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Review: War of Kings: Darkhawk #1

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CREDITS:

WRITER: C.B. Cebulski

PENCILS: Harvey Tolibao & Bong Dazo

INKS: Harvey Tolibao & Joe Pimental

COLORS: Jay David Ramos & Rain Beredo

LETTERS: VC’s Cory Petit

ASSISTANT EDITOR: Michael Horwitz

EDITOR: Bill Rosemann

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Joe Quesada

PUBLISHER: Dan Buckley

COVER PRICE: $3.99

COVER DATE: April 2009

IN STORES: February 4, 2009

SYNOPSIS:

The first story (of two contained in this issue) is a new 22-page story centered on Darkhawk and his situation following his recent appearances in Nova (Vol. 4) #17-19. The story opens with Chris Powell rushing around his bedroom, chiding himself for his current predicament: running late for work. While pondering his anger issues and growing concerns that he may lose control as Darkhawk, Chris rushes downstairs to the dining room where his mother and two brothers are already eating breakfast. Chris has moved back east to his family’s home in New York since becoming the Chief of Security at Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. Chris transforms in to Darkhawk and flies off to work, feeling good about himself and his world (yeah, we’ll see how long that lasts!).

Darkhawk arrives at Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. and finds problems are waiting for him. Dr. Necker, one of the Project scientists, briefs him about a Skrull booby trap (left over from the Skrull infiltration of Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. during Secret Invasion) bringing down a containment field long enough for X-Ray and Vector of the U-Foes to escape from their cells. Just then, Vector breaks through an adjoining wall and immediately attacks Darkhawk. Goaded by Vector, Darkhawk takes the battle to the air. Vector attempts to rip the amulet from the Darkhawk armor, and the amulet responds by fatally (?) blasting Vector. Darkhawk returns to the ground near where Vector’s body fell, very upset over losing control of the amulet again. Dr. Necker approaches Darkhawk from behind, when he raises up and hits her, saying, “Get away! You can’t have it!” Darkhawk immediately apologizes, explaining that his armor seems to be reacting on its own. Dr. Necker suggests that he let Project personnel study it, but Darkhawk hurriedly leaves, preferring to not let anyone else get hurt.

Some time passes, and Chris shows up at a meeting of the Loners’ support group being held in Manhattan. Mickey (formerly the super-hero known as Turbo) is speaking to the other members when Chris arrives, asking for help. He explains to Mickey and the group about his armor reacting on its own instinct, then reverting back to his control. Mickey and Chris leave the meeting and grab some sushi, discussing Chris’ apprehension about being the subject of tests at Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. Mickey recommends that he go through with the testing for his family and for her.

After the meal, Mickey goes with Chris to his house. They talk briefly outside, with Mickey declining Chris’ invitation to come in and meet his family. Just then, the amulet begins glowing red-hot, burning Chris. Before he has time to react, a fireball appears in the sky, headed directly for the Powell home. As it crashes in the Powells’ backyard, Mickey and Chris rush around the house to find a humanoid figure wearing a suit of armor remarkably similar to the Darkhawk armor, complete with its own amulet. As Chris remarks that his amulet was the last one, the figure speaks, saying that is what “Designate Powell” was supposed to believe. From behind them, Chris’ mother and brothers come out to the backyard to see what is happening, and Chris orders them back into the house and to call the Initiative for help.

Chris turns back to the mysterious figure, asking how it knows so much about him. The figure says it is there to save Chris, then reaches out to Chris and touches his amulet, initiating his transformation to Darkhawk. As it does so, it hints at a larger threat requiring the both of them to work together. Darkhawk is stunned, asking the figure how it transformed him. The figure responds by telling Darkhawk there is much he does not know. Another fireball appears in the sky, again headed for the Powell home. The figure exclaims, “No! It’s found us already,” as the fireball lands with great impact, destroying the Powell home. To be continued…!

The second story is a reprint of Darkhawk (Vol. 1, 1991) #1, and is included for historical reference.

NOTES:

The bulk of this issue was exposition and first-person narration from Chris’ point of view, filling in the reader as to what Darkhawk has been up to since he left the Loners and became the Security Chief at Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. This seems to have given the story the accessibility necessary for the reader who may not have been familiar with Darkhawk; however, it also includes elements for those familiar with Darkhawk to be able to enjoy the story as well, such as the fight with Vector – Darkhawk (with an assist from Daredevil and Captain America) first fought the U-Foes back in Darkhawk (Vol. 1, 1991) #6, so it was nice to see a subtle nod to the older continuity. Given that this is a two-issue mini-series, it seems like it is designed to provide the transition for Darkhawk from Earthbound hero (his role up to now) to cosmic bad-ass (his larger role in the Marvel Universe proper) in fairly rapid fashion. The next issue should illuminate us to the real purpose of the Darkhawk armor, how it is connected to the Shi’ar, and what side he will fight for in the War of Kings. From there, Darkhawk’s story will continue into the War of Kings: Ascension four-issue mini-series, where it seems he will become involved in a skirmish in the Negative Zone (King Blastaar anyone?). I am stoked for this, and can’t wait until War of Kings: Darkhawk #2 (of 2) is released on March 18 to find out more!

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Chris Hemsworth as Thor

Image

 

Check out the first official photo from the Thor movie set to hammer into theatres May 6, 2011!

Chris Hemsworth plays Thor with Tom Hiddleston as the role of Thor’s mischeavous brother Loki, and Natalie Portman as Jane Foster.

The Thor movie is part of a three part epic leading up to the Avengers! Already released are the release dates for Iron Man 2 which debuts next week on May 7, 2010, The First Avenger: Captain America starring Chris Evans, on July 22, 2011, and Marvel Studios’ The Avengers assembles on May 4, 2012.

Head on over to Marvel.com for more information!

RELATED:

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Assembling The Gauntlet: Interview With Brian Clevinger On Avengers & The Infinity Gauntlet

The year is 1991. Half the universe has been destroyed including your favorite super hero. A mad Titan is responsible. He is Thanos. He has acquired the six Infinity Gems, and is a god.

As announced at the recent Chicago comic con, C2E2, come this July writer Brian Clevinger of Atomic Robo fame gets to stand on equal ground with the mad Titan himself, and gets a chance to remake something in his own image. Clevinger gets to redo the original Infinity Gauntlet as he sees fit, alongside artist Brian Churilla (Rex Mundi, The Anchor).

The all-ages book, Avengers & The Infinity Gauntlet, pits what’s left of the Avengers, described as a “ragtag” group of heroes and villains including Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Hulk, Ms. Marvel and Doctor Doom, against Thanos in the final battle to save the universe!

Brian Clevinger was kind enough to speak with Cosmic Book News on his thoughts and also share some details on Avengers & The Infinity Gauntlet.

Cosmic Book News: What can you tell us about the Avengers & The Infinity Gauntlet mini that begins this August?

Brian Clevinger: I’ll tell you it’s great and you should totally buy it.

Cosmic Book News: This is a different take on the Starlin original, yes? Were you a big fan of the original Infinity Gauntlet when it came out?

Brian Clevinger: Oh, yes, a very different take. The original Infinity Gauntlet had just started to come out when I first got into comics as a kid. It was this great event in Marvel history that’s stuck with me ever since. So, yeah, when Nate (Marvel editor Nate Crosby) said he wanted me to work on my own version of Infinity Gauntlet, I was pretty excited to be given the opportunity to play around with such an iconic Marvel moment.

Cosmic Book News: Back in the day, Infinity Gauntlet was Marvel’s biggest event and crossover. How does it feel to be doing a “re-imagining?” Those are some big shoes to fill!

Brian Clevinger: I don’t mind telling you it was suffocatingly daunting at first. But Nate told me not to think of it as retelling Infinity Gauntlet. He told me, “If there had never been an Infinity Gauntlet story, how would you have written it?”

So, that helped put things into perspective. It wasn’t about living up to Starlin, Perez and Lim. It was about just doing what I do.

Cosmic Book News: Brian, you also wrote Atomic Robo. I take it you like doing the more cosmic and sci-fi type of stories?

Brian Clevinger: Oh yeah, I’m a sci-fi dork all the way. My childhood was defined by Star Wars, Robotech, Battletech, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that kind of stuff. Other kids looked up to football players, my hero was Carl Sagan.

Cosmic Book News: Have you worked with Brian Churilla before? What can we expect to see from Brian in this mini? Can you tell us a little bit about working with him?

Brian Clevinger: I’ve never worked with him, but I look forward to changing that with Infinity Gauntlet. I’ve been a fan of his since The Engineer and I think he was a great choice for this project. He’s got that clean modern economy of line going on, but there’s a strong undercurrent of classic comic aesthetics through his work too. I think that’ll line up quite nicely with the lighter track we’re taking with this version of a big cosmic story.

Cosmic Book News: And Brian, if I am not mistaken this is your first project for Marvel? Quite exciting! Can we expect to see more from you at Marvel?

Brian Clevinger: I’m working on a couple of back-up comics for 616 Marvel at this very moment! Beyond that, I’d love to do more all-ages work. There’s a tremendous amount of freedom to stories like these. You get to shed all the continuity that can bog characters down and get right to the core of what makes them fun.

Cosmic Book News: Sounds great, Brian! Thank you for taking the time out to speak with us.

Be sure to check out Avengers & The Infinity Gauntlet from Brian Clevinger and Brian Churilla when it hits shops this August!

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Guardians of the Galaxy #25 Review

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Written by: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Artist: Brad Walker

Colorist: Wil Quintana

Cover Artist: Alex Garner

Warning: Contains Spoilers
 

Some recent comics have limped out of existence with a whimper – Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk come to mind – but, if issue #25 of Guardians of the Galaxy is indeed the last issue of this fine series, it can be said that it went out in style, proudly and with head held high as the class act that it is, always has been, and always will be in comicdom’s halls of history.

Master writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning deliver a tour-de-force of cosmic comics entertainment as they tie up all the dangling plot threads from Issue #1 to present. We learn that our beloved 616 Universe Guardians literally stand at the epicenter of all time and all quantum realities – with everything – and I do mean everything depending on their actions or lack thereof. An overwhelming responsibility – and one they are perhaps thankfully unaware they possess.

The story proceeds at breakneck speed with our intrepid heroes ultimately triumphing over a resurrected Thanos – or, like their seeming victory over The Magus a few issues back – is everything exactly as it seems? I suppose that – and the ultimate fate of Phyla – remains to be seen in the upcoming Thanos Imperative.

I am consistently impressed with DnA’s ability to so skillfully handle the characterization of such a large ensemble – making each character unique and interesting both as an individual and as part of an interacting cast. Whether it’s Rocket comforting a stricken Groot, Drax and Gamora figuring out how to attack Thanos, or Rocket and Peter sitting next to each other at Starlin’s Bar and quietly summing things up over a “DnA Cosmic Ale” bottle of beer – the strength and consistent high quality of Guardians of the Galaxy has always been centered on the interplay among the characters.

Brad Walker’s art is amazing. I’m really glad he drew this extraordinarily important issue. He’s taken this book and given it a signature look and feel. If Guardians of the Galaxy does come back from Hiatus Hel; please Marvel – make Brad Walker the regular artist for this book. Quintana’s colors perfectly capture the dark mood of this issue. Garner once again produces a truly impressive piece of cover art – perfectly capturing the awe and menacing majesty of The Mad Titan. I look forward to seeing more of Garner’s work.

As I have been writing this review, I found myself struck with a feeling somewhat akin to the feeling one experiences at the end of a romance when considering all the sweet ‘might have beens’ that now, regretfully, will never be. I can’t help but think that there are still a lot of fine stories to tell of this motley crew’s adventures – and I can’t help but be sad at the thought that we may never hear those stories. I know from various personal communications that others feel exactly the same way. Let us hope that our sadness is unfounded.

In closing, I would like to thank Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning for re-vitalizing Marvel’s Cosmic line and bringing us cosmic fans 25 wonderful issues of Guardians of the Galaxy. Guys – you gave us an unforgettable set of stories and a magnificent series that will be held in the utmost esteem by generations of cosmic fans. You took a bunch of dimly remembered cosmic characters from the past, breathed new life into them, and made us care about them. Cosmic comics literally don’t get any better than your Guardians of the Galaxy.

I’d like to thank Brad Walker for bringing his extraordinary artistic talent to the pages of Guardians of the Galaxy. Brad – your work is amazing and I look forward to seeing what you’ll be doing for Marvel next. Thanks to Wil Quintana for your consistent masterful coloring. Thanks to all the other artists and colorists who have contributed to this wonderful series.

I’d like to thank Bill Rosemann for his editorial work on this series and for his support of and kindness to the cosmic fans. Likewise, thanks to Joe Quesada for taking a chance on the Cosmic line in general and this series in particular. If he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have had 25 wonderful issues to enjoy.

It has been my extraordinary privilege to share my thoughts on Marvel’s cosmic brand line with CBN’s readership each month and an extraordinary honor to have Marvel quote some of my GotG reviews in a few solicits. I would like to thank CBN Editor-in-Chief, Matt McGloin, for giving me the opportunity to write for CBN.

Finally, I’d like to thank the legion of loyal GotG fans who have stuck with the series from beginning to hiatus. You guys and gals are the greatest and I’ve appreciated all the comments and enjoyed the good natured debates in which we’ve engaged over the run of this series.

So, let’s keep Star-Lord’s dream alive by buying The Thanos Imperative as the most important lobbying effort we can make is voting with our dollars. If TI does well financially, we may well see Star-Lord and company back for more cosmic adventures.

Rating: Five Stars

Article by: Bill Meneese

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Jeph Loeb on Marvel Cosmic?!

Earlier today an image was found at the CBR forums featuring the the Secret Avengers. Now it is being said that writer Jeph Loeb (Hulk) will be taking on Marvel Cosmic. No other information is known at this time.

