desert Base when I…recovered."
"So, you don't control him? Your Hulk?"
"No. I wish to God I could. But he's a completely separate entity that lives inside me."
"That's odd. I'm still myself when I changed. A little angrier than usual, just more...extroverted, and lots stronger, but still me. Just big and green," she grimaced, then closed her eyes and went limp at his signal.
"How's she doing," Nurse Anderson asked him as she stuck her head into the room.
"Same as ever, ma'am," David grinned as he made a show of wadding up the dirty linen.
"I thought I heard voices."
"Well, you likely heard mine," he told her blithely. "I heard once that talking to comatose patients made them more comfortable, or something."
"She's not comatose, Mr. Barnes. She's sedated."
"Really? For two weeks? Ain't that kind of bad for her?"
"We just follow orders, Mr. Barnes," the new staff nurse in charge of Jennifer's care snapped. "We aren't supposed to worry about anything else but our jobs. Understand?"
"Yes, ma'am. Just can't help but feel sorry for the little gal. Hasn't even started living, and it seems they're already fixing to cut her off. Or up, as the case may be."
"Listening to rumors now, Mr. Barnes?"
"Well, not much else to do here, is there," he chortled in a cracked voice. "And it were doctors I heard saying they was for vivisecting her next week if the tests didn't come out the way they wanted."
Jennifer tensed briefly, knowing Bruce was trying to tip her off as he had to leave now, or be considered suspicious.
"Just do your job, Barnes," the nurse hissed, dropping the respectful title. "That is all you're paid to do."
"Yes, ma'am," he nodded at her as he pushed his cart out the door. "I reckon I know that much. See you at six," he declared, and Jennifer knew it was for her. His schedule called for his next round at five. Nurse Anderson didn't even catch his discrepancy. She did.
"How someone like that ever got assigned here," the woman swore as she made a show of checking Jennifer. Even Jennifer could tell the woman wasn't paying attention. She had gotten lax the past few days as she accepted the young brunette was just a body that never moved. Never changed. How else did the woman miss the fact the IV needle with the narcotics was taped outside Jennifer's arm, and covertly dripping down the side of the bed to a small cup Bruce had contrived to hide the fact.
"Well, it's a shame you are due for surgery in a few days. This is the easiest duty I've had in months," the old woman smirked, her attitude focused only on herself and her comfort as she signed off on the routine check and left the room.
"Hello," Thaddeus growled into the phone, having grown irritable and impatient with all the walls he had suddenly found growing around him of late. It was that Baker. He knew it was. And one way, or another, he was going to knock his walls down. He just had to figure out how.
"Who is this?"
"A mutual acquaintance," the voice replied cryptically.
"What? If this is some kind of game….?"
"I don't play games, general. No time for them. I just thought you might want to know they're going to dissect her next week. Full vivisection."
"Dissect….her? You're talking about Jennifer?"
"Of course. They think they can distill the secrets of gamma mutation from her tissues. I'd tell them how wrong they are, but I don't think they'll listen to a…cowboy like me."
"Banner," Ross leapt out of his chair, and clenched the phone in both hands as if holding his throat, remembering the appellation he had once hurled at Banner.
"If you're going to do anything, you'd better start making some real noise, general. Dr. Baker doesn't care for anything but his own career. He and Talbot were cousins, you know. He feels he's vindicating his family by doing this."
"How the hell do you know Baker? He's a doctor? How do you know this? Where are you?"
"I'm still a scientist, general," the man chuckled, then hung up.
"Banner? Banner? Damn you," he howled at the broken connection, then looked at the receiver as the man's words penetrated his anger.
They were going to kill his only grandchild!
"Like hell they are," he spat and dialed the one number he had yet to try.
"I feel bad for her," Jennifer said as she dressed in the nurse's uniform, glancing back where Bruce was arranging the woman in Jennifer's bed to take her place. At first glance, the slender brunette made an adequate substitute for Jennifer. Hopefully, it would buy them time to get out undetected.
"Just remember, keep your head down, and turn away from anyone that we see. But act like you're busy, and supposed to be here, and I think we'll be fine."
"Is that what keeps you hidden?"
"Hiding in plain sight works better than you might imagine," the 'old' man told her with a wink as he adjusted his fake glasses. "Now, let's get out of this dump."
"Absolutely," she agreed anxiously as she glanced at the tray near the bed filled with tissue and blood samples the nurse was supposed to take from her prior to her vivisection.
"Let's go," he rushed her, feeling a bit harried himself.
"Just stay calm," she suggested. Talking as much to herself, as him.
"Oh, hell yes," he agreed with a tight grin as they left the room. He pushing his cart, her carrying the lab samples.
"Remember, Room 805B, at the end of the hall on the right. Just drop them off, then head for the exit three doors down. I'll be right behind you."
"What if someone….?"
"Keep you head down, and you should be okay. Everyone around here is so anxious about covering their own butts they don't pay much attention to anyone else. But if something happens, run like hell.
"If a guard tries to stop you, just give him a story about 'it' being loose. Trust me, those guys will let you go, and come looking."
"You sound like a real expert."
"I've lived through this kind of thing for over twenty years," he reminded her grimly as he made a show of stopping at the next room. "See you outside."
He winked, and went into the room.
She walked down the hall, looking down as if studying the tray she carried every time someone walked past her. She shoved into the door Bruce had told her, and set the tray on the counter without comment, thankful the duty nurse was studying some paper that held his interest. She turned for the door, and almost held her breath when the man shot a greeting her way. She just waved over her shoulder, and walked out.
She gave a long sigh of relief as she left the lab, and turned toward the exit. Ten minutes later she was in the parking lot, heading for the car Bruce had told her he would be driving. She found the car unlocked, and climbed into the back seat. As mentioned, it was full of old linen, blankets, and a variety of bags of odd articles. She climbed down into the floorboard, and pulled a heap of the linens over her head. By now, he had told her, the guards had gotten lax about searching his old car. After two weeks of him hauling the trash in his back seat, they had gotten used to him.
Five more minutes and he was clear, as she heard him when he climbed into the car, and without looking back, he asked, "You okay."
"Peachy," came a muffled voice.
He chuckled, and started the engine that turned over with a muted roar. The car was old. The engine was not. "Just hang on. Don't make a sound, and we may get out of here yet."
"Hey, David," one of the younger guards waved at him as he pulled up to the security gate. "Early night?"
"Yeah," he drawled. "Not much to do tonight. So I figured I'd knock off early. Who's gonna notice," he grinned at the guard even as the alarm sounded from the main building.
"What's that," David blinked owlishly as the sentry turned back to his booth.
"I don't know," he swore as he looked around, but didn't see his replacement. He had no way of knowing the two men on patrol with him were sleeping off a tranquilizer dart David had used on them.
"Should I stay," he asked with genuine concern, acting as if he were ready to back up.
"No, just go on," the young man waved him on as he let David go before he locked the gate. "It's probably some stupid drill."
"Later," David waved back.
"Much later," he growled in his true voice as he wiped away the sweat that had been beading beneath his gray wig.
"Are we out," Jennifer's soft voice asked. "Did we make it?" He could hear the hope in her voice. And the fear. "Maybe. Just keep your head down, and let's get out of town. Then we'll make our real getaway."
"But….What are we going to do now," she asked, shoving the blankets aside to look up over the seat from where she still knelt in the floorboard.
"Now, we get incognito, and stay low while they swarm like bees looking in the wrong places."
"The wrong places?"
"By now Ross is stirring up lots of noise. They'll be looking his way first of all. He'll figure out I'm involved, but by the time they make anything of it, we'll be gone. First, we stop by my place, and grab the things I've gotten for us to change into."
"I can't go home, can I?"
"Not if you want to live," he told her grimly.
"I guess…. I didn't have much there anyway. Nothing worth dying for."
"That's a good way of looking at it," he told her.
"That's Banner," Ross hissed, staring at the security photo of David Barnes. "You've had Bruce Banner in your hands for all this time, and you didn't even know it," he told Baker who had been tossing out photos of his staff to get him to name his 'accomplices.'
"Banner," Baker gasped, recalling how close he had stood to that man on more than one occasion. How much he had abused the man. Mocked him. Called him a fool.
"I know what he looks like. Apparently you don't. That cheap dye job, or wig, or whatever, that doesn't change his features. That is Dr. Banner. And you had him here all along," Ross actually laughed at the man's expression.
"What's so damned funny," Allen demanded.
"Don't you get it? The man played us off one another. We've been snapping at each other for the past week while he and Jennifer get away to….who knows where."
"We'll find them," Allen spat.
"Pray God you don't," Ross told him. "I still remember the mass graves the last time someone 'found' Banner."
"You don't care about him," Baker shot. "You just want your precious granddaughter back."
"You're right. You're absolutely right. But tell me, Dr. Baker, while we have all these witnesses," he asked, glancing around at the investigative agents surrounding them both. "Who gave you the authority to vivisect my granddaughter?" Allen's jaw dropped.
"Is this true," the senior agent asked him. "Were you proceeding with a postmortem on the patient who had not even expired?"
"We weren't learning anything from her. We had to…."
"You ignored my experience, and wisdom in the matter. I told you she wasn't dangerous. She didn't transform as Banner did. She wasn't a mindless creature of rage. But you ignored all that. You kept her in a narcotic coma, and planned to carve her up without even trying other options."
Allen's chin came up. "And how would you know that?"
"As I said, quite honestly," he stressed with a hard smirk, "Banner did call me, and tipped me off to your plans. Only now I see his reasoning. He had us sniping and working on each other while he and my granddaughter got away. He does seem to know how the bureaucratic mind works, doesn't he?"
"That's all for now, General Ross. We'll be in touch," the senior agent told him as he gestured for him to go.
"Tell me one thing. These people you have looking for Jennifer. Are they going to even try to bring her back alive?" The man's cold, bleak expression told Thaddeus all he needed to know.
Allen merely stared.
"You're no better than he is," Thaddeus spat at the man as he turned toward the door. "Not that I have to worry about you."
"What's that mean," Allen hissed from his chair, having not yet even risen.
