Hmm… is Harry/Hermione still not the OTP? Pity. And is Marvel still a stew that is the product of a small county's worth of cooks? Pity.
As should surprise no one, A third Path came in the lead both here and over on patty ron, taking in 445 votes here and 832 there for a total of 1277. I didn't even have to through in my own votes LOL! As such, I hope you all enjoy this chapter, even if it is heavy on the world building and short on violence.
In second place but nowhere near close enough to rest on it's laurels in the future was… Magic of the Force! 377 here and 448 on patty ron, giving it 825 votes. I have sent it off to Kathyrn518 for a quick read through, but I will warn anyone looking for it, it won't be updated until tonight, and will not have been small mistake checked! I will send it off to my small mistake reader, but I refuse to joggle his elbow more than I need to. If small mistakes impact your enjoyment of my work, I would wait until next week.
In third place breathing down Magic's neck is Gods and Devils. It placed a distant third here with 289, but made up for it with a strong showing here on patty ron bringing in 530. This gave it a total of 819. Beaten by only six points. These polls are getting closer and closer all the time and I love it! This story might get my votes next month, since I didn't need to use them this month to put ATP over the top, and it has been nearly half a year since it was updated.
Summary of the last chapter: After being rather arrogant about his chances of doing so, Harry, with a LOT of help from Emma (after her own attempt to get herself killed via a goddess-like wrath failed) freed Hela from the control of the Shadows, escaping with life and limb by the skin of their proverbial teeth. Odin uses this opportunity to launch another assault on the Shadows, this time in a more physical manner as on Earth Emma, Hela and Harry have their various wounds seen to and Garm makes friends and influences people. After discussion, Hela agrees to move into Camelot for a time, discovering that she is still connected to Niflheim, though it is not in turn still connected to the other realms of the Asgardian pocket dimension after which AIM makes an even larger nuisance of itself, and gets smacked down hard the world round. Hela slowly starts to fit in and make a place for herself in Camelot and with Harry, a process which is interrupted by a third Kree assault. This time is much more serious, and a missile launch surprises the defenders despite the Hyperspace trap and their early warning system being up and running in just barely enough time to save Earth from a full assault. Storm performs a mind-blasting moment of heroism to destroy the last of the missiles, an act visible from the ground of half the planet. Seeing this the leader of the Kree assault, a true commander if still a true-blue Kree, surrenders to save his people from further death.
A word of warning if you don't like world building, you might want to wait until chapter 33 is posted to read this.
Thanks go to Kathryn518, Michael and Mordreek for their work on this chapter. Michael I think has done a tremendous job of spotting small mistakes, while Kathryn518 is always helpful in pointing out mistakes vis a vi the plot or character's actions or when I accidentally contradict myself. For his part, Mordreek is a major source of help and info on the Asgardian/Kindred front. Honestly when it comes to those sections he is practically a co-author by this point, that is how important his contributions to those parts are, so please give all three of them props for helping with this chapter!
ATP 32 Road to Kingship
"…Reports are still coming in from all over the world about the amazing light show that occurred late last night and what it could mean. Numerous amateur and hundreds of professional astronomers around America and beyond also reported the lights of what could possibly have been explosions in space, including several dozen directly in orbit. Reports from NASA's advanced light imagery teams report other similar lights over and around the planet Mars. Are we supposed to still call it a planet, Charlene?" a handsome looking man asked as he sat behind a desk while numerous cameras recorded all around him.
Behind the newscaster on a large TV screen was displaying an actual recording of Storm's lightning show taken from the surface. It wasn't the only such, of course. The light show had covered half of the planet's hemisphere, and had been so bright that even people without any optical equipment were able to see it from the surface.
"That's a good question, Ted, especially since it has no atmosphere as far as any of the scientists we've been able to talk to can determine. Without an atmosphere, there is little light refraction from it to tell its current position, though thankfully it doesn't seem to have been knocked out of it of its orbit during the fight between the superhero Guardian and the purported alien Thanos," said his coworker sitting next to him, while looking down at several papers on her desk.
"So was this lightning show a sign of another alien threat, a sign that Guardian has begun to build some kind of orbital lightning-based weapon? Or is it simply a random natural occurrence? We'll be speaking to several natural scientists in the coming hours that follow up on that last point if necessary, but to answer the first two, we go live to sunny San Francisco, California with Kimberly Doucet who is attempting to talk to the Fantastic Four."
At that, the image on any TV watching the report from NBC faded to black for just a moment before being replaced with the image of a youngish looking woman dressed in a severe business suit, speaking into a microphone as another camera recorded her from nearby. She wasn't the only reporter there; there looked to be at least a dozen other reporters in the background, and an equal amount of cameramen.
There was also a crowd of locals, but they seemed to have decided to stay to one side of the various reporters, though there were a few that looked more official, accompanied by obvious Secret Service men. Those of that group were all glaring at the reporters and one another equally, save for a bald, middle-aged man standing alone in the group who looked amused by the rest of the Secret Service men around him.
"Thanks Ted. Well, as you can see behind me, here at the Baxter Building there's a bit of a pandemonium at the moment. As the world's foremost superhero team, everyone seems to have decided to see if the Fantastic Four knows about what went on yesterday. When we arrived, we were informed that Susan Richards, the wife of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, would be making an announcement. That time is rapidly approaching, as you can see from the preparations behind me."
As Kimberly was talking the various reporters and officials were being ushered to seats in the auditorium, while the cameramen were being moved to the sides of the wall by two blocky looking robots of about medium height that looked nothing so much as short versions of the robot from Forbidden Planet. Even the voice was something like that robot's. "Please move to your designated seats. Mrs. Richards will be with us momentarily. Please move to your designated seats…"
When it came Kimberly's turn to be seated the camera began to track the robots as the cameraman moved to the place to which the one robot was directing him. Whenever one of the cameramen tried to move their equipment, however, the robots would stop them, their arms lengthening noticeably to cover the camera lenses and slowly pushing them backwards with more than human strength. Even reporters could learn over time, so it didn't take long for the robots to create some form of order.
Moments later Susan Richards appeared quite literally, her invisibility slowly fading away as she stepped forward to take a place in front of the podium at front of the room. "This is going to be a very short preliminary announcement of what has occurred, ladies and gentlemen of the press," Susan said quickly, smiling at them all. Her pregnancy was very noticeable now, especially when she wore her official Fantastic Four uniform.
That wasn't the important thing at the moment, however. "At around 10 AM local time, a Kree fleet consisting of what amounts to several battlecruisers and their equivalent of a dreadnought like those in World War I appeared in the system. Their approach to the system was discovered and then communicated to us here on Earth by a new kind of sensor my husband created called a psionic transmission array. You'll have to ask Reed to explain the science to you. If you feel up to it, anyway." Susan rolled her eyes with a chuckle. "It goes right over my head."
Actually, it had been sheerest luck that Reed's psionic transmission array had been in place just in time to discover the incoming gravitic wave from the hyperspace fleet. He had finished installing it into Babylon barely a day before the attack arrived, and had spent most of the remaining time prior to the attack tweaking it in his spare time. Even Harry hadn't known that it had been online until the data from the relay appeared on Pinoptes' screen.
Which, of course, was quite fine with Harry, not even discounting the whole "actually seeing them coming" thing. Harry wanted his friends and allies to feel comfortable with moving forward with their own plans like that.
After a round of nervous laughter went around the room, Susan spoke again. "Their mission was to annihilate all life on this planet." That shut the moment of levity off like a guillotine, but she continued without pause. "This is in keeping with the Kree doctrine of escalation. We are not a threat to them, but they wanted to control this planet and to make certain that we remained a non-threat. That was why they sent the Sentry more than half a year ago. When the Sentry did not return they sent warships, hence the light show a few months back. When we destroyed that fleet, we in this instance being the Custodes Mundi and the Fantastic Four working in conjunction, they escalated once again with this assault."
She looked around at their faces, some disbelieving, some horrified, some simply worried. "Let me make this clear, ladies and gentlemen of the press and those watching at home, even the Secret Service people who will no doubt try to demand answers I cannot give at this time. The Kree are the equivalent of Nazi Germany, or rather, Nazi Germany as it would have been under the Red Skull. They are a race composed nearly entirely of what we would perceive to be functional sociopaths. The United Nations has been given packets of information gleaned from the Kree, from their technology to their way their minds work after each attack, showing how we came to that conclusion.
"While they may look just like humans with blue skin in many cases, they are not human. They do not feel emotions as well as we do. They do not have any kind of empathy for the most part outside of a few scattered cases in a very large survey set. They are fighting a war against another alien race we have had contact with, the Skrull and that war has been going on for longer than the humans took to evolve from apes. They are not going to ignore or respect humanity. They are not going to make peace with humanity. The very idea of treating us as equals would not even occur to them, and the idea that we would demand such would be considered simply laughable!"
Susan stopped for a moment to let her words sink in before going on softly. "This fleet, too, was stopped, though it was not a bloodless victory and came far too close to disaster. From what I understand—I was not involved in the fighting due to my condition—the light show from yesterday was the result of the mutant Storm, second-in-command of the Custodes Mundi. She used her power to detonate several hundred missiles which had evaded the best defenses we could put up. Each of those missiles would have cost millions of lives, ladies and gentlemen. They would not have even been seen until they were right over their target, such was their camouflage."
The fact that the lightshow had been caused by a mutant was like a bombshell going off, since despite Harry's best efforts the mutant question was still very much in the common consciousness. That said mutant had saved so many lives also made an impact, though that one would take a little while to sink in over the automatic fear too many people still felt occasionally when they thought of mutants.
"Humanity can no longer ignore the threat from space," Susan went on, staring around her. "The Fantastic Four and the Custodes Mundi were up to this task, but remember what I said about the Kree doctrine of escalation. We stopped this attack by the skin of our teeth and the use of far too much luck. What will happen when a complete battle fleet rather than a single flotilla attacks Earth? What will happen then to humanity? Those questions must be answered by the governments of the world, not me."
And with that ladies and gentlemen, I will leave you. Expect an announcement of another public broadcast sometime in the next week or so." Susan turned away, disappearing into invisibility as she ignored the shouted questions from behind her. She had, after all, given them all the information she herself had at this point.
"Well isn't that just fantastic, no joke intended," grumbled senator Pulmer as he leaned back in his chair, twisting in place to look over at Director Fury who was standing at attention at the far end of the table. The group of senators facing him right now along with the President and two of his cabinet members were not the Senate oversight committee. They were not part of the structure of the Senate's dealings with either the spy community or the military. They were, however, highly influential, and had both put their names into the running for president. "So can you add anything to that theory, or are you just going to tell us how useless your program is again?"
"Senator, SHIELD has done a lot of good since our inception," said Fury coldly. "Technological terrorism is almost a thing of the past these days thanks to our assaults on AIM. HYDRA is a pale shadow of what it was in the Americas, Europe, and Asia thanks to us. We have stopped over a dozen world-level threats, shut down several government programs which no longer responded to the government of the United States and Canada, stopped the creation of Hulk-type soldiers which might well have served their creator rather than the government, and kept several dozen of this government's skeletons from coming out of the closet in the past few months."
He shrugged his shoulders as the senator, a senator Murasaki from California, who despite his name had no sign of his Japanese heritage in his face, seemed to swell up with anger. "Have we dropped the ball a few times?" he continued. "Yes. On the other hand we've always been quick to pick it back up again, and given that SHIELD's councilors were unable to get other governments outside of Canada, Brazil, and some of the Peloponnesians to open their borders, we have done very well."
Only one of the men facing him was on that council, and a faint exhalation from him drew everyone's attention. "We screwed up badly in the first few years of SHIELD's creation. Too many of my fellow councilors, and even I, believed that it was simply a larger, more technologically advanced version of the various spy agencies already in existence. We eventually began to make overtures to other countries, but when Britain decided not to follow through with their original deal with us, that started a spiral that we've not yet recovered from.
"Further, SHIELD was not supposed to be our main deterrent against alien threats, Murasaki. That task would've gone to SWORD, but the funding for that never even came close to matching what it would have needed."
"It would have if you had done your job properly!" the president said sharply, glaring at the man who simply looked back at him. The councilor's position was secure; the president's was not. He was being seen more and more as a defunct president with little actual power base of his own. His prevaricating on the mutant issue, the whole debacle with the Sentinels which appeared on his watch, and numerous other issues had really hammered his popularity in the public eye and his own party's backing of him. Both parties were now eagerly looking forward to the presidential election next year.
"Back to the original question," said another senator, the Republican representative from Georgia. "Can you tell us anything Mrs. Richards did not?"
"Precious little, Senator," Fury replied honestly. "While SHIELD has developed numerous sensor arrays of our own to detect anything in space their range is limited. Further, our ability to project power into space is nonexistent outside of Ironman, and his deployment speed to combat threats from that theatre is rather slow."
He went on hurriedly before the various senators could voice their opinions on Ironman once again. Tony Stark's general attitude towards the elected body of the American government was condescending at best, combative at worst. At the other side of the scale the fact that he refused to hand over the Ironman technology stuck in a lot of craws. "However, we were able to detect numerous missiles coming towards Earth, the number approaching around four hundred missiles. We detected the battle going on around Mars and the missile separation hours after it happened, of course. We were also able to watch a running battle in something approaching real time as the Custodes Mundi and the Fantastic Four did what they could to destroy the missiles closer to home."
Fury shook his head ruefully. "Honestly, we didn't see Storm's stand coming. We'd feared the worst when several hundred missiles got through the Custodes."
"So the Custodes Mundi saved us once again," said another senator. His tone was surly, but his face was thoughtful as he leaned back, staring at the ceiling for a moment. Then he looked over at the councilor. "What was the major issue with us getting into space?"
"Getting into space," the other man replied dryly, holding up his hand quickly as the man seemed to snarl at him. "I'm not being facetious. That was in fact the problem. Wasn't it, Director Fury?"
"Yes, sir," Fury said, nodding his head to the councilor. Nick didn't like the man. He had far too many secrets, far too many skeletons in his closet. But Fury knew them all, and for all of his faults, and they were myriad, the man was at least competent and intelligent. "Even with Tony Stark and Dr. Henry Pym on the topic we have not been able to create or discover a way out of the gravity well that is at all applicable in terms of time and effort. We simply can't create the infrastructure to build it, not quickly, and certainly not cheaply. The latest results I saw from the two of them would take up the majority of America's total GDP and would take a minimum of two years to put in place."
After a round of winces at the very idea of something costing that much one of the senators spoke up again. "So we're left to trust Guardian, then. I don't like that. I don't like having no handles on the man. I don't like the fact he has no one to answer to. I don't like the fact that we know next to nothing about him or the other Custodes other than most are mutants, and that at least one seems to have Omega level powers!"
Fury could've said something there. He, of course, had known that Harry Potter was Guardian. The magical illusion or whatever it was that made people unable to make that mental connection had never worked on him, since he had known it before Harry had cast that spell, and his spy's mind allowed him to see past it. But he couldn't actually speak about it to others, and frankly he saw no point in trying to do so now.
In fact, Nick found himself in the highly unusual position of actually defending Guardian AKA Harry Potter. "While I understand your points and agree with many of them, Senator, I think you're wrong on your first point. I think he does have people to answer to: his own team and himself. Other than that, let's face facts. Guardian didn't have to step up to the plate when it came to defending Earth from space, he chose to do so because he saw a threat that no one else was addressing. We have to give him some respect for that."
"What I don't like is being in the dark so much," said another senator, shaking his head. "Where did the reports from the Fantastic Four on the Kree disappear to? Why were they not made known to the Senate? Why hasn't the UN been looking into the space threat?"
"As for the last, the UN spoke about it for a few days after the last Kree assault, but there are so many other issues facing the UN in the world, that an existential future threat from space which had no 'clear evidence' beyond supposition and various odd phenomena behind it didn't seem really important," the president said wearily. "Hopefully this will have pushed them into acting, but I don't know if they even can. The UN as a body is, as we all know, rather fractious, and even the Security Council can rarely move in lockstep."
"I'm afraid they're going to have to on this issue, senators, since America might have the industry, but it doesn't have enough money," Fury said with a sigh. "Until they do, and until we have enough time to put the infrastructure in place to get us up into space, we're going to be forced to rely on Guardian."
"A wild and very loose cannon which may have an orbital base of operations already. This does not make me happy," said one of the cabinet members. "Do you have any agents in place within Guardian's faction?"
"No," Fury said bluntly. "We've tried a time or two through various means, but his defenses against such always sniff them out." That was true even for Harry's public industries like Magical Minds and the rest. Fury had even tried to infiltrate Saab at one point, only to discover the proprietary technology of the hover tech was kept under lock and key. The moment the spy tried to get to it he was found out and deported from Sweden quite quickly. "On the other hand, senators, Guardian has reached out to various people, as you know."
The senator who had asked the question about what had kept SWORD from getting off the ground nodded his head. "Captain America, Whittaker, and a few others, yes. That was actually a rather ingenious way of informing the governments of the world what was going on while also opening up communication channels. Unfortunately most of those channels are in the field right now and thus not available to us. We could have gotten Admiral Whittaker and General Murphy in here, I suppose."
"I doubt they'd have any more information just yet about this latest attack, Senator," Fury said respectfully. "However, Guardian has already reached out to Captain America and has invited Steve to the next meeting a few days from now. He has also informed Steve that he can take a plus one, and I intend to be that plus one."
"Who would wear the dress in that relationship?" a cabinet member quipped, eliciting a few groans from those around him.
"We'll have to send a few representatives along with the others as well, so long as that plus one bit was also directed to them at least," the president said thoughtfully. He looked up at Fury then, shaking his head and gesturing to the seat. "Oh sit down, Fury. You're not a private up on a charge! Let's get down to brass tacks here."
Fury nodded, and the meeting continued from there, though it became much more technical about what kind of sensors SHIELD already had in place, what NASA was doing about all this, whether or not NASA should be considered defunct, and other such things of a bureaucratic nature. In the end, it was decided that NASA's budget would slowly be dissolved over the next year, but that the decision to shut it down entirely would be left to the next president.
Each budget cut would be accompanied by a series of commands for them to revamp their technology and outlook of space exploration to match current events, and if they did not meet that demand the budget cut would go into effect. That's a step in the right direction, at least, Fury thought, leaning back and sighing as the meeting continued. Now if only we can get them to release that budget to us and quadruple it and our manpower, then maybe we can get ourselves up into space!
Elsewhere meetings of similar makeup were occurring. In China the Mandarin met with the State Council and was informed that China would be prepared to offer an alliance to Guardian in return for his backing in the future, and to pass it on to the man when they met. The idea of a mob boss meeting with a government like that would have been anathema in European countries, but Asian governments had a far more pragmatic view of crime, so most wouldn't bat an eye at it. Meanwhile in Japan the emperor met with Sunspot to discuss Guardian's character, and then sat down with various members of the Diet to discuss whether or not article nine of the constitution extended to extraterrestrial threats.
Most governments simply had to spin their wheels, or called in the specialists Harry had invited to his previous meeting to grill them on what they thought was going on. Consternation, shock, and growing fear rippled through the halls of power nearly everywhere on Earth, as the governments of the world woke up to the fact that they really had dropped the ball badly on this point. And worse, many of them began to realize that they would have to work with the man who had picked said ball up, not as a random superhero, but as an equal going forward.
In Britain, William waited patiently for his son-in-law to return from visiting his granddaughter in Camelot that afternoon. Duncan returned quickly, sitting down across from his father and sipping at his tea for a moment while his daughter raced upstairs to talk to her mother about what she had learned in class today. Anne was most definitely a homebody, content with staying out of the public eye and seeing to her family for the most part, while running several philanthropist groups from afar.
"I talked to Sir Dennis. They don't know if they have lost anyone yet. The reports are still coming in, but they didn't lose anyone from among the actual Custodes, at the very least. Dennis does know, however, that Potter's orbitals or their equivalent, at least, took another beating." Duncan now set his tea down sharply, staring at his grandfather. "I think it's time we move forward with the Montgomery scheme."
"Indeed. You'll sit in with me when I speak to the Admiralty board and general Mountebanks. We'll outline the plan to them and see how many holes they can poke in it. However when Mr. Potter calls a meeting for aid in the future, I mean for the United Kingdom to be ready to meet his call, whatever that might be."
Carol was dead on her feet. It was all she could do to not lean against the wall of the tunnel as she moved towards her quarters stationed on Mars, or rather Fortress Mars. Every one of her workers from sensor techs to miners were unequivocally behind the 'Fortress' part of Mars's designation now. It had been baptized in fire and the lives of several of their fellows, and had proven itself. That had been gratifying, as had been the alacrity and speed with which her people had reacted to the attack.
But there had still been sixty-two killed when tunnels collapsed, and a further twenty-five dead on the surface near the site of the massive beams of power which had destroyed the gravitic anomaly array. That hurt. It always hurt to lose people, especially in this case.
At a purely logistical level it was not the scientists' deaths that hurt them the most, but the miners'. They had more scientists coming in and the framework for hiring more was well-established by this point. Furthermore, their retraining didn't take any real time at all. They did not have as many trained miners and techs, and their training was costly in time and money.
Carol stopped before entering her room as she nearly stumbled into a group of four men and women standing there, waiting for her. All of them looked as tired as she did, which was gratifying, but they were still standing between her and her bed. "What?" she growled gruffly.
"Carol, we represent most of the scientists and miners that work for Mr. Potter at this point," said one of the men bluntly. "All of us here on Mars, all of the ones working in orbit, and even a large portion still on Earth who know about his space-based industry. We have a proposal we want you to pass on to him."
He held out a stack of papers, and Carol took it. As Carol flipped through them she saw that most of the first dozen pages were simply names next to signatures, but when she reached the last page she blinked in surprise, then reread the small, neat script, then looked up at them. "Are you all serious about this?"
"Deadly," said the man with a nod. "That's the point really, so are the Kree and other space-based threats. And we rather like our families being, you know, alive, which they would not be right now without Mr. Potter and the Custodes Mundi."
"I'll…pass it on then," Carol said, still somewhat in shock.
"Tomorrow's fine," said one of the women, shaking her head. "If you want to wait until after the wake we're having tomorrow, that would be the best time, I think. We'd also like you to pass on an invitation to Mr. Potter to come and join us there. In fact, we'd like to see the entire Custodes Mundi there. We need to tell them we appreciate what they've done for us, for our families, hell, for our entire planet!"
Carol nodded. "I'll do that too, but for now get the fuck out of my way. I want my bed."
They all chuckled before moving away, and she slapped the door open before collapsing into the simple cot inside. It was small with a very thin mattress, but she'd slept on far worse in her time as a soldier. I wonder how Potter's going to take their request, Carol thought before exhaustion claimed her.
Sinister frowned, leaning back in his chair, the blue and white of the various computer screens the only light in his lab as the TV shut off, his mind awhirl with thoughts and memories. The Kree had come to Earth in the past. Sinister knew it for a fact as he had their genes on hand and several examples of their technology and even anecdotes from their society. A snap of his fingers and a whispered command, and one computer screen popped up the called-for DNA strands.
"As I thought. A dead end race with a certain level of neurosis and emotional instability on a genetic level. More powerful physically, able to take more damage and go with less sleep, but with each successive generation without new DNA the race becomes more and more sociopathic. And…" Sinister paused in his musing looking at a few strands in particular, pulling them up and examining them more closely.
"And there is distinct evidence of at least two eugenics programs in their past, as well as a long term breeding program. There has been no sign of mutations among the samples I've gotten or the information I have gleaned from stolen computers on their society." In other words they were of no interest to Sinister. Worse, from what he could tell of this last encounter and the Sentries the Fantastic Four had dealt with, their technology had not evolved since his…patron…had dealt with them back in the days of the Egyptian dynasties.
"But they could be a threat to bring out the best in both mutants and humans. I will, however, need to step up my campaign of provoking both sides of that conflict to make certain they do not unite against the exterior threat as Potter foolishly believes is the way forward. That dovetails with my desire to get my hands on Jean Grey as soon as possible. Her fetus must not grow beyond a certain age, or else I won't be able to play with its DNA as I wish to. However, to keep the fires hot between the two races will take more of my logistical reserves than I would have wished. Still, let us see…"
With that he turned to his computer and began to rework his plans for the next few months, condensing, moving resources around, changing and reorganizing on the fly in a way that he never enjoyed doing. Still, it had to be done to achieve his desire, his obsession of creating the ultimate mutant.
As he sat down in one of the chairs in the control room of Babylon, one would have thought that Harry Potter was feeling joyful, weary but happy at once more saving Earth. But all Harry really felt was tired, not so much of the body, but of the mind and soul. He had lost people, even friends before, but it was never easy, and he had thrown his all into rescuing those he could in Fortress Mars who had been buried or cut off by the cave-ins. This had kept him busy for nearly twenty hours. The only breaks he'd allowed himself were to call Jean a few times to make certain Ororo was all right, and to tell Steve to bring Fury to the next meeting, in a roundabout way, of course.
Not being there for his lady was painful to Harry, even though he knew Ororo would have forced him to turn right around and get back into space to help their people. Hela had apparently dropped Ororo off at Hogwarts where the doctors had immediately gone to work on her with Jean's aid.
According to Una and the other medical specialists there was no danger of her dying from her exertions which had been a weight off Harry's shoulders. But she hadn't woken up yet, and there was little Jean or any telepath could do to get into Ororo's head to see what was wrong on a mental level.
Staring at Earth as it passed below him, Harry simply sat, a bottle of whiskey in one hand and two glasses held forgotten in the other, his mind a jumble. His worries about Ororo, his concerns for the future, and his thoughts on the surprise surrender all were competing for his attention. He had been tempted not to accept the surrender, to continue his attacks, but it would have served no purpose but to sate his anger at the man's actions towards Earth. No, better to destroy his pride and steal his ships rather than wreck them further.
To one side of Harry's current position the door to the control room slid open, and Doom strode through. He looked at Harry's hands and nodded his armored head once, moving to sit beside his ally-cum-friend. Holding out a hand, he accepted a glass and watched as Harry poured them both a half-snifter's worth of whiskey before speaking. "They will come in force next time," said Doom, simply.
"Yes. Hopefully this near run thing can be turned to our advantage in the court of public opinion so we can rally Earth's population against the threat," Harry replied, his voice somewhat dull in comparison to Doom's powerful if sepulchral tone. Yet despite that, there was still a hint of cold steel in his voice, a deep, powerful rage that had simmered like congealed lava.
"And the prisoners?"
"They and their continued well-being will be predicated on what occurs during this meeting." Harry replied grimly.
Doom nodded at that, and then both men turned to look at the door as it opened once more. The Thing and Piotr in his Colossus form came in leading Rica, who was looking much less dapper than he had when he had formally surrendered to Guardian in person. The past day had been spent seeing to the wounded among the Kree crews and seeing to their placement in an asteroid prison, which Harry had to create on-the-fly with Jean's help due to the sheer number of prisoners they had just received rather than looking after his own people.
