Fantastic Four 2099UGR #12v2, October 2007

Fantastic Four 2099UGR #12v2, October 2007

Issue Twelve, Volume Two

"Impending Doom, Part Two: Progenitor"

Written by David Ellis

Edited by Jason McDonald

Assistant Editor: Jason McDonald

Editor in Chief: David Ellis

Reed Richards
Mister Fantastic

Sue Storm
Invisible Woman

Johnny Storm
Human Torch

Ben Grimm
The Thing

Shandra Willis

Hikaru Takeshi

Dr. Cameron Daye

Keith McLaughlin
Paranoid Keith



From Reed Richards' private journal, 20th century

The subject of cloning has come up a lot in the media recently. The ethics of creating duplicated life through genetic engineering have been discussed and speculated in news sources and fiction. Strangely, most people who discuss the subject seem to view cloning as science fiction rather than science fact.

The list of instances in which it has occurred is as long as my unstretched arm. But in every single case I've studied, the clones have turned out to be individuals. They have been given life, and while they are genetic copies of another person, they have no less of a right to life and individuality than the original beings.

Unfortunately, the clones are often created for selfish and small-minded reasons, such as a need for control and dominance over others. Cloning architects such as The Red Skull, Arnim Zola, Nathaniel Essex, and Miles Warren, to name a few, are perfect examples of individuals with such short-sighted goals. Thus far, I have yet to encounter a case of human cloning that had selfless motives in mind. That is unfortunate, as the creator's motives influence what the cloned organism would become.

From Reed Richards' private journal, the year 2100

My predecessor, the first Reed Richards, has made very few journal entries on the subject of clones. I honestly wish he'd made more, as I am his clone and I have memories of his journal entries which I use as guidance.

I've given a great deal of thought to my origins, and I have to wonder: was Reed Richards himself the one who cloned us?

Observation lounge, Myridian space station, Earth orbit, the year 2100

"Hold on a sec," the clone of Benjamin J. Grimm said, stepping toward the man in the silver armor and green hooded cloak. "You're tellin' us you cloned us?"

The man currently known only as Doom remained decidedly unintimidated by Ben's looming, craggy stature. "I am telling you I am responsible for your awakening in the Negative Zone, for your birth. There is a difference."

Reed Richards' eyes narrowed. "Then you're saying someone else cloned us."

"I did not use those exact words, Richards, but you are indeed on the right track, as it were. Few things irritate me more than having others' words attributed to me."

Sue Storm strode to Doom and stood face-to-face with him, glaring up into his hidden eyes. "We'll stop putting words in your mouth when you actually tell us what you have to do with our origin."

Doom held her gaze, standing as solid as the space station bulkheads surrounding him. "Very well. Come with me."

Secured room 13A, Stark-Fujikawa New York Headquarters, Earth

Shandra Willis had come along with Sergeant Harkness without complaint or comment, and the Stark-Fujikawa officer found that odd. He'd met her once before, in December of the previous year, and his impression of her matched her dossier: she tended toward being stubborn and argumentative. She also had a problem with authority and a rap sheet, both of which stemmed from her upbringing in the Hotwire Martyrs, a Transverse City street gang.

So she was possibly the last person to be led without argument into a secured room by a police officer, in Harkness' estimation. But here she was, so withdrawn that she barely seemed to register his presence.

"Shandra," he spoke to her, trying to rouse her attention. "I'm keeping watch over you while Stark-Fujikawa is on alert. The Fantastic Four's starship was detected emerging from hyperspace in Earth's orbit a few hours ago. But it vanished immediately afterward, and we have no idea where it went. For all we know, they're on their way right now."

Shandra simply continued to sit in a corner, head cradled in her arms. Her face was hidden from the world.

"Shandra, look at me. If the FF have a cloaking device built into the 4Freedom, and you know about it, you need to tell us. There's a lot about their plans they've kept from us."


Harkness sighed. He had difficulty believing she'd once gone by the hacker alias 'Smiley'. "We're not gonna hold it against you. We get it: they're a bunch of fanatics with crazy ideas, an' you're a twentieth-century buff. We don't blame you for being taken in by 'em." He mentally added, or at least I don't.

She continued sitting in silence, and Harkness had to wonder what it was like to have two groups of friends each call themselves the Fantastic Four, and one group end up dead. On top of that, the Hotwire Martyrs had been reportedly killed half a year ago, and she'd only found out about it in December. Those factors were automatically taking their toll on her psyche, so he couldn't really blame her for withdrawing.

But. Even so.... "Shandra, I need you to say something. Give some kind of acknowledgment. Your hearing with Hikaru-sama is postponed, but it's gonna happen. And if you're still unresponsive, you'll be written off as an undesirable." Which, on the surface, sounded like he was presenting her with a potential loophole. Except: "If that happens, you'll be carted off to the Octagon and imprisoned, and you'll be turned into a Mole Man. Or, Mole Woman, I guess."

Shandra glanced up at him. Acknowledgment at last. She opened her mouth and took a breath to say something, and Harkness prepared himself for whatever it might be.


"Call me August."

"Tell me about the IceBerg Sisters."

Except that.

Harkness' eyes widened, but Shandra's gaze bored into his. Why was she asking about Janice and Clarice Berg, the genetically-enhanced S-F agents? Probably because they'd been planted within Shandra's Station 4 crew without her knowledge in case the Fantastic Four went rogue. "I'm sorry," he replied. "That's classified information." Especially now that they were dead.