"Thank about it, genius. You're now looking for two of the smartest, and most dangerous people on the planet. One of whom was right under your nose, and whom you couldn't find for nearly twenty years. Figure it out."
"Old bastard," Allen spat.
The senior agent merely shared a telling look with his men, and went back to writing reports.
"What's wrong, officer," the man asked the state trooper who was studying the young redhead in the car next to him.
"We're looking for a pair of federal fugitives, sir," he told the old man. "Nothing to worry about," he told him with a smile reserved for his daughter.
"You're right," Jennifer told him as they pulled away from the roadblock. "They are easily distracted," she told him as she straightened the short skirt she was wearing before running her fingers through the red wig that with her clothing, gave her a schoolgirl look. A rather young schoolgirl. For once, her small bosom actually helped her.
"I told you to trust me. I've been doing this for a while now," he told her with a knowing grin.
She smiled back at him, and reached for a drink in the back seat of the small crewcab truck they were driving. "Want one," she asked him as she pulled a cola from the cooler in the narrow back seat.
"No, thanks," he told her. "I'm fine."
"So, is this what it's going to be like from now on," she asked him.
"No. Actually, my life has been pretty stable lately. I did have a few accidents learning to control my temper in the early years, but I've learned from those mistakes. Especially on ways to control my temper."
"I can imagine. I only had the one real change, and it was enough to ruin my life completely."
"You learn to cope. And I've already gotten our new lives set up in south Texas. We should be fine for a while."
"Why did you do this for me," she asked him then. They had been so rushed getting into their disguises, and leading false trails for the army that she hadn't had the time to ask. Now, she was more than curious. After all, he was literally a stranger. What motivated him?
He turned and studied her with his intense dark eyes. "I knew your mother. We were….close. But at the time, I couldn't quite show my feelings the way she wanted, or needed. By the time I could, it was too late. After all, I'm hardly the father figure type," he admitted ruefully as he turned his attention back to the road.
"I don't know. You look a lot like a dad to me. A granddad," she grinned, taking in his silver-white crew cut and dyed gray stubble.
"Thanks a lot," he muttered.
She only laughed in turn.
"Damn," Allen Baker swore as he pounded his desk with both fists. Then did it again as he took in the useless files, and reports of false leads that covered his desk. He was not a man who dealt well with disappointment.
"Problems," Thaddeus Ross asked as he strolled into the man's office at just that moment, taking in his tantrum.
"What the hell are you doing here," Allen demanded as he glared up at the old man in a dark suit with cold, green eyes.
Ross smiled. "I've been appointed as a special expert advisor to your little task force. Apparently after six months of squat, even the new president felt this old warhorse couldn't do much worse."
"You weren't invited," Allen growled at him.
"As I said. Presidential appointment. Apparently this useless old man isn't as far out of the loop as you thought," Thaddeus smirked.
"I want you out of here. I don't care…."
"Gentlemen," Agent Tom Harlyn cut in as he entered the office with two agents behind him. "I see you're getting acquainted."
"Old home week," Thaddeus smiled mockingly. "You know how it is."
"Indeed I do," Tom nodded as he stopped next to Thaddeus. "Dr. Baker, you are going to have to learn to tolerate the general. He is, after all, the single best authority we have on either Dr. Banner, or his granddaughter, Jennifer Walters. I doubt any of us know them half as well as he does, considering their history and connections, respectively."
"Which makes his cooperation suspect, at the least," Allen spat.
Thaddeus leaned over Allen's desk with a cold mask as he turned on the man. "Listen, you pencil-pushing moron. While you were entertaining your delusions of fame and fortune, I was sending men to die when that big, green bastard first went active. I had to destroy my relationship with my own daughter in the process of trying to stop him, and if you will recall, I'm the one that turned Jennifer in myself at the first sign she had been affected by the gamma treatments Banner subjected her to four years ago. Hell, yes, she is my own flesh and blood, but forty-five years ago I took an oath that means a lot more to me. I'll do whatever I have to if it keeps our nation safe from Angry Man, or my own granddaughter, if she proves as dangerous. Even if, just now, I don't happen to think she's the real threat at this point."
"Nice speech," Allen drawled disdainfully.
"It impressed the joint chiefs," Tom told him blandly. "Now, gentlemen, if we are about finished with the chest-thumping, and the like, can we get down to business?"
"As if he's gotten anything to contribute," Allen spat. "He hasn't even been involved in this matter for months."
"He's hiding in plain sight, you idiot," Thaddeus told him.
"Think about it. He's a genius. My daughter is no slouch either. She takes after her parents, who were both scientific geniuses. Although she favors electronics and hard tech. The kind of things you might use to lay false paper trails, and create temporary identities," he pointed out.
"Why wasn't this reported," Allen spat, staring at Thaddeus as if he had been holding back state secrets.
"It was, pencil-pusher. Learn to read the reports you're given," he told Baker as he shoved at one of the stacks of files on the desk nearest him. "Besides, did you tell anyone you were cousins with Glen Talbot, and wanted this assignment to vindicate that idiot's mistakes?"
Tom Harlyn sighed at Allen's furious expression, and looked to the general. "So, Thaddeus, do you have an inkling where they might be now," he asked.
"Actually, I do," the old man smirked, finally putting the old briefcase he was carrying down on top of the reports covering Allen's desk.
"The National Enquirer," Allen scoffed as Thaddeus pulled out several tabloids.
"Keep an open mind. You might learn something, boy," he scolded the younger man as he laid the papers out.
"I assume this is leading somewhere?" "As a matter of fact, Mr. Hanlyn, it is.
"Four months ago, this was reported in Jerzy, Missouri," he said, holding up a paper that boasted, "GREEN HULK DESTROYS METH HOUSE."
"A month later," Thaddeus said, holding up another that read, "SHE-HULK TAKES REDNECKS FOR RIDE."
"Arkansas, I'm to assume?"
"Exactly," Thaddeus told Allen.
"And what the hell does that tell us," he demanded as the other stories proved variations retelling the same reported encounters. Some of them even claimed the two green creatures were the next step in human evolution, and might have gotten married in some secret government lab. The reports went downhill from there.
"Six months ago, when Banner called, he said he could have told you that you couldn't harvest the secrets of regeneration from Jenny's body. He said he would have told you, but he doubted you would have listened to a cowboy like him. His word. And if we accept these reports at face value, and consider the implications of Banner's unwitting slang, then I suspect he is headed for Texas."
"You're kidding," Allen cut in before Tom could speak. "You're the new hotshot advisor, and this is what you've come up with. A couple of tabloid rags, and a dated phone conversation?"
"I'll send my advance team to Austin at once. They'll work out of the regional command center there, and start sifting through anything in recent news reports that might look suspicious," Tom told Thaddeus.
"I'd focus in the rural areas to start. I think they'll be trying to lay low after these public shows," he told him. "And that cowboy phrase just might be telling. Banner is the kind of obsessive personality that totally immerses himself into whatever he's doing. He could be working on a ranch, or some similar operation."
"A super genius, playing cowboy," Allen smirked.
"Would you have thought of looking for him in such surroundings," Thaddeus asked him bluntly.
"It would be a waste of time."
"Which is exactly why someone like him might go there."
"Rob, send out the teams. And alert the state and federal authorities, but have them keep this quiet. We don't want a panic started."
"And we sure as hell don't want to piss him off," Thaddeus exclaimed.
"There is that," Tom nodded. He had not seen the green behemoth himself. But he had seen the file footage, and read the official reports known only to the government. He knew exactly what the monster was capable of if enraged.
"I'm curious, general," Allen stopped him when he turned to leave the office behind Tom Hanlyn. "Once you find them, then what? Do you think they're just going to give themselves up?"
"No, I don't," Thaddeus told him. "That's why there is a termination order on Banner. But, my daughter is another matter. As I said, we can learn from her. She's nowhere as volatile as Banner. As you would have known if you had just listened to me from the start."
"Are you saying this mess is my fault," Allen shrieked.
Thaddeus said nothing as he walked out the door, closing it firmly behind him.
"You really think we can take Banner out before he changes?"
Thaddeus looked at the man. "You'd better pray we can. I had a chance twenty years ago to put him away, and I let a corporate mentality overrule my better judgment. The boys in charge then saw only the potential profit in Banner's power. They didn't understand the danger he represented. They do now, thank God. And it's time for the Hulk, as the press has come to call him, to be excised once and for all."
"And Jennifer Walters? What if she proves just as uncontrollable despite your reassurances?" Thaddeus stopped in the middle of the hall and stared at Tom who stopped with him.
"If it came to that, I'd pull the trigger myself," he told him grimly. "I'd hate it. I suffer for it. But I cannot let even my own flesh and blood endanger a nation I've spent my years defending."
"Let's hope it doesn't come to that," Tom nodded as they resumed walking. "For what it's worth, I agree with you. Further investigation into the involved subjects revealed that your granddaughter was defending herself against those boys in her school that day."
"I guessed as much," he nodded.
"Bart Emirs, I believe was the ringleader. And he has subsequently ended in state prison for no less than three rape charges."
"Damn," Thaddeus swore.
"Still, there is something to be thankful for."
"Yeah," the general growled. "And what is that?"
"We learned of her before she became a genuine threat. And, her plight actually managed to finally bring Banner out of the woodwork."
"There is that," he nodded. "So let's not lose him again."
"Amen," Tom nodded as they headed toward their destination.
"God, why don't they let this die," Jennifer groaned as she caught sight of the blurry image of the She-Hulk on the front page of a tabloid.
"They do enjoy a good story," Bruce grimaced as he scanned the title as he paid for their gas.
"Yeah, but they make it sound so….."
"They specialize in sensationalism, Jen," he told her as they walked back to the old work truck that was loaded with grain and supplies. "And with a story like that, they don't have to worry about facts. They can pretty much say what they want. Who is going to disagree with them?"
"Well they could at least get it right. None of them mention the fact that those drunken college boys up in Fayetteville had tried to run us off the road, and abduct me that night. As it was, they were pretty damned lucky," she spat, her cheeks flushed a suspicious shade of green.
"Easy, girl," he told her as he started the old truck. "You're other side is trying to show."
"Oh, hell," she muttered, and ducked her head as she looked around. No one was looking their way though, and she took several deep breaths as she relaxed into the old, bench seat of the truck.