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Nova: The Lost Years Saga: Annihilation: The Guerilla War Part Three

 

« Part Two |

Warning:  Mature Content

Nova: The Next Generation

Part Two

of

The Shi’Ar Conflict

Written By: Timelord Ӣ 9.13.09

 

Chapter Four:  The Warlord of the Sky and Sea (Part I)

     Vas’Nur was quartered next door to Rich.  Her duty station was a desk in an alcove outside her quarters.  Rich left her at her desk giving her strict orders that he was not to be disturbed and praising her for her devotion to duty.  He was happy to see her swell with pride in response to his compliments; and he hoped that this new strategy would result in her relaxing a bit.

     Rich entered his quarters closely followed by the Worldmind avatar.  “PRIME, seal the door.”  Rich turned to the Worldmind avatar.  “So, how do we do this?”

     The Worldmind gestured for Rich to be seated on his bed. “Richard, you are about to undergo what the ancients called ”˜Deep Communion with the Worldmind’ or what is now commonly called ”˜Direct Interface with the Worldmind.’  You will directly interface with my gestalt consciousness.  From the gestalt, I will select the individual consciousness of each of three of the greatest warriors in modern Xandarian history.  You will meld with each consciousness and experience their memories of combat in such a manner so that you will be aware of their thoughts, have access to their knowledge base, and experience their sensations; but they will, of course, not be aware of your presence.  In a sense, you will live their lives and retain some of their wisdom, knowledge base, and military genius as a result.  This experience is required training for all career military officers in the Xandarian Star Corps.  I must warn you that it can be a disconcerting experience to suddenly find yourself present in the ”˜mind’ and ”˜body’ of another; but know that you will not lose your individuality at any time; and you can end this training at any time simply by asking.  Do you require further clarification?”

     Rich shook his head negatively.  “No.  Let’s get started.”

     “Very well.  Your first training experience will be with Captain Antonius Mer, nicknamed by generations of Xandarian military cadets ”˜The Warlord of the Sky and Sea.’  This first experience takes place on the planet Xandar approximately 2000 years ago.  Please lie down and we will begin.”  The Worldmind paused, waiting for Rich to comply with its request.

     Rich reclined on his bed.  As soon as his head hit the pillow, he found himself standing in the infinite white void of pure thought, accompanied only by the Worldmind avatar.  The next instant, he found himself alone in an aircraft cockpit flying at high altitude over a vast azure-colored ocean.  For a moment, Rich felt disoriented.  He heard the voice of the Worldmind in his head saying, “Open your mind Richard.  Relax and become one with Captain Mer’s thoughts.”  Rich relaxed and became aware of the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the man whose body and mind he was now sharing as they flew through banks of clouds above the azure-colored water of old Xandar’s great Northern Ocean.

     Mer looked at his reflection in the aircraft’s windshield.  It was disconcerting to Rich to look into a ”˜mirror’ and see someone else staring back.  The reflection was of a handsome, 30-ish young man with short-cropped blonde hair, blue eyes, and a days growth of stubble.  Rich could ”˜hear’ Mer’s consciousness – Mer’s internal dialogue – just by concentrating.  Taking the Worldmind’s advice, Rich relaxed and allowed himself to become one with Mer’s thoughts.

    I need a shave.  Sure hope this mission is a short one.  I need some more time off to do more of what I did last night.  A sly smile flashed across his face and carnal images flashed through his mind.  Let’s see.  Where are the controls for communications?  D’ast!  Can’t get used to flying like this!  With the nanite neural web just implanted in my brain a few weeks ago, I don’t need to fly manually anymore; I just have to mentally tell the ship what to do.  Uh – ship? Give me a heads-up display of the positions of the rest of my squadron.

     A HUD appeared in his field of vision.  D’ast!  Did it again!  I don’t need this!  All I have to do is open my mind and I can know everything the ship knows about its functioning and surroundings.  Disappear HUD.  Locate the rest of my ships.  There.  In my mind I can see my five ships flying in stealth mode in perfect formation.  Beautiful Mark VI Trans-fighters.  They can fight in the air or reconfigure to fight on the ocean surface or as submarines.  Perfect for we Navy Special-Ops types.  This new tech is amazing!  Once the Defense Department’s ”˜Project Worldmind’ Quantum Super-Computer is finished, we’ll see even more amazing tech.  Maybe this super-computer can even figure out why so many of our people are contracting this strange neurological disease.  Maybe it can even find a way to cure it.  Time to check in with my squadron.  Ship-to-ship encoded quantum radio –  audio only.

     “All right you slackers – let’s break radio silence a moment and sound off to show me you’re still awake and ready for this mission.”  Mer smiled – proud of his squadron.

     “Azi here Captain – awake and ready.”  Feanus Azi.  Newest member of my squadron.  Right out of the academy.  Self-confident to the point of arrogance.  Hasn’t had enough humbling experiences to get rid of the cockiness.  Best in his class though.  That’s what got him here.  He’s a good entry level operative who just needs some seasoning; and it’s my job to keep him alive long enough to get that seasoning.

     “Van here.”  A little terse.  Wonder what’s up with Van?  Sunilius Van – House Van’s contribution to the Royal Navy.  He tries to downplay his royal background.  Comes across as falsely modest.  An accomplished pilot and a communications specialist second to none.  Been with me a year now and I’m always happy to have him alongside me cause he knows how to fight a way out of any mission gone bad.

     “Caal reporting.”  Lios Caal.  She’s been with me three years now.  My demolition expert.  So far, haven’t found a thing she can’t destroy.

    “Sol here Captain Mer.”  Mmmmmm – can’t keep the smile off my face just hearing her voice.  The lovely Felana Sol.  My warrior woman.  Never met a better or tougher fighter.  Been my Executive Officer for four years and more recently my lover.  We’re bending the rules but not actually breaking them.  Yeah – I’d like to believe the Admiralty would see it that way.  Let me indulge myself a minute here and think of our time together last night.  I can feel the Frammi Charm she gave me hanging from its chain against the skin of my chest.  I can still imagine her touch, her scent, her taste – even hours later.  A mental picture flashed through Mer’s mind – beautiful nude body, ebony skin, black hair, lovely face, green eyes——

     Rich Rider sprang bolt upright in bed covered in cold sweat, gasping for breath, and looking about wildly.  He saw a horribly disfigured ebony-skinned, black-haired, green-eyed young woman lying on the floor wearing a tattered Millennian uniform.  She was pleading with him, “Kill me Richard!  Please, please kill me!”

     Rich pressed against the headboard of his bed, trying to turn away or get away; taken aback by horror and revulsion of what the once beautiful woman had become.  She was transforming into something horrible right before his eyes.  “No!  No I can’t!  I won’t!”

     It was effortful for her to respond.  “You must!  The pain’s unbearable!  Please!  I — I can’t control myself much longer!  If you don’t kill me, I’ll soon kill you and everyone else!

     Tears streamed down Rich’s face.  His voice rising an octave, he pled with her.  “Please don’t make me!  I care for you!  I could never hurt you!”

     “The pain!  Richard!  I’m barely me anymore!  I’m not the Derana Sol you knew!  Kill me now!  I’m going to die anyway!  The pain!  Richard please – I beg of you – end my suffering now!”  Derana screamed as her body violently spasmed and transformed into something no longer recognizable as humanoid.  The look in her eyes turned from pleading to malevolent.  She moved to advance on him.

     Rich screamed in grief, rage, and anguish; building his most powerful gravimetric pulse to destroy the malevolent creature his beloved Derana had become.  He pointed his hand at the creature to fire the pulse, tears streaming down his face and bile choking his throat.

     “RICHARD!  IT IS CRITICAL THAT YOU PAY ATTENTION AT THIS TIME!”

Rich blinked and shook his head to clear it as the image of the Worldmind avatar replaced the vision of the creature Rich was about to destroy. 

     Rich stopped the pulse just a nano-second before firing and then leapt in front of the Worldmind avatar angrily demanding an answer.  “What the fark was that?  I thought you said this was safe!  What the fark is going on?”

     The Worldmind replied in a matter of fact manner.  “Richard – you nearly fired a gravimetric pulse that would have breached the hull and disabled if not destroyed the ship.”

     Rich was dumbfounded with shock – he had only a vague memory of being terrified of an ebony-skinned girl who resembled Captain Mer’s XO. “What?  Why?!”

     The Worldmind hesitated before answering.  “I am still analyzing.”

     Rich had the distinct impression that the Worldmind was holding back something; but before he could further question the Worldmind, he noticed the sounding of the red alert klaxon and the sound of someone pounding on the door of his quarters.

     Rich could hear Yeoman Vas’Nur’s voice.  “Sir!  Sir!  Please open the door or we will be forced to break it down.”

     Rich shot the Worldmind avatar a dirty look and turned to the door.  He realized his face was wet with tears.  What the fark?  I’ve been crying?  He wiped the tears from his face.  “PRIME!  Open the door!”

     The door slid open and Yeoman Vas’Nur rushed into the room, side arm drawn, concern and worry clouding her face.  She was closely followed by six bulls from the Tauron Marine squad assigned to the ship.  The bulls were covered head-to-hoof in Tauron Battle Armor; and their plasma rifles were glowing hot with deadly charges primed to fire.  Commodore Che’Noth entered after the marines, her hands clasped behind her back, facial expression a mix of concern and puzzlement.

     Rich fixed Che’Noth in a stern stare.  “Commodore.  Sit-rep.  Why is the fleet at Red Alert?”

     Che’Noth snapped to attention as did the rest of the Tauron.  “Sir!  Screaming was reported emanating from your quarters and ship’s sensors detected a massive build-up of gravimetric energy in your quarters.  We assumed you were under attack and Vice-Admiral Ga’Noth ordered the fleet to Red Alert.”

     Rich shot the Worldmind avatar another dirty look, his anger building from both embarrassment and the feeling that the Worldmind was not being completely forthcoming.  Rich nodded his head sharply.  “PRIME – cancel Red Alert.  Send word to the Vice-Admiral that Commodore Che’Noth will explain this mishap to him shortly.  Marines – stand down and dismissed.”

     Rich waited until the marines left and the door slid shut behind them.  “Che’Noth, Vas’Nur – at ease.”  Rich watched as the Commodore and the Yeoman visibly relaxed.  “The Worldmind and I were conducting an ancient Xandarian –.. ritual when a mishap occurred.  You both did good work.  There should be no further such mishaps.  My orders prior to this incident still stand.  Dismissed.”

     Che’Noth and Vas’Nur snapped to attention and saluted.  “Yes sir!” they said in unison before turning and marching out the door.

     Rich angrily turned to the Worldmind avatar.  “All right god-dast-it, what the fark is going on with me?  These bad dreams I’ve been having and this last little incident are connected somehow aren’t they?  I’ve never been so scared before.  I nearly schlagged myself!  Who was that girl who looked so much like Captain Mer’s XO?  Why did I react like that?  Why did I have such an emotional connection to that girl when I don’t remember ever meeting her before?  I think you know the answers to all these questions and I want the god-d’ast truth from you right now!”

     The Worldmind avatar paused a few nano-seconds to consider the options.  The modifications of Rider’s brain at the quantum level had created some new unanticipated pathways to some long suppressed memories.  There were no good options.  Rider would have to overcome this problem as best he could; and for that to happen, he would have to know the truth.  Unfortunately, he would almost immediately forget the truth.  The Worldmind settled on a course of action.  “Richard – you had what your species calls a ”˜flashback’ to a traumatic event from your participation in the Second Xandar-Skrull War.”

     Rich’s brow furrowed in puzzlement. “What the fark?  I don’t remember any incident like that from that war!”

     The Worldmind avatar nodded. “I know.  Tell me, what do you remember from your participation in the Second Xandar-Skrull War?”

     Rich looked away as he struggled to remember.  “I fought in the war for about a year and then I came home to Earth.”

     The Worldmind held Rich in its steady gaze. “Yes, but tell me some specific events you remember from the war.”

     Rich rubbed his chin as he struggled to remember. “Sure.  Well —-.. I —- uh –.. can’t seem to think of any right at this moment.”

     The Worldmind pressed for an answer. “Take your time and make an effort.  Can you think of any incidents from that war at all?”

     Rich shrugged his shoulders. “I remember fighting along side the Spaceknight, Rom, and The Champions of Xandar to defeat the Skrulls; then I came home.”

     The Worldmind avatar shook its head affirmatively.  “Astonishing that you remember even that – the last military event of the war before you departed for Earth.  Do you not think it curious that you remember nothing else that happened over the course of that year?”

     Rich’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “I’d really never thought about it before; but now that you mention it, I guess it’s strange that I don’t remember much and strange that I’m not upset over not remembering.”

     The Worldmind was satisfied.  “Precisely.  There is a reason for your amnesia and your lack of concern about your amnesia.  Your genetic structure contains a small flaw that renders you vulnerable to a certain type of Anxiety Disorder that your species refers to as ”˜Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.’  Your experiences during the war caused you to begin experiencing PTSD symptoms.  You were the only non-Xandarian member of the Nova Corps at that stage of Nova Corps history and we had no experience treating alien physical and psychological disorders; so with your informed consent we addressed the problem as best we could.  It seems, however, that we made mistakes.  We sought to erase the memories causing you distress.  We succeeded only in erasing the ”˜filing system’ localized within your frontal cortex allowing you to directly access these troubling memories in an orderly fashion.  The memories themselves still exist; but are not directly accessible.  Now, when you have an experience similar to a prior wartime experience, it can cause formation of a temporary indirect pathway to these otherwise inaccessible memories and can trigger a recurrence of PTSD symptoms.  When this happens, a second, subsequently added intervention process is triggered and an anti-insight and amnesia circuit is activated.  Essentially, your brain is tricked into believing that your Xandar-Skrull Wartime memories are unworthy of further analysis or assignment to accessible memory.”

