MCU ’22 Pitch 7: Heroes for Hire 2: Operation: Kingfall

The Deal: I pitch movies set in the Marvel or DC cinematic universes. Also other things. This pitch is a direct sequel to Heroes for Hire 1.

The Pitch: We start on a briefing largely presented by Daredevil and She-Hulk. She takes point, and has a more aggressive, prosecutorial demeanor. “Some of you have been Avengers, most of you have met them. This isn’t a task for them; theirs is a world of moral certitude, wholly pure good versus nightmarish evil. Our task is more subtle and more difficult, requiring us to exist within a world of gray.”

“I prefer black and white,” Punisher says, slamming home a magazine for emphasis; for further emphasis, he isn’t wearing the red skull uniform from the Thunderbolts, but his black and white uniform. “A world where the bad guys are dead, and everyone else is safer.”

“Please hold comments to the end,” Daredevil says coolly.

She-Hulk eyes him angrily, seething with a desire to smash, before continuing calmly, with a glint of humor in her eye. “The Kingpin is, first and foremost, a real-estate mogul. It is through those channels, and using those contacts, that Fisk built an underworld empire with ties to every known ethnic gang in New York City, with tendrils that go up and down the coast, and reach all the way into Pride territory in Los Angeles. It’s also where he derives his legitimacy and power; he’s been on a first-name basis with every Mayor we’ve had since the Chitauri invasion, and not a one of them has condemned him, not even when he spent time in a federal prison. He is more dangerous than any other criminal figure precisely because he has that deniability, that presumption of innocence, that invincibility. Leave that intact and he won’t see the inside of another cell, but damage it, and he becomes vulnerable.”

“Get me a vantage point and enough gun to cross the distance,” Punisher begins, “I’ll show him just how vulnerable he is.”

“This man’s a psychopath. You all know that, right?” Hawkeye asks, pointing a thumb at Punisher.

“I’m sorry, are arrows suddenly nonlethal?” Punisher asks.

“Quiet,” Daredevil yells. “We’re not here to police one another. Today, we’ve got a higher call to answer. Some of our alliances are going to be uneasy ones, but if we’re taking the fight to Wilson Fisk- and I mean really taking it to him- we’re going to have to accept any help we can get. But… I understand everyone has to follow their own conscience. Anyone who doesn’t want to work with Frank, doesn’t have to. But there are ways that he can hurt Fisk’s empire that the rest of us cannot.”

“That’s because he’s a domestic terrorist,” Hawkeye says.

“Not all of us are lucky enough to be spies and have SHIELD and Nick Fury okay the bombs we set,” Castle says. “And I’ve never killed anyone I didn’t intend to. You think your aim’s that good? You think Sokovia would agree?“ Hawkeye tries to throw a punch, but Spider-Man catches his fist with a web.

“Oh, come on,” Hawkeye says, as Punisher reels back to sucker-punch him. But he takes a boxing-glove arrow to the face, and we pan to see Kate Bishop is the one who fired it.

“I have always wanted to use the boxing glove arrow,” she says, overly proud of herself.

Punisher turns back angrily towards her. He does not draw, but even his scowl’s enough she kind of flinches. But Daredevil’s there, the angel on his shoulder. “Punching a man while he’s webbed up? Come on, Frank; you deserved that one.”

Punisher glares a second longer, before smiling, licking the blood off his lip. “Wasn’t very sporting,” he admits. “I’ve never had a lot of patience for Avengers sanctimony. They’re sloppy. Maybe when the threats get big enough, they deserve some more leeway… but you’ll never convince me that putting Stark in that armor instead of an actual soldier didn’t lead to a higher body count. And I’m still not sold on Operation: Kingfall. Or joining, however temporarily, your little band of Heroes for Hire. I’ve had a bad history with mercenaries.”

There’s a lot of that sentiment, actually; they came, out of respect, to hear the pitch, but so far the pitch has been more a presumption that they’re in. “Think that’s my cue,” Luke says, and stands up. Luke is the hype man for the Heroes for Hire; always has been. But this is still going to need one hell of a sell job. “I been a lot of things, in my day. But the one I kept coming back to was helping people. I know a lot of you were here through the worst of it. Kingpin took near everything away from us. So this could feel like revenge, petty, and mean-spirited, and frankly, beneath all of us.

“I also know those were lean times. We had to share the pot we pissed in. And I wouldn’t blame anyone who couldn’t do that all over again.” His face falls, like this is the ‘everyone who isn’t in can leave moment,’ “But the trick is we won’t have to. Kingpin’s stepped on a lot of toes, hurt a lot of good, reputable people’s businesses. And this is New York, so of course some of them are billionaire industrialists who don’t take kindly to having a criminal elbow his way to the head of the table. What I mean to say in all of this is: we’ve already been hired, ethical, corporate sponsorship. I’m talking salary, comped meals, new threads.”

Colleen Wing slaps Danny on the back, assuming Luke means Rand is picking up the check. He plays coy, but also lets everyone make that assumption. Most of us will, too, because Luke continues with the pitch. “Did I forget to mention he insisted we have this thing catered?” Servers start bringing in a spread on carts in silver serving dishes, fancy things, and at least for a moment, this wins people over.

We cut to later. Hawkguy is talking to Spider-Man over pizza; Spider-Man has his mask rolled up so he can eat. “We’re Avengers,” Hawkeye complains. “You’re supposed to have my back. I’m telling- wait, who’s in charge of the Avengers? Is it me?”

“It can’t be you. It’d be me before it was you.”

“Get back to me when you hit puberty. You’re just lucky there wasn’t a Young Avengers, then, or you’d be sitting at the kiddy table.”

“The kiddy table?” Kate asks.

“And by that I meant…” Clint turns towards Spider-Man, only to see that he’s leapt to the other side of the room. “He’s supposed to have my back…”

“That’s why you have me.”

“No one else brought their sidekicks…” he mumbles.

“I’m your partner– not that way. And I’m the only person but the guy in the red leather pants- which I’m very jealous of- whose gone toe-to-toe with Kingpin.”

“We’ve all, oh you mean when he rag-dolled you around a toy store. Sure. That’s a great reason to bring you along. Like distracting a pit bull with its favorite chew toy.”

It’s a great opportunity to catch up with some old friends, Jessica Jones checking out Hellcat’s new costume, that kind of thing. I’m not going to lie, I’m a little behind on the Netflix Marvel shows (I think Luke Cage and Defenders are the only ones I finished watching all the way through), but there were a lot of great characters so there’s plenty of room to have them bounce off of one another.

Daredevil catches Punisher sneaking out. “I work better alone,” Frank says, before we know Daredevil is there.

“Maybe. But you haven’t come any closer than the rest of us to neutralizing Fisk.”

Neutralizing. Cute. Put me in a room with him, and he won’t leave it.”

“We don’t want him murdered. A dead Kingpin just opens up his influence and his territories to a successor. But a deposed Kingpin, one who falls, and hard, as an example to anyone else who would build that kind of empire…”

“What would you need me to do?”

“There are industrial drug processing facilities; most of the heroin on this seaboard pass through there.”

“None of it belongs to Fisk or his empire.”

“I think, whether his hands are technically on any criminal activity in the city, one of the reasons he has the clout he has is that he’s guaranteed the safety of every criminal working. Maybe they aren’t his facilities, but damaging them damages him, regardless.”

“Why not just call the cops?”

“I did. One of them was raided, eight weeks back. Everything was boxed up, put into evidence. Two weeks later it was back in one of their facilities, like it never happened. Same serial numbers. Same bricks of drugs. There isn’t a cop they can’t own or threaten- none with any kind of life expectancy.” That pisses Frank off.

“You make a compelling argument, councilor.”

“You going to be okay?”

“You aren’t that kind of counselor.”

“I’m not trying to be. But I’ve been alone. Isolated. It’s better to have people.”

“Not doing what I do.”

“I think especially doing what you do. Talk to Nick Fury. Talk to Hawkeye. Even if you don’t want to come in and work with them, doesn’t mean grabbing a beer couldn’t help you feel more human.”

“Humans make mistakes, sometimes lethal ones. I don’t want to be a man. I don’t want to feel. I want to be a machine, one that punishes the ones nobody else can.”