"You think those boys were lucky," Bruce asked her as he shot her a faint smile.
"Hell, yeah," she grinned. "If you hadn't been knocked unconscious, they would have had two Hulks to deal with. And you're not all that reasonable when you get pissed," she pointed out.
"I did warn you."
"Right. Like you warned those gang bangers up in Missouri."
He groaned. "Don't remind me."
"Well, I'll bet they think twice before they go harassing old men anymore," she laughed suddenly.
"There is something I'm more concerned about," he told her as he drove back to their temporary home.
"What's that," she asked, flipping the blonde curls she now possessed back to look his way. Since they had moved down to south Texas, he had regained his younger appearance, and looked pretty good for a forty-two year old man. In fact, he looked half that with his thick, brown hair and smooth features he no longer hid behind a beard.
"I noticed that every time you've changed…."
"It's only been twice. And the last time was just an accident. That damned horse stepped right on top of me, and it really….."
"Made you angry," he asked with a wide smile.
"Let one stomp on you, doc," she swore.
"They have. Oddly enough, I deal just fine with animals," he told her. "It's people that seem to rub me the wrong way in spite of my best intentions."
"So, what's wrong then? What's worrying you?"
"You're slower to change back each time. I know it's only been twice, and thankfully, you do remain in possession of your rational mind, but you still have a hard edge created by the anger in you.
"All that aside, I'm worried. When the anger fades, you should immediately transform back into your human state."
"Yes," he nodded, turning onto the university road where his practice was set up in the agri-building of the state school. "But you retained your jade physique longer each time. That worries me."
"Maybe it depends on what's causing the anger," she asked with a weak smile. "You know how we women can nurse a grudge."
Bruce grimaced. "Actually, I think it's more serious than that."
"How serious," she asked as he pulled up behind the veterinarian research lab where they both worked. He as the visiting professor, and she as an undergrad in her freshman year.
"I think some of my mutated DNA might be redesigning yours at the molecular level. If so, you could conceivable become….permanently green in time."
"You're kidding," she asked, genuinely alarmed by his solemn warning.
"It is only just a theory. But I would like to run a few tests. Nothing painful, just some blood and tissue cultures…."
"They did that back at the labs, and never got anything viable. Once it was out of me, it seemed to…."
"Destabilize," he nodded knowingly. "Our initial experiments destabilized in progress. But something in your body has adapted to the mutated gene, and is causing this molecular shift. We should find it as soon as we can, Jen, or you may spend your latter years permanently as the She-Hulk."
"And I thought dating was hard now," she groaned. He didn't chastise her. He knew she was aware of how serious the matter was, and as they set to unloading the supplies for the animals currently in their care, she gave her own serious thought to the possibility of becoming a lifelong green giantess. The thought didn't appeal much to her at all.
"Don't worry. Just keep your temper."
"Right," she grimaced at him. "All I have to say is next time you're changing that stallion's bandage," she told him.
Bruce chuckled. "Animals sense your fear, Jen. Just show them you're not afraid, and you won't have any trouble."
"He's five times bigger than I am," she told him. "Of course I'm afraid of him," she protested.
He only laughed.
"Nothing," Tom told Thaddeus as he came in from checking his last lead.
"We're missing something," the old general told him. "People don't actually just disappear. They always leave trails. We just have to figure out where to look."
"Well, so far, we've found lots of illegal laborers," Allen snorted as he looked up from his desk. "But no mutated monsters."
Both men ignored the man as he continued leafing through a journal. "Look at this. I should be here. At least they're still doing real research," he complained. "And at a rinky-dink state school of all places."
"You could always change careers."
"You don't get it," Allen shot back. "I am a scientist. I've been involved with some cutting-edge research of my own. That's how I've got this far. But now I'm chasing green monsters, while some Podunk cowboy is doing research on animal hybridization, using their traits to enhance and strengthen the human species.
"Using….gamma….radiation as a catalyst," Allen read as he looked up at Thaddeus and Tom.
"Could be a coincidence," Tom remarked as all three men looked at one another.
"Banner's not the only scientist in the field using radiation to catalyze their experiments," Allen agreed.
"Who is it?"
"James Bryant. PhD."
"What are you thinking," Tom asked him as Thaddeus' silver eyes narrowed thoughtfully.
"My middle name is James."
"So," Allen huffed.
"Jen's mother. Her grandmother was a Bryant before she married."
"James….Bryant. It's a stretch," Tom said even as he reached for the phone.
"I don't believe in coincidences," Thaddeus told him bluntly.
"I remember that about you," Tom said, then turned his attention to the phone. "Rob, get a full team ready. We're going to Alford. Maybe. We have a potential tip. We'll see how it pans. But I want no one, and I mean absolutely no one, to tip the targets off. We're playing this one completely by the book."
"Bruce," Jennifer screamed as her friend and mentor suddenly staggered back, clutching his chest. She rushed to his side even as he fell, crimson fluid spurting from beneath his hand as he stared blankly up at her.
"Oh, God, Bruce," she cried as men in black seemed to spill out of the night around the campus where they had just come out of the lab. "What do I do?"
"Get….out of here," he rasped, looking unnaturally pale even for him.
"I can't just leave you," she protested as she struggled to drag him back inside when several additional shots came out of the night from those silent men in black. Before she could shut the door, she felt a white-hot knife of agony cut through her left side as a bullet found her own unprotected flesh.
"Go," he rasped even as the shrill sound of a mortar filled the air.
"No," she screamed even as the high explosive round tore the building down around them. "Bruce," she screamed even as the walls began to disintegrate as another round smashed into the wall, and sent clouds of rubble raining down atop them.
"Targets neutralized," the captain smirked as he lowered his binoculars. "Don't see what all the fuss was about."
"What the hell happened," an old man in a dark suit demanded as he came running from the helicopter that had just landed.
Around them, men and women were running and screaming as they fled the peripheral areas of campus closest to the now collapsed building. Another man in black, this one younger, if no less grim, stopped beside the captain and glared.
"We handled the situation, sir," Captain Allison told him as he gestured to the building.
"You idiot. We hadn't even confirmed the targets were viable," Tom Hanlyn spat as Thaddeus stared at the smoldering rubble. "And you sure as hell don't open fire on a public institution without better cause than your ego."
"Hey, I know all about this Hulk. I saw what he did to Frisco a few years ago. He wasn't getting loose in my town," the reserve officer smiled smugly. "Now, we got him for you. Two bullets. Two bombs. Neat and tidy. So pick up your bodies, and….."
The low, angry growl sounded beyond enraged. There was a hard, thumping echo of flesh on stone, and then the rubble shifted violently. Nine feet tall already, and eyes glowing with fury, the Hulk climbed out of the rubble and howled his rage at the night as he continued to grow.
"Congratulations, captain," Thaddeus swore weakly as he felt his old knees tremble. "You found our man. Neat and tidy," he drawled in contempt for the man who thought he was a leader.
"First platoon," the man ordered fearfully. "Prepare to…."
"No," Thaddeus spat. "Pull back. Now. Any man you send in there is only going to die. I saw that bastard take a M1 tank apart with his bare hands. Do you really think you can stop that," he demanded as the creature turned and dug into the rubble with single-minded purpose.
The captain's reply, whatever it might have been, was lost in the angry shout that rose as another figure climbed out of the hole the creature had been digging. "Who the hell drops a building on us? Who the hell does that," the female creature demanded shrilly as Thaddeus stared at the tall, powerful female backlit by the flames still burning. "And look at my hair," the female demanded. "I just had it fixed, and now I'm all green again."
Both giants turned toward the gaping men as a low growl emanated from teh massive chest of the male.
"This is your fault," she turned and glared at the anxious group of reservists who were backing away by then of their own accord. "Damn it, why don't you just leave us alone?"
The original Hulk's response was more primal, and just as pointed. He growled in a voice like thunder, and leapt the short distance to where the captain stood, glaring down at him, Thaddeus, and Tom. He stared down at them with glittering emerald eyes, and slowly raised massive fists as a faint, feral quirk twisted his thin lips.
"Bruce," the female no less than seven foot tall, but just as green suddenly appeared virtually naked at his side, taking hold of one of his fists. "No, Bruce. Not like this."
He growled at her, but not quite so loud.
"Let them go, Bruce. Let them go," Jennifer told him as she moved in front of him, clad only in a torn, and bloody knit dress that had tried to stretch to fit her new physique.
Bruce gave a low grumbling sound of discontent, but lowered his fists.
"Jenny," Thaddeus called out, standing only inches from her as Allen Baker gaped helplessly up at the two behemoths before him. "Are you okay?" She looked back at him and laughed bitterly. "You are kidding, right?"
By the time she looked back, Bruce was getting noticeably smaller. "That's it, Doc. Deep breaths. Slow and easy. We're all buddies….."
The bullet bounced off Bruce's forehead, and ricocheted into the night. He reacted immediately. A single sweeping gesture sent Jenny, and the three men closest to her tumbling away as he howled at the gunman who still pointed a rifle at him. The Hulk bounded atop him, literally, crushing him beneath his massive feet before leaping away into the night, his growls and roars deafening even as he disappeared into the distance. "You guys are regular geniuses, aren't you," Jennifer spat as she stood up and dusted herself off as if she weren't already covered in dust from the rubble that had nearly crushed her.
"It wasn't supposed to go this way," Thaddeus told her.
"No. Of course not. We were supposed to die so you could go play God in your laboratories. Thanks a lot, gramps. You have no idea how much you have really fucked us up here tonight," she spat, and then, incredibly, turned and leapt after Bruce with as much power in her long, lithe legs as the other creature had displayed. The distant booms of their thunderous landings marked their passing, but not one man moved.
"Captain, I think you can expect disciplinary actions by the morning," Thaddeus spat, ignoring Allen's suspiciously damp slacks. "Tom, I want this lab, and all its contents sifted with a fine tooth comb. I'm taking the chopper and see if we can track them without pressuring them."
"Well, you were right about one thing," Tom told him as he discarded his ruined jacket.
"What's that," Thaddeus glowered as he tried not to notice the crushed trooper groaning in agony, or the panic that had been created all around them.
