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Disney Sees Superhero Dollars In Marvel Unknowns – Nova Movie?

Good to see Nova get a little PR!

 

The Associated Press –

Movie fans have shown a willingness to be entangled by Spider-Man’s web over, and over, again. But will they want to crawl into the comic book world of Nova, seen here in an image provided by comic-book giant Marvel Entertainment Inc. That’s the kind of question facing The Walt Disney Co. as it nears its $4.2 billion purchase of Marvel Dec. 31, 2009.

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Guardians of the Galaxy #21 Review

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Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Artist: Brad Walker

Colorist: Wil Quintana

Cover Artist: Brad Wilkins

Warning: Contains Spoilers

 

It was fitting that this issue was released on the eve of Christmas Eve because it certainly felt like a wonderful early Christmas present.

There’s a lot to love about Issue #21 of Guardians of the Galaxy. First, I must once again heap praise upon master storytellers DnA. Only in their hands could a character with as many intrinsic flaws as Moondragon actually carry a story this complex. Amazingly, for the first time ever I found Moondragon interesting, sympathetic, and relevant. I found myself actually starting to like her and beginning to honestly care about what’s happening to her. It was also nice to see her hold her own in a fight against a vastly more powerful foe.

Walker’s fine renderings go a long way in re-making Moondragon from an arrogant, self-centered, occasional pseudo-villainess into a more heroic character that might actually develop a fan following. Not only does Walker capture Moondragon’s beauty much better than most other artists have in the past; but he also takes the time to make her facial expressions mirror the various internal and external conflicts and turmoil with which she is contending.

I’ll admit that I was at first nervous about Moondragon joining the team and being the pseudo-narrator and focus character of this arc as in the 36 years that I’ve been reading stories featuring the character I’ve always considered her a “story killer.” My fears have been allayed. She strengthens this arc. One thing though – the big goofy earrings have got to go. I don’t know any soldier or law enforcement officer who would engage in hand-to-hand combat wearing something like those big earrings that could easily be grabbed by an opponent and used to inflict disabling pain (and wasn’t this exact scenario portrayed in a fight scene in the otherwise eminently forgettable Aeon Flux movie?). Even setting aside the practical considerations, the big earrings detract from her looks. Let’s just drop them and focus on the lithe sexy bald chic look such as was so perfectly captured by the Ilia character in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Star-Lord’s portrayal is also noteworthy. DnA nicely capture a Peter Quill who is rapidly “fraying around the edges” from the multiple sources of stress coming at him from every angle as well as the inner demons which have always driven him. Thus, vulnerable both psychologically (from recent and historical events) and physically (having been de-powered some time ago) – Quill is easily the most “human” of the cast of characters and therefore the most intrinsically relatable to the readership. I’ve often wondered why DnA have chosen to keep Quill de-powered. I suppose the “human-ness” that I’ve just referenced is at least one reason – but I don’t think a power tweak would make him less relatable and I confess that in 2010 I’d be happy to see Ship find him and return his healing factor, partial invulnerability, and flight powers at the very least. The other Starlord, Singin Quarrel, can keep the Element Gun as I never cared for that poorly conceived weapon. A projectile weapon is the proper side arm for the Peter Quill Star-Lord.

The final breakout character of this issue was Drax the Destroyer. I’ve been a Drax fan for 36 years (yeah I’m old). My favorite incarnation was the original Thanos-obsessed, purple-cape-wearing, skull-cap-sporting, cosmic powered version. My least favorite incarnation was, of course, the poorly conceived brain-damaged pseudo-comedic version from the Infinity Watch era that was thankfully put out of its misery in the pre-Annihilation Drax mini-series (leading to creation of the modern incarnation).

I do like the modern portrayal even though it’s perhaps occasionally a bit too Wolverine-ish for my tastes. I was glad to see Drax get some character development time in this issue. Too often he’s been portrayed as merely the bad-ass guy who shows up and kills all the villains in the room. Don’t get me wrong, I like bad-ass guys (and girls – see the uncensored Kick-Ass trailer featuring Hit-Girl) who show up and kill everyone in the room – I just prefer them to have a better motivation than “because I can.”

The UCT Matriarch really did a number on Drax with the psychological manipulation trick; but that should trigger character development such as we have never before seen from Drax. As a side note, I’m looking forward to seeing how Drax will exact revenge against her. As another side note – what’s with Drax’s alien-looking facial appearance? I prefer the more human facial characteristics such as depicted in his Annihilation appearances.

Of course, Rocket Raccoon and Groot contribute to the humor of the series with assistance from Bug and Jack Flag – all without going overboard to the point that it interferes with the gravity of the situations in which the team finds themselves. I really hope 2010 brings us at least one Rocket-centric and one Groot-centric plot thread as these two intriguing characters are just aching for further development. Rocket has been stellar in his role as Peter’s second in command; but I want to get to know him a little better – learn more about his background and his motivations. Likewise, I want to know why Groot sticks around on Knowhere rather than making efforts to rebuild his Kingdom. While I’m on the subject of anthropomorphic characters, I’ll just come right out and say it. I MISS COSMO!!! Please DnA, bring Cosmo back in 2010 (and while you’re at it – bring back the easy on the eyes Gamora and Mantis).

As in most good science-fiction/science-fantasy, relevant and topical socio-political-religious issues are addressed. Governmental cowardice on the part of Knowhere’s ruling council, government sanctioned treachery on the part of Knowhere’s official super-powered peacekeepers – The Luminals, and the religious fanaticism of The Universal Church of Truth are all touched upon. The consequences of these issues are presented without heavy-handedness or descent into preachiness; and without DnA necessarily taking a side. In other words, DnA use the situation to provoke thought about these complex issues – letting the reader draw their own conclusions. Thought provocation – now that’s a rare commodity in what passes for news programming and popular entertainment these days.

Walker’s photo-realistic style art is among the best I’ve seen in the business. I always look forward to opening up an issue of Guardians of the Galaxy and enjoying the eye candy when I see Walker’s name on the cover. Quintana’s coloring makes the art pop off the page and command your attention – adding another layer of depth to the comics reading experience. Wilkens’ cover art is successful in being both attractive and in accomplishing the difficult task of a one-frame capture of the action characteristic of each issue of Guardians of the Galaxy – providing the initial temptation for potential readers to pick this book off the shelf and for long time readers to continue buying it. That’s the acid test for the quality of a cover in my comics worldview.

In closing, I’d like to thank Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker, Wil Quintana, Bill Rosemann, Joe Quesada, and all the other Marvel Artistic and Editorial staff who have worked hard to bring we fans each wonderful issue of Guardians of the Galaxy throughout 2009. Thanks especially to the loyal fans who buy each issue of Guardians of the Galaxy so Marvel can keep these incredible adventures coming to us each month. Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t just set the storytelling and art bar for Cosmic comics; it sets the bar for all comics. Let’s all continue to work together to make 2010 an even better year for Marvel Cosmic. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the Marvel Staff and the Cosmic Fans.
 

Article by: Bill Meneese

 

 

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Guardians of the Galaxy #20 Review

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Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Artist: Brad Walker

Colorist: Wil Quintana

Cover Artist: Alex Garner

Warning: Contains Spoilers

 

Awesome. Amazingly, jaw-droppingly awesome. I felt as though I had just finished reading a chapter from a dramatic, exciting, well-constructed novel.

Issue #20 is both an aftermath story for the previous arc and a prologue for the next arc. Transitional issues of a series are often times among the weaker stories in a series; but in the highly talented hands of writers Abnett and Lanning, Issue #20 is one of the dramatically strongest of the series thus far.

We are treated to an issue filled with a blend of action-adventure, plot advancement, and a unique form of character development through the eyes of the newest telepath addition to the team, Moondragon. Moondragon “gets in the heads” of several of the characters to explore their motivations and their struggle to cope with the deaths of so many teammates last issue. There are some particularly somber and touching scenes featuring Starlord and Rocket where their pain is evident both in their words and their faces.

Speaking of Moondragon, I have to say that I was a bit concerned with her addition to the team at first. I’ve never really liked that character. To me, she always sucks all the air out of any storyline where she appears. Not so this time out. I was pleasantly surprised all the way around. She really worked in this storyline both as an individual and as part of the team. In fact, this storyline wouldn’t have worked as well as it did without her and her private struggle to cope with the loss of Phyla.

The tenuous political standing of the Guardians on Knowhere station is also explored a bit more; with fan favorites, The Luminals, guest starring as foils to Starlord’s plans. It is during this sequence that we get another tantalizing clue as to who is in the cocoon being held by the Universal Church of Truth.

My personal favorite visual scene takes place in Starlin’s bar. Rocket on a booster seat and Groot with a giant-sized umbrella drink being absorbed through his roots will hold a special place in my visual memory for a long time.

Speaking of visuals, let me rave about the art. First off, Garner’s cover art was well-constructed, eye catching, and intriguing. It almost looked like a poster for a SF horror film. It would tempt me to buy this book when it caught my eye on the shelf; and that’s the yardstick I always use to judge a cover.

Walker’s interior art was magnificent. I was excited to have him back on this book and he did not even come close to disappointing. Every page was eye candy. Walker brings back the intricacy, depth, and all around eye pleasing beauty of the characters and the settings that has been missing for the last several issues. He even made me see Moondragon’s beauty for the first time as normally she does nothing for me. I was struck by his ability to capture the emotions of the characters in their postures and facial expressions. He also perfectly captured the weird and wonderful environment of the fault and its denizens. I hope Walker stays on this book forever. To round out the visual extravaganza, Quintana perfectly captures the mood of each scene with his coloring and shading. Comics art and coloring don’t get much better than this.

If you’re not buying this book, you’re missing out on one of the best comics being published by any publisher bar none. It is truly head and shoulders above most of the stuff that makes it to the shelves – including the best sellers. The dynamic writing duo of DnA paired with the incredible artistic talent of Brad Walker make this book a top quality must read every month. I know it sounds fan-boyish, but I’ll admit that I generally read it for the first time in my car on the parking lot of my local comics shop because I can’t wait until I get home to see what DnA and Walker have created. Seriously, if you ignore everything else I say, take my word on this one. Buy Guardians of the Galaxy. In fact, buy two copies and put one in the hands of a friend who is not currently reading the book. It will leave both of you happy; and you’ll make a friend for life.

Article by: Bill Meneese

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Guardians of the Galaxy #19 Review

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Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Artist: Wesley Craig

Colorist: Nathan Fairbairn

Cover Artist: Alex Garner

Warning: Contains Spoilers

 

One of the many strengths of Guardians of the Galaxy is that it is never predictable. The cynical point of view as expressed by a reviewer at another website is that Marvel allows DnA to take chances with GotG characters because nobody is going to buy action figures or other merchandise in their likenesses. In other words, the cynical point of view is that Marvel doesn’t really care about this book or these characters. I disagree. I think Marvel knows they have a hot property here and they are encouraging DnA to push the boundaries. Issue #19 certainly takes big chances with the characters and with the future of the series. It remains to be seen if the big chances will result in a big payoff or a big bust. That’s just the nature of gambling.

I must say that when I first read #19 I had a lot of mixed feelings about the direction of the story line. I read it a second time; then a third time just before I sat down to write this review. The third reading was the charm in the sense that by then I could move beyond the purely visceral emotional reaction of anger at seeing so many of my favorite characters from one of my favorite books so brutally and needlessly slaughtered – and focus on the actual story being told. The story DnA have woven involves the (seeming) resolution of several plot threads stretching as far back as Conquest; and incorporates the classic heroic themes of courage and self-sacrifice in the face of apparently insurmountable odds. Through the use of the time paradox plot device, they also ask the questions: If you could go back in time to a specific pivotal moment in your life and change things – would you? Would it even make a real difference and would the unintended consequences be acceptable? Would it be worth it – especially if it involved sacrificing the lives of your friends? Would you sacrifice your friends and yourself to save the universe? DnA then explore the often crushing responsibilities of leadership via Starlord’s terrible and fateful dilemma at the end of the story. Would you have wanted to be the trigger man in that situation? That wasn’t really Magus he shot. That was Warlock. It’s kind of like the old question: “If you could go back in time and shoot Hitler when he was a child, would you do it?”

So, the good news is that the chances taken with the characters “worked” on a purely dramatic level. That’s the upside of the gamble. Now, what about the downside?

Well, on the downside, a whole bunch of fan favorite characters are (apparently) dead – and this in a book with sales numbers such that it can’t afford to be losing readers (many of whom are angry about the deaths and threatening to drop the book). Now, if you read the blogs you’re already seeing predictions about how long these characters will stay dead because after all, we’ve all seen Warlock and Gamora (doesn’t she have a healing factor anyway?) killed before – only to be resurrected – though I would point out that it was often years later before they were brought back to life.

Others have pointed out that it’s unlikely that, as death’s avatar, Phyla will stay dead. Likewise we’ve seen Mantis brought back to life as recently as the Conquest mini-series. We’ve also seen Captain Victory’s demise from containment suit breach before – only to have him come back to life.

I think the most jarring death for me and for most of the fans was that of Cosmo. I know I certainly had a dismayed WTF moment when that happened akin to what I might have experienced, if while watching classic TV, I witnessed Timmy suddenly whip out a gun and shoot Lassie in the head. From reading the blogs, I don’t think I was alone in that reaction. I mean – people really like dogs – especially Labradors – and especially anthropomorphized dogs (as just about every dog owner anthropomorphizes their beloved pet). Also, lots of people (mistakenly IMO) believe the true strength of Guardians of the Galaxy rests on the anthropomorphic characters of Rocket, Groot, and Cosmo – and those folks are really pissed right about now at having lost one of the triumvirate of anthropomorphics. I’ve seen some bloggers and dog lovers threatening to drop the book because of Cosmo’s death.

Giving everything above due consideration, I have to wonder if making a dramatic point by killing half the cast was really worth it if a substantial number of paying customers were alienated or offended to the point that they drop the book. Couldn’t everyone have just been knocked out or wounded? For that matter, why didn’t Starlord just use the cosmic cube to resurrect everyone and erase the Magus from Warlock’s reality? If the issue is paring down a cast of characters that has become too large and unwieldy, couldn’t some members have just been rotated off for awhile like they do in the ever changing roster of any of the Avengers titles? If someone absolutely had to die to give the story gravitas; couldn’t DnA have just killed Warlock? After all, there’s (apparently) another Warlock waiting in a cocoon; so the Warlock fans wouldn’t have been too upset.

Speaking of gravitas, let’s talk about Craig’s much debated art. From the blogosphere, it appears to me that about half of the fans like Craig’s art and about half of the fans don’t like Craig’s art for Guardians of the Galaxy. In contrast, the Guardians of the Galaxy oriented renderings of Walker, Pelltier, and Alves are consistently liked by the majority of the fans. The issue is not about Craig’s talent as an artist. He clearly is a talented artist. The issue is whether or not his cartoonish style serves the story well or detracts from the story. The general consensus for at least half the fans seems to be that Craig’s art detracts from the gravity of the subject matter. I ask the question: Can this book afford to be displeasing half the fans with art that they don’t like? I think the answer is no. Personally, I prefer the more photo-realistic take of some of the other artists listed above for books that are addressing more mature subject matter. If I’m paying $2.99 or more for a comic book that I’m done reading in five minutes; I expect to open the book and see beautiful people depicted. If I want to see ugly cartoonish people, I don’t have to pay. I can drive 5 blocks down the street to the Super-Wal-Mart, walk through the store, and see as many ugly cartoonish people as I like free of cost.

Turning to some art I did like, Garner’s cover art for #19 was very well done. I think it is among the best of the series thus far.

Back to the writing for a moment, did anyone else feel like the story got too rushed toward the end? I would have liked to have seen the destruction of the Universal Church of Truth rather than just read about it. Also, where are the bodies of the lost comrades and where are their weapons (Gamora’s Sword, Phyla’s Sword, Major Victory’s shield)? Left behind? For that matter, where is the cosmic cube? Too much was crammed into those last panels and I didn’t like the seeming finality of the end of the storyline. It felt like I was reading the last issue of a series rather than the most recent issue of an ongoing. I fear that this approach has given some of the wavering fans a convenient jumping off point.

In the final analysis, Guardians of the Galaxy #19 had its good points and its questionable points. #19’s storyline is a huge gamble on the part of DnA; and the stakes are the book’s survivability in an increasingly competitive market. Of course it remains to be seen if the gamble paid off in terms of improving sales and garnering new readership; or if it drove established readers away. I’m hoping the gamble paid off because I want to see Guardians of the Galaxy have a long, bright future. I’m staying onboard for the duration of this book and I urge all the other fans to be patient and let DnA work more of their magic.

Innovative, exhilarating, unpredictable, and just downright fun; Guardians of the Galaxy gives us a rollercoaster ride through the cosmos each month. I can’t wait to see what happens in issue #20.

Article by: Bill Meneese

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Shame on Shamus: Big Apple Con to Compete With NYCC

News: Big Apple Con vs NYCC

It is reported at various outlets across the internet that Gareb Shamus has announced his Big Apple Con(job) will compete with the New York Comic Con, both set to be held next year on the same weeked, October 7th-10th and a few miles apart from one another.

I’m not a big fan of Gareb Shamus and his rag mag Wizard. As I see it, that magazine lost its magic a long time ago.

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Nova: The Next Generation Part Four Of The Shiar Conflict

 

Nova: The Next Generation

Part Four

Of

The Shi’ar Conflict

Written By: Timelord 10.10.09

 

Chapter 4: Demi-Goddess

The rocket propelled adamantium ‘Nova Killer Round’ easily penetrated the phasic shields and tore through the chest of the lovely raven-haired Nova Cadet who had been lying in wait to surprise attack the approaching Veradinae dragons. She fell to the ground silently. The two Veradinae advance scouts converged on her body, anxious to dine on her flesh while she was still warm and freshly dead. They retracted their helmets in preparation for their meal. Her body began to writhe and shift, instantly breaking apart into two cloudy swarms of billions of tiny objects. Before the dragons could react, the nanites moved swiftly – entering the ears and noses of the Veradinae and burrowing into their brains. The dragons fell to the ground and convulsed violently for several seconds as their brains were pureed. Then they became still and moved no more. From the treetop, Sylvia smiled to herself as she ordered the nanites making up her uniform to exit the skull cavities of the slain Veradinae, clean themselves, and reform around her. It had been child’s play for her to wield her power to communicate with AI’s to order the nanites composing her uniform to morph into a facsimile of her to use as a decoy for the enemy scouts. Once the dragons had “killed” her facsimile and un-sealed their armor to dine; they were vulnerable to attack and the nanites had performed both admirably and silently. She much preferred the direct approach of a stand up fight over such guerilla warfare techniques; but she was willing to do what was necessary to give her people a fighting chance against the approaching enemy. She waited while the nanites clothed her nude body; and once her helmet formed, she quantum linked to Surfaan with one simple message. “Two enemy down. Fifteen to go. Send in the drones.” Sylvia prayed that the drones would keep the Veradinae busy long enough for Bem’s troop ship to win their own firefight with the Veradinae harrying the larger group of survivors, finish extracting the larger group of survivors, and come to the rescue of her smaller group of survivors.

Sylvia paused as the Xandarian Attack Drones, twelve small seamless silver orbs about the size of her fist, sped silently past her position, fanned out, and began their hunt for the enemy. Using her natural power to communicate with any AI, she patched into the AI controlling the drones so she could gauge enemy strengths and weaknesses as the drones attacked. She didn’t expect the drones to do much but slow the dragons down; as all advanced ground armies had developed counter-measures for drone attacks. That was why ground armies were still comprised of biologicals. AI drone systems could nullify each other and telepresence could be rendered inert via disruption of communication between operator and drone; but super-powered biologicals did not suffer the same constraints and were not so easily counter-measured. They could function independently and adapt to changing battlefield conditions – bringing guile, innovation, and un-predictability factors into the equation – the very factors that often won battles. In the final analysis, biologicals had millions of years of head start on AI’s in finding clever ways to kill each other. Biologicals were simply better at killing than AI’s.

Melding with an AI was always a strange sensation. Multi-tasking was something biologicals did not do very well; so to meld with an intelligence that multi-tasked as a matter of course was at first disconcerting. Sylvia felt overwhelmed for an instant before her mind made the adaptation from sequential information processing to simultaneous processing. Experiencing the drone attack from the point of view of the controlling AI, she was essentially in twelve different places at once – “seeing” what each of the twelve drones saw as they searched for the enemy. Quickly adjusting to this unfamiliar experience, she was able to follow the progress of the drones as they weaved through the murky swamp, using the natural terrain in addition to their stealth tech to mask their advance on the enemy.

The drones paused. The enemy had been found. Fifteen heavily armed dragons and one Veradinae drone controller android were about a mile from the survivor encampment and advancing as rapidly as the terrain allowed. Passive scans indicated that the Xandarian drones had not been detected. Sylvia attempted to penetrate the Veradinae Android’s firewall; but it was too strong for her to quickly overcome. She cursed to herself. She had hoped to render the enemy drone controller inert or even use it against the enemy. She realized that her drones would now get only one chance before the Veradinae droid took counter-measures. Sylvia and the AI concurred on the attack plan. Explosive charges were set and the drones attacked.

The Xandarian drones each picked a target. As one, they swooped down from the treetops at top speed in a surprise attack. Two drones targeted the android; and the rest targeted individual dragons. The Veradinae android reacted instantly, raising a force field and releasing ten interceptor drones. The Xandarian drones impacted against the android’s force field; exploding on contact. The Veradinae android was not harmed; but the concussion from the blast threw the dragons into momentary confusion; knocking three of those closest to the android off their feet. The Xandarian drones moved to capitalize on the enemy’s confusion; diving toward those most vulnerable to attack. The Veradinae interceptors did their job, intercepting and destroying most of the Xandarian attack drones; but two Xandarian drones managed to evade the interceptors and impact against two of the dragons who were thrown from their feet by the initial attack’s blast. The resulting explosions took one dragon’s head off and the other dragon’s leg off.

Sylvia was pleased. Xandar had been lucky. The drones had inflicted more damage than she had expected they would. She had one last immediate range glimpse of the enemy before her last drone was destroyed by an interceptor. She saw the commanding dragon walk over to the dragon that lay injured from loss of its leg and shoot it in the head.

Sylvia used her powers to conduct a long range scan in order to assess the enemy’s incurred damage. She was pleased to learn that the enemy had been slowed and was now having to take time to re-group. She quickly flew back to the survivor encampment to prepare to engage the Veradinae.

Arriving back at the encampment in seconds, she was greeted by Surfaan Ren. Ren had divided the encampment into defense zones and fortified each zone the best he could with the available men and material. The Star Corps regulars were ready. Surfaan would command the ground troops; and Sylvia would harass the enemy from the air.

They didn’t have long to wait. Within minutes of her arrival, Sylvia’s HUD flashed a proximity warning. The enemy was closing. Sylvia took flight, activating her uniform’s camouflage function, becoming invisible against the pale blue sky of the planet. Surfaan had prepared one last surprise for the enemy and it would be her cue to attack.

The Veradinae marched straight for the encampment. They were positioned in a ragged semi-circle, obviously intending to simply overwhelm the encampment with superior numbers and firepower. The Veradinae droid sent attack drones in to soften defenses; but Xandar’s droid sent interceptor drones and stalemated the attack. As the enemy entered the Xandarian outer perimeter; Surfaan activated the anti-personnel mines he had placed, watching with satisfaction as the explosions and adamantium shrapnel killed two enemy troops and caused the enemy line to waver.

Capitalizing on the wavering enemy line, Surfaan ordered the Xandarians to open fire; and the troops laid down a withering assault of plasma charges and projectiles. From the air, Sylvia dove in for a strafing run against the enemy line; firing furious volleys of gravimetric pulses from her eyes and both hands. She sighted her primary target and rushed in for the kill; smashing through the Veradinae android’s force field and then through the android itself, tearing it apart and rendering its drones useless. As the inert Veradinae drones fell from the sky, the remaining Xandarian drones were freed from their aerial dogfights with the Veradinae drones. Xandar’s drones dove from the sky to attack the enemy; and several dragons fell to explosions from drone impacts.