“Fine, Frank. But at the end of this, I’m buying you a beer. You don’t even have to drink it, but you’ll sit and listen while I drink mine.”

“Feels like a very Catholic punishment,” Frank says with a smile.

“Thought you’d appreciate that…”

During the party, Jessica conspicuously takes a call; Danny will be missing when she does. She’ll be back by the time things are winding down, the last one remaining is Jessica Jones. She’s had a few, and he tries to be gentle with her, and offers to get her a rideshare.

“Can’t. I threw my last driver into the Hudson. It was a case. He assaulted some fares, blackmailed them with photos. I might have taken the case a little personally.”

“He live?”

“He limps. But he gave up the extortion and assault.”

“And you’re stuck relying on the kindness of strangers.”

“Usually Trish gives me a ride. Did. Until she started working for the Single Female Lawyer.”

“It’s good to see you.”

“Careful. I wouldn’t want to upset Claire. I still owe her for some stitches.”

“She… moved on.”

“Oh…”

He gives her a ride home. She has him stop, neither of them realizing until that moment that they’re where Jessica killed his wife. “I know what you lost here,” she says. “And I need to tell you I’m sorry. I’m sorry you lost Reva. I’m sorry you lost me…”

“I didn’t have to lose you. What happened? That wasn’t you. Not telling me, though, letting me care about you without telling me… that was.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I know.” The scene is him comforting her, but then asking, “You need some coffee?”

“I am one coffee short of an Irish coffee.”

They find an all-night diner. “You mind if I ask what happened, with the nurse?” she asks.

I happened, mostly. End of the day, she didn’t want to date one of us; I think she chose me because I felt like a less self-destructive version of Matt… until I wasn’t.”

“Self-destructive? I have no idea what that’s like,” she says wryly.

“Quite the pair we make.”

“Flawful, is what Trish calls it, though half the time she pronounces it like filafel and I get hungry.”

“But either way, you ‘feel awful?’” he asks with a grin, but then it fades. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I tried. I wanted to. I stayed close, because I knew I didn’t have a right to tell you, just to make me feel better, but I was hoping an opportunity would present, where it would be for you, even if it also made me feel better. Only… carrying it made me a wreck. And then you noticed… and tried to unwreck me.”

“That… is not how I’d have described that night.”

“Different kind of wrecking…” they both share a smile, “but I knew I screwed up. I couldn’t fix it without hurting you. I couldn’t stop it without hurting you. It was a slow-motion accident- I could see it all happening, but I couldn’t do anything but watch.”

“You know what I hate? You believe that’s true. To this day. You don’t understand how different things could have been, if you’d just been straight with me.”

“Maybe,” she’s noncommittal, and looks away.

“Jess,” he puts his hand over hers, and she meets his gaze.

“I’m still in love with you.”

“That was not what I expected.”

“Sorry,” she tries to take her hand back, but he holds it.

“Wait. Just because it wasn’t what I expected, doesn’t mean I want you to go.” He positions his hand so he’s cradling hers, instead. “It took me a long time to see why it hurt so much, finding out the way I did. It wasn’t just the betrayal, it was because you were the first person since Reva- the only person since Reva… I don’t know. I don’t know if I can do this. But I have tried to move past you, and I don’t think I want to. But if- and I mean if– it’s got to be slow. I’m not taking you home- well, I’m taking you home, but not- you know what I mean.”

“So you’re into me but you don’t want to bang it out? Maybe you aren’t right for me.”

“I think between the two of us our issues would be the life’s work of a gifted shrink- if either of us were the kind to see one. It’s a lot. It’s going to take a lot of time. Patience.”

“Not my strong suits, I know.” She’s stand-offish, before she switches to vulnerable. “But some things are worth working for.”

In the background, through the front window of the diner, Felicia swings by. We cut to her swinging through street level, before she lands on a roof. A moment later Spider-Man lands on the wall next to her. “Felicia, fancy swinging into you, here. Wait, that was lame…”

“Spider,” she says. “Were you stalking me?”

“Stalking? No. I might have been swinging around outside the party for a couple of hours hoping I’d see you because… I wanted to talk to you.”

“Should I consider myself down one more life? Because if you’re here to lecture me about the terrible things I’ve done, you can save your breath. You can’t make me feel worse than I already do, letting an animal like Kingpin corner me like that.”

“Hey! Whoa! Felicia… I wanted to talk because… because I talked to Mr. Murdock.”

“Mr. Murdock?”

“He… did some legal work for my family, and it’s still weird calling him ‘Matt.’ But he told me… what you went through, and that part of how they manipulated you into stealing again was playing me against you. And… I feel terrible for putting you in that position. I wanted what was best for you, but I see now that I put you in a position where you could be hurt, instead. That’s why I came tonight. It’s why I want to help take Kingpin down. Because I know there’s no way I could say sorry enough to make up for it, but I can at least make sure the people who hurt you see justice.”

“Oh, Spider,” she says, and peels up his mask to kiss him.

We cut back to Luke, waving from his car as Jessica enters her building. Her office is unlocked, and for a moment we’ll play up the idea of danger. A figure is seated behind her desk, cloaked in shadow. “Well?”

She flicks on the lights, blinding Iron Fist. “These things take time. Before tonight, he wouldn’t even talk to me. And I’m surprised you’re not using Trish. Everyone else seems to be.”

“She’s got a conflict, since she worked for him. And was busy tonight. But obviously you were my first choice.”

“I’m not screwing him for you.”

“I wouldn’t ask. If you screw him, screw him only for you. But this… this is for Luke. I love him like a brother, but… you see the worst side of people. So do I. Luke sees the best. Even when he’s dealing with the worst.”

“Wow. You just aren’t capable of saying the right thing.”

“I didn’t mean you. I more meant the Hand. And vampires, apparently. And I don’t want Luke accidentally selling his soul to the devil.”

“Especially not if he’s going to drag the rest of us down to hell with him?”

“Luke’s my priority. The rest of us are certainly a compelling second. And if you’re not concerned, you can always quit.”

“You’re right. He was evasive. He doesn’t want to talk about it. Which means there’s something there. And I can’t let him screw this up just because I’m screwed up.”

Iron Fist stands up, and starts moving towards her door. “For what it’s worth, he always talked about you. Even when he was with Claire.”

“That’s sweet. And you should know, if you break into my place again, I’ll give you an enema with your own Iron Fist.”

“I have never seen what he sees in you.”

“Sorry you’re not his type,” she shuts the door on him.

We cut to a storage facility. Close in on a lock on a storage space, before She-Hulk’s green hand seizes it and tears the lock clear.

Hellcat opens the door, while talking. “I feel like, as my lawyer, you should probably be telling me not to do things like this.”

She-Hulk steps inside the storage space. “I’m not your lawyer, I’m your employer. It wouldn’t be ethical for me to also represent you. But I can talk to Matt about representing you. And we’ve tried the legal route. There isn’t a judge in the city Kingpin hasn’t bought or threatened; most wouldn’t even take my calls, let alone consider a document request.”

“And what makes you think Kingpin has actual documents in here, let alone ones confirming criminality?”

“He doesn’t- at least, not here. This is the start of the maze, not the end of it.”

“What makes you think there’s any cheese at the center, though?”

“Why isn’t this all an elaborate trap? Because he came up through real estate. Which means somewhere, he has to have records. Maybe not the kinds that would stand up in a court, but at least the kind that would stand up to other criminals. This is a start.”

We do a flyover of an industrial facility as the sun rises over the horizon, before finding Frank at a high position, overlooking the area with binoculars. He watches a guard exit a door, and jots down the time, before opening a thermos and pouring himself a cup of coffee. Daredevil lands behind him.

“You make more noise than you think you do,” Frank says, not looking up.

“You’d be surprised.”

“This isn’t a two-man job. All you’re doing is increasing the chances we get seen.”

“No. I’m here for support.” He’s got a satchel, with some kind of food that travels, maybe a couple of hot dogs. Frank brought supplies, and he looks at them. “Sometimes a hot meal makes a difference.” Frank shrugs, and accepts a hot dog.

Frank and Daredevil eat together. “Take it you lost the toss,” Frank says.

“I brought you in because I can see past our differences. But I also know not everyone can. I volunteered to work with you.”

“So no one else would have to.”