Busy day, Harry thought as he leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers in front of his chest as he stared at the former Commodore, now prisoner. "You surrendered," he said, his voice cold as ice. "Explain."
Rica blinked, then shrugged. "I saw no way to achieve my mission. Continued fighting would only have escalated the cost of lives on my own side, as well as your own." The fact that he added that second part as sort of an afterthought showed precisely how little he cared about that. Why he had even mentioned it was explained in his next sentence. "That would obviously have had a detrimental effect on your treatment of me and my men when the battle eventually ended."
"Your mission was to annihilate my people, to wipe away Earth's population," Harry said, his voice like that of a glacier as he kept control of his temper with difficulty.
"Yes, it was," Rica replied, again giving what in a human would have been called a Gallic shrug. "I was given an order, and I chose the means to carry it out. The plan was mine, and it would have worked too."
The sheer callous way he spoke of the near extinction of their race made both Harry and Doom's hands clench around their glasses. Sociopaths, the lot of them!
"I accepted your surrender on the belief that you and your people would agree to answer any questions we had about your fleets, your people, and your empires. You will therefore answer any questions asked of you freely and without any hint of prevarication," Harry said, standing up and glaring at the Kree leader in the eyes, his emerald eyes stones. "Do that, and I will ensure that you and your troops are treated well. If my people sense even a tiny bit of prevarication or hesitance on your part, I will not hesitate in having the knowledge ripped out of your mind as painfully as I can manage it. This includes any and all scientific information, any and all information we wish to ask you about your ships and their capabilities, anything! Is that understood?
"Those questions will begin soon," Harry said, calming down as the man nodded, trying to seem like he wasn't shaken by Harry's threat, which Harry rather doubted. "Be prepared for it. For now, I'll have you conducted to your cell along with your men." A call to Cory sent the man away, and Harry turned back, sitting down once more next to Doom.
The two of them were silent for a moment, then Doom spoke slowly, as if the words were being winched out of him. "Latveria will soon be ready for a general call to war. Yet we are not economically prepared to push into space. We will need aid there, and my acquired lands will be even further behind."
"If you can provide trained techs and miners, I'll provide the way to get them up into space and give them jobs among my industries for now. We aren't ready to integrate naval personnel yet, though I might be speeding up the timetable on that," Harry promised even as his head began to fill with fog. There were too many things he needed to think about right now both on a strategic and tactical level: setting up a meeting with Steve and the others, building up his space-based industry further, seeing to the internment of the dead and making certain their families got whatever they needed, checking on Ororo, organizing the rebuilding project on Fortress Mars, and thinking about what he would say in the eventual public announcement about what had occurred.
He was also simplytired mentally. As powerful as Harry was magically, that did little to help his mental exhaustion or his ability to keep so many balls in the air beyond a certain point. He was very, very good at it, but not up to the level of a god or goddess, despite his brushes with divinity.
"By the way," Doom said after another moment's silence as the two men finished their drinks. "How likely would you estimate the idea of the Russian government being under the control of more of those shape changing aliens that you discovered?"
"Reed sent me a file on the blood sample I gave him a few weeks ago, saying that there was significant evidence of that creature having been some kind of Skrull offshoot. Unfortunately he's had no luck in creating a long-range scanner that would be able to tell us if more were still around. As to the chance of the Russians being under alien control, I'd say fifty-fifty."
He looked at Doom sharply, his muddied thoughts coming together for a moment. "Are you asking me if I think that the Russian's recent buildup of troops along your shared borders is because the aliens consider you a threat?"
Doom bellowed laughter, shaking his armored head. "No, no. I fully understand that the Russians themselves are more than enough to view me as a threat. As they should, if they continue to funnel money and equipment over the borders to the Red Skull in the remnants of Croatia. I will admit to having been surprised by how well he conducts a guerrilla war against my occupation forces, but the noose is tightening. The Red Skull personally cannot escape Croatia any longer thanks to a little trick my mother taught me, and with that it is only a matter of time."
Harry understood that to mean it was a magical spell of some sort and nodded slowly, thinking about how he'd go about doing such a thing. It would be easier to keep someone away then to confine an individual, especially over such a large distance, but it could be done.
"However, if new weapons show up in Russia's hands, then we will have to consider whether we have a second group of aliens to deal with, acting and using the Russians as their local patsies," Doom finished.
"We'll have to be careful with that label…" Harry warned, even as he nodded agreement. "But they aren't Skrulls, Reed was very clear about that. An evolutionary tangent, he told me, one that occurred long ago in their past."
"As if that matters," Doom scoffed. "So long as they have the same shapeshifting power, I will treat them the same."
"Actually that wasn't what I was thinking," Harry said, forcing the thoughts through his muddied mind with difficulty. Have to get a pepper up potion, he thought, but even that thought was hard to hang on to as his worry about Ororo started to take center stage. "What I was thinking was that because it happened so far in the past we won't be able to predict their movements and their long-term goals by looking at the Skrull. The Skrull themselves are not nearly as warlike towards third parties as the Kree are, and while they are excellent infiltrators, they wouldn't be interested in taking over entirely unless the planet gave them a strong strategic advantage, which we don't."
"A good point. Yet the differences might also make it all the more likely that they could be using Russia as a stepping stone. In that it would have few equals given its defensive abilities." Doom countered.
"Yes," Harry muttered, holding one hand up to his forehead.
Doom went on, turning away so as not to watch Harry's moment of weakness, as was polite. "Back to the topic of the Red Skull. Might I borrow the services of young Douglas Ramsey? From what I understand he is able to discern the actual meaning behind any communication medium? My communications specialists have overheard snippets of clandestine communications sent out of Croatia to dozens of places the world over."
Harry concentrated again, nodding. "I'll ask him, and if he agrees, I'll have him sent to you formally via one of our magic carpets tomorrow. But those messages, you have no clue as to their meaning?"
"None. They were one-way messages, which is all my communication specialists were able to determine. They were not in German, Hungarian, Austrian, or any other known language, including many that the Red Skull was not known to have actually spoken. It sounds like pure gobbledygook," Doom said, shaking his head. "I myself tried to decipher it and got nowhere. I assume then it is not actually a message per se, but that the sending of the message was the whole point. But it is better to be certain of such things, and it could be interesting to see if Douglas can get meaning out of even that."
"HYDRA's been hammered so badly it can't have many resources left," Harry said thoughtfully. "Sleeper cells, perhaps?"
"That is my thought," Doom said with a nod. "But where, how many, and what their objectives would be once activated is all up in the air."
"Not really," Harry said, shaking his head before grunting slightly in pain, his eyes almost crossing though he continued to talk. "Consider the man himself."
Doom frowned behind his mask before he got it, making a mental note to not underestimate Harry's basic intelligence once more even when he was obviously exhausted. "The Red Skull is a sociopath, a narcissist of the first degree. At this point even his closest advisors must be aware he is losing, and so must he be. If so, he will lash out as much as possible."
Harry nodded decisively, writing out a message on a conjured piece of paper for a moment. "I'll pass that on to MI5 and let them send it on to the rest of the secret agent community. That warning could save a lot of lives."
"Sound thinking. I'll have an estimate of how many men and women I can loan you and what kind of schedule it will be on in the morning," Doom said. With that he sat down his glass and left without another word.
Harry was only alone for a few seconds before Emma came in from nearby where she had been monitoring things telepathically. Not Doom, of course. His mental defenses were based both on his own powerful and very controlled mind, which could pose some defense against even the telepath's power, and technology. She had been monitoring Rica.
"I can get into the Kree's mind at will now," she reported as she sat down in Doom's vacated chair, taking one of Harry's hands in her own. "Despite the alien nature of his mind, I'll know if he's lying or trying to hide anything, though how to discern what is important and what isn't on a military and social level I'll leave up to you and that psychologist that Reed brought in."
"I don't think we'll have much trouble with Rica. That was a beaten man simply looking after his troops the best he can," Harry said, closing his eyes and leaning back for a moment as his free hand came up to knead his forehead. "I'll want to possibly bring in some of our allies in Britain as well. An admiral would have a better idea of what's important I think on the military level. Remember when it comes to naval matters I'm a rank amateur."
"So long as whoever it is passes that Trust Me array of yours, I have no problem with that," Emma said before both of them looked up as the door opened.
Hela came in, sharing a mutual sneer with Emma before blinking as Harry crossed the distance between them before she could react, pulling her into a hug. She flushed and was about to push out of his embrace, considering it somewhat unseemly in front of Emma but Harry spoke before she could. "Thank you for saving Ororo, Hela." he said, his voice trembling for a moment at how close Ororo had come to falling to her death at the very least.
At that Hela slowly returned the hug for a brief second before gently pushing him away, willing her flush to diminish under her mask through willpower alone. "She is my friend too Harry Potter." She looked around then frowned noticeably below her mask, shaking her head. "And why are you stewing here all alone like a troll in its cave?"
"Just thinking, planning, and trying to get my mind in order." Harry quipped, but Hela was having none of that.
"Bed would do more to settle your mind than just sitting in the dark like a barrel of fermenting mead." Hela said, pulling him toward the door with gentle if implacable strength. The fact she didn't really have to put much strength into it was somewhat telling. "I know you have a room here, go to your bed Harry Potter, and we will talk more in the morning."
The next day it was Hela and Emma once more who roused Harry from bed. He had woken up, called Camelot to check on Ororo and then simply slumped back in bed, his hands curling and uncurling as he did, a scowl on his face as he tried to concentrate on one of the many, many things he had to deal with. But for some reason he couldn't his mind wasn't so exhausted any longer, but he still couldn't bring his thoughts under control or prioritize then into any kind of coherent outline. There were just so many things he had to do, so many things he had think about right now that it was as if his mind was shutting down under the strain rather than trying to deal with the flood of problems. This was not helped by the fact he couldn't forget the people who had died on Mars. Sixty-two people died in those tunnels, god damn it all, I don't like losing people!
The door to the bedroom that overlooked the botanical jungle that gave Babylon its name opened at the same time Hela floated up over the edge of the balcony. She and Emma, who had come through the doorway, looked at each other, exchanging yet another sneer before turning their attention on Harry.
"Harry, what are you doing still in bed? Did you ask one of your house-elves to bring you breakfast in bed?" Emma asked, smiling as she moved to sit on the bed next to Harry, leaning up against the headboard.
"No, though it might be a good idea. I'm just, just thinking, making a list in my mind of what we have to do, what else is still going on, how I want to handle telling the families of the dead what happened, that kind of thing." Harry replied, his voice brittle.
Emma and Hela exchanged an inscrutable female glance, for once united in their minds before focusing once more on Harry. "Harry, we've lost people before," Emma replied softly, taking his hand in her own, her thumb running against Harry's palm in soothing strokes. "While it is tragic, you can't beat yourself up about it when we all did everything we could against an alien invasion fleet. It would have been much worse for all of Earth without you, your people and their contributions."
"I've only done what anyone should have." Harry said, looking away, his conditioned response in the face of praise kicking in again. "It certainly hasn't been enough."
Hela's eye's narrowed from where she was leaning back against the wall and watching them both, having made no move to join the two of them on the bed. "I have warned you before about such moments of blind modesty Harry Potter! But I see that like most men before, you prove stubborn in the face of personal advice." She growled. "You say such lines, yet name me one man who could have done more for your people in so short a time, let alone in such grand scope and scale!"
She marched forward, leaning over the bed to poke Harry in the forehead, making the wizard's eyes cross as he tries to keep focus on the feminine appendage of doom. "You denigrate both yourself and those who have chosen to follow you when you say such things."
Leaning back up she went on, her hands on her hips as she continued to glare at Harry. "Yes, you have lost people Harry Potter, in what universe do you live in that you think you can have a battle where only the enemy dies? They died so that others might live, so stop sulking about it and making a mockery of their sacrifice."
"I am not sulking," Harry said, scowling at her which Hela considered an improvement over his self-flagellation if a miniscule one.
Emma however agreed and took Harry's face in her hands to make him meet her eyes. "You are sulking Harry. We lost people again, and that affects you deeply. I understand that, I even approve of it in moderation, and I know that worrying about Ororo isn't making this any easier for you. However, there is a time and place for wallowing in such emotions and this is not one of them. You're right, we just have too damn much work to do."
"You scored a major victory, "Hela said taking up the tale from Emma, the two of them working surprisingly well together for a moment a part of Harry's mind noticed with both amusement and irritation, since their coordination was directed at him. "You led your people against an opponent that outnumbered them, had better technology, far better ships, and at least in part the element of surprise, and you succeeded in defending your planet against them for a third time when they knew at least some of what to expect. No jarl would follow a king that spends lives like coin but to say that you should have been able to lead them through the fight with no losses at all is to hold yourself to a standard that not even Old One-Eye would hold himself to."
"We're not belittling the losses here on Mars Harry, if anything we're doing the exact opposite." Emma said as Harry made to speak, not willing to let her man stop the roll Emma and her erstwhile ally were on. "I've been down to Fortress Mars since the retrieval operations began. And the people down there aren't mourning… or rather they are, but they're also celebrating."
Harry's eyes widened at that, and some spark came back to his previously dead emerald eyes. "Yes, Harry, they are celebrating the fact they won, that they are alive, just as much as they are mourning their dead friends. Just like you all did after that fight against the zombies."
"Bah, do not belittle Draugr by calling them mere zombies, I have seen modern interpretations of undead and they are but pale imitations of the reality that was known to the tales of old." Hela scoffed. "But she is correct about the reaction of those on Fortress Mars and elsewhere. Your people mourn the dead as they should, but also honor their loss in a battle they by all rights should have lost, and indeed would have lost both their lives and the lives of millions of others without you."
Her voice softened as she went on. "You cannot allow your mind to dwell on the negatives Harry Potter. A leader must always be moving forward, concentrating on what is to be done and what new challenges he must face, not the cost of the last one. To do so will break you as it has done other men and women of the past."
"Now stand up, and act like the jarl, the king you are," Hela ordered regally. "Your people need to see you well and a part of the festivities. It bodes ill when a leader holds himself apart from his people for too long when revelry is to be had after such a victory."
Harry sighed but nodded, his eyes were clear once more, showing he was once more tracking appropriately. After a meal and Harry once more checking in on Ororo, the three of them went down to join the wake. Several of the Custodes were already there, Paige, Danielle, Piotr, Amara and Nikolai. The wake was rather raucous, with music blaring from several different rooms of the Fortress Mars' complex. You could find rock in one place, opera in another. In a third Hela held court with modern Norwegian and Scandinavian music that she seemed to have developed a fondness for, leading group dances and drinking like a sailor on leave without ever completely losing her hauteur or controlled demeanor.
Drink was plentiful everywhere as was food brought in by house elves under Cory's direction. And everywhere a present went they heard tales, mostly exaggerated sometimes true tales about the people who had died in the cave-ins or on the surface under the actual bombardment. For all that it was about the dead, wakes were also about the affirmation of life as Harry well knew, having been involved in several such gatherings though it was a first for many of the people there and the Catholics in particular were looking rather askance at the goings-on until they were sufficiently inebriated.
Staying away from the alcohol Harry danced the night away with Emma and Hela, and even once with Paige and some of the other ladies present. Jean was not there, having elected to stay behind with Ororo, which Harry could well relate to having done the same that morning for several hours.
The two of them had discerned that Ororo was still using her powers on an unconscious level which was keeping her mind from actually recovering from her previous overuse. But neither of them could get her to wake up either. Gaea had even showed up for a brief moment telling them she was helping Ororo to control the amount of changes she had been forced to make in the entire world's weather patterns when she defended the planet against the missile bombardment. A few tornadoes, several snowstorms, and one hail of insanely hard ice in the desert of Arizona were the only visible marks of that change over the next week thanks to Ororo's continued efforts.
Harry couldn't allow himself to be selfish, but it had been hard not to shout angrily at Gaea and force her to do all that work on her own, which she couldn't have. Ororo had overthrown the natural order in the weather system and Gaea's powers were not geared to actually controlling her own normal ecology outside making certain everything continued to run.
Despite Jean's not being there, Harry had fun and continued to recover from yesterday's mental exertions. He was even smiling at the end of it as people, mostly asleep, were bundled up into various corners, alone or with company, and numerous house-elves began to pop into existence here and there to drop blankets on people.
He was about to hunt around for Hela when Carol made her way through the throng to him. "Harry, some people want to talk to you if it's convenient. I told them they should probably talk to you directly."
Harry frowned at that, but nodded in agreement and followed the other woman into the nearby command center. Most of it was turned off at the moment, but there were several people there already who came to their feet as Harry entered, one of them even going so far as to salute. Harry returned the salute without comment, one eyebrow arching as he looked at them all. "Terrence right? And you would be Mrs. Coraline, Shusooque, and Paras? Your wife just had a child right Paras? Sorry I can't remember your first name. Is your wife doing well, and was it a boy or girl?"
"Er, that's fine Mr. Potter, I um, she's doing well, and so's the baby, a boy sir…" Jacque Paras replied, looking at the others who were all smiling happily at being recognized so quickly by their employer.
"Good to hear it, but I doubt that's what you all wanted to see me about. So let's get down to why you all look sober after what, three hours of a rather raucous party shall we?" Harry said, smirking at them all and leaning against a one of the monitors.
Terrence held out the same packet that they had shown Carol the evening before. "Sir, we represent a group of scientists, technicians and miners who would like to petition you to move our families to whatever hidden bases you have on Earth, or if possible up here."
"Excuse me," Harry blinked standing up abruptly at that. "What?"
"Sir we know the missile launch in this last battle would've killed two-thirds of the population of Earth at the very least." Shusooque, an Asian from one of Harry's American hiring stations spoke up. "That includes our families, Sir. We've learned, that is we've seen while working for you that there is really no certain way to protect Earth from orbital assault like that, but we also know that you're the only person doing anything about it at the moment. So we'd like our families to be made safe."
Harry began to flip through the list of names first, his eyebrows arching further and further up his forehead as he did. He looked up after he finished reading. "If I'm not mistaken, this is quite literally every individual here on Fortress Mars, and something like 90% or so of the people on work in the orbitals above Earth. There are even a lot of names here from the training classes, both those among the training cadre and their students."
"That's correct sir."
Harry waved them all down into seats. "Oh sit down you lot, honestly I don't bite. Much anyway, and my ladies would probably object if I did so in this case."
He began to pace reading what amounted to a plea to house and protect their families more than anything else as he thought about how to deal with this. While he could create habitats as he had for the Ravenspires or the prisoner habitat they would be without any amenities, and putting such amenities in would take a lot of his personal time.
I suppose I could get Jean to hollow the asteroids out, but putting in housing, heating, or anything of that nature? No, that would take advanced wards and spell work, and while Kitty could do the wards I have other plans for her in the near future, here on Fortress Mars in particular. And Camelot is too small for all of their families.
That left only the Savage Land, which had its own issues. The Savage Land was huge and the few surviving natives after Magneto's wars of conquest were firmly behind Harry's control of it at this point thanks to Hela and Ororo's work there. But that didn't take away from the fact it was a harsh place to live with no modern amenities outside the citadel and the port.
"The problem is logistics," Harry said stopping his pacing and looking at them all, meeting their eyes and giving off an air of focus and calm at odds with the listless manner he had begun the day,. "I don't honestly have any place to put your families just yet, not anyplace they would be comfortable in anyway. I have a hidden base on Earth that could take them in, but it has no amenities, no housing, no roads, and no food that you wouldn't have to hunt yourselves. Putting such in place will take time and asking your families to move to such 'accommodations' would be putting a lot of stress on them, so..."
"Sir, were willing to wait for a time, as long as we can, that is…" Terrence paused, hesitating as he thought about how to put it. "Sir," he restarted, "I'm an American. My friend over there is from Belgium and came to Britain and then signed up with you. Mrs. Coraline is from Greece, Jacque is from Canada. We're not-we're not talking about just asking for you to defend our families. We are talking about our loyalty and the loyalty of our families to you."
"You are a shield for humanity, the only one acting as such. That alone would be worth our respect." Jacque said seriously. "But you go out of your way to pay us more than most people would given the usual nature of our jobs. You look after our well-being, you offer paid education grants to our families. And most of us have met and talked to you. Our loyalties are a personal thing…"
"Like that of a warrior to his lord perhaps?" said a new voice. The group all turned in its direction and saw Hela walking through the doorway. Her steps were certain, and her eyes behind her mask clear of any signs of the monstrous amount of alcohol she had imbibed. Harry actually wasn't surprised by that, since he had been dancing with her on and off throughout the evening. Hela really liked to dance, even if she thought most modern dances silly or just improper in public. Harry still got flashbacks to her reaction to 'twerking', which had been unpleasant in the extreme.
"Erm, yes miss," said one of the others, looking at Hela askance. Harry's work crews hadn't yet gotten used to Hela's presence yet, and had no real idea where her position was in the hierarchy, though they all knew it was pretty high. A few of them had looked at her name sideways a time or two, but even the scattered Asatru among them hadn't quite made the connection yet from Hela the woman to Hela the goddess, since her appearance was so unlike her historical version. Well, that and she wasn't being followed by a ginormous wolf of doom, as far as they knew anyway.
"You're talking as if you're asking to immigrate to my country…" Harry said slowly, looking at the three speakers, grabbing their attention once more, his own eyes flitting to Hela then Carol before concentrating on them.
They all exchanged glances but one after another they nodded. "Yes sir, that's basically what we're asking. At this point, you already employ enough people to make your companies a decent sized country anyway so it's not all that far a stretch." Said Alexia Coraline.
"All right," Harry said after a few moments of silence. "I'll agree provisionally to this but as I said it'll take time before I'm ready to take in so many colonists," he said using the word with a faint smirk on his face, enough of an Englishman to revel in the irony of the situation if only for a moment. "At that time, I will ask again if you're willing to go that far. If you are, then you will become the first of possibly many people to do so. For now," he said clapping his hands "head back to the party all right?"
Harry waved off Carol, as he stood there for a moment staring at nothing while Hela crossed the distance between them. She stood in front of him, staring him in the eyes with a subtle but unmistakable air of both smugness and pride. "You see Harry Potter, you have become a king, as I told you once in that memory of yours when I first met Jean Grey. You now have two choices: to embrace it, or to try to fight it. Are you a mere merchant, a mere warlord or something else, something that is both those things and more? Now is the time to decide Harry Potter." Hela's voice was solemn and she spoke with an almost formal cadence. It seemed to Harry as if she weren't just asking him if he was going to accept the situation as Hela the observer, but as if Hela the goddess was speaking to him as an equal.
"No choice then," Harry said in reply, one hand coming up to gently trace along the side of her chin. Hela flushed at the touch, but didn't look away, indeed she moved slightly closer, her own hand coming up to do the same to Harry. The feeling of the moment had shifted, but like with most of his interactions with Hela, it did not feel out of place. "Better to ride the storm rather than be buffeted along it."
"I could make such a bawdy joke right now, but I will hold myself back at present," Hela replied dryly, causing Harry to laugh quietly before turned away from Hela, as Hedwig suddenly popped into existence in the air above the two of them.
Alighting on her Harry's shoulder, Hedwig, held out two pieces of parchment and a pen, and Harry chuckled, taking them from her after rubbing her feathers affectionately. "Someone wants some extra bacon I see." He teased.
Hela nodded her head in approval. "A most magnificent familiar you have there Harry Potter. Though I imagine looking out for you as she does is a fulltime job."
"Preck," Hedwig precked agreement then flew over to Hela's shoulder, lightly pulling at her hair. For some reason Hela got the impression the owl was trying to say that it was, and that was why she had allowed Harry to attract so many women, to help ease the owl's never ending task, which caused Hela to chuckle as one hand rose to stroke Hedwig's chest.
Even as he wrote out a message to Charles and a list of books he would like the man to gather from his library, Harry began to give out orders, not to Hela or Hedwig, but his personal house-elf. "Cory, I'll need you to set aside a lot of pepper up potion's, enough for… eight… people to keep using them for several months. When you have them packed, drop them by the doorway to the farms in Babylon and wait for me there. We have work to do."
"I will do so master," the little house-elf replied, popping into being for a moment, then disappeared as Hedwig took the message he had just written to Charles. With the two of them gone, Harry turned back to Hela. "I will also need your advice on this going forward Hela… and thanks for giving me a kick in the ass. I sometimes need them as you might have noticed."
"Of course I am available for advice Harry. Indeed, it is pleasing to me to see that you have never fallen into the most common mistake of all too many leaders throughout time, that of not listening to their advisors. As for kicking you in the rump, I will keep that in mind. As I said tis a rather common male failing even the best of your gender fall for," Hela replied drolly then feeling rather daring kissed Harry on the cheek before walking off, putting a bit of an extra sway into her hips as she did.
Harry stared after her for a moment before shaking his head and, between one moment and the next disappearing, popping to the runic doorway. From there he made his way to Babylon, and swiftly went to work on creating what he needed to for this project. It might have taken him by surprise, but that didn't mean he wasn't going to try to get it right. No need to court more losses through half-arsing things after all.
The next day found Harry standing in front of a room situated to one side of the botanical gardens with Kitty, Piotr, Amara, Sage, Emma, Hela, Shanna the She-Devil and Charles.
"We're all here now Harry," Emma said, after exchanging a surprisingly cordial greeting with Hela. While they sneered and sniped at one another occasionally, they got along slightly better with one another whenever they were concentrating on something other than Harry and their disparate relationships with him. "What's this all about?" Given the people here she really couldn't think of why all of them would be involved in a single discussion.
"After the wake I was approached by a group of my employees who had a request they wanted to run by me. The size and scope of it however has brought to a head a long term plan we've talked about before…" Harry began, explaining what had occurred.
"So this calls for a rewrite of the Israeli Initiative we talked about…" Emma mused, then laughed, shaking her head at Harry's naiveté. "Yet you told them that you'll have a response for them within a few days? Harry, you have no idea about the amount of work you're talking about here. This isn't like in the imperial era where all you needed was a charter, the means to get to wherever you were going and the ability to fight off or conquer the natives. Especially since in this case, the natives are our allies." She gestured over to where Shanna was watching everyone else shrewdly.
Though the Savage Land's chosen leader had lost much of her memories of her life before her arrival in the Savage Land, but there was nothing wrong with her intelligence. She understood what Emma had said. "My tribe and the others we are allied with are willing to cede that none of us alone control the Savage Land and would be willing to leave these colonists alone, but that would only hold so long as they don't encroach on our territories."
"I don't see any reason why they would do so, that's not a concern. Most of the Savage Land is empty of people at this point." Harry said that with sadness, as most of those lands had held various small tribes of disparate groups or even races. Magneto had wiped them all out in his conquest of the Savage Land. Since the Savage Land was almost as large as Australia in size, that left a lot of land available.
Most of that land of course was jungle, mountain and hard scrabble land, the equivalent of virgin land for the most part. Living there would be incredibly hard even with the magical doorways: building roads, laying cables and all the rest of the industry of a nation would also be very tough.