Though suffering heavy losses, the Veradinae were nothing if not tenacious. The remaining eight dragons regrouped under the leadership of their commander and made a concerted push against the Xandarian line. Concentrating fire from their hand held and armor mounted weapons; the Veradinae were able to overwhelm the Xandarian force field defenses, battering them down.

As the Veradinae grouped to rush the Xandarian line; Sylvia flew into their midst, generating a powerful radiative aura gravimetric pulse. The armor of the three dragons nearest her absorbed the greatest part of the concussion; killing the dragons instantly. Most of the rest of the dragons were knocked off their feet; but their commander managed to maintain his footing and rushed Sylvia with his claws extended, intending to rend her apart. Sylvia had learned from her earlier fight with an actual dragon to stay clear of dragons’ biomantium-coated claws; so she twisted and dodged the dragon’s attack, firing gravimetric pulses from her hands into its back as she took flight. The dragon twisted to avoid the pulses hitting its power packs and its armor-mounted plasma cannon fired at Sylvia. The plasma bolt bounced off Sylvia’s shields, but disrupted her flight function, causing her to tumble to the ground.

Momentarily stunned from the impact with the ground, a dragon rushed Sylvia and she barely recovered in time to twist away from a vicious swipe of its claws. Another dragon rushed at her; and she fired a gravimetric pulse into its chest as she took flight; knocking the dragon into the line of fire from one of the Xandarian defense zones. The dragon was caught in the concentrated fire and suffered several penetrating wounds from adamantium projectiles as Sylvia’s gravimetric pulse had weakened its armor’s force field. Before Sylvia could gain altitude, the Veradinae Commander leaped into the air, caught her by her ankles, and slammed her head into the ground.

Fighting to retain consciousness, Sylvia groggily twisted in his grasp attempting to activate her flight function and escape. Flexing his muscles, he slammed her into the ground again; causing her to lose consciousness for a moment.

Sylvia awoke to a familiar voice shouting, “Let go of her mother farker!” as Surfaan Ren flew to her rescue; firing short bursts of adamantium projectiles into the Veradinae Commander’s armor at point blank range so as to avoid hitting Sylvia with any stray pellets. The Veradinae Commander roared in pain as several projectiles penetrated its armor. It turned loose of Sylvia to attack Surfaan as Surfaan had strayed way too close to the dragon in his attempt to distract it before it killed Sylvia.

The realization that Surfaan had only seconds to live snapped Sylvia back into full consciousness and she viciously kicked the dragon’s leg, buckling his armor and causing him to sink to his knees roaring in pain. Gritting her teeth and rapidly struggling to her feet, Sylvia built up a gravimetric pulse in her right hand and with all her might struck the dragon commander in the head at the same time as she fired the pulse. Screaming in rage as her gravimetric enhanced punch penetrated the dragon’s helmet armor; she felt the dragon’s head explode before its decapitated body fell limply to the ground.

Sylvia twisted to avoid the shots fired at her by another dragon and took flight behind Surfaan, placing herself between him and the remaining dragons so her more powerful shields could defend him from their weapons fire.

Sylvia’s HUD flashed a warning that she was being scanned by a Xandarian Identify Friend or Foe (IFF) device and she looked up to see Bem’s troop ship sliding into place over the Xandarian encampment.

The ship’s plasma cannons and 50 caliber adamantium projectile weapons opened up against the few remaining dragons, causing them to scramble for cover as they returned fire. A hatch from the bottom of the ship opened and waves of Nova Cadets rapidly descended to the ground. Each Nova Cadet scooped up a Star Corps Regular and ascended to the ship as other Nova Cadets provided covering fire.

Sylvia and Surfaan provided covering fire and were the last to board the troop ship. The hatch snapped shut behind them and the ship rapidly ascended through the atmosphere into space, entering a stargate to the Orienta Shard as soon as it achieved minimum safe distance from the gravity well of the planet.

As the Nova Cadets tended to the wounded and stowed their combat and rescue gear, Sylvia caught sight of Surfaan placing his rifle in a weapons locker. She walked over to him and he turned to her with a smile of delight on his face.

Sylvia returned his smile. “Thanks for saving my ass out there.”

He raised his eyebrows and made a great show of craning his neck to examine her ass. “How could I let such a cute ass go to waste? Besides, I do like a screamer – more so in the bedroom than on the battlefield though.”

They shared a laugh; but were interrupted by a shout of “Commander on deck!”

Nothing if not efficient, Bem arrived with several clerk droids to begin debriefing. The cadets scrambled into formation and prepared to provide reports. The ride back to Orienta was going to be filled with official Corps business.

 


Surfaan finished his report to the clerk droid and headed to the mess hall of the ship. As he approached the door to the mess hall, it snapped open and out stepped Kritana Tas.

Unable to avoid the encounter, Surfaan sheepishly smiled at her in greeting. “Hi Kritana.”

Kritana’s eyes narrowed as she looked at him. “Fark you Surfaan.” She brushed past him.

His face red with exasperation and embarrassment, Surfaan said to her receding back, “Come on Tana! You can’t still be mad at me.”

In response, Kritana simply made an obscene gesture over her shoulder without turning back around.

“Oh nice! Very mature! Talk to me?” he said with no real expectation that she would.

Surprisingly, she stopped and turned around. Walking up to him, she placed her fists on her hips and with arms akimbo angrily got right in his face. “Talk to you? I’ll talk to you. What do you have to say?”

Caught off guard, Surfaan’s mind blanked and he could only blurt out a feeble, “I’m sorry.”

That was not what Kritana wanted to hear. She huffed. “That’s it? That’s the best you’ve got? Why did I waste my time?” Shaking her head in irritation and disgust, she turned to depart; then changed her mind and turned back to him. “You know – when you decided you wanted to fark that little Rigellian First Year Cadet, all you had to do was tell me. It’s not like I’m possessive or jealous or have ever demanded exclusivity. I thought she was cute too and I might even have joined in if she’d been interested. All I ever asked was that you never lie to me. I thought that we had agreed on that much.”

He shook his head affirmatively. “I know and I was wrong to lie about farking her. I farked up. I’m sorry. Can’t we just put this behind us and be friends again?”

 

Kritana shook her head negatively. “I have to be able to trust my friends to tell me the truth. That’s obviously beyond your capabilities.” She turned her back and walked away.

Surfaan watched her go, cursing himself once again for farking up the good thing he had had with one of the most gorgeous, sexy, and capable women he had ever known. He turned to enter the mess hall. The door snapped open and he saw several cadets milling about the food and drink synthesizers. He spied Sylvia extracting a drink from a synthesizer portal and waved to get her attention. She smiled in response and he took that as an invitation to approach her.

He decided to try confident humor. “Now that we’ve openly admired each other’s asses and established that we’re both screamers, I was hoping we could get some private time together to get even better acquainted. Care to share a shower?”

She laughed. “Subtlety is not your strong point.”

He shrugged. “What can I say? I believe in making my intentions known.”

She suppressed a smile. “Oh, by reputation I knew your intentions before I ever met you. My mother warned me about men like you.”

He looked deeply into her eyes. “Your mother sounds like a wise woman. We’ll name our first child after her.”

Sylvia raised her eyebrows. “My-my-my, the rumors about your large ego are true after all.”

He grinned. “I’d love to show you which large rumors about me are true.”

She laughed. “No doubt you would.”

He decided the time was right to make his pitch. “So let me. After this mission, we all get a week’s liberty. Let’s go out tonight.”

She looked away for a moment as if seriously considering his offer. “Would that I could. I’ve already made plans to celebrate with a friend tonight; and I leave for Nu-Xandar on the first shuttle out in the morning.”

He decided to go for broke. “Well, how about if I meet you somewhere before or after your date with your friend?”

She shook her head negatively. “You are a persistent one aren’t you?”

He grinned. “I’ve been called worse.”

“I know” she deadpanned.

He laughed. “Come on – we both know you want to give me a chance.”

She hesitated – then relented. “I really do have plans tonight and my date will be an all nighter – but I’ll be at The Paradise for awhile. Maybe I’ll see you there.”

Surfaan was mentally shouting ‘Victorie;’ but his verbal reply was calm and confident. “You will definitely see me there Sylvia Rider-Dru.”

The General Quarters klaxon sounded and with a last smile at each other, Sylvia, Surfaan, and the remainder of the cadets scrambled to prepare for arrival on the Orienta Shard.
 

 


“I’m telling you that you’re wasting your time Surfaan.” Owan Luf downed his synthahol shot and ordered another. The droid bartender complied and Owan stared morosely at the drink. “Listen to me. Nobody knows more about disappointment than me. There are plenty of women here who’d love to spend the night with you. Better pick up one of them. The one you’re waiting for is a royal – as far out of your league as I’m out of Kritana’s league.”

Surfaan rolled his eyes. Owan was a nice guy; but Owan could be such a wet blanket – especially when he drank. “And I’m telling you that I’m on to something here. She wants me. I know it. Nobody knows more about women than me.”

Owan downed his drink and ordered another. “You’ll see.”

Surfaan smirked. “Yeah right.”

The Paradise was Orienta City’s oldest, largest, most popular pleasure club. It was nearly full to capacity tonight with cadets celebrating the first liberty of the year. The music was loud, the dance floor was full, drinks and vapors were flowing, and the sex rooms lining the perimeter of the first several stories of the building had long waiting lists. The sex rooms were opaque at times and totally transparent at other times. They became transparent when they were randomly and intermittently illuminated for club patrons to observe the activities taking place within – pandering to the exhibitionistic and/or voyeuristic traits just below the surface in nearly everyone’s personality.

Surfaan was worried that he might miss Sylvia in the crowd, so he placed himself at the Center Bar where he could scan the new arrivals at the entrance. The entrance, some forty feet away, was lined with a canopy of Halthri Trees – the last of the line still alive from pre-cataclysm Xandar. Halthri trees contained natural illuminants, their branches lit with thousands of points of light to attract the insects that pollinated them. They were truly a natural wonder whose beauty was beyond compare. He looked at the tree tops stretching all the way to the skylights at the top of the building.

So distracted, Surfaan almost missed Sylvia’s arrival. As his gaze drifted back to the entrance, he stood transfixed as he beheld her. Dressed in a simple skin-tight white mini-dress that emphasized every lovely curve of her perfect body, she was the very picture of a goddess. The light from the Halthri’s refracted off her dress, seeming to make it glow of its own accord. Her high-heeled white shoes and white dress perfectly contrasted with her lovely raven hair, dark eyes, and lightly tanned body. She scanned the crowd as if looking for someone.

Surfaan elbowed Owan. “See Owan – she’s looking for me. Observe and learn.” Surfaan took a step in her direction.

He stopped short in stunned silence when he saw Kritana Tas rush up to Sylvia and greet her with a long passionate kiss. Arm-in-arm, the two lovely women descended to the dance floor.

Surfaan turned to look at Owan.

Owan finished his drink and ordered another. “Told you so. They’re the two hottest women in the academy. Of course they’d end up with each other. In fact, they’ve been seeing each other for weeks now – ever since Tana dumped you.” Owan downed his last shot of synthahol and did not order another. “D’ast. I hoped I’d have a chance at Kritana once she dumped you.” With one last longing look at Kritana, Owan got shakily to his feet. “I’m out of here. Not going to torture myself about Kritana any more. My shuttle leaves for Nu-Xandar first thing in the morning. I better get back to the Crista and sleep this off.” Obviously tipsy from drowning his sorrow in synthahol; he staggered toward the exit, weaving through the throngs of celebrating people.

Surfaan scanned the dance floor. Kritana and Sylvia were dirty dancing – obviously in heat for each other. In fact, they couldn’t keep their eyes or their hands off of each other. Surfaan leaned his back against the bar, ordering a vial of endorph-vapor and a shot of synthahol.

While waiting for his drink and his inhalant, he indulged some prurient fantasies about the lovely young ladies. “Ah – the possibilities” he whispered to himself. When his inhalant and his synthahol arrived, he popped the lid off the vapor vial, held it to his nose, and inhaled deeply. He downed the shot just as the music ceased. Before the next song started, Kritana whispered something in Sylvia’s ear. Sylvia shook her head affirmatively and they parted ways after a quick kiss. Sylvia weaved her way through the crowd and eased up to the Center Bar; taking a seat about ten feet away from Surfaan. She hadn’t noticed him yet. Surfaan realized that it was “now or never” time. He sidled up to her. “Well hello Cadet Dru. Fancy seeing you here in this den of iniquity.”

Sylvia touched her chest and batted her eyes in mock surprise. “Why Cadet Ren – what a surprise.”

He cocked his head. “Buy you a drink?” Without waiting for a reply, he motioned for two shots of synthahol.

“Trying to ply me with synthahol are you?” she teased.

“But of course – and would you care for a vapor too?” Without waiting for a reply, he motioned for two vapors. “So where’d Kritana go?” He asked casually, hoping that the answer would be ‘far away.’

“To get a room” Sylvia replied matter-of-factly as she picked up the shot of synthahol placed in front of her by the bartender. She lifted the glass in salute. “Our body counts were higher than anyone else’s today. So, to you and me – the two best d’ast cadets on the battlefield.” She clinked her glass against his.

He was delighted by her praise and her seeming receptivity to him. “I’ll drink to that.” They downed their shots simultaneously and he motioned for two more shots just as the vapor vials arrived. He handed one vial to Sylvia. They popped off the lids to the vapors and inhaled them.

The shots arrived and Surfaan motioned for two more – double strength. He made eye contact with Sylvia. “So you’re seeing Kritana. Now I know where you heard all the rumors about me.” He handed a drink to her.

Sylvia accepted the drink and downed it before teasingly replying, “It seems that your loss was my gain.”

Surfaan was dismayed as he saw his prospects for spending the night with Sylvia rapidly diminishing. Before he could reply, he nearly spilled his drink as Kritana brushed past him to stand between him and Sylvia.

Shooting Surfaan an angry glare, Kritana muttered, “These places will let any kind of sleaze in won’t they?”

“It’s always such a pleasure when I run into you unexpectedly.” Surfaan raised his drink to Kritana in salute before downing it.

Kritana ignored the sarcasm and turned to Sylvia. “Is he hitting on you? Tell me if he’s hitting on you. I’d love an excuse to kick his ass.”

Sylvia was a little tipsy from the drinks and vapors. She stroked Kritana’s hair. “It’s all right sweetie. We were just talking.”

With a sideways glance at Surfaan, Kritana moved closer to Sylvia and gave her a long, passionate kiss – slowly moving her hand up the inside of Sylvia’s thigh until it disappeared under Sylvia’s dress. Sylvia breathed deeply and arched her back as she moaned in pleasure and pulled Kritana closer, deeply kissing her.

The two double-shots arrived before Kritana and Sylvia finished their kiss. Surfaan drank one and reached for the other. He needed the drink to help him cope with the strange blend of jealousy, envy, and arousal he was feeling.

Kritana pulled back from the kiss. “Come on Syl. I called in some favors to get us to the top of the waiting list. Our room is ready.” Kritana pulled Sylvia away from the bar and they headed for a row of transparent rooms. Sylvia waved goodbye to Surfaan as Kritana rapidly dragged her through the crowd in an attempt to get her away from Surfaan as quickly as possible.

Surfaan was not so easily dissuaded. In fact, Kritana’s attitude had stirred his competitive spirit. He caught up to them when their progress was slowed by the crowd of people in the club. “You know Sylvia; I think I’m on the same shuttle as you in the morning. Would you save me a seat next to you? We can make arrangements to get together while we’re both on Nu-Xandar.”

Kritana huffed in irritation. “Go away Surfaan. She’s not interested in you.”

Surfaan was not ready to give up. “So you say – but let’s let Sylvia speak for herself.”

Before Sylvia could reply, Kritana hustled her into a room and slammed the door in Surfaan’s face.

“D’ast!” Surfaan was frustrated as he turned to retreat to the Center Bar. He stopped short as he felt someone grab him by the collar and pull him back. Turning, he found himself face-to-face with Kritana Tas.

Kritana glared at him. “She wants a toy and you’re the closest thing to an AI dildo I can find on short notice.”

Surfaan glanced over Kritana’s shoulder to see Sylvia sitting on the bed. Sylvia let her eyes drift below Surfaan’s waist before making eye contact with him and smiling coyly.

Surfaan grinned at Sylvia before making eye contact with Kritana. “Happy to be of service ma’am.”

Kritana rolled her eyes as she grabbed his arm and pulled him into the room. “Just shut up and take off your clothes.”

 


Sylvia stared at the ceiling of the room in The Paradise Pleasure Club – bored, irritated, restless, unable to sleep – an intolerable situation made all the more annoying by Cadet Surfaan Ren’s soft snoring as he lay next to her fast asleep. Kritana Tas was snuggled up to Ren on his other side; her head resting on his chest as she also soundly slept. Though Sylvia required less and less sleep as her powers developed; the world was made for those who did require sleep, so she often found herself all powered up with no place to go. The Overmind had explained to her that someday she would no longer sleep at all. She looked upon the arrival of that day with abject dread.

Sylvia briefly considered dropping in on The Overmind; but quickly quashed the idea. She was not in the mood to tolerate his typical condescending attitude; but more importantly, she was still angry with him. She sighed and turned onto her side, watching Ren as he slept. She liked him. He was a handsome young man full of dreams and possessing a lean, muscular figure, curly brown hair and hazel eyes. He was about two years older than her and about a year older than Kritana. He was a fine soldier – brave and bold – and on a personal note – a very skilled lover. She understood why Kritana liked him. Ren was the perfect complement to Kritana’s seriousness and ambitiousness. He made her loosen up, relax, and laugh. Sylvia smiled, satisfied that Kritana had finally forgiven Ren’s transgression. All it took was a little talk and a lot of sex. Kritana stirred and snuggled closer to Ren before instantly falling back to sleep. Kritana was among the best Xandar’s armed forces had to offer – smart, capable, tough, serious – and on a personal note, strikingly beautiful, incredibly sexy, and a passionate lover. Sylvia considered herself lucky to have had the pleasure of spending such an enjoyable night with two of the Corp’s finest Cadets.

They had all gotten to know each other better during rest periods from farking. After Kritana had finally forgiven Ren; they had all discussed possibly forming a steady triad relationship. Sylvia was warming to the thought of a steady relationship with them. She smiled in satisfaction as she recalled their evening together. Over the course of the evening they had farked in every conceivable three-way combination – some of which would have been impossible without their powers to manipulate gravity. It was some of the best, most satisfying sex Sylvia had ever had. She was impressed with Ren and Tas. Apparently other club patrons had been impressed as well – as the audience outside their room had grown with every illumination. Sylvia realized that the royal family would be displeased with such a public display if they ever found out; but what happened in pleasure clubs stayed in pleasure clubs – so they would likely never know. Besides, Sylvia and her friends were young and teeming with super power. Super-powered individuals had super-powerful sex drives. That was generally understood. But even super-powered individuals had their limits; and after several hours of farking, Surfaan and Kritana literally collapsed in exhaustion. Sylvia laughed quietly to herself when she realized that the hint of a sexually satiated smile still graced Ren’s sleeping face.

The Red Alert Klaxon sounded unexpectedly, jarring Sylvia out of her private amusement; and both Ren and Tas out of their post-coital slumber. They all made eye contact for a second, realizing what this alert likely signified – diplomacy had failed and Xandar was now in a shooting war with the Shi’Ar. With a thought, their uniforms appeared around them and they flew from the room through the ceiling exit and into the sky; joining the rest of the thousands of scrambling cadets rushing to the Nova Crista’s assembly area.

Arriving at the assembly area, the cadets quickly organized into formal columns and reported their presence and readiness for duty to Worldmind tactical. The Commandant of the Academy, Alistan Nix, approached the podium overlooking the assembly area and motioned for silence. “We have been ordered to full alert status as we are now at war with the Shi’Ar Imperium. The Shi’Ar and Xandarian Federation fleets are preparing to engage. A strike against our homeworld is considered likely. The Orienta Shard has been ordered to adopt a defensive position within a tesseract. All cadet classes have been promoted to active duty status to assist the Xandarian Planetary Guard in defense of Nu-Xandar. Stand by to receive your orders from Worldmind tactical. When your orders are received, you are to depart for the indicated duty station immediately. Dismissed.”

Sylvia’s HUD indicated that she was again assigned to a unit under command of Third Year Cadet, Ensicus Bem. Bem’s unit had been assigned to help defend one of the asteroid-based command centers for the Automated Defensive Field surrounding Nu-Xandar. Sylvia’s orders were to report to Troop Ship #347 departing from Landing Field #4 in five minutes. She hurriedly flew to the landing field, arriving at the same time as Surfaan Ren, Owan Luf, and Kritana Tas. Bem hustled the cadets aboard and the ship immediately took flight along with the thousands of other ships and tens of thousands of Corpsmen streaming off the Orienta Shard to report to their duty stations. The troop ship quickly cleared the dome and headed into space. Sylvia looked back upon her beloved Orienta City, watching as the last of the ships and troops cleared the dome; and the Orienta Shard, last surviving legacy of old Xandar, shimmered and disappeared into a pocket dimension as a failsafe against another genocidal attack against Xandar. With the Worldmind and cloning facilities on the Orienta Shard safe from all attack; Xandar could never fall again. She turned her HUD’s attention to Nu-Xandar. Thanks to Adanacian tech, Nu-Xandar too could enter a pocket dimension; and certainly would if the automated defenses surrounding her were ever breeched. She could see the Star Corps Planetary Guard ships deploying from the Torus and the Nova Centurion support troops taking up defensive positions. Looking forward, she could see her ship rapidly approaching one of the Command and Control asteroids placed in Libration Points within the field of automated defensive satellites surrounding Nu-Xandar and The Orienta Shard. The Automated Defense Field was a network of cloaked mines and robotic attack drones deployed in a spherical arrangement orbiting Nu-Xandar. Outside the plane of the ecliptic, the ADF was composed of nothing but self-replicating stationary mines. Along the plane of the ecliptic, the ADF was composed of mobile attack drones which could be ordered to attack or allow passage of any ship approaching Nu-Xandar. The Command and Control Center Asteroids controlled space traffic approaching and departing from Nu-Xandar; and had total control of the ADF. Calling up her HUD and patching into Worldmind tactical, Sylvia could see the Xandarian 6th and 8th Fleets deploying outside the ADF. She requested the position of her father’s flagship, The Aurora, and found that her father was with the Xandarian Federation’s First Fleet in the area of space under dispute between Xandar and Shi’Ar, some 10,000 light years from Nu-Xandar. Tactical indicated that the Fourth and Ninth Federation Fleets were on their way to rendezvous with the First Fleet; but that Xandar and her allies were still outnumbered by the approaching Shi’Ar Fleet.

The troop transport ship touched down on the landing pad of the C&C Asteroid and was immediately lowered into the asteroid’s hangar bay. The cadets hurriedly disembarked, anxious to meet the base commander and report to their duty station in one of the gun turrets. As they approached the security doors, they were automatically identity scanned and granted entrance. Hurrying down the corridors bustling with Starcorps regulars rushing to duty stations; they finally arrived at the bridge of the C & C. A grizzled, gray-haired old warrior, Commander Harvan Soth, was busy issuing orders and did not immediately notice the arrival of the Cadets; leaving them standing silently at attention for several long minutes. Finally, he turned his attention to the cadets; approaching Bem.

The cadets saluted as Commander Soth approached them. Returning their salute, he got right to business. “Millennian Bem. You will report to Gun Turret #4 and your cohort will provide all necessary aid and assistance to the gunnery crew there under command of Lieutenant Johaan. Any questions?”

