A Mighty Tale Told in the Mighty Marvel Manner!
Clash of the Titans!
Dr. Samuel Sterns was dead, at least as far as the world was concerned. Plunged into the radioactive waters of an underground kingdom, Sterns suffered a similar transformation like his fellow scientist Dr. Marks. Unlike Marks, Sterns was rather proud of the being he had had become.
His intelligence, already considerably high, had been augmented to levels past most basic human comprehension. True, his cranium was now freakishly large and his flesh a bright green hue, but he considered it a fair trade. He was grateful for his gifts, as he would need them for his project of saving the world.
Once he had escaped the underground caverns, he had set himself up in a private lab. That required some doing, but a handful of inventions had netted him the much needed capital. Simply changing his name and living quietly had enabled him to slip under the radar of most interested parties.
As for his project, Sterns looked at it from the rationalist standpoint. The world was in constant peril, but from threats within and without. A new type of being was needed to safeguard the planet, but care had to be taken. Unlike the Sentinel program, which Sterns had predicted to end in failure or the enslavement of humanity at the hands of the robots, the new being had to be self-aware and not shackled to an easily misinterpreted punch-card.
Of course, the new species had to be free of all the faults that plagued the current models. He briefly considered using mutants, but decided against it. "Too many x factors make them as a whole too unpredictable!" As he scribbled down formulas and figures, an idea came to him.
He was the perfect being, so why not creatures like him? Cloning would be too extensive and the results far too long in baring fruit. "So why not make others like me?"
The plan had merit, but where to find test subjects? He knew the Hulk, but with her standing in the Avengers he had an 89.9% probability of her rejecting him. "Wait…there was another!"
Among his new abilities, Sterns was able to recall anything he had ever read. He remembered glancing over a report, filed away by mistake at the Gamma Base, about a mishap that occurred around that area in the 1940's.
Yeoman Jennifer Walters, assigned to Dr. Robert Banner, was to be a witness at the revived Project: Rebirth when Axis saboteurs attacked. Walters received both the Super Solider Serum and a heavy dose of gamma rays, transforming her into what the Germans called a 'hulking she beast', which the Allies shortened to 'She-Hulk'. The details of her adventures were brief, but one thing that he noted was her final fate.
"She was declared dead after a hole was opened in the local space/time continuum, but given what I have discovered" Sterns eyed the mountains of paper at his feet, "I believe the She-Hulk still lives!"
"And in order for my plan to work, I need to bring her back to this world!" Sterns had proven that the so-called 'Negative Zone' was real. True, Reed Richards had made the first voyage and publicly named it, but Sterns knew how to properly search without engaging the locals. It was the closest dimension, in terms of space, and that the reports described briefly the type of realm Richards recently published convinced him to try there first.
Staying up most of the night, as he no longer felt the same biological urges he once did, Sterns completed work on a viewscope. It looked like a massive egg, with a small set of binoculars and a monitor attached to it. "Yeoman Walters, or rather Mrs. Ross, should be easy enough to find. Like her daughter, she possesses a faint gamma energy trail, so tracking it across the energy of the zone should be fairly easy. "
After a brief nap, Sterns engaged the scope's other function: teleportation. Zeroing in on Jennifer Ross's energy signature, he found her without too much trouble. He silently twisted the dials as his energy web pierced through the dimensional barriers and ensnared the still giant. He read off the information the web wired back. "Vital signs are low, but all I really need is her DNA."
Slipping on a protective suit, he rushed towards the chamber. Pressing his hand to the keypad, it read his fingerprints and opened with a hiss. "Beautiful!" Sterns donned the protective helmet and entered the chamber.
The sight before him was awe inspiring. Jennifer Ross, vanished for almost a decade, stood before him, the energy web decontaminating her (as well as keeping her bound). Her clothing was little more than a few rags to preserve some degree of modesty, but Sterns didn't care about her clothes.
Her skin was a deep emerald green. Faint scars showed across deeply developed muscles, showing a lifetime of battle. Her head rolled listlessly. "Amazing!" Sterns was almost beside himself. Questions on how to dissect her became moot when her eyes snapped open.
"Where am I?" Her voice was rough. There was a weariness in it.
"Earth." Sterns stepped back and removed his hood as the web disengaged. Jennifer landed on her feet.
"Earth?" She looked quizzically at his green skin. "How long have I been gone?"
"Not as long as you fear. As for my appearance, I suffered a similar accident that gave you your amazing abilities."
"I wouldn't call them that…" her voice trailed off. She stumbled, then dropped to her knees. Sterns swore under his breath.
Before his eyes, Jennifer Ross began to shrink. Muscles shrank and lost their tone, while her skin paled, growing lighter by the second. Even her hair, formerly jet black, lightened to a brunette hue. "Hmm, fascinating; according to the records, Mrs. Ross should be nearing fifty, yet she barely looks past 30."