     Rich stood in stunned silence for several minutes considering the implications.  “Can’t you genetically re-sequence me to remove the flaw causing PTSD; and then create new pathways to the suppressed memories?”

     The Worldmind shook its head negatively. “If we had access to the resources of our Adanacian allies or had available the resources of pre-Annihilation Xandar, genetic re-sequencing of that magnitude might be possible; but we lack the proper resources in our present situation.  Without genetic re-sequencing, if I remove the memory and insight blocks; and help you establish new pathways to the suppressed memories; it is likely that incapacitating symptoms of PTSD will return.”

     “So I’m farked?”  Rich was angry.  “I can’t lead the resistance forces like this!  Hell, I nearly destroyed the ship!  If I had a flashback during battle, I could endanger everyone and everything!”

     The Worldmind knew it needed to calm Rich. “Granted – it is a risk.  However, for Xandar’s future and the future of the local group of galaxies, you must remain in command.  There is an alternative.  I have accessed your planet’s database in the past and your species has developed one promising treatment for PTSD.  It is called ”˜Exposure Therapy.’  Basically, it involves training to remain calm and controlled in the face of anxiety provoking stimuli.  War College training gives us the perfect opportunity to conduct ”˜Exposure Therapy.’  While you are participating in the memories of past battles with the Skrulls; you will be at risk for additional flashbacks.  I will monitor your cortical activity and at the first sign of flashback triggering anxiety, I will administer endorphins to calm you and give you a sense of well-being.  In this manner, we will train your brain to control symptoms of PTSD.”

     Rich paused to consider his options.  “All right – let’s do it.  When I’m participating in Captain Mer’s memories, I understand how and why he makes his military decisions.  I need that knowledge of air and sea tactics.”

     “Very well; let us resume training.  I will, however, buffer the intensity of the meld with Captain Mer.  You will still be privy to his innermost thoughts and history of experiences leading to the reasoning behind his decisions; but you will experience these things more from the perspective of an observer than from the perspective of the Captain himself.”  The Worldmind avatar motioned for Rich to lie down.

     Rich hesitated. “Fine.  One last question before we start.  The girl – Derana – who was she?”

     A holographic image of a beautiful ebony-skinned, green-eyed young woman wearing a Nova Corps Millennian uniform appeared next to the Worldmind avatar.  “Millennian Derana Sol was killed in action during the Second Xandar-Skrull War.  She bears a strong resemblance to her ancestor, Commander Felana Sol.”  A hologram of Felana Sol appeared standing next to Derana.  “Their resemblance was the trigger for your flashback.”

     Rich stood close to the hologram of Derana.  She seemed very familiar; but he could not remember ever knowing her.  He feared the answer to his next question but was unable to stop himself from asking.  “How did I know her?”

     The Worldmind hesitated – only continuing after Rich flashed it an irritated look. “The two of you participated in several missions together and became lovers.”

     Rich clenched his jaw.  “How did she die?”

     The Worldmind avatar looked away from Rich and quietly said, “Her personality was killed by a Techno-Organic Virus the Skrulls were developing for use in biological warfare.  She was therefore ineligible for download to Mindworld upon her death.  You then terminated her body before it could become the vector for infection of the remainder of the Novas under your command.”

     Rich sat heavily down upon his bed.  “My God – I killed her just like in the flashback.”  He put his hands over his face and drew a deep ragged breath, tears stinging his eyes.  He felt like he was on the verge of remembering the incident.

     A hint of earnestness entered the Worldmind’s consensus voice. “No Richard – the Techno-Organic Virus killed her.  You avenged her by killing the virus infecting her body.  It is an important distinction.”

     Rich felt as though he had just been punched in the stomach.  His heart ached and he was drawing short, ragged breaths – nearly overcome by feelings of guilt and regret.  “Yeah.  Whatever you say.”  He stood and approached Derana’s hologram – standing only inches in front of her and looking into her lovely face.  For a moment, he almost remembered how it felt to hold her in his arms.  He wanted to talk to her, comfort her, learn from her about what they had once had together – but he knew she was just an inanimate matrix of photons; and if he tried to touch her, his hand would merely pass through all that remained of her – her ghostly image.  He blinked tears from his eyes and pushed back the sad realization that he would never know what he had once shared with the beautiful woman whose image stood before him. 

     Rich took a deep breath and clenched his jaw.  “Discontinue the holograms.”  He watched as Derana faded into nothingness.  Stalking back to his bed, he reclined and stared at the ceiling, almost grateful that he would forget about Derana in a few seconds.  Through clenched teeth he tightly said, “Let’s get on with this.  Give me a shot of endorphins and put me back into Captain Mer’s memories.”  Rich felt a sense of well-being flowing through his body and alleviating his grief.  He found himself in the infinite white void once again.  Momentarily distracted, his mind blanked and he was merely left with a vague, lingering feeling of sadness. What was I upset about just a minute ago?  Can’t remember.  Ah well, must not have been important.  He re-entered the world of Captain Antonius Mer.

End of Part 3

Of the serial

Pinnacle of Light – Abyss of Darkness

A

Tale from ”Nova:  The Lost Years Saga’

And Part of

Annihilation:  The Guerilla War (Part 2)

[page_title]

Nova: The Lost Years Saga: Annihilation: The Guerilla War Part Two

Nova: The Lost Years Saga

Annihilation: The Guerilla War (Part 2)

Pinnacle of Light – Abyss of Darkness

Warning: Contains Mature Subject Matter
 

Chapter 2: Drax the Destroyer’s Guide to Guerilla Warfare

Rich entered the holodeck closely followed by the Worldmind avatar and Yeoman Vas’Nur. Drax and Cammi were waiting for Rich; and Drax had already created a simulation of a park on the outskirts of a city. Drax smirked as he saw Vas’Nur adoringly admiring Rider. She appeared to be disappointed when Rider dismissed her from his side and sent her on an errand. Vas’Nur scowled at Drax as she walked by him. He merely responded with a toothy grin.

Once Vas’Nur was through the door and it had shut behind her, Drax turned his toothy grin on Rich. “Rider – if you ever decide to do anything about that, just remember that where you’re from it’s illegal in every state except maybe Texas.”

Rich rolled his eyes and shook his head. Drax never seemed to tire of making sexual innuendo jokes at Rich’s expense and cattle jokes at the expense of the Tauron. Drax deserved a sarcastic response. “With your attitude, is it any surprise the Tauron hold you in such high esteem? Tell me, exactly why did they have a price on your head?”

Drax’s only response was another toothy grin; so Rich turned to Cammi. “Good Morning Cammi. What brings you out so early?”

Cammi, dressed in her stocking cap and school uniform, looked at Rich. She couldn’t tell him the truth – that she missed seeing him and had a crush on him – so she smirked and with her typical pre-teenage disdain contemptuously said, “I just wanted to see you get your ass kicked again.

“Charming as always I see” laughed Rich, momentarily distracted.

The attack was sudden and unexpected. Drax’s blow to the chest knocked Rich off his feet and he felt Drax’s stainless steel knife at his throat. “First rule of guerilla warfare: Never let down your guard! Second rule: Trust no one! We know some Skrulls have joined Annihilus and are working as assassins! How did you know we weren’t two of those shape-changing farkers sent here to kill the leader of the guerilla resistance forces?”

Rich was angered by the surprise attack. It would be useless to explain to Drax that the Worldmind automatically identity-scanned everyone with whom Rich came into contact as Xandar had been fighting Skrulls for centuries and was wise to their shape-changing ways. Drax was trying to make a point and he wanted Rich to respond with decisive action rather than talk. If Drax wants some action, by God he’ll get some! Rich twisted away from the knife, broke Drax’s knife blade with a quick flick of his hand, and threw Drax toward a tree some thirty feet away. “You’ll have to do better than that to kill me dumb-fark!”

Drax twisted in mid air, flipped to slow his speed and change trajectory, and landed on his feet just in time for Rich to slam into him. Drax had anticipated Rich’s move though, and as they grappled, Drax freed himself, placed Rich in a chokehold, and began landing blows to Rich’s flank as he shouted another rule into Rich’s ear. “Third rule of guerilla warfare: Always keep your cool. An angry, impulsive, emotionally motivated enemy is less dangerous than a cold, calculating, ruthless, relentless enemy!”

Rich caught sight of Cammi’s self-satisfied grin; and he could feel even more anger rising from deep inside of him. Breaking free of Drax’s grasp, Rich landed a blow to Drax’s abdomen that sent Drax reeling. As Rich closed in, he noticed too late that Drax had merely been feigning injury to draw him in. Drax easily dodged Rich’s attack and countered with a vicious thrust of his adamantium knife. Rich dodged the worst of the knife attack which would surely have pierced his chest if he had been a moment slower; but the tip of the knife caught his left flank and he felt searing pain.

Rich could hear Cammi laughing in the background, “First blood goes to Drax again! Wooo-hoooo!”

Now completely embarrassed and enraged, Rich took flight and banked hard right, heedless of the pain and bleeding from his left flank. His only thought was to take Drax down. Both he and Drax knew there was no way Drax could outrun Rich. Rich was just too fast. Drax sheathed his knife and calmly waited for Rich to close the distance between them. Rich was no longer thinking, he was just enraged and out for blood due to the humiliating treatment Drax was dishing out. His only desire was to take Drax down. Drax easily dodged Rich’s frontal assault, flipped onto Rich’s back, and drove Rich face first into the ground for a blinding, muddy halt to the morning’s combat exercise. Cammi could be heard whooping with laughter in the background and the sound stung Rich’s ears.

The next sting to his ears came from Drax. “Fourth Rule of Guerilla Warfare: Find and capitalize upon your enemy’s weaknesses – in your case, becoming easily provoked and having overconfidence in your invulnerability – then surprise attack with lethal force.”

Drax hauled Rich to his feet and got right in his face shouting, “In my previous incarnations I’ve had bodies as powerful as yours and I’ve been killed despite that! You can’t count on your invulnerability to protect you out here like it did on Earth! Unlike on Earth, there are a lot of bad-asses out here as tough as or tougher than you! I would have thought you’d have figured that out by now! That scar on your face should remind you of that every time you look in the mirror! Truth is, no way should I have been able to beat you! You are faster, stronger, more agile, and more powerful than this incarnation of my body! You were defeated from the start though because you were cocky, you lost control of your emotions, and you didn’t strategize! You refuse to listen to what that infernal pretentious computer living inside of you tells you even when it’s right; and worse, you refuse to absorb what I try to teach you about fighting strategy and just rush in trying to slug it out! You can’t win a fight with a worthy opponent that way; and you especially can’t win a war that way! I expect better than this from you in our next combat exercise! Now get away from me because I’m so disgusted by and embarrassed for you by your amateurish fighting this morning that I can’t stand the site of you right now!”

Drax stalked off toward the door with Cammi tagging along behind him, occasionally looking over her shoulder and grinning at Rich contemptuously. Drax glanced at Cammi and smiled to himself. Bringing her along had worked just as he had planned. She had easily goaded Rider into making mistakes and losing control of his emotions. This was a good training exercise for Rider. He needed to have his weaknesses underlined if he was going to survive much longer out here. Rider had nearly gotten himself killed by taking on Annihilus before he was properly prepared to fight so powerful a being as Annihilus. Rider’s inconsistencies were an enigma to Drax. At times, Rider seemed to have fighting and command skills beyond his years; and at other times he fought like a rookie. This inconsistency had to be corrected. Drax’s plan to rid the universe of Thanos once and for all depended on Rider getting him close enough to Thanos to actually deliver a killing blow. That meant Rider had to survive for awhile. Drax had to ascertain Rider’s weaknesses and help Rider overcome them or this guerilla campaign would be short-lived indeed – and Thanos would remain beyond his access. He now knew that emotionality and overconfidence in invulnerability were two of Rider’s fatal weaknesses.

Rich could feel the pain in his left flank. He silently asked the Worldmind to supervise the nanites in the cleaning and repair his uniform; and in the healing procedures for his flank wound. Rich glanced at the Worldmind avatar silently standing beside him. “Go ahead.” When the Worldmind said nothing, Rich rolled his eyes. “For once you don’t have something to say to add to my humiliation?”

The Worldmind professed its innocence. “No, not at all – I was merely reflecting on how unfortunate it is to find myself in agreement with someone I find as objectionable as Drax the Destroyer.”
 

Chapter Three: A Meeting of the Minds

Rich decided to minimize the pain of multiple meetings and collapsed his three morning and afternoon meetings into one long meeting. Seated in attendance around the conference room table were Admiral Richard Rider, Vice-Admiral Ga’Noth, Commodore Che’Noth, Drax the Destroyer, and Chief Engineer Rur’Kuul. Rich stood. “Let’s begin this meeting. We have an extensive agenda today. Vice-Admiral Ga’Noth will be first to speak.”

Large, thickly-muscled, black-furred, with piercing black eyes, deep bass voice, and curved gleaming-white horns whose tips sported golden caps bearing the symbol of his herd; Ga’Noth was an imposing figure by any standard. When the powerful Minotaur spoke, everyone listened. “Good morning Admiral Rider and good morning to my other distinguished colleagues in attendance here today. I am pleased to report that the fleet has been re-supplied from resources obtained from a hidden Tauron military cache. We have enough ammunition and fuel for one extensive combat mission and we have enough food for approximately four weeks of operations. All ships have been repaired and are battle ready. I have sent ships to retrieve supplies from other hidden caches; but I am concerned about the lack of a steady supply line.”

Rich shook his head affirmatively. “Thank you for your tireless efforts Vice-Admiral. We are in agreement about the lack of a steady supply line. Right now, we have dual efforts in preparation to secure additional supplies for our campaign. I am to meet with the Adanacian Ambassador to Xandar this evening; and I plan to press him for military and material support. We will also be pressing other former allies of Xandar for military and material support in upcoming weeks. Unfortunately, these will likely be uncertain and inconsistent sources during this time of galactic upheaval. Drax has acquaintances within the Beliim Cartel; and will be departing soon to attempt to make arrangements for a steady supply line through them.”