Her willful gaze continued to drill into him.

He sighed, leaning against the wall opposite her, slumping to a sitting position on the floor, bulky SIEGE armor and all. "What do you want to know?"

Operations Center, Myridian space station

"As you may know," Doom stated as he led the Four into the space station's vast operations center, "the stasis chamber which birthed you was subjected to the massive amounts of electromagnetic cosmic radiation found in the Negative Zone." He had the body language of a teacher attempting to explain college-level physics to second-graders. "This phenomenon, commonly known as a 'Voltstorm', bathed your dormant bodies in the radiation necessary to trigger the latent superhuman powers concealed in your baseline DNA."

"Yeah, we got that memo," Ben interrupted. "Skip to the part we don't know."

Doom's sidelong glance at the stony-armored member of the Fantastic Four conveyed his displeasure quite eloquently. "As I was saying, the lightning phenomenon also damaged its internal systems beyond repair. Your artificial aging process malfunctioned as a result, inhibiting your physical growth to--"

"Twenty five years," Ben interrupted again. "We know that too." He kept glancing at Johnny, who was oddly quiet during all of this. Normally Johnny would have been the one to make a lion's share of the snide comments.

Doom turned directly to Ben, his entire faceplate seeming to contort into a scowl. "Have a care, Grimm."

"Getting to the point," Reed interjected, "would it be safe to assume that given your intimate knowledge of the chamber, that you were responsible for placing it in the Negative Zone?"

"If you hadn't foolishly allowed it to be destroyed by Stark-Fujikawa forces," Doom spat, turning back to face Reed, "you might have been able to deduce the truth, rather than make half-hearted hypotheses."

Sue frowned. "'Allowed it to be destroyed'?"

"All scientific queries involve hypotheses," Reed replied defensively. "Such as my educated guess that you were actually not the one who created us as clones of the original Fantastic Four in the first place. If you were, you wouldn't have characterized the stasis chamber as 'crudely designed'."

Ben had to agree. "'Cause God forbid you'd ever admit to makin' any kinda mistake in your life."

"On the contrary, Grimm," Doom asserted, "over the decades I have come to accept a great many errors that my younger self could not. I am no longer the arrogant whelp your predecessors knew in the twentieth century."

Sue quirked an eyebrow. "But you are saying you're the same man."

"Naturally. There had been some question of that previously, but no longer. I am Doom."

Ben snickered. "An' now you're an arrogant old whelp."

"It seems the four of you still possess the same lack of respect for me which the original Fantastic Four exhibited."

"Can you blame us?" Johnny inquired.

"However, you must accept that you are in my debt," Doom insisted, crossing from one end of the op center to the other. The station's technicians couldn't help looking up from their work and staring in awe at the former monarch and his guests. "Without my machinations, you would simply be a quartet of unfinished genetic samples, wasting away in a laboratory."

Reed narrowed his eyes, crossing the room in two long-legged strides to once again get in Doom's face. "Whose laboratory?"

"I thought you would never ask." Doom turned to the operations personnel. "Leave us, until further notice." The technicians complied, and once they were gone Doom called up a file on the largest viewscreen with a simple wave of his hand. An aged video glitched to life, revealing the wrinkled features of an old man with silvery hair and matching beard.

All four clones of the Fantastic Four gaped as they -- especially Reed Richards -- recognized the man. "Father...?" Reed gasped.

"Begin personal log: Nathaniel Richards," the old man announced, apparently to the recording equipment itself. "Although ... maybe 'personal' isn't the right word, as I'm recording this for the benefit of the four of you watching this: my Fantastic Four clones."

They glanced to one another, trying to confirm that they were all seeing the same thing.

"Yes, that's right," Nathaniel asserted,"as difficult as it may be for you to believe, with all the historical details in your heads, you are not actually the real Fantastic Four, only clones of them."

"Yeah, we got that memo, thanks," Johnny retorted as he pulled up a chair to sit backward in it as he watched the file.

"If all goes according to plan, you will have found and played this file soon after awakening from the stasis chamber I designed." Nathaniel paused for a moment. "But if you haven't, I trust you have come to the same conclusion on your own."

The Four watched as the old man took a deep breath. "Regardless, what you need to know is why you have been cloned. I promise, if there had been another option besides cloning the Fantastic Four, I would have taken it."

Reed attempted an air of stoic calms as he watched the video, but his brows couldn't help knitting with concern ... and longing for a father he (literally) never had.

"As your memory banks no doubt inform you, I am a time traveler. And the futures I have seen are terrible indeed. The twenty-first century is destined to be a dark time in countless timestreams; it is only a matter of the degree to which hope and despair coexist. Perhaps that has been true of every era in mankind's history. However, in this era, hope is in short supply indeed: you see, the Heroic Age has ended. It had barely lasted a handful of decades, but it was full of promise, from the second World War and the rise of Captain America, to the recent times that were the heyday of such heroes as the Avengers and your progenitors, the Fantastic Four. But due in no small part to the very governments -- the very people -- they had sworn to protect, the political climate turned against them. The Heroic Age ended violently, with morality eroded for the sake of selfishness. Sadly, I have been helpless to stop it. And now I turn to the four of you, my last desperate hope."

The screen image paused, then went black as the playback stopped. "I believe that is enough for today," Doom declared.

"Hey! We were watching that," Sue protested, hands on her hips.

"And if you agree to ally yourself with me," Doom casually replied, "the four of you will be allowed to view more of it."