"I said this wasn't about just the physical aspects of it." Emma cut in. "I meant the organizational aspects of this. We'll need to create a government, bureaucracy, numerous departments! We'll need to control who comes in and out, give out passports, create laws, bills of rights! The sheer organizational needs of creating a country would be the work for hundreds of people and years of time!"
"I've already begun work on an outline with Sage's help, but you're right, it would take a lot of time. But time is something I can give us in abundance if we're careful."
"You're going to have to explain that Harry," Charles said mildly while Sage nodded affirmation that she had helped him start on the monumental project. She had concentrated on finding as many versions of colonial charters she could find, and an outline for how to go about creating the infrastructure needed to create a colony in the Savage Land, as well as laws to govern that developing industry so it would not hurt the environment over much.
Charles too had helped Harry right up several outlines for a Bill of Rights for Harry's Israel Initiative. He hadn't liked the idea of the original concept, considering how much trouble Israel had faced since the beginning and his belief that living together was the way to build cooperation and understanding between mutantkind and normal humans. This new concept however, sounded much more promising, even if Harry was only willing to open his new nation's borders to his own workers at this point.
"I agree with Emma that we'll need to create a bureaucracy, but I intend to cut that down to a minimum as much as possible. Bureaucracy is almost always the failing point of modern governments and the longer we can stave that off, the better. I've also already put Scott, Shiang Chi and Nikolai on creating a doctrine to train boarding troops, though they won't be working with us in here since I think that issue is more reworking current training methods than building up from the bedrock."
Shiang Chi was a harsh disciplinarian who was easily the best hand to hand combatant of anyone in Harry's sphere of influence. Nikolai brought experience in both fighting the Kree and the Russian model of small unit tactics. Scott brought a more personable approach and a mastery of unit tactics, mostly built around his experience as an X-men and marine training books. Carol would join them later, bringing her own viewpoint and experience to bear on the issue.
"However, we will create the Magna Carta of this new nation, and a foundation for the laws and organizing the physical aspect of this. But as to the question of time," Harry paused, gesturing to the open doorway beside him. "I've put another time dilation array in place in here."
The room was quite large, separated by walls here and there and with an offshoot doorway in one wall. The main area was dominated by several computers set in a central circle, with comfortable looking chairs facing them. There were several sofas pushed against its walls, and two bookshelves filled with numerous books, next to which Cory was standing, placing books into the bookcase as they watched.
As the group entered and looked around, they noticed the runic arrays cut into the walls all around them, though they weren't powered up just yet, and the door had to be closed for the array to connect. Kitty concentrated on that aspect, while the others moved around the walls which separated the main room from the rest. One of the rooms was a bathroom further separated into boys and girls rooms, including a handicap version for Charles. There was no plumbing but there were dozens of runes set around the toilets rooms. The second separate room was a well-stocked kitchen. The doorway in the main room led into a hall which led in turn to separate sleeping areas.
Looking them over absently Kitty broke out into giggles as she noticed that one of the rooms, the one at the far end had a separate runic array on it. She recognized it as a sound dampening array, hence her giggles.
"Hmm… I'm not exactly happy about the idea of aging, but that is a thought. But why haven't we made more use of those time capsule things?" Amara asked somewhat warily from where she had moved to read the tittles of the various books.
"For one thing, they are of somewhat limited utility since they can only affect an enclosed and small area. Powering them initially is also tough, or would be for most wizards, and it gets worse the larger the area encased, just like the expansion arrays or charms. But for another point, speeding up time like that is very hard on nonmagical bodies. Over exposure will have a permanent effect on your bodies. And it's worse if you're wearing the suits designed to offset the magical array that speeds up time."
Emma twitched at that, as did Piotr, Kitty and Amara, while Sage, Scott and Charles looked blank, not having any idea of what that would entail as the others did. Piotr had sat in on Harry's few lessons with Illyana, and some of those had covered how magic, particularly runic arrays, could go wrong, and Kitty had been given much the same information, while Emma and Amara simply had very active imaginations and trusted Harry to know what he was talking about.
"Playing with time is not something mortals should do lightly. Even the most potent of magic users among the Aesir and Vanir do not manipulate it without a heavy price to be paid when one least expects it," Hela said, frowning as she looked over the intricate rune work done by her prospective consort. "Despite that, it may aid us here in this. Yet, why did you ask me to be here Harry Potter?"
"You are a ruler in your own right even if your citizens can't exactly go back. You're an excellent organizer and you know about laws, far more than I do for certain," Harry replied promptly. "I value you on that basis alone, and what you've done with the Savage Land shows what you can do."
Hela felt her lips twitch into a pleased and proud smile and did nothing to stop it as she watched Harry stand up, pulling out a small gold and bronze watch. "So here's how we're going to do this. We'll carry in supplies for us all, then we will work on this project until we have the framework I want in terms of law, bureaucracy and sheer organization. Those of you without magical power will have this watch on you. It is set to go off every four hours. Both my and Dr. Strange's arithmantic equations tell us that after four and half hours the damage to your bodies start to build up, and it starts to get deadly after that very quickly. So we'll give you breaks of an hour out here for every four hours in there."
Harry smirked. "Think of it like spending too much time in a low gravity only…magicky. Luckily the accumulation dissipates quickly. However if you start feeling unusually tired, your bones start to feel sore or you get headaches, please tell me, and we'll let you out of the room quickly."
"Dr. Strange?" Emma asked, putting a certain emphasis on the so-called Sorcerer Supreme's name. Harry nodded grimly. "Yes, I know what you're going to say there, trust me, he and I are going to have a little chat about him expanding his duties and obligations soon enough."
"Good." With that Emma turned back to the current topic, looking at the watch in Harry's hand. "It will be very odd, coming back in and finding you all have done so much work in that time. What's the time dilation for this room?"
"This area's actually sped up even more than the normal farming zones. Every hour out in the real universe will be the equivalent of a week in here."
Emma winced at that, shaking her head. "Damn Harry. But, but what about Jean? We'll think we've been away from her for months."
"I know, but it can't be helped. Jean and I talked about this mind to mind a few hours ago, and while she's not happy, she doesn't have magic and her abilities don't carry over in this manner, that's the long and short of it. Plus I have no idea about the effect of the dilation on a pregnant woman and her child, or in this case, children. No way am I willing to chance anything there." Harry replied firmly. It would be hard to be apart from Jean for so long (again!) but they both agreed this needed to be done. And that much pampering would be done on both sides to recover from the absence, but that was for later.
As Harry went on to answer a few questions from the others Emma reached out mentally to Jean, smiling as the other telepath's presence met her halfway, their minds exchanging the telepathic equivalent of a deep hug. "Jean, this plan of Harry's, did you really agree to it?"
"I think it's necessary. I don't like it, but when has that mattered in the great scheme of things?" Jean's mental voice replied lightly as their telepathic avatars formed in the nearly permanent mental highway between their minds, which closely resembled that between Jean and Harry, small somewhat, but built of both their powers rather than Jean's alone. "He's right of course, the effect of that much disparate and conflicting time manipulation can only have a negative effect on the babies.
"Damn. I'll miss you a lot when I'm in there, and you won't even know I'm gone…" Emma quipped, running one hand through her long blonde hair.
"Heh, then contact me the moment you're out here. I'll take a break from my own work to come and spend those hours with you, and freaking gladly!" Jean replied swiftly, her astral projection hugging Emma's to her, an odd feeling that was part mental yet had enough physical overtones that it carried into both their bodies.
Emma reveled in the hug, her physical eyes closing as she did. She still kept her mind on the task at hand however. "And what does our love have you doing?"
"Finishing the organization Ororo started for Avalon Academy, see to completing the armament of the X-men, organize the surveys of the new ships we took in this last engagement, see to the organization of Arc Technologies and the biggest one, work with doctors Reed and Banner in expanding and updating the sensor network."
Jean paused a moment to let the number of her jobs sink in before finishing dryly. "Needless to say, most of my jobs, including the last one, will not be done by the time you lot are finished in there."
"Busy, busy, busy…" Emma drawled, shaking her head.
"I'll also be watching over Ororo as often as I can. If she wakes up one of us have to be there." Jean said, her voice becoming serious.
"Agreed." Though Emma couldn't say that she felt the same depth of love toward Ororo that she felt to Jean and Harry, she still did love the weather goddess. Ororo's latest moment of heroism had touched even Emma's soul, and she had stopped in to see her before coming up to Camelot to meet Harry today. "Did Harry stop by?" She asked now, surprised to not know the answer to that one.
"No, he wanted to, but then getting him to leave would have been impossible. He would have simply sat there, trying to think of how to get her to wake up, even after Gaea showed up to tell us what Ororo was currently doing, and why her mind wasn't healing as it should be. Better to give Harry something to do instead of letting him stew on top of brooding."
"Hmmm…" The comment about Harry's brooding had caused Emma to remember how it had been mainly Hela who had brought their man out of said funk.
Of course the other telepath caught that, and she sighed, a very odd thing to hear in the astral plane, though thankfully without any effect on the physical plane. "Emma, I know you haven't, um, bonded so much with Hela, but I also know you two respect one another after that first meeting. I have even heard the two of you exchange at least a few friendly words. Is it so hard to admit that maybe Hela could earn a place among us through heart and deed?"
"No, it isn't but that doesn't mean I have to like it," Emma replied tartly as she gave the telepathic equivalent of a pout, to which Jean just chuckled. The two remained connected for a few minutes while in the material plane Harry handed out and fitted several suits with the runic array designed to make certain the body of the individual wearing it wasn't affected by the sped up time around them to those without magic.
When it was her turn, Emma sent a last telepathic caress to Jean before pulling back her power, opening her eyes and looking around at those present around her physical body. She frowned then, cocking her head to one side thoughtfully. "I understand why most of us are here, but why young Miss Pryde?"
Harry smirked at Kitty, patting her head. "She's here to learn about the arrays of the time and anti-dilation arrays. Just because they are of limited utility doesn't mean they have no use at all. I mean for Fortress Mars at the very least to be a test bed to other ideas. Now come on boys and girls, get your suits on and let's get to work."
Over the next few 'months' of time dilation, Harry and everyone with him were busy nearly every hour of every day. If Emma had been naïve enough to think that she and Harry could have most of those nights together, that naiveté would have been viciously disabused the first time Harry took a Pepper-Up potion before handing out more all around. They rested every 'week' for a few hours and one night and on those nights they did 'sleep' together, but otherwise Harry kept them all on a brutal pace.
It turned out however that Harry and Steven's arithmancy had been wrong: Piotr and the other nonmagicals reported headaches within two and half hours real-time. Harry of course left them out, then reworked the alarms they all wore for two hours on, one hour off real-time. The headaches would recede for a time, but by the end of the day in real-time, all of them save Emma and Charles, who apparently were immune to the mental strain aspect of thing, were complaining of headaches, and Harry gave them the next two days off to recover.
To the shock of no one who knew her personal work ethic, Kitty learned the new runic arrays to Harry's satisfaction in only two weeks in dilation time. She practiced them for another few days, then was put in touch with several dozen house-elves, who put themselves under her command for several projects she went to work on for Harry out in the rest of the universe.
Shanna too, finished her part in this accelerated planning session quickly, only staying for one so-called rotation. She, Hela and Harry marked out the boundaries of the existing tribes and races in the Savage land then worked out larger borders between and around them for a sort of buffer zone. After that Shanna helped further by marking out known resources and a few quasi-religious sights not in any one tribe's territory. Areas around those sights were marked out again, and then large swathes of territory marked out in another color on the map for possible migration.
The team worked on that breakneck pace until Harry was satisfied they had covered all the points they could while cut off from the rest of the universe as they were and had created the groundwork he had wanted to create for his ongoing country-making scheme. But from the get go this proved to be a difficult task.
First of all, Harry's new realm, whatever the name of it would come to be, was not in point of fact a single nation in geographical terms. It would be sort of like the British Empire with bits and pieces spread out not only on Earth but in space. Camelot and its environs were still very technically part of the United Kingdom after all. Babylon and the orbital industry, Fortress Mars, and the savage Land rounded out Harry's far flung holdings.
Here was Hela's first contribution. First, she and surprisingly Charles pushed hard for Harry to state that Babylon would be the new realm's capital. Harry after all didn't need a large building or a massive bureaucracy nearby at all times to run his realm, that aspect could be spread out. But having a central location where people could be brought to meet with him in person that overlooked much of the rest of his holdings and the Earth was a symbol that could not be overlooked.
Having it there instead of in Camelot would also separate Harry's head of government position from his position as head of Magical Minds and the leader of the Custodes, a form of separation of powers that Hela herself found to be one of the more sensible parts of modern governance, even if she found it to be the equivalent of rediscovering that you didn't pray where you cooked as it were.
Harry eventually agreed, having balked at the idea of having a capital at all rather than just naming Babylonthat. But too many arguments were put forward that having a center of governance, a focal point of the realm was a crucial logistical need so Harry acquiesced.
From there Hela pushed Harry hard on somehow transferring the land under Camelot's wards to himself legally. "It matters not who owns the lands now, Harry Potter, but if the lands become part of your fief there are several old time magics that you could use to aid you in leading and defending your country. An immensely inaccurate but not completely unapt comparison would be magics that would act similarly to how my realm is tied to me. Once they were considered a natural part of the world but now…"
"The king is the kingdom?" Harry had mused, then nodded. "I think we can do that, though you'll have to walk me through those spells, I don't know any such outside some vague hints of blessings and I certainly don't have any books on the subject."
"It will be my pleasure, though don't think your country will ever be as responsive as the lands Niflheim were to me," Hela warned sternly, having seeing the results of such magics going badly walk into her domain. "That would be the work of lifetimes, and probably would not work in regardless given how many living beings your realm will contain."
From the logistics of that uncomfortable reality they moved to the basis of citizen's rights. Harry was all too aware of how much power he would have over his subjects. He would be both king and the largest employer, the primary source of all authority, power, money and material.
Charles objected to the idea of Harry naming his position a kingship most strenuously as did Sage before Harry could even outline the concept of government he envisioned. "Harry, monarchies just don't work in the main. I understand that Dr. Doom and the king of the United Kingdom seem laudable examples of when they do but consider: Dr. Doom is a tyrant. He might well be a benevolent tyrant, but there is no doubt that even though their standard of living is better under his rule, his citizens have far less actual rights. And William's power is sharply curtailed by a parliamentary democratic government. His Prime Minister actually has more power than he does in the normal running of the government."
"I agree with you on those points Charles, but I am adamant on this. Most kings and other royal rulers seem to think they have some kind of God-given mandate to be king or what have you. Their power however truly comes from those who would be willing to follow them. But even if no one followed me, I would still be powerful in my own right. That power comes from what I am. I also know I am not infallible."
Harry went on from there, looking around at the others. "I will have a democratically chosen committee to help me run everything on a day to day basis, but their power will be based upon my acceptance of their appointment. I am more than willing to have other people make choices and follow out decisions they make, but the buck stops here, as the American saying goes. I and my spokesmen will be the only ones who can okay laws, not propose them, but okay them, and I won't let that power go."
Further, Harry opined, a lot of the governmental services most First World countries took for granted would have to be created in the commercial sector. There would be no Dole system in Harry's nation, no aid for those too lazy or stupid to fend for themselves. Health insurance and workers compensation was already part of the contracts all his workers signed before they went to work for him.
Harry was willing to extend paid education to their families beyond that. Ororo had already put a platform for extending Avalon Academy further, and had even put the start of a school in place in the citadel. But there would be no stipend or unemployment benefits outside of aid after injuries sustained on the job. Reeducation however could be paid for on a case by case basis in the cases or such injuries.
Charles, Sage, and Amara were against this, while Hela and Emma agreed, eventually talking the others around. Hela's final word on the matter was, "If they are not crippled or infirm in their mind, there is always a gainful enterprise if one if of sufficient creativity and willingness to work. No realm can sustain an ever-increasing portion of the citizenship on a so-called welfare system and remain solvent."
Harry also wanted to, like in America, make it a law that people had the right to bear arms, which caused something of a row between the group. Sage, Piotr, Emma, and Charles were all against that idea initially. Emma disapproved of the idea because she felt easy access to weapons would incite lawlessness. Sage agreed, referring to the statistics of murder and other violent crimes in America, most of which dealt with armed individuals. Charles spoke cogently of people at peace and protected from external dangers not needing weapons.
Yet Hela and Amara agreed with Harry and it was Amara who spoke up to defend their position first. "Mutants such as myself and Piotr, our very bodies are weapons far beyond what even a trained soldier or martial artist could call on. Now I'm not saying that any of us would abuse our power. But can we say that twenty to twenty five years down the line of other mutants who we take in and house? Moreover, weapons can at least give the illusion that the people hold their fate in their own hands both as self-defense and in standing up for themselves against the government."
Piotr winced at that. As a Russian he could see both sides of the argument, and Amara's point in particular. The revolution against the Tsars was a necessity, yet the violence it propagated and the socialist regime that followed were even more oppressive. Ironically that was so because the Soviets made sure that they were the only people holding the guns.
His girlfriend also pointed out that Switzerland was even more armed than America but thanks to rigorous training and awareness training, Switzerland didn't experience anything like the crime statistics that Sage was throwing out about America. Conversely, she was able to point out to Charles that just because a populace was disarmed did not mean they were safe, as Britain had some of the most stringent anti-gun laws in the world and yet their crime rate was actually quite high percentage-wise.
For her part Hela too spoke up eloquently and passionately on the topic. "In the past, even those who were not warriors, raiders or sailors were expected to be able to protect themselves, to protect the hearth and home. It gave our ancient followers and others of their time a sense of independence and confidence, which was a necessity to face the wilderness at the time. If you were not willing or able to defend yourself in those days you died and none would spare a shred of pity on those who expected to be protected because you were not willing to. I believe one of your most famous 'science fiction' authors summed it up best, 'An armed society is a polite society.'" Hela had bonded with Jean over science fiction of all things, something that had startled everyone who had met the Asgardian goddess of Death.
"Of course, I do not discount that weaponry has changed vastly since that era but the principle remains the same. To deny your populace the means to protect themselves from anything short is to tell them that you expect them to be helpless and trust in others to keep them safe, that theirs is solely the role of the victim and the supplicant! I think going forward that kind of stance, that kind of independence and self-reliance, is one we must foster if we are to start to build a real society based not only on the defense of Earth, but of expansion into space, a society of trust that its peoples can count on each other to stand against any threat rather than hiding away hoping that the foe is beaten by the government without any involvement on the part of the majority of its citizens. I also agree that the people will need to understand they have the right to defend themselves, especially from mutants."
"Especially?" Charles asked, frowning while Harry leaned back, his eyes narrowing as he seemed to understand what Hela was going to say next.
"Indeed. You and Harry have discussed many of the issues that faced mortal kings, but you missed one: the danger of sycophancy and nepotism, of like calling to like. I see here mutants all around me, I do not see a single unpowered individual," Hela said calmly, though her words caused the rest of the think tank to start and stare at one another. "I know for a fact that you listen to those unpowered individuals that work for you, like Carol or the think tank who have thought up most of your space-based industries. However, the public will belief that you value the lives of mutants more highly than those of ungifted folk. They will need reassurance that in the eyes of the laws of the land all are equal in fact as well as in platitude."
These two arguments quickly swayed Emma and Piotr to join his girlfriend's side of that debate, which caused Harry to turn to Charles with a smirk. "See, democracy at its finest."
"Yet Sage does bring up a good point when she says that guns in particular are weapons which are easy to abuse. There will need to be stern laws in place to keep such from occurring, to allow for the right of self-defense and protection without it being abused. And I do not mean like the laws of most of the nations I've looked at."
Hela actually shuddered. "Tyr, Thor, and Forseti would all rage and rail at how justice has been perverted and strung out into a farcical mockery of their sworn purpose in such a way that it often rewards the criminal on the government's gold. No, laws needs must allow for justice to be dealt with quickly, while still ensuring that it is justice being carried out. Too many laws of today do not deal with justice but in simply making certain the aggressor cannot perform the crime again, or the punishment is known to the world as a whole. These are not laws but chains of a different form shackling those who obey them in the vain hope that they will be protected if they are obedient. Laws must protect and help those who live under them, and if you proved unwilling or uncaring to follow them, then their protection was removed and you were fair game."
Amara spoke up once more on that point. While not having the same methods as the ancient Scandinavian practice of exile, the ancient romans did have banishment or other heavy punishment in their lands and the idea that the accused could still call upon the same rights as their victims was something she loathed.
Harry nodded, having anticipated Hela's stance on that point after the Althing. The Asatru were big on personal accountability. "Agreed, and I have something no nation has, an easy access to Veritaserum, though I will still need to create a police force I suppose." Sage and Amara looked quizzical at that, and Harry filled them in before going on briskly. "Rape, torture and murder, that is killing not related to self-defense or defense of another, are going to be execution offenses in my nation, with the accused rights suspended until proven innocent under trial by Veritaserum. If proven innocent that innocence will be as public as the trial, with no retribution being allowed towards the formerly accused.
"If someone gives false accusation against someone, such as which can occur during cases of rape, they too will be questioned under Veritaserum and if found guilty of falsehood could be exiled as Hela said. The same will be true for lesser crimes, and forfeiture of property and or cash. The laws of my land will not be unreasonable, but if you break them you will pay."
"Harry you cannot simply execute people! There needs to be due process, or else the so-called justice you seek to serve becomes nothing more than vengeance." Charles objected. "Further execution is far too harsh, surely imprisonment and indentured servitude for forty years or more would be better."
"No it isn't." Harry cut in, having seen Hela about to blow up at the man and not wanting to clean up after she was finished with him. "I want everyone who becomes one of my citizens to realize that while it is a privilege, they will be held up to a higher standard than the citizens of more… I suppose, countries. My citizens will have a lot of freedom, but they will also face far harsher penalties if they break my laws. That is nonnegotiable"
"I would agree tovarishch, so long as you make allowances for being under the influence of drugs or alcohol." Piotr cautioned.
Here once more Hela jumped in. "And if one is foolish enough to partake of substances that alter their judgement, knowing full well the effects, then they are fully responsible for their actions afterwards! The only exceptions to that should be if those drugs or drink were given to them without their knowledge and even then I would not make allowances for carelessness or lack of awareness."
"Agreed," Harry said simply.
Charles looked like he wanted to argue the point. But seeing that Emma, Harry, Hela, and even Amara were arrayed against him and Piotr himself seemed to accept the distinction presented, gave it up as another lost cause.
"Which neatly brings us to the subject of taxation." Emma quipped, causing groans to come from Sage, Charles and Harry.
"Why?" Amara asked, shaking her head. "No offense Emma, but I think that is really putting the cart before the horse. Thanks to the way his industry in space and the various medicines Magical Minds sells, Harry's new government might become the first one to ever be completely self-sufficient."
"It might be now, but not when Harry starts to actually put his country in place." Emma warned. "Furthermore, if the citizens of the nation don't have any monetary connection to the government, they won't have enough of a connection to it to see it as truly their own. It's the other side of the coin of 'no taxation without representation', you can't have representation, like the council you are thinking of Harry, without taxation."
From there, Harry and his latest think tank continued to work. Few points they raised actually became solid laws, many of them instead went under the term 'social contract'. There were laws about property, both intellectual and physical, as well as personal safety and privacy, which were big points. Harry had looked at the libel laws of the world and declared them insufficient to the task, let alone what he had suffered in his own world.
Hela agreed with him on that point, as did Amara, though Charles and Piotr didn't see the point. Hela had been simply appalled that tabloid journals existed and considered it proof that modern societies had something fundamentally wrong with them that insults and blatant lies could be purveyed without reprisal.
Another point was Harry and the others declaring that freedom of religion be made a permanent law in the new country, whose name they were still hotly debating months later. However these laws were not nearly as broad as they were elsewhere. The religions would have no right to proselytize or force their views on someone else, something that had been a common point of agreement for all involved.
If it came down to a case of the rights of the individual against the rights of a religion to enforce its rules, the religion would be the loser. Religion would not be an acceptable reason for violence of any kind and the crime would be treated like any other. The specter of the 'Church of Humanity' hung over everyone's minds when that particular point came up, as did certain groups from the Middle East.
Of course not all of their time in the dilation chamber was spent working on such thorny issues. Harry and Emma took a night off every 'week' to have a date in their room. To her surprise and a bit of chagrin, Hela didn't seem to care about those dates, which made Emma feel a little petty, until she realized that Hela too was able to have dates like that when Emma and the other nonmagicals were not around for a week of dilation time.
Most of the time those dates were simple meals conjured up by Cory or one of the four house-elves that were in the room with the group at this point, and then a night of love-making. Emma enjoyed being the center of Harry's attention, despite the fact it routinely wore her out and gave her a limp the next day.
What she most loved however was the two of them simply… talking, just talking, watching movies, planning out what her next moves would be on an economic level. Even now it thrilled Emma that she had such a major voice in their joint endeavors going forward. On top of that Harry's ideas on how to handle Osborn's attempts against her were amusing and rather heartwarming too. This time made Emma love Harry all the more, although they had one rather disturbing conversation during this time.
Their third date in the dilation chamber Emma sighed happily, nuzzling into Harry's shoulder. She ignored the smell of sex and the sweat covering their bodies, reveling in the twinges of pain coming from the numerous hickies that covered her body. "Mmm, that was fantastic, just what the doctor ordered."
Harry chuckled, running one hand through her sweat matted hair. "Glad to hear it."
"You know, I was worried about all this time speeding up thing," Emma said languidly, stretching like a cat for a moment though never enough to remove Harry's head from her hair. "I was really concerned the first time my bones started to ache. I was afraid I'd leave and see some gray hairs, but it has really helped us. I have to admit the idea of using it on a large scale is kind of scary, especially on Mars since there the magical power running the arrays would fade over time, but still it could be a major help."
"Agreed, though the downsides are why I haven't made more use of it before this," Harry said, before clearing his throat, going on far more hesitantly. "Um and on the uh, the whole growing old thing..."
Emma looked at him, one eyebrow raised. "You do know that is sort of a forbidden topic to women don't you?"
"Yes, but it has to be said. I… magical power effects how an individual ages, how fast that is, after a certain point. Um, Dumbledore, he was 178 and while he looked old, he was still hale and hearty when he died, and he wasn't the oldest witch or wizard I knew. So, so Ororo and I, we're really powerful…"
"You might outlive Jean and I," Emma replied calmly. "I had actually already considered that given what you told me about Dumbledore, and his age. I can't say it was very heroic of you to not mention it before this though."
"I'd hoped that the medical think tank looking into it would have come up with some results about how to slow aging or something before this, and it never seemed the right time. But um… it's not only the two of us, it's Jean too… she's the avatar of the Phoenix Force, so I, I really doubt…"
To his shock Emma just shrugged her shoulders. "Like I said I had anticipated this. I can't say that I like the idea that in a decade's time you all will look as you are now and I will have aged, but that is in the future. I'm not even 25 yet Harry, I'll worry about my age when I'm pushing forty and I start to look like I am in my early thirties." The look of smug vanity on Emma's face got a chuckle out Harry and he smiled to see Emma's spirit unaffected by the topic.