Drax shifted in his seat. “The Beliim Cartel can provide us with supplies and reliable intelligence, but it won’t come cheap. No matter how much money is in the Xandarian Treasury, we’ll eventually exhaust it supporting a fleet this size. We’re gonna need those former allies to cough up money and supplies; but also ships and troops to replace those we lose in our military operations. You’re gonna find it hard to get them to commit until you show them that you have a chance of being more than just a minor annoyance to Annihilus.”

Ga’Noth grimaced. “I am forced to agree with Drax the Destroyer. From having fought the Annihilation wave and seeing 90% of the Tauron fleet lost, I can say with absolute certainty that even a hit-and-run guerilla campaign is going to take heavy casualties. I might add that we are also taking a terrible risk concentrating all our resources at one hidden base. We need to establish multiple hidden bases and that is going to require vast resources. That means we are going to require more than can be reasonably purchased from The Cartel. We need allies that have so far been unaffected by the invasion; and to get them, we need a decisive, high-profile victory over the thus far undefeated Annihilation forces.”

Rich rubbed his chin, wishing he had already completed the ‘War College’ training so he would know what to do next. Go with gut instinct, he thought as he leaned forward in his chair. “Agreed. Vice-Admiral, prepare scouting missions to gather intelligence and identify possible targets. I know you are concerned about liberating Tauron and that remains at the top of my list of concerns as well. Send a mission to Tauron to determine enemy strengths and weaknesses so we may also begin planning for Tauron’s liberation. Also send missions to scout for other possible locations for bases for the fleet. Drax, please make the purchase of military intelligence data about Annihilation Wave strengths and weaknesses a priority in negotiations with The Beliim Cartel. Since our fleet is at peak readiness, I want us to mount a high-profile strike against Annihilus in less than one week.”

Looking around the table, Rich could see that he had said the right things as everyone appeared to be pleased with his decisions. “Next on the agenda would be the Aurora and Orion Projects. Chief Engineer Rur’Kuul, please report.” Rich was anxious to hear Rur’Kuul’s report. The XBS Vengeance was an incredible ship and Rich was fascinated by this new Xandarian technology. The Xandarians had realized that they had under-invested in ships and were in the process of remedying that mistake when the Annihilation Wave attacked. The Vengeance, Aurora, and Orion were to be the first in a new class of small, fast, and ultra-powerful battleships. Powered by Zero Point Energy – or as the Xandarians called it – Nova Force – and utilizing the latest advances in nano-technology; these new ships were literally grown by seeding an asteroid of sufficient mass and composition of nickel, iron, and carbon with hundreds of quintillions of self-replicating nanobots, similar to ones making up Rich’s uniform and inhabiting each cell in his body.

Rur’Kuul was a grizzled old bull whose fur had grayed and whose horns and teeth had yellowed; yet he spoke with a strength and moved with an energy that belied his advanced age. “Approximately one week ago, two suitable asteroids were found within the planetary nebula which we are orbiting. As of this morning, drilling to the center of each asteroid was completed and the Orion and Aurora nanobot capsules were placed. All that is now required to proceed with shipbuilding is an order to the Worldmind from a duly authorized agent of the Xandarian government. Once the Worldmind activates the nanobots, they will begin building the Orion and the Aurora battleships.”

Rich was anxious to add the XBS Vengeance’s two sister ships to the fleet. “Worldmind, the order is given. Please activate the nanobots and build the ships.”

The Worldmind shifted slightly. “Yes Admiral Rider. The nanobots have been activated and work has begun.”

Rich turned to Rur’Kuul. “Construction time?”

The old bull stopped to consider some variables before responding. “Based on the time for completion of the Vengeance and considering our current unique and less than optimal circumstances; approximately three weeks until completion.”

Rich nodded in affirmation. “Thank you. If there is no further business or discussion, this meeting is adjourned.”

Ga’Noth nodded to Rich as he rushed out to enact Rich’s orders, conversing with his daughter, Che’Noth, as she escorted him to the hangar bay. Drax also headed to the hangar bay, paging Cammi to join him there for immediate departure for his mission to contact The Beliim Cartel.

Rich and the Worldmind Avatar caught up with Rur’Kuul before he departed for the hangar bay. “Chief Engineer, when might I drop by to inspect progress on the shipbuilding projects?”

Rur’Kuul stroked his chin whiskers as he considered Rich’s request. “Please contact me in one week Sir. At that point, some of the external features should be taking shape.”

Rich nodded and dismissed Rur’Kuul. “Worldmind, let’s inspect the bridge and then return to my quarters to begin ‘War College’ training.”

As Rich and the Worldmind Avatar left the conference room, Yeoman Vas’Nur silently fell into step beside and to the rear of them. Rich suppressed a smile. At the age of 18, Vas’Nur was full of youthful exuberance and enthusiasm, anxious to do a good job for him and anxious to earn the praise of her Uncle Ga’Noth. Rich made a mental note to be more patient with her.

The travel tube deposited Rich, Vas’Nur, and the Worldmind Avatar on the bridge. Commodore Che’Noth jumped to her feet, surrendering the Captain’s chair to Rich. “Admiral on the bridge!” she shouted as she snapped to attention and saluted Rich. The remainder of the bridge crew also jumped to their feet, stood at attention, and saluted Rich.

Rich was uncomfortable with all the military formality, but respected it as necessary and as an essential component for recognizing legitimate authority for a species with a herd mentality such as the Tauron. Rich returned the salute. “As you were.” He watched as the bridge crew returned to their stations before turning to Che’Noth. She was still standing at attention beside the Captain’s chair. “At ease Commodore. Status report please.”

Che’Noth was considered quite beautiful among her Minotaur species. Her fur was roan-colored; but she had inherited the piercing black eyes of her father. Her gleaming white horns were covered at the tips with gold caps bearing the Noth herd symbol. “The fleet is fully prepared for battle. Rur’Kuul has departed for his mission within the nebula. Drax and Cammi are departing for their mission as we speak.” She gestured to the main holo-screen where Rich saw an image of Drax’s shuttle departing the hangar bay. “Vice-Admiral Ga’Noth has returned to the TBS Pride of Tauron and is coordinating the scouting missions you ordered.”

Rich nodded in satisfaction. The ship and fleet were in good hands. It was time for his appointment with the Worldmind. “Thank you Commodore. I must meet with the Worldmind in private for an extended period of time. I would like you and Yeoman Vas’Nur to see to it that I am not disturbed unless there is an emergency.”

“Yes Sir!” Che’Noth and Vas’Nur said in unison, snapping to attention.

Rich suppressed another smile. “Thank you. Commodore, you have the con. Worldmind, Vas’Nur, with me.”
 

End of Part 2 of the story, “Pinnacle of Light – Abyss of Darkness”

Come back next time for Chapter 3 of the Story

Entitled

“The Warlord of the Sky and Sea”

[page_title]

Nova: The Lost Years Saga: Annihilation: The Guerilla War Part One

Annihilation: The Guerilla War

The Lost Years Saga

 

 

Forward

I’ve been a Nova fan since 1976. As a long term fan and a completist, some things have always nagged at me. One of the most important of those nags would be the “lost years” of Nova’s life – the year he spent on Xandar during the Second Xandar-Skrull War and the year between the end of the Annihilation Nova mini-series and the beginning of the Annihilation event. We really don’t know much of what happened during those years – and, since it looks like Marvel won’t ever be filling us in on what happened during those lost years, I decided to fill in the blanks myself. Thus was born what I’ve been referring to as The Lost Years Saga. The set of stories making up The Lost Years Saga take place in the 615 Universe – a universe right next door to our familiar 616 Marvel Universe. So, much of the history of the 615 Universe will mirror that of the 616 Universe. Some things will be a little different. The 615 Universe is a bit grittier than the 616 – and Rich Rider will make some different choices in the 615 than he did in the 616. However, the differences are not so great that the elements that make Nova great in the 616 Universe become lost or unrecognizable. The 615 Rich Rider is very similar to the 616 Rich Rider – except that perhaps the 615 Rider matures a bit quicker in response to his experiences than the 616 version has to date. Most of the stories will take place during the time frame between the Annihilation Nova mini-series and the Annihilation event – with flashbacks to events in the Second Xandar-Skrull War. That being said, there will be at least two stand alone Second Xandar-Skrull War stories – one of which addresses another nagging question familiar to long term Nova fans – namely the mysterious Epyrus event. In the course of the stories, I’ll address some of the other nagging questions that fans debate frequently such as the nature of Nova Force and the nature of the Worldmind. Along the way, Xandar will be developed as a society and culture like it never has before. Now, before anyone jumps me – let me again repeat that this is an alternate universe from the 616. If the 616 ever addresses Nova’s lost years or the other concepts I’ve mentioned – then that’ll be the way it is for the 616 – but it won’t change the way things happened in the 615. And yes, for those of you who have been following my Nova: The Next Generation stories, these Lost Years stories take place in the same universe and all my Nova fan fics are part of a grand arc beginning with The Third Fall of Xandar, stretching through The Lost Years Saga and into The Next Generation – and ending with a story I’m calling, appropriately enough, The Last Nova Story. I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I enjoyed writing them. This first story of The Lost Years Saga begins immediately after the events of the Annihilation: Nova mini-series. – Timelord

 

Prologue: Adrift in the Dark

He floated in darkness. He shivered from the cold. There was supposed to be no sound in space, but he could hear the screams of pain – the pleas for help. He was a hero. He knew that. He was supposed to help – but his body wouldn’t respond. It was as if he was asleep – but at the same time not asleep – caught somehow in a dream where he moved in slow motion and everything around him – fleeting sounds and images – moved at near lightspeed. He tried to move – struggled – it was as if his limbs were too heavy to lift. He laughed – how could his limbs be too heavy to lift when he could control gravitons? With a mighty effort he forced his eyes open – blinking to clear the blurred images flooding his brain. He floated in debris, slowly spinning head over heels. His head hurt. Around him was a cloud of red frozen particles – his own blood seeping through his phasic shielding as the nanites from his uniform and within his body cleaned him, healed him, and discarded residue and waste products. The excruciating searing pain from his face and head began to make him nauseous. Combined with the spinning of his body, it was too much to bear. He heaved – but there was nothing to expunge. He could hear a voice at the edge of his consciousness. He didn’t like the voice. It annoyed him. Leave me alone dammit! Can’t you see I’m sick? The voice was insistent – demanding attention – telling him to do something. He strained to hear the voice. He didn’t understand it – couldn’t understand what it wanted him to do. His eyes fluttered and he slipped into the dream again. He didn’t notice the Xandarian scout shuttlecraft as it pulled up beside him.
 

A Story from

Nova: The Lost Years Saga

Part I of the Series Arc

Annihilation: The Guerilla War

Serial 1

Echoes of the Past – Portents of the Future

 

Chapter One: Rescue

Drax placed Richard Rider on the emergency medical scanning table located in the aft area of the Xandarian scout shuttlecraft. Rider had a deep cut across his face and looked pale; as if he had lost a lot of blood. Rider had regained consciousness briefly upon being brought aboard ship – just long enough to ask Drax to help him learn to fight the Annihilation Wave. Drax held little hope that Rider would survive the next hour – much less be able to fight again.

The nanobots making up Riders uniform shifted slightly and a portion of them broke loose and floated up to eye level with Drax as they reconfigured into a mini-bot holographic projection system. The avatar of the Xandarian Worldmind formed around the mini-bot and stood before Drax. “There is no need to utilize the ship’s emergency medical services. I am monitoring Richard. During his and Quasar’s fight with Annihilus, he sustained a deep tissue injury to his face, a fractured zygomatic arch, a basilar skull fracture, a sub-arachnoid hemorrhage over the occipital area of his brain, contusions to the frontal and temporal lobes of his brain, fractures of C-6 and C-7 cervical vertebrae, and various chest and abdominal internal injuries. I have placed him in a coma and have ordered the nanobots permeating his body to begin accelerated healing. He will be unconscious for several hours; but I expect a complete recovery.”

Drax had never liked AI’s and he was finding it increasingly difficult to tolerate the one standing before him. “How nice of you to go about your unilateral decision making while we’re all running for our lives together. In case you haven’t noticed, we have Annihilus’ entire battle fleet to evade. We need Rider conscious to form stargates in case we need to make a quick escape.”

If the Worldmind noticed Drax’s sarcasm, it did not acknowledge it. “I am well aware of our situation. I am monitoring the Annihilation fleet as we speak. They are unaware of our presence due to the cloaking technology on this scout ship. We will remain undetectable as long as we utilize the ship’s warp drive. If we start opening stargates, we will give our position away to the enemy. Furthermore, Richard’s medical condition renders him unable to fight effectively at this time. I am in the process of restoring him to battle readiness. In the unlikely event that the enemy should overtake us, I can form a stargate for a quick escape without need of involving Richard.”

Drax stared at the Worldmind avatar before finally sardonically saying, “So tell me then O wise machine, where you think we should go to escape the Annihilation fleet?”

As always, the Worldmind had an answer. “Please set course for the Tauron system. The Tauron are Xandar’s strongest ally and they have not yet been attacked by the Annihilation fleet. I have already been in contact with the Tauron government. They have mobilized their military and sent an escort to meet us.”

Drax was angry. “So again you made an important decision without consulting me. I have no intention of going to the Tauron system. The Tauron Syndicate has a price on my head.”

The Worldmind was prepared for Drax’s reaction. “I am aware of the price on your head. Please recall that you were in my custody before I ordered your release due to lack of evidence against you. I have persuaded the Tauron Syndicate to accept my ruling and drop charges against you. It really is the safest destination for all of us at this juncture.”

Drax’s posture became stiff and defiant as he faced the Worldmind avatar. “What I ought to do is throw both of you out the airlock and take this ship wherever I please.”

