From Reed Richards' private journal, 20th
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Secured room 13A, Stark-Fujikawa New York
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
Shandra simply continued to sit in a corner, head
cradled in her arms. Her face was hidden from the
"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
"Call me August."
"Tell me about the IceBerg Sisters."
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
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
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
"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
Reed narrowed his eyes, crossing the room in two
long-legged strides to once again get in Doom's face.
"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
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
"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)
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"Rest assured," Doom promised, sweeping his gaze
across the room, "under my guidance, it will be
"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
"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
"You would turn down the opportunity to accomplish
"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
"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
"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
"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
4Freedom starship, Earth orbit, an hour
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
"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,
"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
"And were it not for my reconstruction efforts, you
would still be deceased in both the physical and
"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
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
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
Of all possible opportunities to escape Stark-Fujikawa
custody, Cameron Daye hadn't expected this one to
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
Main parking lot, Stark-Fujikawa New York
"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
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."
"You engage in risky strategies without consulting the
rest of us, so half the time we have no idea how to
"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
"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
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?"
The younger man flew up to the sergeant's eye-level.
"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
Sue recognized the female voice immediately:
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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,
"But what? I didn't know there had to be a 'but' in
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
"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
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
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
"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
"No, I'm just doing what she didn't do; there's
"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
"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
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
Whatever Ben thought he was expecting, that wasn't it.
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
"Considering you're not taking the opportunity to
sleep, I'd posit that there is indeed something
"You're still up, too," Johnny pointed out with a
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
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,
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
"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
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,"
"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."
"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--"
"--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
"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
"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
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
"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
"Like finding the hidden colony of Negative Zone
natives. I believe I have an idea where they might
Stark-Fujikawa Headquarters, The Negative Zone,
"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
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
"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.