The Cure, Finale (X-men/Fantastic Four Teamup)

Summary:
February 15, 2015: The X-men and Fantastic Four travel to the N-Zone to find the elements needed to prevent the dreaded affliction to Mutants from spreading.

The Negative Zone

A barren wasteland where science is confusing and death is always near.


Characters

NPCs

  • Annihilus

Mood Music:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AP7pG2ZgnD0


INTO THE NEGATIVE ZONE

They rode in on an augmented Fantasticar. Much larger than the original version it was designed to take not only the Fantastic Four but the X-men who had come along as tactical support at the explicit request of Reed Richards. The white paint (to say nothing of the bold, blue numeral 4) sticks out oddly here—a sign of technology where there is only chaos and mayhem.

It streaks across the sky with only the slightest hint of a pale jet-wash extending from the large exterior. Yellow hazy clouds are set against a pink splashed sky. If there are things living here (there are), none have shown themselves to this point.

Large explosions from black volcanoes spill fluorescent yellow flames up into the sky, before gravity brings it back down again onto the scorched barren ground.

The first two elements were very easy to get. It's the third they're going for now.

"Ben," Reed says over his shoulder and checking with a look toward Scott to see if his direction meshes with that of the X-men leader, "Pull into that ravine and see if you can find a space along those honeycomb caves. My phosphorous readings are strong from inside there."

Its been too easy. Anyone who knows Scott Summers will know exactly what he is thinking; something is bound to go terribly wrong.

The teams have been split up as they usually would, with Sunspot leading Red Team and Cyclops heading Blue Team. Beast, well, he will have to choose who to stand with. His experience speaks for itself.

At Reed's look, Cyclops nods his head. He's decked out in his black uniform, complete with blue trim and the X-Men insignia emblazoned upon a bandolier across his chest. The tactical visor is his most sophisticated design, complete with a wide array of visual and spectral enhancements, not to mention the finger-controls built into his uniform gloves. "I see it too," he answers Reed. "Everyone, keep your heads clear and stay vigilant."

Roberto, tucked into one of the Fantasticar's sidepods, stares into the alien landscape, grinning with excitement. This reminds him of nothing so much as bumming around Asgard and god knows what other realms with his friends while they were still students at Xavier's. Right down to the full-body tang of alien light on his sun-thirsty skin.

Of course, he's not just a student anymore. He has responsibilities, and one of them is notifying his comrades of anything that might be tactically relevant. He flexes his fingers, briefly enveloping them in a crackle of his mutant power, and glances toward the main fuselage of the craft. "I should warn you, my powers sometimes get strange boosts when I'm not on Earth," he says matter-of-factly. "I might want to test them out a little before we really need them." He pauses with his hand on the lip of the sidepod, ready to hop off and stretch his wings, but waiting for the all-clear to do so.

Mimic transformed into metal as they entered the negative zone, the better to be prepared for the trouble he's sure will arrive sooner or later. At the moment, he stands behind Thing watching him pilot the Fantasticar as part of the trouble arriving sooner or later preparations. He wants to be able to get it off the ground if it hits the fan.

Audrey has been quiet for most of the trip, watching the other people on the various teams as though weighing them. She has simple black tactical gear, but despite her obvious youth, she looks like she knows how to use it. Aside from that, though, there's nothing to outwardly indicate she's a mutant. "What sort of strange?" she asks Roberto when he gives his warning, quirking a brow over at the Red Team leader.

Jean spent the entirety of the mission in silence, an attentive silence that comes with keeping those she's accompanied on this mission with locked in a telekinetic shield for protection. Granted, it was something that wasn't necessary, but when it comes to different worlds and new horizons, one couldn't help but keep that over-protectiveness that she possesses in check.

She herself dropped back into a uniform of old, red and gold, phoenix emblazoned upon her chest, sash sinched about her spandex clad waist at an angle which trails and tickles the side of her knee. Whatever issues she had with her powers went unknown, she hasn't had the time nor need to test them just yet.

The Shadowcat stands with the Red Team, head tilted to the side. She's wearing her usual black and bright yellow uniform. Lockheed perches on her shoulder, one claw lifting at a time as he balances in what appears to be an outset of nerves. He, apparently, has the same bad feeling that Scott does. Kitty's arms cross in front of her as she looks around, raising an eyebrow at Roberto's mention of strange boosts.

"I can keep a few people phased around you until we find out, if you're worried," the computer science teacher tells him. Being out here almost reminds her of Limbo, but she keeps those thoughts to herself. In any case, she's ready to phase out at a moment's notice.

Beast has been rather serious during this trip, golden eyes open as he observes where they've been, where they're going, and everything around them. Dressed in his own black and gold uniform, he's also observing the others in the group, concern rather evident in his drawn brows and frown. He looks to Roberto as he makes his statement and he offers, "You might not be the only one. Strange worlds do strange things." There's a heavy sigh as he prepares for…whatever may happen. It might go easily, like the other two, but statistics show that at one point, there will be complications.

"Better find somethin' ta hang onto," Ben rumbles around a half-smoked Cuban as he pulls the Fantasticar down into the indicated ravine. "Never know when the turbulence is gonna start kickin' up around here."

Despite that warning, it's actually been a pretty smooth ride so far, thanks to Reed's engineering and Ben's piloting. This hasn't kept the thought of what might happen if he just yanked the craft around, flew himself back home, then let Reed or someone with mutant aviation powers or whatever handle the rest of this suicide mission themselves from creeping into his head periodically; the cigar helps, though. So does the little cooler of beer wedged in between the pilot and co-pilot seats.

"You got any idea who or what's turf we're gonna be droppin' into here, Stretch?"

Also, Thing is wearing an astronaut helmet over his head because A.) he earned it, and he can totally wear it if he wants to, and, B.) fuck breathing Negative Zone air.

"They should not have much worry if they want to stretch their legs a little," Reed says to Scott in a hushed tone meant for his ears alone and in reference to Sunspot and Kitty's desire to leave ship. He doesn't want his voice to carry and for it to sound like he's telling Cyclops how to run his team, but things the information might be helpful. "My instruments show no immediate threat to their safety."

He looks out over to the barren expanse below and is overcome with the desire to learn more about this place. The physics, the chemistry, the biology. He's wanted to come back ever since his lone trip here a few years ago. He's wanted to come here even despite the intense danger he and his family suffered here.

Ben's voice pulls Reed's concentration from the memories of this place. "None. I've found only small smatterings of insect life forms. They're large, but they seem to live isolated lives and in the event of an emergency I imagine we'd easily be able to overwhelm it."
Once the Fantasticar has landed, Reed begins the exit process by doing some quick checks for air and pressure. Once things check out (for the 9th look. Reed is thorough.) the hiss of the drawbridge lowering rings out inside the compartment and the team is free to make its way onto the black soil.