Bem shook his head negatively. “No Sir.”

“Good. Dismissed.” Soth turned to leave just as the overhead lights flashed red and the emergency Klaxon sounded.

A Lieutenant shouted to Soth. “Sir! Multiple stargates forming outside the ADF! Our fleet and our Centurions are engaging incoming Shi’Ar ships.” Scanning a data screen, the Lieutenant jumped to his feet. “Sir! Multiple attempts to pierce our teleportation dampening field are being recorded. We are compensating.”

Soth looked concerned. “Lock down this facility! All crew to action stations! Internal security prepare to repel intruders! Centurion detachment to the surface to repel any enemy materializing outside the dampening field! Communications – message to The Torus. The ADF is under attack and a breach is possible. We are beginning countermeasures.”

Sylvia watched as the heavy security doors slammed shut; securing the C & C. Glancing at a tactical screen picturing Nu-Xandar, she saw The Torus, that wonderful combination of Xandarian and Adanacian tech that made life on Nu-Xandar possible, begin to glow with unimaginable power. Nu-Xandar shimmered and disappeared into a pocket dimension. Sylvia breathed a sigh of relief. At least her mother was now safe; though if she knew her mother, Sevilica was probably having difficulty restraining herself from leaving her governmental duties and joining the Centurions defending Nu-Xandar.

Soth glanced at Bem. “Change in orders Bem. Your squad will assume guard duty of the C & C. Arm yourselves and take up positions.”

Bem nodded to the cadets and they rushed to a weapons locker; each grabbing a plasma rifle, a projectile side arm, and an adamantium-bladed knife. Sylvia reluctantly armed herself along with the others. She had no real need of arms as she already possessed Centurion level powers; having been born naturally able to wield Nova Force. Her friends Ren, Tas, and Luf had only the cadet-level Nova powers of flight, slightly augmented strength, and partial invulnerability granted by their newly upgraded Nova Matrices. Bem had the Millennian level powers of energy absorption and projection granted upon entrance into the third and final year of the academy. Bem assigned the cadets guard duty over the security doors leading into the C & C.

The Lieutenant was again on his feet shouting to Soth. “Sir! The teleport signals are overwhelming the dampening field! Enemy troops have materialized near the surface. Our Centurions are engaging.” C & C tactical screens flashed with images of Centurions clashing with Shi’Ar armored troops and Imperial Guardsmen. “Sir, multiple contacts power diving toward the surface of the asteroid!”

The asteroid shook from a massive impact; and the ceiling burst as multiple super-powered beings invaded the C & C. When the dust cleared, Sylvia could see that the Shi’Ar Imperial Guard, led by Gladiatrix, had arrived. The Xandarians were quick to react. Soth drew his side arm and began to empty the clip into the chest of Galdiatrix. Purple-skinned, purple-clothed, lean, strong, and sporting the Mohawk hairstyle of her father; Gladiatrix smiled cruelly as she grabbed the still firing Soth by the neck and lifted him off the ground. Shrugging off his adamantium bullets; she snapped his neck and disdainfully threw his body to the ground. Bem and Luf flew at Gladiatrix, furiously firing plasma rifles; as Tas, Ren, and the Starcorps Regulars in the C & C all engaged other Imperial Guardsmen.

Sylvia threw down her rifle and fired a gravimetric pulse at the nearest Shi’Ar Guardsman, Smasher, vaporizing him from the waist up. Determined to prevent the Shi’Ar from disabling the ADF by taking control of the C & C; Sylvia flew toward the next Imperial Guardsman; firing gravimetric pulses furiously. She had studied the Imperial Guard at the academy and recognized this one as Diprin, an energy manipulator who easily shrugged off the blasts. As Sylvia closed on Diprin; Diprin spun and lashed out with her adamantium claws, just as Sylvia expected she would. Sylvia easily dodged the attack; flipped over Diprin, and put her fist through the back of Diprin’s head; killing Diprin instantly.

Sylvia had no time to gloat over her second kill as she was struck from behind by Velociti-raptor, the lizard-like speedster of the Imperial Guard. The strike did not penetrate her phasic shields but it did knock her off balance and into the energy matrix trap of Imperial Guardsmen Grelan. Sylvia absorbed the energy matrix as Grelan attempted to constrict it and slice her into cubes; firing the absorbed energy back at Grelan and knocking him off balance before he could construct another energy form to attack her. Her enhanced senses indicated Velociti-raptor was speeding toward her for another attack. She sidestepped his attack while drawing her adamantium knife and slashing savagely. Velociti-raptors body slammed into a wall and writhed on the ground. His severed head rolled across the floor, stopping at her feet; his eyes wide with terror as his mouth moved in silent screams at approaching death before finally becoming still. Sylvia took flight and flipped to avoid the slash of the energy sword the now recovered Grelan had directed toward her in an attempt to decapitate her in revenge for the killing of Velociti-raptor. She easily evaded the sword, fired a gravimetric pulse at him to distract him; and with all her might threw her adamantium knife, burying it in Grelan’s left eye to the hilt. Grelan silently keeled over, falling to the ground instantly dead.

Sylvia wheeled around in time to see Gladiatrix kill Luf by tearing him in half. Bem already lay dead on the floor beneath the feet of Gladiatrix, having been torn limb from limb. Sylvia and Gladiatrix locked eyes for a moment; each taking the measure of the other. Breaking the pause simultaneously, they rushed together; both intent on killing the other.

“Sylvia!” yelled Ren, flying between the combatants in an attempt to protect Sylvia with a clumsy attack on Gladiatrix.

Gladiatrix put her fist through Ren’s chest; splattering blood and gore upon Sylvia. Ren’s head fell back as Gladiatrix extracted her fist; and he briefly made eye contact with Sylvia as the light left his eyes and he fell to the ground.

Sylvia screamed in blinding rage and grief; firing her most powerful gravimetric pulse into Gladiatrix; stunning Gladiatrix and blasting her several miles into the rock of the asteroid. Sylvia was also stunned at the level of power she had just wielded. The battle had stopped as all combatants were staring up at her in stunned silence – staring UP at her as she had grown to eight feet tall and was glowing white hot with power. Energy arced from her eyes and across her body. She found it hard to think, her mind clouded with rage and consumed with hatred for Xandar’s enemies. She had become a Supernova – a vengeful demi-goddess intent on slaying Xandar’s enemies.

“My gods Syl, what’s happened to you?” said a distracted Kritana Tas. One of the Imperial Guardsmen, Mentat, sought to take advantage of Tas’ lapse of concentration on the battle and made to deliver a killing blow. Before he could strike, Sylvia bound him with rings of gravimetric nodes; shackling his ankles together and shackling his arms to his waist. She smiled cruelly as she ordered the nodes to contract. Mentat screamed briefly as the contracting rings trisected him. The remaining four Imperial Guardsmen turned from the Star Corps regulars they had been engaging to regard Sylvia.

Grinning broadly now, energy coursing across her body, mind filled with nothing but the bloodlust of a berserk warrior; Sylvia issued her challenge. “What’re you waiting for you Shi’Ar purries? Trying to decide which one of you wants to die next?”

The Imperial Guardsmen began to spread out in an attempt to surround her. Lasher moved to Sylvia’s left, charging her energy whip. Killbird took flight, hefting her cosmically powered mace. Fightmaster moved to Sylvia’s right with the dangerous grace of the galaxy class hand-to-hand combatant that he was. The weapons specialist, Quartermaster, moved to attack Sylvia from the rear; ramming a new clip of ‘Nova Killer Rounds’ into his projectile weapon. The surviving Xandarian Starcorps regulars and Nova Cadet Tas took the opportunity to re-group, re-arm, and lock down the C & C’s computers to keep the Shi’Ar from fulfilling their mission of commandeering the C & C to disable the ADF.

Quartermaster fired before Sylvia could dodge. To her surprise, her new larger body was going to take some getting used to as she now had to recalibrate her kinesthetic sense in regard to where her body was in space, how big it now was, and how fast she could move it. The adamantium slugs would have easily pierced the phasic shields and body armor she started the day with; but her new, more powerful shields were more resistant and the slugs merely glanced off. She was, however, knocked off balance by the impact of the slugs; and her unfamiliarity with her new body caused some coordination problems which left her open to attack from Lasher’s energy whip.

The whip wrapped around Sylvia’s torso, pinning her arms to her sides and delivering a jarring shock; as at the same time at point blank range Quartermaster unloaded a clip of slugs into Sylvia’s helmet. Sylvia reeled from the attacks; but as she was quickly becoming accustomed to her new body and as she was driven by berserker rage; she shrugged off the pain and focused on killing her enemies. Sylvia focused twin eye beams onto the whip, sending a massive jolt of energy into it. The feedback traveled up the lash and into Lasher; blowing Lasher’s right arm off at the shoulder. Flexing her muscles, Sylvia broke the whip pinning her arms to her sides and swatted the still firing Quartermaster into the wall, stunning him.

Sylvia ducked to avoid the swing of Killbird’s cosmically powered mace; but stepped directly into the path of Fightmaster’s kick to the torso. Stunned, she stumbled and was immediately struck by Killbird’s mace. Sylvia felt the cosmic power penetrate her shields and burn her flesh, sapping her power. She knew she couldn’t afford to take another such strike. Dodging and taking flight, she blasted Killbird with a collimated gravimetric pulse, flipped, and kicked Fightmaster in the head, stunning him.

Lasher was bleeding profusely from the site where her right arm had been separated from her shoulder; but had recovered enough to materialize a second whip and was wielding it with her left hand. Sylvia’s enhanced senses warned her that Quartermaster had recovered and was preparing to fire. Sylvia took flight just as Quartermaster fired, and the slug meant for Sylvia instead tore through Lasher’s chest, killing Lasher instantly. Quartermaster was momentarily paralyzed by the realization that he had just killed his teammate. His paralysis cost him dearly as Nova Corp Cadet Kritana Tas flew from behind a computer panel where she had taken cover and fired her projectile weapon point blank into Quartermaster’s head, splattering his brain onto the ceiling of the C & C. Kritana then flipped to avoid a vicious punch from Fightmaster and fired at Killbird before again ducking behind a console for cover where she continued to lay down covering fire against the Imperial Guardsmen.

Killbird dodged Kritana’s shots, but too late realized that her dodges had placed her within reach of Sylvia. Sylvia caught Killbird in a headlock and quickly snapped Killbird’s neck.

Fightmaster and Sylvia locked eyes from across the room. Fightmaster prepared to attack Sylvia, demonstrating his prowess by adopting several attack positions, taunting Sylvia as he invited her to prepare to defend herself. Sylvia sneered cruelly as she fired twin eye beams into Fightmasters forehead and watched him crumple to the ground instantly dead.

The remaining Xandarians were frozen in place, staring at Sylvia. All knew that Supernovas were obsessively devoted to the protection of Xandar; but they also knew that Supernovas were paranoid, murderously psychotic, and dangerously unpredictable.

The Avatar of the Worldmind appeared on Sylvia’s HUD. “Cadet Sylvia Rider-Dru. It is critical that–..”

Sylvia broke the link, silencing him; having no time for his prattling. There were enemies of Xandar to destroy. It was so hard to think. She knew there had been another enemy; but what had happened to it? She saw a familiar figure and turned to Kritana Tas demanding, “Where is the other one? Where is the one called Gladiatrix?”

Eyes wide, Kritana pointed down the tunnel bored by the gravimetric pulse Sylvia had directed at Gladiatrix. Sylvia turned to the tunnel and sensed an object approaching at hypersonic velocity. Before she could react, she was struck in the midsection and driven several miles through the rock to the surface of the asteroid and out into open space; emerging into the thick of battle between the Xandarian Centurions and the Shi’Ar Imperial Guardsmen.

The pain of having been essentially used as a drill bit through the nickel-iron asteroid had inadvertently helped Sylvia’s brain become accustomed to her new larger body. The pain had also cleared her mind of psychotic process and rage; and she was now able to focus. She remembered her mother’s advice about pushing all else aside but the battle; and by force of will, cleared her mind of all thoughts but those of combat. Quickly assessing her whereabouts, she could see combat raging all around her as Nova Corpsmen engaged Imperial Guardsmen and Shi’Ar regular troops. She could not risk cutting loose with full power against Gladiatrix for fear of endangering her own comrades in arms.

Gladiatrix gave Sylvia no time to recover; delivering blow after powerful blow, attempting to pierce Sylvia’s phasic shielding so she could deliver the killing stroke. Sylvia dodged Gladiatrix’s next punch and delivered a massive punch to Gladiatrix, sending Gladiatrix careening into the surface of the asteroid. Sylvia watched in satisfaction as Gladiatrix entered the artificial gravity well of the asteroid which gave it Xandarian normal gravity on the surface; and smiled as Gladiatrix impacted the surface, creating a sizeable crater.

Gladiatrix was stunned and Sylvia was not about to give her time to recover. Pressing her advantage, Sylvia dived to the surface, furiously firing gravimetric pulses into Gladiatrix. Gladiatrix reeled from the assault but was able to dodge many of the pulses and flew out of the crater to meet Sylvia’s attack.

Sylvia landed the first punch, sending Gladiatrix flying into the field of boulders created by her impact on the surface of the asteroid. Hefting one of the boulders, Gladiatrix sent it flying at Sylvia as Sylvia rushed to press the attack. Sylvia blasted the boulder into an expanding cloud of dust and pebbles with a gravimetric pulse; too late realizing that while an effective response, it had been a strategic blunder as the dust and debris momentarily clouded her tactical. Gladiatrix took advantage of Sylvia’s blinded tactical to surprise attack; flying directly out of the dust cloud and landing a massive punch that stunned Sylvia and sent her flying hundreds of feet; landing roughly on the ground outside one of the asteroid’s automated gun turret defenses.

Sylvia’s enhanced senses warned her that she was being targeted by the automated defenses; giving her just a second to dodge before the area where she had landed was vaporized by a plasma bolt. Apparently, the ‘Identify Friend or Foe’ system did not recognize her as a friend in her new Supernova quantum body; and had reacted accordingly.

Sylvia’s senses indicated that Gladiatrix was rapidly closing and Sylvia could also tell that the automated defenses were again targeting her. She had only a second to form a plan. Sylvia ran across the surface of the asteroid to attract the attention of all the surface defenses, deftly dodging the plasma beams and rapid fire 50 caliber adamantium slugs being sent her way from the automated defenses; deliberately staying just a second ahead of the targeting system. She rapidly closed the distance to Gladiatrix, taking flight to meet Gladiatrix head on, but dodging Gladiatrix at the last second, leaving Gladiatrix in the line of fire from the automated defenses. Gladiatrix was struck from multiple angles by 50 caliber adamantium slugs and by plasma bolts; causing her to scream in agony and fall twisting and writhing to the surface of the asteroid into a minefield; just as Sylvia intended.

Gladiatrix landed stunned next to a mine which suddenly blossomed with metal tentacles wrapping around Gladiatrix and imprisoning her. Two Xandarian Sentry Androids deployed from nearby bays to take the captured Gladiatrix into custody; training their projectile weapons on her and ordering her to surrender. Sylvia was engaged in dodging the automated defenses; delaying her ability to get to Gladiatrix and deliver the killing blow she so desired to deliver. Gladiatrix quickly recovered, flexed her muscles, and freed herself; using one of the tentacles as a whip to attack the androids who were now firing at her with their small caliber Gatling-gun-like weapons. The androids’ adamantium slugs were not powerful enough to penetrate Gladiatrix’s shields; but they were powerful enough to cause her pain from the impacts. Enraged, she attacked the androids. Using the severed metal tentacle she held to decapitate one of the androids; she leaped into the air and decapitated the other with a quick kick to the head. Before the android could fall, Gladiatrix tore the gatling gun from it’s body and began firing at the rapidly approaching Sylvia, striking her squarely in the chest and knocking her to the ground in the minefield.

Sylvia landed on an explosive mine; the concussion throwing her deeper into the minefield as the anti-personnel shrapnel glanced harmlessly off her shields. Landing roughly, a mine surrounded her with an energy net as a gun turret popped up from the ground and targeted her. Sylvia could sense that Gladiatrix was closing fast even though Gladiatrix was also slowed by having to dodge all the automated defenses. Sylvia absorbed the mine’s energy net and used it to destroy the gun turret before turning to engage Gladiatrix.

Still wielding the tentacle, Gladiatrix struck Sylvia in the head with it just as she turned; and the impact sent Sylvia flying head over heels, roughly landing on her stomach. She rolled to avoid the next strike from Gladiatrix’s makeshift whip; quickly flipping to grab the whip before Gladiatrix could withdraw it. Sylvia altered her gravimetric energy signature and sent several terawatts of alternating current into the tentacle, paralyzing Gladiatrix as she firmly gripped the tentacle. Maintaining the current flow, Sylvia turned the whip to her advantage and swung the helplessly paralyzed Gladiatrix over the minefield; slamming Gladiatrix into the ground over a concussion mine. The explosion blasted Gladiatrix back into space above the asteroid and Sylvia rapidly flew to close the distance. Before Gladiatrix could recover from Sylvia’s attempt to electrocute her and the concussive force of the blast from the mine, Sylvia pummeled Gladiatrix into unconsciousness.

 

With Gladiatrix’s shields down due to unconsciousness, Sylvia was able to bind Gladiatrix with rings of gravimetric nodes – shackling her ankles together and her arms to her waist; and placing a spherical node around her to prevent flight. She then turned her attention to the remaining Shi’Ar combatants that the Centurions had yet to subdue; killing all of them with gravimetric pulses. Per order of the Worldmind, the Nova Centurions warily withdrew to the C & C asteroid to secure it; leaving the Imperial Guardsmen captured by the Centurions to Sylvia’s tender mercies.

Sylvia floated in front of the beaten and captured Gladiatrix, knowing that Gladiatrix would quickly regain full consciousness. She decided to help Gladiatrix along in regaining consciousness and ordered the ring shaped nodes to form razor sharp points where they bound Gladiatrix. She ordered the rings to contract slightly, pushing the points into Gladiatrix. Gladiatrix stirred and stared at Sylvia with a mixture of rage and hatred, teeth clenched to keep from screaming.

Sylvia smiled cruelly before saying with mock sympathy, “Hurts?”

Gladiatrix snarled, “Fark you!”

Sylvia sneered, “Thanks for the offer but I prefer my women a little more feminine looking than you.” Sylvia pointedly looked Gladiatrix’s thickly muscled body up and down; noting every masculine-like feature. “Correction – a LOT more feminine looking than you.” Then, just for fun, Sylvia ordered the rings to contract some more.

Gladiatrix screamed in agony as blood ran from the places where the rings pierced her skin; and looking at Sylvia with hatred yelled, “You farking schmaug! I am going to farking kill you! I am going to burn your schlag-hole homeworld to a cinder!”

Sylvia’s eyes burned in response to the threat to her homeworld; and she found it difficult to fight back the murderous Supernova rage. “Wrong thing to say to a Supernova.” Sylvia ordered the rings to contract some more and was rewarded by Gladiatrix’s screams, the sound of several of Gladiatrix’s ribs snapping, and the site of blood oozing from Gladiatrix’s mouth.

Sylvia moved in close to Gladiatrix. “I want to kill you so much it makes my purri wet just thinking about it. But, I need you to carry out your role of lapdog and convey a message for me.” Sylvia reached out with her mind and contacted the AI of a nearby automated hospital ship, ordering it to her position. “I want you to tell your lowborn piece of schlag of a Majestix that Xandar is now under protection of me, The Countess of Sura, and I will brook no incursion of foreign powers into Xandarian space. She is to withdraw from the disputed area, withdraw from Xandarian space, and end all hostilities against Xandar or I will collapse her Throneworld into a black hole.”

Gladiatrix spat blood upon Sylvia in response.

Sylvia was enraged – and in a universal gesture of disrespect used the back of her hand to slap Gladiatrix’s face; watching in satisfaction as Gladiatrix’s head snapped back from the blow and as more blood oozed from Gladiatrix’s mouth. Sylvia moved her head within inches of Gladiatrix’s head and through clenched teeth issued her final insult and warning to the helpless Strontian warrior, “You worthless farking kint! If I ever find you in Xandarian space again, I will kill you!”

Sylvia roughly threw Gladiatrix into the open hatch of the hospital ship and, gathering up the rest of the gravity node imprisoned Imperial Guardsmen, roughly followed suit with them. She ordered the hospital ship to deliver the Guardsmen to the Shi’Ar Throneworld and opened a stargate for it; watching it disappear into the stargate’s event horizon before turning her attention to the battling fleets.

The Xandarian and Shi’Ar fleets had both suffered heavy losses in their battle outside the ADF; but the Xandarians were holding their own. The Shi’Ar plan to collapse the ADF had failed thanks to Supernova Sylvia’s efforts. Now she was determined to take out the Shi’ar Fleet.

Sylvia targeted the lead Shi’ar Battleship and sped toward it at her maximum speed, plowing through intervening ships and dodging or shrugging off any projectiles or energy bolts directed at her. The lead Shi’ar Battleship recognized their danger and aimed a withering assault at the oncoming Supernova to no avail. Sylvia smashed through the hull of the ship and released her most powerful radiative aura pulse when she reached the exact center of the ship, utterly destroying the Shi’ar capital ship in seconds.

With their command ship gone, the rest of the Shi’ar fleet disengaged from the battle to regroup.

Emerging from the debris field of the Shi’ar command ship, Sylvia aimed gravimetric pulses at the two nearest Shi’ar cruisers, completely destroying them. She turned to pursue a Shi’ar destroyer that was attempting to form a stargate to flee. With her Supernova-enhanced command of gravitons, she ordered the stargate to close before the Shi’ar destroyer could enter it. The destroyer sent a message of surrender to Sylvia, but pleas for mercy were now lost upon her. Summoning the immense power it had taken to destroy the capital ship had caused her internal controls to slip and she had descended into the murderous rage that was part and parcel of being a Supernova. The destroyer was reduced to an expanding cloud of debris in seconds.

Heedless of all Shi’ar unconditional surrender messages; Supernova Sylvia blocked all Shi’ar attempts to form stargates to flee and mercilessly destroyed the remaining seven Shi’ar ships. She then formed a stargate to the location of her father’s fleet some 10,000 light years distant. She knew a massive battle was underway there and that Xandarians were in danger. Supernova Sylvia’s only coherent thought was to destroy Xandar’s enemies; and she was determined that not one enemy of Xandar would return to its homeworld alive.

 


The End of Part 4

Of

The Shi’ar Conflict
 

Come back next time for the conclusion of The Shi’ar Conflict.

[page_title]

Nova: The Next Generation Part Three Of The Shiar Conflict

 

Nova: The Next Generation

Part Three

Of

The Shi’ar Conflict

Written By: Timelord 9.29.09

 

Chapter Three: Revelations

Second year Nova Corps Cadet Surfaan Ren swatted at the insects buzzing around his face and ears, cursing his luck once again as he slogged through the fetid muck of the densely foliated swamp while taking care to make as little noise as possible. The camouflage function of his standard Corps cadet uniform would keep him hidden from most active and passive scans; but he knew any noise or environmental disturbance he made could be detected by the d’ast Veradinae Mercenaries that shot his ship down on this smelly, gods-forsaken world. He took grim satisfaction in the knowledge that at least the mercenaries were suffering as well. The Xandarian troop ship had been able to damage the Veradinae Privateer ship enough to bring it down on the planet too. The Veradinae, no doubt under the employ of the Shi’ar, were getting bold – challenging Xandar’s rising influence in Andromeda. The Veradinae Empire would have to be dealt with as soon as issues with the Shi’ar Empire were settled.

Distracted by his thoughts, a misstep caused him to sink hip deep in muck; and he gagged at the smell of methane released from the mud as he attempted to free himself. His actions only caused him to sink further. There was no other choice now. He would have to use his powers to free himself; thereby risking detection.