“So no one who couldn’t see the utility in what you do. And because I’m the only one who had a chance of convincing you not to just kill everyone here.”

“Couldn’t.” Frank hands him the binoculars, before stopping himself, “Right. The patrols they use at night, are hired hands, from a legit security company. Innocents. Likely means the cleaning staff are, too. Could be others. We’ll have to be careful.”

“I’m not just talking sparing the janitors. I want to save as many lives as I can.”

“You can’t save everybody,” Frank says bitterly.

“I had to learn that the hard way. But we save who we can.”

“I’m not taking chances. Not with my life. Not with yours. Not with anyone’s.”

“Fine. The plan will be yours. But I go in first. I put down everyone nonlethally that I can.”

“And if I have to plug someone to save you?”

“You’ll do what you have to do.”

“But can you live with that?”

“Are you, a lapsed Catholic, asking a fellow lapsed Catholic, if I can handle the guilt?”

“They really drill it into you, don’t they. But we find a way to get by.”

“It’s a sin not to.”

Later, She-Hulk arrives to her office with two coffees. She puts one on the desk beside Trish, in her civilian clothes. “You get any sleep?” She-Hulk asks.

“I’m a cat. We’re nocturnal.”

“I’m not going to have to find a place for a litterbox for you, am I?”

“Only if you’ve got a really weird fetish, and triple my fee.”

“You’re joking.”

“Of course. The tabloids would pay ten times my fee for the pictures alone. If I were for that kind of sale, I wouldn’t be working for you for a little scratch.”

“Cute. What have you found?”

“Raw intel, so far.” Trish leans over the printer, as it spits out another page. “I’ve been pulling any document related to the papers we found. But it’s all gibberish legalese. I could negotiate you under the table if it were something related to signing for a pop album… but this is way beyond me.”

“That’s because it’s shell companies within shells.” Jen starts arranging papers on her table. “This company exists only as a legal fiction- essentially a cut-out pass-through for this entity, which is essentially a holding company for this one…”

“I honestly can’t tell if you’re Beautiful Minding or just screwing with me.”

“I… might have taken a few of the pages home with me and been up all night researching in parallel…”

“I knew it!”

“That’s why you’re the PI.”

“But Fisk must have an army of lawyers. It would take forever to decode all of this, and in the interim they could be spinning up all new fictions to distance themselves from whatever we find.”

“I had that thought, so I called in a few favors.” Jeri Hogarth and Foggy Nelson enter, trailed a few steps behind by Matt Murdock.

We cut to Alias Investigations. There’s a knock on the door, and Jessica starts. She slept in her clothes, and stumbles to her door. It’s Luke, with food. “Figured after a night like that, you were going to need something to settle your stomach. Breakfast burrito?”

“Depends. Were you planning on staying to eat with me?”

“I can go, if that’s a deal breaker.”

“The opposite. I’ve had enough breakfast burritos come back on me, I don’t know it’s worth the risk. But for company? I can choke back my gag reflex.” We can tell from the look on his face he might have something to say about her gag reflex,” she notices what she said, too late. “Don’t. Too early.”

“A gentleman never comments on a lady’s gag reflex.”

“You’re as much of a gentleman as I am a lady,” Jessica says, taking a very unladlylike bite from her burrito. “God, that’s better than sex.”

“Not the way I remember it,” Luke says around a daintier bite.

“No, but I’m not sure my stomach could handle that much excitement. I… have something of a confession. About last night. It wasn’t a coincidence, that I was the last one there, or that I had a few too many. I wanted to talk to you… and I was anxious about it, so…”

“I put that together. That’s why I’m here. I wanted to talk to you, too. It’s why I offered you the ride. It’s why we stopped for coffee.”

“That’s… part of it. But I was also… I know it isn’t Danny, bankrolling you going after Kingpin. He tried to keep his cards close to the vest, but you and I both know Danny Rand would have been basking in the spotlight last night… if he was the one footing the bill. And it was written all over his face, too. So if not Danny, who? I doubt Potts or Stark would pony up, after we stole their Hulkbuster.”

“Borrowed, technically.”

“And I know there are a fair few billionaires in the city, and they’re just as petty and preening as you’d expect. But who hates Fisk enough to risk pissing him off?”

“Jess, this is just a social call.”

“Luke- it can’t be. We can’t compartmentalize. We can’t be Luke and Jessica in the sheets, Power Man and whatever on the streets.”

Power Man? I guess I just think of us as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones wherever we’re at.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I do. And I get it. Believe me, I looked this gift horse in the mouth. I looked everywhere else I could think to, too. Guy has no criminal record, no known associations with any crime, organized, petty, or otherwise. If I didn’t believe this was both the right thing to do and safe, I wouldn’t have asked any of you to join me. I care about you too much.”

“Danny will be touched- as touched as he’s capable of being, anyway.”

“He can be a prick, but he’s capable of more than you might guess. And I wasn’t talking about Danny. I care about you too much.”

“I think I feel my burrito coming up.”

“I hear you. It’s too early, in the morning and in whatever this is-” she lunges for her trashcan and dry heaves. “Oh, you meant literally.”

“False alarm,” she says. “Wait.” She dry heaves again. “Nope. I think we’re safe.” Luke is staring at her. “What? I get egg in my hair?” We can see that he’s staring at her with adoration.

“You look perfect, Jessica.”

“And you’re-” she dry heaves again.

“Maybe the burritos were a mistake.”

“No,” she says, looking up, “they were worth it. Oh god-” she lunges one last time, and we cut away before we find out if it was dry or not.

We’re back in She-Hulk’s offices. We pan across a table that has been colonized by take-out containers from several different restaurants, to signify they’ve been here through three meals worth of day. To justify dragging her in, Hogarth gets to give the summation of what they’ve found. The gist is that Fisk’s paper enterprise, while spanning continents and wrapped in incorporations from dozens of countries, at some point they all refer back to contracts or other companies that mention one location. It seems to be a clearing house, where all of their full contracts are stored.

Quick cuts, of the employees closing up a bank. We watch the last of them leave, and pan up to see Spider-Man and Black Cat swing to the top of the building. She lands a moment before him, opens an electrical panel and places clips bypassing electrical circuits. “So…” Spider-Man lets the word out slowly, “I know I said this seemed like it was more in your wheelhouse, so I’d follow your lead? Well, I’m regretting that decision, and, if I’m being completely honest, freaking out a little bit.”

Cut inside a vent, as Black Cat leads him through. “Trust me, Spider. I’ve been breaking and entering since you were just an egg in a sack.”

“Wait. Are you older than me? And why does that make my tights tighter, or is it just the confined space?”

“Are you sure that’s not the view?” We don’t have to show that with the two of them wriggling through vents he’s got a nice view of her butt, but we should at least show the reverse, before he tries to maintain professionalism.

“And how long have you been doing this?”

“Dad took me on my first bank robbery when I was three, unless you count the ones he carried me in a harness.” She stops, and uses an EM measuring device to test if the alarms are still operational. Quick insert shot of the bypassed electrical panel on the roof.

They drop directly into the safe deposit box room. Felicia has a list of deposit boxes she will quickly and expertly open as they talk. “Do most banks just have a direct route through the vents to their safe deposit boxes? Because knowing that might have made me consider a different career trajectory.”

“Most don’t. This one had a clerk get stuck behind the time lock one night; she suffered some mild brain damage by the time they found her in the morning, and the insurance company said they’d either need to remove the time lock or connect to the vents to ensure no one could suffocate inside. Most of this job is research and knowledge; only 10% of it is catsuits and air vents.”

“That is the best part.”

“Onlybecause the renovations are recent. Vents get super dusty. The fur on my forearms, that’s as much for cleaning as I go as for style.”

“Yeah, definitely. I wash this suit so often. You end up with the weirdest stains from crawling on walls.”

The boxes are filled with MCU McGuffins, maybe a Gem of Cyttorak, or things of that ilk- things that link to heroes, to villains. And if some end up being fakes, who cares? Black Cat places the last of them down in front of Spider-Man.

“That’s everything?”

“Yep.”

“Are you just that good, or is everything a lot less secure than I’d like to think it is.”

“Never give a girl a choice like that if you want a straight answer, Spider.”