Reed is carrying a handheld device, aimed and finding the phosphorous he needs to complete the vaccine and the cure. His brown eyes look up to the sky for just a moment before he begins walking to the caves. "It should be in here," he says pointing up towards the short, rocky trek into the caves.

When Roberto speaks of strange things happening to mutant abilities, Cyclops reaches up to rub at his temple. He's been hiding it for a while, but something definitely feels wrong. His eyes… they itch.

The Blue Team leader takes a step back toward Jean, casting a look her way signified by a worrisome turn to his lips. She'll know what he's thinking; if there's something wrong with his powers, it could mean many things. Most likely, either he'll be able to control the blasts without the visor, or worse; the visor won't be enough to stop the destructive power.

Heeding Ben's warning, Scott curls a hand around the edge of the car. Reed's advice is heeded, and he casts a glance toward Sunspot, nodding his head. "Be cautious. Have your group take up rear guard. Phoenix?" He looks toward her, then to Hank. "Beast." Indicating them to come with, he follows Reed down the ramp, holding his breath until they are outside.

Once he takes a breath of the strange, alien air, he winces. "Ugh," he murmurs, and reaches up to touch his temple. "Damn," he hisses, painfully.

"I picked up Volstagg once," Roberto answers Audrey with a smirk. "Nearly broke my back. Would not recommend." Kitty's offer gets a smile. "Whatever you think is best. I'll try not to blast anybody, though."

With Scott's blessing but no further ado, he vaults over the side of the car and activates his Sunspot form. The shadow is the same, and the ember eyes just as bright, but the spots of dark energy emanating from him cut through the air with uncharacteristic zeal. As he powers his own flight with a burst of solar thrust, it becomes clear why.

In contrast to his usual labored flight and ungainly maneuvering, Roberto blasts well forward of the Fantasticar, moving like the bat out of hell he so frequently appears to be. "Uau!" he blurts out, executing a roll so fast that he has to cancel it with more thrust to avoid a full-on corkscrew. Another burst sends him back to the car as it lands, where he has to constantly fire adjusting thrust to keep himself generally above it and not go hurtling off into the distance. The overall effect is like a dragonfly zipping unpredictably over a pond, but it does technically count as rear-guard.

"Okay. I think… I think I know what it's like to be Sa— Cannonball, now," he says with a volcanic grin just before he hits the dirt, kicking up fountains of earth as his armored boots skid to a halt. His ember eyes flicker over to Beast. It's impossible to tell whether that balrog face is apologetic, or Roberto is just tweaking the furry mutant.

The nice thing about being metal is you don't need to breath. "What exactly are we looking for here?" Mimic asks Reed. "What's it look like so we know it when we see it?" Other than 'mineral' which comes in many forms, especially around volcanos. He glances at Cyclops and frowns slightly. "We should have brought breathing equipment." Hindsight, 20-20.

"What's a Volstagg?" Apparently Norse mythology was not a hot topic at mutant military school. But then Roberto is blasting off, and Audrey watches from the fantasticar, brows rising slightly before she instead turns her attention to checking the small arsenal of firearms she has with her. At least those should function normally. Right? Hopefully.

Once the vehicle lands, she climbs out cautiously, nodding once to Scott's order to take the rear. No arguments. As others test out their powers, she takes a deep breath, feeling out her own more cautiously. "Light seems…normal," she reports to Roberto. "Diffuse and heavy to infrared, but I'm not getting anything that feels like interference yet."

Jean leans to the side to snag her water bottle from the little bag she carried, immediately twisting the cap free to take a few swigs of a drink. Skip a few swigs, the entire bottle was emptied and soon another was grabbed and hooked right into the sash upon her hips. She stands from her seat as Scott approaches, that look of worry shone within her features, her mind expanding just a touch with a blink of greens and a tilt of her head but.. a warm, comforting smile draws forth.

A golden clad hand reaches up to lightly grip Scott's shoulder, giving him a slight shake of reassurance, yet it falls away as 'Berto blasts out of the fantastical-fantasy-mobile-car-thinger-booper, her eyes widening in mild shock as a sigh lets loose.

Per orders, she cants her head towards Beast, following the others out of the car, stepping down to take the few breaths of air, breathing in deep to accumilate and.. cough. It was a dry, smokers cough, one that was hardly quelled with the bottle of water she drank, her hand lifting to curl into a fist to thump hard at her chest.

Seems that Mimic's mention of breathing equipment was right; her lungs felt like they were on fire and her throat burned just a tad. She even felt a touch feverish, but she was sure it was due to the flight.

Following the others down the gangplank, Lockheed quickly takes to wing, getting a bird's eye view of the place. As Reed takes out a handheld scanning device, Kitty can't help but lean closer in order to try and see what it's doing. Just a curious as her name suggests, she's always interested in finding new devices to look through and fiddle with and she's not shy about finding out more. "Oo, what is that? A scanner?" she asks, excitement at finding something shiny and new clear in her voice.

Her attention, however, is quickly yanked away as Roberto practically flings himself across the sky, eyebrows raising at the glowing team leader. "Good thing you tested that out, otherwise if you really put a lot of effort into it, we'd have to fly our way to Negative Jupiter or whatever to get you back." As he comes skating to a stop, the mutant covers her eyes and phases, only to find that some of the rocks bounce off of her rather than fly through her like intended. "Ow! Gah!" With a splutter of dust and rocks, she looks up at Berto, then back down at the scattered earth at her feet and blinks. "What the—"

Beast grips a nearby handle as they land and upon peering out the window, he sighs, "Why am I reminded of the scene where Kirk had to fight that rock monster?" It's said mostly to himself. When Cyclops asks him to come with them, he nods and stands, his clawed hands flexing and relaxing a few times as if they ache. He notes Sunspot's issues with his powers and narrows his eyes behind his glasses at him some, "Just be careful. Make sure you know where we all are…we don't want to end up harming our own." Yeah, this is going to be interesting.

He also looks at Cyclops again at his own quiet outburts, "Are you all right?" Then to Mimic, "Phosphorus most often looks like a dark red dirt or stone. Just…be careful not to light it up as it's quite reactive." This may not be the best group for the job in hindsight. He does seem to be breathing fine, though.

There might be some blue fur left behind…maybe the Negative Zone makes him shed?

