Author's Note: In this particular incarnation of the Power Pack, instead of buggering off and letting their parents go quietly mad after fighting off Demon!Carmody during the Inferno crossover, the kids stuck around and talked things out with their folks. Margaret and James weren't exactly thrilled that their kids were regularly placing themselves in danger, but in the end, were proud as hell that the kids WERE trying to help people and make a positive difference. The balance of the series would continue mostly unchanged, sans some of the stuff they did to hide their powers and/or general lying to the parents; and James (who, let us not forget, was a borderline spark even in cannon - recall the antimatter converter from the first issue) divvying his time between teaching and Doing Science with Reed on occasion. Eventually, I'll write that up too, but my muse doesn't want to do the setup just now, it just wants to do this story.
Also, just as Top Gear: The Mid Childa Special was written in script form because it chronicled a fake TV episode, I toyed with the idea of writing this in the format of a comic book script. In the end I judged that to be a very silly thing to do (also, the format was thwarting me)
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters or worlds; I am simply playing with them for my own amusement and, hopefully, yours. Please don't sue, I'm not worth the effort.
It could not be said that New York City was dark at night; not truly, for the busiest city in the world never truly slept. It came close, however, at some times. Close enough for a canny thief to steal through in the night. His targets here were well known and thoroughly scouted. They would have no way of following him...
Wakanda, deep in the heart of Africa, presented a great temptation, but one that was resisted. The people of that land had oft proven unexpectedly skilled, their technology far better than it had a right to be. They would be avoided...
Onward the thief traveled, now into Europe and Asia, skimming the Channel, hovering contemplatively over London and Berlin and Tokyo, made a scattered handful of landfalls. The thief worked with care. He wanted a great many prizes, yes, but most important was to take them without being caught...
Off the shore of California, the island of Utopia was tempting, but ultimately seemed more trouble than it was worth. The residents there, unlike the others scouted, had unpredictable abilites, and it was entirely possible that, should they be angered, they would be able to track them when no others could. The thief passed them up, pausing at a bungalow on the coast before moving onward...
The Power household in New York City was a busy one most mornings, and this was no exception. James was pouring over his lecture notes as he slurped coffee, the Professor readying himself for another day. Across the table from him, eldest son Alex was also getting ready for the day; planning to attend class rather than teach, but still overlapping his father's purposes a great deal. To the right, his younger brother Jack was doodling in the margins as he read the newspaper's funny pages, rapidly-devoured breakfast digesting.
Margaret Power, matriarch of the clan, had retreated to her studio, the first stages of another commission taking form on her canvas. Her art was both passion and profession; and she counted herself fortunate to have that opportunity. The youngest of the Power children, young Katie, was yet to wake; but there was still time. They'd wake her shortly if she didn't show herself, but for the moment there was no reason to worry.
The elder daughter, Julie, had split her course from the rest of the family some years before. They did not talk about; or to; her very often, but she was genuinely missed; the words that had chased her away regretted.
"Hey, Katie - you gonna get up at some point? Don't want ta be late for school." Jack paused at the door, listening, then knocked again. "Katie? You awake?"
The younger brother paused for a long moment, hearing nothing from his little sister's room. Indecision filled him for a long moment, then he tentatively opened the door.
There was no sign of his little sister within. The bed was unmade, and a glass toppled off her bedside table. Katie was many things, but messy was not one of them, these days. Her leaving without tidying up... was off. Jack glanced down the hall to the living room. "Alex, I think something might be wrong here..." There was no one thing he could put his finger on, but this didn't feel right.
Alex joined him. "Jack, what's -" he broke off, looking around. "Huh. That's... odd." His gaze stopped a moment on the bedside table. "She left her phone." Jack followed his glance - the little yellow-and-pink cell was right next to the clock. "Even if she'd leave the glass, she wouldn't leave the phone."
The two brothers faced each other, and realised what was going on. "Something's taken her."
Luke Cage stormed into the Avenger's Mansion in a fury, his wife on his heels. A few steps took him into the situation room; roving gaze hunting for someone in authority. "Stark! Stark, we got a problem."
Tony glanced up. "Another one? Glad to see you, Cage, but... what's happened?"
Minor flunkies had the good sense to get out of the way as the two parents crossed the room. "Someone, we ain't sure who yet, got into our place last night and kidnapped Danielle."
Stark felt the blood drain from his face. "Damn. First Latveria, now kidnapping..."
The parents paused. After a moment Jessica asked, "What about Latveria?"