He helped her to her feet. She unsteadily walked out of the chamber. "What happened?"
"I don't know, but rest assured, I will get to the bottom of it."
The next day
The morning brought little answers. Jennifer slept all night and most of the morning. It was several hours past noon when she finally greeted Sterns at what served as the kitchen. "How are you feeling?"
"Like someone ran me over, then backed up and did it again." Jennifer groggily said between sips of water.
Sterns frowned. Glancing at his scanners, she now had minimal if any gamma energy inside her cells. "When I pulled her from the zone, she was practically off the scale, yet now barely a register. What happened?"
"What year is it?" Sterns shook his head. Judging from her tone, she must have asked him several times before.
"1963, almost Halloween I believe." Jennifer almost gagged.
"Ten years? I've been gone ten years?"She paled, although that seemed to be more shock than transformation related.
"I understand this is a shock Mrs. Ross." Sterns carefully voiced his words, waiting to see her reaction.
"A shock?" Jennifer's hand clenched, snapping the multipurpose utensil in two. "Ten years of my life, gone, and you call it a shock?" Sterns noticed the Geiger counter's needle began to jump. He slipped one hand down to the side of his chair, fingers held over the security buttons.
Jennifer moaned as her skin took on a grey hue. Sterns noted with fascination the subtle changes that took place on her face. The muscles still swelled and developed like before, but it was her eyes that he noticed.
They became yellow, almost like liquid gold with two black points in the center. Intensity blazed behind them, a type of savage nature Sterns hadn't seen before. "Where am I?" Her voice still had the same rough reverb, but there was harshness in her tone. "Who are you?"
"You don't know?" Sterns pressed the largest button silently. Jennifer, or rather the being formerly known as Jennifer, stood up and threw the table aside.
"I'm asking the questions here buddy, and I want answers!" She reached forward to grab him, but stopped. The force field, activated nanoseconds after he pressed the button, repelled her. She slammed her fists against the barrier. "I want out!"
"If that is what you desire, then so be it!" he pressed another button, opening a door to the outside. Moonlight streamed inside the base. The She-Hulk ignored him and ran off into the desert. Sterns wiped his brow when she was safely away.
"With the trackers I hid in her food and drink I should be able to monitor her movements, but this is surprising!" He immediately turned to a nearby control panel and began tracking her movements. "There was a 68.7 percent chance of this event occurring." He punched a few numbers into a keyboard. "I had anticipated this, but Betty Ross's reaction is going to be the true x factor in this operation!"
Calls had been lighting up the switchboard steadily since last night. General Ross chewed on his unlit cigar as he was handed a fresh batch of reports. He dismissed the worried eyed private and went into the main command room. General Morris and Betty were already inside.
"I don't understand this Ross." Morris ignored the new reports and glanced at Betty. "She hasn't left the base all night, how could she have done this?"
"Maybe because it wasn't her?" Ross pointed towards the map, dotted with small green pins. "We've had scores of men scouring the area, and what little data they've collected tells me one thing: we have another Hulk."
Morris paled. "My God, another one? Do you think the Russians are behind it?"
"Not sure, but I doubt it. For one thing, this creature has been avoiding major areas. If the Commies were behind this, why only attack a few groups of tanks?"
Morris wiped the sweat from his brow. "I don't know. We lost track of it around sunrise. You think it only comes out at night?"
"Maybe, maybe; which is why I want Betty to get a crack at it. She might be the only one who can stop it, if it becomes a problem."
"Can we stop calling her or him 'it'?" Betty glared at the men. "For all we know, this poor devil may not have any control. We need to help, not hurt."
Ross cleared his throat. "Of course, my apologizes Betty." He noticed Morris said little. "Since this is your operation, how do you want to handle it?"
"Just give me a jeep, a map, a Geiger counter, and some water. I should have it wrapped up by nightfall, assuming I'm left alone. No tanks, jets, or anything else that we know will annoy someone with superhuman strength."
The generals shared a nod and Betty left. "Iron Man's busy on the cost, and I doubt Lady Thor is hanging around the phone. Maybe the Wasp could back me up." She went to the motor pool and began to go through plans as her equipment was prepared.
"No, I have to handle this alone." Betty signed off on the jeep and pulled out into the surrounding desert. Her pride had little to do with her decision. "If they sent in a group of tanks, all we'd get is a fancy paper weights."
She drove, checking off marks on the map as she drove further out. "First sighting was here," she marked off a section as she drove past a large crater in the desert floor. "But where did you come from?"
She guessed jumping, but trying to find a point of origin would take too long. At each stop she stopped the jeep and checked out the exact spot. "Radiation is getting weaker, perhaps the change started?"
By the time she neared the last spot on the map, the sun was starting to set. At each point, she found large marks created by a large pair of feet. Also at each point she noticed the footprints were getting smaller. "Turning back into human after each leap, so hopefully I'll have a nice conversation by the time we get back to base."