The glass dome sealing the cockpit off from the strangeness outside hisses open, releasing a thick plume of cigar smoke into the atmosphere.
Whether or not being trapped in there with that was really preferable to being exposed to the N-Zone is debatable, but Ben still takes one last, brisk drag before sliding his visor into place and stubbing the cigar out in the pilot side ash tray. Once he's sealed off, he vaults out of the cockpit and crashes to the ground outside, his white boots leaving ridge-patterned dents in the ground. Astronaut helmet, oxygen tank, white pants with a blue line broken only by a '4' symbol, boots; all the equipment one needs to explore a hostile alien environment when one is a six-foot rock monster.

"Kid!" he shouts up at Samspot while stretching out his back; thanks to the helmet, his voice faintly crackles with static, now. "Yer like an 'All You Can Eat' sign up there!" Instead of complaining further, though, he just shakes his head and lumbers towards the cave.

A six-foot rock monster with, okay, a few issues about the environment he's exploring.

"Things start ta get hairy— or chitin-y, or whatever," Ben instructs as he briskly tries to work his way towards the front of the party, voice low but perfectly audible thanks to the wonders of 1950s technology, "you get behind me." Half a beat passes as he searches for Mimic, and then he amends, "'cept you, Sparkle Butt— 'less that tin platin's just for show."

"Phosphorous," Reed says over his shoulder towards Mimic. "We're going to be searching for this realm's phosphorous. It's not as toxic as our Earth's, but it will still glow under light. Whatever anyone does—don't eat it." Reed's eyes flicker out towards Roberto. And his face grows worried. "I hadn't anticipated this Cyclops. The different atmospheric and chemical nature of this place may wreak havoc upon your powers." He quickens his pace up towards the cave.

Last down the ramp are a pair of electronic gizmos. About the size of a table, each, they roll on treads much the same way that tanks do. But rather than large cannons built for killing, these bots are made for taking specimens. According to Reed's calculations, they should not need more than these two carvers can provide.

Reed tilts the device slightly in order to give Katherine a better look at the device. From what she can tell it's serving two purposes. One, it's tracking phosphorous signals. Two, it's detecting a wider berth of life out here in the Negative Zone. Clearly it's Reed's early warning system.

Before entering the cave, Reed looks around worriedly. Ben will recognize it, because he's one of the few people on the planet who have ever seen Reed worried about much of anything.

He enters into the cave—the bots behind him lighting up the area with large lamps, giving them a view of the massive stalactites and stalagmites that drop from the roof and soar from the floor like mighty teeth of a geological dragon.

The phosphorous is easy to find. It's the life form in the cave that worries Reed. "I'm getting something." His fingers twitch unconsciously as he looks to the bots that begin their excavation. "It's something alive. Not much bigger than a human." Pause.

"I'm going to investigate."

20-20? Hindsight is a bitch. Then again, it could be anything; the air, the sunlight, some sort of radiation. Scott glances toward Mimic with a grimace, though Jean's encouragement does seem to have kept him from suffering any further outbursts.

A sideward look is given to Sunspot when he blasts away, watching for a moment before returning his attention to the real leader of this expedition. His visor, programmed to scan for elemental signatures, seems to be suffering some kind of malfunction; the HUD-style overlay designed for his eyes only is wavering and flickering, like bad reception on an analog television.

"Something wrong with the visor," he tells Beast. Hank had helped him to design it, after all; with the others seeming to have new difficulties with their powers, Scott decides that a little test is in order.

Cyclops looks to the side, finding an innocent-looking rock to blast. "Fire in the hole," he says, warning the others not to cross his line of fire. However, when he squeezes a finger to his palm, and the visor opens to allow a thin beam to cut through… nothing happens.

At least, not for a moment.
Scott grunts, and suddenly, a beam of brighter orange than usual cuts through, obliterating the rock and melting it down to slag. Immediately after, Scott rips the visor from his face, a motion that suggests pain. He doesn't even realize, at first, that his eyes are wide open. It only dawns on him when he recognizes that he's seeing normal light, not the usual ruby-tinted gaze, when he realizes what's happened.

Long ago, Scott's eyelids, and the skin around them, grew to look more like scar tissue than human skin. Nobody usually sees it, given that his brown eyes are always covered. He blinks them hard for a moment, before glancing toward the others. Of all the things he might say to signify this unique moment, he can only think of the rock he just obliterated, not to mention the attention his optic blast may have caused.

"Sorry."

Back to Reed he looks, acknowledging his warning with a frown. "Well. Hindsight."

Blinking his eyes again, he comes up alongside of Hank and Jean, looking to both a moment longer than he would have. It's likely the first time either have seen his eyes. "Let's go," he offers after that moment, nodding for then to follow as he takes up a position behind and just to the left of Richards.

"Volstagg is the fattest Asgardian," Roberto answers Audrey, shrugging sheepishly. It sounds a lot less impressive when you try to explain it to someone who doesn't get the reference. "Great guy. Hell of a partier."

He's saved from this awkward line of conversation when he realizes that he even more awkwardly kicked rocks at another of his friends. "Madonna… I'm sorry, 'Cat. Are you alright?" He makes his way over to her, tentatively extending one hand toward her shoulder. This could be a reassuring gesture, or he could be checking her phasing ability. Both, even.

Scott's demonstration, of course, seals it: between Ben's warning and the trend of sudden defects in his allies' powers, Roberto is becoming warier by the second. Casting his eyes back over the alien plain they have landed on, the Brazilian urges the rest of his group after the others, watching for any life forms that might attempt to scurry after them while their backs are turned.

"I'll be right next to you." Mimic assures Thing. Beside, not behind. "Phoenix, you should be able to filter the particles out of the air to make breathing eas…" He trails off at Scott's little 'demonstration'. "Or maybe you can't." he finishes, given that powers seem to be wonky here.

At Reed's direction not to eat the phosphorous, Audrey takes a long look at the team, like she's trying to figure out who would actually try to eat rocks. There's a glance for Ben - he's made of rocks, at least - but it's Roberto who finally gets the look. No eating rocks.

Scott's experiment gets another wary look before she lets out a slow breath. "Right. Well." Cautiously, she calls a ball of light into her palm. For just a moment, it flares bright, and then she frowns, pushing it back into something more reasonable before letting it die out. "Less light, but more excitable," she summarizes. "Which is probably where you're getting your boost, Sunspot." Or at least that's her theory.

There was a slight glance given towards Beast at his words; she couldn't help but hang a step back, her eyes upon the rest of them, her pacing slow. No. Jean wasn't going to wait in the ship, or opt to wait outside, they just may need her. The rest of her powers weren't affected.. as far as she knows. While the others displayed their powers, somewhat.. Jean was afraid of hers. Still, silence was kept, picking up the pace a little until Scott stops, resisting the urge to step forward to speak and yet.. he figures it out on his own! There was a little smile there, even once he stands near her and Beast, stopping to give a slight glance upwards. That was different, seeing his eyes the way they were, his entire features unhindered by glasses or visors. That troubling resemblence..