"She's still rational. And she would have controlled him, if not for that moron."
"Tell me something I don't know," he spat, then turned to head for the chopper. And stopped cold.
The aircraft was going nowhere. The creature had smashed right through the rear of the body as it departed. The pilots were still climbing out of the ruined aircraft, shaking their heads, but it was evident no one was going after the two Hulks now. Now anytime soon.
"Damned reservists," he muttered as he turned back to face Tom with a helpless expression.
"How are you feeling," Jennifer asked him as Bruce slowly opened his eyes.
"Like I was run over by a truck," he smiled weakly as he sat up to face her clad in an oversized men's shirt, and a pair of jeans.
"Yeah, but I think you were driving that truck," she smiled weakly as she handed him the old clothes she had found in the nearby abandoned line cabin. They were miles from anywhere, but the cabin meant they were somewhere on someone's property. It had been happenstance that they had ended up stopping only a few yards from the old, weather-beaten structure.
"What happened?" She grimaced. "Where do I start. You were shot. I was shot."
"You were hit, too," he gasped, looking at her with alarm.
"And I healed as fast as you, cousin," she teased him, using the cover they had devised at the college. She had been his cousin, studying at the same institution where he worked. Only that was most definitely over now.
"It seems I underestimated them."
"Gramps was there. He must have figured something out. He's pretty smart, too. In his own way."
"Apparently. So, what happened," he asked again as he pulled on the old shirt to cover his bare skin from the sun already high in the sky.
"After I dragged you inside, getting shot in the process, they shelled the place. I thought that was it, only I changed right at the end, and it let me survive the explosions. I was about to dig us out when you beat me to the punch.
"You went after the army, but I managed to dissuade you. Only….."
"Someone tried to shoot you when you started changing back. Naturally, it didn't work out. You stepped on him, literally, and took off across the flatlands like a two-legged locomotive. I followed you. And here we are," she said with a weak smile, gesturing around them.
"Yeah, I know. My hair's still green."
"So are your eyes," he told her. "And you're still pretty tall. At least six-three."
"I guess you were right."
"And everything I needed to stop the genetic shift was back in our lab," he groaned as he climbed to his feet, dusting off the torn jeans he still had on.
"I don't blame you, Bruce," she told him. "Actually, I don't think gramps intended for things to go like that either. He was really chewing out some G.I. when I split."
"They didn't try to stop you," he asked her as he changed pants. While the other jeans were old and faded, they were still more intact than his own.
"As if," she smirked, then noticed what he held. "Hey, you didn't lose your wallet."
"Not this time. That gives us some cash to work with. But it's going to be a little hard to show up in town…."
"Not a problem. I think we're in New Mexico somewhere. Give or take a state line, or two," she shrugged. "Geography was never my strong point. And it was dark."
He grinned. "I know that feeling. At least you knew where you were going."
"Oh, yeah," she nodded. "Following big footprints in the dead of night. No problem."
"Try waking up after….. After. It takes getting used to."
"I'm really sorry, Bruce."
"So am I," he told her. "You shouldn't be involved in this mess."
"Hey, it's not your fault."
He gave her a telling look.
"Bruce, if it wasn't for you, I'd be dead. At least I'm still alive."
"I think we should leave the country for a while. Do you speak Spanish?"
"Are you kidding? I was raised in Connecticut," she told him.
"Right. Okay, let's try another direction. Come on. If we're lucky, we can find a bus station. No one ever checks buses," he informed her knowingly. "I should know."
"If that moron hadn't moved too soon, we'd have had them. Both of them," Allen spat as he sifted angrily through the files he had lain out on a long table before him.
"It's going to take time to try tracing them again," Tom sighed, looking through a charred notebook. "He's going to be more cautious this time, and we aren't going to have any clues this time."
"Look at this," Thaddeus told them, holding up a notebook that escaped the worst of the damage. "I don't understand the equations, but….it's some kind of journal."
Both men looked his way as he opened the charred journal to the first legible page. "If my calculations are correct," he read, "Then I may be able to remove the mutated genes from Jennifer's DNA since they were artificially enhanced, and not part of her natal structure."
Allen snatched at the notebook. "My God. It's the secret to his gamma regeneration experiments. Look at this. The enzymes are listed….damn, some of the pages are missing."
"Never mind that, you damn fool. Didn't you hear. He can cure Jennifer. He can remove the mutation from her."
"I doubt he can now, general," Tom told him. "This is more of his journal. It seems there is a time limit. And the more she….changes, the more permanent some of those changes are going to be. He speculates she could morph into her alter ego permanently if left untreated."
"And that blundering captain ruined things for all of us," Allen swore. "We could have had them both, and all the secrets of Banner's research, too."
"Let's not get too broken up over the lost lives, the many injured, or the fact my daughter could have been restored to normal, and wasn't," Thaddeus retorted.
"You know," Allen glared at him. "I'm starting to think you wanted them to get away."
"I didn't see you stopping them when they stood right in front of us," Thaddeus shot back.
"Gentlemen, this is getting us nowhere."
"No," Thaddeus shot, turned to wave his charred journal at him after taking it back. "But this might."
"What is it," Allen asked with suspicion.
"Maps. And addresses of the top research scientists in the world. There are still five of them that are legible. Two in the U.S., one in Mexico, another in Hong Kong, and…."
"General," Tom asked.
"No, scratch that. It looks like...Albania?"
Tom looked at the faded writing that had been smeared by the water that had put the fires out. "Not Albania. Maybe….Alberta," he told Thaddeus. But the rest of the address is gone. It could be anywhere in that province. And that's a damn big place."
"True," Allen smiled. "But how many scientists of Banner's equal are there living in Canada," he asked.
"It's too unlikely. If anything, he's headed for Mexico," Tom shook his head. "It's closer."
"Excuse me, but didn't you just get through lecturing me on how this man is more likely to do the unlikely. And since we can likely safely say that he at least temporarily lost the ability to get out the country, then Alberta is definitely his most likely destination."
"I have to agree with Baker on that one," Thaddeus told the agent. "Banner's not stupid. He'd have to know we would be all over the border before he could get near it."
"Unless he were still big and green," Tom smirked.
"We would have heard about that by now," Thaddeus pointed out. "If nothing else, the press is good at keeping an eye open for him."
"The same press claiming there's a human spider crawling around New York," Tom drawled.
"He's real. They call him Spiderman. Real freak job. But he seems local, and operates as some kind of small time vigilante," Allen stated.
"You've seen him," both men remarked dryly.
"Actually, yes. I was in New York at the Oscorp debacle when he fought off some freak job in a Halloween mask. Actually, he was quite impressive for all his garish costuming. He actually does have the proportionate speed and strength of a spider."
"Climbs walls, too, huh," Thaddeus smirked.
"Well," Allen actually grinned. "Yes."
"Okay. Now that we're through discussing human oddities. General," Tom asked. "Do we go with Alberta?" Thaddeus studied the notebooks. "I don't know."
"What," Allen blurted. "But you just said you agreed….."
"And I do. Only I also know Banner has gotten pretty devious over the years. And why would a devious man simply write down his intended contacts for us to find?"
"I was wondering that myself," Tom remarked.
"A map. Get me a map of the world," Thaddeus suddenly ordered as two men looked up from the rubble they were still sifting at one side of the room.
"How about a globe," one of the agents suggested, pointing at the big globe at the other side of the room.
"It'll do," he said, and ripped out the paper with the addresses to head for the old globe.
"What are you thinking," Tom asked.
"Triangulations," Thaddeus told him. "While he is a geneticist, Banner started as a physicist. And those guys are nuts about geometry. So lets take five points, and see what they do on a globe," he said as he used a marker to note the locations they had.
"Hmmm, even though Alberta's an approximation, the points make a square on the continent," Tom noted. "So where does the Chinese listing come in?"
"Latitude, and Longitude," Thaddeus smiled grimly as he drew a line bisecting the square. "We now know the general area he's heading. It's going to be along this line," he said, tapping the line that cut the U.S. into an elongated square.
"Damn, he is a clever bastard," Allen murmured.
"Here's where you come in, Dr. Baker," Thaddeus glanced at him. "What kind of research institutes, or doctors of his caliber lie along this meridian," he asked.
"General. How about here," Tom asked, tapping a state.
"Nevada," Thaddeus murmured thoughtfully.
"Desert Base," Tom nodded. "You found your daughter there. It's where all of this began. Maybe it's where it's going to end."
The three men shared a telling look. "Desert Base," Thaddeus nodded.
"It does sound….likely," Allen agreed.
"So the question is, how do we proceed?"
"There is only one way," Thaddeus told him. And grimly, he began to lay out his plan.
"This place is spooky," Jennifer complained as they moved through the crumbling remnants of the old housing at the edge of the deserted base.
"It was no less so when it was alive," Bruce told her. "I grew up here. More or less, I was born here. And reborn here."
"That does not reassure me," she replied as they headed for the hidden underground entrance to the real base that lay beneath the sand.
"Trust me, I'd rather not be here myself. But if I'm right, I not only have a chance to prevent any further cellular disruption in your case, but a chance to finally control the thing inside me. To at least give me control over it."
"Right now, I'd settle for a nice, peaceful cabin in the mountains somewhere," she told him as she followed him through the still night.
"I've tried that. It's overrated. You'd be stir crazy in a week."
"I'd manage," Jennifer huffed.
Bruce chuckled as they found the base entrance. It was still open. He stopped cold. "Something's wrong here."
"What? What are you talking about?"
"Even the army wouldn't leave a place like this open to the casual intruder. We're expected," he spat, staring at the open doors that had replaced the warped steel panel his alter ego had ripped off some years ago.
"Crap," she complained. "Then we're probably already surrounded."
"I don't think so," he murmured. "We'd have heard them. Sound carries well on the desert."
"Unless they're already underground?"
"I was trying not to think about that," Bruce shot back as he studied the open door.
"So….what do we do," she asked, and he could hear the worry in her tone.
"Banner," a single voice shouted out of the darkness in the open door. "You there yet, Banner," the old man asked as he stepped out, leaning on a cane.
"Gramps," Jennifer rasped.