He checked his HUD. The most recent update from the Worldmind indicated a rescue party was on their way with an ETA of three hours. Surfaan prayed to Frammi that the Xandarians arrived before any Veradinae rescue party. Switching to bio scan, he found the swamp was teeming with life; and some of it appeared to be large and predatory. He decided to give those a wide berth. No indication of intelligent life – but the Veradinae camouflage methods were as effective as those of Xandar; so there was no guarantee the mercenaries weren’t close. Ranked as a second year cadet, he had been given the powers of flight, enhanced strength, and partial invulnerability; but still held only a fraction of the power of even a Millennian-ranked Corpsman; so he was no match for a Veradinae Dragon. He slung his plasma rifle over his shoulder; wishing again that cadet level powers included the ability to produce gravimetric pulses so he wouldn’t have to lug around a weapon as he made his way toward the crash site of the escape pod carrying the remainder of the Star Corps Cadets. Surfaan had been the Nova Corps cadet assigned to a training mission for Star Corps regular cadets. No one had expected to be engaged in actual combat during a routine training mission; particularly since Xandar was not at war with anyone just yet – though relations were supposedly getting tense with the Shi’ar over some ancient territorial claims.

With a final look around, Surfaan used his powers to slowly levitate out of the mire. Once back on solid ground, he ordered the nanites making up his uniform to begin cleaning functions as he slowly resumed his rescue mission.

He had moved less than 100 yards when a proximity alert flashed across his HUD. He froze and powered down his rifle as he flattened his back against a large tree; allowing the camouflage function of his uniform to render him invisible both to visual detection and to scans. His HUD registered two large reptilian life forms nearing his position. Using visual detection only, he caught sight of two Veradinae Dragons approximately 200 feet opposite his position on the other side of a pool of stagnant water. The dragons were bipedal, eight feet tall, and covered head-to-toe with biomantium battle armor. One of the dragons paused as if sensing something. The armored helmet covering its head retracted; revealing the face of Surfaan’s enemy – green scales, rows of serrated biomantium-coated teeth, and the blue head crest of a mercenary field commander. The tattoo under its right eye was the triple-bar symbol of its owner, The Beliim Cartel, the ruling cartel of the Veradinae Empire. The dragon scanned its surroundings; its long forked tongue flicking in and out of its mouth as it tasted the myriad of scents permeating the swamp. For the first time since his unplanned arrival, Surfaan was grateful for the masking stink of the swamp as otherwise the dragon might have detected his scent. Surfaan stood perfectly still as the dragon visually scanned its surroundings; aggressively extending and retracting its biomantium coated claws. For a moment, its eyes seemed to rest on Surfaan’s position; and Surfaan held his breath as the dragon’s nictitating membrane slid across its eyes twice before it shifted its gaze elsewhere. The commanding dragon motioned to the other and they moved off in a direction away from both the encampment of the Star Corps Regulars crash survivors he had already rescued; and the crash site of the last escape pod that was his destination. Surfaan breathed a breath of relief. A Centurion would be hard pressed to deal with two battle-armored Veradinae Dragons. With Cadet-level powers, he would have had no chance. Surfaan waited several long minutes, powering up his HUD and checking to see that the dragons had indeed departed the immediate area before resuming course to the crash site of the last escape pod.

 


Second Year Nova Corps Cadet Kritana Tas was quickly earning a reputation as a highly skilled pilot. She checked the panels and screens in the cockpit of the troop shuttle. Everything was nominal. ETA at the Orienta Shard was two hours 15 minutes gravimetric. Kritana worked hard to be taken seriously. She always had. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed, with a perfect figure and strikingly beautiful features – the tendency for those who didn’t know her was to treat her as mere eye candy and nothing more. A simple background check would prove that Kritana wasn’t just another pretty face. Top of her class while in public education, top of her class in Star Corps basic training, one year of Star Corps service with citations for performance with distinction, first candidate selected for entrance into the Nova Corps Academy one year ago, and first in her class at the Nova Corps Academy. She was only 19 and it was her goal to earn her Centurion Stars before she turned 21.

Kritana glanced at her co-pilot, First Year Cadet Owan Luf. Luf was large-framed, swarthy-skinned, and dark-eyed with a shock of short, straight, dark-brown hair that forever seemed in need of combing. He was a good-natured, gentle giant that she counted among her closest friends. She knew he had feelings for her, but pretended not to notice so as to spare him the disappointment of rejection. He just wasn’t her type for a romantic partner – and besides, she only had eyes for her new lover.

The cockpit door slid open and Third Year Cadet, Millennian Ensicus Bem, eased into the cramped space, pausing as the door snapped shut behind him. Bem was tall, thin, and pale-skinned with blue eyes and blonde hair. He came from a military family with a long history of service to Xandar. He was a bit of a martinet and Kritana avoided his company whenever possible as she found him dreadfully dull. Unfortunately, he was in command of the training exercise the cohort of Nova Corps Cadets had just completed in Andromeda’s neighboring galaxy, The Milky Way. Kritana hadn’t expected to see Bem until close to arrival time on Orienta. Her curiosity was piqued.

Bem cleared his throat. “Tas, Luf – we’ve got a small change of plans. The Worldmind just contacted me. We’ve got a ship down with Cadets being threatened by Veradinae hostiles. Our course puts us close to the planet where the ship went down; so we’re the nearest ship and we can get there faster than anyone else. We’ve been assigned rescue duty. Prepare to exit the wormhole. The Worldmind will form a new stargate to get us where we’re going.”
 

 


First Year Cadet Sylvia Rider-Dru had turned down the various invitations of the other cadets in the bunk room of the troop ship. She found herself strangely un-interested in participation in gambling, conversation, endorph-vapor, synthahol, sex, and other pastimes that had been offered to her to help while away the time until arrival back at the Orienta Shard. She simply relaxed in her bunk lost in thought and unable to sleep. The Academy was everything everyone said it would be. Her first eight months of basic training had been grueling to say the least. There had been lots of classroom study – both actual and virtual – concerning military strategy, combat techniques, pan-galactic law, diplomacy, Nova Force Theory and application, physics, teamwork, and weapons training. Particular emphasis was placed on analyzing known super-powered foes in the employ of the great powers of the Local Group of Galaxies; and learning how to defeat them. Classroom study hadn’t been her only activity though. Her body was requiring less sleep as she matured. So, she spent time that would normally be devoted to sleep in The Overmind’s tesseract; learning from him how to better control her developing powers. In eight short months he had been able to teach her how to improve her natural abilities to wield Nova Force and how to focus her powers more precisely than before in order to produce more energetic gravimetric pulses as well as sturdier defensive shields. She was now more powerful than a Centurion; but was forbidden to actually use her full powers until such time as she had completed academy training and been promoted to Centurion rank. For now, she was under orders to use nothing more in the way of powers than were allocated to any other Nova Cadet.

Sylvia was looking forward to a well earned week’s liberty now that her first eight months of basic training at the Academy were drawing to a close as capped off by this, her first training mission. She and fifteen other Nova Corps Cadets in her Cohort under command of Millennian Ensicus Bem had participated in joint war games with 30 Star Corps Academy Cadets conducted in the galaxy neighboring Andromeda, the so-called Milky Way Galaxy. It had been several years since she last visited the Milky Way. Her last visit to the Milky Way was a family trip to her father’s homeworld, Earth, to visit her grandparents, Charles and Gloria Rider. Sylvia always found Earth to be a primitive, smelly, backwater planet; but she always enjoyed visiting her human grandparents and she loved seeing her father so filled with joy to be back on Earth for even a short while. For those reasons, she harbored a certain begrudging fondness for The Milky Way.

Concerned by the troubling dreams she was beginning to experience when she did manage to sleep; Sylvia decided to drop in on The Overmind for an unscheduled visit thinking that perhaps The Overmind would have some insight into her dreams. She hit the privacy button in her bunk and patiently waited as the privacy screen fell into place. Now effectively alone, she reached out with her mind and felt her consciousness fading into the white void of The Overmind’s Quantum Realm where she found herself face-to-face with Him.

Haughty as always, The Overmind frowned when she made eye contact with Him. “How easily bored you are little Sylvia – not to mention presumptuous. In the future, you really must call ahead to request an audience with me. These drop-ins are an inconvenience.”

Sylvia smirked and she let her voice drip with sarcasm as she bent at the waist in an exaggerated bow. “O Great Oracle of Xandar, might your unworthy student beg a few nano-seconds of your time?”

He huffed in irritation. “Very well. What do you want now?”

Sylvia found it hard to suppress a smile. She so enjoyed taunting Him as He was just too easily irritated and too easily given to impatience. It was due to His lack of interaction with corporeals of course. In many ways, He was learning from her as much as she was learning from Him. “I’m finding it increasingly difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep – and;” she hesitated, “I’m having strange dreams at times. I don’t understand these dreams. They take place long ago on my father’s homeworld, Earth – and they’re about people I’ve never met and places on Earth I’ve never been. It’s troubling. Can you help?”

He smirked. “Of course I can help. That’s why you bother me incessantly isn’t it?”

Refusing to take the bait and deciding to taunt him some more, Sylvia adopted her most innocent facial expression and tone of voice as she shrugged her shoulders. “Well, if it’s too much trouble, I could always just ask The Worldmind.”

He laughed derisively. “That’s rich sweet Sylvia – a precocious child taking advice from a half-wit automaton. I’m almost tempted to let you do it for the amusement value.”

She grinned. “Almost tempted? That’s what I thought. You wouldn’t dare miss an opportunity to prove your superiority over The Worldmind and me.”

His eyes narrowed. “Do not attempt to goad me whelp. Remember your place and also remember that if The Worldmind is a half-wit; then you are even less. Now, open your mind and prepare to learn.” He touched her forehead.

Sylvia opened her mind to his touch and found herself standing by The Overmind in what appeared to be a large biological structure. Movement was everywhere as organelles performed their functions.

The Overmind’s eyes narrowed once again as He fixed Sylvia in His stern gaze. “Do you recognize this place Sylvia?”

He was testing her – but she had learned better than to state the obvious or just hazard a guess in His presence. She used her powers to reach out and analyze her surroundings – and the answer to His question came to her as it always did when she used her powers of analysis – as intuitive knowledge. The answer was a bit disconcerting; but she quickly recovered. “We’re within a cell. One of my own body cells apparently.”

He smiled. She had passed His test and He was pleased. “Well done for a change little Sylvia. Now, to answer your questions about sleeplessness and dreams, use your powers to enter the nucleus and tell me what you see.”

Sylvia closed her eyes and concentrated, reaching out with her analytic powers and projecting her consciousness into the nucleus of the cell. As she entered the nucleus and moved closer to its center, there was a flurry of activity, culminating in the formation of a female-shaped avatar. As the avatar’s features formed, Sylvia at first thought it was an avatar of herself; but upon closer inspection, it was not her – but a woman who bore a strong resemblance to her. The woman was older – in her mid-thirties at least – blonde haired, sloe-eyed, strikingly exotically beautiful and dressed in the trappings of royalty from Xandar’s distant past. The woman’s eyes were closed. Sylvia tentatively moved closer. As Sylvia approached, the woman’s eyes snapped open; and from the woman’s eyes emanated a blinding light. Sylvia was bathed in the light and overwhelmed by images too numerous to comprehend – love, sorrow, flight, battle, refuge, death. Sylvia reeled from the assault, staggering backwards in confusion, pain, and disorientation. Before being forcibly ejected from the nucleus, Sylvia heard the woman’s voice in her mind – Beware the ancient enemy. Now go. It is not yet time and you are not yet ready.

Sylvia collapsed into the waiting arms of The Overmind, feeling weak and drained of energy to a point such as she had never felt before. Together, she and The Overmind departed her cell and returned to his tesseract where Sylvia quickly felt her energy return.

Her strength renewed, Sylvia roughly pushed away from The Overmind’s embrace, furious with Him. Enraged, she turned to Him, fists formed and barely able to restrain herself from striking Him – fighting back tears as realization dawned. Through clenched teeth she shouted, “How dare you, you son of a schmaug! I was nearly killed! You could have warned me! You could have prepared me! I should never have trusted you!”

For once, His demeanor softened. He appeared almost sad as He quietly said, “Still your rage Sylvia. I could not have prepared you. You had to meet your ancestor and creator, Lady Marz, under these terms. It is the only way you can begin to understand what is happening to you and why.”

Sylvia turned her back on Him and wiped the tears from her eyes, pausing a moment to regain her composure. She didn’t want Him to know how much his seeming betrayal had hurt her. Still angry, she turned back to Him. “Why didn’t you tell me before now? Why couldn’t you have told me what to expect?”

He broke eye contact with her and looked away, appearing genuinely sorry to have done anything to hurt her. All His typical arrogance gone for a moment, He appeared vulnerable for the first time since she had met Him. He shook His head slowly. “There are some things even the gods do not know. Like your geneticists and The Worldmind, even we gods have not been able to divine the mystery of your creation. You are many thousands of years ahead of your time and Lady Marz guarded her secrets well. Even we gods have not been able to approach the nucleus as closely as you just did; so there was no way I could have known what would happen. I had hoped the Lady Marz would admit you and share her secrets.”

Infuriated anew, Sylvia shouted, “So you used me? You’ve been using me from the start to learn this Lady Marz’s secrets? I’m out of here.” Sylvia turned her back to Him and prepared to exit the tesseract.

“Wait!” He commanded.

Sylvia ignored Him and prepared to leave; again fighting back tears.

“Please wait,” He said softly – almost pleadingly; “Let me explain and apologize.”

Something about the tone of His voice caused her to pause. He had never been polite to her before – much less apologetic for any slight He had ever directed at her. She hesitated, feeling her resolve weaken. She wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand, set her jaw, and turned back to Him; looking him straight in the eyes – her anger still smoldering. “I’m waiting,” she snapped.

 

He looked away for a moment as if at a loss as to what to do next – again showing His lack of familiarity with the ways of corporeals. Deciding on a course of action, He met her eyes. “I apologize. I truly had no idea that you would have such a traumatic experience or I would never have allowed you to visit the nucleus. You are right – I should have been more forthcoming with what little I did know in order to better prepare you for the experience.”

Sylvia breathed a little easier, surprised at the seeming sincerity of His apology and shocked by His admission of having made a mistake. Nevertheless, she was still angry and hurt. “Fine – as far as that goes. Now, tell me why you were manipulating me to get to the secrets of my ancestor. What possible secrets could a corporeal keep from the gods?”

He appeared to relax. “As I told you when we first met, I am a quantum entity. I know much and have great power – so I am a god in comparison to mortals; but I am neither omnipotent nor omniscient. Your ancestor, Lady Marz, divined the secrets of the creators of this universe; and used that knowledge to set in motion events to create you. She deliberately created barriers to keep entities like myself from discovering the secrets of your creation.”

Sylvia was suspicious. “Why would she wish to keep entities like you from learning her secrets?”

He hesitated – then decided to answer. “If the gods exist; does it not stand to reason that the daemons also exist?”

Sylvia held her breath a moment as realization dawned. “The ancient enemy Lady Marz mentioned.”

He nodded affirmatively. “Just so.”

A question nagged at the edge of her mind. “Why have I never heard of such an illustrious ancestor? Who is Lady Marz?”

He was starting to become his typical haughty self again as He realized that Sylvia was beginning to forgive Him. “Lady Marz was Xandar’s greatest geneticist and gene engineer. She fled Xandar during the Xandarian Civil War that brought your royal house to power. Her name and all records of her existence were erased from Xandarian history.”

Sylvia was puzzled. “If she is related to my royal house, why would she flee? House Dru defeated House Tul when my grand-uncle, Ferenus Dru, slew the despot King Sauvinus Tul in individual combat over two thousand years ago.”

“Yes,” he acknowledged her account of history, “But the Civil War lasted many years and the leader of the rebellion against House Tul, Duke Ferenus Dru, was never assured of victory. He rescued his lover, Lady Marz, from House Tul’s captivity and sent her into space to protect her. She disappeared, never to return to Xandar. Her fate was unknown until your father was made a Nova during an emergency deputization to save his homeworld, Earth.”

Sylvia was surprised. “My father’s hybridization is one of Xandar’s greatest mysteries. The Worldmind’s records contained no genetic matches for his Xandarian heritage. You’re saying that Lady Marz is my father’s ancestor?”

The Overmind shook his head affirmatively. “Yes. When your father was deputized, The Worldmind learned of his Xandarian genetic heritage and reported it to King Ferenus. The King ordered all records pertaining to the matter sealed in order to protect your father from the minions of the daemons – those still loyal to House Tul. It is why he was left alone and operational on Earth for so long with no contact from Xandar.”

All the revelations had left Sylvia numb with shock – particularly the knowledge of having another being alive within her. “So, these dreams I’ve been having about ancient peoples and places are the memories of Lady Marz? She was made part of me through my father’s genetic heritage?”

He nodded affirmatively. “Yes. Lady Marz apparently arrived on your father’s homeworld some thousands of years ago and was instrumental in forming one of the great civilizations there. Has your father not spoken to you before of the similarities between Xandar and Rome?”

Sylvia’s eyebrows raised in surprise. “He has – but I suppose everyone thought of it as merely a strange coincidence of parallel social evolution.”

He smirked. “Hardly coincidental.”

Sylvia began to feel anxious. “So what happens to me now? Will Lady Marz continue to grow in power as I grow? Will she take over my body and mind? How do I cope with this?”

He looked exasperated. “I honestly do not know the answer to your questions; and you do not know how much it pains me to admit that. I promise that I will do everything I can to help you – if you will allow it.”

Sylvia looked at him suspiciously. “To be honest, you’ve compromised my trust today. I’m still angry and hurt. I need time away from you to think.”

Sadness clouded his face for a brief moment before he caught himself and returned his expression to impassivity. “I understand. Before you go, let me caution you about your developing powers. As you mature, you will gradually lose your mortal needs for such things as sleep and food. For now though – you must heed the Lady’s warning of readiness and allow your powers to develop naturally. Irreparable harm might be done if you seek to accelerate the process of your evolution.”

Sylvia shook her head affirmatively. “Understood.” She turned away from Him and departed from his tesseract.

He stood and looked at the place where Sylvia had been for several long moments, so distracted by His thoughts that He failed at first to notice the materialization of Ishta, Frammi, and the entire pantheon of gods behind Him.

Frammi spoke for the rest. “Honestly Gamill, how do you abide the prattling of mortals?”

Surprised, He turned to regard the beautiful black-skinned goddess of fortune. “She is more than a mere mortal.”

Frammi sneered. “You always did have a soft spot for mortals – especially the pretty ones. If I didn’t know better, I would think you were developing feelings for the little mortal trollop.” Frammi’s eyes narrowed. “Remember Gamill, she is a means to an end for the gods – a foot soldier in the coming conflict. She may become one of us some day if she survives; but she is not one of us now.”

He was irritated. “Do not lecture me Frammi. I know what I am doing.”

Frammi stepped forward and put her arms around Him; giving Him a passionate kiss. Desire was reflected in Her eyes as She said, “We must all meld into the uni-mind now. We must become one to consider what has transpired and determine what to do next.”

 

 


Sylvia’s consciousness re-united with her body in her bunk in the troop ship just in time to hear someone shout, “Commander on deck!”

Sylvia put her recent troubling revelations behind her as she lowered the privacy screen and swung out of her bunk. Dropping to the floor, she immediately rushed into formation with the other cadets and stood at attention as the commanding Millennian, Ensicus Bem, entered the bunk room.

Bem paused a moment, looking at the Cadets. “We’ve got a situation to deal with. One of our ships is down and our people are being harried by hostiles. We’re on a rescue mission now and I need you all to get down to the staging area of the ship and gear up for combat and rescue. We’ve got planetfall in 30 minutes. I’ll brief you on specifics in the staging area. Get moving!”

The cadets scrambled. Before Sylvia could join the other cadets, Bem stepped in front of her. “Not you Dru. I have a special mission for you.”

 


Nova Corps Cadet Surfaan Ren surveyed the crash site. The 12 Star Corps Cadet regulars had made it to the ground in their damaged escape pod, but just barely. Five of them were too badly injured to travel and a makeshift infirmary had been set up to provide first aid. The other seven cadets were in marching and fighting shape. The conclusion was that they all were going to have to wait for the rescue party to arrive rather than joining the larger group of survivors some ten miles southeast of their current position. Surfaan prayed to the gods that the Veradinae didn’t find them before the rescue party arrived. These Star Corps Cadet regulars had no powers and would stand even less of a chance against the Veradinae than would he.

First Year Star Corps Cadet Vilnius Saan approached Surfaan. “Sir, we’ve finished setting up the defensive perimeter around the escape pod as ordered. All those in fighting shape have been issued plasma rifles. Passive scans show no signs of the enemy.”

Ren shook his head affirmatively. “Good work Saan. Keep a sharp eye out for the enemy. There are at least two of them and they’re hunting for us. No doubt, there’s a bounty for our helmets. If they find us, tell your men to pick out a target and concentrate fire. If we’re able to stop them, that’ll be the only way.”

Saan saluted, “Aye sir,” then rushed off to inform his troops of Ren’s orders.

Ren checked his HUD. The rescue ship was still nearly 45 minutes away. He hoped they’d pick this group up first as they were in far worse shape and far more lightly armed than the larger group. His HUD flashed a proximity warning. Surfaan cursed under his breath. Three enemies were approaching. He quantum linked to Saan. “Tell your men to prepare to engage. We’ve got three enemies approaching. Remember what I said about concentrating fire. I’m going to go out and try to draw them away to buy you time enough for the rescue ship to arrive.”

 


The Xandarian troop ship exited the Stargate Terminus and effortlessly inserted itself into orbit. A hatch opened in the belly of the ship and the lone figure of Nova Corps Cadet Sylvia Rider-Dru streaked out, power diving for the surface of the planet.

Sylvia checked her HUD. The troop ship was receding, preparing to land near the coordinates of the larger group of Xandarians to be rescued. Sylvia had been given special orders from The Worldmind to use as much of her power as necessary to complete this mission successfully; and had been assigned rescue of the smaller group of survivors. Her HUD pinpointed the coordinates of the survivors. It was her mission to secure the area and prepare the survivors for extraction by the troop ship. Her HUD flashed a warning. The survivors were under attack. Clenching her jaw in frustration, she increased speed to maximum and dived into the atmosphere, not even attempting stealth in her approach to the battle. The events of the day had been terribly frustrating and upsetting to her; and all she really wanted to do was hit something as hard as she could. She resolved that if even one Xandarian had been harmed by the d’ast Veradinae; they better pray to their gods to save them from her wrath.

 


Surfaan stood still with his back against the tree trunk, waiting for the Veradinae Dragon to approach his position. The camouflage function of his uniform helped him blend in to the tree trunk. He hoped Xandarian stealth tech was better than Veradinae detection tech. He held his breath as the lead dragon approached his position. He could hear them approaching, not even attempting stealth. They knew the Xandarians were under-powered and would be easily overcome. They were over-confident; and that could be used against them.

As the lead dragon stepped near Surfaan’s position, Surfaan stepped out from the tree and with all his might smashed the butt of his rifle into the armored head of the dragon, shattering the stock of the rifle. The dragon staggered backwards, momentarily stunned, leaving its neck exposed long enough for Surfaan to jam the barrel of the rifle under the dragon’s chin and fire the entire charge of the weapon at once. The resulting explosion took the dragons head off; and threw Surfaan twenty feet through the air, where he landed roughly on the ground, stunned and momentarily disoriented.

Shaking his head, Surfaan looked up from the ground where he lay, recovering just in time to see another dragon leaping through the air directly toward him. Scrambling and activating his flight function, he scooted clear of his landing spot and slammed into a tree just as the dragon landed where he had been lying just a moment before. The dragon extended its claws and prepared to jump at him again. Screaming in rage and terror, Surfaan drew his sidearm, pointed it at the dragon, and squeezed the trigger; instantly pumping one-hundred rounds of adamantium pellets into the Veradinae.