Moving on!

Hearing Reed announce that there was a lifeform up ahead, Jean picks up the pace, her thoughts slowly broadcasted towards the group, her previous intentions known.

I have you all shielded, but be careful. It can only withstand so much force, and with our powers changed, I'm unsure of what would happen if the field surrounding everyone is penetrated.
Mimic's words were noted, thankful at the way he retracts, a little smile gone towards him with a shake of her head. She was /not/ going to try that little tidbit out, what if her power redirected and separated the particles INSIDE of everyone instead? That would be horrid! She uncaps the bottle she's holding, taking a few swigs once again, then tucks it right back into her band. This place was balls. Yeah, Jean thought it. Total balls.

Observing everyone's different problems with the environment, Kitty frowns. Berto bouncing off is one thing. Her having a difficult time phasing is another. Scott having his visor off is a third not so good thing. "Uh, is it me or is this place making everyone a little wonky?" Though at another moment in time, she would be more interested in the scientific equipment Reed has coming off the plane, right now she's more interested in what exactly is wrong with her and it's not just because she has an inquisitive mind.

As Roberto comes over - either to test or to reassure her - she frowns and his hand remains firm on her spandex covered shoulder. "I…I dunno…" she tells him in a soft tone, attempting to hide the strange feeling of panic that's rising up from her stomach. "I couldn't…I couldn't feel it before, but this place just feels…heavy. And not in the Michael J. Fox Back to the Future kind of way." Lockheed swoops down again at the warning Ben gave 'Berto and lands on her non-occupied shoulder, reassuring in his own way, but certainly wary.

Kitty's eyes swiftly scan the others in the group to see if the rest of them can feel it before she follows the others into the cave. "Is it too late to do the 'bad feeling about this' thing? Because, while we're on the subject of movie references, I've got a bad feeling about this."

"These issues won't be permanent, right?" Beast asks of Reed before he also moves into the cave, his eyes reflecting the light very much like a cat's does. The last thing they need is having their lives completely changed yet again with new or changed powets. He notes the other mutants as they notice the changes that have already affected them and his attention is drawn to Cyclops when he tests his own out. There's a step back as the visor is pulled off but he continues to watch. It is, indeed, the first time he's seen the other's eyes without the visor or glasses. If he didn't take the visor, Beast will pick it up for him and hand it back, "You might need this later."

Scratching at his arms, as if they itch, his nostrils flare as he tries to catch a scent of what else might be there. Not that he'd necessarily recognize it, but any identification could be useful. He even opens his mouth some as if that might help catch the scent.

Ben does a security sweep of his own on his way in, and his eyes end up meeting Reed's. The leader of the Fantastic Four might be uncharacteristically worried, but Ben?

Ben is terrified.

"Any'a you guys start feelin' sick, or queasy, or like you're gonna blow us all up," he says as his eyes dart from Reed's to focus on the darkness ahead, "give us a holler so's we can break out the first aid kit. Or blast sh— "

A rock is melted down to nothing not so far away, and Ben stops in his tracks to whirl towards the noise.

"THIS AIN'T A DR— " he roars, raising a massive fist… only to stop himself again once he sees that it's just Cyclops. And— connects the mutant's verbal warning with the sudden display of power.

Before he can mutter something about how much he hates this place, Reed indicates a life sign and Kitty basically dooms them all.

"You really think splittin' up's a good idea, Stretch?" he warily asks after a brief glower in Kitty's direction. Despite (or perhaps because of) his reservations, he edges towards the scientist with intentions of following him. "Doctor Doom ain't much bigger'n a human either."

"I'm not sure," Reed says to Beast over his shoulder before he turns back to the abyss of the cave.
The excavators don't need much more time to get the phosphorous needed. Reed continues to step, slowly, down a slight decline towards the darkness and away from the light given off by the two bots. "It's not far, Ben," Reed says in an attempt to reassure his friend.

With each step he can hear his own nervous breath, echoing throughout the caverns. He can almost feel his knees shaking. There, in the abyss, he's sure he saw something move.

*

Things have gone markedly well here in the Negative Zone thus far. So when the pink sky turns to black, some of you may have realistically been lulled to sleep with false hope of tranquility and efficacy.

But the black sky is not a warped sunset of something. It is a swarm. An insectoid swarm, making its way towards the Fantasticar. How many? Thousands perhaps. Those with extra good eyesight might be able to make out their somewhat humanoid bodies, with green skins and purple carapaces. They will be here much sooner than you might expect, and Reed Richards and those that made their way in are still in that cave.

Warning klaxons begin going crazy, both in the Fantasticar and on Reed's device. "WARNING, WARNING, WARNING « LARGE FORCE INCOMING FROM MAGNETIC SOUTH BY SOUTH EAST. MANY LIFE FORMS. CALCULATING 1,393 WINGED CREATURES»

Noting Shadowcat's nervousness, Cyclops reiterates an earlier warning, with a bit more added. "Everyone, stay vigilant. Remember, we've all prepared for this." How many countless Danger Room scenarios had be programmed that were designed to mimic alterations to the X-Men's powers? How many times had he insisted that they practice with those scenarios? They were ready. They had to be.

"Right," Scott answers Beast and tucks the visor into a pouch on his bandolier. Then, he reaches to pull the spandex off of his head. There is no need to conceal his identity here, and he wants to feel the alien breeze in his hair.

Having followed Reed into the cave, Scott withdraws a flashlight from his bandolier and comes alongside. "Okay?" he asks, seeking permission before clicking the light to life. This happens at the same time that Reed's klaxon begins going crazy, prompting him to press the X-Comm affixed to his shoulder. "Sunspot! Red team, incoming!" This, while the flashlight is shone into the darkness beyond…

Roberto spares a look of dry amusement at Audrey when he notices her peering at him. Technically, he probably could chomp on a rock in Sunspot form, if he had to. Still… "And risk this smile?" he points out, flashing a half-grin. "Not a chance."

Joking around like this returns his usual irrepressible attitude, and he reassures Kitty, "It's okay. Your powers aren't the only way you know to fight, remember? Just keep Lockheed close by and stay with the group, and you'll be fine."

Of course, at that moment, the alarms start sounding. "Or that could happen," the Brazilian grunts with a muttered curse in Portugese. "Understood, Cyke. Audrey, figure out how badly those things need their eyesight. Time to play the bug zapper." As he cloaks in shadow and explodes off the ground on an intercept course with the swarm, he pours solar power into his molten corona, heating it enough to — he hopes — ignite any delicate buggy wings that come too close.