Reed's teeth grit. "'Allowed'? 'Allowed'? That log entry was intended for our eyes, not yours!"

"I claim salvage rights. After all, if I had not recognized the stasis chamber's shoddy craftsmanship and taken the liberty of rescuing it, that file would have been damaged by Zone lightning long before the chamber's destruction." He paused a moment to let that sink in."

"An' now you're lordin' it over our heads," Ben replied, sneering. "Thanks a lot, pal."

Reed stayed in Doom's face. "I demand that you hand it over to us. Now."

Doom held his gaze. "You are in no position to make demands. Not when I could end your life as easily as I ended your predecessor's."

Reed blinked. "My...?"

"Certainly. It was I who put Richards out of his misery once and for all. His body went limp in my hands, reduced to a puddle of unstable molecules." He stated this with casual fondness, as if he'd recalled a favorite song from years ago.

"What. Did. You. Say?" Reed's fists doubled in size and density.

Doom remained calm. "Feeling protective of your progenitor, are we? Posture all you like, but it will do you no good. You are in my station, in my debt. And you of all people should know that I do not respond kindly to threats. You ... and the rest of your team ... are advised to be on your best behavior while you are my guests."

Reed turned and walked toward the nearest exit. "Believe me, that won't be for much longer."

Sue followed him. "Reed, before you take off--"

"I'm checking on my starship."

"I understand that," Sue countered, "but we still haven't found out what Doom here stands to gain from showing us this video."

"Or if it's even the real thing," Ben pointed out.

Reed stopped walking. "Isn't it obvious? He wants the Negative Zone for himself. And he wants to use us as his pawns."

"The four of you are not essential to my goals," Doom stated. "However, while I could simply take the Negative Zone from all interested parties by force if need be, I prefer the subtle approach that allows the realm to remain in one piece. A full-scale war resulting from a brash takeover would make that unlikely, wouldn't you agree?"

Ben chuckled. "Yeah? The place is still a fixer-upper these days."

"Rest assured," Doom promised, sweeping his gaze across the room, "under my guidance, it will be restored."

"And we're supposed to fall in line like good little subjects as you claim a new empire?" Reed inquired, derision in his voice. "I don't think so."

"I am offering an alliance that would benefit us both."

"It would benefit you more," Reed pointed out, directing a finger at Doom. "You'd get a new kingdom, and cheap labor to repair it. All we would get in return is the grief that comes with yetanother tenuous alliance."

"You would turn down the opportunity to accomplish your goal?"

"Nah," Johnny retorted. "We just think there's a bunch of irony in the idea of a guy named Dr. Doom promising a bright future."

Doom turned to glare at Johnny. "I did not bring the four of you here so that you may mock me. You would do well to mind your tone."

Johnny seemed unimpressed, but it was Reed who rose to the challenge. "Who asked you to commandeer our hyperspace fold? Who asked you to bring us here?"

"I need consent from no one," Doom insisted. "I am--"

"Doom, I know," Reed interrupted, extending his pliable body to wrap around Doom's body. "Which means you're a murderer."

"Reed!" Sue shouted as Johnny flamed on and Ben went on the offensive, charging forward. "What are you doing?" She shaped an invisible forcefield between Doom's body and Reed's in order to pry them apart.

"He has a lot to answer for, Sue!" Reed grunted, constricting his body to hold their host. "I don't care what he says: this future isn't any better off with him in it!"

"The strength of my armor outstrips the tensile strength of your body, clone," Doom pointed out, his modulated voice clearly out of patience. "Though I hardly require it to escape your pathetic ensnarement." With that, he simply stepped through Reed's snakelike torso and Sue's forcefield, walking through Ben's charging bulk. "I have made extensive improvements to remain ahead of this century's technological curve."

"Stop right there, Tin Man!" the Human Torch requested, hovering slightly above the floor, his full-body flame aura glowing especially brightly around his fists. "Unless you want me to test your melting point!"

"Unlikely. I am now intangible, boy," Doom pointed out, stepping slowly toward Johnny. "Unleash your flames and you risk cremating your teammates, and we both know you do not wish that fate on them."

Eyes widening, Johnny dissipated his flame aura as Doom's words sank in.

"Thank you." Doom sounded pleased. "Breathable atmosphere is at a premium in this space station; it simply wouldn't do for the air to be consumed by an inferno."

"You talk too much," Ben groused, untangling himself from Reed so he could take a swing at Doom.

Nonchalantly, Doom turned and raised a gauntleted forearm to block Ben's fist. The impact of hard stonelike skin on harder adamantium -- once again tangible -- echoed throughout the station bridge. He brought his open hand downward to trap Ben's wrist; a twisting armlock motion brought Ben to the floor, wincing in pain.

"Don't you hurt him!" Sue shouted, projecting her forcefield at Doom, whose armor had a field of its own. The two energies met in a blinding flash of light, which Doom sent outward in a wave, knocking Sue, Reed, and Johnny off their feet.

"Consider this a demonstration," Doom declared as he applied more incredible pressure to Ben's wrist and let go. "The next time I will kill the lot of you." He strode toward Reed. "Your outburst was ... understandable, in its own way. You have made it clear that you do not wish to enter into this alliance. I am a charitable man, and I shall honor your wish and grant you leave of this station, so that you might come to your friend's rescue. But be aware: you have insulted and attacked me for the last time."

Before they could react, a bright light filled the clones' consciousness before a sea of black oblivion overtook them.