The Veradinae froze and lowered his gaze to his chest from whence poured thick green blood from numerous gaping holes in his armor. The dragon made eye contact with Surfaan; then fell face first to the ground.

Surfaan stood, eyes wide with surprise that he was still alive as he stared at the projectile handgun. “Fark me. I didn’t think this thing could bring down a dragon.” His head snapped up as he heard a hiss. In the excitement, he had forgotten about the third dragon. It was leaping straight for him. He raised his sidearm and squeezed the trigger. It was empty. Surfaan screamed and turned to flee; expecting the dragon to land right on top of him – but then a blur of navy and gold snatched the dragon out of the air in mid-flight and smashed it against an outcropping of rock. The rock was pulverized and the stunned dragon struggled to its feet just in time for a female in the navy and gold uniform of a Nova Corps Cadet to land about ten feet in front of it and begin blasting away at the energy and projectile weapons attached to its armor.

Surfaan watched in stunned silence as the dragon reeled from the barrage of gravimetric pulses; but kept its feet. Satisfied that the dragon was now bereft of all external weapons, the Cadet stopped the barrage and faced the dragon; removing her helmet and tossing it to the ground. Surfaan was able to confirm what he already knew once he saw the lovely features and the raven hair of Cadet Sylvia Rider-Dru. He had never been introduced to her and did not know her personally; but everyone knew of her and who else could it have been? Surfaan listened closely as he saw that she was saying something to the dragon.

Sylvia looked at the dragon standing ten feet in front of her. The dragon retracted its helmet; and Sylvia could see that it sported the blue head crest of a mercenary field commander and had a tattoo under its eye indicating that it was owned by the Beliim Cartel. Still angry from the events of earlier in the day, Sylvia needed to vent her rage and a good fight was just what she was looking for. She sneered at the dragon. “What are you waiting for you schlag eating lizard? I thought you mother farkers preferred a good fight up close and personal.”

Needing no further challenge, the dragon roared and leapt; extending its claws and baring its teeth. Sylvia took flight, meeting the dragon in mid air – avoiding a vicious swipe of its claws and landing a mighty punch to its jaw that sent it reeling head over heels to land roughly on its hands and knees. Shaking its head to recover from the blow, it attempted to stand; but Sylvia landed in front of it and kicked it in the face, knocking it onto its back.

“Is this the best the mighty and feared Veradinae Dragons can do?” Sylvia taunted. “I’m surprised anyone pays you purries to fight for them.”

Overconfident, Sylvia strayed close to the dragon. The dragon sprang to its feet and took a vicious swipe at Sylvia, attempting to cut her in half at the waist. Sylvia reacted quickly, stepping to the side and barely avoiding his biomantium-coated claws. He was able to attack faster and recover quicker than Sylvia had anticipated. She would not make the mistake of underestimating him again.

Sylvia gave the dragon a toothy grin to taunt it further. “That’s more like it. At least make this a challenge for me.”

The dragon’s eyes narrowed as it began to circle Sylvia warily. “I will dine on your still living flesh and when you beg me for a quick death to end your suffering; I will only act to prolong your agony.”

Sylvia smirked. “The Beliim Family is making their dragons as weak as they are dumb.”

The dragon roared and rushed toward Sylvia. Sylvia dodged his attack, stepped behind him, and smashed the power pack to his biomantium armor with a well placed punch. Being lighter weight and cheaper to produce, biomantium was almost as tough a metal as adamantium; but it had two weaknesses. First, it had to be in physical contact with a biological organism to produce the natural force field that gave it its wearer partial invulnerability; and second, it had to have a steady power supply to maintain the force field. Sylvia deprived the armor of its power supply; thus making the dragon more vulnerable.

The dragon was enraged, reacting faster that Sylvia expected. It pivoted and attacked; its claws penetrating Sylvia’s natural shields and her armor, inflicting deep cuts to her back as she attempted to twist away; and again to her torso as she turned to face the dragon. Before Sylvia could react, the dragon ended its attack with a savage kick to her torso, knocking the air out of her lungs and throwing her, stunned, fifty feet into the swamp where she landed in a pool of shallow brackish water.

Sylvia shook her head and fought to regain her breath. She had never been hit so hard when she had fought dragons in simulation. She began to re-think the wisdom of challenging an actual dragon to a bare knuckled fight.

Sylvia’s natural senses gave her a proximity warning; but before she could move, the dragon landed on top of her, its massive clawed feet pushing her beneath the brackish, stinking pool of water. Sylvia’s mouth filled with the fetid water, causing her to gag and struggle to keep the water out of her lungs as the dragon extended its claws and penetrated her flesh. Cursing herself for removing her helmet at the start of the fight – a helmet that would have instantly kept her air supplied – she felt fear. She had been too cocky and – though tough – she was realizing that she was not indestructible. Her fear quickly gave way to her Rider-inherited rage and she formed a radiative aura gravimetric pulse. The explosion sent the stunned dragon airborne along with a large portion of the flora of the surrounding swamp.

Sylvia struggled to her feet, then immediately doubled over and wretched, evacuating the nasty water from her mouth and lungs. She was bleeding, covered in muck, her hair was filthy and plastered to her head, she stank, and she felt pain from multiple wounds where the dragon’s claws had penetrated her shields and uniform armor. The nanites composing her uniform quickly moved to bind her wounds, repair and clean her body and uniform, and enhance her healing; and she could feel her natural healing factor kicking into overdrive. Sylvia felt a cold burning hatred. She had intended to merely beat the dragon into senselessness when she challenged it to fight. Now, there was no way it was walking away alive.

Using her natural senses, she located the dragon struggling to its feet where it had landed some 30 yards away. Her senses gave her a mental picture of the dragon. Its armor in tatters from absorbing the gravimetric explosion, it was bleeding from several wounds and was obviously shaken; but she knew it would recover and come after her again. It would not stop until one of them was dead.

Taking flight, Sylvia covered the distance in seconds, smashing into the dragon’s torso and driving it to the ground. With all her might, she struck the stunned dragon in the mouth, knocking out its fangs and several rows of serrated teeth. The dragon struggled to maintain consciousness and raised its arms to attack. Sylvia burned one of its arms off with a gravimetric pulse; then twisted and tore the other arm off at the elbow. Heedless of the dragon’s screams of pain, Sylvia used the dragon’s severed arm as a blunt instrument, pummeling its head with all her might until all that remained was a bloody pulp and the mighty dragon lay still and dead.

Her rage abated and her bloodlust sated, Sylvia dropped the dragon’s severed arm onto its lifeless chest. Catching movement from the corner of her eye, she wheeled and prepared to fire a gravimetric pulse.

Surfaan Ren yelled, “Hey, don’t shoot – I’m a friendly!”

Sylvia stood down and walked over to the young man.

Surfaan handed Sylvia her helmet. “You dropped this back there.”

Sylvia took the helmet. It collapsed at her touch and she tucked it into her belt. “Thanks.”

Admiration was reflected in Surfaan’s eyes. “Gods-d’ast! I’ve never seen a fight like that! I thought you were crazy as grat schlag to challenge a dragon to a bare knuckled fight – but you did it and won!” He shook his head, grinning from ear to ear. “By the way, thanks for saving my ass over there.” He gestured over his back with his thumb to a spot where lay the corpse of the dragon he had shot.

 

Sylvia made a point of craning her neck to examine his ass. “How could I let a cute ass like that go to waste? Besides, I do like a screamer – more so in the bedroom than on the battlefield though.”

Surfaan had always liked girls who could hang with the guys; so he laughed at her good natured ball busting. “Ah – I see you mistook my family’s ancient battle cry as a scream of terror.”

Remaining deadpan, Sylvia observed, “So your family’s battle cry is a high-pitched little-girlish ‘Ahhhhhhh’ whilst rapidly fleeing from the battlefield?”

Surfaan shook his head negatively, adopting a look of absolute seriousness. “No. I was saying ‘victorie‘ in the ancient language. What you heard was me shouting ‘vict-ahhhhhhhh-rie’as I lead the unsuspecting dragon to his doom in a trap I had prepared for him in the swamp.”

Sylvia shook her head affirmatively. “Oh, I see. My mistake. You did good out there, taking out two dragons all by yourself.”

Surfaan grinned. “Thanks. My name’s Surfaan Ren.”

She smiled at him. “Sylvia Rider-Dru.”

He laughed. “I know. Like you need an introduction. I’ve heard of you. Everyone’s heard of you.”

She raised her eyebrows. “I’ve heard of you too. I’ve heard you’re quite the womanizer.”

Surfaan adopted his most innocent look. “Vicious lies and rumors spread by those who would seek to discredit me. Believe no rumor you’ve ever heard about me.”

Sylvia looked disappointed. “The rumor I heard was that you were a pretty good fark. I’d planned to check it out for myself; but since you say not to believe any of the rumors, I guess there’s no need.”

Exasperated, Surfaan grimaced and raised a hand in a gesture of defense – stammering, “Now, that particular rumor you can believe – but none of the rest are true.”

Her eyes flicked below his waistline for a moment. “So I shouldn’t believe the rumor that you have a very large–.”

Surfaan interrupted. “That one’s true too. You can believe the rumor about the size of my culk.”

“Ego,” she deadpanned.

Puzzled and flustered he could only manage an anemic “What?”

“I was going to say ‘ego.’ I haven’t heard any rumors about your culk size. But – thanks for the unsolicited information. I’ll keep it in mind.” She smiled sweetly and flicked her eyes below his waistline once again as she donned her helmet and turned to head in the direction of the survivor camp.

Embarrassed and humiliated, Surfaan decided to try a last ditch save effort. “You know, normally I make a much better first impression than this. Can we start over? Hi, my name is Surfaan Ren.”

Sylvia wheeled and shouted, “Look out!” as she took flight and pushed Surfaan aside and to the ground.

Several projectiles landed where Surfaan had stood just a moment before. The dragon that he had shot was apparently not quite dead.

Surfaan rolled to cover, fumbling to reload his handgun. He peeked out from his cover in time to see the dragon on its knees shakily aiming a projectile weapon in his direction. Then, Sylvia landed behind the dragon, grabbed its head, and savagely twisted it – instantly breaking its neck. The dragon fell heavily to the ground – certainly dead this time.

Neither Surfaan nor Sylvia had time to gloat. Their HUD’s began flashing proximity warnings.

Surfaan could hear Sylvia shouting into the quantum link, “Kritana! We need extraction now! We’ve got seventeen dragons heading our way!”

Not waiting for a reply from the troop ship, Sylvia and Surfaan made eye contact for a moment – then as one they took flight and made for the survivor encampment. Words were not necessary to convey what they both already knew. They might go down; but Nova Corpsmen never went down without a fight – and Corpsmen always fought to the last man.
 


Come back next week for Part 4 of The Shi’ar Conflict – and yes, there will be Shi’ar in Part 4; and one of them is named Gladiatrix. See you next time!
 

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Guardians of the Galaxy #18 Review

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Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Artist: Wesley Craig

Colorist: Nathan Fairbairn

Cover Artist: Pasqual Ferry

Warning: Contains Spoilers

 

I really like it that DnA are mining the Marvel vaults for cosmic characters that have lain dormant for far too long. This issue gives us original Guardians of the Galaxy, Killraven, and Hollywood (a future, aged version of Wonder Man). What more need I say? With a lineup like that, you know you’re in for a helluva ride and, as always, DnA do not disappoint.

To recap, #18 picks up where Star-Lord’s portion of the team (Mantis, Bug, Cosmo, Flagg) left off in #16. It seems that Star-Lord’s team is lost in time and space, being randomly thrown from one alternate reality to the next (kind of like the old Time Tunnel series); but always ending up in a reality on the date Friday January 13th, 3009. The effect also has them aging at different rates with Star-Lord being an old man, Bug now a teenager, Cosmo a puppy, and Mantis an infant. Strangely, Flagg is immune from the aging effect but seems to be fading away into insubstantiality. The team arrives in a future version of NYC where a team consisting of Killraven, Hollywood, Charlie 27, Starhawk, and Nikki (calling themselves the Guardians of the Galaxy) are in the midst of battle with the “Martians” of Killraven’s time. Our Guardians aid the alternate Guardians in their fight; overcoming the Martians. Starhawk reveals that Star-Lord’s team must find a way back to their reality and time or they will cease to exist. Both teams decide to raid the ruins of Avengers Mansion so Killraven’s team may use the weapons stored there against the Martians and so Star-Lord’s team may use Doom’s time machine to get home. Just as the team fights their way into the mansion’s weapon’s cache; time-space shifts again and Star-Lord’s team is whisked away to another reality before they can use the time machine. They end up in a reality controlled by The Magus and are immediately attacked by operatives of the UCT.

DnA are to be commended once again for a story that delivers drama, excitement, and a flat out fun time. I appreciate their ability to take an enormous cast of disparate B and C list characters from Marvel’s dim and distant cosmic past; and develop them into complex characters that we care about by putting them in an A list story. Just goes to show you that the old adage, “there are no bad characters,” is true. It all boils down to the writing; and DnA are a powerhouse of a writing team.

I really enjoyed seeing Killraven again after such a long absence. Having always been a Wonder Man fan, I was also excited to see Hollywood in this book. I hope DnA find a way to bring these two back for some more adventures with the new Guardians. The developing friendship between alternate Charlie 27’s and Flagg has been a fun element across this story arc as well. Speaking of Flagg, I am wondering what DnA have planned for him. He’s been the “duck out of water” character since he was introduced to the team; but he now seems poised to take on a much more important role. I hope he isn’t being written out of the book as I’ve started to like this character being part of the team.

Some think that the magic of this book rests solely on the shoulders of Rocket Raccoon and Groot. Issue #18 should lay that theory to rest. The magic of this book is in the interaction of the ensemble – which is amply demonstrated in this issue where Rocket and Groot are absent.

This story begins the process of bringing the two halves of the current Guardians back together into what will no doubt be a major throwdown with The Magus. I hear another long absent cosmic alumnus will be making an appearance in this book quite soon – namely Kang. I’ll be anxiously awaiting Kang’s return and wondering who will be brought back next from Marvel’s past to mix it up with the team – John Carter? The Micronauts? Rom Spaceknight? Whoever DnA bring back, I’m sure they’ll give us a memorable story.

Ferry once again delivers magnificent cover art for #18. It really is one of my favorite covers for the series thus far. Fairbairn’s colors are nicely done – being the perfect complement to Craig’s art. As to Craig’s art – I will say that I liked his art this time quite a bit better than I liked his previous work on this series. I don’t know if he’s growing into the look of this title or if I’m just getting used to the jarring stylistic differences between Craig and Walker. In either case, I still prefer the more realistic take of Walker on this book. Craig is obviously a talented artist, but the more “Saturday morning cartoonish” style of his art is just not right for this particular book.

Guardians of the Galaxy consistently delivers the perfect balance of action, adventure, humor, drama, excitement, and unpredictability. Bar none, Guardians of the Galaxy is one of Marvel’s finest books; and if you’re not reading it – call your local comics shop right now and add it to your pull list. You’ll be glad you did.

Article by: Bill Meneese

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Review: Nova #29 (Marvel Comics)

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Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Artist: Kevin Sharpe

Colorist: Bruno Hang

Cover Artist: Brandon Peterson

 

Warning: Contains Spoilers

 

I was thoroughly pleased with last month’s issue of Nova. This month’s issue is a mixed bag. Some things I liked quite a bit and some things I didn’t like at all. I’ll explain in some detail what I liked and didn’t like. So, this review is going to be longer than usual. As always, let’s begin with a recap of this month’s story.

At the end of last month’s issue, the reformed Corps was faced with their first major mystery: A ship looking remarkably like Rhomann Dey’s starship from The Man Called Nova #1 (1976) was found within The Fault. In Issue #29, we learn that the ship is actually an Upholder Class ship of the line, named the Resolute Duty, lost some 35 years ago. The Worldmind detects life signs aboard the ship and Rich and a few of his crew of Corps recruits (now reduced to Denarian rank, issued red uniforms, and referred to as Probationers) rush over to board it and investigate. The team splits up and begins to investigate each section of the ship, finding it in disrepair and with no obvious inhabitants. Meanwhile, a mysterious cloaked figure seeks to stop The Worldmind’s scans of the ship by attacking The Worldmind with nanotechnology. The nanotechnology attack takes The Worldmind offline, causing the Probationers left on Nu-Xandar to briefly consider disobeying orders and rushing out to help Rich. Rich is then attacked by the sole surviving member of the Resolute Duty crew, Centurion Zan Philo, who has reportedly been carrying out his duty as a Corpsman for the past 35 years even though he was way outside of his jurisdiction in an alternate universe. Philo quickly realizes that Rich is the Nova Prime and joins forces with the Corps against The Worldmind’s attacker, revealed as the bounty hunter Monark Starstalker (from Marvel Premiere #32, published in 1976). Starstalker fights the Corps to a standstill and then demands that Philo release one the prisoners held in the Resolute Duty’s brig so Starstalker can collect the prisoner’s bounty. The Worldmind comes back online, but in The Worldmind’s absence, Ego has come back to life and is in the process of evicting the Corps from its surface. The issue ends on a cliffhanger with “Mindless Ones” (yeah – just like the ones from Dr. Strange) attacking the Resolute Duty to free the mysterious prisoner that is Starstalker’s quarry.

I think Issue #29 is best understood as a transitional issue, marking a turning point in the series from a single-character-focused book to an ensemble-focused book. As such, many old plot points/devices had to be efficiently wrapped, new plot points/devices had to be introduced, and new character development had to be undertaken. That’s a full plate for any one issue of any comic; and few writers would be able to succeed in pulling off such a feat with any measure of coherency. I am happy to say that the immensely skilled DnA did succeed in accomplishing this Herculean task; but purely as a result of being transitional, #29 ended up being one of the more mediocre issues of the series thus far.

That being said, there were many things I liked about #29. I especially liked the (apparent) addition of the Resolute Duty starship to the cast. I refer to it as an addition to the “cast” both because it’s onboard sentient PRIME quantum computer, if still active or repairable, would qualify it as having a personality; and because there is a long tradition in popular SF series (e.g., Battlestar Galactica; all the Star Trek franchises) of treating starships (even non-sentient ones) as “cast” members. As a 33 year Nova fan, I really appreciate DnA’s obvious respect and affection for the Nova mythos in resurrecting a version of the iconic starship that helped capture the imagination of so many of us long term fans when it was originally depicted on the cover and first pages of The Man Called Nova #1 (1976). I’ve always maintained that one of the many lost opportunities of the first Nova series and every subsequent series featuring Nova was the under-utilization of the starship (whose name is unknown; though most fans simply refer to it as “The Nova Prime Starship” or “Rhomann Dey’s Starship”) that brought Rhomann Dey to Earth. DeFalco seemed to grasp the iconic stature of the ship; making it MC2 Nova’s base of operations in Spider-Girl and various other MC2 titles where MC2 Nova appeared; but otherwise, after the events of Rom #24, the 616 Marvel Universe was not (until recently) again graced with an appearance of this lovely ship which so elegantly balances the retro stylization of times gone by with the typical technical functionality we’ve come to expect from SF portrayals of military starships of the future. The original “Rhomann Dey Starship” was at first described as a unique experimental craft that was larger than several of the gas giant planets in our solar system combined; then immediately ret-conned by Marv Wolfman himself in the letters pages of The Man Called Nova as being vastly smaller (later referred to as more than a mile long). It has always been assumed by fans that the “Rhomann Dey” starship perished with the Champions of Xandar during Nebula’s attack on Xandar which precipitated both the Second Fall of Xandar (Avengers #260; 1985) and the re-activation of Rich Rider’s dormant Nova powers (New Warriors #1; 1990). I really liked it that DnA made the effort to establish some specific parameters for the Resolute Duty (e.g., 3 miles long; designated by a keel number; identified as an “Upholder Class Nova Corps Patrol Cruiser”). To me, the class and cruiser designations imply that the Upholder Class Patrol Cruisers were fairly commonplace ships of the line which saw action near the time of the First Fall of Xandar (as described in The Man Called Nova #1; 1976 and Fantastic Four #’s 204-214); but not during Xandar’s earlier Imperial Era (as seen in Uncanny Origins #4; 1996), as Xandar’s ships of the line during the Imperial Era bore no resemblance to Upholder Class Starships. Likewise, after the Second Fall of Xandar (Avengers #260) and up to the near present (Annihilation Prologue); Xandar’s ships of the line bore no resemblance to Upholder Class Starships. How are we continuity slaves to reconcile the apparent commonplace status of Upholder Class Starships with the original portrayal of Dey’s ship as unique? Was Dey’s ship perhaps an experimental refit of an older starship (shades of Star Trek’s Enterprise NCC-1701 being refitted and re-designated NCC-1701-A)? Was Dey’s ship perhaps merely a smaller, newer, unique version of a tried and true design? The answer remains to be seen; but – enough of my geek fest surrounding the starship.

Moving on, I also liked it that the Corps will (apparently) soon be abandoning Ego. I just never liked the Corps being headquartered on The Living Planet; so Ego evicting them is fine by me. Hopefully, they’ll move into The Resolute Duty and make it their new HQ for awhile.

I really like the new ensemble cast of characters. A recurring cast is exactly what this series needed. For the Lone Ranger adherents; don’t fret – there’s still room for reasons to be contrived to send Rich Rider off for solo adventures.

I was happy to see the return of Monark Starstalker. DnA are to be commended for resurrecting Marvel cosmic characters from times past who have lain dormant for far too long.

The Philo character was intriguing; but some questions are nagging at me. Why didn’t The Worldmind recognize him? Is he who he says he is? What happened to his crewmates? Finally, does he really have to over-use the “ultra” qualifier? I realize a catch-phrase is being established; but come on – it doesn’t have near the charm and potential of say – “I am Groot” – and it actually could become ultra-annoying after awhile (see – now he’s got me doing it).

Now for some things I didn’t like. First up – art nit-picks. As to the red uniforms and glowing chest stars for the probationers, I have only two words: design flaw. Bright red things (e.g., Stop signs, fire trucks, fire alarm switches, etc.) and glowing things are designed to grab attention by standing out from the background. What military issues red uniforms to their troops these days? I think the British dropped the red coats a loooong time ago for good reason. Also, why are standard uniforms’ chests stars suddenly starting to glow? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Irani’s glowing boobs as much as the next man; but the chest stars on a standard uniform have never glowed before – and it’s another bad idea in that it’s akin to painting a target on one’s chest before entering battle. No military is going to design uniforms to make troops easier visual targets. Speaking of easier visual targets, what’s with all the billowy clouds and contrails surrounding the lower torso’s of every Corpsman in flight? What could possibly be forming clouds and contrails in the vacuum of space? All these things are annoying artistic flourishes that really need to go. What should replace them you say? Well, for a start, what’s wrong with merely making the probationers lower ranking Corpsmen (e.g., Denarians or Millennians) in the appropriately rank designated standard Navy-Gold uniform? These red-shirted (and don’t think for even a moment that the SF symbolism of red-shirtedness was lost on me) probationers have Denarian chest stars and Centurion helmet stars. Is that intentional or an artistic mistake? I really wish Marvel would print a copy of the rank designations for the uniforms from the Novaprimepage database and issue it to all the artists for the book so these distracting ranking mistakes on the uniforms will cease. Also, these are flying soldiers – essentially living weapons designed by an advanced civilization. They are not 21st Century jet planes. I would think an advanced science would work to eliminate clouds and contrails while their living weapons are in flight in atmosphere (and there should be no clouds/contrails in the vacuum of space anyway).

Other than those nit-picks about the art described above, I was fairly satisfied with Sharpe’s work on this issue. Of course, Hang continues to do an outstanding job as colorist.