Stark pointed to the display in the situation room. "We're not sure yet. Something's got the place in an uproar, but we haven't been able to get a good look at things." A pause. "Whoever hit your place - they leave a note?"
"No; nothin... We woke up, and she was gone, her crib was empty."
Tony looked him in the eyes. "We're not gonna let them get away with it, Luke. I'll get ahold of SHIELD, get a team with some of my gear looking the place over. We'll get her back."
Luke's smile was thin. "Damn straight."
Katie Power returned to the world of the conscious slowly.
She was lying on a metal floor, in her pyjamas, some kind of metal collar around her neck. Sitting up, she rubbed sleep from gummier-than-normal eyes, suddenly very aware that her head was pounding. What had happened to her...
She shot upright as the memory came back, clear and sharp as a crystal razor. Some faint shape coming through her wall. A bare glimpse of a green hand, attached to a cruely smiling man with pointed ears and ripply chin, a shock, and then she dropped from half-asleep to fully unconscious.
"Kidnapped by aliens," she muttered, "Again." A moment of thought. "At least it wasn't Snarks this time."
She looked around the cell. There was a cot bolted to the wall, a sink, and what might generously be called a toilet next to it. A few vents near the floor. One wall was nonexistant, just the glowing edges and telltale shimmer of a force field. Beyond was a narrow corridor and another cell opposite. There was another girl there, in pyjamas, with a similar metal collar and a fuzzy looking hat. She seemed to be sleeping.
Tentatively, Katie touched the force field. It repelled her fingertip with a fat popping noise, and she shook the stinging finger. She looked up and down the corridor; saw at least half a dozen other cells, though she couldn't see well enough into them to spot anyone else. "Anyone else awake?" She asked, voice pitched to carry.
The girl across from her began to stir, but before she could get up, a familiar voice sounded from down the hall.
"Katie? Katie, is that you?" Two cells down, Franklin Richards appeared at the force field, turned towards her. As it always did, it struck her for a moment that his life was so much weirder; all kinds of temporal weirdness messing up his age - they should be almost the same age, but he was at least two years younger, now. He, too, had a metal collar around his neck, and she could see the familiar metal bands of the power dampeners his father routinely stuck him with poking out from his sleeves.
"Franklin!" She smiled for a moment, then schooled her features, mind going in serious, businesslike directions. "Any idea who got us?"
"I got a look for a second - the one that grabbed me was a Skrull." He pointed to the collar. "I think this is some sort of general mutant power damper. Between it, and Father's, I can't get anything going."
Katie nodded. Disappointing, but not really unexpected.She glanced around. The occupant cell across from her, and the one between that cell and Franklin, were awake and standing now. The girl with the hat was tugging at her collar, muttering. The other prisoner was a girl of similar age, looking vaguely frightened. After a moment of hesitation the strange brown haired girl reached a hand at her cell's force field. The jolt sent her toppling with a yelp.
Hat Girl abruptly stopped at the noise, rushing to her own cell's doorway and leaning against the wall. "Klara! Klara, are you okay? What happened?"
Klara stirred, started to pick herself up. "I... I am fine, Molly... Just a shock." She had a faint accent, one Katie couldn't quite place.
From the cell beside her own, Katie heard another voice speak; another girl, this one speaking in a vaguely Asian accent and acid tones. "And what did you expect to happen when you shoved at a force field, foolish girl?"
"Leave her alone!" Growled Molly, shooting a crosswise glare at the speaker, then glancing roughly to where her friend lay. "Klara, you're okay, right?"
"I'll be fine." The brown haired girl tugged at the collar. "Being unable to hear any plants... is most disconcerting."
"It might just be the damper. I mean, even the best space ship's probably got molds or something."
Franklin looked up and down the corridor, clearly trying to get a look at everyone he could from his limited vantage. "Hey... is everyone in here a mutant?"
After a moment he was answered by a chorus of voices, male and female, all young, and all giving variations on 'yes.' Some were more confident or assured than others, but there were enough of them that Franklin's smile turned into a broad grin. Katie felt herself grinning similarly. Molly, perhaps noticing that she hadn't answered, was looking at her oddly.
"Isn't that interesting," said Katie slowly. "They kidnapped a bunch of mutants, and put power dampers on them." She felt her grin grow wider. "And then they grabbed me, too."
Molly caught that. "Wait... you aren't a mutant?"
Katie shook her head cheerily.
Molly grinned back, and even her hurt, shy looking friend managed a smile.