4Freedom starship, Earth orbit, an hour later

Their awakening was slow in coming, but they soon realized they were no longer aboard Doom's space station at all. Their first clue was that their environment was considerably more cramped. Their next clue came in the form of FRANKLIN's cheerful greeting: "Welcome back, Daddy! And the rest of you, too! You've been asleep for a long time."

"How long have we been out?" Reed asked, glancing out of a window and finding the Earth right where it should be, below a veritable sea of orbiting satellites and debris. And where is Victor Von Doom's space station?

"You've been unconscious for about an hour," FRANKLIN's holographic avatar explained. "But out of fifty-eight total space stations, I can't find one registered to a 'Victor Von Doom'."

"That's because he wasn't the official owner," Sue pointed out. "So let's put it this way: where's the space station where this ship was docked?"

"It's...." FRANKLIN paused, his holo-image looking contemplative. "Sorry, guess that info was wiped from my memory."

Ben grumbled. "We're still cloaked, though. That's at least one piece o' good news."

Reed consulted one of the onboard computers to verify this. "As a matter of fact we are. How'd you know, Ben?"

"We've been out for an hour," Johnny pointed out before Ben could. "Stark-Fuji would've found us by now if we were out of stealth mode."

"That's it exactly," Ben answered with a nod.

Sue clenched her teeth, resolute. "That means we can't waste any more time. We have to go Earth and rescue Shandra while we still have the element of surprise."

Reed turned to her. "Sue--"

"FRANKLIN, warm up the engines. We're leaving. Now."

Myridian space station, minutes later

As the 4Freedom entered the Earth's atmosphere, lighting up like a bonfire, the man known as Doom watched from an observation window. The starship was of course cloaked from most forms of detection, so all anyone else would see was the brief atmospheric flareup of a piece of orbital debris falling to Earth. But he knew what to look for.

"Off they go," he commented, "four foolish clones off to rescue a compatriot like the heroic relics of a forgotten age they resemble. Chances are likely they will survive this escapade, but if not, their deaths will not be mourned."

"I dunno," a voice only Doom could hear replied, "seems to me you let 'em off the hook way too easily. You still want 'em alive because you still have a use for 'em."

"Do not presume to divine my motives, Wire." Doom cut a rather unkind glance at the image he saw before him: a young Latverian man with long black hair, a slim build in a dark green bodysuit, and -- perhaps most importantly -- a cyber-interface visor bonded to his 'face'. Considering the young man's body was now a cyberspace construct, the visor and the other features were merely for show.

The cyber-image shrugged as it appeared to 'stand' on the other side of the reinforced glass. On the nothingness of space. "Wouldn't dream of it, boss. I'm just sayin' ... I've known you for how long? About a year?"

"And were it not for my reconstruction efforts, you would still be deceased in both the physical and virtual realms."

"Look, nobody appreciates that more than I do," Wire replied quickly. "Hell, I'm loving the freedom of existing in c-space without having to worry about a body in meatspace."

"Then if you value your continued freedom, you will keep your opinions to yourself and concern yourself with facts."

Wire allowed his image to look suitably scolded. "Ooookay, moving on: I've located the 'Frightful Four' as you asked me to. Took me a while of searching various dimensional readings, but...." He uploaded the coordinates into the internal computer housed within Doom's armor. "...I found their energy signatures."

Doom's eyes narrowed with interest as he mapped the dimensional coordinates and mentally computed the ramifications. "Fascinating ... that they could have found themselves there of all places."

Secured room 25B, Stark-Fujikawa New York Headquarters

Of all possible opportunities to escape Stark-Fujikawa custody, Cameron Daye hadn't expected this one to present itself.

The roar of distant hover-thrusters and explosions had told him that the Fantastic Four clones were on their way in their starship, and that a contingent of Watchdogs in SItuation Emergency GEar had intercepted them. The odds of the Four showing up anyway were reasonably high.

Daye realized that with S-F's collective attention elsewhere, all that stood between him and freedom were a couple of non-armored Watchdogs, and they should be simple enough to outfox. Strangely, both of them started screaming, dropped their weapons, then sank to their knees and clutched their heads in agony.

Freezing in place, Daye studied the symptoms. At first, the Watchdogs looked as if they were suffering a mind-blast from Christi Wood, Torch of the Frightful Four. That possibility chilled him to the core.

Then he recognized the mental effects as belonging to "Paranoid" Keith McLaughlin's terrifying illusions. That was an even scarier thought.

Sweating profusely, Daye attempted to calm his nerves through logic. "It can't be Keith," he muttered to himself. "McLaughlin should have been put to death by now, so he can't hurt me. He can't possibly." Unless. "Un ... unless he somehow escaped and--"

My body is actually quite ... dead, a familiar voice in Daye's head announced, causing Daye to jump in surprise. My mind ... is another matter.


What ... you didn't think you'd ... be rid of me, did you? Paranoid Keith asked. They killed my ... body. My mind ... was still linked with ... yours, and here ... it remains.

"For how long?"

Hopefully ... forever.

"Get ... get out of my head. I-I mean it."

As ... I said, I will ... not. I like ... it here. Daye could almost visualize the lanky young man standing there with his head leaning to the side at a disturbing angle as he spoke. You were ... perfectly happy to imprison me and ... toy with me. My death would ... have been a relief for ... you. Well guess ... what? You're the ... prisoner now.