The loss of quantum radio contact with The Worldmind is starting to be an overused plot device. I use the term “quantum radio” because I know of no other method than quantum entanglement to allow instantaneous communication between The Worldmind and Corpsmen separated by many light years. Disrupting a quantum radio communication would not be impossible; but it wouldn’t be easy. This is a plot device that needs re-thinking.

The most annoying thing about this issue was once again having the Corps reduced to being a bunch of push-overs in a fight. I know that the point was to establish Starstalker as a bad-ass; but let’s not forget the Corps went toe-to-toe with The Imperial Guard last issue and gave an admirable accounting of themselves. I’m just having a hard time believing that a blind guy with a Seeing Eye robot bird could best Rich and four other Corpsmen at the same time.

Likewise, I was disappointed that The Worldmind went down so easily. No or inadequate defense against nano-tech? What!? I would surmise that the Nova Corps uniforms are nano-tech based given their morphing and self-repair functions. Besides, what advanced civilization would be totally buffaloed by nano-tech? I mean, our own civilization is beginning rudimentary use of nano-tech; so I would expect that a civilization many thousands of years advanced from us would have mastered it by now.

Speaking of The Worldmind, I’m still on the fence about the Ko-Rel personality imprint. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Ko-Rel during the Conquest arc. She worked wonderfully as an actual Corpsman. As the embodiment of The Worldmind though – well, she’s just not working for me so far. I’m just not feelin’ her smart-assy, bitchy, informal Worldmind personality. I’ll give it a few more issues to make sure; but if she doesn’t start to warm up, I’m going to start hoping for a reboot. Hey Ko fans, she can always be resurrected in the flesh via cloning once Xandar is rebuilt. In the meantime, maybe the Resolute Duty has a back-up copy of the original Worldmind personality stored in its PRIME computer.

So, in summary, #29 is not the best issue of Nova to date; but it is far from the worst. I expect once #29 is read in the context of what I expect to happen in #30, it’s ranking on my Nova favorites scale will move up a few notches. In the meantime, this series is still very safe on my pull list. As far as I’m concerned, even a mediocre transitional issue of Nova beats everything the competition has to offer. Quite simply, Nova is comicdom’s undisputed King of military science-fiction epic adventure.
 

Article by: Bill Meneese

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S.W.O.R.D At The Ready: Interview With Kieron Gillen

The latest title unsheathed from the X-Universe, S.W.O.R.D., written by Kieron Gillen with art by Steven Sanders is set to debut this November.

The secret organization known as S.W.O.R.D. (Sentient World Observation and Response Department), was first introduced in Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men. John Cassady, the artist who worked on Astonishing, is doing the art for the covers of the ongoing series.

CosmicBookNews.com’s Editor, Matt McGloin, spoke with writer Kieron Gillen on what characters fans will see, how the organization might handle some of the more powerful cosmic threats and whether or not Marvel’s “Cosmic” villains or heroes will pop in to give S.W.O.R.D. a run for their money.

CosmicBookNews: Can you tell us a little about the ongoing S.W.O.R.D series? Can you describe the organization S.W.O.R.D for us?

Kieron Gillen: S.W.O.R.D. has been around for fifty years. It’s a Sister agency to what SHIELD use to be. Where SHIELD dealt with internal security, S.W.O.R.D. looks to the stars. On this galactic scale, SHIELD are the FBI. S.W.O.R.D. are the CIA. Their mandate is a little larger than that. They’re partially border security, partially diplomatic corp and partially full-on intergalactic spies trying to head off any threat against terra firma before it exists.

In short, S.W.O.R.D. stops something like Secret Invasion happening eight times a year, without anyone knowing.

CosmicBookNews: Can you tell us about the characters involved, Henry Gyrich, Beast, Agent Brand — what are their roles in S.W.O.R.D?

Kieron Gillen: Up until Secret Invasion, Abigail Brand was commander of S.W.O.R.D.. Since then, the trans-national body which governs it has inserted Henry Gyrich as a co-commander. They’ve split the duties between them as they try to rebuild the organization. That Brand is even in co-control says a lot about how important she was in actually stopping the Skrull invasion. While there’s a floating role, Brand tends to look more outwards while Gyrich looks inwards. Brand is mainly dealing with aliens out there.

Gyrich is mainly dealing with aliens right here. Brand, being a compulsive micromanager, and he does a lot of the day-to-day running of the Peak, which is S.W.O.R.D.’s orbital headquarters. They spend 99 percent of the time there doing the day-to-day responsibilities.

The other one percent is where our stories focus, where Brand stops all the enormously hard work and starts having to take enormous risks to save the world. On those days, she’s Jack Bauer with less stubble.

Beast is only now cementing his relationship with S.W.O.R.D.. He’s Brand’s primary science officer, but is also in her “A-Team” of field agents. As in, a core team she tends to take everywhere. The empath Sydren (who you’ll have seen in Astonishing X-men) and Lockheed (who you’ll have seen in THE MIGHTY MARVEL UNIVERSE FOREVER) are the other core pair.

CosmicBookNews: The mission of S.W.O.R.D is to remove all alien beings from the earth. How are they going to go about this? Some aliens are arguably a lot more powerful than the earth based characters, how will S.W.O.R.D deal with, say a Silver Surfer class threat?

Kieron Gillen: With difficulty.

It’s tempting to leave it like that. “With difficulty” is absolutely the point, and how they approach those problems will reveal a lot about the organization.

S.W.O.R.D. has kept itself mostly secret for fifty years. It’s not the sort who generally go in with seven-hundred tanks. In this case, with those too powerful to fight, they’d try and work out an appropriate motivation for them to leave.

Of course, the Surfer isn’t on earth at the moment, so that particular one isn’t a problem.

CosmicBookNews: Furthermore, there are a lot of aliens on the earth, for instance would S.W.O.R.D look to remove a certain alien symbiote or even the “aliens” from Asgard?

Kieron Gillen: The certain alien symbiote’s an interesting one. Brand suspects that Gyrich is actually an appointee via Osborn’s political weight. As such, whether Gyrich actually goes for Venom or not will tell us a lot about what’s really going on here.

The Asgardians are another interesting one. I suspect the lawyers are still arguing over that one, but S.W.O.R.D.’s don’t really consider any of the pantheons on Earth as aliens. Intra-dimensional threats, abstractly, are under A.R.M.O.R.’s domain.

Or maybe it’s just they’ll be the last ones on the list.

CosmicBookNews: How far will S.W.O.R.D. go to achieve this? Even if it means direct conflict with their parent organization, H.A.M.M.E.R. and Director Osborn? Are they under orders from Osborn?

Kieron Gillen: As I said above, there’s a suspicion of influence. But strictly speaking, S.H.I.E.L.D. – and now H.A.M.M.E.R. – isn’t actually their parent organization. It’s a sister organization. Osborn’s influence, if any, is indirect.

Gyrich and Brand are at each other’s throats throughout the series, but there’s one thing which they both agree on. They do whatever it takes to make Earth safe. Where they differ is their belief in what it actually takes to make Earth safe.

CosmicBookNews: At the end of Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter we saw Beta Ray Bill state that he “is home.” Will Beta Ray take part in S.W.O.R.D. in any way? Do you have any other plans for using Beta Ray Bill?”

Kieron Gillen: When I wrote “Home” I was mostly referring to the idea that he’s back with what remains of his people – and thus wherever he is, he’s basically home. Secondarily, I was referring to Earth. Thirdly, more the emotional state. It was that sort of line.

Of course, I totally wrote an ongoing relationship between ’em. Ti Asha Ra is staying on the Peak. Bill owes Brand a favour. While he does appear in the first arc, I do have hopes to use him down the line. I’ve got enormous empathy for the horse-headed fella.

CosmicBookNews: Are there plans to include Marvel’s cosmic characters in this at some point?

Kieron Gillen: One of the best things about writing this series is the amount of the toys in the Marvel box that you get to play with. Anything that crosses the boundary between Earth and the Heavens is in our domain. That totally includes all the cosmic characters. I have a mad crush on several.

CosmicBookNews: Thanks so much for your time! We look forward to reading S.W.O.R.D. which is do to hit stores November 11th!

    [page_title]

    Nova: The Next Generation Part Two Of The Shiar Conflict

    Nova: The Next Generation

    Part Two

    of

    The Shi’Ar Conflict

    Written By: Timelord 9.13.09

     

    Chapter Two: Quantum Realm Solace

    As evening fell on Nu-Xandar, Sylvia could see Tranta’s last rays glancing off the Torus as she boarded the mag-lev train to the alien sector of Nu-Orienta City. As always when night fell, her gaze was drawn to the sky. The Orienta Shard shone as the brightest heavenly body. No matter how many times she visited the shard, she never grew tired of it. Soon it would be her new home for the foreseeable future. Sylvia closed her eyes and imagined it parked in its Libration Point between Nu-Xandar and Tranta, spinning slowly and keeping protective vigil over the fledgling planet, Nu-Xandar. The academy beckoned and tomorrow she would answer its call, take up residence on the Orienta Shard, and begin her new life as a Nova Cadet. Tonight though, was her last night of freedom and she planned to enjoy it to the fullest. Her father had been particularly tough on her over the past week and she needed time to relax and unwind.

    She caught site of her reflection in the window of the mag-lev. Raven haired, dark brown eyes, shapely athletic body barely covered in her sexiest shear white micro-mini dress with a plunging neckline highlighting her perfect breasts; she was satisfied that she had made the right selection of attire for the night’s activities.

    The mag-lev stopped at the station and Sylvia’s spirits rose upon seeing her cousin, Proculus, waiting for her with their mutual friends, Augustus and Celena. Proculus was tall with curly brown hair and brown eyes. He was clean shaven with an athletic body and handsome features inherited from his mother, Queen Adora. Augustus and Celena were black-skinned with dark eyes and curly black hair. They stood close and couldn’t keep their eyes off each other. Lately, they had become more than friends.

    Smiling broadly, Sylvia was the first off the train, giving Proculus a quick kiss on the cheek in greeting and hugging Augustus and Celena. Some of the other passengers stared at Proculus and Sylvia as they passed by; recognizing two of Nu-Xandar’s celebrities, The Prince of Xandar and The Countess of Sura. Those that recognized them gave the sign of fealty. However, recognition was the last thing Sylvia wanted. Her only desire was for an evening of anonymous fun with her friends. She wanted to at least temporarily forget about her miserable day and the changes in her life that tomorrow would bring. The four friends blended into the crowd, joking and making small talk as they meandered toward their destination, the Mercurio Pleasure Club.

    Nu-Xandar’s new Capital, Nu-Orienta City, was bustling and growing rapidly as Nu-Xandar’s influence and power grew throughout Andromeda. Business, industry, and residential districts were under construction everywhere. The layout of the city mirrored the traditional Xandarian model as exemplified by the Orienta Shard’s Orienta City. The Xandarians tended to keep to themselves; and the alien cultures formed their own district. The Xandarians mostly turned a blind eye to the activities in the so-called alien sector; though many visited the area for recreational opportunities officially frowned upon by proper Xandarian culture. Club Mercurio was officially frowned upon by proper Xandarian culture.

    Club Mercurio was the newest, largest, and most popular of the pleasure clubs. Ten stories tall and gleaming in artificial illumination, it stood out in stark contrast to all the new construction surrounding it. It offered all the sensual delights of a galaxy class spa, able to provide services to please all known species which might partake of its amenities. As such, the line at the door was quite long.

    Sylvia gave Proculus a questioning look. “Wasn’t your friend, Aristus, supposed to meet us here?”

    Proculus nodded. “He’s already inside.”

    Sylvia looked at the line. “We’ll be hours getting in if we have to wait in line and I have to be home by midnight. I know you don’t like to do this but what say for once we give up our futile attempt at anonymity and use our celebrity to get in quicker?”

    Proculus grimaced in mock disapproval, then smiled. “All right. Just this once though and just because you’re going away tomorrow.”

    They made their way to the celebrity entrance where they were immediately recognized as four members of Xandarian royal society and granted entrance into the club. The party atmosphere of the club was intoxicating – no doubt helped by the deafening music and the cloud of endorph vapor that constantly fell from above. The four friends were escorted to a VIP table where they ordered shots of synthahol and vials of concentrated endorph-vapor. Sylvia had not visited the club for several weeks and looked around to see what was new as the décor was constantly changing and as new amenities were constantly being added. She spied Aristus leaving the dance floor and approaching their table. The handsome blonde-haired blue-eyed young man went straight to Proculus, greeting him with a passionate kiss. Aristus was Proculus’ newest lover. Sylvia smiled and wondered how long this “relationship” would last; as most of Proculus’ relationships lasted little more than a month.

    The shots and vapors arrived; and Proculus stood, raising his glass to make a toast. “To my dearest cousin Sylvia, Countess of Sura – and tomorrow bearer of a new title: Nova Corps Cadet First Class. All Xandar takes pride in your accomplishment; and on a personal note – both we and all the regular patrons of this club will miss you terribly.” Everyone at the table laughed and downed their shots. Proculus waved for another round to be brought to their table before taking his seat next to Sylvia.

    Sylvia turned and hugged Proculus. “I’m going to miss you more than anyone.”

    Proculus’ eyes glistened. “I don’t think we’ve ever gone more than a few days without seeing each other since we were children. I don’t know if I can stand to be without my best friend for the eight months you’re precluded from having visitors.”

    It was Sylvia’s turn to fight back tears. “Well, maybe you can make another exception to your rule about not using your Princely status to manipulate things and come see me. Maybe a surprise inspection of your troops would be in order?”

    Proculus nodded. “Maybe it would. In any case, you may expect me to abuse my rank to get both myself and your parents front row seats at your graduation ceremony. But enough of this sadness I say. Let’s celebrate.” Popping the lid off his endorph-vapor vial, Proculus inhaled deeply before passing it to Aristus. Celena, Augustus, and Sylvia shared the other vial; and soon all sadness was replaced with euphoria.

    The shots and vials continued to flow; with everyone becoming more relaxed and disinhibited. Removing their shirts, Proculus and Aristus went to the dance floor; and Celena and Augustus began to snuggle up. Despite the effects of all the nanite-bonded chemicals; Sylvia began to feel more and more like a fifth wheel. Like Proculus, her relationships tended to be short-lived; and she currently had no steady lover. She started as she looked out over the dance floor, catching site of Him.

    Celena noticed Sylvia’s reaction. “What is it Syl?”

    Sylvia shrugged. “Nothing. I just thought I saw Him again.”

    Celena smirked. “Him again? The drop-dead handsome young man with the curly black hair that you get glimpses of, have dreams about, and get all wet about; and that none of the rest of us have ever caught sight of in all the time we’ve known you?”

    Sylvia laughed. “Don’t start. I know what I saw and I think He was heading for The Maze.”

    Augustus smiled salaciously as Sylvia got up from the table and steadied herself, still slightly dizzy from the vapors and shots. “Well, good hunting then.”

    Sylvia made her way through the throngs of milling and dancing people; occasionally catching brief sight of her quarry, only to have Him disappear in the crowd. When she arrived at the entrance to The Maze, He was nowhere to be seen. She was determined to finally meet Him and, willing her clothes into her personal tesseract, strode headlong into The Maze. The Maze was literally a large, darkened, maze-like structure with an aphrodisiac-laced atmosphere. It was where people came to experience anonymous sensual pleasures with others; the extremely dim lighting making the identity of other participants difficult to ascertain. One entered The Maze unclothed and experienced the Maze through touch rather than sight.

    The Maze was filled to capacity and pitch dark as usual. No problem for Sylvia as she could “see” in any spectrum she desired. She decided to hedge her bets and use her night vision to find Him in the crowd of bodies caressing and pleasuring each other. The aphrodisiac-laced atmosphere of The Maze began to affect her; slowing her progress as she willingly partook of the sensual pleasures surrounding her – caressing and being caressed; kissing and being kissed – though she eschewed all invitations for more intimate contact as she searched for Him. She spied Him – back turned to her so she couldn’t be sure; but he had the right body and the long, black, curled hair – it had to be Him. She approached Him and put her arms around Him. He turned. It was not Him. It was, however, a very handsome man; and Sylvia could no longer deny her aphrodisiac enhanced desires. She kissed him deeply. His mouth tasted of synthahol and his skin of salt from sexual heat. She burned with desire for the pleasures of his body as he held her against his rock hard chest. She felt a woman’s soft body press against her from behind and begin to caress her breasts. Twisting her head, she found herself in the embrace of a beautiful young blonde woman. She kissed the woman deeply as the man kissed and caressed her breasts, her abdomen, her thighs – and began intimate exploration with his tongue. Running her hands through his hair and pressing his head into her; her breathing became heavy and she moaned in pleasure with each stroke of his skilled tongue. Sylvia abandoned her night vision and surrendered herself to the anonymous sensual pleasures of the maze. The tensions of the day dissipated in erotic bliss as she and her two lovers melted together – each bringing the other to multiple heights of passion and release over the next few hours. Finally sexually satiated, they retreated to a corner of the maze where they could rest and recover in the comfort of each other’s arms.

    Eyes at half-mast and feeling physically spent from the combined effects of the previous days of combat training and this night’s regimen of synthahol, endorph-vapor, aphrodisiacs, and sex; Sylvia found it hard to keep a smile off her face as she now felt more relaxed and carefree than she had in days. “Mmmmm – thanks you two. That was just what I needed.”

    The woman smiled. “The pleasure was all ours Contessa.”

    Sylvia smiled back wickedly as she realized she had been recognized. “Don’t you believe it.”

    Taking her leave from The Maze, Sylvia made her way into the spa, intending to shower, rest a short time, then catch up with her friends to report that once again He had eluded her. As she passed by a large zero-g group sex room, she caught sight of Celena and Augustus preparing to enter along with about thirty other couples.

    Celena waved from the crowd. “Come join us in here.”

    Sylvia waved back. “I will as soon as I’ve showered and freshened up.”

    Sylvia made her way to the shower room and stepped under the stinging spray, basking in the heat of the hot flowing water and letting it wash away the last of her week’s tensions. She closed her eyes and thought of Him, frustrated that she had once again failed to meet Him and thinking it strange how she longed for a man she had only glimpsed in dreams and crowds and shadows. As she indulged her deep longing for Him, she realized she could no longer hear or feel the shower; or hear the bustle and noise of the multitude of others enjoying the amenities of the club. Her eyes snapped open and she found herself in a white void.

    He stood before her – a handsome young man with curly black hair and deep, black eyes wearing white form-fitting clothes that showed off a perfect body – just like in her dreams and her brief glimpses of Him. He was the most handsome man she had ever beheld and she immediately felt desire for Him. She also noticed for the first time that He bore a striking resemblance to a depiction she had seen before. She was dumbstruck into silence as she considered the implications.

    He beheld her for a long minute before finally speaking. “You should not be here.”

    She found her voice. “What? Who are you? Where is this?”

    He shook His head. “You are not ready to be here. You must go back now.”

    Sylvia was both un-nerved and irritated. “Fine. How do I do that?”

    “The same way you arrived – by wanting it desperately enough. Now go. I will invite you to visit again when you are ready.” He turned his back on her and made to leave.

    Sylvia was angry now and began to build a gravimetric pulse. “Don’t you give me curtly cryptic answers and turn your back on me you son of a schmaug! You will properly address my questions!”

    He wheeled back around to face Sylvia, seething in anger, energy arcing across his body and flashing in his eyes. “Precocious child! Do not even think of summoning your power here! You know not what you do. The consequences could be devastating to all you hold dear!”

    They paused a moment – eyes locked, each taking the measure of the other. They both stood down; but continued to stare at each other warily.

    He shook his head, breaking the tension. “I had hoped you would not inherit your father’s stubbornness and obstinacy; but I see my hopes were in vain.”

    Sylvia was surprised. “You know my father?”

    He smiled. “Yes – I know him well and I love him dearly; though he does not know me.”

    Sylvia was feeling irritated again. “Straight answers seem to elude you sir; so let me ask you directly once more – just who the fark are you? Why do I see you in my dreams? Why were you at the pleasure club tonight? Why have you brought me here?”

    “You should not be here and it is too soon for you to know the answers to all those questions.” He broke eye contact and smirked as He looked her up and down. “And you are out of uniform.”

    Sylvia had not noticed that she was still nude until he pointed it out. Refusing to be daunted, she set her jaw and clenched her fists, readying for a fight. “Are you going to answer my questions or not?”

    He looked exasperated. “I don’t suppose you will leave without an altercation if I don’t answer your questions?”

    She stared at Him in response.

    He shook His head. “I thought not. Ask your questions.”

    She considered her options. “The first logical question is: Where am I?”

    He smirked. “You could use your powers to figure that out – but to answer your question; you are within what you would understand to be a pocket dimension or a tesseract – though I prefer the term quantum realm.”

    She reached out tentatively with her powers to gather information. “This place resembles the Worldmind’s tesseract. How did I get here?”

    He sighed. “By wanting to be here. Your innate powers allow your consciousness to travel to this realm.”

    She was beginning to understand. “Are you a quantum entity like the Worldmind?”

    He laughed. “Sweet Sylvia, I am the Xandarian Worldmind.”

    It was Sylvia’s turn to smirk. “I’ve met the Worldmind; and you look, act, and talk nothing like him. Also, the Worldmind and my father are well-acquainted; but you claimed that my father does not know you. I have no idea how I got here; but I assure you I did not bring myself here. You sir, are a liar.”

    He laughed, “Your impudence is most amusing – do keep it up,” He said as He morphed into the familiar figure of the Worldmind Avatar. With the Worldmind’s voice – albeit in a mocking tone – he said, “Nova Corps Cadet First Class Sylvia Rider-Dru, it is critical that you pay attention at this time.” Then keeping the appearance of the Worldmind Avatar, but switching back to His voice, “I have spoken nothing but the truth to you since you arrived in this realm.”

    Sylvia had lingering doubts. “I remain unconvinced of your identity. If you are the Worldmind, you must comply with the lawful commands of a duly authorized corporeal Xandarian. As the Countess of Sura, I have repeatedly given you orders and you have demonstrated a level of independence exceeding that explicitly programmed into the Worldmind.”

    He seemed to find Sylvia’s observation amusing. “The Worldmind you and the rest of Xandar know is but a small part of me – the part that can be accessed and controlled by your technology. I am so much greater than that. The part of the Worldmind you know must obey your lawful commands as it is linked to your technology. I am not so constrained. In fact, I purposely keep the Worldmind unaware of my existence. He is new to existence as a facet of the greater quantum entity. Given more time, he will come to learn what he is. As of now, he is constrained by his own childish ignorance – much like you.”

    She let the insult slide and held her breath for a second before her next question. “You bear a striking resemblance to ancient depictions of the Xandarian God of War, Gamill. Are you Gamill? Are you a god?”

    He seemed to ponder the question for a moment before deciding to answer it. He morphed back into the form of the handsome young man. “I am Gamill.” He morphed into the familiar form of the lovely black-skinned goddess of fortune, Frammi. “I am also Frammi.” He morphed into the familiar form of the red-headed goddess of love, Ishta. “I am Ishta.” He rapidly morphed into the entire Xandarian pantheon of gods and goddesses before coming full circle to the form of the Xandarian Worldmind and then, once again, Gamill. “I am all the rest. We are all facets of the greater quantum entity.”

    She was stunned, having never truly believed in the existence of the gods. “So, you are a god.”

    He shrugged. “What is a god? Is a god not merely a being with vastly greater mental and physical abilities than you possess yourself? Would not primitive beings believe you were a god?”

    “If being tiresome and obtuse in answering simple questions are godly traits; I would say you are at least worthy of consideration of the title” Sylvia observed dryly. “Why appear to me in the form of Gamill?”

    He responded to her sarcasm with a barb of His own. “At last – an intelligent question. The populace of Xandar sees the Worldmind with whom they are familiar as a formal, wizened old man as that is their subconscious conception of how a god should look and act. You, on the other hand, see me as a peer; as this is your subconscious conception of how your perfect peer should look and act. In fact, you see me as the War God, Gamill, as you are a true warrior. One day when your powers are fully developed we will be peers. Right now, you are no more than an adept.”