"General Ross," Banner growled, and felt Jen's hand come down on his shoulder.
"Easy big fellow," the six foot, four inch woman with green hair told him as he looked up at her. At only five-eleven himself, he was now the short one.
"Banner, I'm here to give you a chance to end this madness."
"You're sharpshooters that good," he shouted back. "They tried that already. Remember?"
"Damn it, Banner, I'm alone here. I'm going to give you a chance. I read your notebooks. Some of them survived the fires."
"They'd have to, or you wouldn't be here, would you," he shot back, still keeping back out of sight.
"Jennifer, do you hear me?"
"I'd have to be deaf not to, now wouldn't I, gramps," she drawled.
"I know about his plans. Come out. I'm here to give you the chance he feels you have."
"Actually, it may be a little late for me to be completely normal," she told him as she looked down at Bruce, then stepped out of the shadows of the guard shack where they had been sheltered. Bruce followed with a sigh of resignation. "But he thinks he can keep me from completely changing," she added as she stepped forward, and let her grandfather see her.
"Jenny," the old man gasped, staring up at her in the moonlight.
"Yep. Not my usual color, is it," she asked idly as she flipped a lock of dark, green hair from her face.
"No," Thaddeus choked. Then his eyes moved to Bruce. "But you think you can actually reverse this….this thing?"
"I believe I have a good chance of removing the mutated genome. With the right equipment."
"And what about you," he asked Bruce. "Do you think the same process would work on you?" Bruce stared at him.
Thaddeus released a deep sigh.
"But I do think it might be able to give me control of the beast, the way Jennifer was able to control her transformation. By putting my mind in the front seat, rather than letting the primal savage id maintain control of our shift."
"And how is that better," Thaddeus spat.
"It could limit his power, and his transformations. With my mind at the fore, there would be less rage. Less rage, less power. And hopefully fewer transformations. Perhaps even none. It is an experiment," he concluded with a shrug.
"All right, we'll try it. Jenny first," he told him.
"And how many people have you got waiting for us down there," Bruce asked when Thaddeus turned back to the open doors.
"Just five. All lab techs who know enough to be able to help you with your experiment. No snipers. No one but the technicians," Thaddeus told him. "And me."
"Why this show of trust?"
"Still suspicious, aren't you?"
"I think I have cause," Bruce snapped. "You've been trying to kill me for twenty years."
"Nothing personal, Banner. But you're a danger to this country, and every living person on the planet. We both know that," he retorted.
"I know that, too. Don't you think I've wanted to end this myself," he shot as he glanced at Jennifer, then walked forward.
"Then why not just shoot yourself?"
"I'm not made that way," Bruce told him. "I believe in hope. If science created me, then I feel science can uncreate me. Or at least control me."
"Then why haven't you come in. Given us a chance to help….."
"C'mon, General Ross," he laughed as they neared where he stood. "Who's kidding who here now?"
"Touché. Still, I think we're past the point where I think guns or bombs will stop you. I want to see if your own science can do the job. So this is your shot. We've anticipated all you might need based on the notes that survived the fires. So let's see what wonders you can do."
"And if I fail?"
"Then I'll still try and put a bullet in your brain before you can change again," he told him honestly as he patted the pistol holstered at his side.
"And what about me, gramps," Jen asked quietly. "What if he can't stop my changes?"
"Honey, we've already realized you're not the real threat here."
"But you'd still turn me back in. Lock me back up where those assholes can cut me into little pieces to see what makes me tick. Right?"
"That's not my call, honey. I wish it were, but…." Thaddeus shook his head. "Let's just see what Banner can do before we have to face anything else less….pleasant," he told her, and gestured for them to follow again.
This time they did.
"I'm injecting the nannites with the override program now," Bruce told her as he injected the needle into Jennifer's arm with some difficulty. "We'll give them a few minutes to dissipate, and then expose you to the gamma rays again."
"Will I change back then?"
"No," Bruce told her. "But if we're successful, you shouldn't change any further. Maybe you won't even change at all anymore. I hope."
"So do I," she told him. "Green hair I can live with. Green skin. Ugh," she faked a shiver.
"Cross your fingers," he told her, and stepped around the safety curtain with the other lab techs who studied him anxiously.
"Level two for three seconds. No more, no less," he told the man at the controls as he adjusted the emitter himself.
"Level two," the man in the radiation suit nodded as he adjusted the control. "Ready on your command, doctor."
"Do it," Bruce nodded, and glanced at the monitors. "Three….two…..one, and shut it off."
The shrill whine of the emitter faded slowly, and Bruce left the sheltered area even before it completely cycled down. "How do you feel," he asked the tall woman laying back on the gurney in her borrowed sweats that at least covered her.
"Hungry, scared, pretty much the same," Jennifer grinned as her grandfather came out from behind the curtain with two of the techs.
"How soon do we know if it worked," he demanded.
"We don't. Not unless you want to get her really pissed off to see if she changes," Bruce told him blandly. "I can check her blood and tissues in a few minutes though. If anything has changed, we should be able to ascertain if the mutated genome is destabilizing or not."
"If its still present, then she may still….change. Or it might mean she just needs more time to acclimate to the treatment."
"What do we do in the meantime," Thaddeus asked.
"In the meantime, I'm going to try it on myself," he told him as he looked at Jen. "I've tried a lot over the years," he told her. "This time, it just might work."
Five minutes later he was administering his own tailored dose of the control serum into his arm. Then he checked the emitter once more, and turned to the lab tech behind the panel. "Remember. Level two, for three seconds."
"Yes, doctor," the man nodded, and turned the controls.
"I'm ready," he told Jennifer. "You'd better get back there, too."
"Sure thing, Bruce," she told him, then looked back at him with a wide smile. "Good luck," she told him as she winked at him before ducking behind the lead curtain.
"Whenever you're ready," he told the technician."
"Yes, sir," the man smiled as he turned the controls.
"Hey," Jennifer swore. "He said level two," she protested as she jumped at the man who had spun the dial to ten, the far end of the spectrum. "You'll kill him!"
"Damn straight, bitch," Allen Baker spat as he shoved her aside, and activated the controls.
"Baker, you damned fool," Ross shouted, realizing belatedly what was happening. "Abort!"
"No," he shouted back, and raised the safety margin completely into the red. "We finally have the bastard, and I'm going to be the one that brings him down."
On the other side of the curtain, bathed in an eerie green glow, Bruce Banner howled in agony. And began to change.
"You idiot," Jennifer spat. "Gamma radiation feeds the beast. You can't kill him like that. You're only making him angry!"
The low snarl from the other side of the booth made them all freeze.
"Angrier," she murmured as she heard a loud crash as something metallic groaned and clattered as it was hammered into the ground.
"No one fucking move," a tech rasped as the snarl rose in their ears, echoing around the small control booth.
"I have to stop him," Jennifer swore, and tried to shove past the men.
"Sorry, honey," he told her as he hammered his heavy cane down against the side of her skull. She dropped limp at her feet as the two techs who were really soldiers put heavy manacles on her hands and feet, and slipped a gas mask over her face. The anesthesia would ensure she remained unconscious.
"Who there," a gravelly voice snarled as all six men in the crowded booth gasped.
"Who there," the hoarse voice demanded again just before something loud crashed to the ground, and echoed through the chamber.
"Hulk smash," the beast spoke again, and hammered something with his powerful fists as the men stayed down away from the clear observation port. They might want to see what was happening, but they didn't want the thing to see them.
An inarticulate snarl echoed endlessly for several minutes, and then heavy footsteps preceded the man beast's departure down the hall.
"My God," Thaddeus spat at Baker. "You were told to follow orders. Do you have the slightest idea of the damage you've done?"
"It should have worked," Baker spat. "All my calculations were correct."
"Your calculations! Damn you, Baker," Thaddeus spat as he glanced at the cameras. The lumbering brute was definitely headed out of the complex. "If what we just heard was any indication, Banner's theory was correct. Only instead of putting his mind in the beast, and controlling him, you gave it a primitive mind with enough awareness to really make him dangerous!"
Allen grimaced. "It should have killed him," he protested.
"You don't get it, do you," another of the real techs asked. "Banner's physiology feeds on gamma radiation. You can't use it to kill him. It only fuels him. And you pumped enough into him before he smashed the emitter that we don't know what havoc its caused to his metabolism.
"He might never change back," the tech warned.
"God damn it," Thaddeus rasped. "God damn it. Everyone, to the shelter. Once the beast is clear, I'm calling in the air strike."
"You can't mean to drop a nuke on us," Allen whined.
"That's why they call it a suicide mission, boy," Thaddeus growled at him. "Did you think I was kidding when I came up with this plan? Now move your butt. The shelter may protect us, but it won't if we're still sitting here when the bombs hit."
"What about her," Allen spat, glancing down at the unconscious woman at their feet.
"Get an environment suit for her, and carry her," he ordered the guards. "And for God's sake, hurry. I've already sent the signal, and those B1's will be here any second," he warned, discarding the cane that carried the transceiver he used to signal the strike.
Despite the mask, Jennifer came to a few minutes after they carried her into the shielded bomb shelter one floor down from the lab. At nearly a half mile down, with the lead shelter, and their suits, they hoped to be able to survive the immediate fallout from the nuclear bombs the president had authorized. The question was whether or not they would survive the blast itself. That was the tricky part. Desert Base was designed as a covert research facility. Not a bunker.
"Any second," Thaddeus said as he glanced at his watch.
"Gramps," Jennifer murmured sleepily, looking up at him with hurt in her green eyes. "What have you done?"
"She's definitely strong. That gas should have knocked out five of her," the tech remarked as he struggled to pull the radiation suit over her still limp body.
"We should terminate her, too. While we have the chance," Baker spat.
"Come and try, you little weasel," Jennifer spat, her voice sounding stronger.
"More gas, medic," Thaddeus ordered as he heard the anger in his granddaughter's voice.
The man obeyed, but Jennifer's eyes were already glowing. Her body was stretching, as if too big to keep contained in her own skin, and she easily snapped her shackles before she reached up and ripped the mask from her face even as a distant boom of thunder shook the entire shelter violently.