No! Daye protested, finding himself unable to say it aloud. Frantic, he glanced around, spotting a pistol holstered at a fallen Watchdog's side. One way to end it....

Be ... my guest. Blow your brains ... out. Put an end ... to me.

Daye snatched the sidearm, clicked off the safety, and pointed the barrel at his temple. He willed himself to pull the trigger.


There was a strange creaking sound in Daye's head, and it took him almost a minute to realize it was Paranoid Keith's psychic laughter.

You ... are mine, Cameron Daye. My ... puppet.

The explosions and other sounds of battle intensified, but they moved further away from the building where Daye and the guards were located. Come. You and ... I have so much ... to do together. This is only the ... beginning.

Main parking lot, Stark-Fujikawa New York Headquarters

"If this is how it ends," Reed announced as he and his teammates stood surrounded on all sides by SIEGE officers, "it has been an honor knowing you even for such a short period of time." Their attempted rescue of Shandra was not going very well.

"Throwin' in the towel already, Stretcho?" Ben inquired, sizing up his crowd of opponents for body casts. "You gotta have at least one plan rollin' around that big brain o' yours."

Sue kept her forcefield up as she glared at Reed. "Haven't your plans caused enough trouble?"

Astonished, Reed turned to her. "What are you talking about?"

The SIEGE officers took aim. "This is your final warning," the squad leader declared. "Surrender yourselves and your starship, or we will cut you down where you stand."

"Every time you teleport us somewhere," Sue pointed out, keeping her eyes trained on the officers, "we end up someplace else."

"Not always!"

"You engage in risky strategies without consulting the rest of us, so half the time we have no idea how to back you--"

"Announcing my plans in front of our adversaries would defeat the purpose, don't you think?"

Johnny and Ben looked around at the encroaching Stark-Fujikawa forces. "Do you two really need to have this conversation now?" Johnny asked.

"Face it, Reed," Sue went on, "you're not as good at leadership as the first Reed was. You've bailed us out in the past, but--"

"If you'd like to assume leadership," Reed shot back, "be my guest! But--"

"Guys!" Ben roared, focusing their attention. "Either talk about this before or after a mission, but right now is a really bad time! Now somebody needs to come up with somethin', and I don't really care who!"

"Time's up," the squad leader declared. "Men, open fi--"

"Belay that order!" a familiar voice bellow, commanding the undivided attentions of everyone involved. A lone SIEGE armored Watchdog hovered into view. The armor unmistakeably identified him as Sergeant Harkness. "Stand down, all of you. New orders from Hikaru himself: these clones are to be taken alive."

The squad leader couldn't hide his surprise as he and his men held their fire as ordered. "Sir? I thought Hikaru-sama wanted their corpses for experimentation?"

"New. Orders."

The younger man flew up to the sergeant's eye-level. "Authorization code?"

"I got your code right here." The armors of every SIEGE Watchdog in the vicinity froze, causing the squad leader to drop from midair like a brick.

"Bout time you guys showed up!" a voice that definitely wasn't Harkness' chirped from within the still-active armor.

Sue recognized the female voice immediately: "Shandra?"

"That's my name; don't wear it out," Shandra confirmed as she removed the helmet to reveal her grinning face. "I distracted August by--"


"Harkness. Turns out that's his first name. He actually has one of those. Anyway, I distracted him by getting him to tell me about the IceBerg Sisters, then I knocked him out, took his armor, and modded my voice to sound like his. Cool, huh?"

"It certainly cuts down the rescue time," Sue replied as she enveloped Shandra's armored body in an affectionate hug. "So glad you're all right!"

Ben's craggy frown deepened. "Yeah, I'll just bet you are...."

Johnny looked up at the starship hovering a safe distance above their heads. "Great. Sis, how about a lift up there?"

"Correct me if I'm wrong," Ben asked as he and the others stepped onto Sue's rising forcefield platform, "but can't you fly?"

"I just don't want to, all right?" Johnny shot back defensively.

Shandra whistled, astounded. "Johnny doesn't wanna fly? Since when?"

"Let's just drop it for now," Reed declared as the five of them rose via forcefield into the 4Freedom's waiting entrance hatch. "Next stop: the Negative Zone, where we can find a place to hide out and get a good night's rest."

Private quarters section, 4Freedom starship, The Negative Zone, hours later

As it turned out, a good night's rest was out of the question for all four of them.

Sue and Ben certainly gave it their best shot, even going so far as to sleep in the same quarters. They chose Ben's due to his bed's reinforced frame, a feature Reed had the foresight to include when he'd designed the ship. Sue's bed had no such reinforcement. But their sleeping arrangement brought up a point in Sue's mind.

"Ben?" Sue asked, staring up at the dark barren ceiling. She'd just become used to Station 4's quarters, but she supposed it beat sleeping in Doom's station. "Do you realize something?"

"Hmmm...?" Ben answered, preoccupied with staring at the backs of his heavy eyelids.

"This is the first time we've actually planned to sleep in the same bed since New Year's." Since their first kiss signaled the start of their relationship.

"Huh?" Ben turned his head to glance at her. "We've slept t'gether before."

"Well yeah, but that was falling asleep instead of going back to my room. But this time we actually planned ahead to sleep in the same room for the night."

"Yeah ... I was there when we decided. So?"

"So .. that's a big step in our relationship." She could almost hear Ben rolling his eyes in the quiet darkness.

"Can I mark it on th' calendar in the morning?"