“I don’t think I’m going to sleep tonight.”

“If you want, I’ll let you, but I have a feeling either way, you’ll be spending the night with me.”

We cut to a large, fortified facility. There are armed guards everywhere. “And we’re sure about this?” Hellcat, back in costume, asks. “I’m not strictly against being shot at, but those mercs look like they know what they’re doing, and I’d hate to get to the end only to hear that our princess is in another castle.”

“That’s why I’m here,” Jen says. “I’m going to give you a Hulk-sized distraction.”

“And by that you mean…”

“You could pirouette through the front gate in your birthday suit and no one would even glance in your direction.”

“I think you underestimate the power of my birthday suit.”

“I… think if I respond to that I might create a hostile work environment. Trish may have been my first girl-crush.”

“That… was probably the sweetest come-on I’ve heard in a long while.”

“I just, I mean teen me would squee at getting to meet you.”

“And now-you?”

“Trying to keep professional distance. But open to coffee, maybe, once I’m no longer technically your employer. But for now- get in position. Your distraction’s coming right up.” She-Hulk jumps down to street level. Hellcat swings down, in the opposite direction.

The compound has a wall around it, large enough that guards with automatic rifles are posted on top of it. She-Hulk runs through one of the pillars, sending chunks of stone flying. The guards scramble in the direction of the collapse, only for another of the pillars to give as she runs through it.

We watch as Hellcat swings into the courtyard, and slips inside. She checks the specs she downloaded for the building, on which she’s highlighted to most likely room. She slips inside a room to avoid a guard. When one enters behind her from the opposite direction, she knocks him out, and drags him inside, pocketing his keycard.

Hellcat slinks down the hall, then down some stairs. She finds a locked door where she expected the records to be. Because I’d kind of like to give Hellcat a moment in the sun, I’d make it a guard room, instead; so she has to have a quick, John Wickian fightscene in the confines of the monitor/guard supply room, using her tools and what’s around to fight off a half-dozen guards, using the confined space to her advantage. On the opposite end of the room there’s another door, this one leading into the storage she was looking for.

The room is larger than she expected, with wall to wall cabinets. Hellcat calls Jen over an earpiece. “Found it. But there’s a lot more in here than I planned for. How long can your distraction keep them occupied?”

Cut to She-Hulk, who is essentially juggling mercenaries in the air. “The tough part is mostly keeping them from hurting themselves or each other.” Another arrives, and fires off a shot. She kicks her shoe off with enough force that it knocks him back into a wall, struggling to breath.

Back with Hellcat. She finds two extra heavy duty cabinets- high tech, almost alien looking. “I think I’ve found the important stuff. You think you can carry out two cabinets?’

“Drop me a pin.” She-Hulk smashes her way inside. Hellcat shows her the fancy cabinets, and she tucks one under each arm. “See you back at the office,” she says, and then jumps away.

There’s a knock on the door at Nelson and Murdock. It’s night. The DA walks in. “This better be good, Karen. I only came because of your help in the Fisk case. Don’t make me regret it.”

“You won’t,” Karen says, leading them into the conference room.

Foggy is there, with documents spread out over the conference table. “As you may not be aware, my firm is suing Fisk Industries for predatory lending practices, monopolistic practices, and fraud, amongst other things, related to his development projects in Hell’s Kitchen. As part of routine discovery, his lawyers delivered 13 boxes of documents, 13, on a manifest with only 12. We only realized the error after our staff had spent hours perusing the documents, including how they linked to our case I suspect the manifest implies they intended to omit documents that should have been handed over, and either someone in their offices made a mistake or had a fit of conscience. Now, it is my legal opinion, as an officer of the court, that it is my duty to turn these documents over to your office where they seem to be part of a criminal conspiracy, and I’m going to stress that as soon as this information is understood to be in our possession, steps will likely be taken to remove incriminating evidence or goods. Act now, or I might as well be giving you really itchy toilet paper- but if you act now, I’m likely talking to the next Mayor of New York.”

Finally, we cut to Kingpin, sleeping peacefully. He’s woken by a phone call. He’s largely unconcerned, because as he explains it, “Even if they managed to take sensitive documents, they’ll have no provenance, no chain of custody. They won’t be able to prove they haven’t printed them up themselves, no legal way to tie them to our operations. Of course. Deal with it in your way.”

Kingpin hangs up, then goes to a wall safe, and opens it, to check for something. It can be a McGuffin, or something related to Vanessa. It’s there, and safe.

Suddenly, we’re watching him through his security cameras. Before he shuts the safe, the camera goes to static. As he passes through them and off camera, they go off, one by one, until he lays in his bed. The footage of him opening his safe plays again, and we see a zoom as he inputs in his passcode 71967; it’s Black Cat, hacked into his security feed, watching his cameras on the smart lenses embedded in her domino mask.

“You’ve got the papers?” she asks, turning to Spider-Man.

“Picked them up from Murdock myself. Is… this okay?”

“Cold feet? Maybe booties aren’t the right footwear for a New York night.”

“I know he hurt you. Hurt a lot of people. But we’re framing him.”

“No. We’re just putting evidence of his crimes somewhere it will actually connect back to him. But if you don’t want to, I can finish the job myself.”

He exhales. “No. You’re right. He’s only out and hurting people based on technicalities, gaming the system. Just like he gamed me to hurt you. That’s more than enough reason to do this.”

They sneak inside. Felicia opens the safe, and they place documents and stolen items inside, enough that it would barely fit, if one of the papers weren’t blocking the lock- the kind of mistake you could understand someone making late at night.

They sneak out again. On the roof, Felicia bypasses one alarm, which she’s marked, “Security Company.” On another, she’s marked, “Police,” and trips that alarm.

Cut to cops arriving at Kingpin’s. He answers the door in silly underwear. “Everything’s fine, officers, fine. I have no need of assistance.” He sees that his safe is mysteriously open, and then that it’s filled with things he didn’t put there.

“Listen, sir, I’m going to need you to let me inside? We have reports of a break-in. I’m going to need to see ID, and make sure you aren’t the perp trying to bluff me.”

Kingpin’s face falls. He knows he’s lost. “It’s all right, officer. I can vouch for Mr. Fisk’s Identity.” It’s the DA. Kingpin shakes their hand, and identifies them by name, even thanking them for showing. “I’m sorry, Wilson, but you don’t understand the situation. I’m not the cavalry riding in- at least not for your side. I’m here with a warrant, to search the premises.” They hand him a folded piece of paper.

“This is absurb,” Kingpin howls. “I thought these pointless raids ended for good after I made sizeable contributions to the fraternity of police and your election campaign.”

“Wilson. Call your lawyer. He’ll tell you what I’m about to. Shut up. This is happening. All you can do is make things worse by talking.”

Relatively quick cuts. Cops finding the open safe. Cops locating stolen goods, taking pictures, collecting it in evidence bags. Kingpin perp-walked out the front door.

Cut to daytime, his lawyer speaking to reporters. “My client has been framed. It is obvious that jealous elements within the state are seeking a reason to embarrass and harass my client. But he is a strong, proud New Yorker. We don’t cower from a fight- we fight!”

We’re back in She-Hulk’s offices, but this time the entire crew is assembled. “He’d likely win, too,” Daredevil says. “The evidence they have, right now, is circumstantial. Possession might be 9/10 of the law, but it’s not 9/10s of a stolen goods conviction. And right now he has the full faith of the power structures of New York, businesspeople, politicians. We’re going to make all of them feel vulnerable- and make sure they all blame Fisk.

“Frank and I have scouted out the drug operation. We’re hitting it tonight. By morning, every criminal for a hundred miles is going to worry about everything they’ve ever stashed.”

She-Hulk takes over. “The rest of you will be hitting this facility. It was originally run by S.H.I.E.L.D.- they were going to start building helicarriers here in New York, until Hydra hijacked the first three in Washington. When the project disbanded, Fisk bought the property. Thanks to Ms. Hogarth, Mr. Nelson and Ms. Paige, we’ve connected the dots that it’s where Fisk has been storing stolen and contraband goods. Every time a blaster gets dropped in a fight, every piece of tech the Chitauri left behind, scrap from all those Ultron drones, Stark tech stolen during the Armor Wars, you name it, he’s been stockpiling it- even bought up the Vulture’s operation when Toomes went to prison. They’ve been supplying every hood on the seaboard with exotic weapons. It is a heavily fortified base. We have to fight our way in, and open the bay doors; they installed the doors, but not the pumps that keep the base dry- so it will flood in a matter of minutes. Should be enough time for Kingpin’s people to evacuate, but nowhere near enough time to move all the contraband or stolen tech. Questions?” Spider-Man raises his hand, and waits to be called on, which she does, obviously annoyed.