The Worldmind refused to respond in kind. “Remember, you were subdued and detained by the Nova Corps. You are currently in a ship owned by me, the Xandarian government. Even though Richard may be unavailable, I hold all the power of the Nova Force and I am far from defenseless.”

Drax smirked and relaxed. His respect for the Worldmind had increased slightly when it had not allowed him to push it around. He would never let the Worldmind know that though. Deciding to choose his battles, he merely replied, “I really hate prissy, know-it-all AI’s; but our choices do seem restricted and beggars can’t be choosers can they? The Tauron system it is then; but I give you fair warning – Nova Force or no Nova Force – if the Tauron try to take me prisoner, I will hold you directly accountable and nothing will stop me from exacting my revenge against you.”

The Worldmind nodded. “Understood.”

As Drax went to the cockpit to adjust course, the Worldmind turned its analytic attention to Richard. His life-signs were erratic and he looked uncomfortable. He was rather restless and was mumbling something incomprehensible. A scan of his cognitive functioning indicated that he was experiencing a troubling recollection from his personal history.

Chapter Two: The Once and Future Hero

Images and sounds assaulted him. It hurt more than the worst punch Diamondhead or The Sphinx had ever delivered. He was adrift in the dark void again – only this time there were no stars to see when he opened his eyes. Not that he wanted to open his eyes. That only made the pain worse. He curled into a fetal position – shutting his eyes tightly and placing his hands over his ears – trying in vain to stop the images and sounds. The images of destruction, the sounds of people screaming as they died, the explosions, the carnage – all too much to bear. A calm voice spoke to him – one he recognized – an old friend – Wendell? He opened his eyes and Quasar stood before him – reaching out to him to help. Relieved, Rich reached to take Wendell’s helping hand – but before he could touch him, Wendell screamed in agony as his body was consumed by energy and flame – reduced to ashes before Rich’s unbelieving eyes – leaving Rich alone again – screaming in horror as tears streamed down his face. Curling back into a fetal position, he felt sick. Bile rose in his throat and he gagged, fighting back the nausea.

Another voice spoke – one he recognized – a kind voice from the past. He opened his eyes and she stood before him. Petite, short black hair, black goth clothes, black make-up, eyes filled with acceptance and love. There was no mistaking the lovely visage of Ginger Jaye. He rushed to her – throwing his arms around her and burying his face in her hair. Her scent, the feel of her in his arms – it was beyond belief; but it really was Ginger. He opened his eyes to confirm what he knew to be true; but she began to fade – becoming insubstantial in his arms. “No!” He threw his arms around her again and together they fell through the void. His eyes fluttered and “reality” shifted to a very familiar time and place on Earth – a time only a few months before he became the man called Nova.

___________________________________

Mike Burley’s eyes burned with hatred and rage. The only thing that quelled his constant, pervasive rage and hate was hurting someone else. Before him was his very favorite target for pain infliction – Richard Rider.

Mike hated Rich’s father, Principal Charles Rider, as Charles Rider had been Principal at Mike’s school before Mike’s family had relocated to Rich’s neighborhood and Mike had begun attending Harry S. Truman High School. Mike had had behavior problems at every school he had ever attended; requiring frequent trips to the Principal’s office for disciplinary action. Charles Rider had suspended Mike from school on more than one occasion and had been especially strict with Mike. When Mike had learned that Rich was Charles’ son, he had begun picking on Rich as his means to settle the score with Charles.

Mike and his gang had surrounded Rich and Ginger on the street and hustled them into an alley. Rich was frightened for his and Ginger’s safety on the one hand; but tired of being Mike’s punching bag on the other. He was having a hard time controlling his anger. Mike got right in his face and sneered, “Hiya Dick. Dick Rider. They named you right. Are you a dick rider like your faggot father? Is the little Goth skank over there your beard? She looks like a fag hag.”

Rich was secure in his sexuality and harbored no ill will toward gay people, so Mike’s attempt to taunt him didn’t work. His only concern was to get Ginger safely away from this arrogant and cruel clique of bullies and bigots. “We don’t want any trouble Mike. Just let us go or at least let Ginger go. She’s never done you any harm.”

Mike affected a mock look of surprise. “You mean you want to leave? Well, all you had to do was say so. Please be on your way. We didn’t mean to detain you.” Mike bowed and stepped aside.

As Rich warily passed by Mike intent on collecting Ginger and getting away as fast as possible, Mike suddenly wheeled and punched him in the stomach. Rich went down to his hands and knees, immediately feeling sick to his stomach and gasping for air.

Ginger rushed toward Rich yelling at Burley “Leave him alone you son of a bitch!” Ginger was very petite. Mike’s girlfriend, Donna-Lee, and her friends had no problem restraining Ginger before she could reach Rich. “Rich! Are you all right? Rich!” Ginger struggled but the other girls did not let her get away.

The nausea passed and Rich was finally able to get his breath. He waved at Ginger and struggled to his feet. Two of Burley’s friends immediately grabbed his arms and restrained him. Burley smiled cruelly. “Listen Dick. Before you go, my friends and I would like to offer your faggoty-looking self and your skank-ass fag hag a make-over.” Burley’s gang laughed and cat-called.

Donna-Lee sneered at Ginger. “Honey, Goth is so out. You need some makeup, a new hairdo, and some new clothes in some other colors than black.” The girls giggled as Donna-Lee produced a tube of bright red lipstick and a pair of scissors.

Rich knew he had to distract Burley and his gang before they hurt Ginger. “Why do you have your buddies holding me Burley? Are you afraid to fight me all by yourself?”

Rich’s ploy worked. Burley turned to him filled with rage and hate. “Let him go!”

Rich’s captors released him; but before he could raise his hands to defend himself, Burley landed a punch on his jaw, felling him. Burley’s buddies hauled Rich to his feet and held him as Burley, nearly twice Rich’s size, stood before Rich. Burley punched Rich in the stomach, causing Rich to double over in pain. “That’s for your cocksucker father!” When Rich was able to straighten up, he spat on Burley. Further enraged, Burley punched Rich in the mouth. “That’s for you, dick rider!” Rich was dazed by the punch and would have fallen had his captors not been holding him up.

Burley sneered as Rich nearly lost consciousness from the punch. Burley turned and winked at Donna-Lee. Donna-Lee smiled cruelly. She would do anything to please Mike Burley. She opened the tube of lipstick and began smearing it carelessly on Ginger’s face. “Here honey. Here’s some color to liven up all that black and white. When we’re done with make-up, I’ll cut your hair into a new do. And honey, these clothes have got to go.” She grabbed Ginger’s blouse and ripped it, exposing Ginger’s breasts.

Tears of rage and humiliation streamed down Ginger’s face as all eyes turned to her. Ginger raised her head and with defiance and hatred looked Burley straight in the eyes. Through gritted teeth she vehemently snarled, “Fuck you Burley!”

Burley laughed. “Thanks for the offer skank; but those mosquito-bite-sized tits could never satisfy me. They might old dick rider here though cause he might mistake you for a boy!”

As Burley’s gang laughed at Burley’s cruel joke, Rich recovered enough to realize that Burley’s gang were all distracted and that he now had a chance to get Ginger to safety. Remembering some moves from a self-defense class he took during childhood, he stomped a foot into the ankle of one of his captors, causing him to howl in pain and collapse to the ground. With one hand now free, he punched his other captor in the nose, causing him to double over in pain, trying to stem the gush of blood flowing from his nostrils. Rich charged a surprised Mike Burley and landed the greatest punch he could muster to Burley’s exposed jaw; dazing and staggering Burley. As Rich charged by Burley and ran toward Ginger, her captors scattered. Rich grabbed Ginger and they both fled from the alley; not looking back to see if they were being pursued.

When they reached the street, Ginger yelled “This way!” and Rich followed her. They ran several blocks and cut through several alleys before finally arriving at Ginger’s apartment. They rushed inside and locked the door behind them.

Rich looked at Ginger’s torn clothes and lipstick smeared face. “Oh God Ginger. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that they hurt you!”

Ginger was more angry now than afraid. “I swear to you that that bastard Burley and his bitch girlfriend are gonna get theirs! Just you wait and see what I’m gonna do to them.”

Rich wasn’t listening to her. “Are you okay? This is all my fault. They wouldn’t have hurt you if you hadn’t been with me. I’m really really sorry.”

Ginger rolled her eyes. “Hey Rich, it’s not your fault. They’re the assholes, not us. We were just minding our own business. I think you’re sweet for feeling so unnecessarily guilty; but you’re forgetting that you saved me from getting hurt at the cost of getting yourself hurt. No one has ever done anything like that for me before. You’re an honest to God hero!”

Rich smiled, then winced in pain; having forgotten his busted lip until that instant.

Ginger noticed Rich’s expression of pain and suddenly realized their condition. “Oh my God! You’re still bleeding and I can only imagine how I look. Come on, let’s get you fixed up.” She led him into the bathroom and began searching through the medicine cabinet. She found some alcohol and some swabs and began preparing them to cleanse his wounds. “This is gonna sting.” Ginger swabbed Rich’s facial wounds with the alcohol.

Rich drew a quick breath and flinched as his head snapped back from the alcohol swab. “Shit! That hurts! No more!”

Ginger giggled. “So you can take a punch to the face to save me; but you’re afraid of alcohol sting?”

Rich grinned and again winced in pain. He pointed to the mirror. “You may want to save some of that alcohol for yourself.”

Ginger had forgotten the lipstick smears on her face. She looked in the mirror. “That fucking bitch! I am so going to get her back.” She wiped the red lipstick from her face. “I hate red lipstick. Why couldn’t she have used my standard black?” They both laughed. “The bitch tore my favorite blouse too! Come on, I need to change clothes.” She led Rich to her room and began searching through her closet as Rich sat down on her bed. She finally found a blouse and jeans she was satisfied with and began to remove her torn blouse and unfasten the jeans she was wearing.

Rich held his breath for a moment – unable to believe his eyes. “Uh – Ginger? Would you like me to wait for you in the living room?”

Ginger smiled, having made her decision even before inviting Rich into her room. “No. I would like for you to stay right where you are.” She removed her blouse and jeans.

Rich admired her small but firm and shapely breasts; and the contrast of her black thong panties against her pearl white skin. Her body was slim and lithe – the body of the gymnast that she was. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. He had fantasized about this moment for months, but never really thought his fantasy would come true. At that instant, he thought she was the most beautiful and desirable woman he had ever seen.

She smiled, pleased that he obviously found her appealing. She approached him and pulled off his shirt before sitting in his lap and wrapping her long legs around his waist. Rich kissed her passionately, the pain from his lip injury masked by heated sexual desire. Their tongues explored each others mouths as passion rose between them. Rich tentatively touched her breasts; and was rewarded by her moan of pleasure and her more impassioned kissing.

She began to unbuckle his jeans; then suddenly stopped as if remembering something. “Hold on.” She got up and left the room. Rich cursed – wondering what happened to ruin the moment and hoping she would return.

She slipped back in the door, locking it behind her. “My mom won’t be home from work for 3 more hours. I got this out of her nightstand. She and her boyfriend use them when he spends the night.” She handed him a condom. “Now where were we?”

Rich smiled. “You were about to remove my pants and I was about to remove your thong.”

“Ah yes,” she breathed, as she embraced him and they together surrendered to the passion that had been building between them for months.

 

Chapter Three: Entangling Alliances

Vice-Admiral Ga’Noth of the Tauron Syndicate’s armed forces watched the approach of the Xandarian scout shuttle with dread. The old Minotaur shook his head. The shuttle’s arrival could not bode well for the Syndicate. The Syndicate had received Xandar’s distress call and had dispatched scout missions as it prepared its military to assist. Ga’Noth was haunted by the images of a devastated Xandar transmitted by the scouts. Xandar had the strongest military this side of the former Skrull Empire and had been utterly destroyed in a matter of hours! What hope could an independent star system like Tauron have against such an enemy? The Tauron had always relied on Xandar for protection against aggressors. Now, they were on their own and were ill prepared.

The Xandarian shuttle had dropped to sub-light speed and would rendezvous with his battleship in less than an hour. He hoped he would receive instructions from his government before the Xandarians arrived. He understood that the Syndicate was in negotiations with the beings from the strange-looking ship he had been ordered to allow to approach the homeworld.
 

Chapter Four: Debates and Agreements

Drax was once again frustrated with the Worldmind. “We should re-supply, get a faster and more heavily armed ship, and head for a militarily stronger and more trustworthy potential ally such as the Galadorian, Shi’Ar, Spartoi, or Kree Empires!”

The Worldmind was resolute. “The Tauron have been our allies for centuries and require our aid and advice if they are to survive against the Annihilation Fleet. We will make contact with their military, be escorted to the Xandarian Embassy, and a suitable quantum mainframe will be prepared for me so that Richard will no longer have to carry me within his Nova Matrix. Richard will remain with me as my protector; and we will organize Xandar’s allies into a force to resist and attack the Annihilation Fleet while the Annihilation Fleet is distracted with engaging The Skrull Empire. You and Cammi are free to take this or any other ship you may acquire wherever you like once proper arrangements have been made with the Tauron Syndicate.”

Drax could no longer hold his anger. “For the most sophisticated computer in the galaxy, you are a farking fool! The Tauron are cowards and always have been! They evolved from herbivorous herd animals! Their instinct is to run away at the first sign of trouble! So, they go whichever way the political wind is blowing as long as it benefits them! If they are your strongest ally, I shudder to think of your weakest!”

The Worldmind responded calmly. “I am well aware of the Syndicate’s history, Drax. I am merely fulfilling treaty obligations and seeing to the best interests of Xandar and our allies.”

Drax and the Worldmind continued their heated debate; and the Worldmind agreed to meet several of Drax’s demands. Cammi quickly lost interest in the argument and wandered to the rear of the shuttle.