She slowed down as the Geiger counter chirped. "Still in the area, good." Turning the jeep off, she gathered her supplies and followed the counter's readings.
Jennifer sat hunched over the small bundle of twigs and grass she gathered. She had no idea where she was and no food. She had had spent most of the day walking, taking refuge near a small outcropping of rocks to hide from the sun.
She tried desperately to start a fire as the sun's rays turned the sky into a blaze of red and orange. She might have been taken with the sight, had she not been focused on not starving. The sound of shuffling feet over the sands made her jump. Grabbing a rock, she wheeled around, weapon in hand. "Who's there?"
It was a woman. Her dress was plain but there was an air of military about her. The haircut was longer than a regulation cut, but that meant little. "It's been a while, maybe they let women serve?" Jennifer backed up, the rock still in her hand.
"Easy, I'm not going to hurt you." Betty held one hand up while offering the blanket and supplies with the other.
Jennifer became aware of her nudity and slowly took the blanket. "Thank you."
"Are you hurt?" Betty kept her distance. "Why does she look familiar?" She felt something, but she wasn't sure what. "What's your name?" She tossed a canteen to the other woman, who picked it up carefully.
"Jennifer," Jennifer sipped the water gently. "Are you in the army?"
"Something like that." Betty stretched out her hand. "I can take you back to the base and get you some clothes and some food if you're hungry."
"I'd like that." Jennifer suddenly dropped the canteen and doubled over. Betty stepped back, dropping into a combat stance.
"Are you ok?" Betty felt on edge as the Geiger counter began to tick louder.
"Get away!" Jennifer moaned as she staggered off. Betty followed her, noticing in the fading light how the woman's skin was growing darker.
Jennifer tripped over a rock and tumbled down an embankment, wrapping her self tighter in the blanket. Before Betty could scale down the side, the blanket exploded into fluff as a rather large, rather gray, and rather annoyed looking creature looked up at her. "What do you want?" the creature's snarl was unmistakably feminine yet gruff.
"Easy, I'm not looking trouble." Betty glanced down at the creature. "Well, I guess she was the Hulk they were talking about."
"Yeah, well you found it!" the creature ripped a large rock from the dirt and held it overhead.
"Look, we don't have to fight!" Betty backed away.
"Yeah? I think we do!" With that, the creature that used to be Jennifer heaved the rock at Betty. Leaping to the side, she barely missed being crushed. The creature thrust her hands into the rocky outcropping again as Betty rolled away.
Slipping off her shoes, she stood up. The change was easy at this point. Thanks to a joint effort by Reed Richards and Tony Stark, they finally made a costume that didn't get reduced to tatters every time she took a breath.
The material stretched as her muscles swelled, but didn't tear. The jumpsuit looked a bit plain for her, but she'd take it up with them later. "Alright lady, I tried to be nice!" Leaping over the edge, she crashed into the other woman feet first. "Now I'm taking you back to base, conscious or not!"
"What?" The sight of her made the other creature stop. "What is this, a joke?"
"No, just the Hulk." She cracked her knuckles for emphasis.
"Well, the She-Hulk doesn't go with anyone she doesn't want to!" She flung a fist full of dirt into the Hulk's eyes. Blinded, the Hulk was unprepared as the She-Hulk tackled her. "You may have the look kid, but you don't know jack about fighting dirty!" She drove her fist into the Hulk's side for emphasis.
Scrambling to her feet, the She-Hulk broke into a run before leaping away. "Not sure where I am, but someone is going to pay for what happened to me!" With a few bounds she was miles away.
Betty slowly sat up. Her chest blazed with agony. "Blast, think she cracked some ribs!" She tenderly stood up. "Ok, so she can fight. Next time lady, I won't hold back." She headed back towards her jeep. She wanted to follow the stranger, but she knew it was more important to report back. "I might have to get some help on this one." She had confidence in her powers, naturally, but she wasn't stupid. "Why settle for a one on one fight when I can make it a hundred on one?"
Dr. Sterns smiled to himself as re-watched the footage of the fight. He had hidden cameras all throughout the American Southwest for just such an occasion. "Mrs. Ross did not disappoint!" He laughed softly as he poured himself a tall glass of water.
"Of course, using this She-Hulk will be difficult. She's wilder than her daughter, but while Ms. Ross has the strength advantage, I do believe Mrs. Ross was correct about fighting ability. Now then, how exactly do I go about using this to my advantage?"
He rubbed his temples. "A ploy then, a cure for her mother if Betty works for me? Possible, but she doesn't know that is her mother, and if I reveal that information too quickly the odds of success in my favor decrease."
He ignored his drink and moved over to a chalkboard already covered in equations. "Blackmail General Ross? I admit using the old Thunderbolt in such a manner amuses me, but he kept the truth too long to be susceptible to such a ploy now."