“Is it too late to change our minds and go with the Punisher, instead?”

“Yes,” Luke snaps. “But none of you have to come, if you don’t want to. This is an all-volunteer army. I won’t hold it against anyone who doesn’t think it’s worth the risk. Anyone who doesn’t want to, can leave, right now.” It’s uncomfortable, because he’s kind of peer-pressuring them.

“Anyone who doesn’t want to come tonight, just don’t show,” Iron Fist says. “No pressure. We all fight for our own reasons. And we choose when not to for our own reasons, too. Luke, can I talk to you after this?”

The rest, save for Jessica, file out, later.

“I want you to be straight with me. I’ve let you go this far implying I was funding your little operation. But I’m not about to watch you emotionally blackmail kids into doing your dirty work.”

“Kids? Spider-Man’s like thirty. He’s just got a thyroid problem or something.”

“Cut the jokes. Who’s your benefactor?” Luke remains tight-lipped. “You get anything?” he asks, looking to Jessica.

Luke’s eyes open wide. “Same Jessica. Lying. Manipulating.”

“Don’t. My job is finding out what other people are hiding. I may not have volunteered, but you never asked if Danny wanted me to probe. You’re the one hiding things. Deliberately. Even now.”

“Condition of our contract. Our benefactor demanded anonymity until the end of the job.”

“Then how do you know it’s not just a rival crimelord?”

“Because I’ve been the rival crimelord. And because I did my homework- or, I hired Trish to do it for me.”

“Et tu…”

“She hasn’t killed a wife of mine, yet, Jess.”

“That’s… messed up.”

“It is. This is messed up. I’m in love with you… but I can’t trust you.”

“Yeah. Lot of that going around.”

Luke hits a button on the intercom. “Trish?”

Hellcat enters. “I was thorough. Patient. Luke’s been putting this together for months, so I had time to do it right. He’s clean. Maybe a little eccentric. But show me a billionaire who isn’t, and within a day I’ll tell you what kind of kinks he’s hiding in his closet- and the more zeroes the stranger it’s going to be.”

“So how strange is he?” Jessica asks.

“Stranger than Xavier or Spector, but not as strange as Stark.”

“But he’s clean?”

“No underworld ties. Not so much as a parking ticket- he’s got a driver, but still. He squeaks.”

“And let’s not forget,” Luke interjects, “even if he didn’t, this is the Kingpin. He’s wounded. But we’re taking our shot. We can’t miss. Or he’ll be more dangerous and less vulnerable than ever before.”



Spider-Man/Black Cat Break into Kingpin’s condo, leaving stolen valuables from his deposit box




Luke, Jessica, Hawkeyes, Iron Fist, Colleen Wing, Misty Knight Break into Kingpin’s armory. It includes piles of Chitauri gear, and tech from every villain and supervillain (and a few heroes), including some surplus Iron Man/Ultron tech. Basically, when Vulture’s operation was busted up by Spider-Man, it was bought up and better funded by Kingpin.
Daredevil/Punisher Fight their way through a facility. But first they destroy their vehicles, so they can’t move any equipment or drugs. Daredevil’s job is to flush them out, Frank’s is to prevent anyone from taking anything of value, and for that he uses bean-bag rounds. “This is Frank Castle. This facility is rigged to blow. You have just enough time to get to safe distance if you run. Now. Try to take anything, and I’ll put you down. Try to stay and fight, and my pointy-headed friend will make you regret it. I want you to live through this, because I want you to get the word out- Kingpin can’t protect you- he can’t even protect himself.”


I imagine we’ll do a bit of an Ocean’s 11 Riff, as a framing device we have them discuss the plan, occasionally intercutting that, but then go into it actually happening.

We start at the front door. Luke and Iron Fist argue with Colleen and Misty because no one thought about how they’d actually break in- they should have brought Black Cat, or at least a She-Hulk to smash it down. Suddenly, a USB arrow, like the one from the Avengers, fires into the door, and it opens. “Why do you even have that?” Kate asks him.

“I don’t know. Ask Nick Fury.”

“You know you could have walked it over here, right?” Iron Fist asks. It’s probably too much to have him do the hand on the elbow raised fist gesture (and might be duplicating the joke from earlier by Jessica, too)… but I’d at least consider it.

They enter, and from here on in it’s a lot of fighting. It’s also an opportunity to play around with any tech we want to from previous films that might be fun, so the Shocker gauntlets, or what have you. It’s also an opportunity, if Sony wants, to have some proto villain gear show up. For the sake of synergy with the Spider-Verse movie, I’d probably have Tombstone running security. He’s probably tough enough to take on most of the heroes we brought along on his lonesome, especially with random baddies plinking away. If they’re along for the ride, during the fight, Spider-Man and Black Cat infiltrate and open the bay doors, turning it from a fight to a fight in an underground facility that’s flooding!

Meanwhile, likely intercut, Daredevil and Punisher are back at the drug facility. It starts with a bang, as Punisher blows up all of the vehicles in the parking lot, including a bunch of panel vans used for transport.

Frank comes over the loudspeakers in the joint with a message: “This is Frank Castle. Some of you call me the Punisher. This facility is rigged to blow. You have just enough time to get to safe distance if you run. Now. Try to take anything, and I’ll put you down. Try to stay and fight, and my pointy-headed friend will make you regret it.” We show Daredevil dropping down on one end of the place. “I want you to live through this, because I want you to get the word out- Kingpin can’t protect you- he can’t even protect himself.”

Daredevil gets essentially a supersized version of his hallway fight as he takes on the stragglers, some armed. And Frank, true to his word, is posted at the exit. He shotguns the first mook to try to run with a brick of drugs. He shotguns another, who was raising a gun, as several more scurry past. He turns, shotgunning one of them, who draws a gun and was going to try to shoot him in the back. This one, however, we pause on, as one of the others helps him to his feet. Frank’s using bean-bag rounds. If we need to sell this harder to make it fit within his character, we can make it a primarily trafficked workforce- people who didn’t want to work for Kingpin, so Frank doesn’t mind letting them live.

Eventually, Daredevil bursts out as the last few flee, limping. “That everybody?” Frank asks. Daredevil listens, and confirms theirs are the only heartbeats left in the facility. Then he asks about the safe distance. “Safe distance is right about here,” he points at their feet, before hitting a detonator. The explosion is relatively tame and contained; the point was destroying the facility, its equipment, and the drugs.

We have kind of an afterparty, similar to the party at the beginning. Clint Barton sidles up to Frank. “I heard you managed to go a whole day without killing anybody.”

“Day’s not over yet, Avenger,” Frank growls, but is mostly messing with him.

“Boys,” Kate says, putting an arm around either of them, before immediately backing off, “nope, immediately regretted both ‘boys’ and the contact.”

“So what’s it like, having a sidekick?” Frank chides.

“You want her, you can have her,” Clint says. Kate is offended in a cartoonishly over the top fashion, but our attention is drawn by Cage clanging on a glass.

Luke seems like he’s about to give another speech, but instead he tells them their benefactor wanted to introduce himself. Now, this particular reveal relies on having access to Sony properties. You could use Victor Von Doom as a backup, or maybe build out someone else; if we need to be creative we could always use Ezekiel Stane. If Sony is willing to play some but not all ball, you could use Silver Sable, too.

But my preference would be that Luke introduces them to their mysterious benefactor, none other than this universe’s Norman Osborne. I’d have him played by Willem Defoe, because that would twist the knife further for Spider-Man- since the last time he saw Norman he was trying to stab him with his own glider for murdering Aunt May. Peter’s unnerved, maybe even freaks out a little, say, webbing Norman’s hand to his chair. “Wait. You don’t understand, he’s-”

“Evil?” Norman asks with a smile. “They say no one can amass billions of dollars without being evil. But I give to the poor. I provide my innovations to poorer countries at cost. I daresay my record as a philanthropist is more sterling than Tony Stark’s.” Peter is incensed, but Norman reacts in a human way, “I’m sorry. I know some of you knew him, and while at times I viewed Tony as a business rival, I also appreciate everything he did, for all of us. After all, he brought my son back to me.” We introduce our new Harry Osborne, who, yes, was blipped.