« Scott. » Mimic sends telepathically. If it doesn't work, no harm done right? « I have an idea of how awesome it must be to see normally after such a long time but but do you really think it's wise to go unshielded in case your eyebeams return unexpectedly? What if someone is in front of you? » It's not that powers are negated though but rather that control is finicky and instead of sending just to Cyclops, everyone inside the cave and out receives his thoughts in their heads. So much for his attempt at being subtle. And then the alarms go off which is just icing on the cake.

Audrey didn't grow up with a danger room. She grew up with military. No powers drills, altered powers drills. And without the safety net of false situations. "I do not have that many bullets," she grimaces at the count of their enemies, swinging an automatic rifle into position at her shoulder.

As she flips off the safety, she gestures slightly with two fingers, and a quartet of light globes float up to light the area, high enough to be clear of the team. If the bugs are drawn to light, it should distract them. If they like the darkness, then they're not going to like the well-lit area around them. And if they should fly into the light…Well, with the extra-excitable conditions around here, the bug-zapper analogy might not be a bad one.

Jean had to trust that the ones behind them knew how to handle themselves, but it didn't hurt for her to keep tabs on them, opening herself up move and losing just a touch of control upon the unseen, which makes her cough just a little more than usual. She was starting to get a little feverish, the bottle snapped up, cap ripped off, water soon dumped upon her head as she follows Reed and the rest of the crew into the mouth of madness.

Mimic, if it comes to that, I'll take care of him.

Taking care means to shut him down, mentally and physically, without killing him of course.

At Hank's question about the changes being permanent, Kitty's eyes widen. She assumed - hoped - it was a temporary thing. The thought that this might actually be how she feels in the future is not what she wants at all. "That's not exactly reassuring!" she calls back to Reed as he disappears into the blackness of the cave. At the glower from Ben at her Star Wars quote, she gives him a smirk and a shrug. She could have said 'it could be worse. Could be raining,' in which case they certainly would all die.

Despite Cyclops' reassurance and orders, Shadowcat can't help but remain nervous. In the Danger Room, she knew her powers were going to be gone and the they would come back as soon as she stepped out the door. This? This isn't a simulation. As the alarms go off, Kitty takes a deep, steadying breath. She's fought demon yakuza, she's flown on strange bat things, she can take what look to be a about a million green and purple insects.

As she exhales, she gives Roberto a smirk - seeming much more like herself. "Thanks, 'Berto." As he flies off, she yells after him and his bug-zapper impression: "If you can manage to get them to spell out Red Team in the sky, I'll buy your drinks for a week!" And then, she unsheathes her katana as Lockheed hovers over in the sky a few feet above her head.

Insects. How are they going to fight tiny insects? Well, they do have folks who could just burn them, so there is that. Beast also gets Mimic's message and glances at the other, "We're going to be fighting our powers as well as these things, it looks like. Just…stay aware, people." A glare is cast to Richards, "You could have warned us about the powers ahead of time…" he might have been able to finagle something to help with that. As it is, he just sighs, "Can we grab the phosphorus and just fight our way back to the…ship?" Jet? Plane? "Rather than fighting them -and- grabbing it?"

All through this, he's been scratching at his arms, the blue fur just sort of shedding off in chunks now to reveal blueish, iridescent scales beneath. As his claws touch them, he pauses and looks at his arms, "Well. That's new."

There is no love for the Fantastic Four right now.

SOME TIME AGO

A creepy, crawling, buzzing, fluttering, stinging, slithering, skittering wave of green and purple bugs surges out of the Thing's screaming maw, bringing him to his knees as the rest of his family valiantly fights to defend the yawning portal currently bridging Earth and the Negative Zone.

NOW

If Ben could still sweat, he'd be soaked within seconds of the alarm going off.

"Reed!" he shouts, touching his fingers to his visor for a moment before clenching his fists and turning towards the cave mouth. "We gotta— "

He can see fire and light in the distance as the X-Men enter the fray, but he can't make out much of the fighting. Are they winning? Losing?
If he were to leave Reed and the others now, can he really trust that one, mysterious lifeform to be as harmless as Reed assumes it is?

"Goddamnit," he hisses beneath his breath as he jogs to catch up with the rest of the cave party; the mic, of course, transmits it audibly. Along the way, his eyes flick across, then end up briefly lingering on Hank and his new scales.

"Yeah," he exhales when he finally turns his eyes forward again. "Yer at an Eff-Four party now."

Sunspot daringly flies up into the masses of insectoid beasts.

1,392 of them would give the hero no particular problem.

But the largest one, he who carries a large golden staff in his hand and wings stretched out like an ominous bat, black against black. As ANNIHILUS points his staff towards Sunspot, he surely is about to end the mutant's life, if not for the well placed shot of light from Audrey. It doesn't kill him; it's not a weakness of his like it is the others. A group of them behind the leader all flail and begin to drop from the sky. Annihilus' shot, meanwhile, goes wide of Sunspot. It destroys a large section of the mountain miles away.

*

Reed ignores Hank.

The light Cyclops shines into the crevice reveals a small mammalian looking creature—well it has hair at least. In addition to four legs and a long snarly face. Wings of it's own, it cowers away from the light. It looks to be in pain of some sort and it's stomach seems to by gyrating and pulsating at involuntary rates.

"Fascinating…" Reed says just before something on the beast 'pops' audibly and Reed, at the forefront, is covered in a green goo.

"I…" Reed says, apparently more mystified than disgusted. "I think it's pregnant."

The spots of green goo begin to grow. Dark spots inside the green goo begin to grow larger; small mammalian babies, growing stronger by the moment.

"I don't think they want to hurt us."

*

As the insects begin to fly towards each of the exposed Red Team, Annihilus turns his mighty staff down towards the Fantasticar. The air around him begins to swirl as the staff conjures up its mighty energy.

"Don't worry, Mimic." Scott's response comes verbally. "I got this. I can feel it." Indeed, this place has somehow healed the brain damage that prevents him from having control of his powers. It may not be permanent, but he can feel the energy behind his eyes. He knows, instinctively, that he can control it.

There's also the Phoenix factor. Touche.

Scott looks to Jean, visibly worried. She'll see it in his eyes. "What is it?" He reaches to touch her cheek, only to yank his hand away. "Jean, you're burning up." His eyes look back to the robots collecting their phosphorus… worried. He doesn't want to order her back, but if she explodes, so does the cure. It's time to make a call.