"That's only the first one," Thaddeus warned when the men gasped, then cheered their survival.
"First what," Jennifer growled as she rose to her knees, shoving the two guards, and the medic back with a single push. "What did you do," she demanded, her eyes locked on her grandfather.
"Oh, piss off," she spat at Allen who had just bent an iron bar over her dark green head. She just backhanded him, not even looking away from her grandfather who was looking more than worried. He gave a loud wail as he flew the few feet to the door to hit it with enough force to crack ribs.
"Well," she demanded, then shook her head. "Oh, screw you, too," she said, and turned to the door.
"No," Thaddeus howled along with the rest of the men as a second explosion rocked the small bunker, and part of the room began to cave in around them.
"What the hell is that? What did you do," she demanded as she moved to intercept the main support beam that was about to collapse atop them, bringing the rest of the roof with it. "Tell me, damn you," she ordered as she pushed up, and the beam returned to its rightful position.
Thaddeus could only gape at her, unable to imagine the sheer strength in her arms as she easily held the collapsing ceiling back as she glared down at them. She was just over seven foot now, and green from head to toe. But she was still rational, if a bit angry, and if what Banner had predicted was true, she could stay this way this time.
"We nuked him," Allen groaned, sitting in a heap by the door. "Only way….to stop him."
"You….what," she gasped.
"We had to end his threat one way or another."
"The only threat was you jackasses. Or hasn't it ever occurred to you that he only gets pissed off when you, or your kind show up to hound him? To hound us? Or have you forgot how well nuking him worked twenty years ago?"
Not one man spoke.
"Well, what now, general," she drawled, voicing his title with as much scorn as she could.
"Jen….I tried to give him a chance. To give you both a chance…."
"Oh, yeah, I noticed that," she spat, glaring back at Allen.
"He wasn't supposed to be here," he told her. "He wasn't cleared for this mission."
"Someone had to make sure you didn't let sentiment interfere with your duty," Allen wheezed, holding his left side. He had obviously been hurt.
"Can it, mister," Thaddeus spat as Jennifer turned to glare at him. "We might well have been rid of the monster now if you hadn't screwed up the experiment."
"We probably already are," he shot back smugly. "Nothing human can survive two nukes. Nothing," he spat right back.
"The Hulk isn't human, you asshole. Or have you forgotten the gamma bomb you dropped on him twenty years ago."
"That was nowhere as powerful as the two nukes we used today," Thaddeus admitted.
"Well, are we going to sit here and wonder, or are we going out?"
"We….We have to wait for evac. I doubt we can get through the rubble," Thaddeus told her.
"Evac, my green ass," Jennifer spat. "Zip up, boys," she warned them as she shifted her weight, causing the ceiling she still held up to shift and groan. "I'm getting out of here."
"Wait," Allen screamed as he scrambled for his headpiece even as she lifted a bare foot, and kicked at the door.
"Holy….." The two guards looked at her, and didn't even think of reaching for the spare gas canisters they had left.
"Go," Jennifer ordered, seeing nothing but a mostly clear hall beyond the shelter after she had kicked the heavy door off its hinges, and sending it flying halfway down the hall.
"What about you," Thaddeus asked as he hesitated in the doorway.
"Just move, gramps. I'm coming right behind you," she warned as she shifted her powerful arms, and shoved upward.
Before the rubble could fall, she lunged through the door, and was at their sides, holding Thaddeus in one arm since he had moved to slow to either avoid the fall of debris, or her rush from the shelter. "Told you to move," she grinned as she slowly set him down.
"The lift is blocked," one of the techs reported. "There's no way up."
"Get out of the way," Jennifer complained as the man moved clumsily back in his heavy radiation suit.
"Jennifer, you should be suited up, too. The radiation…."
"Isn't so much a concern for me," she told him as she began pulling the rubble from the lift. "Trust me. Bruce and I have been going over my new bod for months. Though I have to wonder why his experiment didn't work on me either. Gee, Dr. Brady. Did you fuck up my control settings, too," she asked him with mock indulgence.
The man cringed, but said nothing.
"Brady, you are so screwed, I hope you survive this. Because I'm going to see you court-martialed to fullest extent possible," Thaddeus told him.
"I was….doing my duty," he rasped, clutching his side as he leaned against the warped wall behind him.
"Lift is clear," Jennifer shouted a moment later. "But bad news, boys. You're going to have to climb a little. The car is trashed."
"Oh, God," Allen groaned.
"Don't fret, jackass," Jennifer came back and grinned down at him. "I'll carry you. I wouldn't dream of letting you miss out on seeing what you've caused. Not to mention facing the piper you're going to have to pay."
Thaddeus stared at her as she easily dropped the injured man over one shoulder, and began leading the way by climbing up the vertical shaft with ease. The transformation was more than physical, he realized. She had changed mentally. Her inhibitions seemed far more relaxed. She was more extroverted, and casually daring in her behavior. Much more outgoing. What else had changed, he wondered as he began climbing up after the other four men. And what wouldn't change back?
They spotted the heavily armored vehicle almost the moment they reached the exit to the outside. Nearby, two huge craters were gouged out of the sand that had been blasted smooth by the intense heat. There was no other sign of life, and the last vestiges of the old base on the surface were gone. The desert was truly desolate now. The vehicle rolled toward them as they stumbled out of the underground base. Jennifer dropped Allen at her feet as she studied the transport carrier, estimating the troops it might carry. "I'll tell you now, gramps. The first guy that points something at me is going to be fed his toy. You understand me?"
"No one will attack you while you're with us," he told her as he breathed raggedly, sucking air through his tanks as he sagged under weight of his suit.
"Are you okay," she asked him.
"Long….climb," he panted. "And I'm not….as young as I…used to be."
"Hell, you should have said something. I could have carried you."
"You had Baker."
"I could have carried you both. Though dropping that asshole on his head does have a certain appeal just now," she told him as she glanced around the desert again.
"Let him….face charges. That will be….enough."
"Maybe for you," she huffed. "Want to tell your GI Joes to stand down," she asked as a dozen armed men in rad suits came out of the back of the vehicle once it stopped. All with heavey weapons pointed at her.
"It's….okay," Thaddeus began.
"She's with us," the senior tech sergeant finished as he stepped forward to greet the soldiers. "Everyone's out, and the lady is contained. Let's get out of here."
"What…happened to…..Banner," Thaddeus asked as he was helped into the vehicle a few moments later.
"He took both hits right on his thick, green skull, then laughed at us, and leapt away," a man inside the transport reported.
"He….actually laughed," Thaddeus gasped, then looked at Allen. "This is not good. Not good at all."
"What the hell happened. We heard your transmission, and thought you had a good lead on controlling him with that experiment."
"Baker replaced one of….our techs. Sabotaged the process," Thaddeus sighed as he leaned back against the wall behind the bench seat he took in the transport, sucking in air.
"Wait," Jennifer asked as she climbed into the transport with the men who gaped at her very feminine curves straining against the shredded sweatshirt she wore. "Are you telling me Bruce really survived two nukes at ground zero?"
"Here's the video. We picked it up right after impact, since we couldn't record the actual blast due to the EMP."
All eyes went to the small monitor as the suited man whirled his seat around clumsily to activate the control. Until they got out of the contaminated zone, and were de-contaminated, they would have to all stay suited up. On the screen, a halo of dust and nuclear fires raged for a moment before a very ominous shape rose out of the craters. The microphones had also managed to record what was definitely a very articulate, if savage voice.
"Puny humans," the fifteen foot giant snarled as he waved his huge fists at the sky. "Hulk smash! Hulk smash you all!"
The behemoth left the area in high, jumping leaps afterward, almost seeming to fly as he quickly left pursuit behind.
"We didn't pursue him, sir. We weren't equipped to face him," the driver of the transport told him with a degree of shame.
"It wouldn't have made a difference," Thaddeus sighed as he slowly regained his breath as his pounding heart gradually slowed. Then he turned to face Baker.
"Congratulations, Dr. Baker. "You've just made the most dangerous thing on the planet even more dangerous."
Allen swallowed thickly as he looked away from the accusing stares pointed his way. He kept his silence until Jennifer suddenly reached over and took one of his hands. "Just curious, doc. And consider this your only chance to come clean. How many rads did you pump into me when I was under the emitter?"
She squeezed his hand lightly, and he whined in pain as the sound of bones popping became audible. "You know, I could pulp this hand and no one here would probably care right now. They might not even care if I pulled off your suit, and tossed you out the back door. Would you, boys," she asked with a wide grin, and got no answer.
"So talk, jerk off. Tell me what you did to me."
"I….I gave you level seven."
"For three seconds?"
"Ten. I….I figured it would be enough to finish you."
"Why? I can see you might want to try to kill Bruce because of your moron cousin Talbot he told me about. But why me?"
"You're part of him," he hissed, cradling the hand she had finally released. "You are him. I could have made a fortune off the discoveries you represent. But instead you run off with that….murderous bastard."
"As I understand it, Talbot tried to kill Bruce first. Isn't that self defense?"
Allen just glared at her.
"Can I toss him out anyway," Jennifer asked, looking at her grandfather.
"Too easy," the sergeant spat. "Let the military courts have him. He'll suffer more."
"Well, if you insist," Jennifer sighed as if in disappointment as she leaned back on her own seat, perched carefully on the bench as if fearful it might collapse. And considering her size, they all knew it might.
"You know I'm not going to let you put me back in a lab," Jennifer told her grandfather as they were scrubbed clean of radiation at their base camp a few hours later.
"Besides," she told him as she toweled off. "I have to try and find Bruce. I have to try and reason with him."
"You can't….reason with that thing."
"We're two of a kind," she told him. "Remember? Maybe I can still get close, where no one else can."
"I can't let you….."
"You can't stop me, granddad. I'm a big girl now," she grinned at him as she pulled on the oversized tee-shirt and sweats someone had scrounged for her from a nearby town. They had even found her some sneakers that didn't fit too badly. Unfortunately, no one made lingerie to fit a body like hers.
"General, take a look at this," an officer gestured as they both entered the command tent a few moments later.
Thaddeus looked down at the monitors and cringed.