Cammi looked in on Richard Rider as he lay tossing fitfully on the medical scanning table in the back of the shuttle. She thought he was handsome and secretly had a crush on him; but would never let anyone know that. In fact, she would act as if she didn’t like him in order to hide her true feelings. She always hid her true feelings. It was a necessary survival strategy in her family. At least with Drax it was easy to hide feelings as he was insensitive to them. He apparently had few feelings himself unless obsession with killing his longtime foe, Thanos, counted as a feeling. She looked again as Rich’s body shook and he mumbled incoherently. She hoped he would recover soon. It was comforting to her to have another human close by.
 

Chapter Five: Recollections of Love and War

Rich awakened but didn’t open his eyes. Fantasies came true sometimes. Making love to Ginger proved it. He couldn’t stop smiling. He rolled over to kiss her and wake her up. They had to get dressed and be out of her room before her mom got home. He opened his eyes and found himself surrounded by darkness. Ginger was gone. He was alone. Panicking, he looked about wildly and in so doing broke the protective barriers of the memory of his time with Ginger. Images and sounds once again assaulted him. Fleeting images from his past swirled around him. The screams and pleas for help overwhelmed him.

Desperate to find Ginger again, he grasped at a fleeting image of her as it passed by him. He missed, instead brushing an indistinct image of a beautiful woman with auburn hair.

The image coalesced and the woman stood before him, beaming in delight at the sight of him. She stood before him wearing the uniform of a Nova Centurion. Her helmet was neatly tucked into her belt. She playfully said, “On your feet soldier! We’ve got work to do! And – if you’re very very nice to me – we might find some time for a little play later.”

Rich was puzzled. She seemed so familiar. He should know her – but he couldn’t remember how he knew her. She was obviously Xandarian – and was wearing a version of a Nova Corps uniform from the time of the Second Xandar-Skrull War – but he didn’t remember ever meeting her. Not surprising – since he strangely remembered very little from that time in his life. “Who are you? Do I know you? Have we met before?”

The expression of delight left her face; and was instantly replaced by an expression of profound sadness. The bitterness was evident in her voice. “So it’s true. Of course it’s true. That bastard, Prime Thoran Rul, was telling the truth for once in his life. The memory wipe made you forget all about me – and all about us.” She turned to go, becoming indistinct as she faded into the black void.

“Wait!” Rich demanded as he dived toward her, touching her fading image and drawing a deep breath as his “reality” once again shifted.
 

***********************************

 

Basic Nova Corps training was finally over. For his first mission, Rich was assigned to a special ops detail investigating an anomaly on Nu-Xandar. Nu-Xandar was a cold, arid planet that lay at the edge of the habitable zone of the Tranta system. Nu-Xandar reminded Rich of the pictures he had seen of Mars when studying astronomy in school. Terra-forming efforts had been underway on Nu-Xandar for some years before Zorr had destroyed Xandar. Nu-Xandar had been abandoned after Xandar’s destruction when all resources had been redirected to Xandar’s restoration within the newly formed Xandar Cluster. No one lived on Nu-Xandar now. At least, no one was supposed to live on Nu-Xandar now.

They were approaching Nu-Xandar in a cloaked troop transport ship. Staring out the porthole, Rich could see the large mirrors orbiting the planet; directing light and heat from Tranta to Nu-Xandar’s surface. Small patches of green could be seen dotting the planet – the beginnings of large forests seeded to help thicken the atmosphere. In the northern hemisphere, he could see a large sea. Nu-Xandar had a thin but breathable atmosphere; and while cold by human standards; it was tolerable for anyone wearing a standard issue Xandarian military uniform.

Some of Rich’s classmates from basic Nova Corps training – Sevilica, Corinus, and Farona – were also assigned to this, their first special ops mission. All native Xandarians and all about the same age as Rich, they delighted in good-naturedly teasing Rich about his backwater Earthly origin. They were all very different from each other. As competent a soldier as she was a beautiful Xandarian female; Sevilica was auburn-haired, medium height, and blue-eyed. She was the only one with a royal background, coming from House Dru, the royal house that ruled Xandar. She was completing her first year of Law School when the war started. She immediately applied and was accepted to the Nova Corps, Xandar’s elite military unit. She was a natural leader and was well-liked by all her classmates at the Nova Corps Academy. Corinus was a brash young Xandarian male. Handsome, dark-haired, brown-eyed, and charismatic; he exhibited confidence and an air of swaggering bravado. Farona was the strong, silent type. She was attractive with short-cropped blonde hair and blue eyes; and she took her job as a professional soldier very seriously. These were among the first of those Xandarians coming of age to join the military from among the survivors of Zorr’s attack on Xandar; and among the first new recruits for The Nova Corps.

“Being a tourist again Rider?” teased Sevilica Dru.

Rich turned from staring out the porthole and grinned at Sevilica. “Can’t help myself. There’s just so much to see out here.”

Sevilica smiled back. They were developing a friendship.

The door to the crew deck snapped open and Corinus jumped to his feet. “Commander on deck!”

Richard, Sevilica, Corinus, and Farona snapped to attention as Centurion Commander Calvinus Nor stepped into the room accompanied by battle-hardened veteran Centurions Tyeverus Tul and Jarinus Fel. “At ease Centurions. We will achieve planet-fall within 20 units. To review your earlier briefing, this is a black ops stealth mission. Intelligence drones have recorded activity on Nu-Xandar when Nu-Xandar should be abandoned. The Worldmind wants to make sure that the Skrulls have not established a secret base on Nu-Xandar from which to conduct intelligence gathering and to launch attacks. It is our mission to find the base if it exists. We are not to engage unless we are attacked. This is a recon and target identification mission only. We need to do this without attracting the immediate attention of the Skrull fleet orbiting just outside our perimeter; being held at bay by our fleet. We don’t want to bring a major Skrull rescue mission down on us for our fleet to contend with while our fleet’s resources are already stretched to the max. If we identify a threat to Xandar, we will withdraw temporarily to confer with the Worldmind and our military to decide how to neutralize the threat. We do not want to alert any potential enemy to our presence, so no use of Nova power unless you are attacked; as gravimetric energy would be detectable by an enemy scan. When we have achieved planet-fall, we will divide into two squads to begin the search for the base. Sevilica and Rider will be under Tyeverus’ command; and Corinus and Farona will be under Jarinus’ command. I will stay with the ship to direct the mission and provide air support and rescue if necessary. Good luck and good hunting. Prepare to disembark.” Calvinus left the crew deck while Tul and Fel stayed to prepare their squads for the mission.

“Rider!” yelled Tyeverus, clearly not pleased with being stuck with the human in his squad. “Get your alien ass in gear and load up your backpack! In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re leaving in a few units!” Tyeverus sourly watched Rider rush to his locker. Tyeverus was preoccupied with many ill thoughts. What was that idiot, Dey, a jumped-up to Nova Prime commoner and former Xenopology professor, thinking when he deputized such a backwater primitive? At least the alien rabble Rider brought with him had their own powers and could be put to use as scouts or mercenaries. He was galled and disgusted that a little alien schmaug like Rider carried a Nova Prime matrix, the ultimate power of the Xandarian people. At least Dey had not been so foolish as to activate all the Nova Prime powers. If the Worldmind and Nova Prime Valt had any sense they would have powered down Rider’s matrix to minimal, wiped his memory, and sent him home as soon as he had arrived. To double his bad luck he was also stuck with House Dru’s contribution to the Nova Corps. He shook his head. He hated House Dru almost as much as he hated The Worldmind Hegemony. As far as Tyeverus and House Tul were concerned, it was House Dru’s fault that Xandar was in its current predicament. In his eyes, House Dru was just as guilty for Xandar’s fall and it was this war with the Skrulls.

As Rich retrieved his already packed and provisioned backpack, he ordered his uniform to modify itself for night operations. The familiar navy and yellow-gold colors of the uniform faded to a shade of black to match ambient light conditions on the night side of the planet where they would soon land. His helmet modified its shape from the traditional Nova Corps helmet to a star-less, smooth, black, form-fitting configuration with night-vision eye lenses and slits under his nostrils to allow him to breathe ambient air. During the day, the uniform could be modified to camouflage in forest or desert conditions; or to render the wearer “invisible” via a clever method of 360 degree projection of the surroundings. The uniform also masked body heat and other functions including gravimetric energy from both active and passive sensor scans. Rich noticed Tul staring at him. Rich was not happy at being assigned to Tul as Tul had made it abundantly clear how he felt about aliens. Earlier, Sevilica had explained that Tul was nearly 1000 years old and was a member of a small religious sect that worshiped the ancient Xandarian god of war, Gamil. Superstitious, racist, and xenophobic, this sect was dominant for a few decades in Xandarian history about 900 years ago; but had long since fallen into disfavor and was followed only by a few religious and reactionary fanatics such as Royal House Tul. Tul’s royal house was a rival to House Dru. House Dru had ushered in a new era for Xandar about 850 years ago; rejecting superstition, racism, and xenophobia. Rhomann Dey had been loyal to House Dru and when it became necessary to select a new Nova Prime, Dey, a commoner, had been selected even though Tyeverus was the more senior Corpsman and from a royal house. Tyeverus had harbored bitterness toward the Worldmind Hegemony and House Dru ever since. She explained that Tyeverus would not now be considered proper Corps material; but the Worldmind could not find a legal way to retire him from the Corps. Sevilica made it clear that she despised Tyeverus and his sect of reactionary fanatics.

Tul and Fel checked each Centurion in their squad as they issued each their sidearm, a mass-driver-based automatic hand weapon that silently fired adamantium pellets. Each Centurion’s uniform automatically formed a holster and automatic re-loader for the weapon as soon as it was issued.

The cloaked troop ship silently sat down on Nu Xandar’s surface in a clearing of new growth forest. Passive scans indicated no life forms in the immediate area; and the Centurions disembarked and quickly scrambled to the cover of the forest as the troop ship lifted off to maintain geosynchronous orbit above the landing site.

The squads gathered in the forest to review their mission assignments. Intelligence probes had indicated that there were possibly two areas of activity on the planet. To avoid detection, the Xandarians had landed halfway between the two areas of suspicious activity. Tul’s squad would head toward a nearby mountain range where one area of activity was detected. Fel’s squad would head deeper into the forest to investigate another area of reported activity. The squads departed with plans to rendezvous at the landing site within 24 hours.

The trip to the mountains was uneventful. Rich found Nu-Xandar rather unappealing. There had been no attempt to introduce animal or insect life to the biosphere; therefore there was no noise in the forest other than that made by wind as it passed through the limbs of the genetically engineered trees that absorbed the harmful gasses in the atmosphere and released a breathable gas of nitrogen and oxygen. As stealth was central to the mission, there was no verbal conversation; and Tul quickly quashed an attempt by Rich and Sevilica to carry on a “virtual conversation” through their tactical quantum link.

As they neared the foot of the mountain range just prior to dawn, Tul signaled an alert and the squad took cover in the boulder field. With night vision, they were able to make out a Skrull commander and two younger Skrulls in an encampment in a clearing within the boulder field leading to the base of the mountain range. The Skrulls had not detected the approach of the Nova squad. Through the tactical link, Tul silently ordered the squad to withdraw to a safe distance to observe the activity in the Skrull encampment. As the Nova squad withdrew, they suddenly found themselves surrounded by four Skrull Hellcat Androids.

Rich had received briefings about the Hellcats while attending the Nova Corps Academy. Hellcat androids were used by the Skrulls for sentry duty. The Hellcats were about the size of a terrestrial lioness and they hunted in packs of four. They were constructed of a durable metal alloy and possessed deadly teeth and claws. They were a danger to even the most experienced Nova Centurion as they were programmed to adapt to each attack in order to render a follow-up attack of the same type ineffective.

Tul was the first to react. “They know we’re here now! No need to hold back!” He flew into one Hellcat bouncing it off a boulder; and directed a collimated beam of gravimetric energy at another, destroying it. The Hellcat he had tackled recovered quickly and engaged Tul. Gravimetric energy would now be useless against it as it would have already modified its shields to repel such an attack. Tul would have to destroy it through some other method. It scratched and bit at him as they warily circled each other; each waiting for the other to make a mistake that could be exploited. Tul feigned an attack to distract the Hellcat – then took flight – landing on the Hellcat’s back and tearing its head off.

Rich and Sevilica engaged each of the remaining Hellcats. Their strategy had been honed in simulations of battle with Hellcats during their training at the Nova Corps Academy. They simultaneously tackled one Hellcat and used their energy absorption ability to drain the android of power. They then simultaneously directed the energy they had stored from the Hellcat into a massive focused concussive blast aimed at the remaining Hellcat. The concussion cracked the Hellcat’s armor plating and disrupted its defensive shields; staggering and confusing it. Tul capitalized on this sudden advantage; flying in and shattering the last Hellcat upon impact.

“Good work” begrudged Tul before turning to engage the Skrulls now descending upon the Nova Corps squad. Retreat was not an option. Tul ordered triangular formation as their fighting strategy. Rich and Sevilica immediately closed ranks with Tul; and the Centurions arranged themselves into a triangular fighting unit; each protecting the others back. Their orders from Calvinus Nor were to capture for questioning if possible; and use lethal force only if necessary for defense.

The three Skrulls from the encampment attacked with adamantium bladed weapons as energy weapons were useless against the Corpsmen’s phasic shields; and adamantium projectile weapons would simply invite the Corpsmen to use their energy projection capabilities against their attackers. The Skrulls hoped to use to their advantage the Corps preference for incapacitating and capturing enemies rather than killing them on sight.

Tul engaged the oldest Skrull, apparently the leader. Rich and Sevilica engaged the younger two Skrulls.

Surprisingly, the Skrulls were not very good fighters; and Rich and Sevilica easily dodged their clumsy attacks; landing punches that rendered the Skrulls unconscious. As Rich made to assist Tul, Sevilica held him back; pointing out that his intervention might endanger both Tul and the Skrull commander.