Emma rolled on top of him, rocking her pelvis against his for a moment, smiling as she felt 'not-so-little Harry' rise once more to attention. "For now I am still vibrant, young and very energetic, so why don't you quit talking love, and do something about that…"
Laughing Harry agreed, his hand, still tangled in her hair pulling Emma down for a kiss, a worry he had hidden for a long time proving to not really matter much. Three cheers for feminine egos!
Of course Hela and Harry could have dates as well, and they did every 'week' when the nonmagicals were gone. Harry and Hela then had the entire time dilation sector to themselves. Though they kept on working during the day, they often ended up just spending time together, enjoying one another's company during the night. Harry showed Hela various movies on the computers, and danced. Hela forced him to exercise strenuously even more than he would have during the morning exercises they all had to do to keep in shape, challenging him to swordfights that would go on for hours.
Surprising even herself, Hela actually enjoyed the dates they spent talking about places on Earth and simply, well talking, more than anything else. Unlike with Harry's discussions with Emma, his talks with Hela ranged wildly in topic, and rarely touched upon the work they were doing. When asked, Hela said that the daytime was for work, the night was to rejuvenate themselves.
One of these nights would forever stand out in both their memories. Harry took it upon himself to cook for a change, moving around the small kitchen with practiced ease. Hela watched him, smiling as she once more felt that odd mix of appreciation and desire flow through her as she did. "However did you become so good at cooking Harry?"
Over the past few months she had stopped referring to him as Harry Potter, though she had once or twice called him Jarl Potter. Harry took it as a victory that she mostly called him just Harry.
Pausing momentarily Harry checked the timer on the oven before moving over to cut up some capers, tomatoes to go with the salmon. To one side a salad sat already finished. "When I was younger, I lived with relatives of my mother called the Dursleys. Along with doing all the chores they could find to give me, I was taught how to cook by around age five or so."
Hela's eyes widened at that behind her mask, her expression growing angry. "Excuse me? Surely you were not the only one in the kitchen at such a young age. No child would be left alone to cook in any home among my people."
"Of course I was. Petunia just didn't want to cook that's all, and hated spending money on food as well, so having me do it was a win-win. Mind you I was punished whenever I bungled it, so I suppose at those points I wasn't alone. First time I burned dinner she took a frying pan to the back of my head. Not my favorite memory I'll admit." Harry quipped, having long processed his abuse at his relatives' hands.
That didn't stop Hela from having to visibly suppress her divine wrath as such appalling behavior.
Her power crackled around Hela as the goddess's fingers made noticeable and effortless divots in the table, "Scum such as them would not last long in my realm, or any if I had my way!" Hela took a deep breath that Harry noticed did delightful things to her dress before blatantly changing the subject as Harry turned back around to continue cooking.
"How then can you even bare to cook? I can understand such experience making you very good at it through desperation if nothing else, but surely it would also make cooking a painful memory for you." Hela asked.
"You'd think so, but no. Oh, I never really enjoyed cooking for them, but then again I never got to eat most of what I cooked for them either." Harry heard and rejoiced in Hela's fist slamming into the table in front of her, though he did wince as he heard the crash of the shattered table collapsing from the hit.
He did not turn around from his work however, allowing Hela a moment to use her magic to repair or perhaps even just replace the table and regain her poise before going on. "But I think it sort of ties into what you've said to me a few times about presents. At one point I had just conjured up a communication mirror, summoning it out of my pouch. You commented that it would not make a good gift because I had spent no time on it. At another point you said that the work put into the gift made it all the better."
He turned, smiling at Hela his eyes warm, causing Hela to flush lightly under her mask. "I paid a steep price for my cooking skills. That makes using them to put smiles on the faces of those I care for all the sweeter to me."
Blushing hotly now beyond her mask Hela turned away. Curse me for a blushing maiden Hela thought before responding. "Wisdom gained is always bought dearly, I am pleased that you have been able to look past the price and take pleasure in the wisdom. It is much like rubbing their noses in the fact they failed in breaking your will, is it not?"
"Oh yes there's a bit of that too," Harry chuckled, then cocked his head to one side, looking at the table. "Huh, you know I could have sworn the entire table was made of mahogany, but now the top looks like it's made from oak."
"I'm sure you're wrong Harry," Hela replied briskly, standing up and moving around the table to help him bring the food over to the table.
"Are you sure?" Harry teased, lips twitching at Hela's antics.
"Quite positive yes." Hela replied swiftly. "Now, what was the most challenging thing you've ever cooked?"
Sitting calmly and listening as Harry went with this change of topic, Hela bit into her food, smiling happily at the taste as she contemplated the odd mortal Harry Potter. Mortal by choice after a brush with divinity, raised as the next best thing to a slave and now a leader of men. A doughty warrior, yet possibly the gentlest man I've ever met. Such an odd enigma is Harry Potter, such a… increasingly interesting enigma.
As Harry finished his story, which Hela hadn't honestly heard, she spoke up. "You know, I have often been surprised since meeting you, or rather re-meeting you, that you have never made little or ignored the advice of myself and the others as I have noted before."
"Why would I do that?" Harry asked quizzically, cocking his head in puzzlement at the serious turn the conversation had taken. "You, Emma, Jean, Ororo, you all know things I don't, it would be the height of stupidity for me to not listen to you, even when we aren't talking about something that falls in your area of expertise."
"Most men in relationships routinely attempt to control the women in their lives in some ways. Even the best of men at times do so, not always by putting them down, but rather silencing their opinions and limiting them in some fashion. You do not."
Piotr too did not do that, but Hela put that down to him not being a natural leader or in a leadership position, so he felt freer to admit to the need for advice than most of those in a leadership position would. Then again, Hela pegged Piotr as generally a follower outside the areas of empathy and morality where she reluctantly admitted that his Eastern Orthodox heritage gave him an inner strength.
On the other hand Harry had no follower in him. He also seemed to take a positive delight in pushing his ladies to give their opinions, to grow as much as possible.
"I'm not most men. I want the ladies in my life to be as strong, as powerful and independent as they can be." He stated now, laughing, then getting a certain glint in his eye that once more set Hela's pulse to racing. "Unless of course, you want to be… controlled?"
Hela laughed in turn, ignoring her racing pulse as she upped the ante. "Oh, you think you could rule me if I did not wish it Harry? How foolish these mortals be!"
The two of them shared another laugh and the night passed uneventfully beyond that right up until they were about to part for the evening. Hela had picked out a room down the corridor from the one Harry and Emma used. Despite not really feeling any jealousy for the blonde's relationship with Harry, Hela had no wish to be near enough to be considered a third wheel as it were.
Harry walked her to her room as usual after their dates ended. He held one of her arms in the crook of his as they walked side by side down the hall after having danced for a few slow songs when they finished eating.
As they exchanged farewells and Harry made to turn away to head to his own room, Hela made a small decision and immediately acted upon it. She reached out, tugging Harry back around gently, and before Harry knew it, leaned in and kissed him on the lips.
It was a light kiss, Hela making no effort to deepen it or open her mouth against his, her half-mask tapping against Harry's temple. But Harry returned it quickly and their emotions came through the kiss with ease. Eventually Hela leaned back whispering, "Until tomorrow, my seidr man."
Harry stood there in something approaching a stupor as she turned opening her door. She paused for a moment to look back at him, sending him a wink before the door closed behind her.
After nearly a day and a half of sped up time Harry had created enough of an organization to go forward with at least the start of building his country in terms of rules an outline of the bureaucracy and what citizenship would entail. He would have to rely on Kitty and the others to start building up the actual infrastructure. But at least the most important laws were down now, his version of the Magna Carta was finished, and a start had been made on what Hela insisted on simply calling the laws of the land and the social contract everyone would need to sign to become a citizen of his new nation.
That would be sent to Shanna, who would share it with the rest of the Savage Land inhabitants. Harry would be damned if he didn't offer the same rights and benefits of his new nations to those who were already living in the Savage Land.
They had also worked on other decisions one of which would hopefully solve their manpower issues given time. Here Emma had been a major help, and Harry would be sharing much of that discussion with William and his contacts with other militaries in the future.
With the most important decisions made and outlined at this point the project could be handed over to a few lawyers that Emma felt she could trust to continue the work. "I'll have to keep an eye on them of course, but they are among my family's most trusted retainers and they are studiously apolitical. They never got involved in our internal power struggles, and I honestly don't think they care about the government at all so long as they are paid and nothing illegal can be traced back to them." Emma said as they exited the time-warped room for the last time, or rather for the first time for Harry and Hela since this project had begun.
"Good, though I doubt that what we're asking them to do is really illegal, if only for the fact that no one in America or anywhere else would have ever thought of someone creating a colony in this day and age." Harry replied.
Emma looked at Harry and then over at Hela, frowning slightly. The two of them had several weeks of sped-up time together alone, and she had to admit that she was a little irritated at that. Gah, the more time they spend around each other, the more certain it is that she'll join us and I don't like that! Even if I've come to respect and perhaps actually like Hela, that's a far cry from agreeing to her joining us in our relationship!
She paused contemplating that as the group began to break up. Cory popped in to take Charles down to his mansion while Harry took Sage down personally to Magical Minds headquarters where she apparently had an apartment built into the building. But then again, I came into this relationship after the others as well, so I don't suppose I should throw stones at that aspect anyway. She looked over at Hela, catching the woman looking at her in turn.
The two of them stared at one another then Hela shook her head. "This has been a most interesting time, "Hela said dryly, before going on more slowly. "And I suppose it has done wonders for my getting to know you."
"The sentiment is mutual," Emma replied just as slowly. If one of the kids were there, they would've likened the way the two of them looked at one another to two strange cats trying to outdo each other with their nonchalance and unconcern. "I could say that your intelligence is as formidable as your magical powers, but I'm not in the habit of stating the obvious."
"Truly, the same can be said about your telepathic powers and your ambition. You also raised some very prevalent points in there most particularly about the economy which I know is your particular purview. But on another topic…" Hela went on hesitantly, an occurrence rare enough that Emma's focus was now intent upon the goddess of the Asatru dead "I would like to hear how you and Harry met from your own perspective? I've heard snippets of the story since meeting you and Harry for the first, but not the entirety."
Emma thought about it for a moment then nodded. "Perhaps another time? You could stop by my mansion this evening and have a meal with me, and we can exchange stories then. It'll be a much more… intimate… setting then what we put up with in there," Emma replied gesturing over her shoulder to the room into the where they had been spending their sped-up time.
"I think I would like that," Then Hela turned away, one eyebrow rising behind her half mask. Emma noticed the reaction and looked in the same direction before looking back at Hela. "Duty calls at the moment though," Hela said answering the blonde's unasked question. Before Emma could reply to that Hela disappeared, slowly fading out of existence rather than snapping out like Harry did when he teleported.
An instant later Harry reappeared, popping into existence with Jean on his arm.
"I see you made a stopover after dropping off Sage. Can't say I'm surprised," Emma replied said with a drawling tone, moving over to hug them both and exchange a lingering kiss with Jean before nuzzling into Harry's chin and neck.
"That will be what Evan called a 'no duh' moment there Emma," Jean replied with a chuckle, leaning down to kiss Emma's forehead. "Besides, I was heading out to Fortress Mars anyway. The workers have been able to open one of the magazine compartments on the Planet Crusher, and we'll be able to take out one of the missiles soon. I want to find a way to more easily detect those damn things just in case." She looked over at Harry thoughtfully, not removing her arm around his shoulders, even as Emma put her own arms around both their waists. "Does the fact that they do use missiles at times change your appraisal of their tactical doctrine?"
Harry shook his head. "Not so much no, though it will change our defensive posture. We'll have to have a secondary defense of antimissile platforms of some kind to take them out in the future. Without a near-sacrificial moment of heroism for preference."
"Is Ororo still unconscious?" Emma asked, wondering if she would decide to take some time in the future to sit by her. Sitting by the bedside like that wasn't something Emma had ever thought she'd do, but then she hadn't thought she'd be in a relationship like this one either.
Harry nodded glumly and Jean kissed his cheek commiseratingly. "I called up Gaia and yelled at her a bit, and she says that the weather patterns of the world will be back to normal within a week or so. It just seems a lot longer to me you know?"
Jean and Emma both chuckled at the rather lame joke, though Emma could certainly emphasize. After all, she had gone the equivalent of a few months month without seeing Jean between breaks let alone Ororo. A sudden longing to do so even if the ebony goddess was asleep shook Emma, but she had duties of her own that she had to get back to.
Looking up at Harry from his arms Emma shrugged her shoulders, one hand moving through the air languidly as her voice came out in an even more upper-class drawl than usual. "For now, take me home Jeeves."
Harry chuckled at that, then removed his arm from around Jean's shoulders with intense reluctance, gently cupping her cheek and bringing her head down into a soul searing kiss that left both of them breathless and Emma's face nearly flush with desire. She in turn leaned up, capturing Jean's lips with her own for a moment.
Now it was Harry's turn to look on, his eyes almost literally flashing with desire as he did. "I'll see you tonight," he mumbled to Jean, leaning forward to kiss her on the cheek as she broke the kiss with Emma.
"You better believe that Mister," Jean said with wagging a finger in his face. "I've missed my cuddle toys, er I mean bed partners. It's awfully hard to sleep with only Ororo for company especially when she's… "
"Oh, I'm sure you'll find that you won't be getting any sleep with me tonight Jean," Harry growled, leaning forward quickly to nip at Jean's neck and interrupt their downward spiraling thoughts before stepping back and putting his other arm around Emma. "I love you," he said.
Jean had just a moment to reply "I love you too," before the two of them disappeared. She chuckled and turned, heading towards the loading bay and out towards Fortress Mars her lips still tingling.
Superior, Wisconsin could be said to be a microcosm of America as a whole when it came to the mutant question. The proponents of mutant rights or equality could be found in any already existing subculture or socioeconomic level, as could their opponents. The events occurring on the day Hela and the others left the time dilation capsule showed this in no uncertain terms, for there were two rallies going on in the city, separated and kept apart with difficulty by the police force.
One of them as a pro-mutant rights rally led by a man named Claude Robere, a son of Flemish nationals who was normally seen as a bit of a layabout. He was a deeply in debt college student, who felt strongly about the rights of the people to speak out. Though he had been a part of the pro mutant rights faction, he had not been a leader of the local mutant rights groups until recently when his longtime girlfriend had come out to the fact she was a mutant. Her feet, which she had never actually shown him in over a year, were webbed.
Claude had organized his rally as a peaceful walk through the city, with placards, signs, and pamphlets. The pamphlets in particular he and his friends thought were a masterstroke. Printed out on college printers in simple black and white, they covered two topics: DNA and news clippings and pictures of the times the Custodes Mundi, who were known mutants, had saved people. The X-men also featured prominently, especially their work in Tokyo after Moses Magnum's attack on the city, and a recent attempted robbery they had put a stop to.
The second pamphlet wasn't so straightforward and didn't have nearly as many visual aids. Those pamphlets showed first ape DNA, then a normal human's DNA and finally a mutants DNA. The difference between the first one and the last two of course stood out far more than the differences between unpowered and mutants. It was even explained, while the difference between normal humans and mutants was not. The pamphlet was titled 'Not So Different After All', and finished with the line 'Makes you wonder doesn't it?'.
In contrast to this group was the local Friends of Humanity movement, led by Rupert Geish and his wife Yala. Both of them had been heavily involved in the equal rights for black people movement, since Rupert was in fact black, and they had been held up for years in their little community as almost picture perfect examples of how integration and equality should work. But when it came to mutants they were united in hate, a hatred that was almost pathological, based on nothing more than fear of the unknown.
They had organized and led the FoH chapter in the city for several years. Under their leadership it had grown far, far beyond its small, violent origins, yet violence was still very much a part of the group's normal operating procedure. While Rupert was the overall organizer of the two, it was actually Yala who was more at home with directing violence and organized their contacts throughout the city in the many acts of vandalism and assault that they enacted.
Yala had recently learned there were two mutants actually living within her city a few weeks back. However her informants had also said that not only was the father of the two boys a police officer, but he was well thought of among his fellows Even the FoH members among the police wouldn't be willing to help attack the family home when he was there.
When he was gone, that was a different story. So while Rupert organized a counter rally, Yala prepared a little attack of her own.
The recent incident in space didn't matter a damn to her. If alien freaks showed up, well the government had to be useful for something right? Yala would concentrate on the freaks right here, trying to live among good, normal god-fearing folk.
Rupert led the FOH rally, marching through the city shouting slogans taken from the FoH platform, the bible, and several papers which had been written by mutants who thought they were the next step of evolution. The noise they made was much louder than the pro-mutant rally, and they drew an even louder crowd because of this despite being a weekday.
Eventually the group began to move off the path the police had wanted them to follow, marching down the streets, pushing police barricades out of the way. The police of course tried to stop them, but the crowd didn't respond to their directions, shouting the police down and moving on, either overwhelming the police or forcing them aside due to the sheer numbers of the mob. Eventually, as Rupert had planned, they ran into the pro-mutant rally despite the best the police could do, the SWAT and much of the police force unable to intercept them in time.
Violence erupted almost immediately, with groups from both rallies hurling insults, bottles and other things at one another before the two crowds slammed together. Sadly enough it would later be determined that it was the pro-mutant groups who threw the first bottles, and both factions had groups falling into looting and assault in equal number. While Claude was trying to desperately stop the fighting, Rupert egged it on, smiling as the sounds of sirens reached his ear.
Elsewhere in the city Yala and a group of twenty leg-breakers of various ages marched down the street, confident that the police had called in all the police they could including the father of their two targets. Indeed, their lookout had seen the man in question racing off in his police car moments ago. No one to protect you, nowhere to hide freaks! Yala, a normal seeming woman smirked, her eyes lighting up with a need for blood.
The area they were in was a nice suburban area, where the houses were all two or even three stories. The size of the house and the lawn varied widely, with the house they were here to attack having a rather large front yard, separated by a rather nice white painted wooden fence, hiding most of the lawn from view.
One of the toughs kicked the gate, smashing the lock and the rest raced onto the lawn, only to be stopped by a sharp, female voice cracking out. "Here now, what do you think you're doing there ey?"
The voice sounded like a grandmotherly type, which matched the speaker visually as the toughs turned to look. Standing in the middle of the lawn surrounded by a few very… odd statues was an elderly woman. For a moment the statue she was moving, that of a boy wailing on another boy as he held up a sword, grabbed the attackers attention, but they eventually tore their eyes way to stare at the woman.
She was short, with a shape that looked like a dumpy potato bag, with a nose that seemed as red as a cherry and hair that stuck out every which way, almost daring a comb to make its day. She was wearing smock over a dress that was faded, the sort a woman would wear when she was going to get her hands dirty. In her mouth she had an old-seeming pipe clenched between her teeth, and a twinkle, the origin of which none of the group in the yard could discern.
"Hah, if yer here ta buy one of me statues, there ain't no need to rush lads." the woman barked a laugh, winking saucily at the nearest tough, who actually shuddered, taking a step back. "Not that it ain't flatterin', having so many healthy youngsters rushing to meet old Nanny, but I's normally only sell on the weekends. Hah, though I suppose I'd be up for a little leasing now and then during the week."
"You, um, you carve those?" said a thug hesitantly, looking as if he was about to bolt. Violence against other men was one thing, violence against an old grandmother type quite another. And there was something off-putting about this woman that made him want to run for the hills. This might have had to with the statues all around her, organized, though none of the toughs knew it, like the center of a hnefatafl, or Viking chess, game.
"Ha, carve, mold, chop, whatever takes me fancy. I likes getting me hands dirty," Nanny replied with a bawdy guffaw, puffing on her pipe as she looked around at the toughs, though if you looked closer there was nothing of a pleasant old woman in her eyes. Rather there was something very sharp in them looking out at the world, and at the moment it didn't like what it was seeing. "Now, what ye strapping lads be here for ay? If yer hear for a statue, I gots a few made for men over there in that corner. I'd recommend the one I call, 'virgin priestess escapes with her hero', or my favorite, 'Freya riding her boar'. Now there's a ride that pays fer itself! Carved them to be as lifelike as possible so I did."
A few of the leg-breakers couldn't stop themselves, and they turned to look before gulping and looking away, looking very disoriented now. An old woman shouldn't have statues like that around the place, let alone actually create them!
Only Yala, the one woman among the group wasn't affected, and even she was somewhat embarrassed by the nature of the 'art'. "No we're not here for your dirty statues! Get out of the way old woman if you want to live! We're here for the muties!"
"Ar, so that's how it is, you're here for Frederic and Josef?" the woman replied, and suddenly there was nothing amiable about her face. She turned in the direction of Yala's voice, and scowled, pulling out her pipe to spit to one side. "And you a woman too, you ask me, a grandmother ta step aside and let ya at me grandkids? What kind of woman be ye!?"
"A woman whose family doesn't have freaks in it!" Yala shouted, pointing at the house accusingly. "We are protecting the human race from the contamination and its so-called evolutionary betters who would supplant us! Humanity will never go the way of the Cro-Magnon while I live!"
"Now that's plain idiocy," Nanny scoffed, setting down the statue she had been holding with a solid thunk, making several of the people there wonder how heavy the thing had been as Nanny turned, crossing her arms over her dumpy chest and glaring around at them all. A small bracelet of some kind glimmered on one wrist, showing an Ingwaz inscribed on it.
"How many mutants have ya actually sat down and talked to ey? None I'd wager, and that don't even count how few they are to the number of normal humans. Look you, ya all can turn around right now, and naught'll come of this day's foolishness. Or ya can stay and try to get ta my grandkids, in which case you'll have to go through me, 'cause there ain't no way 'round Nanny!"
"If that's how it's got to be!" Yala shouted then hurled a bottle at the woman, who dodged to one side. This seemed to have broken the paralysis the old woman had somehow woven over her people, and more of the gang attacked, charging forward or hurling bottles and other things at the woman.
In reply Nanny dodged backward past the largest statue, the one who wore a crown, but otherwise really didn't look like a king of any sort. Then there was a loud sounding crack, and one of the toughs who had been charging toward her fell screaming as a bullet shattered his kneecap. "Hah, never bring a knife to a gunfight ya daft fools! Come get some o' Nanny!"
At the same time, vibrant white flashes of light shot out from one of the uppermost windows as someone inside the house used the Cold Steel patented stun gun. One of the attackers went down convulsing as the stun blast hammered his nervous system. "We've got your back Nanny!" shouted a youthful boy's voice inside the house.
"Good shooting me lad!" Nanny bellowed in return.
Unfortunately for Nanny and her family, many of the attackers did in fact have pistols on them. Very few of them had wanted to use them, fearing the escalation using them would cause. Beating on some mutie freaks and then getting away before the police could arrive was one thing, using a gun and leaving behind that evidence was another. Now however many of the leg-breakers pulled out their guns and began to fire near point blank at Nanny.
Some others also proved to have guns that were by no means normal, looking like some kind of knockoffs of the Cold Steel weapons. They opened up on the boy in the window. A few other weapons shot out rounds that went faster than most bullets should have shattering through the wood. Others shot out greenish blasts of energy.
The boy, whose name was Frederic, cried out, pulling back as the first bullets hit the windowsill all around him. But Nanny had a bit of an advantage, given the number of wood, metal, clay and even marble statues around her. She popped up here and there like the worlds fattest jack-in-the-box, firing her pistol, a Beretta M9, at the attackers.
A few of them fell, but others spread out as Yala shouted at them, "Ignore the bitch, let the boys with guns pin her down we've got a job to do! For the purity of humanity!"
"For the purity of humanity!" Shouted more than one of the others as they raced around the makeshift pillbox that contained Nanny.
Scowling Nanny tried to turn and fire at that group only to wince in pain as the head of the clay statue beside her exploded, sending stinging pieces of hardened clay all over her, cutting into her face and shoulder like ceramic shrapnel. "That ain't a way to treat a lady, ya bloody new age Nazis knockoffs! To Helheim with the lot of you!"
Her handgun barked once more, and another attacker went down, this time with a bullet in his gut rather than his leg. With guns on both sides and outnumbered, Nanny wasn't willing any longer to play for time.
Which, though the attackers didn't realize it, she had been doing since the beginning. For Nanny and her entire family were of the Asatru faith. While most Kindreds prided themselves, as Hela had often said, on being self-sufficient and somewhat insular, many Kindreds had realized over the past few years as the mutant question began to gain precedence in the world that they needed to start looking out for one another more than they would have otherwise. Now the Asatru as a whole had gotten a lot better at gathering on a moment's notice and not just for sombels or other important events.
The first man to reach the front door bounced off, and before he could try again another white bolt struck from above, sending him spasming to the ground. The second man had better luck however, smashing a large sledge hammer into the door from one side, destroying much of the door with a single blow.
Another blow swiftly followed, demolishing more of the door, but as the man, a large, heavily tattooed steel factory worker tried to pull the weapon out of the gaping hole he found it stuck fast. "What the-gah!"
Suddenly the hammer was pulled into the house and the man came with it, smashing into the wrecked door, doing some further damage before he fell back with a cry, hurled backwards his chest caved in and gushing blood from a blow that looked to have come from some kind of animal with small claws. His shirt and skin had been slashed open in five streaks, but the main damage had been done by the strength of the blow.
"Fucking muties!" Yala howled, pulling out her own pistol and firing into the hole. This didn't do anything, but the next few men rushed forward, their sense of self-preservation now gone as they rushed to push through the door. They fell back, crying in pain and Tala finally had a good view of the mutant in question.
He looked normal for the most part, a young boy of around 14 or so, dressed like normal boys that age were in t-shirt and jeans. But most boys didn't have what looked like massively powerful bear arms replacing their human arms, complete with vicious claws dripping blood of the recently wounded thugs. Nor did they yell and snarl like a trapped bear, shouting curses at their attackers rather than trying to run away and hide.
"Mutie freak!" Yala shouted, raising her gun to fire. The last thing she heard was a sharp crack of sound from above before she fell, spasming to the ground.
Behind that fight Nanny winced again as a bullet tore into her side, dumping her back and down to hide among her few remaining statues, most of them marble or steel for the most part. A loud voice shouted out, "Damn it you old bitch, we don't want to kill you, we just want the freaks!"
Grunting in agony, Nanny shook her head. "Why in the name of Frey would anyone think that would work on a family member? Honestly." Despite her flippant tone Nanny knew she was hurting, that bullet was still lodged in her, and she knew she was bleeding out. Still she wouldn't retreat, not ever.
'Death before failure, death before flight, death before shame' was a phrase often bruited about the Asatru, and it was part of what made them so fiercely independent, and so implacable in battle. Even someone like Nanny, who before this had rarely fired a gun outside of a shooting range and never in anger, would have refused to give way. As she was fighting for her grandkids, well, Josef wasn't the only one showing bear like tendencies. "Fuck you and your ancestors too you bastards!" She shouted, as in the distant she began to hear the rumble of incoming cars and further out the sounds of sirens.