“Harry?” Peter asks quietly.

“I paid you, handsomely, to deal with Kingpin. He was a blemish, a distortion, injuring commerce and enterprise in the greatest city in the world- all due respect to the Golden City. And I don’t know if Luke told you- I asked him not to, because I wanted to, but as a bonus for eliminating Fisk, I’m granting each of you a full-ride scholarship to the school of your choosing, good for any of you to use, to grant to your children, sidekicks, a loved one, or to give to someone in need. Whatever rise in the cost of school, for my lifetime, I will cover all expenses for a four year degree. And if any of you are scientifically minded, I’ll pay for a doctorate- provided you consider interning at Oscorpe after you graduate. I’ve taken the liberty, too, of making sure that any taxable benefits will be compensated for, as well, so you won’t need to worry about paying that out of pocket. You’ve done something extraordinary, for New York, for the country, and for capitalism- and it’s because I’m a capitalist that I believe so strongly in compensating a job well done.”

Later, Spider-Man and Black Cat sit on the top of the Oscorpe Tower. “You remember how we met?” he asks.

“I remember you were… depressed.”

“My aunt died, the woman who raised me. Norman Osborne killed her. But not that Norman Osborne. This one was evil, unhinged after being exposed to a chemical agent in a different universe. Maybe this one is like Mr. Stark. Maybe he’s just trying to do the right thing.”

“But you don’t think so?”

“I tried to help him- to cure him. That’s why he was close enough- he got close enough to hurt May because of me.”

“You can’t save everyone.”

“No. But May taught me you got to try.”

“She sounds like she was a great lady. I’m sad I’ll never get to meet her.”

She’s trying to comfort him, but it lands wrong. “Would you have? You don’t even want to know my real name. You don’t even want to see me with the mask off. Is any of this real to you?” His heart’s breaking; he isn’t attacking her, but feeling, in this moment, that he gave up everything to be Spider-Man, and he’s only this second realizing that a relationship with a woman who only wants to be with Spider-Man isn’t enough.

She pulls off his mask, and helps him peel away her domino mask. “I’ve known who you were since the first night we met, Peter. I haven’t been hiding you behind a mask, afraid you wouldn’t measure up- I’ve been hiding me, afraid that I wouldn’t, that if I dropped the sex kitten act… you could never be satisfied with just Felicia Hardy. Because I love you, and this is so real it terrifies me.”

“Felicia,” he cradles her cheek in his hand, “I love you, too.” They kiss.

Roll credits. Mid-credits scene: Matt Murdock is waiting in a bar. Frank Castle rolls up, and sits down. “Might as well call them over. I clocked them from the door.” They’re joined by Hawkeye and Nick Fury, who sit down with him. Hawkeye sets a beer down in front of Frank.

Daredevil says, “I didn’t become a preacher for a lot of reasons, but most important is I was never comfortable preaching, but I’ll say this: what we do, and especially what you do, Frank, it’s hard. It takes a toll. And if you let it, it will eat you. And I worry, not for your soul, but for what happens to Frank Castle when he’s hollowed out, when he stops caring, when he stops being careful. We might not agree on a lot, but I think we both never want you to kill someone you didn’t mean to.”

Frank glares bullets, before picking up his beer. “I can drink to that.”

“Settle a bet,” Hawkeye says, talking to Fury. “Natasha swore up and down you had a Doomsday plan, for a rogue state like Latveria, or if Ultron had tried to take and hold Sokovia. Basically, the idea was you rev up Hulk and this guy,” he points at Frank, “and drop them at opposite ends of the territory.”

“Never happened,” Fury says confidently, but somewhat quieter, somewhat mischievous, adds, “so far as you know,” before taking a swig. We go back to credits.

Another mid-credits scene. Luke arrives home, to find Jessica sitting in the dark, waiting for him.

“Jess-”

“I owe you an apology. A lifetime of them, probably.”

“I’m not looking for apologies. I’m looking for a way to trust you. I want to. I know I shouldn’t but…”

“No,” she says, standing up. “You shouldn’t.” She kisses his cheek. “But I hope I can change that.” She walks out, and we resume credits.

We start in close, Norman Osborne’s reflection as he looks out over the city at night. We hear a sinister voice, one that should at least hark back to his Goblin voice. “You think they bought it?”

“Why wouldn’t they? I’m not some thug. I’m a respected industrialist and inventor. If anything I remind them of Stark.”

“You think any of them suspect it?”

“I think the blind lawyer must. They say he can tell a liar by his heart rate. Then again, he wouldn’t be the first polygraph I beat.”

We pull back, enough to see in the reflection a shadowy, cloaked figure who could be the Green Goblin. “Then the appropriate question is are you ready to take over New York’s underworld?”

Osborne turns. “I’m not, Parker. You are. Which is why this is the last time you and I will be in the same room together.”

We finally turn to see our next villain. “Parker Robbins is gone. Call me the Hood.”

MCU ’22 Pitch 6: Young Avengers 2: Along Came A Spider

The Deal: I pitch movies set in the Marvel or DC cinematic universes. Also other things. This pitch is a direct sequel to Young Avengers 1.

The Pitch: Miles is our POV character. Peter, in costume, drops Miles off at Kate’s condo, which is being used as a headquarters for the Young Avengers (we can sub in Eli’s place from the Cap show, if that’s preferable- it could be fun to have granddad rattling around being crotchety, but also there as a cautionary tale- and I imagine the bushy-tailed optimism of Peter would contrast hilariously with his worst-case-scenario realism). Miles feels like he’s being dropped off at a babysitter’s. Peter mentions his uncle Aaron reaching out after his accident, and him seeming like an okay dude; now he feels sorry about ruining his ice cream.

Ms. Marvel, the old new girl (nobody counts Black Widow, who most of them assume is a plant from the older Avengers to keep an eye on them, a babysitter, essentially) introduces him around; “Personally, I like her. Before Yelena got here, everyone assumed I was Carol’s spy. But it’s not just that she’s taken my place as the team’s assumed narc- she’s actually really cool once you get to know her. She’s got a big, lovable dork side, you just have to be patient enough for her to show it to you.”

We follow Yelena as Miles and Ms. Marvel continue the tour. She moves like a spy, surreptitiously glancing behind herself as she makes her way outside, where she says, “I feel like babysitter. I don’t change poopy underoos.” She meets with a man we won’t recognize, yet (unless he does show up in Iron Man 4/the Riri Williams show), but he’s Ezekiel Stane, Obadiah’s son.

“Something stinks here. Dad wasn’t always the, uh, most ethical businessman, but his intel was always on point. Stark left these kids a lot of money and a lot of tech, tech that, frankly, didn’t belong to him to give away. Sure, he invented some of it. But so did my dad, and his teams, and researchers like me. But unlike dad, it’s never been my style to go off-half-cocked. That’s why I’ve got you watching them, so I know what we’re up against.”

“You are at least half a cock,” she tells him. He legitimately can’t tell if her English is screwy or if she’s screwing with him (I have my theories…).

We cut to Kate telling Teddy she kind of set something up for him, through Clint, calling in a favor. Kate was talking to Nadia, his mom, and she seemed to imply that she and Emil hadn’t been intimate since he was irradiated, and, now that she’s got him on hold she realizes maybe this is the kind of thing she should have asked Teddy about first but she’s got his birth father on the line and it’s probably already rude to have kept him on the line this long while she spirals, so she connects him to Bruce Banner (depending on how game Ruffalo is it could just be a phone appearance), or we could do video, hologram, etc. (Also, why doesn’t everyone call Ruffalo Hulk Buffalo?).

“Doctor Banner?” she asks awkwardly.

“Hello? Clint wouldn’t tell me what this was about. Is this one of those sick kid things?”

“Well, he is a kid, and he’s green, so…”

“Green? Oh. I’m not sure what you’ve heard, but my condition mostly keeps me from, uh, that.”