"Mimic, Beast. Cover them." He nods toward Reed and Ben, then tosses his flashlight toward Beast after giving s cursory look to the revealed scales. "Jean, we're falling back." He gestures for her to follow; that phosphorus can't be around any wildcards, and between his optic blasts and her hot skin, they have just become wildcards.

Hank, Mimic, Ben and Reed; decent odds against whatever it is in there. Red Team may need their help.

With that, Cyclops beats feet out of the cave, leaving the others to handle Reed's unplanned pregnancy. Once free of the cave, he darts to the side of the maw and looks to the sky. He focuses on the energy within, and then, a beam of orange-red energy cuts through the sky, capturing however many dozen of those insects in its width.

As the shot goes wide, Sunspot veers away from it, still bullheadedly charging into the swarm. He burns into their rank, leaving fire and buggy death in his wake. This should discourage potshots from Annihilus — or at least make the insectoid bastard pay in manpower to make them. Sunspot's roasting hot aura and a gauntlet shield held over his head mostly shield him from the exoskeletal bodies he's battering against.

When he finally bursts through on the other side, he whips around to fire a solar blast into the throng. When he does so, though, he's surprised to find himself kicked backward violently. Apparently, the force of his coronal emissions has been amped up to the point where the recoil off such a blast will send him caroming off course. Granted, it also turned the bugs it hit into ichor mist, but that's still going to cramp his style.

"Watch out for the bug with the stick — he's very VERY shooty," he says into his comlink, grim but calm. "We need to cover our exit — the car and the cave mouth. Audrey, think you can whip something up?" He shifts course, heading back toward the Fantasticar and shedding altitude. "I think I can arrange for valet parking."

Cover them. Against goo? "'Want' might be irrelevant, Dr. Richards. 'Have to' might be more accurate." Mimic suggests. "Don't some species require food immediately on being born?" And Reed is in the middle of it all. Literally, considering the goo. "How long is this going to take. We really need to get out of here."

Audrey can do two things at once. She can handle this. Taking a deep breath of the burning air, she sights down the rifle toward Annihilus. There's a brief burst of fire from the gun, and at the same moment, she pushes light through the Fantasticar to render it invisible, while building three more illusory versions of it spread around the plain.

Unfortunately, as she saw before, the light here is unpredictable, as are her powers. Trying to build three illusions and cloak the real thing all at once, while the globes drain more energy, causes a backfire of some of that energy, a blast of light and heat that cracks out around all of the constructs. The light globes go dark, and Audrey goes down to one knee, suddenly light-headed. "I can hold this for five minutes if I pass out after," she reports back to Roberto in a tight voice. Even with the boost from this strange place, it's taking more power than the light provides. The rest is being drawn from her.

Jean had that feeling that she shouldn't have entered into the cave to begin with; to stay outside and wait with the ship, be the first line of defense of the Blue Team when it comes to backing the Red Team so they could get their shots off safely while her shields protected them. She was a multitasker for sure, but this was too much power expanded across each of them, and she was starting to feel as if she were melting.

Her clothing was slowly becoming drenched further in, her breathes almost ragged, her body at a slight hunch as she stops to lean against the wall, a heavy cough was given, the smell of sulfur hitting her nose, her hand landing a harsh strike upon her chest as she tries to growl out the dryness.

She looks up towards Scott, panick within her eyes as she gives him a quick nod. She was getting hot, in fact.. she probably was going to explode. But she didn't want to fall back, now that the beast was revealed and.. awe! BABIES!

Scott, hurry, I can't hold it!

There was no resistance in him ushering her out of the cave, her feet occasionally lifting as she tries to fly out, but with each exertion, she grows hotter and hotter.

Once out of the cave and off to the side, she forcibly pries herself out of Scotts grip, a few hop and skips taking her further and out of the way as her hands shoot up to grip her hair in pain. Fingers begin to claw at her scalp as those red locks rise, curling into the air, sparking into bits of flame which burn her digits, digits that soon grip her throat in a choke hold as smoke plumes from her lips.

She takes a deep breath, shrill, pained..

Huffed with smoke and fire that plumes out a small distance to test..

Then a hellish scream that seems almost endless, fire billowing from the mouth of Jean to follow the flow of the red-orange beam that zaps and now roasts the horde of bugs out of the sky.

As the large insects swarm over them, Kitty drops back into a crouched stance, bringing up the blade of her katana to eye level, pointing directly at insects that are meant to overwhelm them. The blade does not waver or quiver as she holds the pose; the Shadowcat takes steadying breaths in and out. She gives a side glance to Audrey at Berto's instructions.

As the other woman falls to her knee, Kitty smoothly steps defensively in front of her. "Lockheed and I can cover the mouth of the cave and Audrey," she tells them. Her voice is softer, encouraging as she says, "Just focus on your illusion. We've got you."

Before Kitty's even finished speaking, Lockheed shoots forward ahead of them, eyes focused clearly on the insects making their way for Audrey and Kitty. There's a high pitched, squeak of a roar that someone might squeal as being adorable until a gush of fire emits from his mouth. He is a dragon, after all, that's what he does. Seconds afterwards, he wheels out of the way as a much larger one pours of out Jean.

Those ahead of the pack crash toward Kitty and the katana snips downward with a quick, precise movement. Without wasting any energy, the blade cuts upward again as more of the lone insects buzz their way toward them. Good to her word, the Shadowcat cuts through them as she stays firmly in front of Audrey.

Beast catches the flashlight with a now-scaled and clawed hand, the rest of the fur shedding quickly to reveal a more serpentine Beast. This had better not be permanent. It took him long enough to get used to the fur! He looks with concern as Cyclops helps Jean out of the cave but he then turns the light back to the goo-covered Reed. A baleful glance is given to Grimm at his comment, "We've had enough of this before, thank you." Is his speech a little more sibilant? His fangs a little longer?

Looking back to Reed, he peers at the creature apparently giving birth, "Unless those outside are trying to protect this brood from being bothered. By us. While this is all very interesting, I do have to protest the lack of preparedness here."

"An' us without a blanket," Ben mutters, moderately disgusted. "Look, is this phos— WOAH!"

Ben shoves his way forward when he hears the tell-tale pop and *SPLUTCH!* of child-birth, and soon enough, his boot is casting a long shadow across the litter as he prepares to welcome the no-doubt hostile aliens to the world, Yancy Street style.

But— well— Reed's skin doesn't appear to be melting due to acidic afterbirth, or anything, and once Ben finally gets a glimpse of the sticky little creatures writhing around down there… he hesitates.

"So, uh," he rumbles, eyes shifting between the scientists as he balances on one pillar-like leg without trembling. "What's the play, here? We aren't gonna try'n adopt the little bastards, right?"