She sat up and looked down at him. "That doesn't mean anything to you?"

He sighed, carefully sitting up as well. The reinforced bedframe was holding up admirably to Ben's five-hundred pounds of rocklike bulk. Sadly, their sleeping attire had been left at Station 4, so they had to sleep in their uniforms. "'Course it does, Suzie, but..."

"But what? I didn't know there had to be a 'but' in this."

Ben's blue eyes stared seriously into hers. "I'm not the first person you shared a bed with, am I?"

Sue blinked. "W-what?"

"Answer me. You know what I'm talkin' about."

She shook her head. "Sorry, no, I really don't."

Ben paused, trying to put his thoughts into words. "Somethin' Paranoid Keith said. He was talkin' about -- what was it -- 'new passions in unexpected arms'."

"Wasn't he talking about you and me?"

"That's what I thought when he said it. But that ain't it, is it? I've been thinkin' about what he said."

"You're getting worked up over Keith McLaughlin's ranting? Are you serious? He was toying with our minds while we were imprisoned!"

"Yeah, but it seems t'me he never bothered t'make anything up -- he just worked with what was already there!"

"What are you asking me?" Sue asked, affronted. "If I slept with someone else before I started dating you?"

"Or even after you started with me."

She gaped. "Benjamin Grimm! Don't even think for a moment that I'd cheat on you!"

"I certainly hope not! But I ain't wrong, am I? There's somebody else, an' it's Shandra."

"Do you want to be right about this?"

"Am I?" He took a deep breath, blinking as he tried to rein in his temper. "Listen ... Suzie ... I don't wanna take Keith's word over yours. Not him of all people. If you tell me he's just blowin' smoke, an' there ain't nothin' between you an' Shandra ... I'll believe you."

Sue looked away, her silence and posture thick with shame.


When she finally spoke, her voice was a whisper. "It ... it happened Christmas Eve."

Ben blinked. "What did?"

"Shandra and I ... we -- you have to understand, Ben. She lost so many people who were close to her. All that in such a short time ... she was at her lowest point when I talked to her on Christmas Eve. She was suicidal, Ben. I had to reach out to her ... show her that she had a friend. Someone to be close to."

Ben looked appalled. "There're other ways t'do that than ... than...."

Her eyes narrowed. "Than what?"

He folded his arms, shaking his head. "The original Sue wasn't like that. Or was that th' point to begin with?"

Sue let out an explosive breath. "Okay, first: I'm not a lesbian. She didn't turn me into one; it doesn't work that way." She pointed the index and middle finger of each hand upward, describing air-quotes as she added, "second: the 'original Sue' never had a problem with sexual preference, but just because she settled down with the same man she fell for at a young age doesn't mean I have to!"

Her brow furrowed. "And what did you mean, 'was that the point'?"

"You just said it y'rself: You're doin' stuff Sue wouldn't do just so you won't grow up th' same way she did."

"No, I'm just doing what she didn't do; there's a difference!"

"But you still wanna be the same hard-nosed, take-charge Invisible Woman she turned into, right? So what makes you think doin' different things along th' way are gonna get you the same place?"

"You're really one to talk. You took the religion thing more seriously than the first Ben Grimm ever did."

"Now wait a minute!"

"I want to be my own person, okay?! You think I like the idea that I was someone's failed test tube experiment? That I was cloned from someone who lived a full life? That everyone expects me to be her? And that any attempt to do something she never did is seen as ... as some violation of her character! 'The real Sue wouldn't do that.' Bullshit! Has it ever occurred to you ... to any of you ... that there are things in Susan Storm-Richards' life she maybe wanted to do, but never got the chance? Maybe because she worried about what the neighbors might think. Well, I'm never going to be her. I just want to find out who I am. If that means I have to rebel against this manicured socialite housewife image, fine! It's my life, and my decision to make."

"And if it means...."

"If it means finding out whether or not Shandra's attraction to me is one-sided ... fine. It's no one's business, and anyway it's over."

Ben tried to make sense of all this. "It's over 'cause it was one-sided?"

Sue stared at her lap, her tirade subsiding. "No. It's over because ... because it was 'a mistake'. Her words."

Whatever Ben thought he was expecting, that wasn't it. "...Huh?"

She sighed, shifting her center of balance from foot to foot. "The morning after, she was still wracked with guilt. She said that because I'm only a couple of months old, that I'm too young for that and she was 'taking advantage' of me."

Ben thought about this. "She kinda has a point."

Sue scowled, stepping off the bed and turning toward the room exit. "I think I'll find somewhere else to sleep."

Ben harrumphed. "Fine with me. Does this mean we ain't a ... 'we' anymore?"

She stopped at the doorway as it opened, standing at the threshold that separated the brightly-lit corridor from the dark depths of the living quarters. Then she stepped through it; the door slid shut behind her.

Sue yelped as she almost collided with Johnny in the corridor; her brother looked as if he was in a hurry. "Where're you going?"

"I need to ask Reed something." Glancing at the closed door behind Sue, Johnny studied the situation. "Looked like you were tearing out of there in a hurry."

She sighed. "Ben and I had a fight."

"Are you gonna be okay? Do I need to kick Ben's ass for ya?"

She couldn't help but snicker. "I'll be fine, Johnny. And no, you don't." Raising an eyebrow, she studied him and inquired, "what did you want to see Reed about that's so urgent?"

Looking away bashfully, he scratched the back of his head. "It ... it's private. And it's kinda technical, so I'll need to run it by Reed first."