"It is imperative I keep myself hidden until the time is right. If I expose myself too soon, those meta-human operatives could prove my undoing." He copied a few formulas down, erasing old work. "I have a rough map of Mrs. Ross's DNA, true, but I would need test subjects."
His carelessly flinging paper aside upset his glass, sending water spilling down the file cabinet. "That's it!" he picked up the now empty glass. "I can synthesize a formula, turning her DNA into a virus. If I expose a small enough group, I can control the mutations, perhaps even create new ones!"
Sterns's laughter grew as he began to scribble more and more complex formulas on the chalkboard. "With this, I shall lead the world out of the darkness, out of ignorance! Only one with such intelligence and resources such as myself could move the rabble in such a way, and only I can do what needs to be done to save the world! I shall become…the Leader!"
Unaware of all of this, Betty headed back to base. She shifted back to normal before she started the jeep and radioed HQ. "Betty, what did you find?" General Morris's anxiety could be felt over the radio.
"Another Hulk, General, but she seemed different."
"She said her name was Jennifer, but when she changed she also called herself the She-Hulk."
The silence that followed did little for her nerves. When the radio finally blared to life, she heard the voice of her father. "Betty, report back to base. There are some things I need to tell you." The radio went silent. Betty drove back towards the base, a gnawing pit in her stomach.
"What?" Betty stood, trembling slightly at her father's words. MP's were stationed outside, their guns at the ready.
"Betty, there was no body, what else could I tell you?"
"The truth!" She slammed her fist into the table, knocking a coffee mug to the floor. The door flew open as the guards entered with weapons drawn.
"Stand down!" Ross held up his hands. The guards did as ordered. Turning his attention back towards his daughter, Ross tried to explain. "Betty, what happened to her was classified, heck, it still is."
"I don't care! No more lies!" Betty felt her temples pulsating, but she didn't change.
"Look Ms. Ross, it's obvious you're upset…" Morris tried to interject, but a glare from Betty shut him up.
"Going after her at night would be suicidal. We'll send teams out at first light. Betty, I want you to stay here." Ross held up a hand at his daughter's look of anger. "I want you stay in reserve. I know this is difficult, but right now the last thing your mother needs right now is another shock. When we bring her in, then we can do the reintroductions."
Betty clenched her fists, but slowly agreed. Ross wiped his brow. Turning to Morris, he lit a fresh cigar. "Now let's get to work."
Sterns sat back and took in the news. He had bugged the base several weeks before, but this news was the first time he felt his work had paid off. "I must have Mrs. Ross on my side, but her daughter could serve my purposes just as easily."
New plans began to formulate within his gamma spawned mind. "Blackmail would be a bit tacky, but I could offer to cure her mother if Betty works for me. Note to self: further study how to bring Betty Ross to my side." He sat back in his chair, hands clasped to his chin as he planed out his next move. "I don't dare reveal myself yet however. No, the plan with the most likely positive outcome for me would be to wait and let Jennifer Ross discover the modern world. If she fails to act in accordance to my wishes, well, I can always lead her towards the right path."
The end, for now
A guest star I'm not sure anyone suspected, or even if you did, hopefully I still managed to surprise you. This was an original story, with all characters based on concepts owned by Marvel Comics.
Yes, Jennifer Ross, nee Walters, was the She-Hulk and star of the first twelve issues of Savage Comics, some of my first Marvel work posted on the net. Things change, don't they? Anyway, I felt it was time to bring Jennifer out of the limbo she was tossed into at the end of her own series. We'll be moving more into the old Marvel stories next time, because when Jennifer goes on rampage, it's She-Hulk VS the Thing!
And now the fan mail
This turned out great! Guest-Starring iron Man and the Angel in the Hulk's latest adventure made for a real treat. Betty's gained some powerful friends!
Yes she has, and she's going to need some next time
They Call Me Bruce
Great story here fella
And a great reader too!
Interesting team-up and nice usage of the old Iron Man comic where he faced off against the X-Men member Angel. Nice call back to the Hulk's previous meeting with the X-Men in this chapter as well. Maybe in this world the X-Men and the Avengers could have a better working relationship within its early years. Surprising to learn the Hulk is the only one without a secret identity. I would have thought that outside Iron Man the other members would reveal their ID's to each other after their first meeting and keep it within the team. Please do keep up the good work upon such a great series as I can't wait to see what happens next in your alternative version of the Hulk.
Wow, you said a mouthful! As for your points, the X-Men and the Avengers are going to meet, but I'm not at liberty to say how they're going to get along (hey, I have to keep everyone in suspense somehow, right?) As for the secret identity issue, keep checking the Avengers, as it too will be brought up. And thanks for the support, both you and everyone else who chimes in or leaves a comment.
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