“I, er, Clint mentioned some, uh, difficulties,” Kate winces.

“Not the conversation I pictured meeting my biodad,” Teddy also winces.

“But you remember Mrs. Blonsky?” Kate asks.

“Blonsky, Blonsky. Oh, crap. Nadia. Nadia Blonsky. Oh… we connected after what happened to Emil. I was trying to help him out. Get control. At least get him to start wearing pants- it was seriously riling their neighbors. Nadia was really sweet. Loved Emil, but… it hurt her, what he’d become. We were working together, under constant threat of discovery by SHIELD, or one of his mood swings. She always told me her son was Emil’s.”

“That’s… uh, not what she told me. So, uh, Dr. Banner, this is Teddy.” They both give a kind of awkward, broken smile and a half-wave and hold it. “Okay, I can totally see the resemblance right now.”

“Kate,” Wiccan says, pushing her towards the door, “remember that conversation we had about how it stops being help past a point, so you really need to make an earlier exit?”

“Yeah, but I still have trouble realizing when- oh, you mean now,” she finishes as the door shuts in her face.

“I, uh, don’t know if you might be interested in some pizza,” Eli says to Kate. At the mention, Lucky the Pizza Dog bounds into the room, her leash in her mouth.

“You said the ‘P’ word- but not any of the usual ones. So we’ll definitely have to get her one. I don’t know if I should… or I might have to let out my costume, or at least abuse some Pym particles.”

“How about we agree to go for a run to jog it off after?” At the suggestion, Lucky gets even more excited.

“I have to go with you, now. Contractually obligated. You do not want to see her disappointed.” Kate scritches Lucky.

They pass by Miles and Ms. Marvel, and we stay with them. “I, uh, heard a rumor that your, uh, boss, I guess, went out with my Spider, er, mentor?”

“Yeah, she flew him across a battlefield once, which, I guess is sort of the superhero equivalent of aerial spooning. She said it was like cradling a slightly large baby.”

“He’s definitely not the largest Avenger,” Miles agrees.

“But no. Didn’t happen. And even if it had, it’s not like the two of them making out would mean we would have to make out through some weird superhero transitive property.”

“Uh,” he freezes.

“I mean, we could, if you’re bored or something.”

“Uh.” He is broken. She has broken Miles.

“I am messing with you. But it’s… actually not any fun when you’re this gullible, like punting an exceptionally vulnerable baby, like drop-kicking a baby Kal-El swaddled in a kryptonite diaper.”

“Thank God. My Spider-Sense was going insane.”

“You don’t call it your Miles Tingle?”

“No. Why?”

“Just what I heard.”

“I actually was trying to figure out how to broach that…”

“Troubling segue, but go on. Absolutely worst-case I slap you with phenomenal cosmic power.”

“In our itty bitty living space?” They share a conspiratorial smile, before Miles blurts this all out very fast. “Okay, so I am an anxious bundle of radioactive puberty. I have to carry my laptop in front of my lap between every other class because I wasn’t in control of my body before I was mutated and half of the reason I wear a mask is because I am constantly making horrified and stupid faces, even as I try to hide my nerves by telling jokes like Peter… Serafinowicz, the live-action Tick guy, I am a , uh, super big fan.”

“Okay, that was… that was a lot. I think it would be easier for us to make out than try to deal with all of that?”

“Really?”

“No. I was just stalling for time. But I will tell you something true: we are all in over our heads. All of us Young Avengers. We are trying to fill shoes that… aren’t fillable. I’m never going to be Carol. You’ll never be Peter… Serafinowicz. Riri will never be Tony Stark. But you can be Miles. And I can be me. And if all of us are the best ‘us’es we can be, hopefully that’ll be enough. And… if it’s not, at least we’ll get to face those who fell before us with our heads up high, and we’ll fail amongst friends.”

They pass by Yelena, who was listening, and it gives her pause.

“You’re not developing a case of feelings on me, are you Belova?” we hear from her earpiece; it’s Stane, watching her on hacked security cameras.

She holds her thumb up between her pointer and ring fingers in a fist (it’s called a Shish) at the camera and says, “Stuff your half-cock.” She tears the wiring out of the back of the camera, before noticing she is no longer alone. “I don’t like Big Brother.”

“I don’t like mine, either,” it’s Speed. “Just because he got the cooler name, and the cooler costume, and the more versatile power-set, doesn’t make him better. His hair might. I am jealous of his hair, just a little- not the color, just what he can do with it. I didn’t actually know you had an older brother; everybody knows about Black Widow, obviously, I can’t forget a woman in a catsuit. God bless whoever invented the catsuit-“ he’s gone and back in a flash, “Andre Courreges, apparently.”

“It’s expression,” Yelena says, somewhat annoyed by him. “From 1984. Orwell?”

“Never re-” he’s gone and back again, “read it, and bleak. But I totally get why you hate Big Brother. Seems like a knob. Speaking of… Riri tends not to take kindly to us destroying her cameras, our torrenting on her supercomputers or microwaving fish in the communal microwave. Or maybe it’s just me she’s got a problem.”

“It isn’t,” Riri says from the doorway. “I would have a problem with anyone doing those things. You just are the only person who does literally everything that pisses me off. It’s uncanny, and impressive. But Blonde Widow, if you want, I can have you black-listed from the cameras; they’ll turn off when they see you. But otherwise we need our security operating on all cylinders.”

“Then you need to secure your network,” Yelena says, squaring to Riri. This is a tense moment. Yelena’s new, so is Riri, both trying to live up to a legacy that would crush a lesser person; but Riri is better than Tony. She doesn’t see a rival- she sees an opportunity.

You are a spy,” she says, beaming. “Plenty of companies hire people like you to find the holes in their security. You should do that for us. I know we’re both… kind of the new girls, around here. I want to show the older Young Avengers I can pull my own weight. And… what better way than to show that we can work as a team just as well as they can?”

Yelena’s touched. Her entire story to this point has been searching for belonging, so having someone reach out to her, even in this small way… it’s a big moment. Yelena follows Riri back to her lab. Yelena’s kind of impressed; Riri has taken apart some really beefy weapons (like a Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle), and Yelena makes an idle comment about wanting some armor of her own. Riri admits she’s been thinking along those lines- she never really understood why Tony didn’t build armor for everybody. Certainly a Hulk might not get much benefit, but imagine Hawkeye’s aim but with the draw-strength of an Iron Man suit. There’s the issue, maybe, of putting too many eggs in one basket- maybe if there’s a single technological vector that can be attacked the Avengers would be too vulnerable, but systems could be designed completely independently, if that’s the concern. She thinks Tony just liked being the only Iron Man- War Machine notwithstanding- that he needed to feel special. “I think I’m damaged in the other direction; I don’t know if I could handle knowing someone on my team got hurt, and I could have prevented it if not for my pride.”

“And you start with me?” This question is more dangerous than it appears at first blush; on the one hand, Yelena is pleased to be included, but on the other, Riri could be intimating she sees Yelena as a weak link.

But Riri is smarter than she is, smart enough to see the interpersonal pothole and step gracefully over it. “You asked,” she says with a smirk, that both says that she brought it up to begin with, and she’s not about to get pulled into drama like that. “So what can you tell me about spying?”

“Spying is the art of discovering what everyone is hiding.”

“And what are you hiding?” Riri asks.

“Lots of things. All of the things I did in service to the Red Room. Most of the things I did training to join the Red Room. Almost everything I did after leaving. How I feel about most of these… children around us; I feel like recruit to Mickey Mouse Club. Come along, sing a song, join the jamboree.”

“You’re not hiding that last one so well,” Riri says with a smile. “But I hear you. I thought some of the same things, when I first heard about them. I was special- a prodigy- as worthy a successor as Tony Stark was likely ever to find. Then I started pulling down footage of their fights, their work. There are no kid gloves, here; a terrorist or an alien dictator decide you’re not going to stop him, and he doesn’t stop and ask if you’re an old-looking fifteen or a young-looking twenty-something, he just tries to kill you. And yeah, sometimes I wonder if Speed and Teddy have two brain cells between them to rub together.”

“I thought it was Hulkling and Wiccan who rub together.”

“You’re messing with me, aren’t you?”