"Okay." Sue looked at him for a moment. "Promise you'll tell me about it afterward? Like it or not, I'm still your sister."

"Sooo glad you didn't say 'big sister'."

She frowned, waiting. "Johnny...."

"All right. I promise I'll let you know what this is about."

Main cabin, 4Freedom starship, The Negative Zone, hours later

"I promise," the holographic image of Nathaniel Richards explained, the soft glow of his features providing the only lighting in the 4Freedom's cabin, "if there had been another option besides cloning the Fantastic Four, I would have taken it."

Reed sat in a chair, hands steepled in front of his face as he watched the image. Occasionally he reached out to press a few buttons on the console to subtly change the pitch of Nathaniel's voice, the length of his beard, the phrasing of his speech, and the wrinkled creases framing his eyes. Anything to accurately reproduce the file Doom had shown him.

Anything to preserve the memory of his father.

"As your memory banks no doubt inform you, I am a time traveler. And the futures I have seen are terrible indeed. The twenty-first century is destined to be a dark time in countless timestreams; it is only a matter of the degree to which hope and despair coexist. Perhaps that has been true of every era in mankind's history. However, in this era, hope is in very short supply: you see, the Heroic Age has ended. It had barely lasted a few decades, but it was full of promise, from the second World War and the rise of Captain America, to the recent times that were the heyday of such heroes as the Avengers and your progenitors, the Fantastic Four. But due in no small part to the very governments -- the very people -- they had sworn to protect, the political climate turned against them. The Heroic Age ended violently, with morality eroded for the sake of selfish interests. Sadly, I have been helpless to stop it. And now I turn to the four of you, my last desperate hope."

Reed's jaw clenched. The original Fantastic Four had failed. The twentieth century superheroes as a whole had failed. They'd been done in by the encroachment of the same politics and self-interest that was now the law of the land.

He found this incredibly depressing. If Reed hadn't already been certain that the odds were stacked against them, this would be the clincher.

The entry door slid open to admit Johnny. "Hey Reed? You busy?"

Reed saved his progress, then turned to face his teammate. "It can wait," he decided. "Is there something on your mind?"

Johnny rubbed the back of his head. "It's that obvious?"

"Considering you're not taking the opportunity to sleep, I'd posit that there is indeed something bothering you."

"You're still up, too," Johnny pointed out with a smirk.

Caught in his own logic, Reed smiled back and gestured to the screen. "I'm trying to reproduce as much of the Nathaniel Richards recording as I can remember, since Doom won't let us have the original copy. Sadly, there's no way I can recreate everything that was on the video, because I haven't seen all of it. There's no way to know what else was said."

"Short of getting on Doom's good side again, yeah." Johnny squinted at the holo-image. "His face is a little wider."

Reed turned back to 'Nathaniel' and pondered this. "Hmm ... noted. Good eye." He then input the necessary commands into the console, and the holographic face widened slightly. "How's that?"

"Better. So, uh, why don't you get Shandra to help you hack Doom's computer?"

"I ... suppose that could be one way to get the file back. It wouldn't be easy, but if anyone could do it, Shandra could."

Johnny passed his fingers through the holographic face, looking to Reed like a child passing his fingers over a zippo lighter's flame. "Admit it, you just want to see your dad again."

"More accurately, he was the original Reed Richards' father, though speaking strictly in terms of genetics--"

"He's still your dad. And mine too, since he cloned me." He grinned. "Welcome to the family?"

Reed considered that with a smile, then raised an eyebrow at Johnny, turning serious once again. "You didn't come here to discuss that with me. What's on your mind?"

Johnny took a breath. "This'll probably sound stupid, and I'm sure Sue'll tell me it is...."


Johnny paced back and forth, apparently trying to decide how to phrase his question. "Okay ... y'know how Paranoid Keith made me see some really scary visions? Like what my biggest fear is?"

Reed nodded. "You haven't spoken of it to any great extent." He had an idea where this was going, but he wanted to hear the specifics from Johnny.

"Yeah, well ... he made me think I burned everyone around me to death. You, Ben, Sue ... Shandra ... everybody." Looking away in shame, he added, "he made me afraid of my powers."

"That explains the fluctuations in your power levels," Reed surmised.

"Yeah, kinda ... I mean I know I shouldn't let him get to me. But it's like ... the first Johnny enjoyed his powers. He got a kick out of 'em. But all I see is that I don't have enough control over my power, and people are gonna get hurt. And then when there's a fight, which is often, the first thing I do is flame on and burn people." He glanced sideways at Reed. "That make sense?"

Pursing his lips in thought, Reed nodded. "I believe so. It's even understandable."

"It is?"

"Certainly. After all, as clones, none of us have had the benefit of a childhood. We appear to be adults, and others have treated us accordingly."

Johnny blinked several times, digesting this. "Y'know ... I never really thought of it that way."

"Childhood was of utmost importance to the original Johnny Storm due to his relative lack of maturity--"

"Gee, thanks."

"--which was his strength as well as his shortcoming." Pausing a moment, he added, "I could especially see it when you raced Maintenance Flight Nine's labor frame, and when you played chicken with the asteroids in the Debris Field."

"I thought you were pissed at me."

"At the time, I was. But later I realized how important it was for you to have fun, considering how dangerous our lives are."

"Important for me? What about the rest of you?"

"I'm the leader," Reed replied with a sly smile. "I'm not supposed to have fun. Or so they say."