Tul and his assailant were circling each other; engaged in a knife fight. Tul sported a cruel smile. The Skrull was clearly not an accomplished fighter and Tul was toying with him. Tul would rapidly step in, inflict a wound, and step back before the Skrull could react or retaliate. The Skrull was bleeding from several wounds and was clearly near exhaustion; but Tyeverus Tul made a slight mistake and the Skrull was able to inflict a slash wound to Tul’s arm. Tul’s cruel smile turned to cold and bitter rage; and he rapidly stepped in and delivered enough slashes and stabs to incapacitate the Skrull Commander. The Skrull collapsed to his knees, closed his eyes, and began to pray; obviously surrendering to Tul. Tul smirked and stepped behind the Skrull. Before Rich and Sevilica could react, he grabbed the surprised Skrull by the chin, lifted his head, and quickly slit the Skrull’s throat. The Skrull grasped at its throat and writhed on the ground; gasping for air as it slowly and painfully died; drowning in its own fluids at the same time its brain was deprived of life-sustaining blood.

Sevilica and Rich were at first shocked; then outraged. Sevilica was the first to react. “Tyeverus Tul, I am hereby accusing you of war crimes and placing you under arrest for brutal, criminal mistreatment of a prisoner of war; as well as violation of standing orders to capture enemy combatants for interrogation.”

Tul laughed. “Try to make that stick. I used lethal force in self-defense against enemy combatants.”

Sevilica looked at Tul angrily and defiantly. “Rider and I saw what you did; and so will the Worldmind when we get it to read our memories back on Xandar.”

Tul sneered. “Of course. Once again House Dru proves its devotion to the cowardly ways that have brought our people to the brink of extinction. You are loyal to a traitorous and incompetent King and an AI that was meant to be a tool to help forge a Xandarian empire; not the lord and master it has become.”

Sevilica was furious. “House Tul fascist! How dare you insult our King and the Worldmind Hegemony! You will answer for your treason, your arrogance, and your crimes!”

Tul smirked. The Skrull Commander had stopped writhing and lay still and dead. Tul shifted aside the Skrull Commander’s robes to reveal a vest of explosives strapped to its chest. He smirked again as he looked Sevilica straight in the eyes. Sevilica clenched her teeth and set her jaw in frustration and embarrassment as her hands balled into fists.

Tul snarled, “Centurions, stand at attention and learn something about fighting Skrulls today!”

Sevilica and Rich snapped to attention, standing side-by-side as Tul approached them. Tul was deadly furious as he stood directly in front of Sevilica and stared into her eyes, his face so close to hers he was invading her personal space. She stood her ground, staring straight ahead and refusing to cower or flinch.

Tul’s voice was a low and deadly growl. “I was killing Skrulls 800 years before you were born. When your house still had some integrity about it, I fought side-by-side with some of your ancestors and they would be ashamed to call you kin today.” Tul then turned to Rich. “And you, primitive backwater Earth scum, I was fighting Skrulls when your ancestors still believed that your world was flat.” Stepping back, he continued to vent his rage. “What do either of you whelps know of fighting Skrulls? The reason we defeated these Skrulls so easily is that they are not regular Skrull ground troops. Look at their dress. They are Skrull Religious Police! Their only function is hunting religious fugitives that have escaped from their sphere of persecutory influence. They are never taken alive by non-believers. Their commander was not surrendering to me. He was saying his death prayer and preparing to detonate those explosives in an attempt to kill or injure all of us! We don’t need to interrogate them. We just need to find whoever they are hunting for and remove them from this planet.”

Sevilica would not be deterred. “You could have neutralized the threat without killing him. The truth is you were enjoying torturing him with your knife play.”

Tul stepped in front of her again. “Silence House Dru sycophant! You were not given permission to speak.”

Rich noticed that the Skrull he had rendered unconscious had regained consciousness and was groggily reaching for a weapon. He could easily disarm and detain the nearly helpless Skrull and he made to do so. Before Rich could act, Tul, not taking his eyes off Sevilica, drew his sidearm and fired a round into the Skrull’s forehead. The top of the Skrull’s head exploded; and it collapsed and lay still.

Tul sneered at Sevilica and with a voice full of sarcasm said, “I suppose you have a problem with neutralizing that enemy combatant too.”

Before Sevilica could respond, Rich heatedly yelled, “I have a problem with it! I could have stopped him without killing him! Again you acted cruelly and contrary to our orders. I am placing you under arrest.”

Tul reached into his utility belt and pulled out a small device which he activated before returning it to his utility belt. Rich and Sevilica felt their powers ebb.

Sevilica exclaimed, “A quantum link nullifier! Now you resort to illegal technology to sever Rider’s and my link to the Worldmind?”

Tul drew his sidearm and pointed it at Rich. “Both of you are under arrest for insubordination and failure to follow the orders of your commanding officer. Now drop your sidearms to the ground and cuff each other or I will shoot both of you right now.”

Rich and Sevilica reluctantly complied as they stared down the barrel of Tul’s gun.

The remaining Skrull regained consciousness and began to alter its shape into a ground-hugging lizard-like creature in an attempt to scramble away and escape. Tul shot one of the transformed creature’s legs off. As it writhed and screamed in agony, Tul stepped on its tail to prevent it from getting away; and placed the barrel of his gun directly against its head. It stopped trying to get away.

 

The terrified and traumatized Skrull begged for its life. “Please Centurion. We meant you no harm. We have no part in the war. We were searching for blasphemers against our true god, Kly’bn. Had we found them, we would have destroyed them and left your world. Spare me. Let me go and I will rid your world of the blasphemers and then peacefully leave.”

Tul laughed derisively. “We can rid our world and the universe of your pathetic species on our own.”

“In the name of all the true gods, let me go so I may fulfill my holy mission” begged the Skrull.

Tul was angered. “Your gods are false! Here, let me show you. If your gods are true, let them save you from me.” Tul then shot another of the creature’s legs off and laughed as it screamed in agony. “Where are your gods now?” he yelled as he pointed the gun at the Skrull’s head. The Skrull screamed in terror.

Tul was so distracted that he failed to notice that Rich and Sevilica had used their uniforms’ nanobots to free them from the cuffs restraining their hands. Rich and Sevilica attacked Tul even though he retained his powers and they were still powerless. Rich landed a punch that caused Tul to drop his sidearm; and Sevilica managed to land several blows to Tul before he could recover from their surprise attack. Tul recovered quickly from his surprise. Without powers, Rich and Sevilica could be an annoyance but could inflict precious little damage against a fully powered Centurion such as Tul. Rich tried to keep Tul in a choke hold while Sevilica pummeled his abdomen. Their efforts were to no avail. Tul easily freed himself from Rich’s grasp and landed several blows to Rider’s face and torso, before throwing Rider bodily against a bolder. Rich lay quiet and still, obviously seriously injured. Sevilica pressed the attack, landing several more blows to Tul’s abdomen and face. Her blows caused no damage at all as Tul had retained all his powers.

Tul smiled, “My turn.” Tul pummeled Sevilica’s face and torso before throwing her against a rock outcropping.

Seriously injured with multiple abrasions and contusions, eyes nearly swollen shut, mouth bleeding with teeth broken and cracked; Sevilica leaned against the rock outcropping to keep from falling to the ground.

“Ready to die?” Tul asked her.

She painfully grinned as she gasped for breath; a broken rib having perforated one of her lungs. She pulled Tul’s Quantum Link Nullifier from her utility belt. “Not yet you miserable House Tul bastard.”

Tul realized the attack by Rider and Sevilica had just been a distraction so that they could gain control of the nullifier. Before he could react, Sevilica smashed the nullifier into the rock outcropping. She was relieved to feel the nanobots from her matrix rush to heal and sustain her as Nova Force once again began to flow into her. She hoped Rider had not been killed as she was going to need his help to subdue Tul.

Tul was furious. “House Dru farking schmaug!” he cursed as he recovered his gun and pointed it at her head. Before Tul could fire, Rich flew into him and smashed him against a nearby boulder. Tul was dazed and Rich pressed his advantage, landing several blows to Tul’s face and torso.

Tul was staggered but not defeated. He cursed himself. He had forgotten that the little primitive Earth farker had a Nova Prime matrix implanted in his worthless carcass. The Nova Prime matrix had allowed Rider to quickly recover from what should have been devastating if not fatal injuries. He could see that Sevilica was rapidly healing and he would soon have to contend with her as well. Tul directed a gravimetric pulse at Rider, shooting him out of the air as he flew in to attack. He immediately had to dodge a pulse directed at him from Sevilica. Then Rider was on him, landing two powerful blows to his head in rapid succession before hammering him with simultaneous gravimetric pulses from both hands fired point blank into his torso. Tul was violently thrown back against a cliff from the impact of the pulses; and his upper uniform was shredded. He tried to stand but fell to his knees defeated, burned, bruised, and bleeding.

Sevilica was nearly completely recovered. During the fight she had made an emergency request to the Worldmind for a military tribunal to be convened. Tul looked up to find himself on his knees before the holographically projected avatars of The Worldmind, King Ferenus Dru, Queen Adora Dru, Nova Prime Valt, and mission Commander Calvinus Nor.

The Worldmind rendered the judgment of the tribunal. “Tyeverus Tul. After review of the facts of this case from your memory and the memories of Centurions Dru and Rider, it is the judgment of this tribunal that you are guilty of both war crimes and treason. You are hereby stripped of Nova Corps rank and powers; and remanded into the custody of Centurions Rider and Dru. Your physical body is to be imprisoned in stasis for not less than one hundred years; during which time your personality will undergo rehabilitative treatment in Cyber Prison.” As soon as the Worldmind had rendered its sentence, Tul felt his Nova Matrix reduce to minimal power.

Defiant, Tul snarled, “I do not recognize the authority of a King and an AI that have presided over the near extinction of our species! You trust an alien like Rider with our most powerful weapons! You have even allowed him to join the Nova Corps possessing no less than a Nova Prime matrix lost by your commoner rube of an errand boy, Rhomann Dey! You would like to forget that you granted the Lumphomoid asylum and your misjudgment cost us the destruction of our homeworld! You are weaklings who would rather use diplomacy with aliens than conquer them and impose our will upon them! You are the criminals and the traitors to Xandar, not I!”

King Ferenus shook his head sadly. “Xandar’s days of Empire are long behind us. We have found a better way and once this war is over, we will build a better tomorrow with our Nova Corps as our centerpiece in reaching out to the other species of the galaxies. As you well know, House Dru and the Worldmind were cleared of all negligence in the Lumphomoid affair by an independent council of investigators. But if I truly believed I had been negligent, your condemnation would not be necessary. I would have abdicated the throne. The tragedy that befell our planet could not have been foreseen. The Lumphomoids had always been friendly trading partners and no one could have known that a Lumphomoid could have acquired Celestial technology powerful enough to destroy a planet. Perhaps you will come to see the wisdom of our new ways during your long incarceration.” Then turning his back on Tul; Ferenus turned to Sevilica and Rich who immediately bowed their heads, fell to one knee, and placed their right fists over their hearts in the ancient sign of fealty to Xandar’s King. “Centurions. Today you have performed your duty with distinction. You have appropriately balanced the terrible realities and necessities of war with the laws and customs of our people. I commend you and my commendation will appear in your service records.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty” Sevilica and Rich said together.

Ferenus nodded and smiled in satisfaction as his avatar faded from view along with those of Adora, Valt, Nor, and The Worldmind. The troop ship landed nearby and Fel, Corinus, and Farona disembarked. Fel took Tyeverus Tul into custody. Corinus and Farona reported that they had captured an encampment of Skrull religious fugitives in the forest; and that preparations were being made to move the Skrulls to a non-aligned world where they could worship their Skrull god of peace without fear of persecution.

As Fel was leading Tul to the ship, the Skrull that Tul had tortured, now shape-shifted into the form of a snake-like creature to compensate for the injuries inflicted by Tul, surprised Fel and knocked him off his feet. The Skrull had recovered Tul’s sidearm and stood behind Tul with the sidearm pointed at Tul’s head.

All the Corpsmen aimed their sidearms at the Skrull; and ordered it to drop the weapon. Tul turned to look the Skrull in the eyes and smirked. He deliberately taunted the Skrull. “Your god is false. Only my god, Gamil, the Xandarian god of war, is true.”

The Skrull smirked. “If your god is true, let it save you from me.” The Skrull fired, shattering Tul’s skull. The Centurions all fired at the Skrull and it was shredded from hits by multiple projectiles and gravimetric pulses.

Tul’s body was loaded in the troop ship and everyone boarded for the short journey back to the Xandarian Cluster. The typical post-mission raucous banter was absent on the troop deck, with each Centurion solemnly reflecting on the sad events of the day.

When the troop ship landed on the spacedock, Rich was looking forward to retiring to his bunk at Nova Corps headquarters in the Orienta Shard for some off duty time. Later, he wanted to see if Comet and Crimebuster were back from their scouting mission; and rendezvous with them for some dinner and conversation. As he disembarked, he noticed that Sevilica, Corinus, and Farona were standing outside the ship deep in discussion. Sevilica looked up as Rich passed by the group. “Hey Rider, want to go with us to the alien sector of the Oesta Shard for a little R and R?”

As it was the first time Rich had been invited to socialize with his Xandarian classmates, he readily accepted the invitation. “Sure. Lead the way!”