"They found him. And it wasn't hard. He's in Galloway, ripping up anything in his way. Death tolls are already in the thousands."
Thaddeus groaned as he stared at the still shot of the beast in silhouette, still close to fifteen feet high, and caught in the act of literally walking through some structure that no longer stood on its own. "My God, what can we do against that thing now?"
"You send me," Jennifer told him. "Get me there now," she turned to the colonel and nodded curtly.
"Do it," Thaddeus told him. "She stopped him once before. Maybe she can again."
"No offense, general, but….well, she's just a…..girl," the officer blinked as Jennifer lifted him off the ground, with her forefinger looped in his collar.
"Just a girl, colonel," she asked. "Is that any way for a man of the new millennium to speak?"
Not one of the soldiers, male or female, so much as glanced at the colonel as he ordered immediate transportation for the seven foot green woman. They were all hiding smirks behind their hands as they pretended to focus on their work.
"Be careful, Jen," Thaddeus urged her. "He may be beyond even your reach now."
"Maybe. But I have to try, don't I," she told him. "Besides, I think I'm in love with him."
Thaddeus stood back, gaping as the helicopter carried her up and away from him as she smiled down and waved. "Good God," he rasped, trying to imagine the implications of her reproducing. Especially with Banner. "Good God," he rasped again, and felt the dull thud of his heart clenching in his chest.
"I'm….okay," he told the colonel, grateful the man hadn't heard the revelation. He could just imagine what some would try if they thought she was pregnant. He couldn't even begin to imagine what kind of child she would bear.
"That's where he was," the pilot told Jennifer sometime later as he flew over the smoldering remains of the small town that had been in the Hulk's way. "I'll set you down….."
"Don't bother, fellas," she told them, and winked, just before she leapt out of the helicopter.
"Whoooooooeeeeee," she yelled as she hurtled to the ground over five hundred feet below. "Now this is a rush," she grinned as she smashed into the ground in a slight crouch before straightening up to survey the battleground around her.
"Ohmigod, it's another one," someone wailed as she turned and spotted an older woman holding two small boys to her side as she hid behind the remains of a shattered brick wall.
"Please," the woman wailed, holding up a hand as if to ward her off as she approached.
"I'm here to help, ma'am," she told her, holding up both her hands as she stopped to show her intentions. "Where did the…other one go? Did you see?"
"He…. He went west," one of the boys pointed. "Are you really going to stop him," he sniffed.
"I'm going to try," she told him with a smile. "Don't worry. The army will be here soon to help you. Get everyone you can find together at the old church that's still standing," she pointed. "They'll meet you there."
"How can you stop that thing," the woman asked even as Jennifer crouched low.
And leapt high into the air.
"Oh, my, God," the woman rasped as the green giantess sailed high into the air as she followed the path of destruction left by the Hulk.
"Was she the good monster," one of the boys asked, wiping his nose on his sleeve as he kept hold of her with his other hand as if fearful to release his grip.
"I…. I think so," the woman choked, and added, "I hope so."
"Hey, Bruce," Jennifer shouted as she landed just behind him even as he smashed a car down again and again. "I think it's dead."
"Whaaa," he growled, turning to face her.
"It's Jenny, Bruce."
"No Bruce," the monster snarled. "Just Hulk. Hulk is strongest there is. Hulk smash!"
"Yeah, I've noticed that. Why, Hulk? Why smash?"
"Puny humans hunt Hulk," he growled. "Make Hulk hurt. Hulk hurt puny humans," he growled savagely.
"I can't fault that reasoning," she admitted, smiling at him.
"Green girl talk too much. Go away, or Hulk smash green girl."
"Whoa, you have a serious impulse control prooooooobleemmmmmmmm," she howled as she went sailing backward over fifty feet from the casual backhand.
"Well, that went well," she spat, coughing and spitting out the sand that filled her mouth as she had tumbled to a stop in the middle of the desert.
She looked up, but Bruce was still banging on the car that must have irritated him pretty bad for his attention to be so focused on it. She wondered if the driver had gotten out even as she jumped the relatively short distance back to the Hulk.
"Hey, Hulk. Haven't you heard that's no way to treat a lady," she demanded as she jerked the car out of his hands, and was grateful to find no human remains in the battered vehicle.
"Green girl still talk," he demanded, and growled at her.
"Green girl, green guy," she cooed, and smiled at him. "Think about it, big guy," she teased him as she pressed her body to his, embracing him tightly.
"Green girl like Hulk," he murmured, confusion in his voice as he stared down at her, his fists wavering even as he had started to lift them.
"Green girl likes Hulk," Jennifer repeated. "Does Hulk like green girl?"
"What green girl want," he demanded, his voice still sounding confused.
"She-Hulk wants Hulk," she tried, still smiling up at him, trying to keep a straight face. Just now, they sounded like a couple of toddlers babblng to her own ears.
Hulk growled at her, then his hands circled her in an unbreakable grip. "Hulk like green girl? She not hate Hulk?"
"Right. That's right. That's a start," she grinned, and then yelped as he leapt away from the highway, carrying her off toward the distant mountains with her literally tossed over his broad shoulder. She wondered what she had gotten herself into even as Hulk hit the ground, and leapt again. And again. And then the mountains weren't so far away after all.
"No sign of them since he carried her off," the colonel told Thaddeus who had come in from a short nap.
"At least she distracted him from the next town," he said grimly.
"She's….something else, that is certain," the colonel remarked. "Oh, and some federal agents showed up while you were sleeping to take custody of Dr. Baker. An agent Hanlyn wanted you to send in your report as soon as possible. He said you knew how to reach him."
"Yes. I do." He glanced around. "Mind I borrow a radio?"
"Go right ahead," he gestured.
Jennifer woke up still green. And sore. And very naked. She looked over to the other occupant under the small outcropping of rock, and saw a naked Hulk sitting silently beside her, staring at her own naked body. His eyes were drooping now, and she could tell he was on the cusp of change. He was less than eight foot tall now, and his body was no longer quite as muscular as it had been.
Even as she watched, the monster faded to a lean, pink human shape, and Bruce blinked up at her before he fell back on the pile of their discarded clothing, and fell fast asleep. "Now he dozes off," she groaned as she thought of the literal hours he had spent pounding her body. And it had been rutting. No love. No foreplay. Just strong animal needs being sated. Thank God she was his match, or he could have killed her. Literally screwing her to death.
Oddly enough, even as she stared down at the less than impressive body of Bruce Banner, she found a part of her had enjoyed the Hulk's barbaric coupling. And wanted more of it. Of course, she also realized that there was a very good chance she was now pregnant. She might be virgin, or had been, but she wasn't stupid. After the marathon sessions they had indulged in, there was real good chance some of his gamma-irradiated sperm might have already found its way into her womb. And wasn't that a comforting thought?
"Bruce, you all right," she finally asked, aware of the sun getting hotter overhead. Wherever they were, they needed water. And maybe some food. And even better, some decent clothes. She could just imagine what people would think if they spotted them now.
She looked around the ridge where he had carried them. Steep cliffs overhead, and a good climb down to the valley below. Nice spot. And he said he didn't like seclusion, she smirked as she pulled her remnants of her sweat pants and tee back on. Then she lucked out and spotted one of her sneakers. The other she had already seen. It was below them, near the crest of the slope that led to their hiding place.
"Well," she sighed, looking at Bruce. He was going nowhere. Neither was she. Dropping off the ledge that hidden by the outcropping, she dropped down near where her shoe lay, and quickly pulled it on. After she tied the laces, she looked around again, and sighed. Nothing for miles. And only a faint clue as to where they might be.
Someplace north of Nevada. Far north, judging by the mountains that rose around them. She was really going to have start packing a compass, or something. Maybe a map. Or one of those things that were supposed to be able to tell you where you were no matter where you traveled. Oh, yeah, she mused. She could just see how long something like that would last around her. She couldn't even keep her clothes on.
"Bruce," she called when she climbed back up to check on him.
"Hmmmmm," he stirred this time.
"Guess trashing a town after surviving two nuclear bombs really takes it out of you," she asked him when he finally sat up, blinking against the glare of the setting sun in the distance. Which told her only that they were facing west.
"I….I did that," he groaned, rubbing his throbbing skull, not yet aware he was naked.
"Quite vocally. You've got some personality now. 'Hulk smash puny humans,'" she quoted him.
"Oh, God, what have I done?"
"It wasn't you. Baker interrupted our party. He changed my settings, too, but he gave you level ten for at least three minutes."
"Might have been longer, but you got pissed off and started dismantling things."
"Oh, hell," he moaned. "And….then what?"
"Like I said, we cowered like chickens while you broke outside, literally, and got bombed with no less than two nukes. Which really pissed you off judging by what you left in your wake."
"I….I hit a town?"
"Very, very hard."
"Anything else," he asked, looking more than a little sheepish when he realized only then he was sitting there naked.
"Well, that, and our little marathon lovemaking session. I think it lasted about five hours. Give or take a few minutes."
Bruce stared at her. "Tell me you're kidding," he groaned.
"Well, as I am no real judge of time, it's hard to say. But it wasn't quite noon when I caught up to your new, chatty side, and now the sun is setting."
"Jen, if we…. If you're….. Good God, don't you see the problems here?"
"I was wondering about that myself, actually, Bruce. I don't think the pitter patter of little green feet would thrill a lot of people just now."
Bruce groaned as he reached for his torn, stretched out jeans. There was no wallet in them this time. There were barely any threads left holding them together. "I need to think," he complained as he sat back down after pulling his jeans on, rubbing his forehead with both hands.
"I need to eat. And drink. And bathe. And a few dozen other things that seem impossible up here just now," she informed him snidely.
"Where are we?"
"You don't know," she asked. "All I know is I got picked up, and carried off. And then…."
"I get the picture. He is a creature of pure instinct. I guess…..that was just another instinct. Wait, Bruce frowned. "You said he spoke? He actually spoke?"
"Quite clearly, once you got past the growls and snarls. But he has a one-track mind. It's mostly smash this, or smash that."
"So, it's still the primal brain at work. That's even worse," he groaned. "Level ten," he murmured. "There is no telling how that much radiation is going to affect me now. God help us all if I begin to mutate permanently."