Nanny leaped up, firing as fast as she could pull the trigger, taking out three of the people with the weird high tech weapons from the side grinning in triumph, blood dripping from her mouth and side. She was still smiling when a bullet took her through the side of the neck, dumping her to the ground.
"No, grandmAGHHG!" howled the boy at the window before falling back, his shoulder exploding in a blast of bone and sinew from one of the high tech bullets from below. He rolled away from the window, screaming in agony. "AGGH!"
Hearing his twin brother, whose only crime had been to develop eyes like that of an eagle crying out in pain and having seen his grandmother's death, Josef saw red. Roaring he smashed through the doorway, closing with the people outside the door before they could realize what was going on. He was too close now for their fellows behind to shoot at without killing their own, and they hesitated.
This moment of hesitation doomed them, because from the road leading up to the house there came a roar, and two cars, a jeep Cherokee and a Ford Mustang, smashed through the fence. From the jeep several men and women began to fire at the FoH members, joined almost immediately by several others from the Mustang.
Outnumbered and with their members dropping all around them the surviving FoH leg breakers threw up their hands in surrender quickly. That didn't do much to sate Josef's berserk state however, and moments later both newcomers and their prisoners retreated out of the raging boy's line of sight as he rent and mutilated the fallen FoH mooks, both living and dead, in his rage.
"Hmmf, better late than never I s'pose, they better help me poor Josef though else I'll be haunting them and me son, the Tyr blasted fool." muttered a voice unheard by any of the men and women making up this tableau. The shade of Nanny stared around her, frowning as she continued to watch what was going on in front of her.
"I'm afraid I can't help you there, the follower of Thor is on his own," Drawled a voice to one side. "I am not allowed to be seen in moments like this one. Rather ironic really considering my own circumstances at the moment, but alas I don't make the rules."
Nanny's shade turned to stare at a statuesque black haired woman with a skin color that put fresh cream to shame and a body to match. Nanny had to nod in approval of the woman's outfit, both sexy and dangerous looking, very nice. Despite that, she scowled. "Yer not who I was expecting."
Hela turned from where she had been watching the Kindred, she could feel their belief this close even if none of them worshipped her specifically, to look at the shade of the woman who had died. Good grief, I wonder if she ever met with Terry Pratchett at some point. "I'm sorry, should I have shown up in green, with half my body decayed and grotesque?"
"Bah, not that Lady Hela, who am I to deny a woman the chance at a makeover?" Nanny barked a laugh, before waving her hands toward the scene in the yard around them, where Josef had stopped his berserk assault and was now hugging her corpse, crying brokenly. "No, what I'm talking about Lady Hela is that I died heroically in battle right? That should mean that Lady Freya at least sends some of the Valkyries to take me to Sessrúmnir right? Why'm I getting gipped?"
Narrowing her eyes Hela refrained from blasting the spirit for making it seem as if she felt Hela was the second-best choice there, especially to 'the most beautiful of goddesses'. "I do not think that general rule would apply to you I am afraid. Besides, what would you do in the halls of Sessrúmnir?"
"Find Thor or Balder an' goose 'em, then show those warriors and teach 'em a thing or two." Nanny replied promptly, before cackling. "Hah, show those boors that a woman with experience can be many times the fun of-"
"Unfortunately for reasons beyond Old One Eye, Freya and my own control, no honored dead from this plain are able to make the complete journey to Valhalla or Sessrúmnir at this time. You will have to make do with the planes of Hel, that area of my realm reserved for those who showed true honor in life," Hela replied, holding back a shiver at what Nanny's words implied. She really didn't want that image in her head darn it!
Something caught her eye then and she turned moving away from the shade for a moment. "Excuse me," she muttered over her shoulder. For just a moment her hand became once more corporeal as she overrode the rules of moments like this to grasp up one of the guns the attackers had used. It was covered instantly by the same field of in-corporeality that covered Hela and she moved back, holding the gun out to Nanny's shade. "Are weapons such as this normal?"
Nanny looked at the weapon, slowly shaking her head. "Um, no, not that I know of. Looks like something that coward Stark might've thought up, or someone else of his ilk."
"Hmm… So not normal. And in the hands of this anti-mutant group…" Hela had of course heard about the fight for mutant rights and the Friends of Humanity. The idea these small time terrorists could have access to such weapons was not a good one in her opinion, and might be a sign of something deeper going on.
Nanny coughed. "Not ta bother you or nothing, but uh, can we get on with this? I'm interested to see what the next great adventure is like."
Blinking Hela came back to the here and now, flushing behind her mask at having set aside her duty for a moment there to satisfy her curiosity. "Um, my apologies, yes we should be moving off now." Perhaps I might have more to talk about to Emma tonight than just her tale of meeting my seidr man…
"You know, Harry, you should probably try to connect a doorway between my mansion and Babylon for all the time we've been spending up there," Emma said as the two of them arrived at her mansion in New York. Concentrating briefly, she smiled before pulling back her telepathic powers, breathing out in relief that the exertion hadn't caused her headache to grow still worse. Her security team had known that she had gone out with Harry the morning before, and that his own security would be taking over watching her. Implanting the memory of her arriving and heading up to her office was simple and painless.
The only three she didn't do it to were Sandman, her sister, and Firestar. All three of them knew what she had truly been up to, though Sandman's information did not extend to all of what they were doing. He knew that Harry led the Custodes, and that was enough for the ex-con turned bodyguard.
"No, I want to keep all the runic doors going through the hall of doors. That allows us to keep a level of security and control on things even if someone gets into the system," Harry replied, already moving towards the window. "Besides, this time it's pretty much like two birds with one stone. I had to come down to New York anyway, so why not take you home at the same time?"
"Going to see Dr. Strange?" Emma asked, her eyes narrowed. Part of her was irritated that Harry seemed to be in a rush to leave, but given the amount of time they had spent together in the time dilation chamber and her own headache she didn't complain. Indeed, she squashed that part with the fact that Harry hadn't spent any time with Jean or Ororo, of course, over that same time with an ease that would have astonished her as little as a year ago.
Harry nodded grimly. "Yes, I think he needs to stop sitting on the sidelines." With that the two exchanged a kiss before Harry turned and flew off.
Emma stood watching him for a moment with a faint smile on her face before heading to her room and bed. She did, however, remember to send an order down to the kitchen to prepare for a guest for dinner.
When he wanted to Harry could fly very quickly, almost as fast as a jet fighter. So it did not take any time at all before he was over New York, the city. With his Notice Me Not and illusion charms covering him, Harry was able to land without anyone seeing him.
Walking through the city, Harry took a moment to look at the headlines on a few newspapers, buying one. He read it quickly as he walked , only having to deal with one attempt at pickpocketing before he finished his reading and set it aside in a wastepaper basket.
Judging from the news reports it looked as if the world was indeed waking up to the threat of space, though Harry was dismayed to see that several people, noted experts, whatever that meant, thought that Ororo's light show had been faked. Still more shared the opinion, unsubstantiated as far as Harry could tell by anything approaching reality, that Harry himself, or rather Guardian, was creating this threat in some effort to seize power.
"After all, who is more dangerous? The ones standing over you with a knife, or the Jotun behind the door with a hammer?" said one wag as Harry made a turn, the voice from the radio of a parked car audible to him over the background hum of the city. "You have to do away with the one before you can manage the other."
"Good luck with that," Harry muttered to himself, shaking his head as he moved on. Conspiracy theories are a dime a dozen, though I don't like how a good quarter of the reporters don't seem to want to believe the alien threat is real. I suppose they could all be failing their sanity rolls, he quipped to himself chuckling as he came within sight of Dr. Strange's apartment.
Knocking on Strange's door, Harry was once more greeted by Dr. Strange's manservant, who ushered him inside without preamble. "The master is in his meditation chamber. Follow me please."
The meditation chamber was in the attic of the building, a low ceiling area which looked only about three inches or so above Harry's head when he came through. Steven sat in the center of the room in the middle of a circular rug surrounded by small magic lights. He did not acknowledge his visitor as Harry was shown in.
"Steven," Harry said slowly, knowing the dangers of suddenly waking up a magical that was lost in meditation.
Dr. Strange immediately opened his eyes, looking up with a smile so faint it was almost wintry on his expression as he nodded at Harry. "Ah, Harry, how are you doing? Are you here to talk shop, or is there something specific that brings you to my doorstep?"
"I am well enough for an individual whose friends and people just defeated a possible genocidal bombardment of our planet," Harry replied tartly, sitting down across from Steven. "Which rather neatly brings me to my own question. What have you been doing with yourself since we closed off Earth to the demon dimensions?"
"Hunting down and incarcerating a few magical sorcerers and one rather put upon sorceress who attempted to use her sexual wiles on me to get away. Needless to say Clea was not impressed. Either with her tactics or her sense of self-preservation," Steven replied dryly.
"I see," Harry said. "And that's taking all of your time?"
"Well no. I do indeed have quite a bit of free time on my hand. I've been using it to get to reading those books that pile up whenever you turn your back, but that one never actually has time to sit down and read. It's the most enlightening," Steven said, wondering where the younger man was going with this. "I also have been helping Clea with young Wanda."
Harry nodded slowly, keeping his temper in check. "I see. And the idea of doing something actually useful, or perhaps even just going to work for me in a non-combat position hadn't occurred to you?"
Steven looked up sharply at that. "I already have a job Harry. I am the Sorcerer Supreme."
"A job whose purview has been cut down by at least two-thirds by this point," Harry retorted.
"Steven, we came this close to losing over half the planet's population in a single missile bombardment," he went on, holding up his thumb and forefinger about a centimeter apart. "If not for Ororo's powers and will, we would be mourning millions, possibly as many as a billion deaths right now. The Fantastic Four were there, the X-Men were called in eventually too, and Doom was there from the very beginning. So where were you, Clea, Wanda, and Polaris?" Lorna had moved in with her Wanda after the Savage Land campaign, sharing a room with her here in Steven's house for a few weeks before they would both move into the X-mansion.
"Protecting Earth from aliens such as that is not my task. I defend this planet from magical and immaterial threats, not mere mortal ones. There are many that can match that task, but only such as I can deal with the magical threats." Steven replied calmly.
"So does that mean you just don't want to work, or refuse to put forth the effort? Since most of the demonic and immaterial threats have been closed off, that isn't even a full time job. Just because the threats to Earth have changed doesn't mean you should simply stop trying to defend this planet and humanity from its enemies," Harry ground out, not commenting on Steven's egotistical statement.
"Do not take that tone with me, Harry Potter," Steven said, standing up abruptly, forcing Harry to do the same. "You have chosen this quest of defending Earth from an exterior threat on your own. I applaud you for it, but that does not give you the right to preach to me. I have been protecting this planet from demonic and immaterial threats for far longer than you've been around. There are still sorcerers and sorceresses out there who use their powers for material gain or to control those around them simply because they can. They are still a dangerous threat, and it is my task to police them."
"Still seems to me that that would give you a lot of free time to use to defend Earth from other sorts of threats," Harry retorted.
The two men stood glaring at one another for a time, but it was Steven who looked away first. "Very well," he said shaking his head. "I have been…reluctant to put all of our faith in that anti-demonic shield, despite having worked on both the spell and the actual casting myself. It also must be said that I have been enjoying my part-time employment," he finished wryly. "But you are right. A true ally does not wait for his allies to call upon him, he notices when they are in distress and moves to their aid. So ,what would you have of me?"
Harry breathed a small sigh of relief and smiled. "Thank you, Steven. You could be a major help in a lot of ways. Right now, Ororo's apprentice Kitty is up in Fortress Mars working on a little, well, not so little really, project. If you go there you could help her with that, or you could look for a magical way of discovering any aliens hiding on Earth."
"We would be spoiled for choice there. Any such spell I cast would get far too high a return to do you any good. These three that you have been fighting are not the only ones to come to this planet in the past. Atlantis was constructed by aliens, both its people and those that settled there eventually. There is some evidence to suggest that the merpeople, Namor's people, were aliens at one point or another, though they could interbreed with humanity to a certain extent. There is further evidence that aliens were involved with humanity as far back as ancient Egypt, and a few tales in India and China point to similar events. I suppose I could use a lower powered spell to find those not of this planet and then cast it consecutively over different sections of the earth, but that would be quite time-consuming."
Resisting the urge to say something along the lines of, "well you do seem to have a lot of time on your hands,'" Harry simply nodded. "Helping Kitty would be the most aid you could give me in the short term. In the long term, there are a lot of magical projects I would like to throw you, Clea, and Wanda at if you're up to it."
Steven nodded and smiled slightly. "I presume therefore that since I will be somewhat in your employ that means I will be getting paid? And would either of those ladies be of any aid with what Ms. Pryde is doing?"
"Not with the stuff that Kitty's doing, at least not Wanda. Even if she's gotten a handle on her magical power, I'm not quite certain I want a chaos mage near time dilation arrays."
"That makes far too much sense for me to ignore," Steven replied with a chuckle, and then escorted Harry out of the room promising he would contact Kitty in a few moments and then transfer himself to Mars.
Harry checked in with Wanda who was taking a magical test Clea had given her, and then Polaris, asking her to pitch in too. In return for going on his payroll and no longer being involved in field work, she agreed. Feeling a sense of accomplishment for having convinced Strange to be more proactive, Harry headed to the United Kingdom.
Moments later, Harry was touching down outside Buckingham Palace. He sent through a Patronus, as was normal procedure these days for informing William that he was there and wanted to talk. Quickly ushered into the king's presence by a few armed soldiers, Harry nodded his head to William, then clasped forearms with Duncan and General Mountebanks before sitting down across from them at a small tea table near the windows of the king's foyer.
"Congratulations are in order, I believe?" Williams said looking at Harry thoughtfully as he pushed across a cup of tea. "You once more saved Earth from an alien threat, though this assault seems to have been much more serious?"
Harry took the tea gratefully, sipping at it and sighing faintly before nodding. "For what Susan knew at the time of that announcement she was accurate enough. The equivalent of a large flotilla complete with dreadnought and battle cruisers attacked Earth with the intent of wiping humanity out. They didn't have any lighter units, thankfully. We would've had a devil of a time keeping them all in the trap we prepared for them. But more importantly she said nothing but the truth about the Kree's normal methods of dealing with upstart populations. I have no idea how likely or how long it will be before a fleet is sent, but that is the next step up, and if they come in as intelligently as this one did, if they spread out and stagger their hyperspace arrivals, I don't know if we'll be able to stop them from wiping out Earth. Not alone."
After another sip of tea Harry set his tea down firmly looking across at William. "That brings me to why I'm here. The Custodes Mundi will no longer go it alone when it comes to preparing Earth and humanity for defense from alien threats. The time has come for the nations of the world to step up and meet that demand."
"And you have plans for that?" William asked calmly. He had, after all, anticipated that.
"Yes. Sage is still working on the numbers for me, but I am throwing another post-operation discussion in a few days, and I will make an announcement to that effect there."
William nodded slowly. "I'd like some information about what you want from my nation before agreeing to anything, Mr. Potter. I like you, I consider you an ally, but I will not allow you to make what I think are unreasonable demands upon the people of my nation."
"Agreed. The payment and the amount of participation in the future defense of the world will be negotiated on an ad hoc basis, something I will also announce at the UN."
"You're going to go public?" William asked in surprise.
"Within two weeks, yes. Back alley communications to the various governments and a connection to officers I can work with militarily are one thing, but the world needs to be informed as a whole. Though the actual wording of that announcement is still up in the air as that will depend on the reactions we get from the meeting."
"Never lock yourself into a plan before you have all the information at hand," William nodded. Then he chuckled, though there was no humor in it. "The United Kingdom has learned the cost of that sort of thing to its greatest dismay and horror in the past. The entire Gallipoli campaign in World War I, for instance. That, thankfully, was before my time."
He looked at Harry shrewdly. "Will you be working with the UN, or creating an entirely different system of organization? What will you call it?"
"At the moment we're just calling it the Earth Defense Force, or EDF. It's short, and it says what it is, but we might come up with a catchier name in the future. As to what I would want from the United Kingdom…" Harry said, leaning forward intently. "I need trained crews, captains, tech people, anything and everything to do with Naval or aerial warfare. You give them to me, and I can see to their retraining and fitting out."
William chuckled once more, leaning back in his chair. "In that case, Mr. Potter, I'm positive we could come to some agreement. Indeed, let us do so now, before this meeting you've set up…"
"So, exactly what are we doing here?" Lorna asked, gasping as she leaned away from the wall of a tunnel in what the locals called Fortress Mars. Lorna had been astonished by the scope of Mr. Potter's works in space, and had eagerly thrown herself into the work he wanted her to do. She loathed fighting other people at this point and knew she still had issues with the indoctrination she had been put under and her issues with the now dead Eric. But helping the planet to prepare for an alien threat was something she could do.
Harry had asked her to head to Mars and to use her powers to bring up domes of metal and steel out of the ground of the planet. It was hard doing that without damaging the structural integrity of the planet as a whole, and the human inhabited portions in particular, but she was making progress.
Strangely, though, the project on the surface of the planet, which was mainly to bring up enough raw material to help build what the locals called "the Web," had been put on hold the moment Kitty learned she and Wanda were on Mars. She had contacted Harry and asked to have them assigned to her work, which as far as Lorna could tell was to create a long strip of tunnel leading into a cavern deep within the planet. Lorna estimated they were at least two miles within the planet by this point, and the cavern was at least as large as two aircraft hangers side by side.
Wanda had helped her half-sister dig out the tunnel, with Kitty using her own magic spells to help. Pushing at Kitty's shoulder she joined in on the questioning. "Yeah Kitty, what the heck are we working on here?"
Kitty held up a finger as she continued to calculate an arithmantic formula to figure out where to begin on her own project. When she had it down on the giant piece of cardboard, as large as she was, she set it down and moved over to lean against the wall next to Wanda, looking at the two sisters, her eyes bright. "We're going to be mixing magic and science here. I'm going to create an area in which time is sped up, then order a lot of the work-bots in here to create a large factory to build more of them. After that the stuff from the asteroids we're mining out and any and all metals and other raw materials we can get will come down here to start building up the number or work-bots. Hopefully within a few days of my finishing it we'll have a glut of work-bots rather than a shortage."
Looking down at the formula on the cardboard, Wanda could only shake her head. "Damn, girl. No wonder going back to school is like, the least of your worries. Me, I'm still worried about fitting in and not lashing out at the first asshole with my powers."
"Meh, I still want to take computer programming courses, and some other stuff. But yeah, I doubt I'll be giving my school work as much attention as I have in the past," Kitty replied with a giggle.
"Understood, and I suppose this explains the next job Mr. Potter asked me to take up, I guess." The other two looked at Lorna who chuckled. Unlike the two younger girls, she had both finished high school before Shaw had found her and two semesters of college yet had no real desire to go back to]. "Mr. Potter asked me to start work with his miners. He wants to see if I can use my powers to speed up the mining operations of the Ravenspires. Judging by what I was able to do here, its workable, but hard."
Wanda giggled. "On the other hand, he also wants us to go around to junkyards and that kind of thing, starting in countries that are having major issues with trash and such. I'll use my powers to cover us, and then Lorna here will pull out all the useful metals. But who cares about the work? A chance to go to Greece, Italy, and other places like that for day trips without paying for it while getting paid? Yes, please!"
The other two girls laughed at that before falling silent for a moment. Then Kitty asked Lorna, "So… You and Alex. What's it like dating the wilder of the Summers men?"
"What's it like to have a boyfriend at all?" Wanda said quickly.
Lorna rolled her eyes, but answered readily enough. "Hmm, well I haven't dated or even talked to Scott that often, but Alex is…"
Laughing Emma leaned back, swirling her glass of orange juice in her wine glass as she watched Hela sip appreciatively at the wine Emma had supplied for her. This teetotalism was for the birds, but Emma had made the decision to stick with it for Jean's sake, and even when the redhead wasn't around she would do just that. "Really, she wanted to go to Sessrúmnir just to goose Thor?"
"Thor and others," Hela replied drolly, before placing the gun she had taken from the scene of that battle. "Here is one of the more advanced seeming guns I mentioned. Does it look familiar?"
"Not off the top of my head, but leave it with me. I don't want to pull Dennis or the rest of Harry's intelligence apparatus in on this, but I can sic my own companies' intelligence service on it." Emma mused holding up the weapon. It was a decent sized gun, with a crude looking battery or some kind of chamber sticking out to one side of the main barrel, but the rest of the gun looked much more streamlined. Setting that mystery to the side, she looked back up at Hela. "Did you stick around to watch what happened afterward?"
"After I made certain the spirit of Nanny would remain in Niflheim, she tried to escape twice the moment my back was turned, I went back. The family were being looked after, and when I looked in on local news if seems that the local Kindreds had decided to fight fire with fire. There were still running fights around the city as known FoH members came under attack by them, including the remnants of their supposedly peaceful march." Hela shrugged unconcernedly.
As far as she was concerned the bigots had brought it upon themselves and the Kindreds were more than justified in their retribution. That they limited their actions to only the confirmed adult members of the FoH, not even attacking the so-called teenagers involved with the despicable group and did not indulge in looting or vindictive destruction spoke well of their control in the face of their anger at the loss of one of their own. "The police were getting a handle on the violence, if slowly when I left. Still, I doubt the FoH will be left with any doubt that their actions today earned them an enemy, and with the efficiency of these modern communications news of the assault and murders, both that which they attempted and that which actually occurred, will spread across the country."
"Hmm… I can't say the chaos is to my liking, but the sentiment is. Still, we can leave that in the hands of the authorities." Taking a final bite of her quiche, Emma set her fork down. "Now, you wanted to know about how I met Harry. To start that tale however, I suppose I should ask how much the others told you about my family…"
Thor's party made their way through the woods and snowcapped peaks towards their destination, the highest peak of Asgard, Hnirberg. Its mighty peak nearly abutted one of the world tree's branches which passed by the realm of Asgard.
At night you could see Yggdrasil occasionally from everywhere, but there were scant few places where you could actually transport yourself from the realm of Asgard to the 'greater reality of Yggdrasil'. Or at least that was how Odin explained things to Thor, he was not one for such deep thoughts, and was more than willing to take his father's words on the matter as his own views were that the World Tree simply WAS and that's all he needed to know. .
At the present Thor was in the lead as the group climbed up a sheer rock face of the mountain. There was no path up this segment of the mountain, and worse for the Asgardians, something in the air this high up made them unable to fly despite the magics several of them had which would normally allow them to.
Currently Thor had a rope tied between him and his fellows as he forged upwards. Volstagg was next to him working his way up stolidly, connected to Thor by another rope which dangled loosely between them. He might well have trouble actually reaching the wall of the cliff over his own stomach, but Volstagg was a powerful warrior for all his bulk.
The fall wouldn't kill any of them they were Aesir after all, warriors one and all made for hardship who laughed at such danger. But it would hurt, and possibly injure one of them them enough to force them to troop back to Asgard. Hence why Thor and Volstagg were in the lead; they were the physically strongest of the party. Since they could just muscle their way to the top it made sense for them to be trailbreakers even if neither of them were the best when it came to actually finding the easiest way up the rock face.
Of course there is also the fact that if Volstagg fell, only I am strong enough to stop him from taking everyone else with him," Thor thought to himself chuckling between looking for another handhold.
Behind the two of them in two long lines, came the others that had joined him on this quest. Volstagg led Skadi and Tyr, while Sif, Fanrdal and Hogun followed Thor.
The climb continued as the sun continued its course through the sky. As it was passing overheard, from behind Volstagg, Skadi suddenly shouted, "Thor look out!"
Looking up from where he had been trying to find his next handhold Thor saw a Jotun boulder coming down the mountainside towards him.
"Hold hard!"Sif bellowed untying herself from the rope directly behind him and leaping up, bouncing up off of Thor's back, her sword outstretched to shatter the boulder. She then grabbed onto the sheer rock face and clung there for a moment with one hand, glaring upwards. "There are more coming!" She said over her shoulder before going to work with her sword, flailing at the rocks as they came.
Behind Volstagg Skadi and Tyr leaned back, trusting to the ropes around their waists as they used their hands to quickly free their bows and arrows. Leaning to either side they shot up past their fellows at whoever was dropping the boulders.
Thor himself could not see them, his view upwards now blocked by Sif's body. I will admit the view is rather nice from this angle yet still I would rather see the attacks coming.
"By Odin's beard! When I get them my hands on them, the mighty Volstagg will teach them the error of their ways! Such a cowardly attack deserves a right proper beating!" Thor's overweight friend roared. Even so he stopped moving, gripping the cliff face, bearing the weight of the two bow users stoically.
"While anger is not the most handsome of emotions, in this case it is not anger but righteous fury. For that I will join you in this contest of arms my friend," said Fandral, pulling himself up with Hogun while the other two continued to the lob arrows up at the Jotun above them.
"Can anyone see who it is?"Thor shouted.
Skadi nodded her head quickly as she launched a well aimed arrow, a cry of pain echoing through the air a moment later that Skadi's grinned wolfishly at. "Frost Jotun!" Skadi had the best eyes of all the gods save Heimdall and Mighty Odin himself, and even they had to bow to her skill with the bow.
Frost Jotun were physically stronger than most Asgardians, brutish creatures that relied on that brute power and a certain way with stone and ice to match their betters in combat despite the fact many had no further inherent magic save their ability to not feel cold. They were not dangerous opponents on the dales and fields of Asgard's hills and plains, but up here in the mountains, which was much like their own realm of Jotunheim, they could be a dangerous threat even to one so mighty as Thor. That first boulder would have knocked them all off the mountaintop, if not for Sif's swift actions.
"We must close with them," she grunted now, her blade cutting another boulder in twain despite the one-handed nature of the blow. "Climb faster the lot of you!"
"Leapfrog over us, one after another, the ones highest up take up the duty of protecting the others." Thor ordered. "Yet keep your ropes tied my friends, I pray thee."
"I see a crevice," Hogun said moments later as he came up to us Thor's left side, speaking up though he was normally a man of few words. "I'll make my way over there and up faster. When you hear the sounds of battle, make your own way up as quickly as possible."
With that he dropped down below, literally letting go of his grip and falling for a moment before grabbing a rocky outcrop and halting his downward plunge. Then he moved to the side, repelling around before moving up the small crevice that he had spotted. Behind him, Thor had moved to where Sif had been holding the boulders off originally, taking up along with the duty of defending them from further boulders to give Sif a rest.
Now at last Thor could finally see their opponents that were indeed Frost Jotun. They looked to be man shaped things, with misshapen heads and hair growing out every which way along with pale, almost blue tinged skin. When they touched the rocks their hands seemed to enlarge slightly, frost coming to their fingertips and somehow joining them directly to the ice or snow they picked up. They used crude misshapen stone axes and interweaving bronze armor. For all that they were magnificent miners Ice Jotun did not make very good smiths. They had to make do with their crude weapons of stone and ice when they couldn't steal something better from one of the crafting races. .