Katie took two decisive steps into the center of the cell and steadied herself. It's a shame we're all swapped from our usuals...A deep breath. "Costume on!"she shouted, and a familiar whirl of energy swept over her, whisking her pyjamas off to Elsewhere, and replacing them with the blue-and-black tights of her current powers. The collar didn't go with them, but that was okay. It wasn't going to be a problem in a moment.
It's effects slowed her down for perhaps a second as she shifted her mass, changing into a billowing cloud. She puffed outward, testing the vents - all of them sealed with what felt like a one-way forcefield (or at least, the ones Friday used), then tested the main shield. It stung uncomfortably as she pushed at it, and did not admit her. Rather than risk harming herself, she backed off and solidified.
Across the hall, Molly's grin was faltering. "Is that it?"
Katie shook her head. Well. I suppose if it was easy, it wouldn't take a superhero. "I have a few other tricks." She gestured, and a bubble field formed against the whole of the force field. She pushed into it, applying pressure against the entirety of the field, hoping for some give. Nothing. She concentrated the field down to the size of a dinner plate and tried again. Still nothing.
A sigh, and she clouded up again. This time, she moved to the top of the cell, and compressed herself. The hundred-mumble-mumble-pound Katie Hammer slammed down, rebounding back into the air to come down again, and she systematically hammered her way across the floor, hunting for seams or other weak points. Finally, she gave up, and returned to full size. Mentally, she opened the circuit of her costume's communicator. There was a hash of feedback, signifying some kind of jamming, and she let it close. "They did a really good job building this place. That's... annoying."
Franklin was scowling, glaring at the walls and force field as if they had done him a grievous insult for being too well built for their initial plan to work. Klara was looking at her wide-eyed. Molly was looking thoughtful. "I recognize that costume style. Katie... Power, right?" Katie nodded. Molly continued, "Related to Julie Power?"
"My big sister. When did you see her?"
"A couple months ago. She was kind of a jerk."
Katie sighed, slumped onto the cot. "Yeah... she could be. But she was okay, when you saw her?"
"Yeah..." A pause. "She made it sound like none of her family cared about her."
Katie shook her head. "She had a big fight with Mom an' Dad an' Alex, but we never wanted her to leave." A sigh. "At least whoever did this didn't get her, too."
Silence descended for a moment. Molly broke it. "Hey, we're not gonna be stuck here forever. They think their thingy turned your powers off, right? The fact that it didn't's gonna be a nasty surprise. Then we can all get out of here." A pause. "Wherever here is, anyway. And Klara an' I have friends- somebody'll come after us."
Katie smiled again. "So do Franklin and I. His parents are the Fantastic Four."
Klara smiled faintly at this. Molly, for her part grinned. A murmer started to rise from the other prisoners.
Katie took a moment to stretch, exchanging a glance with Franklin. "Yeah, I almost feel sorry for the Skrulls." A pause. "Almost."
Molly started cackling, clearly having some of the same thoughts.
Jessica had gone to meet the SHIELD team at their apartment. Luke Cage, for his part, had stayed at the mansion. His heart wasn't really in monitoring the Latverian situation, but it gave him something to do, some distraction. Investigation wasn't his thing, wasn't something he was good at. He'd stay out of the expert's way as they tried to find out just what was going on. Once they had a lead on the kidnappers, he'd hit the ground running, probably with more than a little help.
None of the Avengers were fond of kidnappers, after all. Whoever was responsible for this was going to pay for it. Dearly.
He was quietly discussing various hidden trails and back routes around Latveria with a SHIELD liaison officer - one who might just need to get into that benighted country depending on what they found - going over his recollection and (by some miracle he'd found them) notes from his one-man incursion there some years ago, back in his Hero For Hire days. The man was so earnest it almost hurt; but the thought gave comfort that the scanning team might just be this earnest, too.
A staffer stood from one of the consoles. "Mister Stark? We just got a call from Registered Superhuman A. Power - AKA Powerhouse. He's reporting another kidnapping with a similar M.O. to the one Mr. Cage reported."
"I didn't know he even had a... wait, no, his little sister." Stark shook his head to clear it for a moment. "Put him through."
The worried face of Alex Power filled one of the screens near the main ops board in the situation room. Just behind him, Luke could see his younger brother Jack, and an older couple he assumed were the kid's parents. Stark spoke up. "Alexander. I understand you have a situation?"
The kid nodded. "Someone's taken my sister. We've used our Smartship's sensors to look, and we can't identify any energy signature. We also can't see her anywhere on Earth or in local space."