There is, despite all of the little stresses of today, a distinct lack of edge to Ben's tone, despite the pointed words. The Negative Zone might not interfere with his powers, but it seems to have found a way to penetrate his hide all the same: even when they have too many extremities and are covered in possibly toxic slime, helpless baby animals remain one of the Thing's greatest weaknesses.

"An' us without a blanket," Ben mutters, moderately disgusted. "Look, is this phos— WOAH!"

Ben shoves his way forward when he hears the tell-tale pop and *SPLUTCH!* of child-birth, and soon enough, his boot is casting a long shadow across the litter as he prepares to welcome the no-doubt hostile aliens to the world, Yancy Street style.

But— well— Reed's skin doesn't appear to be melting due to acidic afterbirth, or anything, and once Ben finally gets a glimpse of the sticky little creatures writhing around down there… he hesitates.

"So, uh," he rumbles, eyes shifting between the scientists as he balances on one pillar-like leg without trembling. "What's the play, here? We aren't gonna try'n adopt the little bastards, right?"
There is, despite all of the little stresses of today, a distinct lack of edge to Ben's tone, despite the pointed words. The Negative Zone might not interfere with his powers, but it seems to have found a way to penetrate his hide all the same: even when they have too many extremities and are covered in possibly toxic slime, helpless baby animals remain one of the Thing's greatest weaknesses.

"Soon as we get the element, I'm all for gettin' the hell out," he adds.

"Yeah, I…" Reed's voice lingers. "I think you're right." He nods to Mimic. "Time to go." But as he turns, covered in expanding black and green goo, the horde of babies have apparently gotten their fill from the nectar they've been born with. They shoot off of him, so hard that they cause his powers to waver, knees to go wobbly, and the leader of the Fantastic Four kicks back. He needs a moment to gather himself back together as it were.

"I'm sure you'd like to protest all sorts of things," Reed shoots back to Hank. "It's all you've done in the entire time I've known you. I'm starting to see your role in your group." That was one of the most miraculous things Reed's ever seen, and there was Hank to rain on the parade.

"I…I'm not sure, Ben," Reed says, for the first time in a long time, flummoxed.

But the babies meanwhile, have their mission. Hundreds of them shoot out of the cave, expanding their wings out into the sky and soaring like Bats or Sam-Spots from hell up towards Annihilus!

Meanwhile, Kitty cleaves scores of insects in two with her steady blade. I'm not gonna lie. She gets gross. The black blood of these animals has a strange odor.

Audrey's obfuscation, at the very least, buys them some time. Annihilus is forced to reset and try and figure out where the Fantasticar is. He cannot waste shots, unfortunately for him, so he must be sure. But while he's considering, his patience is lacking and he's about to take his shot.

Annihilus does get his bearings though, and sends the wave of energy towards the spot where he believes the Fantasticar was. The staff lets forth a warping hiss-like sound before sending a firey energy straight for the getaway device…

Just before it is blocked by the energy coming from Jean Grey. The two pair off in an epic struggle of energy. Just then, scores of small black mammalian babies soar past Jean on their way towards Annihilus. Once they arrive, they plow into him with a great combined force, knocking his staff from the insectoid king's hands and allowing it to plummet downward.

Reed emerges for the cave, "Get to the car!" he exclaims as he begins to run while dragging one of the bots along so it can come quicker. "Ben, grab the other one! And start up the Fantasticar! We need to GO!"

"Jean!!"

Scott shuts off his power just long enough to look her way; fear and terror evident in his eyes. It lasts a moment before he swallows it down and looks back toward the horde, unleashing yet another optic blast that rips them asunder, bits and pieces falling from the sky like rainfall.

By chance, his optic blast strikes the flame spewing forth from Jean's mouth. When those two forces collide, each is rendered useless; the red-orange beam disperses the flame while the energy itself fizzles out.

Scott, hurry, I can't hold it!

Jean's telepathic warning echoes in his mind when he turns and lays his optic beam directly toward her. "Jean!" he cries again, looking through red energy as the optic blast disperses her fire-breath. A few steps are taken to close the distance; energy splattering all about. If she's unable to shut it off, the others may not be able to make it past the cave's entrance.

"Listen to me," he says, speaking with a calmer voice. "You have to control it." Footfalls bring him closer, energy and fire destroying itself in a shower of smoke and heat around them, until they stand virtually nose to nose. "Jean," he urges again, reaching hands through the maelstrom toward her shoulders.

"Shut it down."

"Hold on, Reds," Sunspot says, hitting the ground so fast that his skid turns into a painful, dusty roll. He lurches to his feet, coughing out, "I'll be there as soon as I can." He sprints under the Fantasticar, then braces his shoulder against the craft's center of gravity like Atlas about to steal somebody's ludicrously oversized bathtub. With an almighty roar of effort and solar thrust, he manages to lift the unwieldy craft off of the ground and boost it toward the cave mouth.

The sky-shattering rage of Phoenix should give Annihilus more than enough to worry about while Roberto and Lux play a shell game with the team's ticket out of this hellhole. He doesn't even want to think about how they'll hold off the bug king if the cave team isn't ready to go when he gets the ship there.

Fortunately, by the time he drops the vehicle roughly back onto its landing gear, Reed and his team are emerging only yards away. He collapses to an armored knee and steadies himself against the fuselage, solar fuel utterly spent and his normal appearance returning. "Your car, senhor."

"I'll drink to that." Mimic agrees, nodding to Ben before looking at Reed. "No, we are /not/ taking any back with us. Can you say potential ecological disaster?" Someone has to be the voice of reason. Without waiting, he picks up one of the robots and starts after Reed. "I've got it. Let's get the hell out of here and blow up anything in our way." He's so ready to get out of this place.

As Kitty steps in front of her, Audrey quickly thumbs the safety on her rifle and lowers the muzzle to the ground with the speed and ease of long training. "You're in my line of fire," she says in a strained voice, though she's grateful for the chance to catch her breath.

When Annihilus loses his staff and Roberto heads for the getaway vehicle, she drops the illusions with a relieved gasp. She doesn't rest for long, though. The amount of illusion she can make at any given time is limited, but a small illusion in many places…That's a little easier. Once she's no longer shielding the vehicle, she switches to another tactic. Bright flashes of light dance through the air above the group, like a perpetual fireworks show, making it hard to see what happens beneath.