Johnny studied Reed's face. "But deep down you're a rebel, just waiting to hack Doom."


The two of them laughed for at least a minute, then grew silent for even longer. "I'm waiting," Reed declared finally.

Johnny looked puzzled. "For what?"

"For the matter you really wanted to discuss. It involves your power, doesn't it? And why you didn't want to fly up to the ship?"

"Oh. That." Nervous, Johnny took a seat across from Reed. "I ... I want you to take it away."

Reed raised his eyebrows. He'd guessed that Johnny would request something to that effect, but something told him that it was only polite to at least act surprised. "I see."

Johnny rolled his eyes. "Why does everyone say that? Like they know what it's like to hate having a power."

"Who else has said that?"

"Well ... Cameron Daye, mostly. I talked to him about this before he had us locked in that room."

"A private therapy session?"

"Yeah, kinda. Obviously I didn't learn anything from it, other than how two-faced he is."

Attempting to prevent the topic from derailing further, Reed asked, "do you really believe that the only solution is the removal of your power?"

Sighing, Johnny stood up from the seat. "Every time we get into a fight, my first instinct is to Flame On. Even when I know that all I can do is burn people with it. Maybe if I didn't have that power, nobody'd get hurt, and nobody'd be able to use it against me."

"You would still have the instinct to use your power," Reed pointed out, "rendering you potentially helpless in a combat situation."

Johnny's brows knit. "'Helpless'?"

"Bad choice of words."

"Well, then do you think my powers could be changed to something else? I mean, between your brain and all this 2099 tech...."

Reed nodded. "I'll look into it. But we do have more immediate concerns."

"Like what?"

"Like finding the hidden colony of Negative Zone natives. I believe I have an idea where they might be."

Stark-Fujikawa Headquarters, The Negative Zone, days later

"Well, here we are," Miles Takagi had been gazing out the panoramic window of his new office, in awe of the expanse of the Negative Zone outside. It certainly looked as if all of space were contained within a sprawling cloud of blue particles, stirring together as if in an attempt to fuse together.

Streaks of red lightning sliced through the Zonescape, heralding a phenomenon Takagi had heard dubbed a "Voltstorm". While he sincerely hoped the storm would stay away from the headquarters, he couldn't help but be transfixed by the spectacle. This was the best idea Halle had ever had.

Turning toward the workers moving in Takagi's furniture, he asked, "is my holo-assistant installed yet?"

One of them pointed at the faux-oak executive's desk, which housed a built-in holographic display. "She's downloading in there, as you requested, sir," he replied, "but don't you think you should wait until the Voltstorm has cleared? It's getting closer, and it could interfere with the equipment."

Miles watched as the holo-program's progress bar filled with information, copying Halle's data from a mini-disk to the desk itself. "No, it's almost done anyway. And isn't this place protected against surges?"

"Not one this size," another worker answered as he unpacked some boxes. "In fact. we should prob'ly move to one of the storm shelters and wait this out."

The red voltstorm streaks steadily approached the area of Zonespace where the headquarters was carved into an asteroid. "Nah, let's wait," Takagi asserted. "The storm can't be that bad."

A nearby lightning strike painted the window red; the resulting clap of thunder sounded like a cross between a gunshot and the end of the world.

Miles Takagi screamed like a girl. "All right ... all right! Let's go. The download can be paused, right? This is set up like my office back on Earth...?"

"Yep." The lead worker selected 'pause' on the desk's console. "Now c'mon, the voltstorm's gettin'...."

"'Voltier'?" another finished, making up a word for his own amusement.

Once the groans had died down, and security had ushered the workers and Takagi out of the office, a silence descended on the room, broken only by the rumbling of an approaching storm.

The holo-program's download resumed, the progress bar completing what little remained. The program initialized, and the image of a classy-dressed woman with light-brown skin, short-cropped black hair, and a red business suit and matching miniskirt materialized, sitting on the desk. Halle gazed out the window with interest, just as fascinated by the way the voltstorm lit up the entire Negative Zone as Miles Takagi was.

"It's all mine..." she mused.


Previous Issue: "Impending Doom, Part One: 4Freedom"

It's about freaking time.

Seriously. I've been trying to get this issue written, revised, typed up, and released for half a year, much longer than I expected to. Heck, I figured this issue would have been finished by the end of Summer '07, but things just didn't work out that way. The plotting was like herding cats, because I had a lot to wrap up. This was the "season finale", if you will, of Fantastic Four 2099UGR, and I have no idea when or if there'll be a Volume 3. So leaving them on a decent jumping-off point was crucial. And getting all the characters in the necessary places for a resolution turned out to be a bigger pain in the butt than i'd ever imagined. Heck, I could have written two or three more issues in the time it took me to finish this.

Anyway, enough of that. I leave this issue in your hands, dear readers, to decide whether or not the extra wait was worth it.

And with that, 2099UGR is now officially on a months-long hiatus so we writers can put more issues in the can and commence a move to Altered Visions, where we'll be a sub-imprint. Why AV and not Serial Prizes? It's a long story, mostly having to do with yours truly not being able to access that server with my FTP client. But anyway, when 2099UGR rises again, we'll kick it off with a crossover between our 2099UGRverse and the Altered Visions universe. So yes, you'll actually be seeing the Fantastic Four of 2099 again before Volume 3. Stay tuned...

..if for no other reason than to see how badly plans go astray.

--David Ellis, 01.29.2008_