Sevilica smiled and took flight. Rich, Farona, and Corinus followed. They exited the spacedock and made the short spaceflight to the hub’s airlock. Once inside the hub of the great cluster, they made their way by foot to the entrance to the travel tubes connecting the shards before once again taking flight and intermingling with the air traffic traversing the tubes. In no time they arrived at the Oesta Shard where they took a mag-lev train to the alien sector. The alien sector was a community on the “seedy side” of Oesta City. It was called “the alien sector” as visiting non-Xandarians tended to congregate there for entertainment and “black-market” commerce that was frowned upon by the greater Xandarian society. It was a popular hang-out for young Xandarians as well as military personnel including both regular Xandarian Star Corps military and the elite branch of the Xandarian Star Corps, The Nova Corps. Though loosely patrolled by Star Corps military police, The Worldmind mostly turned a blind eye to the activity in the alien sector; recognizing the need for respecting the customs of other species, the need for black market commerce, and the need for Xandar’s citizens and soldiers to occasionally engage in some unseemly behavior as a means to relax and unwind. Sevilica apparently had a destination in mind as they soon disembarked the mag-lev in a run-down looking station.

The Centurions emerged from the station onto a street lined with ramshackle buildings from which raucous music and shouts could be heard. Street vendors were everywhere selling food, drinks, and anything else someone might be interested in buying. An incredible diversity of species lined the streets, engaging in commerce or looking for entertainment. It reminded Rich of a visit to Tijuana, Mexico he had made with his high school Spanish Class one summer. He couldn’t help but smile as he followed Sevilica down the street, marveling at the sights. Corinus and Farona stopped to haggle with a street vendor. Sevilica stopped in front of a small, dark building and waited for Corinus and Farona to catch up to her and Rich.

Sevilica looked at Rich. “First time here?”

Rich nodded. “Yeah. I’ve been mostly hanging with Comet and Crimebuster in my off-duty hours. We didn’t even know about this place.”

Sevilica laughed. “Best kept non-secret ‘secret’ on Xandar! The powers that be tolerate this sector but there are always those spoil-sports that want to ruin all our fun and jettison it into space.”

Rich laughed. “We have places like this on my planet too.” He quickly added, “Without all the other species of course.”

Sevilica smiled and turned to open the door to the bar as Corinus and Farona arrived. She narrowly missed the bar door hitting her in the face as it burst open and some human-looking people dressed in what looked to Rich like olive drab US Marine Corps uniforms crowded out. “Outta my way bendejos! We’re here for some fun before we go on a bug hunt!” shouted a tough-looking Hispanic woman as she pushed by Farona. Farona clamped her jaw in anger and started after the woman, but Corinus held her back saying, “Let it go. We’re here to have some fun, not get in a fight. Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.” Farona relented even though she knew Corinus would not have taken his own advice if it had been him that had been accosted. Sevilica ushered her group into the bar.

The bar was loud, smoky, and crowded; but the four Centurions found an empty table and sat down. Rich removed his helmet and looked around. His group represented the only Nova Corps elite soldiers in the bar; but there were some regular Xandarian Star Corps ground troops and fleet troops; and some Xandarian civilians intermingling with an incredible diversity of other species. He noticed one table of aliens representing several species he had never seen before. The interesting thing was that each wore a green paramilitary-looking uniform with a strange symbol emblazoned across their chest; and each sported a glowing green ring. “So who are they?” he asked Sevilica.

Sevilica shrugged. “No one knows. They visit here sometimes. Some say that visitors from alternate universes come to this bar; but I find that hard to believe. Whoever they are, they mind their own business, drink to their fill, pay their bill, and disappear. As long as you don’t cause any problems, no one asks too many questions here.”

Rich shook his head knowingly as if he understood. Sevilica exhorted Farona to buy the first round of synthahol. Farona got up from the table but had to wait to allow passage by her of a large, human-looking, curly-haired man wearing a long brown coat, a floppy hat, and an extra-long knitted scarf that dragged the floor. Strangely, a human-looking attractive young lady dressed in what appeared to be animal skins rushed after him. The man made eye contact with Rich and Rich swore that he saw recognition in the man’s eyes. The young lady smiled in recognition of Rich and called to the man in perfect British-accented English, “Look! Here’s Centurion Ri-” before the man shushed her in mid-question and said, also in perfect British-accented English, “Quiet my dear, there are laws of time and space that even I will not break” before grabbing her hand and quickly leading her out of the bar.

Sevilica looked at Rich. “Friends of yours?”

Rich was puzzled. “I have never seen them before in my life.”

Farona had craned her neck to check out the animal-skin-wearing young lady’s shapely ass; and so distracted bumped into one of the green-uniformed aliens staggering back to his table carrying a full glass of synthahol. The synthahol flew all over the alien’s uniform, soaking the symbol emblazoned across his chest. Farona was embarrassed. “Pardon me sir. I apologize. Let me buy you a drink and pay for the cleaning of your uniform.”

The green-uniformed alien appeared to have trouble focusing on Farona as he was quite drunk. “So you are one of the famed Nova Corps and you dare accost me in such a disre- dispre- disrespectful manner.” He swayed and nearly fell but Farona caught him and helped steady him. Sevilica, Corinus, and Rich tensed; as did the three remaining at the table of green-uniformed aliens. Rich donned his helmet; noting that his companions had never removed theirs.

The green-uniformed alien was not ready to accept Farona’s apology. Slurring his words, he said “Corpsman, you defiled my uniform and the schymbol of my people and now you must anscher fur it.” He then began to recite a rhyme. “Through blackest – no darkest day – I mean night — Awww fush it — hav

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Guardians of the Galaxy #23 Review

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COVER BY: Alex Garner
WRITERS: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
PENCILER: Wes Craig
INKER: Serge LaPointe
COLORIST: Nathan Fairbairn
LETTERRE: VC’s Joe Caramagna

Warning: Contains Spoilers

 

Phenomenal. Absolutely, astoundingly phenomenal. With issue #23 of Guardians of the Galaxy, Abnett and Lanning prove once again why they are the Megalords of Cosmic Comics.

In a recent interview, I said that one of the reasons that Guardians of the Galaxy is consistently among the best comics on the shelves is that it avoids delving too deeply into standard superhero fare – instead focusing on epic science-fiction/fantasy concepts and storylines. Rather than re-treading the superhero concepts and storylines we’ve seen countless times before; Guardians of the Galaxy brings new twists and turns to the table. Never is that more evident than in issue #23.

DnA’s superb writing captivated me from the first page to the last page. Magus was written as insanely menacing – approaching “over the top” – but never actually going over the top and becoming a caricaturish villain. I liked it that he seemed to be genuinely impressed by the Guardians as foes who could actually stop him. That says something impressive about our heroes.

I’m not exactly sure how Phyla’s portion of the team was re-animated. Was it the power of belief resurrecting them or were new bodies created from belief for their souls to inhabit? Were they ever really dead in the first place? It wasn’t clear to me. This might be the weakest part of the storyline; but I was so happy to see them back I didn’t even care how it happened.

Magus’ psychological torture of Phyla was quite revealing of her inner struggles and conflicts – the selfsame struggles and conflicts fans have speculated about for quite some time. This torture sequence actually makes Phyla a more interesting and sympathetic character – bringing her some much needed character development and giving her a chance to shine as a heroine. I’ve always had mixed feelings about Phyla; but after this issue’s developments I’m beginning to become a fan of the character.

I was especially pleased to see the #1 fan favorite canine back in action. Cosmo fans are rejoicing! I hope we get to see some Cosmo-centric stories in the future because he is the next character just aching for some character development time.

Starlord’s team did security duty for the re-constituted Galactic Council. DnA made even this seemingly mundane task for our heroes into something interesting – with cameo appearances by some fan favorite characters as well as inclusion of some topical content regarding terrorism.

All-in-all this throw down with the Magus is shaping up to something that will likely make the Infinity Gauntlet saga look like a cake walk.

Just about everyone – myself included – acknowledges that Wes Craig is a skilled artist and I have to say that in this issue Craig delivers his best work yet on the series. The real debate is about artistic style. In other words, is Craig’s style a good fit for this particular book? Some fans think it is – and others think it isn’t. I think this issue’s art will create a much needed middle ground about the issue.

I’ve seen Craig’s style called impressionistic, abstract-tending, manga-influenced, and cartoonish – all with fans passionately debating what particular label is most accurate. Whatever you call his style – it certainly isn’t photo-realistic – the style that the majority of the fans seem to prefer if the feedback on the forums is any indicator. I personally prefer the photo-realistic style for a book that is telling serious, dramatic, epic, galaxy shaking stories. I think the more abstract style detracts from the gravitas of the storyline.

Fairbairn’s colors are well done as usual. Garner’s cover art is nothing short of astounding. I think it might be the best portrait of The Magus ever rendered. Thank you Mr. Garner. I’d like to see what you could do with some interior art for the book.

It almost – no, I won’t soft peddle this – it does make me angry that more people aren’t reading this top of the line book. It is a travesty that this book sells only 22K or so per month. Comics fans need to broaden their horizons, break out of the routine, and pick up something new and fresh. Guardians of the Galaxy is a veritable feast of new and fresh. Won’t you pull a chair up to the table?

Article by: Bill Meneese

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What The D’ast? Mercurio the 4-D Man

By Byron Brewer

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Fire hotter than the flames of a million exploding suns. Ice colder than the deepest bowels of Niflheim. Powers that combine in an entity whose sole concern is the well-being of his people, the survival of his world. He has faced Norse gods, Kree soldiers and cosmic Avengers for his cause, but this powerful being has only known a villain’s lot, a captive’s life, been played as a pawn.

How can Norrin Radd, who derived great cosmic power in the act of saving his world, know a hero’s reputation, a nobility of true grandeur when fate has cast such a shadow over the guardian of Garamos, the man called Mercurio the 4-D Man?

Like Rodney Dangerfield, this poor dude just doesn’t get any respect!

In most of his encounters with the cosmic denizens of the Marvel U., Mercurio – one of the best designed characters to come forth from the House of Ideas, IMO – has lived a villain’s life. Yet even as was the case with the noble Sub-Mariner when he returned to the world in Fantastic Four #4, there is a determination, a dedication to his manner that tells the reader that somewhere behind the anger lies not a super-villain but a good man, a man of principles, a man of purpose.

This is probably best displayed in the 4-D Man’s second adventure with the thunder god Thor. The founding Avenger and his faithful companions, the Warriors Three – Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg – were on a quest to rescue the missing Sif (betrothed of Thor) and Karnilla (Queen of the Norns). The goddesses were found imprisoned within the God-Jewel, Xorr.

It had been Xorr who teleported Mercurio back to the planet Garamos from Earth, where he had been sealed previously in molten iron by Asgardians. The 4-D Man attacked the God-Jewel to steal its vaunted cosmic energies for the survival of his home world.

(Mercurio had originally journeyed to Earth to make use of our planet’s electromagnetic field in order to – again! – save Garamos. This both put him at odds with Thor and transformed him into a half-negative being capable of performing new superhuman feats with fire and ice. Johnny Storm and Bobby Drake in one package, if you will.)

Thor found himself allied with his former enemy and together the son of Odin and Mercurio defeated Xorr. The protector of Garamos then collected the fragments which made up Xorr and returned to his home planet.

Parallels to the Silver Surfer aside, Mercurio – like Namor, like the Hulk, like Spider-Man – has performed heroic acts while shrouded in a villain’s cowl. As Drax and Gamora have been brought over from the “dark side,” surely it is time for Mercurio to take his place, his earned and rightful spot in Marvel Universe’s pantheon of cosmic champions.

He’s gone toe-to-toe with Thor. Could the 4-D Man be that heavy-hitter the Guardians of the Galaxy have been lacking?

 

« « The In-Betweener | Space Phantoms » »

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Guardians of the Galaxy #22 Review

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Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Artist: Brad Walker

Colorist: Wil Quintana

Cover Artist: Alex Garner

Warning: Contains Spoilers

 

From the front cover to the last panel – everything – and I do mean everything – works for this comic.

Garner’s cover art is eye-catching and beautiful to behold. I absolutely loved his renditions of Moondragon, Drax, Rocket, and Bug. Hey Marvel, if we can’t have Walker as artist for every issue, how about hiring Garner as fill-in artist for Guardians of the Galaxy?

Speaking of Walker, he really outdid himself with the art for this issue. I’m not exaggerating when I use the word ‘magnificent’ to describe his work. From the small details of a character’s face in a close up panel – to a ginormous double-page spread of Knowhere crashing through the UCT Fleet of ships – Walker proves he is adept at handling every aspect of art that such a sprawling cosmic epic as Guardians of the Galaxy demands. I especially appreciated his attention to detail in every panel. Nuances in characters’ facial expressions, wrinkles in the characters’ uniforms, starships in the background, and the sheer number and variety of Luminals depicted are just the first few examples from a long list of other details that show the care put into construction of each panel. Thank you Mr. Walker – the fans notice these details and admire your work. Speaking of admirable work – Quintana’s coloring of this issue is jaw-droppingly good. I think he deserves an award for his coloring of the combat sequences and especially for the double-page spread featuring Knowhere.

The dynamic writing duo of DnA continue their hot streak for this book’s storyline, weaving a tale featuring action, adventure, humor, character development, and non-stop excitement. In terms of character development, I was most impressed with the attention given to Moondragon and Drax. The healing in their relationship was nice to see – and Drax’s development into a more complex character was a welcome story thread. Drax is a favorite of mine from way back and he’s been past due for some serious character development. Thanks DnA for taking Drax beyond the 2-dimensional bad-ass characterization. I also loved it that Rocket got a chance to lead and to shine – showing once again that he’s a lot more than mere comic relief. Starlord also shines in this issue. The success of this mission is a major step toward redemption for Starlord. His overall demeanor changes for the better in the last part of the story. The twist at the end of the issue is not a great surprise; but it is a welcome development. I was very pleased to see what was depicted in the background of the last panel.

With edge of your seat excitement, snarkily funny humor, gripping drama, engaging characters, and stunning visuals – Guardians of the Galaxy is a breathtaking romp through the cosmos that is light years ahead of the competition. Call your local comics shop and have them reserve you a copy today!

Article by: Bill Meneese