Somewhere in the endless torrent of fire she stopped screaming; the fire battling down the insects and crossing into the stream that keeps the vehicle from being destroyed. It was a power struggle, one that Jean was on verge of losing herself to, for the gloves that she wore begins to melt and burn away, revealing skin that is seemingly red like molten lava beneath her veins. The psychic fire that she manifests as a phoenix raptor moved within, the wings of the fire bird that protected her now destroys. She couldn't hear anyone, she could only feel the fire itself stop for the brief moment that the optic blasts take it.

In defense of herself, it could possibly be the way that her name was called, causes her to direct that line of fire towards Scott. She doesn't try to push forward, only letting it spew to be disintegrated by the continuous blast. Her eyes dart all around her, seeing the other struggle and emerge from the tunnel, Annihilus being attacked by bugs, the Fantasticar ready to be boarded and soon.. eyes planted on Scott.

I can't! Take the rest of them and -GO-!

For someone who's so happy on the outside, she was surely quick to die. But the closer Cyclops get to her, there was the threat of her taking him down with her, her skin was roaring hot and slowly peeling apart to let flames bleed through.

While normally the chatty and sarcastic sort of woman, there is none of that while Kitty is focused on the enemies in front of her. She's used to fighting with her ability: slipping in and out of phase with her targets. However, she didn't become a master swords woman because of her mutant powers. In fact, the strange heaviness she feels, in fact, helps her stand her ground, though it requires more of her attention. If she phased, the insects would get through to the cave. At the request, she side steps, cutting through another insect as she does so and tries to stay out of Audrey's way.
Keeping her feet firmly planted, she is able to buffet them back, cutting through them as best she can without gagging on the stench they emit when they're sliced open. After the fireworks display of both Jean and Lux, she starts making her way toward the Fantasticar, trying to cover the way for the others as they exit the cave into the fire soaked, rave disco infested bug nest they've found themselves in. "Ughh, I'm going to need about five million showers after this," she mutters as Lockkheed fire bombs a few insects around her - distinctly not getting anywhere close to the sticky black ichor covering his friend.

Beast hisses, where a growl would normally be, "My people are combusting left and right because you didn't warn us that we might have issues with our powers that may or may not be permanent. I think I have every right to be displeased. I'm a scientist. I try to do research before leaping into alternative dimensions! If one knows the locations of the minerals and has built a vehicle that can transport us to said places, surely one could have -warned- us!" He does agree with Ben, "We're leaving. Those things seem to be quite happy up there…" and helping them, "It's time to get the rest of the stuff and go." He makes sure that no one is collecting those creatures…or the goo…and then follows the others out, only to pause upon seeing Jean.

"Cyclops…what's happened? Jean!" He darts forward, but isn't able to get too close because of the flames. "Control this, Jean! You can do this!" Even if it's just words, he tries to help.

Ben books it out of the cave, hot on the flying spawn's tails; luckily for everyone, Mimic is on hand to pick up his slack with the other robot. For a walking, talking, quarter-ton quarry, he's actually pretty quick; the mammal babies are quicker, however, so by the time he makes it outside, Annihilus is already disarmed and it's pretty much time to leave.

Or— it would be, if one non-Sunspot member of the team wasn't on fire. This might still be alright - he's plenty used to Johnny, after all - except the guy with the eyes is freaking out about it.

So, either she's about to explode, or one of the bugs, or the atmosphere, or the soil, or something set her on fire.

"EVERYBODY— GEDDOWN!" he shouts, veering towards Scott and Jean as he bolts out of the cave. As soon as he's close enough, he bends at the knees, sucks in a breath, and springs towards the distintegrating Phoenix, intent on smothering out the flames himself if need be— or playing blast shield if it comes to that.

It doesn't really occur to him how close the two mutants are until he's in the air, though.

"Sir. Or 'Scientist' if you prefer," Reed says to Hank, "I don't have long enough to explain it in simple enough terms for you. I have tried so very hard over the course of the days we've known each other to be patient with you. It is taxing and ill advised given our current predicament. If you'd like to stay and bicker, you will be doing so on your lonesome."

Reed's face falters at the sight of Jean, but he forces himself towards the Fantasticar. He stops long enough to make the 'eek' face at the blood soaked Kitty Pryde. Hope that comes out in the wash. But he yanks the bot he's dragging into the Fantasticar and begins to start setting the coordinates for the jump through the Negative Zone and back home. He only hopes they can hold out long enough without getting a direct hit to the Fantasticar.

Reed's eye spies Thing outside the Fantasticar smothering Jean. It's a calculated risk, Reed imagines and then revises his hypothesis. No. That's Ben, being Ben. If she was willing to die for the sake of mutant kind, this woman they call the Phoenix, then Ben would certainly be willing to die for her. It was the same since they first met, and while one of Reed's eyes stays on the controls, the other focuses on the Thing. Richards forces out his reflex to go help his friend, but the sake of mutantkind rests on this group making it out of here, regardless of casualties. That's what they signed up for.

But then something surprising happens.
Thing's selfless act is enough to put out the flames, at least for now, of the young red haired girl. Reed takes the controls and lifts the Fantasticar up and off the black soil after everyone save his friend and the mutant woman.

A long retractable claw lowers from the bottom as Reed literally scoops Jean and Thing up, pulling them up and into the car.

"I must admit to everyone that I am not nearly the pilot that my friend is. If this is a little bumpy, you have my sincere apologies."

In less than 15 seconds it's all over. The mammalian babies continue to pummel Annihilus as the Fantasticar tears away, crackling with blue electricity as it breaches time and space to bring the groups home.

In a simmering heap of charred Fantasticar that drops five feet and smashes upon the floor of the Baxter Building lab in a heap.

_ _ _ _ _

THE THRONE ROOM OF ANNIHILUS

«Sire, Horastofula has gotten away. The rebellions is likely to continue. Worse, I think we were attacked with her offspring.»

Annihilus reaches out to grab the bearer of good news by the throat, or whatever lies below the head, crushing it in one fell swoop and throwing the carcass against a far wall. He continues to look down at the dust floor of his throne room where one of his servants is drawing a design in the black blood of another.

It is a large '4' with an 'X' drawn over it.

«We shall have our vengeance.»

_ _ _ _ _

THE BAXTER BUILDING
TOMORROW

Inside a glowy white laboratory, interrupted by the blue gloves that sink into the enclosed space, Reed Richards carefully shakes the tube of his new concoction. The solution glows very bright white for a moment, before settling and becoming red. "That's correct General," Reed says loudly towards the far wall of the room where a giant display shows a two-story version of General Thunderbolt Ross' mug.

"The inoculations will be able to start tomorrow morning."

Reed smiles to himself. One mystery solved. Yet this one has begotten another. And it won't be long before he makes his next trek back to the netherworld of the Negative Zone.


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