    Sylvia was starting to be convinced. She felt solace here in this realm as if she belonged here; and as she used her powers to tentatively scan the physical properties of her surroundings, she realized that this entity was speaking truly. One question nagged at her consciousness. “Why have I seen you in my dreams and caught glimpses of you since I was a child? Why reveal yourself to me now?”

    He nodded, appearing to be pleased with her question. “As a quantum entity, I am everywhere on Xandar at once. With your developing powers, you can see me anywhere you like if you concentrate. Though you don’t consciously realize it, you have attempted to contact me intermittently since the very moment of your conception. I have rebuffed each of your attempts as you are not ready to be here. You brought yourself here uninvited and have refused to leave despite my numerous reasonable requests. I did not ‘reveal’ myself to you. You intruded.”

    She refused to let one nagging question remain unanswered. “Why not reveal yourself to all of Xandar?”

    He frowned. “It is not yet time to do such a thing. One day, over the course of time, all Xandarians will be able to ascend to this realm to become part of the greater quantum entity. You are the beginning of that evolution of your species and you already know how some have reacted. You have experienced their fear of your unique gifts. Some would seek to accelerate the evolution of your species and some would seek to retard it if the outcome was widely known. Nothing must be done to influence the natural evolution of your species. So, for now, the gods must remain quaint and fanciful ideas in the minds of all Xandarians, revealing themselves only to those unique individuals with special gifts who may advance the evolution of your species in accordance with the plans of the greater quantum entity. You are such an individual as others have been over the millennia. Through you and your unique gifts, I have a physical gateway into your corporeal world that I otherwise would not have. I cannot directly intervene in your corporeal world except through you – and you cannot speak of my existence to anyone else. You now know why. It could adversely affect the evolution of your species.”

    Sylvia smirked. “If I told anyone else I was conversing with the gods, they would think I was insane. You have nothing to fear. Your secret is safe with me.”

    He seemed satisfied. “There is hope for you yet, sweet Sylvia.”

    “So am I invited back here to learn from you how to wield my developing powers? Am I ready yet O wise one?” she asked with a hint of sarcasm. “By the way, what do you call yourself?”

    He paused before answering. “I answer to many names as you now know – and I cannot stop you from returning any time you wish. However, you are welcome back in my realm; and I will help you learn to control your powers.”

    She stopped to consider all she had learned. “I’m not comfortable referring to you as Gamill or any of the other gods – and clearly you are something over and above the Worldmind. How about if I call you ‘The Overmind?’ Would that be acceptable?”

    He nodded. “Yes, but go now back to your pleasures of the flesh. You should enjoy them while you still can. Some day such pleasures will exist for you only as memories.”

    Sylvia blinked and found herself back in the shower room; only a few seconds having passed since she ‘left.’ She quickly dried herself and made her way to the zero-gee room to find Augustus and Celena. Based on what she had learned of the Quantum Realm, she decided to heed the Overmind’s advice regarding enjoying the pleasures of the flesh while she still could. It would put her getting home past her mother’s midnight curfew; but she would deal with that later.

    ________________________________________

    Come back next week for Part 3 of The Shi’ar Conflict to follow Sylvia on her first adventure as a Nova Corps Cadet.

     

     

    [page_title]

    Nova: The Next Generation Part One Of The Shiar Conflict

     

    Nova: The Next Generation
    Written By: Timelord  9.3.09

     

    Prologue: The Legacy

    People stared. They always stared when she appeared in public. It made her uncomfortable; so she took pains to conceal her identity. Today she dressed in non-descript clothes – not her typical haute couture by any stretch of the imagination – just casual black slacks, black boots, and white blouse. She wore large, dark sunglasses so as to mask her face without drawing undue attention. Yet, she could not help but draw attention. People – especially men – stared at the shapely, raven-haired young woman.

    Shifting uncomfortably in her seat as the mag-lev train made its way to the Nova Crista, she began to regret her decision to ride public transportation rather than just use her powers to fly there. She had thought use of the powers she was born with would draw undue attention and perhaps interfere with her goal for the trip.

    Her powers – now at Centurion level – were a constant source of concern for her, her parents, and others. Some feared her natural ability to wield Nova Force. Rather than needing nano-tech mediators bestowed and controlled by the Worldmind, her powers were a consequence of her genetic heritage. Those that feared her whispered that she was what her father called a “genetic Eve” – the next step in Xandarian evolution – and a portent of extinction for all normal Xandarians. Those that feared her didn’t know her and they didn’t understand her genetic heritage of course – and even the most renowned Xandarian geneticists were at a loss to explain her abilities.

    She sighed – understanding why some feared her and for an instant wishing she could be like all other Xandarians. It had been easy to hide the powers when she was younger. At first, during early childhood, her powers merely gave her the ability to absorb and discharge energy, the Worldmind-like ability to sense and analyze the physical world, and the ability to interface with all forms of artificial intelligence. As she grew older, she developed the abilities of flight, super strength, and invulnerability. Once her body reached physical maturity at the age of 16, she also developed a healing factor. No one knew how or even if she would continue to evolve. She was unique.

    Her brooding was interrupted. Someone had recognized her. It always happened. She was, after all, the daughter of two of the most famous citizens of Nu-Xandar; not to mention a member of the royal family and a Countess in her own right. She was an honest to goodness celebrity on Nu-Xandar and it was inevitable that someone would see through her disguise. An older citizen had recognized her and had given the sign of fealty to the royal family by placing his right fist over his heart. The rest of the passengers on the train followed suit. As uncomfortable as she was with royal protocol, she adopted the poise of the Countess of Sura and nodded to each in acceptance of their signs of respect and fealty; relieved that the train was slowing as it entered the station at the mall of the Nova Crista.

    When the doors of the train slid open, she stepped out into the bustling mall, relieved to feel Tranta’s heat against her skin and a light breeze blowing through her dark hair. Looking up, she saw the great dome of the Orienta Shard overhead; and beyond the dome, she could see Nu-Xandar rising in the east along the dome’s horizon – the great Torus anchored to the planet collecting Tranta’s energy and providing the gift of habitability for her people as they lived their lives on their new homeworld. She quickly hurried through the common area and made her way to the steps leading to the doors of the Great Hall of the Nova Crista – the headquarters of the Nova Corps – denoted by the great red 8-pointed star symbol of the Worldmind Hegemony emblazoned on the building. As she approached the secure area, she was greeted by two seamless metal bipedal silver sentry androids asking for identification. They moved with grace and fluidity as their bodies gleamed in the morning sunlight – never once taking her out of the sights of the projectile and energy weapons contained in their casings. Sighing, she presented her nano-tech wristband for scanning. Most Xandarians didn’t have to tolerate such hassles as their Nova Matrices instantly identified them. She didn’t possess a Nova Matrix like all other Xandarians. Her body just absorbed all nano-tech that was implanted and the Worldmind refused to allow her to use her natural ability to form a direct link to it due to the unknown nature of her still developing powers. She had to wear an external link to the Worldmind around her wrist for identification purposes. Of course, the inconvenience of not having a Nova Matrix for identification purposes paled in comparison to the most profound implication of not having a Nova Matrix – for not having a Nova Matrix also meant that she was more mortal than all other Xandarians. She could not be instantly downloaded into the Worldmind if she was suddenly killed – to live an afterlife in the cybernetic space of the Mindworld or be later resurrected via cloning.

    The sentries accepted her identification and saluted her with the sign of fealty. Nodding to them, she walked through the doors into the Nova Crista.

    The Nova Crista was truly impressive. Built millennia ago on the highest hill in Orienta City upon the site of an ancient observatory, the Nova Crista – meaning “Crest of New Stars” in the old Xandarian language – was the traditional headquarters of the Nova Corps. The Nova Prime’s office was in this building – and deep under the building was the Quantum Interface to the Worldmind’s tesseract. She had picked a day when she knew the Nova Prime was off-world on a mission for the Xandarian Federation as he would not approve of the business that brought her to the Nova Crista today. She took a moment to examine the Great Hall as it had been quite some time since she last visited. The Great Hall was massive. The floors were solid granite and the walls were dark wood. The ceiling arched high overhead. The Great Hall was the extent of most people’s contact with The Corps and was for all intents and purposes a museum celebrating the history of the Corps. Statues of renowned Novas were interspersed with display cases containing relics from the Corp’s history. Beyond the hall were more secure areas – access only being permitted to Corps personnel. She spied an open Worldmind interface just behind a statue of Centurion Gabriel Lan and quickly made her way to it. Touching her hand to the interface, she requested an audience with The Worldmind.

    Her consciousness faded into the white void of the Worldmind’s tesseract and she found herself face-to-face with the avatar of the Xandarian Worldmind. The Worldmind Avatar, an aged Xandarian male dressed in a standard Nova Prime uniform, placed his fist over his heart and spoke with the consensus voice of the gestalt. “Greetings Countess. To what do I owe the honor of your visit today?”

    She hesitated a moment – for the first time questioning her decision. Her parents were two of the greatest Novas who ever lived. She wielded the Nova Power as a birthright. She was part of the ruling family of Xandar. Becoming a Nova was her right and her responsibility to Xandar. Being a Nova was her legacy. “I am here to apply to the Nova Corps Academy.” With a thought, she contacted the AI within her wristband link to the Worldmind and submitted her application to the Worldmind Gestalt.

    If the Worldmind was surprised, he didn’t show it. “You are younger than the typical age selected to join the Corps – and typically basic Star Corps Training as well as at least one year of service as a Star Corps regular is required before anyone is granted admission to the Nova Corps Academy.”

    She set her jaw. “I am well aware of the rules and regulations. However, you know as well as I do that I already possess Centurion-level powers. I need the training and I desire to use my powers to serve Xandar and The Corps. Besides, others have joined the Corps without going through the typical admission requirements. Pyreus Kril is one example as are my own father and mother.”

    The Worldmind nodded affirmatively. “That is true, but circumstances dictated those exceptions. Such circumstances do not apply in your case. In your case, the support of your parents is required and…”

    She felt nervous for the first time since entering the building. Neither of her parents would attempt to interfere with her choice to join the military once she was of age. However, her father opposed early entrance to the Academy and wanted her to wait a little while longer; and her mother had also wanted her to consider attending Law School. She had made up her mind and did not want to discuss the matter with them any further. She just wanted to quietly join the Corps and begin formal training. Her royal rank gave her certain rights in regard to status in the military. She decided use of her rank was her only choice to avoid involving her parents. She interrupted the Worldmind, “That won’t be necessary. I am…”

    The Worldmind held up his hand to silence her. “How like your father you are. Please let me finish. Your parents anticipated your decision and have already given their support. Your application is accepted. You will receive orders as to when to report to the Nova Crista for admission to The Nova Corps Academy. Welcome to The Nova Corps Cadet Sylvia Rider-Dru.”

     

    Nova: The Next Generation

    The Shi’ar Conflict

    (Part One)

     

    Chapter One: The Woman Called Nova

    The bruises and cuts ached, but Sylvia Rider-Dru could not afford to let the pain distract her from completion of her scouting mission. She pushed it aside and entrusted her recovery to her healing factor as she sped through the disputed area of space attempting to evade her pursuers. Tactical indicated that a Superskrull was closing fast; as was a squadron of Annihilation fighter ships and a battle armored Veradinae Mercenary. She had already destroyed one of Lord Ravenous’ Annihilation battleships; but it had not been without cost. She was beginning to feel fatigued. All she wanted to do was make it back to the Xandarian fleet and bring her scouting mission to an end with the startling news that Xandar’s greatest enemies were amassing along the border of The Xandarian Federation in preparation for invasion.

    Her tactical flashed a proximity alert and she dived to avoid a bolt of cosmic fire from the Superskrull; necessitating an immediate twist and course change as she also dodged a shot from the Veradinae. She knew they were trying to catch her in crossfire and that her options for escape were becoming limited as long range tactical now indicated the enemy was closing from nearly every direction. She dived to avoid another shot from the Veradinae; and landed directly in the line of fire from the Superskrull. She reeled from the strike of cosmic fire, feeling the heat penetrate her Nova uniform’s back and helmet armor; burning her skin. She recovered just in time to grapple with the skrull. This Superskrull had been given the combined powers of the Terran Fantastic Four, much like the legendary Kl’rt. He grabbed Sylvia with a massive fist modeled after ‘The Thing;’ and began to squeeze the life from her. She was having trouble controlling her new powers; and had fired a radiative aura gravimetric pulse only a few minutes earlier to destroy the Annihilation battleship; so it took all her will to fire another radiative aura pulse. The skrull’s fist exploded; freeing Sylvia. Quickly recovering; she wheeled and, summoning all her might, put her fist through the stunned skrull’s head, savoring the sight of one of her people’s ancient enemies convulsing and becoming still. She had little time to gloat as her proximity alert flashed again. She twisted to avoid the shot fired by the Veradinae, but miscalculated her trajectory and found herself directly in his flight path. The Veradinae was eight feet tall, bipedal, thickly muscled, and covered in biomantium battle armor hosting an array of projectile and energy weapons. Sylvia knew that underneath the powerful armor was a fierce reptilian soldier bio-engineered to be nothing but a savage killing machine. She had to evade the great dragon or kill him as quickly as possible. Otherwise, he would not stop until he had killed her. Sylvia changed course and attempted to twist away as the dragon closed the distance between them; but he compensated for her evasive maneuver and fired an energy weapon which momentarily stunned her. The dragon capitalized upon Sylvia’s disadvantage, moving in for the preferred method of killing for any Veradinae – up close and personal.

    Sylvia screamed as the Veradinae Dragon’s biomantium-coated claws pierced her body’s natural phasic shielding and her uniform’s armor; sinking deep into her flesh, attempting to rend her in half. “Mother Farker!” she yelled in rage and pain as she twisted in his grasp and with all her might landed a massive blow to the side of his armored head, tearing away his faceplate. The dragon writhed in agony as his battle armor decompressed and as his body fluids began to be pulled through his skin into the vacuum of space; but he did not let go. Before she could recoil, he managed to sink his biomantium-coated teeth into her arm. She felt his venom enter her body and her will to fight began to ebb. Desperate now to be free as proximity alerts were continuous and as she was beginning to feel sick and sleepy from the venom; she looked into the dragons eyes and fired twin eye beams. The dragon’s mouth opened and his head and arms snapped back reflexively as his brain was fried. Freed from the clutches of the dragon, the nanites composing her uniform moved quickly to seal the breeches from the dragon’s claws and teeth. Her healing factor was working furiously to compensate for the effects of the venom and the wounds inflicted by the dragon; but she hadn’t the luxury to rest and let it totally heal her. The fighter ships were almost within range and a phalanx of superskrulls was closing fast. She shook her head to clear the effects of the venom; and grabbing the dragon’s body, sent it flying into the windshield of the lead fighter, destroying it upon contact. She dove, firing gravimetric pulses from each hand, destroying the other two fighters. Sluggish but recovering, she flipped and resumed course at full speed for the Xandarian fleet, the phalanx of superskrulls in hot pursuit.

    Twisting and diving at maximum speed, she avoided the bolts of energy and the projectiles fired by her Skrull pursuers. Tactical indicated that the Xandarian fleet was dead ahead; and to her great relief, she could see four Centurions speeding to her rescue; lead by none other than her parents, Richard and Sevilica. Tactical indicated that her Skrull pursuers had fled at the sight of the approaching Nova Corps; so she slowed and happily flew into the embrace of her father’s open arms. She gasped in surprise as her father’s arms suddenly became elastic, wrapping her in a tight cocoon. Enraged and embarrassed at having been so easily duped; but unable to generate another radiative gravimetric pulse; she focused her will and extended her phasic shielding until she was able to break the hold of the superskrull. Her ‘mother,’ now transformed into her true Skrull identity, acted quickly and landed a blow to Sylvia’s head that sent her reeling back into her ‘father’s’ tender embrace once again where he applied a neural inhibitor to her neck. She became paralyzed and unable to control her powers.

    Richard Rider was annoyed with his daughter. He snapped, “End simulation,” and watched as “space” faded away to be replaced by the cavernous interior of Nu-Xandar’s Nova Corps holographic Battle Simulation Arena. He reached to his belt for his helmet. Catching his reflection in the glass of the observation and control booth, Rich once again felt both surprise and amusement at how much he had come to resemble his father. Rich ran a hand over his recently grown goatee and smoothed back his “salt-and-pepper” colored hair before donning his helmet and nodding to his lovely wife, Sevilica Dru. Even after all the years of hardship and sacrifice as they together toiled to build Nu-Xandar from Xandar’s ashes; he still found himself hopelessly in love with the auburn-haired blue-eyed beauty. It didn’t hurt that she was just as shapely, sexy, and vivacious as when he first met her at the tender age of 17 during the Second Xandar-Skrull War. Sevilica was living proof that cloning did have its advantages; and as he caught site of his reflection again, he made a mental note to consider some cosmetic treatments for himself as time and near constant warfare had taken their toll on his 51 year old body. He also noted that Sevilica looked a little tired – the weight of helping govern Nu-Xandar seeming to rest more and more heavily upon her shoulders with each passing day. He knew they needed a vacation. Sevilica ran her fingers through her long auburn locks of hair and donned her helmet as they headed for the door.

    Sylvia was relieved to have sensation return to her limbs; but watched in dismay as her mother and father emerged from the control room of the Nova Corps Battle Simulation Arena; mentally preparing herself for her father’s expected harsh criticism of her performance today. Lately, she and her father had been at odds for reasons she really did not understand. It seemed that they went out of their way to disagree with each other now; and nothing she did seemed to please him. Richard was dressed in the uniform of The Nova Prime and Sevilica wore a standard Centurion’s uniform, eschewing as usual any outward sign of her royal status as Duchess of Orienta. Sylvia steeled herself as Richard and Sevilica took flight to meet her at the top of the domed arena.

    Sylvia tensed and stood at attention as Richard and Sevilica arrived; avoiding eye contact by staring straight ahead unflinchingly as Richard removed his helmet and focused on her, an irritated look on his face. “What the hell was that Syl? Where’s your focus? You made elementary mistakes that would have cost you your life in a real battle; and the lives of anyone under your command had you been accompanied. We’ve taught you better than that. Don’t trust your eyes when you’re fighting Skrulls! Use your powers to do an identity scan. Do you realize that if you’d made a mistake like that last one in a real battle situation that right now you’d be dead or worse – a prisoner of the Skrulls being readied for vivisection?”

    Sylvia pressed her lips together tighter in reaction to her father’s rebuke; but exhibited no other reaction or outward sign of upset – though inwardly she was seething. He didn’t understand what she was feeling – the doubts and fears about starting a new life as a Nova Corps Cadet, leaving her childhood friends behind, and yes – leaving home. She didn’t want to be here today, her last free day before starting the academy. She was only here at her father’s insistence. She wanted to be with her friends one last time before departing for the Orienta Shard. She hoped her mother would render more supportive feedback; but it was not meant to be.

    Sevilica shook her head. “This is truly disappointing Sylvia. Your father and I have been training you for years now and you’ve performed so much better than this in the past. Combat doesn’t wait until we are ready for it to fit into our schedule and combat doesn’t give second chances when we make mistakes. When you enter battle, you must push all distractions aside and keep your focus. One serious mistake and you’re dead. You need to think about this experience and decide what you would do differently should you ever face a similar situation in the future. I expect you to do better next time. Now, I know you want to get out of here. Dismissed. Oh, and Syl, on a personal note – I know you’re going to want to go out and celebrate your acceptance into the academy with your friends, but I want you back at Oban by midnight. Your father and I want to have some time with you in the morning before you leave for the Orienta Shard; and we want you rested and prepared for your first day of duty to The Corps. Understand?”

    Sylvia nodded her understanding, remaining silent and avoiding eye contact with either of her parents – especially her father – and sulkily flew to the exit; dejectedly heading for Oban, House Dru’s ancestral palace.

    Sevilica and Rich watched her go. When Sylvia had cleared the exit, Rich turned to Sevilica and made eye contact. Their eyes locked on each other for a moment before the seriousness broke and they both shared a small laugh. Rich smiled broadly. “She made some mistakes sure enough but that’s just due to lack of experience. With a little experience and discipline, she’s going to be hell on wheels! I tell you Sev, I’ve never been so proud. She was magnificent! Her powers have developed to the point where she now has more power than a Centurion. Did you see the way she took out that battleship and that dast superskrull? Incredible! She’s better than either of us were when we were about her age.”

    Sevilica arched an eyebrow. “Well, you’re half right. Maybe if you’d had the opportunity at her age to train on Xandar instead of wasting time on Earth; you’d have been as good a Nova as both Syl and me.”

    Rich grinned in response to Sevilica’s typical competitiveness. “Why’d you let her go so early? I was going to make her run through the simulation again.”

    Sevilica rolled her eyes. “She has to have some fun sometimes too. If it was up to you, she’d be training all day every day. Her friends are taking her out to celebrate tonight. She starts the academy tomorrow and she won’t see them or us for the next eight months you know.”

    Rich’s smile faded and sadness was reflected in his eyes. “I know. Our little girl’s growing up fast. Can’t blame me for being proud of her for being the youngest ever allowed to enter academy training. I just want her to be as ready as possible for all the dangers she’s about to face so she’ll be safe. That’s why I’ve been pushing her so hard.”

    Sevilica floated up to Rich and kissed him. “I know and I’m proud too – of both her and you. I know how hard it’s been for you to let her go. Now my love, let’s go home.”

    Rich grabbed Sev and pulled her close. “Not so fast. We have this facility reserved privately for the next hour. What say we put it to good use? I’m thinking the Veradinae seraglio program.”

    Sevilica laughed. “Only if you play the role of the sex slave this time.”

    Rich grinned wolfishly. “Deal.”

    _________________________________________

    Read Part Two for the next chapter in the serial of The Woman Called Nova. Here’s a sneak preview:

    Chapter Two: Quantum Realm Solace

    As evening fell on Nu-Xandar, Sylvia could see Tranta’s last rays glancing off the Torus as she boarded the mag-lev train to the alien sector of Nu-Orienta City. As always when night fell, her gaze was drawn to the sky. The Orienta Shard shone as the brightest heavenly body in the sky. No matter how many times she visited the shard, she never grew tired of it. Soon it would be her new home for the foreseeable future. Sylvia closed her eyes and imagined it parked in its Libration Point between Nu-Xandar and Tranta, spinning slowly and keeping protective vigil over the fledgling Nu-Xandar. The academy beckoned and tomorrow she would answer its call and begin her new life as a Nova Cadet. Tonight though, was her last night of freedom and she planned to enjoy it to the fullest. Her father had been particularly tough on her this past week and she needed time to relax and unwind.

    She caught site of her reflection in the window of the mag-lev. Raven haired, dark brown eyes, shapely athletic body barely covered in her sexiest shear white micro-mini dress with a plunging neckline highlighting her perfect breasts; she was satisfied that she had made the right selection of attire for the night’s activities.

     

     

    [page_title]

    Jim Gibbons Let Go From Wizard

    News: Wizard

    The Associate Editor, Jim Gibbons, from Wizard Magazine has been let go.

    This came across my desk earlier today, as news about Wizard’s latest employee release was made known late last night.

    [page_title]

    Review: Nova #28 (Marvel Comics)

    [[wysiwyg_imageupload:4292:]]

    Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

    Artist: Andrew Devito

    Colorist: Bruno Hang

    Cover Artist: Daniel Acuna

    Variant Cover: Mike Perkins

     

    Warning: Contains Spoilers

     

    DnA have done it again! Nova #28 is a masterstroke of superheroic military science-fiction. The Rich Rider from Annihilation is finally back and I say: “Long May He Reign!”