Past the ones who were hurling down boulders however was another group. They were working on dislodging what looked like a piece of ice, larger and far wider than any of them were. If they were able to free it and tossed that large a piece of ice down at them, the Asgardians' wouldn't be able to block it. Even the shrapnel would be so large they knock the Asgardians off the cliff face.
"We must move now!" Thor shouted, though that was hard to do in the face of a barrage of boulders that required those in the lead to have at least one hand free at all times to smash them aside. That made the rather inconvenient fact that they were still trying to climb a sheer rock face even more so.
It was a race then for a few moments though the Jotun above them did not know it. Would Hogun arrive on the scene before the Jotun working on the large ice chunk freed it, or would they succeed and blast the otherAsgardians off of their mountaintop?
Of course the Jotun didn't have it all their own way. Protected by the others, Tyr and Skadi were able to lob arrows up at the Jotun, and several of them had fallen back, one in particular gasping and choking as an arrow from Skadi took him in the throat, the goddess of ice and hunting giving a shrieking cry of victory at the hit like that of a hunting falcon. Another one screamed when an arrow went through his cheek and out the back of his head, but it didn't seem to have done much lasting harm for all of that. It simply made his face become more grotesque than it already had been, although many of the Asgardian party would have thought that impossible.
Then without any warning Hogun was on the scene, smashing bodily into two of the Jotun trying to free the ice mountain as he leaped up over an outcropping of rock. He slammed one Jotun into the other as his heavy-handed mace flashed toward a third, crushing his skull and sending his body down to land among those tossing boulders down on his fellow Asgardians. That group all turned and he roared out a battle cry charging at them.
"Now, up friends and to Joyous Battle!" Thor shouted, unwilling to continue hanging there while his friend faced danger and glory in equal parts above him.
As the others scaled the cliffs moving as fast as they could Thor remained in place, leaning back away from the wall. He began spinning Mjolnir, the hammer becoming a whirl in the air before he hurled it upwards, the strap still wrapped around his wrist. The hammer's impetus pulled him upwards and also pulled the others still connected to him up quickly, all of them landing on the pathway where the Jotun stood.
They all landed one after another, rolling or otherwise taking the tumble as they could. Volstagg in particular used the roll, having untied himself at the apex of his impromptu parabola. Coming out of his roll, which had taken several Jotun off their feet, he pulled out a massive broadsword hacking down two of the Jotun in one mighty blow before twisting around to bring his fist up and into another Jotun's face before it could launch a short spear at Hogun's back. "Tremble and moan in fear, foolish Jotun, mighty Volstagg is here!"
"That was almost poetic if a bit too long winded for my tastes,"Sif muttered, as she too attacked, cutting the arm off a Jotun who's blade she deflected, the brute falling back blood staining the snow beneath him. Her sword was much more traditional, a simple 34in. double edged longsword which she wielded in one hand, her other arm holding a large round shield.
Tyr used a similar sword, though in comparison to Sif's his had a far more intricate inlay to it, as well as a larger pommel and a slightly longer blade. Despite that, his blade was nicked here and there, and was very obviously a blade that while well cared for still saw plenty of action and he wielded it with the ease of long use. So too did Fandral though his sword was both longer and thinner, his swordsmanship was actually better than his fellows, if far too flamboyant and showy in comparison to the businesslike blade-work of Tyr.
None however could match Thor for skill or strength with Mjolnir in his hand. When a Jotun came within range of Thor, they died swiftly. Blades, axes, hammers, bone, armor, none stopped his mighty rampage.
With the Asgardians within arm's reach the Jotun proved no match despite having larger numbers. Indeed, they retreated a little too quickly,Thor thought with a frown as he picked bits of brain off Mjolnir's head. Normally Jotun like that, a war party it appeared, would have stayed and fought to the last if only because to do otherwise would court scorn and mockery from their fellows, let alone the chance of prestige at taking down one of the hated Aesir or Vanir. But this group hadn't…
He wasn't the only one who had picked up on that. "Methinks we need to be prepared for further ambushes in the future." Said Tyr as the god of leaders, justice and self-sacrifice gave the failed ambush another look around, causing all around him to nod. None of their number were concerned about the potential ambushes however. With the failure of the this one the element of surprise was lost and that had been the Jotun's greatest, and only, advantage baring their bringing massive numbers into play.
Those proved to be prophetic words, as they were indeed ambushed several times more as they traversed the mountains, each time fighting off the Jotun warbands with relative ease and leaving dozens of giant corpses in their wake to be buried by the falling snow. None proved to be as potentially deadly as that first one might have proved, and they forged on, reaching the summit of the mountain where it was closest to the world tree a bare day after the last ambush.
For a moment they fell silent in awe as they stared at the monstrously huge branch that hovered in the distance. Even gods such as they had things they believed in, and Yggdrasil was one of them, even discounting the number of mysteries and separate powers it contained in its branches and roots. It was awfully hard not to worship such a presence.
"And now comes the part for that I have been dreading," said Fandral sighing theatrically, smoothing his hair in an unconscious gesture. "The leap of faith."
"I will go first," Thor replied promptly. As leader of the expedition Thor felt it was both right and proper for him to go first. "The rest of you follow after but watch out for each other. There might still be Frost Jotun about."
With that he turned away from the view, heading toward back towards the end of the small outcrop they stood on before turning, and racing forward as fast as he could go. He leaped out over the space separating the top of the mountain with the edge of the Asgardian's realm and out into nothingness before landing with a whuff of expelled air on the monstrously huge branch which passed over and slightly through the realm of Asgard.
Quickly glancing around Thor pulled out his hammer wary of an ambush even here. When none materialized, he turned slightly and waved at his friends, before turning around to examine their surroundings more closely.
"It makes you feel like a child again,"Sif said a moment later, doing the same.
"Almost mortal in fact," said Tyr, shaking his head as he stared up and further up at the monstrous Yggdrasil. "It makes mountains looked tiny."
"I suppose in the face of the World Tree all of us are mere mortals. No matter how long we live, we will never live anywhere near as long as Yggdrasil has existed." Volstagg said pensively..
"That was oddly poetic my friend," said Fandral, clapping Volstagg on the shoulder while Thor paused in his march, thinking about Jane Foster.
What would she think if she saw the Yggdrasil? Would she be feeling the same all as they did, or would she feel terror at something so beyond what any of us can truly contemplate? And why is it that this is the first time I've thought of Jane since returning full time to Asgard? I had believed that what we felt for one another was special yet if it was, would she not be in my thoughts all the time? That is a troubling thought.
"Enough woolgathering," said Sif, smacking her palm into the side of Thor's head and gesturing him forward. "You're up my friend."
Chuckling he moved towards the trunk of Yggdrasil, following the others as he quipped, "Shouldn't that be 'you're down' since we are going down instead of up?"
Sif groaned and rolled her eyes following him quickly. "Leave the jokes to Fandral and Skadi I beg of you. At least they are somewhat good at it."
With a laugh Thor began to climb down Yggdrasil's massive trunk.
Baldur stood in the middle of the fire blackened charnel house that had once been a village staring around him, his face a mask of rage. Asgard ruled these lands, but for the most part, those who inhabited them were not gods themselves. Rather they were Asatru, descendants of Kindreds of old who had traveled with the Asgardians to this alternate universe instead of facing persecution from the Christians, eager to explore these new lands and leave behind the old.
Their lives were hard but they were a hearty and hale folk even if not all of them were warriors. Yet that hadn't stopped the Night Elves from wiping this village off the map. The villagers hadn't gone quietly, and Baldur hoped that at least a few of them had earned their place in Odin's halls, but it had not saved their loved ones, their womenfolk and children. I thought Thor's strikes at their army's forward outposts would have made my own undertaking a show of force rather than a real warrior's task. I had thought this would be boring at best, now I am sorry I ever thought in such a manner.
In actuality, the local humans were mere creations, not so much illusions as simulacrums like the one Harry had used in Russia to play Piotr to the Russian soldiers who led them back to the Super Soldier base. All of them were created by the Shadows, who had taken the memories of the various Asgardians to create as lifelike an illusion of life as they could to act out their roles.
They had no souls, their belief could not give power to Odin or any of the other gods who they were supposed to believe in. They simply gave the illusion of such, yet another way the shadows had weakened the Asgardians through denying the pantheon a connection to their human followers save the trickle which could cross the dimensional gap.
Baldur did not know this, of course. He was as entangled in the Shadow's net as any of them save perhaps Odin and Hela, who both knew they were enshrouded even if that knowledge was scant comfort. All he knew was that the Night Elves were not going to get away with this, and he would be taking it up personally with Malekith if he could. Their alliances with the various Jotun tribes and several trollkin tribes might have kept Lord Odin from declaring war upon them in the past, but an act like this, coming so swiftly after the series of skirmishes and reprisals Thor's mission should have stopped, could not be borne.
I wonder where they were hiding the raiding parties to do this. Or were the outposts Thor smashed faked in some manner? Yes, that makes sense, the Night Elves are ever creatures of duplicity and misdirection, it would be all too easy for them to put poor fighters or conscripts in those outposts and thus both hide and husband the forces needed for these atrocities from our scouts.
"Still, however this occurred, it must be replied to in like kind," he said aloud, moving through the debris of the town quickly. He found his half-brother Víðarr waiting for him and nodded brusquely to the younger man. "Send a raven back to our lord father then see if you can find the raiding party that did this. I do not want them to get back to Svartalfheim with their ill-gotten gains. Not this time!"
Víðarr nodded grimly and turned to his horse as Baldur did the same, pushing himself up into the saddle. Moments later they were racing off over the snowbound landscape trailing after Tyr's hounds as they caught the scent of their prey.
All the while the Shadows watched, pleased that something was going right for them now. They were even pleased with Thor's quest for Níðhöggr, having fallen for Odin's ruse there, and happy to have Thor out of the way on such a fool's errand. They would watch it closely, and would empower any servants or creations of theirs that ran into the group as much as they could. Níðhöggr in particular would be useful there, strong enough to kill Thor even without their aid. That would make it all the easier to launch Ragnarok with Balder's death later.
Yet for all of that, they were constrained in many ways in how openly they could act by their agreements with the Asgardians, something they'd not foreseen and would not have cared about even if they had realized it, never believing the Asgardians could slip their leashes. In Asgard they could not act physically at all, as they had in Niflheim by teleporting in troops to assail Hela in her lair.
Not, mind you that it had done them any good there. The Shadows still shuddered occasionally as they remembered the power Hela had unleashed on their tools. And they could not even tell one another if those shudders came from avarice, a desire to control that power and turn it to their own purposes once more, or fear.
But in Asgard and the other realm of the world tree the gods lived on, Vanaheim, the Shadows were sharply constrained thanks to the wording of the agreement they had made with Odin in their initial agreement with him. The Shadows could not act against Yggdrasil in any way, though the creatures that made it their home were fair game. They could not physically appear anywhere within it, or on Asgard and Vanaheim. As Niflheim and the other realms had not been named, what they could do in them was much less constrained, which had bitten Hela on her shapely rear for a time. Nor could they concentrate on other Asgardians too often, not without weakening their hold on Odin, which they were desperate, or as close as such beings could be, to not do after Hela had slipped her leash.
Odin and Loki had worked together on that agreement, fearing betrayal even then, though it had not helped them in the short term. It remained to be seen if it would aid to free them in the long term.
But there were two more things bothering the Shadows. One was Hela of course. Her power and her newly-won freedom worried them. Though she truly had no way to actually combat them directly, Hela could fight their creatures, and worse their tethers to the realms of Asgard. And with the powerful humans behind her, that was a distinct threat. Even if they had shut down all connections between Midgard and the rest of the realms, the Shadows still had no idea how the Humans had shown up in the first place.
Added to this concern was why anyone would go to such lengths to rescue Sigyn's body, since they knew her soul was dead and gone, her body remaining behind a mere curiosity, nothing more. The Shadows feared a Loki-style trick there, but could do nothing now that the body, which had been protected by a spell they could not break before now.
Leading from that was a somewhat more worrisome concern than Hela no longer being under their thumb: her father was still not around after having fallen into the Abyss between realms. After having twisted Loki's very being as much as they could, the Shadows had used him to cause tension and strife among the Asgardians in preparation for his role in Ragnarok. But he was not to be found, and thus was well beyond their reach. That was a problem, one they fretted at even as they watched the rest of their pawns continue to dance to their tune.
That evening Hela returned to Camelot, stopping by what was still being called the headmaster's tower to see if Harry or Jean were awake and check on Ororo. Emma did not, her head still somewhat bothering her and still dealing with the odd psychosomatic creepy crawling feeling after her time in the dilation capsule.
Hela found Harry sitting by the room's original bed, one hand gently stroking Ororo's forehead as she lay still insensate from her initial and continued exertions wrangling the Earth's weather patterns back into line. He didn't look up as Hela entered the room, the door leading from the spiral staircase into the room opening automatically for her.
This allowed Hela to look around the room and notice the room had been rearranged. The small intimate little dining and sitting area had been replaced by a second bed. Jean didn't actually sleep in the same bed as the unconscious Ororo that seemed just plain wrong to her and the others. But just as wrong was to not be near her at night if Ororo woke up.
In that bed Jean sat up at one side of it, watching Harry and Ororo while to her side slept Melody, Illyana and oddly to anyone but Hela who only had the vaguest idea of his past, a young white-haired boy. Jean looked over as Hela came in and smiled at her, gesturing over to Ororo. "We know she's going to be alright but…"
"But missing your other half is and should always be a painful thing, understandable." Hela replied, moving to stand by the bed and look down at the gorgeous features of the unconscious African woman.
She put a hand on Harry's shoulder and stood there watching with him, his hand on hers for a moment until Harry stood up. He leaned over, placing a light kiss on Ororo's forehead. "Get well soon love, you are dearly missed."
Even asleep Ororo's lips slid into a smile at that touch. With a smile of his own Harry turned away to join Jean and the two youngsters in bed, as Hela leaned down to do the same before leaving.
Jean almost reached out a hand to stop her as Harry was changing for bed, but Hela shook her head. She was not part of this relationship yet, she and Harry were still very much courting. Joining them in bed, even with the three youngsters, would not only have been premature in the extreme, but one simply did not share a bed like that so casually in Hela's culture unless it was impossible to do otherwise.
Jean nodded at Hela's nonverbal answer, not speaking herself only giving the Asgardian goddess a small smile in reply before settling down in bed once more watching Hela walk out to seek her own bed. Tomorrow would be a busy day for all of them after all, just like most of their days were.
The next day while Harry, Jean and Emma got down to organizing the upcoming meeting and numerous other jobs, Hela was busy with something far more personal. With Harry's okay she had asked Danielle Moonstar to come with her to the outer edge of the solar system, where Dani had been able to connect with Sigyn's soul within her blood. Hela had decided it was time to see if she could meet her 'mother' in person, for a given value of 'in person' at any rate.
They took the Hellion out with Carol and several dozen technicians to manage the ship. They wanted to get some hands on experience with the ship to aid them in understanding the Kree ships and the differences between spaceships and wet navy ships. Carol had never served on a sub, but two of the techs had served on commercial research subs, so between them they might be able to come up with a simplistic training manual. Or at least the framework of one, since each position the crew would need their own manual. There were also two scientists who wanted to run some tests in Zero-G out from the sun's gravity well that Hela didn't understand the purpose of.
The queen of Niflheim found herself actually rather ambivalent about the entire thing. Another individual might have called it nervousness, but she was a goddess, she did not feel nervousness! Or shyness, or trepidation! Such weak feelings are beneath me.
Hela kept telling herself that as she finished hanging up a training sword to one side of the ship's exercise area. She and Dani had taken to training against one another in short sharp bouts throughout the day. Hela helped Dani with her sword work and the younger woman answered some of Hela's questions about modern culture.
She had learned much of human history from Ororo already, though that had been a mere overview, and she had continued that education during her spare time in the time dilation chamber. She had come away both appalled and impressed in equal amounts by how far humanity had come and how little they had changed in some ways. Modern society however was still a relative unknown to her, with some very odd, unneeded complications and underlying understandings that she simply could not comprehend just yet.
In turn Dani had learned a bit about swordsmanship from Hela, just like Harry had during their spare moments in the time dilation chamber. Harry had not been willing to devote much time to it, but he'd proved an able student,Hela thought, which Dani has not alas . The sword wasn't Dani's preferred weapon, she was a spear-woman and an archer for preference, and Hela had stopped their first spar only a few moments in to order Dani to go get Sigyn's Gift and use it in spear form instead of a sword. Unfortunately that meant Hela hadn't had as much to teach her, but the sparring had still been good for the younger woman, in teaching Dani how to handle a skilled opponent wielding a sword as well as how to wield her spear more effectively in close combat.
And I have succeeded in exhausting her no end Hela thought smugly. Humans shouldn't try to keep up with Asgardians in endurance or training like this, even if I am 'dumbing down' my speed and strength to mere human levels. I was surprised however to see that like Harry her reflexes are quite good. Nowhere near as good as Harry's, which are simply inhuman even in comparison to myself but still quite good.
Entering the shower area Hela found Dani already finished a towel around her fit, sprinters body and she exchanged a small nod with the other woman. "I'm going to try to sleep in about an hour or so. Will you have to be nearby physically to do whatever it is you have to?"
"Not at all,"Hela said shrugging her shoulders. "After all, I wasn't physically close to you when I attempted to pull your dreaming mind to my realm, now was I?"
"True,"Dani said with a chuckle, then leaned against the wall as Hela moved in towards the shower, already stripping off her clothing. She didn't do this as a normal woman would. Rather each article of clothing disappeared into the immaterial for a moment until she was completely divested of clothing and about to step into the shower. The only thing that remained was her mask, still obscuring her forehead and the area around her eyes.
Dani finally looked away, shaking her head. Wow, if I was the type to be jealous, then she snorted at the thought. I'd already have a lot of practice with that wouldn't I?
"Have you had any thoughts about how to get your mother's soul out of my body and into her own?" She asked aloud, coming to the point of why she had stuck around instead of going to change and heading to her room right away.
"Dani, I haven't even had any thoughts about how to break whatever spell is keeping her body in that magical construct," Hela said with a sigh audible even over the sound of the shower. "It's a magnificent construct I'll admit, making her utterly immune to any kind of damage, even Harry says that he couldn't get through it."
It still cost her somewhat to admit it, but Harry had more raw magical power then Hela did, at least outside of her own realm. Inside was a different story entirely and even without it Hela was still immensely powerful. But the one time they had tried to transfer Sigyn's magical coffin to her realm it hasn't worked. The coffin simply refused to be moved when they tried, as if its reality completely negated her own realm's somehow. So Hela had to swallow her pride and admit that Harry's versatility would hopefully prove the key to freeing Sigyn.
"I actually had a thought about that one,"Dani said, having witnessed their attempt. "I think that construct that's containing her is part and parcel of whatever hid her soul away in the first place. They couldn't hide both body and soul, but they could protect the body while the soul was hidden away."
"Yes I had a similar thought myself. I'm assuming that my… father… had something to do with it, and that sounds much like something Loki Truthbender would come up with," she said, hesitantly using the word 'father'. She had yet come to grips emotionally with the idea that her memories of Loki might have been tampered with. A lifetime's worth of loathing was not easily overcome, nor was it easy to truly come to grips with her mind and memories being so violated. That would have made a lesser being tremble in her bed, for Hela it just made her angry.
Dani nodded though there was a frown on her face. "I've never understood why both Loki and Odin are excused from the normal reaction to men dabbling in magic. Heck not so much dabbled but mastered beyond anyone else in your culture."
"Lord Odin was allowed to dabble in it simply because he was the Highest, who would gainsay him about it? He was determined to find wisdom wherever he could to better himself and those under him by the gaining of it, paying the price as needed or using his cunning to get free of such. To my knowledge he rarely uses magic beyond shape changing, runes, and disguises so it is easier for others to accept. And if they did not, well, they could challenge him on the matter. I will leave it to you to imagine how well that went" Hela scoffed at the mere idea of someone trying to give Odin grief for using magic.
"Loki Foolsbane, his efficacy with magic was part and parcel of his general image from what I know, though of course all of it might be false. It fit into his persona as the god of fire and all at that could entailed: a trickster, a dangerous friend and a far more dangerous foe, someone you had to treat with intelligently, or else you would be burned, with guile and artifice beyond most men's ken. In short, he could do it, so he did."
"I wonder how Loki and Odin's fathers dealt with them while they were young,"Dani quipped as Hela finished her shower. "They must've been interesting to grow up with, even on their own not including that Odin had two brothers."
"Undoubtedly,"Hela replied then blinked turning her head to stare at the woman even as her mask formed once more on her face, the piece of clothing having disappeared as she washed her face and hair for a moment as Hela turned away to face the wall of the shower. "Wait, why did you say that as if they both came from the same generation? Odin is Loki's step-father, he raised him as a fosterling."
Dani had wondered about the story about that mask more than once but knew it would be impolite to ask. It was obviously something very personal to her. Though it isn't anything to do with her actual face, not given what I saw while she was sleeping. Again, if I was the type to be jealous… "No he's not, at least not according to the mythology, and according to all of the historical works we've found so far," Dani said aloud, before blinking. "Wait, no one told you that part?"
"No that aspect did not come up in our discussions of the similarities and differences between what humans believed, and what we know of ourselves." Hela replied dryly. "I wonder which is reality?"
"Considering that both the writings and stories we've been able to find and the actual Asatru faith on the matter says that Loki and Odin are sworn blood-brothers rather than father and son, I'd say the Shadows had a reason for somehow limiting Loki that way, among all the others that seems to have been done to him."
"I can think of hundreds of reasons why they would want to limit someone who made it a point of pride to worm his way out of any agreements to the humiliation or defeat of the opposing party, but why would they try to do so in such a manner?" Hela said to herself, shaking her head. Between one twist of her neck and the next Hela was dry. Her clothing reappeared around her body an instant later as she cocked her head quizzically at Dani. "Aren't you going to change before bed?"
Dani rolled her eyes, and turned away replying with a flippant "I see that one-upmanship exists among even goddesses."
"Of course it does,"Hela said in a slightly louder voice as Dani left the bathroom. "We're just somewhat more subtle about it."
Dani's answering laughter was loud and long, and Hela smirked to herself, before following the other woman out of the bathing area.
A few hours later, Dani laid back in her bed falling to sleep swiftly thanks to how tired she was and the sedatives she been given by Amelia Voght before she had left Earth that morning. Nearby, Hela waited a moment, sitting in a meditation pose of her own, as she waited for Dani's breathing to indicate she had fallen into a dream state.
Then she began to send out her mind towards the other woman. It was somewhat trickier here without being in her realm which normally anchored such astral projections like this, but it was still well within her means. Yet when her thoughts entered Dani's mind the difference between sending out her own mind and grabbing someone else's subconscious was immediately apparent.
Using a spell to grab someone else's mind was like throwing out a net to catch a fish, pulling it towards her through the water only with Dani to see it suddenly be pulled away. This time, it was Hela's mind that was doing the journey, and it was not pleasant. It felt almost as if she was drowning for a moment, not in Dani's mind or emotions, but the subconscious id, or soul if you looked at it in that manner, upon which those things swam. It was a strange feeling, and not pleasant but thankfully for Hela it was over quickly.
In return, Dani sort of got flashes of emotion and imagery from the invader as Hela's mind wound its way into her soul: concern coupled with a view of her realm, wariness from a memory of the Shadows, a sharp intelligence and desire. A lot of different varieties of desire with several different images, the most prominent right now being a sort of longing to have this work and get to know her step-mother, mingled with worry and longing for Harry and Ororo, who she was the closest with among the ladies involved with Harry.
Dani tried not to think about that, feeling it rude to have gained such insight, and moreover having no desire to do so in the first place. Despite that however one image stuck in Dani's mind, and she could only shake her head at it as she once more opened her eyes to find herself not in her room, but elsewhere. What the heck was with that image with Harry cooking in only an apron? Dani thought, before shaking her head and concentrating on her surroundings.
This particular 'elsewhere' was a mountain clearing of some kind, with a small dirt road leading down a trail to one side, and a hilly field of goats to the other. There were actual goats there, several of them and not one of them was making an attempt to bolt away from her despite the fact they were not in a paddock. Only a small berm surrounded them, something any of them should have been able to jump at will.
To the other side was a large and extremely well made hall, different from the ones she had seen previously which had come from her own memory. This one was most definitely a construct of Sigyn's mind rather than hers.
Next to our Hela's body, or rather her astral projection, formed swiftly. Looking around, Hela frowned, then said hesitantly, "Why, why do I feel as if I should know this place? It, it looks like some of the images in that cavern but I…curse those Shadows!" Hela shouted, her normal self-control slowly sliding away as she looked around them, her body trembling with rage and grief, the anger at her helplessness in the face of what the Shadows had done to her surfacing once more.
"This… I did not expect," said a calm but equally emotional voice. "I ,I thought that you had come once more for advice Dani, I did not…"
They two of them turned to see Sigyn standing by the doorway to the cabin, her eyes wide and shimmering as she took in Hela's body. She wore a skirt much more akin to the one she had worn the first time she met Dani, a long skirt of brown tied around her waist by a white braided cord, this time braided with a light blue rope.
"Be welcome daughter,"Sigyn said her voice thick now as tears began to form in her eyes, her hands open and gesturing into the hall, inviting the pair inside.
Hela stared at the woman looking for all the world like she would bolt, far too many emotions playing over here her entire body for Dani to get a handle on before Hela reined herself in with a show of control that was almost scary."You, you claim to be my father's wife yes?"
Sigyn snorted, one hand coming up to wipe away at her eyes before she gestured with that same hand towards the door once more, a touch more insistently. "I don't claim to be anything. I am your mother and Loki Shapechanger's wife. And let me tell you, taking the motherly role over for you and your brothers was not an easy task, or a decision I came to lightly. I did however choose it off my own free will." She paused in the doorway, looking back at Hela. "When was the last time you could say the same of any of your actions?"
"Point,"Hela replied, actually regaining control of herself under her mother's snarky assault, somehow finding it both familiar and comforting as much as the warm air Sigyn had about her. "Though I bet I was a picnic in comparison to my brothers." She added primly, her expression expectant as she waited for confirmation on her good behavior
Sigyn devolved into a giggling mess for a moment, leaning against the doorframe as she had held her stomach while Hela glared at her in indignation. "What?!I cannot imagine that anything I did would be up to something those two could get up to."
"Oh my dear,"Sigyn said with a wild toss of her head, regaining control of herself with difficulty. "I see we have much to talk about."
Inside the cottage was… the charitable would call it eclectic. The room was built around a well made central fireplace and chimney system with some, baroque faces carved into the chimney randomly around its surface of different animals. The fire was lit and inviting, despite randomly changing color, pulsing with all the colors of a rainbow, and taking on odd shapes whenever you looked at it from the corners of your eyes.