If Tony was surprised by the statement, he showed no sign. "I see. This isn't the first mystery kidnapping to cross our desk today. Care to come down and help us work this out?"
Power's nod was more decisive than one might expect from a kid his age. "We'll be there momentarily. Just give us air clearance for our Smartship, okay?"
Friday sounded almost as worried as the boys to James Power's ears as he rode along for the trip. Their faithful, sentient starship had confirmed their first fears - Katie was gone. It hadn't managed to figure out who'd done it, or where they'd gone, but it had managed the first step. Alex's little connection to the Avengers had gotten the second step going. Jack was along because there was no way they'd be able to stop him; and in the end no real desire to do so. James was along because there was at least an outside chance his own scientific knowledge might actually be able to help.
And because if he and Margaret both stayed home, their fear and panic would just feed off each other and reduce them to nervous wrecks.
Friday landed himself with his usual lack of fuss, and the canopy swung open. He followed the boys onto the lawn next to the Mansion, past the guards. Jarvis met them at the door. Alex and Jack exchanged nods with him; James shook his hand.
"I'm terribly sorry to hear the news. I assure you, Mister Power, the Avengers will not rest until they can resolve this."
"I know, Jarvis. Thank you."
They were waved towards the back of the building, past some staff and SHIELD agents. James tried not to eye the G-men with his hippie's natural distrust for the breed; right now, he needed their help. As they neared the doors, Alex and Jack exchanged glances and a nod; then changed into their 'working clothes.' Alex, as tall as his father and broader of shoulder, cut an imposing figure in white-on-black. Jack, still coming into his full growth, made up for size with anger in his black-and-gold.
In the situation room, he saw more SHIELD agents, what he could only call the Big Board filling one wall, and a number of Superheroes. The Power Man, Luke Cage, he knew from the news; likewise Ms Marvel, She-Hulk, and Captain America. He'd met Tony Stark - the Iron Man - at a scientific conference years ago; they'd consulted a few times since, though not recently. Given the way the Registration Act had blown up in all their faces, he was decidedly unsure how he felt about the man, these days. And felt a little guilty for not discouraging his eldest son from registering.
Stark noticed them, straightened up from the console he'd been hunched at. "Powerhouse, Destroyer, Professor Power. I wish this meeting could be under better circumstances."
"Thank you, sir," began Alex. "Though at the moment it's just Gee-Force." A pause. "Who was the other kidnapping victim?"
"My daughter," said Power Man in his baritone rumble.
"Danielle? She's just a baby.." Jack sounded as horrified as his father felt. James met the black man's gaze, his own full of sympathetic pain as he remembered the first time his children had been kidnapped. How much worse must it be, when the child in question is still so small and vulnerable?
Power Man's expression softened slightly as he realized the genuine nature of James' own sympathy. "Yeah. We've got people looking our place over now. Soon as we catch a trail, the Avengers will follow it."
"We'll follow it together," said Alex, his tone broking no argument. "Our sister's in danger. And besides, Friday's faster in hyperspace than anything the Avengers have that I know about."
Stark and Cage exchanged a look, then Cage nodded. "Can't argue with that."
There was a commotion at one of the other consoles. "Mister Stark, Mister Cage... one of our routine police report checks is reporting almost thirty kidnappings this morning, across North and South America, and Europe, all showing similar M.O.'s. Five of them are of children either known or suspected to be mutants."
"Thirty-two," came a hard alto from the doorway. Susan Richards, the Invisible Woman, strode into the Avenger's situation room as if daringthem to throw her out, trailed by the imposing, stony bulk of Benjamin Grimm. "Someone managed to slip through all the security of my home and made off with my children. Reed's not home. All his systems have failed to locate the who, what, and when. I'm hoping that by combining forces with the Avengers, we might be able to shed some light on things."
In the control center of a hidden base on a remote jungle world, the Super Skrull known as Z'aadw stood smiling at attention as he received praises for a job well done. He was one of a kind; a Super Skrull designed not for battle but for infiltration. Invisible, intangible, fully transparent to all known sensors; and able to render a humanoid unconscious with but a touch. The perfect thief. His target had been young superhumans; his aim, to provide his people with examples of yet more superpowers; to breed a newer, stronger, more advanced Super Skrull. His nieces and nephews, empowered through the samples he brought back, would ensure the victory of the Skrull Empire.
And in the process, they would hurt a lot of Human superheroes who had so recently stymied their plans and bloodied their noses. Revenge was sweet.