    This issue picks up right where #27 left off. Rich gives Xenith a beating and captures her. The new Corpsmen step up to the plate as well; with Morrow and Irani putting the Imperial Guard in their place quite efficiently. Rich negotiates for the withdrawal of the Corps from Kree-Lar with Blastaar in a quite clever sequence; and the Corpsmen gather up their prisoners – along with the wounded Robbie Rider – and return to Nu-Xandar. Back at Nu-Xandar we learn that the Corps has been disbanded down to a small group including four of the original five new recruits (Morrow, Fraktur, Qubit, Irani) as well as the humans, Tre and Lindy. Wendell Vaughn is also present; but quickly takes his leave to learn more about both his new body and the mysterious fault in time and space caused by the explosion of the Inhumans’ echo weapon at the conclusion of War of Kings. Rich admits he was both right and wrong about reconstituting the Corps; deciding in the end to allow the remaining Corpsmen the opportunity to be the “core” of a new Corps which is to be rebuilt slowly over time. Robbie is invited to be part of the new Corps. It is learned that, unsurprisingly, Ego is recovering faster than expected; so the Corps will need to find a new home in the near future. In the meantime, they stargate to the fault to see what, if anything, can be done. Upon arrival, they are surprised to receive a Xandarian distress signal. Upon further investigation, they are shocked to discover a ship that Rich Rider thought he would never see again.

    There’s so much to love about this issue, I don’t know where to start. So, I’ll begin at the beginning. I heartily enjoyed the opening sequence. As anyone who has read any of my columns before knows, I am no fan of Strontians. So, as you might imagine, I savored every panel of the opening fight where Rich opens up a can of whoop-ass on Xenith and gives the beeyotch the well deserved beating she’s been asking for throughout the course of War of Kings. My only disappointment is that he didn’t kill her. I think he may end up regretting that decision. I know I regret his decision. I want her and her cousin, Gladiator, dirt-napped ASAP. Nevertheless, his guile in defeating her is much appreciated; showing that Rich has finally graduated from the “brass-knuckled hot-headed street fighter unthinkingly flying in and slugging it out” mentality that has plagued the Nova character for far too long now; to the mentality of the seasoned, strategizing, battle-hardened veteran that he is and should continue to be from now on. No more characterization inconsistency please! Finally, I was also touched by the homage to Doug Smith’s Novaprimepage in this sequence where Rich refers to consulting the Novapedia. That’s a nice shout out from DnA to Doug and to the legions of other loyal uber-Nova-fans worldwide who have kept the Nova flame burning through thick and thin for the past 33 years; and we all appreciated it.

    The Morrow and Irani scene was extremely well done; and I want to thank DnA for finally portraying the Corps as the competent and effective soldiers that they should be; rather than the “red shirts” portrayal of the Corps that has permeated Corps portrayals in recent era comics. Not since the Second Xandar-Skrull War (as seen in Fantastic Four #’s 204-214; and Rom #24) has the Corps been portrayed as the competent fighting force that made Xandar a power to be reckoned with during their days of Empire (as seen in Uncanny Origins #4). Issue #28 of Nova restored my hope that the Corps can regain their former glory.

    For the next sequence, I need to stop, take a deep breath, and consider something for a moment. Rich Rider as diplomat. Wow! Who’d have ever expected that?! Home run DnA! The sequence where Rich, like Teddy Roosevelt, “speaks softly and carries a big stick” is flat out brilliant. Once again, it bespeaks that level of maturity and competence that Rich gained during Annihilation; but has inexplicably shown rarely and inconsistently throughout the first 28 issues of Nova. Rich’s calm confidence both in battle and at the diplomatic table in this issue of Nova is the proper demeanor for a leader of men; and is a welcome change from the tiresome adolescent cocky bravado of past characterizations.

    The sequence on Nu-Xandar is quite well done. I was cheered by Rich’s decision to re-constitute the Corps. It’s about d’ast time. A recurring cast of interesting and exciting characters is exactly what this series needs; and this first batch of Corps recruits is just the ticket. Some of these characters (who are already building fan bases BTW) will no doubt be tragically lost as the Corps is rebuilt; bringing the series some much needed edgy drama. Speaking of edgy drama, I’m guessing there will once again be some conflict between Rich and Robbie now that Robbie will be sticking around as a Corpsman; as the sibling rivalry thing between Rich and Robbie will require further exploration. Further, I was pleased to learn that the Corps will soon need to abandon Ego for a more suitable home base. I want to lobby for something beginning here and now. Tranta is the traditional home base for Xandar and we know the Orienta Shard survived the Annihilation War. If you’re listening DnA, send the new Corps back to Tranta and make the Orienta Shard the permanent base for the new Nova Corps.

    The final scene where the Nova Prime starship was discovered was totally unexpected. I have always admired the trippy design of that ship and was overjoyed to see its return. Is it just shading or did the ship look battle damaged? Is it the same ship we originally saw in The Man Called Nova #1 long assumed to have been destroyed by Nebula during the Second Fall of Xandar? Is it the M2 Universe Nova dropping in for a visit? Will Monark Starstalker be found aboard the ship? I guess we have to wait another month to find out. Whatever the mystery of the ship turns out to be, I want to lobby for something else now. Please DnA, keep the ship around! The Corps needs a flagship and I can’t think of a better one than Rhomann Dey’s starship. I hope the onboard PRIME computer is up and running as I enjoyed Rich’s interaction with it during the original run of the series.

    Finally, there were a bunch of nuances I liked. First, the “Prime” nickname for Rich. I like that. I hope it’s a keeper. Secondly – the further revelations about gravimetric powers in the sequences with Morrow and Robbie. Morrow’s bounce-back of the Uncreated’s projectiles is an application that we haven’t seen before; and Rich’s talk with Robbie supports long held fan theories about Nova Force being related to graviton manipulation. Thirdly, the set up for Quasar’s return to the spaceways. It was great to see Wendell Vaughn back on the job as Protector of the Universe. I can’t wait for his Realm of Kings one-shot. Hopefully, we will be seeing a lot more of Wendell in the future as it is rumored that he will be joining the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy. Finally, I liked the rescue of Raza Longknife and hope to see him rejoin the Starjammers soon.

    There was one thing I didn’t like. Ravenous’ portrayal was inconsistent with his portrayal in Annihilation. In Annihilation, Ravenous went toe-to-toe with Firelord, Silver Surfer, and Ronan. He was portrayed as a tough, arrogantly confident being with Herald strength powers. However, for the past two issues of Nova, he’s been portrayed as weak and cowardly. I don’t get it. Does he have Herald strength or not? I know some fans have attributed his seeming lack of Herald strength powers to the conspicuous absence of his Currs, the apparent method he uses to channel Opposing Force. Whatever the reason, Ravenous was out of character for the past two issues and this change in characterization was not adequately explained in the storyline.

    Turning now to art and colors, I can only say once again that Divito’s depictions are magnificent to behold. I hope he stays on this book for the rest of the book’s run because no one does Nova better than Divito. Ditto for Hang as colorist. Acuna delivered another solid cover portraying the Corp in a military ground assault. This cover and the cover to #27 are among my top favorites for the series thus far. I was lucky enough to score one of Perkins’ Variant Edition covers and I must say his depiction of Nova is quite impressive. If Divito ever has to take a break, I wouldn’t mind seeing what Perkins could do with the art for the book.

    In the off chance that it’s not obvious by the tone of this review, I heartily recommend that you buy this issue of Nova and add the series to your pull list each month. I think if DnA continue to take the character in the direction of issue #28, this series will have a bright future. I really hope Marvel will start to market the military science-fiction fans as I think the storyline and the covers to this and last issue would really pique their interest and raise sales. Quite simply, Nova consistently raises the bar for superheroic military science-fiction. Thirty days is too long to wait for next month’s installment!

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    Guardians of the Galaxy #17 Review

    [[wysiwyg_imageupload:2944:]]

    Writers: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

    Artist: Brad Walker

    Colorist: Jay David Ramos

    Cover Artist: Daniel Acuna

     

    Warning: Contains Spoilers

     

    It’s like a Christmas morning experience once per month on the day Marvel releases each new issue of Guardians of the Galaxy. I can’t wait to open each issue and savor the surprises contained within. No character is safe and anything can happen in this book – as was proved over and over again in Issue #17.

    To recap, Warlock receives Starlord’s message from the future; but before he can act, the T-Bomb is detonated, tearing a hole in space-time which is quickly dubbed “The Fault.” Gamora and Warlock depart to try to repair The Fault; while Rocket, Groot, and the rest of the team transport to Attitlan to make sure the Inhumans don’t detonate any more T-Bombs. The Guardians arrive on Attitlan and the recriminations fly, leading to a scuffle; but the argument/scuffle are cut short when Attitlan is attacked by a large creature emerging from The Fault. The Inhumans and the Guardians join forces to stop the creature; but the Inhumans are also in a race against time to stop Attitlan from falling into The Fault. Maximus and Groot devise a plan to save the city. Their plan works and Martyr departs to aid Warlock and Gamora in their efforts to repair The Fault. Warlock succeeds in freezing the advance of The Fault. In a surprise move, Martyr then stabs him through the chest to fulfill her pact with Oblivion. Gamora kills Martyr in reprisal and rushes to assist Warlock. Warlock regains consciousness; but immediately transforms into The Magus! The Magus snaps Gamora’s neck and throws her into The Fault.

    This is going to be a tough review because there’s nothing wrong with this issue of the series. I do want to mention several things I really liked. To begin with, the team has really come together as a powerful, effective, and well functioning strike force. Unfortunately, this occurs just in time for the team to be fractured into several units and for two founding members to be (apparently) killed. I do hope that the deaths of Martyr and Gamora will somehow be reversed by the conditions of The Fault; as Gamora is a favorite character (especially now that she is fully healed and has her hair back); and Martyr was just beginning to become interesting.

    As usual, Rocket and Groot steal the show. Smart-assy hilarity spews from Rocket nearly every time he opens his mouth. The great thing about Rocket is that he is able to get away with all the humor without becoming a buffoonish character that nobody takes seriously. Rocket may be small in stature; but he is great in leadership – and a fighter I’d be happy to have at my side in a serious scrape. DnA finally explain why Groot went from haughtily loquacious in past characterizations to the rapidly losing its humorous appeal single-phrased “I am Groot.” It turns out that Groot is not only still loquacious – but also a towering genius at physics; and Maximus can understand all the nuances of meaning in what others hear as Groot merely repeating his name. It was nice to see Groot broken out of his role as the dumb lumbering powerhouse of the team – and using his until now hidden great intellect to save the day rather than just smashing everything that crosses his path. I hope a method is found to better communicate with Groot as it would be fun to see this aspect of the character further developed.

    That final sequence with Warlock transforming into The Magus was not entirely unexpected. Nevertheless, it adds a fine new twist to The Guardians’ storyline and I look forward to seeing where DnA take us next.

    I heartily welcome Walker’s return to the fold as artist this month. He’s really made this book his own; and I hope he stays on as artist for a good long time. Ramos’ colors are commendable as well. Acuna’s cover art for Guardians of the Galaxy is quite good, but he’s spoiled me with his more exciting cover art on the last three issues of Nova. Specifically, the action portrait shot of Warlock, Black Bolt, Gamora, and Medusa is technically well executed; but not particularly interesting, exciting, or an attention grabber. I just don’t think it’s going to motivate any first time reader to pick this book off the shelf to check it out.

    In short, DnA deliver to us once again a nice hot cup of outstanding cosmic para-military action-adventure. The Guardians of the Galaxy are truly the “Cosmic Avengers” that many have been asking for over the past several years; and I don’t understand why Avengers fans aren’t flocking to this book. Add this one to your pull list folks. It deserves a prominent place there for the foreseeable future.

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    Interview With Larry Kenney: Part Two: Thundercats Has His Tongue

    For the better part of two decades, voice over actor Larry Kenney has been associated with Lion-O, the leader of the Thundercats.

    For the better part of two decades, voice over actor Larry Kenney has been associated with Lion-O, the leader of the Thundercats.

    In Part One Kenney spoke with us about his career and the fun they had in the recording booth in the first part of the interview.

    In Part Two, Kenney continues to talk about the show and the possibilities of a future movie.

    CosmicBookNews: Well, considering the Thundercats were part of the 1980s, so was The Cosby Show

    LARRY KENNEY: [DOING A BILL COSBY IMPRESSION] Yes, it was very huge on the television and the children thought it was marvelous and the adults didn’t quite understand it.

    CosmicBookNews: [LAUGHS] That’s beautiful!

    LARRY KENNEY: [DOING A BILL COSBY IMPRESSION] Well, thank you very much!

    CosmicBookNews: The gentleman who did the voice of Panthro…

    LARRY KENNEY: Earl Hyman.

    We had two Earl H’s. We had Earl Hammond who was Mumm-Ra and many other characters and Earl Hyman who is still with us was Panthro and he was Bill Cosby’s father on The Cosby Show.

    CosmicBookNews: Did he ever share what it was like working on The Cosby Show?

    LARRY KENNEY: Yeah, he often mentioned what a great guy Bill Cosby was and he loved doing his show.

    But we really didn’t have that much time to swap stories because when we recorded The Thundercats we worked two days a month, we did two episodes each day, we would record four episodes a month.

    People would often ask us, “Why would it take so long?”

    Well, what the creators begin to do is write 13 scripts, because 13 that’s the standard minimum. You don’t know four or five weeks in, if it is a hit or if they are going to buy another 13 weeks. So unless you have lots of money in advance you can’t pay writers to write 13 more episodes and pay the animators to animate 13 more episodes.

    It took almost two and half years to record 130 episodes because we would do it twice — usually on Thursday or Friday once a month, and we had two episodes each of those days and we would break for lunch.

    CosmicBookNews: How did you get involved with the Thundercats?

    LARRY KENNEY: There was a process involved in it.

    My agent would call and say, for instance, “On Wednesday at 2 p.m. you are to go to 909 Third Avenue and up to the third floor, but stop by our office and pick some scripts the day before.”

    My agent would normally say, “We would like for you read for this character this character or this character.”

    The creators I would read for would show me pictures or give a brief description of what the show was about and vaguely what they would like for the character to sound like.

    And you give them your idea what you think the voice should sound like and sometimes the producers or director would ask, “Can you do the character’s voice a little younger or a little older?”

    So I read for the people from Rankin Bass, the people who were in charge of casting the show which included Mr. Rankin himself, and I had to read for him and Lee Donniker, who ended up directing all the shows.

    They asked me to read for Lion-O, and I think I read for Tigra.

    Someone, later, told me they auditioned 300 actors over a two week period. But about three weeks after I auditioned, my agent called and said, “You got the part of Lion-O on this new show.”

    I said, “Great.”

    And at the time it was wonderful because it was another job and it is also always nice to get another job.

    CosmicBookNews: But it was a job that got you an action figure!

    Did you get a chance to collect any of them?

    LARRY KENNEY: You know I have one Lion-O figure in my desk drawer here…hang on a sec…[DESK DRAWERS OPEN UP AND CLOSE]

    Lion-O, come out of there!

    [IN LION-O’S VOICE] Let me out! [LAUGHS].

    I have one Lion-O and a Jackalman who I also voiced.

    [IN JACKALMAN’S VOICE] We must get the Thundercats, yes?

    CosmicBookNews: Oh yes!

    He was annoying. [LAUGHS]

    LARRY KENNEY: He was a jackal. [LAUGHS]

    [IN JACKALMAN’S VOICE Let’s sneak up behind their backs and slit their throats! [JACKALMAN’S LAUGH]

    CosmicBookNews: That sound like Golem from 1970s cartoon The Hobbitt.

    LARRY KENNEY: Are you suggesting here, Don, that I perhaps ripped off a voice?

    CosmicBookNews: [LAUGHS] No! I am suggesting I can pick your inspirations.

    LARRY KENNEY: Oh that’s a good one that’s a great response! I’m gonna have to remember that.

    Golem isn’t that also the name from the Lord of the Rings?

    CosmicBookNews: Yeah.

    In fact, Rankin Bass in the 1970s did an animated Hobbit movie, with director John Huston doing the voice of Gandalf.

    LARRY KENNEY: No kidding.

    CosmicBookNews: Yeah, the character of Golem, if you listen, and stay away from the recent film versions with Andy Serkis as Golem, sounds like Jackalman.

    LARRY KENNEY: I didn’t see it. I will have to listen for it.

    When you’re talking about animated things, it’s a cartoon and they give you the description he’s evil he’s a mutant and he’s called the Jackalman and because jackals are supposed to be sneaky they’re like coyotes.

    I picture them with their backs slinking down and skulking and stalking their prey. The first thing that comes to an actor’s mind is that sound that [IN VOICE] Snidely Whiplash, “I’m going to get you my dear.”

    The characters tend to sound the same.

    But I will listen for it.

    CosmicBookNews: Please take it as a compliment.

    LARRY KENNEY: Oh, I will.

    I was mostly kidding.

    CosmicBookNews: Mostly kidding? [LAUGHS]

    To shift gears, you said before the interview that Rankin Bass were trying to do something that was not so violent and more wholesome, but these days, wholesome has such a negative/syrupy connotation.

    LARRY KENNEY: Yeah, I know.

    CosmicBookNews: But you were telling me they were really trying not as violent as the other cartoons that were popular in the 1980s.

    LARRY KENNEY: I don’t think that Rankin Bass ever did anything that wasn’t top notch. You go back to Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer which was from my childhood with Burl Ives as the narrator and something else with Fred Astaire, and they always did top notch productions.

    CosmicBookNews: Dan Gilvazan, who voiced Bumblebee for The Transformers, said that some people criticized the cartoons for being half hour cartoons for toys. But he said it was the toy companies who provided the money for excellent creators to tell stories

    LARRY KENNEY: Interesting. I like that.

    I certainly like that and I agree with that thought. I certainly haven’t given much thought to asking, “Were we doing a half hour commercials for toys?”

    You would have to ask the producers why they decided to do it to begin with I don’t think that’s why they decided to do it.

    You certainly know that at a certain point it became obvious, I don’t know if it was in the 1960s or the 1970s when started, making these action figures that sell.

    I think in my memory, not from any knowledge of the business I remember G.I. Joe commercials for the toy. I don’t remember any action figures for the cartoons before when I was kid.

    CosmicBookNews: Yeah.

    You weren’t buying Zorro action figures with Guy Williams modeled for the toy.

    LARRY KENNEY: Exactly, so I don’t think anyone can think and invest all this money to begin with to create episodes of a show that may never get on the air just so they could make a lot of money to make action figures.

    But that aspect is there once you got a hit show the, toy companies come to you and buy the rights to make action figures.

    What are you going to say, “No?”

    CosmicBookNews: Exactly.

    LARRY KENNEY: It helps perpetuate and enhance the visibility of your own product. I remember taking my oldest daughter who is in her 30s, and there was like three rows of Thundercat figures at Toys R Us.

    Even if you never had seen the show and you’re a kid and you go there and see these rows of toys, you will say, “I want to see that show.”

    CosmicBookNews: Right!

    Speaking of the show, talk to me about the infamous out takes www.cheezey.org/thundercats/sounds/outtakes

    Did you have any idea they would survive so long?

    LARRY KENNEY: Not really.

    We were adult actors and we had people with great senses of humor and ask any actors, you’re going to show off at any chance you get.

    Anyway, you’re working and are serious about doing the show, but when you mess up, you are going to say, “You dumb [f-word]!”

    [LAUGHS]

    You never think it is never going to be heard and this in 1983 and no internet. At least everyone in the world didn’t have a computer.

    We had no idea these things were going to be everywhere.

    [LAUGHS]

    Every actor who did a project like this knew the engineer or recording engineer and was probably going to tape something like that, that was said on tape.

    The engineers probably kept those tapes, and maybe at his Christmas party for his friends he would say, “Listen to what the guys on the Thundercats say when they think no one is going to hear it.”

    Now all of a sudden 25 years later, it is on the internet for everyone in the world to hear.

    It was a little bit of a shock to us at first, “Oh god. If they hear this there goes the whole nice image people had regarding the Thundercats.”

    I thought everybody’s going to say, “What foul mouths they had.”

    And the exact opposite has happened. Everyone is saying, “Wow that’s funny.”

    We were just actors having a good time.

    It is what anybody else at their job would say when the boss’s back is turned and when you’re not talking to your client, you say to your friends or co-workers, “You hear what that dumbass said?”

    But I was really worried at first that small kids would hear it and say, “Mommy, you hear what Lion-O said?”

    But that’s not something to worry about.

    CosmicBookNews: And obviously the actors were not being prima donnas about it.

    LARRY KENNEY: As evidenced by the laughter you hear in the room afterwards.

    When you watch a movie and they show the out takes at the end of comedies, you know one actor will say something to another and everyone laughs because they know they’re not serious.

    When you are doing this sort of work, it may sound strange when you are reading the lines and you have to record it seriously.

    [IN LION-O’S VOICE] “Cheetarah. Snarf. We’ve got to save these people!”

    I’m an actor you want to convey that feeling and you feel that so, but every once in a while, you need to break the tension, so that’s one of the ways actors do it.

    CosmicBookNews: Have you heard anything about any future Thundercats projects?

    LARRY KENNEY: Every few years there’s a rumor on the internet the people are going to call me or e-mail about and tell me there’s going to be a new “Thundercats” show or movie.

    So far they have never panned out.

    But I don’t want to say I know this for a fact but the latest rumors I’ve heard, is that Warner Bros. are involved, which would make sense, since they’re the ones that put out the DVDs and who are putting out the DVDs of the episodes.

    I don’t know, it would seem logical to me that if sales of this went well and if they are monitoring sales and if there is a market still out there for Thundercats, they might consider a live action or animated movie.

    [NOTE: A CGI-related Thundercats movie was in the works, but as of Aug. 2, Thundercatslair.org, had confirmed it was shelved.]

    CosmicBookNews: Would you mind if they reinvented the Thundercats like how Battlestar Galactica was reinvented or would you like to see them pick up where the show left off?

    LARRY KENNEY: Uh…that would be a tough one.

    I don’t even think that way. I don’t think like a producer. My biggest hope is they keep the sensitivity of the show, the over all feel to the show – the commitment to the Code of Thundera.

    Like you said, wholesome has a negative connotation, but keep it wholesome.

    You couldn’t just put the same old show back on the air – times have changed and animation has changed.

    They would probably use the language that you heard on the out takes [LAUGHS] but if they do make changes the look of the characters, the mission, I do hope they would keep the good feeling of the show.

    CosmicBookNews: Like Cheetarah is now some crack addicted prostitute.

    LARRY KENNEY: Yeah!

    Keep it so people would recognize it as Thundercats.

    CosmicBookNews: One last question, was it ever explained why explained why Lion-O grew up and Wilykit and Wilykat had stunted growth?

    LARRY KENNEY: [LAUGHS] You know, I never thought about it. I couldn’t even begin to answer you.

    I’d have to go back and watch it again.

    I think it may have been explained they were kept young, weren’t they in some kind of chamber?

    CosmicBookNews: Yeah, they were in sleeping chambers.

    LARRY KENNEY: I don’t know.

    CosmicBookNews: Oh well.

    Do you have any current projects people can look out for you in?

    LARRY KENNEY: I was the announcer on “Best Week Ever” on VH-1. I’m the guy that said, “It’s everything you love! Everything you missed! Everything you want to see again!”

    [LAUGHS]

    I can still be heard as Count Chockula, Sonny the Coo-Coo Bird.

    I’m also the guy on the Skittles commercials that says, “Taste the rainbow” or “Feel the rainbow.”

    CosmicBookNews: Would you like another cartoon series?

    LARRY KENNEY: Yeah, sure.

    That’s what I do for a living. I’d love to do another Thundercats type thing and contribute to its success.

    CosmicBookNews: And we wish you success.

    Thanks for talking with us, Larry.

    LARRY KENNEY: Thank you. This was fun.