Besides the fireplace there were numerous scattered if well made chairs with cushions on them set haphazardly here and there around seemingly roughly made small tables, again scattered around the room. In contrasts the walls were covered by several very well made tapestries of intricate but mind boggling designs, looking like mazes almost somehow grabbing your eyes and drawing you in. A few of them were different however, blank, the black fabric looking more like blocks of shadow than cloth.
Dani thought it looked somewhat like a ski lodge's lobby almost without those tapestries. She had to force her eyes away from the maze-like tapestries, but the black ones, those and the empty shelves set between them carved into the wood of the wall attracted her hunter's instinct. They are important somehow, but since they are black, does that mean those are memories Sigyn can't share with us for some reason?
To distract herself from that and to break the suddenly awkward silence as they all moved to sit around a single, one-legged table Dani asked, "Can I ask, why aren't you worried about the goats escaping? I know something about animal husbandry and goats are some of the worst animals to keep in paddocks like that. They are independent, belligerent, obstinate, and somewhat intelligent too."
"Ah the goats, don't worry my dear, my husband has if not tamed them at least taught them. Domesticated animals at heart all know that if they stay around they get better and larger amounts of food than they would in the wild. The goats know this, and they know we also protect them from wild animals." Sigyn winked at Dani. "This might have been helped by my Loki having actually talked to them in their own form a few times of course."
Hela snorted, shaking her head. "I have come to understand intellectually that my memories of my father have been tampered with, and well I know that shape-changing would be among the Prince of Lies powers, but to use it in such a domestic manner? Does not seem as if it would be worth his time."
"That name for Loki is both false and vile, given to him as the Christian missionaries looked for local gods they could use to be the source of evil, as Satan is in their own religion. Do not utter it in my presence again!" Sigyn said firmly, glaring at Hela with such a look of remonstrance that the Queen of Niflheim actually had to nod agreement, not so much because she realized that she'd inadvertently offered serious insult to her father, but under the power of that gaze.
Smiling in satisfaction at that Sigyn expanded on her point further. "You could say god of Lawyers perhaps, that would be just as vile an appellation and be slightly more accurate." Her eyes lit up with hidden fire for a moment, flicking over to the fire in the center of the room. "Woe betide anyone who thinks to get one over on Loki in any kind of treaty or agreement."
"Can you, that is, is there anything you can tell us about that time?" Dani asked hesitantly. She didn't want to get between their reunion but if Sigyn could give them any information, she had to hear it and pass it on.
"I am afraid not. Believe me, I have tried, and it is hard for me to even think of that time period, let alone speak about it with you." Sigyn said, gesturing at her mouth with one hand, the barely leashed fury of her first meeting with Dani appearing on her face magnified many times over.
Both her listeners got her point and Sigyn changed the subject looking over at Hela, her rage disappearing to be replaced by joy and happiness. "It has been so long Hela! Why, I remember when you were a shy, prickly young maiden but by He Who is Above All look at you now. I always knew you would grow into your role and make it your own, but this incarnation is most striking, and far warmer and outgoing than I thought you would be." She smirked slyly winking at her daughter. "I suppose we have this 'seidr man' to thank for that?"
Behind her mask Hela flushed, unsure what to say and her mother went on blithely, now intent on embarrassing her daughter to no end, as was the prerogative of a parent. "You are taking your courtship with the seidr jarl slow I trust? I wouldn't want you rushing in and making mistakes you would later regret. Besides, the courtship part of the relationship can often be the most fun. The man must concentrate solely on gaining your favor at that point and their efforts can often be creative and amusing in both success and failure."
"Er, yes we, um Harry and I are indeed taking it slow, and I am indeed enjoying the courtship." Hela said, stammering her words. She did not recall ever feeling so off-balance before and while a part of her was glad to be able to talk to her step-mother another part was notenjoying being made to feel like a blushing young maiden. She had enough of that reaction when she and Harry were actually courting, let alone when he wasn't even around!
"That's good to hear, but how does that work with young Harry already being involved with three other women?" Sigyn asked, her mouth pursing slightly in skepticism. "I can't say I approve of that sort of thing, even if multiple marriages are not unheard of, but from what I have heard it is a far more equal relationship than my initial impression of it."
"It actually works rather well. I have become close friends with both Jean, and Ororo. Emma is… well I am getting closer to her as well I suppose," Hela said, the last words coming out rather grudgingly, before changing the subject. "But if you cannot answer questions about what is going on with all of us, then can you tell me about how your soul bond was carried over the oceans to the Americas?"
"Ah, that. I know it aye." A faraway look came into Sigyn's eyes for a moment. "His name was Endre Hulmstang, and he was a sailor of some renown, though not much of a raider. He only joined raids when his jarl called him up, but he was known as the finest navigator for many leagues. He first came to my attention when he called upon Loki's aid to see him through an ambush from a rival clan. The boat he was a steersman for was being hunted down, and had taken refuge in a fjord, only to be blockaded inside. He found an unused tributary of a river and led the men in a night operation, paddling their ship up the main river then down the tributary."
Sigyn went on as Dani and Hela imagined the scene. "The night had no moon, and the sky threatening snow blocked all light, but Endre had memorized the route, and led them unerringly, even their paddles didn't disturb the water on their side of the river, so careful was Endre's leadership. They were able to get back out into the ocean and actually take the blockading ships by surprise, using fire javelins and arrows to send the enemy ships to the bottom. The men survived getting to land quickly, but many did so without weapons or armor, and Endre's clan had no further trouble with that group. Indeed, Endre was able to convince his jarl to make peace, and even marry his son to his opponent's daughter."
"Their courtship amused me, and at the time with the missionaries spreading like lice over the land whispering in the ears of kings I had little to be amused at." Sigyn snarled, shaking her head at how the missionaries had fed false promises and tales of wealth to entice the rulers. "I lost several followers to those bastards and the king's men who followed the new faith."
"But how did Endre get across the ocean? And can you tell us anything about how you placed your soul in his blood?" Hela asked, hoping to get Sigyn off that topic.
Sigyn paused, her mouth working. Her lips twisted into a snarl and she opened her mouth again, before subsiding in thought and saying at last. "The topic of how is unimportant, though I can say Endre came to our attention once more when he correctly spotted your youngest brother in wolf form for what he was. Fenrir was hunting at the time, but Endre named him, and further agreed to teach the young wolf about how to fish out of the rivers like a bear. I think Fenrir was rather amused, watching a human bent over like bears do on all fours in the freezing waters, but since he was actually able to catch a few fish that way, the amusement was replaced by respect."
"Afterward, Endre then prayed to Loki and I directly for his survival, to Loki for giving Fenrir the intelligence of man, and to me for giving him a sense of respect and courtesy. Looking at his deeds and given…what was going on Loki jumped on the chance, and I went along with things."
Sigyn chuckled at the memory of Endre's shock at two gods deciding to appear before him. "He took on the journey, and decided on its course, taking to the sea in his small, personal longship. Normally such a ship should never have been able to make the journey entirely across the ocean. But Endre was able to through the blessing of Loki and his odd friendship with the Jotun Aegir. Aegir had powers over wind and waves, and Loki had some powers over flame, and blessed Endre with a flame that could keep him warm all journey long. So long as he respected it of course," Sigyn said lightly, before shaking her head. "I wish I knew what became of Aegir, nothing good I would wager."
Unable to say anything to that Hela stayed silent as did Dani and after a moment Sigyn finished her tale. "He faced many trials on his course, including a Kraken and another monster of the deep, a large whale like creature with serrated teeth, though I cannot tell you any details about that portion of his adventure, as all I saw were the dreams which came after the fact, and his will was not quite as strong as yours Danielle. After he came to the Americas he somehow befriended the local natives, after that, I don't have to paint you a picture about how you eventually came along do I Danielle?"
Both younger women laughed at that. Then Hela asked hesitantly. "Tell me, what, what kind of father was Loki? I, my memories are…"
"I have no doubt of that, seeing as you did not remember me at all. As for the kind of father Loki was, he was the playful amusing one of us two, preferring…practical lessons and pranks with a purpose to teach rather than anything more overbearing. I normally had to deal with the everyday discipline, and with you three that was not easy. He only became serious when your two brothers let their animalistic sides guide their actions too much.
"He came down on them both for preying on his goats I recall, though Fenrir at least learned after the first time, while his brother did not. He was more doting on you, if distant, and had a rather estranged, if not overly negative, relationship with your older brother. Their personalities are just too different and Sleipnir was more than happy with his duties in service to Odin besides.
"Heh, we gave that overgrown eel with delusions of grandeur a serious case of indigestion a bit ago," Dani said lightly, wondering what Sleipnir, the eight legged horse, would be like. Would he have more or less human style intelligence than Fenrir? It certainly sounded as if he did.
Sigyn's eyes lit up as she realized what that meant. "My word, that is good news. Still it would surprise me if that was the last time you had to deal with that glutton."
"It might not be, since he did seem set on keeping that crystal tidbit in his stomach, and even knew why it was there." Since the geis on Sigyn actually caused her pain whenever they tried to talk about a subject she could not speak of, Dani was speaking about it in circuitous manner.
It worked and Sigyn's face closed down for a moment before she sighed and went on, speaking of Loki, her family and other things. The three of them shared tales for a time then. Dani told Sigyn and Hela of her own childhood, and how her power activated and what a major problem it was. These days she rarely used a few of her empathy based powers, but she did make good use of her empathic connection with animals at least once every few days even discounted her friendship with Garm. She also unconsciously used with Rahne.
Hela spoke of her realm in turn, and spoke of Garm in particular. In Return, Sigyn spoke of how Garm came to be with her, and how he had become so loyal a defender, then mentioned a few stories of the siblings growing up. Nothing embarrassing to Hela, not yet. Realizing her daughter was still rather leery about her, Sigyn decided to put off that most ancient of parental rights for a time.
Eventually however, Dani felt the dream or whatever this could be termed as begin to fall apart, and she and Hela made their farewells. As they left, before Sigyn's consciousness dissipated once more into Dani's blood she smiled grimly. "Hmm, so my body at least is free of their control. It might have been a long time coming even as we measure such, but now I think it is just a matter of time before we both break free my love…"
Mystique, Destiny, and Morph walked down the streets of Cairo together, posing as a family for the moment. Morph was the husband, Mystique the wife, and Destiny the grandmother, though if anyone became privy to their sleeping arrangements that would've given the lie away. "I still don't see why I can't get at least a little public affection," Morph mumbled under his breath, shaking his head. "We are supposed to be married after all."
"For one thing public affection like that isn't actually normal around here outside of one armed hugs at times. For another, I understand method acting, but there is a limit to how far I'll go with some things. Touching you with anything but a ten foot pole is one of them," Mystique quipped, both of their voices low and utterly drowned out by the crowd around them, a mass of humanity moving through the city, each and every one of them on their own errands or tasks, ignoring everything around them.
Or at least, that was the way it would have looked to someone who wasn't on the lookout for anything unusual or for dangerous threats. Mystique, however, was an old hand at this. She spotted the pockets of immobility, the watchers here and there who were doing nothing but looking over the crowd, the flash of movement in an alleyway as several dozen men came together, all of them looking through the crowd towards the three of them.
"We are about to get jumped," she said briskly.
"Professionally or amateurishly?" Morph asked. He looked somewhat gray-skinned with flat features, while Mystique had longer fingers than were natural. Simple, small, and purely cosmetic mutations that made them stand out, but not enough to look like a threat. Destiny had a blindfold over her eyes, but that was the only thing that made her stand out from the crowd.
"It looks like amateurs, but I don't know. The gang's coming together too quickly."
"They are, and there are more of them beyond the alleyways than we can see," Destiny said, her precognition powers well up to the task of scanning the near future for the three of them. "There are also two watchers standing alone several buildings away, watching events. I believe they might have been involved in creating the mob about to drop on us, but they are not a part of it."
"Hmm, looks like we chose the right city then," Morph smiled, his teeth suddenly morphing into shark's teeth in his mouth for just a second. "It's your show, Mystique. Continue to play dumb or set up an ambush of our own?"
"Let them come to us," Mystique said promptly. "The fact that we might be watched by members of the overall organization changes things. We don't want to show off, we want to look just strong enough to be recruited. But that doesn't mean we have to be stupid."
"Let's head back to our hotel," she said in a slightly louder voice, turning and moving in such a way that they would loop around their previous path back to the hotel where they were staying.
As they walked the crowd slowly dissipated, the women, families, and children in the crowd around them disappearing. At the same time, clumps of younger and older men began to appear. Many of them looked like gang members or criminal types. Others, however, looked like normal people, swept up by the throng, united in their cause. All of them had begun to look at Mystique's group with a dangerous look in their eyes, muttering in Egyptian about mutant freaks and Shaitan's, or Satan's, get.
In return the three targets had begun to look more and more fearful, but it was only after someone shouted, "Death to all children of Shaitan!" that the three of them bolted. They ran down the road toward an alleyway which would hopefully lead them away from the gathering mob that had almost surrounded them.
While running from a mob might seem like a good idea, all too often doing so was like showing fear in front of a wild animal. So it worked this time. The crowd, which had heretofore been content with shouting and muttering, raced after their victims with a group howl more animalistic than any wolf's. Many of them hurled bottles, bricks, or other things towards the fleeing trio, but none of the bricks struck, and Morph, at the back of the trio at the moment, took the bottles and the rest on his back and kept going.
Unfortunately for the trio, the mob knew the streets and alleyways of Cairo better than they did, or at least that was what the mob thought. They soon were able to corner the trio in an old bazaar which had several of its entrances closed up with brick or concrete. The three mutants paused in the entrance, seeing this, turning at bay. The crowd closed in, only half of them armed, but all of them still slathering for blood. "Rip them apart! Feed the blood of the perversions to Allah's plan to the sands!"
Destiny, Mystique, and Morph spread out, holding the entrance so they wouldn't be encircled. Morph was in the center, his hands morphing into hammers, though the rest of his body stayed the same. Mystique pulled out a small knife and stood in an advanced martial arts stance. The two of them had talked and figured that if whoever was behind this might know about Mystique, or rather, her powers, so that limited how often she could use them. Despite that, Mystique was still a deadly hand to hand combatant, which the first few people who reached her found out to their cost. One went down with a kick to the balls so hard it emasculated him, another took her knife to the side of his neck and the third took her thumb to his eye, stumbling into several others getting in their way as he screamed.
Morph seemingly ignored any actual hits they landed on his arms and chest, while the two ladies had to dodge. His hammers were slow, but each hit threw several people back so tightly where they packed. Indeed, the crowd really got into its own way, since only a few people could come at the beleaguered trio at a time, though the sheer pressure started to tell immediately.
In contrast, at the third point of their triangle Destiny was grace personified. Thanks to her precognition powers she could anticipate any attack directed at her, which gave her all the time in the world to think of her response. In a crowd like this that was quite a bit harder than it sounded, of course, and she was sweating and gasping within two minutes of the actual fight
Seeing this, Mystique pulled the trio to one side, for an instant letting the crowd's mass push it forward as the three of them backed into the rest of the bazaar. But before they could be fully encircled, Mystique and Morph were in one of the corners of the bazaar, with Destiny behind them, holding the corner against their attackers. They left several more dead or screaming on the ground, which slowed the mob further. But it still came on, screaming their blind hate of all mutantkind.
It's times like this that the idea of helping Potter over Magneto's faction really takes a hit! Mystique, thought between one blow and the next. And these are supposed to be intelligent, sentient people?!
A blow came in from the side that would've caught her in the face, but Destiny's hand was there, grabbing the hand wielding a small hammer right behind the wrist, and snapping it with a quick twist, before moving slightly to Mystique's side, her other hand flashing out in a blow that caught the man right underneath his outstretched arm into his armpit. He screamed as the blow landed shattering muscle and bone before Destiny quickly stepped back and behind Mystique and Morph once more.
From on high the two watchers that Destiny had seen in her clairvoyance powers looked on in interest. "They're holding out pretty well. I suppose they could be useful. What do you think?"
"I think we should have chosen another group of mutants to attack," said a second man dryly. He was a tall, thin looking man with spiky white hair dressed in a long trench coat. "Have you noticed that two of our three scapegoats are down now?"
"I haven't, no," drawled the first voice. He was a somewhat stockier man, with wider shoulders, a short Fu Manchu mustache, black hair falling limply down to his shoulders, and an earring glittering in one of his ears. Like his fellow he was wearing a trench coat loosely over his body. "Still, it hardly matters. They're only flat scans, after all. We can always replace them with others. It's amazing how much money talks to such people."
"It's not money, it's hate. We simply help them find an outlet."
"So how do we want to play this? Recruit them through violence, or recruit them through leading them away?"
"Violence," said the dark haired man. His name was Scalphunter, and he was high up in Mr. Sinister's organization. He was not in charge most of the time of actual espionage, but when there was violence to be done, Scalphunter and his group of Marauders were called in. "We've allowed a lot of worthless mutants to die in this city of late, but I think it's time for the Mutant Liberation Front to show itself. Our violence in turn will make Master's plan for Genosha make a lot more sense to the public."
"I don't know about that one," said the second person. His name was Riptide, and unlike Scalphunter he really was a pro-mutant supremacist, while Scalphunter was in it for the violence and money. Riptide enjoyed the violence too, of course. Indeed, he was even more of a sadist then his companion. He was also a realist, however. "With all the hoopla about what might be going on in space it doesn't seem to me as if up a lot of the governments of the world will truly care."
"Which actually makes it all the better for the master's plan. If America and the rest of the so-called superpowers are busy with that, they won't be able to gather enough support to intervene in Genosha," Scalphunter said with a chuckle. "Now, let's do this!"
A second later they attacked the mob from above.
Scalphunter's mutant power was the ability to mentally manipulate technological devices, changing them into any configuration he wanted. He could change a microwave into a laser or a computer into a shield emitter. The only limit to his power was size: he could not create new mass from the old, he could simply reconfigured the existing mass into the shape he wanted, and it had to be something technological in aspect. He could control a computer or a laptop or a printer, or the inch thick circuit board that covered most of his body, leaving only one shoulder and arm bare. He could not do the same to a lamp, unless the light fixture was connected to a computerized timer, and then only to a limited degree.
He was also a master marksman, and both aspects came into play now. With a thought he'd configured a portion of his suit into a plasma rifle and began using it to rain down fire on the crowd from behind.
Riptide was even more violent, though his clothing was seemingly more normal, being a skintight suit of dark purple. Whirling in place his body disappeared, looking for all the world like it had been replaced by a cyclone. From the cyclone tiny throwing stars came out fast enough to slice through metal or stone.
The bone, sinew, and flesh of the crowd below didn't even slow them down. Between one moment and the next the shouting raging crowd which had been trying so hard to kill the three mutants were dead, dying, wounded, and above all screaming. "GYAAYAYAH!"
The wail of the injured rose to high heaven, and Morph had to fight to keep his bile down, actually transforming his innards into a solid-state to do so. Mystique, however, knew they had to play the parts of rattled civilian mutants pressed into a corner despite how good they were at it. So she had no problem letting loose with a gasp, and then backing away and actually dry heaving for a moment as she stared up at their so-called saviors. "What, what was, who are you!?"
"We're Riptide and Scalphunter, your saviors. Come on, their screams will rouse more people soon enough. That's the thing about flatscans, there's always more of them," Riptide shouted, while Scalphunter hurled down a length of rope, the other end of it tied to an air conditioner behind them. "Now come on! We need to go."
"Why did you save us?" Morph said, after a second following Mystique's lead as Destiny did the same.
"Because mutants always need to watch out for one another," Riptide said blithely, now running along the rooftops, stopping occasionally to hide as movement below grabbed his attention. "Especially against such mindless prejudice."
"We, we weren't even doing anything!" Morph shouted, before going on in a lower tone after Scalphunter hissed at him to be quiet. "We were just looking around the city, you know, doing the tourist thing! And then, and then they were, they were…"
"I know, my friend. I know," Riptide said sympathetically, though all three of his listeners saw that his sympathy didn't quite reach his eyes, which were hard and assessing. "That's what happens when flatscans are scared of their genetic superiors like us. They try to put us down, like we're wild animals, only showing how close to their monkey ancestors they are in turn!"
"I will agree to that," Destiny said, slowing down slightly. "If not for our powers, my and Rachel's heightened reaction times and strength and Eric's hand powers, we would have been overwhelmed. Even animals don't act like that mob did. Rabid is what they were."
"Which is why we put them down," Riptide said simply. "It's happened a lot in the city. That's why we mutants are getting organized in the first place."
"I can definitely see the point of fighting for our rights and those of others like us after this," Mystique said, wiping at her mouth once more. "Sorry I went to pieces like that. I'm just not used to…"
"You're a civilian, no reason you should have been. You were doing well despite that, though," Scalphunter said, the first words he'd uttered since they had left the site of the battle. He was looking at the three of them, in particular "Rachel," somewhat suspiciously, though only Mystique caught it.
"Thanks, I guess. My parents were both marines, and they opened up a martial arts center, so me and Iris were taught how to fight from an early age," Mystique replied. She and Irene had talked about whether the precog needed to use a cover name, and had decided better safe than sorry. "I've been trying to get Daniel interested since we started dating, but no such luck. Not that he needs it."
"Huh, that's interesting. So tell me, how would you to like to fight the good fight?" Riptide asked, fully intending to both look the trio up to make sure their background stories checked out, and to kill them if they didn't agree to join the MLF.
The three of them all exchanged glances, then Iris replied. "Tell us more."
For the second time Sean Macintyre and Marcus Greentree stood in a crowd sharing drinks and talking shop. Though it was a much larger crowd this time than it had been the last time, and the discussion, while being louder, was also what Sean would describe as brittle: too loud, the laughter uncertain, made of false bravado and uncertainty.
When he said that aloud in a quizzical tone, Marcus nodded, but Sophia replied with a snort and a muttered curse in her native Spanish before actually trying to rectify his ignorance. "You think so, really? It couldn't be because of the number of nervous civilians that are here, or the fact the whole world knows Earth was attacked again?"
As Sean winced, conceding the point, Marcus spoke up thoughtfully. "I see at least two senators, both of whom are on the Oversight Committee, four or more scientists who work for various Beltway bandit companies, and that's just among our group."
When Sophia used the term "our group" she was referring to the Americans in the room, all of whom had arrived in one large group. They were one of the two largest groups here, with most of their original representatives having been ordered to bring along specific "dates" by their government.
The largest, the UK group, did not include any politicians, something Sophia noticed. They were now led not by Prince Duncan, but by an Admiral who she recognized: Admiral Rodrick Power, son of Admiral Power who had served the British navy in World War II and had organized the Italian landings. He was known as a decorated officer who had come up from the aviation branch and commanded the Prince of Wales before achieving flag rank. He had served as Second Sea Lord of the Admiralty Board, which in recent times had become the office most devoted to running technology and design research.
Originally, the American group had not included Captain America or his date. The two of them had arrived later and had been held up at the door for some reason.
Sophia's eyes slid sideways to where Nick Fury stood like a dark shadow against the far wall, speaking quietly to a few people, most notably one of the two senators and several of the Indian representatives. To one side stood several Germans who had not been involved in the first meeting, either listening silently or having their own discussion, Sophia couldn't tell from here. One of them was a Deutsche Marine noncom, the second a Major in the same uniform, while the other two were dressed in civilian garb.
In contrast to Nick, who looked wary and worried, Steve Rogers was in the center of the room, talking warmly with several officers of various nations alongside Duncan and Power. Others came and went from that little group, meeting and greeting the famous, if somehow still self-effacing and humble captain.
"I wonder why someone didn't get stuck with bringing along Tony Stark to this soiree," Sean mused. "If this is what I think it is about, that is gathering further support for a space based defense, wouldn't it make sense to bring in someone who owns a large and varied industrial base and is also a genius?"
"Ita mighta, if Tony Stark was not persona-non-grata in a lot of European countries," said an Italian accented voice next to him. The three American officers turned to see Victor Gregorio standing there with a magnificently leggy brunette on his arm. "Lady, gentlemen, and I use the worda loosely as you are both American, may I introducea Minister for Defense Luisa Fioniti."
Sophia whistled low, taking and shaking the other woman's hand warmly while Sean and Marcus both sneered good naturedly at the other man's jibe. "Pleased to meet you, and I think we're going to be very glad that your government took this seriously enough to send someone of your level."
"From what little Victor was able to tell us of the last such meeting, I fear so. We've been able to connect a few of the dots, as you Americans would say, so while we don't know much about Guardian's true power base, we know it is quite large. And that his concerns about space based threats are well-founded." Luisa's English had no noticeable accent, a marked difference to Victor's.
"So can you tell us who's who? The three of us brought along eggheads," Sophia asked. "Admiral Whittaker and General Murphy brought along two senators, but I'd rather not take Senator Prichard away from talking to Steve or deal with Director Fury."
"I cannot say I blame you for that last bit. Director Fury is looking a little put out." The Italian woman's voice was respectful of Fury, but also wary. "I can put a name to most of the faces save from Japan and India, but I think I can say with confidence that the people you see are, if not policy makers, then at least high level policy advisors."
"Our governments have to take this meeting seriously despite the clandestine nature of it, if not altogether willingly," Luisa went on somewhat bitterly. "Whoever released the Kree Report to the public has caused a fucking panic. If it was Guardian or done on his orders, he needs to answer for that."
The Kree Report was the name for the exhaustive study Reed Richards had created and submitted to the UN after the first time the Fantastic Four ran into a Kree Sentry. Each time they learned more about the Kree, of late through the Custodes Mundi, the report had been updated. The report had shown up in the hands of various news agencies that very morning.
"I don't think it was Guardian. That's not his style," Sean disagreed, waving one hand back and forth.
"At any rate, the only ones who haven't sent high level delegates are the Russians and the Chinese, who have no representatives here at all, and France and Japan," Luisa finished, not replying to Sean's comment but continuing to address Sophia's. "Though I am not certain on Japan. I haven't had any dealings with the Japanese before this."
Germany and France had not been involved in the previous clandestine meeting, nor had a few others like Sweden, Finland, or Poland. But those countries had been allowed to bring a plus one just like those from the original countries. Most of the new officers fell under the same heading as the original group: that is, they were all proponents of bringing more technology into their various militaries, who the three Americans knew of from various papers and reports.
Luisa explained that she recognized the Frenchwoman. She was an ambassador, someone to hear Guardian out rather than someone who could truly agree to anything. The man with her, however, was a captain in the GIGN, the French Special Forces group.
"I wonder why there's no Russians or Chinese here. If Guardian is really looking to get the whole world involved that is a pretty big damn part of the population to leave out of things," Marcus grumbled.
"Something to ask, though I bet the Russians would have refused any invitation. As for the Chinese, they wouldn't like to be involved with something like this anyway with all the other nations here. You'd have to deal with them specially," Sophia replied. Having served in the Asiatic she had met several Chinese officials of all sorts and knew what they were like.