Jennifer smiled. "Well, I'm starting to get used to it," she shrugged. "Aside from lots of leers, no one is trying to mess with me any more."
"Can't imagine why not," Bruce grumbled as he lifted his head to stare at her before he dropped his head once more to cradle it between his knees.
"Hey, doc. We have to get our butts in gear. We have to do some thinking here. Or don't you realize you still have most of the major military of this nation after you. Well, us, to be honest. I did kind of leave without telling them I'd be back."
"And they let you go?"
"A," she told him, "They were more worried about you ripping up another town, so they let me try to go after you. Hoping I'd calm you down, like before. Little did we know," she smirked.
He only groaned at her smirk.
"And, B, as I said, they weren't really equipped to stop the new and improved me."
"New and improved," he groaned, staring up at her again.
"You don't think so," she asked with a coy grin.
"Jennifer, you're seven foot tall, and green."
"Well, yeah, but I'm still gorgeous," she smiled. "And I still have my mind."
"There is that," he sighed. "God, Jennifer, I am sorry. About everything. Maybe I shouldn't have…."
"Hey, like I said, at least I'm still alive. Things could be worse. Or so I've always heard. Well, this is me enjoying the moment. I am big and green. At least I'm still breathing, and I'm enjoying my life. How about you, doc? You about through moping yet? Jeez," she complained when he shot her a dark look. "How'd you survive so long if you're this down on yourself?"
"I honestly don't know," he sighed as he stood up, looking out over the valley that was growing steadily darker.
"So, any clues as to where we are?"
"Well, judging by the local flora we're somewhere in the pacific northwest. Where exactly would be difficult to pinpoint until I see the constellations. I can use their positions to make out approximately where we're at this time."
"Wow, you are good," she grinned as she stood beside him. "When I look at the sky, all I see are lots of little stars."
"You can't be as clueless as you sound," he told her with a sharp glance.
Jennifer smiled. "Just enjoying the moment, Bruce," she told him. "Ready to get off this rock?"
"It's going to be hard to climb barefooted," he sighed.
"So who's climbing," she asked, scooping him up with ease even as she leapt forward into open air.
"Jenniferrrrrrr," he screamed as he clung to her powerful body.
"Now you know how I felt," she grinned as he almost landed on his face when she set him down after they landed deep in the forest.
"Don't do that again," he swore.
"C'mon, admit it, it was a little fun."
"Actually, I don't really like heights," he grimaced.
Jennifer's laughter echoed over the forest for a long time after that.
"No sign of them, sir," the colonel told Thaddeus as he handed him a cup of coffee. "Our recon tracked him heading northwest after he left this region, but he's gone to ground. He could be anywhere now."
The old general felt truly weary as he sat there in the command tent, feeling more than tired. He felt…useless. "And you're certain my granddaughter was still with him?"
"The man whose car he attacked saw him pick her up and carry her off after a short argument."
"The Hulk is speaking now. Remember? The man couldn't hear what they were saying, but he said it definitely sounded like an argument. Then the Hulk picked her up, and carried her off. It's been quiet since."
"So we're back where we started."
"At least she did stop him from attacking the city. If he had hit Vegas we could have lost millions of lives before he was through."
Thaddeus sighed as he barely sipped his coffee. "I'm getting too old for this, colonel," he admitted. Then looked up at the man. "Never get old. It's not worth it."
"Guess none of us have a choice in that, do we?"
"Banner does," he grumbled. "I saw him close up, remember? He still looks twenty-five."
"How is that possible?"
"I have no idea. The man is in his late forties. But he still looks twenty-five."
"That's incredible," the colonel admitted.
"No more incredible than shrugging off tactical nukes, and walking off without a scratch," Thaddeus sighed. He shook his head, then put his cup aside. "I need to sleep. Call me if you hear anything."
The colonel stared after the old man. He had a feeling more than age was bothering the retired general. He said nothing though as he turned back to his command, and began supervising the continued sweeps of the general area where the Hulk had gone to ground. It was all he could do now.
"I'm going to get you for this one," Jennifer groaned, feeling the contraction tear through even her enhanced musculature as the baby inside fought to be born.
"You insisted on keeping him, or her," Bruce grinned, careful not to get too close to the hands that could bend steel like toothpicks. "And we couldn't too well call a midwife, now could we," he grinned as she gave another loud moan.
"I'll call you….something….as soon as I….catch my breath," the woman promised him as she panted wearily, sweat covering her jade brow as she lay back in the massive, oak bed that filled most of the bedroom of the small cabin they had built together.
"I think I see the head," he told her.
"Is it green," she demanded as she looked truly worried just then.
"Pale and pink," he grinned up at her as she gave another groan as the head of the baby finally slid past her tightly stretched vaginal lips. "And very curly, brown hair."
"Thank God," she groaned as she felt the next contraction even as the child finally came screaming into the world, waving tiny, pink fists.
"Congratulations, Jenny," Bruce grinned. "It's a boy."
"Oh, God," she moaned, staring up at the little thing that had felt so much larger earlier. "I was hoping for a nice, reasonable little girl."
Bruce chuckled as he made short work of cleaning the baby off before he handed him to her to hold. "Just relax. I'll take care of cleaning up the afterbirth, and then you can both rest."
"I don't want to do that again," she sighed, though she said so with a smile this time as she traced the little boy's pinched features with a large, green finger. "Oh, look, you've got your daddy's scowl," she grinned.
"That's not funny," Bruce muttered as he pulled the sheet down over her once he was finished.
"I thought it was," she yawned suddenly. Three in the morning was not a good time to wake up to contractions.
"Bruce," she stopped him when he was about to leave the room. "Do you think….? Will he be all right?"
"I don't know, sweetie," he told his wife of exactly eight months and three weeks. With my DNA, and your own copycat mutation, well…..the possibilities defy imagination. But he looks normal. He sounds normal. He could be just fine. We'll just have to wait and see."
"I'm calling him James. James Jacob."
"You're kidding," he groaned.
"James Jacob Banner," she nodded.
"All right. Now, why don't you get some sleep," he suggested, noting that the baby was no longer crying after snuggling up to nuzzle one of her leaking breasts. "Both of you."
"Nag, nag, nag," she yawned, and curled down into her bed with her baby at her side.
Bruce gave them a last fond glance before he shut the door.
"Hi, gramps," the familiar, husky voice came over the line. A voice he hadn't heard in well over a year, but knew at once.
"Jennifer? Are you all right? Are you…?"
"I'm fine, gramps," she cut him off. "I just thought I'd call. It has been a while."
"Yeah," he grunted. "What's going on? I figured you two had disappeared for good this time the way you dropped off the face of the earth."
"Well, funny you should mention that," she chuckled. "I have a message for you."
"Yeah, what," he asked.
"Well, three, actually."
"Jen, what is it," he asked. "Are you really all right?"
"Hey, I'm fine. And so is the man in my life. The first message is from him, by the way."
"What does he want," he growled.
"He says, 'leave me alone, and don't make me angry. Ever again.'"
"Well, I'd have to echo the sentiments. Frankly, gramps. You and your boys don't exactly have a stellar track record."
"What's the rest of the message," he grumbled wearily into the phone.
"Oh, the second message is from me. I just wanted to tell you thanks for taking care of me, and being there when you were. I know you love me, even if you can't always say so. And I love you, too," she told him earnestly as he held the phone to his ear, staring at the agent who had rushed into his hospital room to start the recording as soon as the call was patched through.
"Oh, and tell them not to bother tracing this call. I've gotten better with my gizmos. You're going to find out I'm calling from no less than nineteen major cities from across the globe simultaneously," she chuckled. "I can just tell how well that will be going over."
"Jenny," he sighed. "You know I'm…."
"I heard, gramps. It's big news when even a retired general lands in the hospital for heart surgery. A lot of people still remember 'Thunderbolt' Ross."
"You said three messages," he sighed when the agent looked at him bleakly and shook his head.
"Right. I just wanted to let you know your great grandson James Banner is doing well, and is quite healthy and whole. And not even remotely green."
Thaddeus gasped, his heart clenching in his chest as he fumbled with the phone. "Did you say….?"
"Bruce and I are married, gramps. And we have a wonderful three month old son who is doing quite well, and growing quite normally. Even better, I take it you know by absentia that Bruce is better at controlling his alter ego. I won't tell you where we are, but I will say, we're safe, and so is the world. We're well beyond the range of anyone who might accidentally find us. You take care, gramps. We all love you. Get well."
"Jen? Jenny," he rasped, wanting to shake the phone. But the line was dead.
"Nothing. Just like she claimed, we show links to no less than two dozen major landlines all across the globe. The woman is good."
"She should be," he wheezed, reaching for his oxygen. "Her mother and father were both geniuses. And she always was pretty damned smart, too," he grinned proudly.
"Sir, what do you think about this development?"
The general was staring out the window, still smiling.
At the very instant he spoke, the heart monitor shrilled the alarm as the beeps went flat line. The agent grimaced as he jumped from the bedside of the general, letting the nurses and doctor through who went to work on him with the precision of an experienced team. But the flat line stayed flat, and the general was gone.
"You think he would have approved," Jennifer asked Bruce as she stared outside into the trackless white that filled their world.
"I think he would have understood. I'm sorry you couldn't go to his funeral," he told her, coming up behind her to embrace her big body.
"I was never much on funerals. Neither was gramps. He would always say, 'They're gone, get over it.'"
"Sounds like him."
"I wish he could have seen his new grandson all the same."
"Well, if some of the preachers I remember are right, maybe he can," he smiled up at her.
They both looked down at their son who was rolling around on the thick rug, babbling as he played with a favorite toy. "Do you think he would have liked him?"
"I think he would have loved him," Bruce told her.
"I love you," she told him in a soft whisper as she lightly embraced him, careful of his more fragile bones.
"Ditto," he grinned. "This is a better ending than any I could ever have hoped for."
"Yeah, and we only have to worry about one thing."
"We do," he frowned.
"Well, in fifteen years or so, he is going to hit puberty. What then?"
"One thing at a time, woman," he growled, and stretched to give her a peck on her green cheek. James looked up at them with his startlingly green eyes and laughed.