"Plus, remember that those two countries are the sites of some of the worst anti-mutant violence," Sean supplied in a low tone, causing Marcus to nod though Luisa didn't get the connection of course.
Actually Sophia's reasoning was closer to the real reason why those countries weren't represented than Sean's. When it came to China, of course, Harry already had a meeting set up. But Russia was under deep suspicion thanks to their unusual buildup along the Russia/Ukrainian border, and Harry and Doom's concern about there being further shape-changing alien infiltrators among their ranks.
That, and the fact Harry couldn't find a military officer in Russia who was pushing for more technology that he would be willing to vouch for. Even among this group there were a few that had triggered the Trust Me array set on the room.
One American who had been turned back at the onset, one French officer who hadn't made it past the door, and a German civilian. They had all been escorted out one after another by the Thing and his girl, the reasons being given that they were security risks. No one had been willing to argue after Thundra had lifted the German like he was a child and simply walked away, holding him in the air by the scruff of his neck.
The Trust Me array had also responded to Fury, but Harry had decided that was just because the man was an actual spy and thus inherently untrustworthy rather than because he had come here intending to try to spy or harm Harry's position. As such, and knowing what a major help SHIELD's resources could be and not wanting to alienate Steve, Harry had decided that the spymaster could stay. Harry would still hit him with a spell designed to reveal his real name just in case at the end of the meeting though.
Moments later the last group, a Netherlands Korps Mariners captain and his "date," a rather fat woman, arrived. After they were served some small finger foods, two of the Custodes Mundi swiftly walked into the large auditorium holding the various representatives.
One of them was Vanguard, the young man who had shown off the Custodes infantry weapons. The other was a young woman with long black hair falling straight down her back wearing a skintight uniform and heavy bracers on her forearms. These, though no one knew it, were a new part of Magma's uniform that she had asked Jean to design to give her a nonlethal weapon. They fired off heavy sonic based blasts which could knock any opponent unconscious.
In their hands they held piles of papers, each with a tiny pin in a small fold at the top. "Ladies and gentlemen, those of you who have been here before know the drill. For those of you who don't, this is a contract that will make certain you keep certain things you're going to see to yourselves. Yes, it can actually make you do so," Nikolai drawled from behind his mask, beginning to hand out the papers. "If you doubt that, just ask the people around you who have been through this before. I don't know how it works, I just put it down as magic. But it does work."
Nikolai fell silent as many of the newcomers shouted and squawked in indignation at that idea, but they were quickly assured by their fellows that it was indeed the case. More than half of the officers and noncoms who had been here before had tried to see if they could get around the previous contract, but they couldn't. None had pushed things to the point where they lost the ability to speak, thankfully.
"After you've looked the contract over, if you feel unwilling to accede to its rules, myself or Vanguard will show you to the door," Magma said, taking up the spiel smoothly. "If you agree to the terms of the contract, sign your name, then please prick one of your fingers and press them to the symbol at the bottom of the page." She held up her free hand, wagging the small box she held. "We have Band-Aids for afterward."
There were a few rueful chuckles at that, and one after another the officers and civilians in front of the two Custodes signed their contracts, with only two balking. One of them was the new Japanese representative, a young man with a haughty expression to his face who eventually followed the Custodes' instructions with ill grace. The other was a Swedish civilian, who objected to the contract despite its wording, unwilling to chance there being a trick to it. He was courteously shown the door as the others signed.
This process took a while, but eventually everyone in the room had signed, even Fury. Magma smiled, and gestured to the double doors behind her. "Then if you'll follow us, we'll take you to the meeting area."
The meeting room was actually just down the hallway from the reception area. It was large, with a long half circle table set up facing the front of the room where a smaller square table sat, with two other tables set against the far wall to either side of it. The far wall was dominated by several computer screens of various sizes.
Yet it was the individuals already sitting down at those tables which caused consternation among the soldiers and civilians led into the room. At one of the side tables was Phoenix and Dr. Banner, whose likeness had shown up on several news broadcasts. That was fair enough to those who knew they were here to meet with Guardian, since the man was known as a scientist, so his presence caused only mild concern in most of the guests. The Canadians were angry he was there, but they controlled themselves.
At the other small table sat Carol Danvers, Emma (in her Diamond persona), and Mar'vel, though of course none of the guests knew who either of them were. Only Fury knew who even Carol was, and while later he would lament that she had so easily gone to work for Potter, right now he had something else on his mind, and for once his emotions showed on his face just like those of the people around him.
At the central table sat Guardian in the center, with William the Fifth of Britain to one side. His presence caused the British contingent to stop and snap up sharp salutes, as next to them Steve Rogers did the same.
At the far end of Harry's other side sat Reed Richards, while between them sat the object of the consternation of most of the guests. Dr. Doom sat there in his armored regalia, sipping at a wine glass as Guardian drank what looked like an orange juice.
"Wh, what is the meaning of this!?" shouted one of the American senators. He was quickly followed by several of the others, ignoring the group of British officers. "Why is this, this terrorist criminal sitting here like, like he is an equal partner to this meeting!?"
"I am no terrorist. A terrorist is someone who targets civilians or otherwise helpless individuals with the intent to cause terror in order to promote a religious, social, personal, or political position," Doom replied before anyone else could speak, his deep urbane tones cutting through the tumult with ease, a distinct tone of condescending amusement in his voice. "I could hold my hand up to acting in a criminal manner in the past in pursuit of my goals, but no longer."
He used one gauntleted hand then to gesture to the meeting room all around him. "As for what I am doing here, why I have been involved in the defense of Earth from alien threats since the very beginning, not just in material but in my own person. That is something none of your nations can say even if individuals from a few of your nations were involved under Guardian's banner. As such, I rather think I have more rights to be here than you do."
"I can vouch for Dr. Doom's sincerity on this point," Reed spoke up, as he and Harry had agreed he would at this point, despite Reed's dislike of his rival and vice versa. "And if that isn't enough for you, both of us sitting peacefully here should tell you not only how seriously we take the subject, that is, the defense of Earth from alien threat, but also about Guardian's ability to gain and retain allies."
That Mr. Fantastic said this did quite a lot of the concern in the room, but there was also the point that Doom, despite his military escapades into the countries surrounding Latveria, had not attacked any other targets lately, or really ever, discounting his personal war with the Fantastic Four. And more than half of the civilians there were also privy to reports that told about how he dealt with the people of the occupied countries, which spoke somewhat well of him.
Still grumbling and a little angry, the crowd began to disperse around the table. Admiral Powers and Steve, however, took a moment to circle around the table to shake hands with William the Fifth. The admiral cocked his head at his king, a faint, bemused smile on his face. "I suddenly am getting a sense of collusion here, Your Majesty. Though I do not know why I was asked to pass my position on to Admiral Demain just yet."
"You'll understand in time, Admiral. I wouldn't want to ruin the surprise. I think you'll like it, once you get over your shock anyway." William waved Powers off, turning to shake hands with Steve, marveling at seeing him again after so long. "Steve, you don't look as if you aged a day."
"That's what happens when you are basically in cryogenic sleep," Steve drawled. "You don't look bad for a man your age." That was actually a bit of a lie. William did look good, but he was also very old, and his health had begun to come and go. Steve could still remember him as the young vibrant king who reclaimed the reins of power in his country. "So, you are involved in this now?"
"Both myself and soon my nation, yes. Like Admiral Powers, you will find out what that entails soon enough."
Steve nodded thoughtfully and moved to join the others who had sat down in no real pattern at the half-circle table though the nation groups did tend to stay together. As Steve sat down, Guardian stood up, pulling off his mask and setting it on the table in front of him. "Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Harry Potter, and I am Guardian of the Custodes Mundi. I am also the head of the defense of Earth from alien threats. Feel free to once more get your exclamations of shock over with now so we can get down to business."
Most of the newcomers did so, though more than one was heard to mutter the equivalent of "Holy crap, why couldn't we see that connection before!"
However as this was going on, Steve Rogers stood up once more, looking around. "Harry, before get down to business, can I ask if Storm is all right? I don't see her here." Steve knew given their relationship and how important the other woman had been during the first meeting of this nature that her absence was a bad sign.
"Storm exhausted herself to the point of injury during the last minute defense of Earth, the light show that was so visible from the ground," Harry replied calmly, keeping his worry about Ororo off his face. The others were worried about her too, which was the reason Hela wasn't involved in this meeting. She could have been a help on the political side of things that would be a part of this meeting, but not as big an aid as Emma due to the blonde human's greater knowledge of the countries involved.
"And can we ask why, if that is the reason for Doom and Richard's presence, why the king of the United Kingdom is sitting there?" asked the French ambassador sharply.
"Because I have already agreed to throw my aid behind my country joining in the defense of Earth," William replied calmly. "The how of which you will learn soon enough if you allow Mr. Potter to speak."
That cause even more consternation, but Harry waited it out. None of the people who had made it this far was willing to back out now.
"Before we begin, let me introduce those around me, after which I would like you all to introduce yourselves in return. While I know many of you, I don't know all of you. To my left is Ms. Danvers and Mar'vel. Carol is one of my leading military and space-tech advisors, and Mar'vel is the leader of a group of Kree who have asked for asylum on Earth. We will get to the why of that later."
Several dozen of his listeners hissed at that, staring at the handsome blond man who ducked his head, looking away embarrassed.
"Next to them is Diamond, my political and economic advisor. Phoenix is the same in the areas of technology and weapons, and next to her is Dr. Banner who should need no introductions, if for several different reasons." Harry finished, falling silent and staring at the end of the table where the British contingent sat.
Understanding, they got the ball rolling, and each man and woman stood up in turn to introduce themselves. Of course, thanks to Emma and Sage Harry had been able to put names and position to faces quickly, but this was more a way to make certain everyone else knew who was here even if they hadn't spoken out in the reception area. It also gave Harry a vague idea of who was happy or enthusiastic to be here, and what he could expect from them, thanks to Emma.
Emma wasn't actually invading their minds to back up her impressions. Indeed, most of the people here were blaring out their thoughts so much she only had to open up telepathically just in case. Thus Harry knew the French had decided to not go along with anything just because they didn't like the fact the British had gotten in with him first, and that the Germans were eager to listen to him, and had become more so since Harry had shared his identity. Germany had not met Magical Mind's demands in terms of insuring mutant rights, and both Germans wanted to figure out a way to open that door.
Harry reflected that this was rather sad, considering that they, France, and America were the only nations here that had not met that demand. America, he knew, had decided to put that decision off for the next president and batch of senators to deal with, and both of the senators here were in the pro Magical Mind camp, if for different reasons. Germany was a site of Neo-Nazism and other sorts of bigotry, and anti-mutant feeling actually was as bad there as that would indicate. France, however, had no reason to not have followed through on their promises to support mutant rights. They just hadn't quite done so in law yet, though their police did defend mutants whenever they could.
With the introductions over with to his satisfaction, Harry moved the meeting on quickly. "All right, as everyone knows thanks to Susan Richard's initial announcement, the Kree attacked Earth three days ago. That attack consisted ofeight battleships and what the Kree call a Planet Crusher, a super-dreadnaught designed for the purpose of bombarding planets from space."
From there Harry began his presentation, ignoring the hisses and muted whispers of his audience. He called on Reed, Doom, and the others to speak about the battle. He asked Phoenix to give a brief overview of the missiles, how they were so effective, and why they had come as such a shock. The redhead stood up as she spoke as had the others, though in her case her body was covered by a slight illusion, hiding Jean's now visible pregnancy from view.
Several times the discussion of the battle got bogged down. One sticking point was Harry's willingness to create Fortress Mars, which many of the civilians had issues with. Harry replied that it was necessary to house the gravitic trap device. But several of the politicians were leery of such a powerful fortress being in his hands, despite having no reason to doubt his morals or evidence to support the idea he would ever threaten their nations.
There were also other interruptions about the various technologies involved. Jean's description of how hard it was to find the missiles in particular brought a lot of consternation from the various navy and air force officers, though many of the infantrymen in the room didn't understand why until it was explained to them.
When the battle came to a halt there was even more consternation at how Rika had surrendered himself. Some of the civilians saw it as a good sign, but Harry cautioned them to not read too much into it. "It isn't as if he found his orders distasteful or considers us worthy opponents now or anything of that nature. It is simply that he hoped that by doing so he could save more of his men that would have died in combat against us. He is under no illusions as to what his mission was, and still sees no problem with that mission or its orders."
"Rika is, as the Kree judge such things, an honorable officer, and he has made no effort in the limited interviews we've conducted with him to prevaricate or lie. I actually have him here to answer any of your questions after this presentation is done. However, I will not hand him over for interrogation. There's no point to it, and I withhold the right to stop any questions that I deem too stupid or showing a lack of understanding of the subject matter, in other words, if you haven't read the Kree Report," Harry finished blithely.
"I, for one, am still concerned about you acting as if you own Mars," Nick interrupted, shaking his head. "Setting up like that, did you have this in mind when you fought that Thanos character?"
"No, but I wasn't about to turn my back on such a resource either. It's called seizing opportunities as they come," Harry replied, shaking his head.
A little while after that the presentation ended, and Rika was led into the room by Colossus and Psylocke. And almost immediately one of the newcomers, the French ambassador, spoke up. "Commodore Rika, I understand the enormity of your people's empire and how we are not important in the great scheme of things as your people see it. As such, and since we have not proven that we could be an expensive nut to crack, would it not be possible for humanity to surrender to your people and be given fair terms? Perhaps to even join your empire?"
"Bloody French surrender monkey," Muttered one of the Brits, only to be immediately shushed by Duncan. Though the prince thought it was amusing that even the French officer looked irritated at the ambassador's words.
"No, of course not, why would it be?" Rika asked, as if he could not at all understand why anybody would think like that. "No other race is allowed to join the Kree Empire. As for being tough, yes you are for a single system polity, but why should that matter? All it would mean would be that we need to devote more resources to crushing you. This planet is not important in the great scheme of things, but you have challenged the Kree, and as such will be destroyed, no matter how long it takes."
"As you would have known had you bothered to read the Kree Report, as I said earlier," Harry interrupted, shaking his head. "Does anyone have any intelligent questions for the prisoner?"
It turned out that they did, though a lot of the questions asked by the civilians simply went over areas that Harry and the others had already known and put in the Kree Report. Harry got tired of repeating himself on that score.
Yet it got interesting when the naval officers cross examined Rika ruthlessly on how the Kree navy was organized, the disposition of their forces and, as far as he knew, the defensive strategy that the Kree used. Most of that Harry had already known, but he listened intently as a few of the noncoms in the room questioned Rika on the makeup of the Kree's normal ship crews, the places of training, preparedness, and the supplies ships of different types were supposed to have on hand.
Throughout this, Rika's answers made it clear again and again how huge the Kree Empire was, how militarized and how powerful their navy was. When Rika gave a description of how large a battle fleet was more than one officer and civilian alike looked as if they were going to faint. A single Battle fleet of the Kree Empire would have nearly 2 billion Kree serving within it, a little under half of Earth's total population. And there were more than fifty of said fleets, with far more smaller fleets of various sizes out there.
In some ways, however, it seemed there were unprofessional aspects, inbuilt weaknesses within the Kree Empire. For one thing, they didn't have a real noncommissioned class. There were only officers of various levels and then regular crewmen. The humans knew this could only damage the efficiency of the different sections that made up the ship. For another, while training and experience were prized highly, ship supplies were often not what they should be. And above the rank of commodore, popularity with those above you was more important to gaining further rank than competence.
Another interesting thing that made Doom and Harry exchange a glance was how few technological advances there had been in Rika's life. This was something they had assumed, but to have it confirmed by an experienced commander was excellent.
Harry was also interested in Rika's response to a question from one of the British naval officers about how much of the Kree and Skrull fleets were actually tied up behind the front lines, protecting their supply lines. Like in the world wars of Earth, attacking supply ships was a major aspect of war in space.
Eventually the questions wound down, and Rika was taken away. Harry once more took center stage, looking out over his guests seriously. "You've all heard about the nature of the threat we face in the Kree, and you should all know by now they aren't the only threat out there." He paused for a moment for emphasis then went on. "This is a threat whose size the Custodes Mundi and our allies cannot face alone. As such, from now on we will no longer do so. I will be making a formal announcement in front of the UN within a week, but I must demand that the nations of the world beginning to do their part."
"And if we do not?" asked one of the American senators with a wince. He was a proponent of demilitarization mainly because of how much of America's budget the military already took up, and his inclusion in this meeting had been a purely political move due to his place on the Oversight Committee. But he wasn't blind either, and he listened at least to those around him.
"In the future when it comes to stopping an orbital bombardment or setting up defenses against a missile assault, priority will be given to defend those countries who have agreed to aid in their protection." Harry replied calmly. "In this manner we will be able to husband our resources and defend those countries that have proven to have the will to meet this threat on their feet rather than die like an ostrich with its head in the sand."
He waited once more for the shouting and recriminations, taking them calmly while noticing that most came from the civilians and some of the newcomers, with only one of the original Canadians joining in. Most of these accusations came down to, "You can't do that!" or, "You're supposed to be a hero!" which almost made Harry laugh aloud. When the hell have I ever said I was a hero, and since when did hero mean chump? Throughout this Steve and Fury were silent, one contemplative, the other watchful.
Eventually Doom had enough and stood up abruptly, his presence and helmeted glare around the room silencing everyone. "Are you all so cowardly that you will not even fight for yourselves? That when someone who has fought for you already in the past asks for your aid you will not give it? Then perhaps humanity really is worthless as the Kree seem to think."
That shut them up, and Harry began, his voice an icy calm dagger in the wake of Doom's deep baritone growl. "The payment for aid we will require each nation to donate will be up to negotiation, but in general terms there are three tiers. Tier one will be in the form of trained military personnel, marines and navy, no army. This force will not be operating under the flags of their own nations, but will instead be submitted for further training under training cadres created by me, after which they will fly under the EDF, or Earth Defense Forces, for the equivalent of five years. The amount of…"
"Never!" shouted the other American senator, a hardline Hawk who believed firmly in America's military power. "American forces already serve in the UN. I'll be damned if they serve under someone else's command entirely!"
Now Harry lost his temper. He slammed his hand down on the table, nearly shattering it in a burst of misdirected magic as he roared, "I AM THE ONLY PLAYER IN THIS GAME!"
Staring out at the now shocked and somewhat appalled crowd he went on. "Dr. Doom, the Fantastic Four, and I have spaceships, with the majority being under my command thanks to the Custodes and I being the ones who took them! The industry is mine too. Thought up by Reed and Dr. Doom, built by myself, Doom and those brave souls who have agreed to work for me up in space already. Only I can get large numbers of people up into space, and without my forces and the agreements I have made with Doom and the Fantastic Four, Earth would have been attacked at least by the Hellion, whose orders were to bombard major cities from orbit while retrieving their spy."
He paused once more for effect before starting to speak once more, his voice lower but no less intense. "The facts were there, the alien threat was known, and what have the countries of the world done!? Retreated from space entirely, just like the damn ostrich in my earlier analogy, hoping the lion won't see it! I may have a saving people thing like an old friend once said, but I am not stupid! If you are unwilling or unable to work with me on this, when it is your only fucking option, then why should I try to save your lives when you so obviously aren't willing to do the one thing you can to help me do it!?"
Harry glared around the room, and only Steve and Nick met his gaze. He let the silence linger for almost half a minute while people looked around uncomfortably.
"As I was saying, tier one will contribute in the area of manpower and material. Most of the countries you all represent would fall under this heading. I am willing to pay for the material at price, and the man power will be added in lots of 20,000 or the equivalent every month. These troops will be pulled from your existing navy, special operations, or marine forces at first. After we have a large enough training cadre we can start retraining army units, but at the moment crewmen and troops already familiar with fighting on ships is a must. Nations will be able to send advisors and observers to the training centers, but those troops will no longer be answering to the parent nation." He emphasized, glaring around the room once more. "You all had your chance to do something about the alien threats. You didn't. Now it's up to me."
At that point he gestured, and William stood up creakily as Harry sat down. "Admiral Power, this is why you were asked to pass on your duties to your successor early. By my authority and after discussion with the First Sea Lord, we decided that you would be the correct choice to become the leader of Earth's first space troops. You will serve for ten years, and after training in space warfare, you will be the first flag rank officer of the Earth Defense Fleet. The navy and marine officers and noncoms with you here will also be sent to serve under the EDF."
Admiral Power stiffened and stood, saluting quickly, trying to keep from smiling at the amount of trust his king had just shown him as the other UK officers all stood up and saluted in turn. "I will not let you or our race down, Your Majesty."
Harry smiled at that before standing up once more. "Just to sweeten the pot, this is the ship that will eventually become your flagship." The image of the Doom Bringer that Jean and Reed's expedition had brought back, came up on screen, with the Hellion beside it to give a scene of scale as the list of their weapons systems popped up in turn. "The ship at that point will be rechristened under the name Warspite."
At that storied name Power's eyes blazed, as did those of the other Royal Navy personnel, while the navy officers of the other nations looked on in sudden interest, as did the Japanese contingent, Sunspot and the other man with him. The Warspite most people thought of when they heard the name had been a battleship laid down in 1910 and which went on to serve in both wars. It had seen numerous small and two large engagements in its time, surviving to become the most decorated ship in the Royal Navy. Its end had been rather ignominious, but the name still had power to it.
This had been one of Harry's ideas to add to this meeting. Names had a power to them, and the idea of carrying respected names into space had a lot of appeal to the naval men of every nation.
"If our nations join up as the UK has, does that mean we too will be issued ships and can name them?" Admiral Whittaker asked intently. He had served on CV-8 Hornet as a barely eighteen year-old rating, and would dearly like that name or one of the others to be among the first spaceships humanity owned.
"Yes, but I will have final veto on the names. This fleet will come to represent the best and brightest of humanity. It stands to reason the names of the ships will need to show that importance. That means no ships named after senators, no presidents, generals, or kings unless the ships that bore those names in the past were of great renown." Harry replied. He smirked as the naval officers and noncoms all began to talk excitedly about that idea and the idea of fighting in space, while the civilians were more ambivalent about that.
Sensing this Harry went on. "Like tier one, tier two will be made of people and resources, but there instead of trained soldiers their people will need to be trained from scratch as soldiers, techs, or miners, mostly the last two, and their numbers will be lower than the level I will demand of tier one nations. Tier three will be simply people again, with the majority of the training needed to be from the ground up. On top of all this, I will also be opening larger hiring and recruitment centers in every country me and my people deem safe.
"I am, not going to be an ogre over this however, each nation's contribution is up for negotiation. It is only the fact of that contribution which is not. If you have too many troops tied down in police or defensive actions, I will understand and you can contribute in other ways. If you have too small a population or too small an industry or are simply having trouble gearing up to meet your agreed quota at any point, we can renegotiate."
Fury shook his head slowly. A bare few weeks ago he would have been railing about all of this, seeing Harry as trying to enlarge his power base, worried about what might happen in the future. But his eyes had been opened to the good Harry had done, and he had come to trust Potter as much as he could anyone he didn't have handles on.
That didn't mean he liked all he was hearing. "I can understand your points, Potter, but this, the turmoil this will cause will be tremendous. On top of that I think I speak for many here when I say I am worried about you owning the orbitals. The law against weaponizing space is one the areas the UN has followed since the beginning."
"I don't care. Your fears can guide your thoughts. I will not let them guide mine," Harry retorted. "I have never made any move or ever even spoken in any way to indicate I had any desire to conquer the world, or to turn my orbital stations against the Earth. I am frankly insulted you think I would."
"Potter, you can work with the UN. It already has a structure in place for national units to work under its banner." Louisa of Italy urged, looking worried. "There's no need to go this far, surely?"
"Yes, there is, and no I can't. Leadership by committee is no leadership at all. The UN has proved to be not the best tool to face even its own mandated duties. Furthermore, the EDF would live up to its name. It will not take part of or be a party to any intervention on Earth.
"The defense of Earth will have two leaders, Dr. Doom and I. Again, gentlemen and ladies, we are the only players in town. We make the rules. We call the shots. If you want more options, then please tell me how you're going to defend Earth or even just your own nations without us?" Harry retorted.
"And then there is your alliance with Doom!" Fury shot back. That point he still had a problem with.
"Yes, what of my alliance? What, save his invasions of third world countries dominated by the terrorist group called HYDRA, has Dr. Doom done lately?" Harry asked archly.
"I am harsh in my conquests, but nowhere near as harsh as the Red Skull. He, who I hunt, is with his non-Germans. Have you asked the people of those countries I have conquered whether I am worse than even the leaders they had before the Red Skull began to control their governments?" Doom asked harshly. "I am no saint, but I am Latveria's rightful king, and I have become such for the lands I have taken in honorable conquest."
Fury's teeth ground, but Steve laid a warning hand on his arm. "Will you be choosing the captains of these ships you want our people to man based on previous experience and ability, or will you be putting your own people in command?"
"Given the fact I've said the Admiral's slot would go to Admiral Power that should be obvious. I only have a few people I'd be willing to put in command of those ships, and the only one who I would be willing to shift over to that is Carol Danvers, who has the background necessary as well as the experience in space," Harry replied promptly. "However I refuse to say that any captains or officers who are sent to re-up in the EDF would automatically assume their equivalent positions. It would be more possible for Air Force or submarine captains than anything else frankly, considering what space warfare is like."
That seemed to mollify a lot of the officers in the room, and this included Fury surprisingly. The civilians all still looked like they had bitten on lemons though.
"S, surely some form of peace talks would be possible in the future? Or even a, a surrender? I know that Commodore Rika said that was impossible, but he's not exactly a mover and shaker in his nation," One of the Swedes said, speaking up for the first time.
"Do you think a T. Rex would even talk to let alone make peace with a mosquito? That is an accurate representation of our differences in power." Harry said, shaking his head sadly at the man's idiocy. "There will be no peace with the Kree, and no other race out there would care to step forward and defend us. Now, does anyone have any other questions?"
This chapter was more of a setup/world building sort of thing than I really expected when writing out my outline. Along with a lot of important world building there are several small things talked about here that will be followed up in the next chapter, and I suppose I could have followed up further and ended the chapter right before Harry's public announcement at the UN, but then the chapter would have been 80,000 words or so and I would not have been able to have it edited or work on Magic of the Force this month. Best to end here, yeah?
Anyway, ATP will once more appear on the poll this coming month. I think I can update it and one of the SW crossovers if they come in second and first again since I don't intend the next chapter of either to be as large next time, LOL. After that, we will see. Look for the poll to be up by tomorrow at the latest, and if you want ot have a larger say in what stories I work on head over to patty ron, where you will not only get that, but also access to Stallion of the Line, my One Piece/Ranma crossover (yes it will be up here in time, after i am done the Alabasta arc, but it will then be replaced by further patty ron only works) and some omakes and teaser chapters.