“I am,” she says, pleased with herself.

“But watch them in a fight. When the chips are down. When someone they care about is in danger, or just when they know they can make a difference. It can be a lot, I’m not going to lie- pimples, puberty and, er-”

“Premature ejaculation. Last Action Hero! Good line, great movie. Schwarzenegger can be really funny.”

“So why did you join the Young Avengers?”

“Nyet. Too harsh. Bonding? Good. Excellent. My guard comes down, I don’t think of you as coworker, or powersuit woman. I think ‘friend.’ But you must ease in, like, almost, seduction.”

“I’m serious, Yelena. I wasn’t certain I belonged here, at first, so I get that inclination. But I also got over it. And I get the sense that isn’t you. And I’m not asking because I’m assessing the level of threat you pose, I’m asking because I want to get to know you, Yelena, the person.”

Very nice execution. I am Russian, we do not trust easy, but you I want to trust.”

Riri touches her hand. “You don’t have to tell me now, or even ever. But if you ever want to, Yelena, I want to be a friend.” She lets her go, and we see a pensive Yelena, and we see her make the choice to open up.

“I felt I owed it to my sister. We had so little time, but I knew she wanted me to find something of my own, a family, like she found.”

“I thought the two of you reconnected with your… adoptive folks.”

“Eh. I love Alexei as far as you love something so stupid. And I love Melina as much as you can love someone so manipulative; I want family with no asterisk-”

“Or without feeling like having one is exposing your ass to risk? None of our families are perfect, but it’s hard to beat the family you forge yourself. Not based on proximity, or genetic happenstance, but who wants to be with you, who cares about you, and who sticks through.”

“I think that’s what Natasha wanted. Hawkguy told me she died to save me. She wanted to be there for me, but when she couldn’t… I think this is where she would want me to be, so I’m trying to be here.”

At a pizzeria down the street, Hawkeye walks through a crowd balancing three slices of pizza. She gives one to Eli, one to Lucky, and then sits down with the third herself. “I’m jealous,” he says.

“Of my jalapeno-pepperoni-olive? You should be, it’s really good.”

“No. You got to work with Clint. I’d… I’d give about anything for a chance to suit up with granddad. I still can’t tell him this is what I do… he’d… absolutely crap adamantium bullets- and I don’t just mean the ones Winter Soldier shot into him in the eighties.”

“It was…” I’d probably sizzle-reel from the show, but Kate recognizes the moment, and tones down her own excitement, “okay. Was that why you wanted to get pizza?”

Eli’s caught flat-footed. “I definitely didn’t do it because I want to spend time with you as a person.”

“Okay,” she says, putting together what’s happening, “so I’m definitely unhappy to be spending time with you as a person, too. And if you want you can even have a bite of my slice. The pizza, not- I’m just going to suggest we never talk again, do whatever we can never to be in the same room. Maybe I should go be a West Coast Avenger, and you can handle this coast.”

“Part of what I like about spending time with you is your uncanny ability to say the wrong thing in every situation, but always in a way that leaves me feeling good.”

“I’m relieved I make you feel good- okay, I’m just, I’m not talking anymore.”

We cut to a rooftop, where Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel land gracefully. “Nobody around here likes to patrol,” she says. “Apparently they expect Kang to just ring the doorbell. I mean, technically he did, last time, but still.”

“Patrolling is probably the only thing about this that I like,” Miles says. “I mean, some of that is that literally everything else there’s a good chance there’s a psychopath who wants to murder me, likely because of something Peter, um, a lot of people really take loving or hating Peter Serafinowicz very seriously. I once had to kick Morbious through an Apple store over an argument about Shaun of the Dead.”

“You know I know his actual name, right? I mean, you absolutely need to tamp it down. But your Serafinowicz dodge isn’t fooling anyone. And I even really dig the guy. He was the fun kind of odd in Running Wilde.”

“I’m going to, uh, hang upside-down for a little. It’s a Spider-Man thing. It’s not a shame-hang.”

She leans down to talk to him. “Buddy?”

“I told you, it’s not a shame hang.”

“Good. Because like I said earlier, all any of us can be is the best us possible. You’re a wide-eyed little goof who has trouble keeping his mouth shut; you’re going to have a lot of fun with Speed, when he’s not being a tempestuous jerk. And I’m sure Peter Serafinowicz, wherever he is right now, is proud of the Spider-Man you are right now, and even more proud of the Spider-Man you’re going to grow into.”

“You, uh, you want to do an upside-down Spider-Man kiss?”

“It’s definitely on my bucket list. But watching Teddy and Billy, I know what I don’t want. I don’t want to ever worry that my personal life could wreck being a part of this team. They fit together like they were designed to, like I could never even imagine one without the other. So yeah, at some point, I want to have an upside-down kiss- not necessarily with a Spider-Man- but only with someone who really means it, and isn’t just a roiling ball of hormonal angst.”

“I’m not sure I’m ever going to not be that.”

“Then you and Speed are going to be very fast friends.”

“I see what you did.”

“In the meantime, might I suggest a cold shower for your mouth.”

“I… am confused.”

“Ice cream. I meant us getting ice cream, and bringing it back to share with everyone.”

“Okay, that makes sense.”

“Wishing you had your laptop right now?”

“Only all the time.”

We cut back to Teddy, Billy and Speed, watching TV and snacking. “I think Kate likes me,” Speed says, zipping from one side of the room to the other as he eats from several different plates of food.

“I thought you were into Yelena,” Teddy says.

“I think they both like me.”

“What’s not to like?” Billy asks. “You’re arrogant.”

“You ate all the bugels,” Teddy complains.

“There’s always more bugels,” Speed says, returning with a full bowl.

“Withdrawn. And that is pretty cool.”

“I teleported you to Tibet to watch your favorite band play,” Billy complains.

“That was also cool. And I’m also not interested in getting in the middle of this outpouring of brotherly love.”

Speed sits down. “It’s not my fault all of you move at the speed of frozen molasses. By the time a girl even shows interest it’s like a romance shoe-horned into the end of the Lord of the Rings- the extra extra long version. I don’t care if you killed the Lich King on a technicality, we’ve barely said ten words together over the course of years.”

“Yeah, you really need to get out more,” Billy says.

“Slash stop hitting on our coworkers,” Teddy adds.

“Or, at least, you know, learn subtlety.”

“Oh, God, you want me to go slower,” Speed whines.

“No, we want you to stop treating girls like a slot machine, putting in a quarter, and pulling the arm and moving on if it doesn’t pay out immediately.”

“I need to get nachos.” Speed leaves the room.

“Too harsh?” Billy asks. Teddy holds up his fingers to say a bit.

Speed enters the kitchen, nearly running into Stature. “Oh, sorry, didn’t see you there,” he says.

“Yeah, I get that a lot. Usually when I’m half an inch tall…. but whatever.”

“No… I know what that’s like, feeling overlooked.”

“Yeah?”

“I know I can be… a lot. When I was younger, I’d find diaries or whatever of people around me and read them… because I wasn’t mature enough to understand the violation that was. It means I don’t have a lot of… illusions about how people see me, what it’s like to be around me. Sort of wish I did, but honestly even still I’d probably have come to the same kinds of conclusions, just less… conclusively. All of this is a circuitous way of me saying I’m sorry I made you feel small… and if we could, I’d really like to start over with you. Try to be a friend, first, and a teammate second, and someone who has potential for more only if and when you want to consider that.”

“I think I’d like that. But there’s one problem…” Stature starts to grow. Tommy’s eyes grow wide, and maybe for an instant in her shadow we see her becoming something with a different shape than Stature, before cutting away.

We cut back to the TV room, where Teddy and Billy are cuddling. They hear a crash from the kitchen. Teddy starts to get up, but Billy waves him off. “Let him take some of his frustrations out on our cookware.”

Kate and Eli arrives back home. Eli says, “I’m going to wash the sweat and pizza grease off.”

She frowns, and he sprints away for a shower. Kate rounds the corner into the kitchen, where a ticked looking Yelena is staring daggers at her. “I don’t like you,” she says.

“That’s not true. We had that whole awkward macaroni conversation.”

“I mean I am angry with you.”

“Oh. I get that. A lot.”

“Why you take Eli?”

“He took me out for pizza…”

“You know what I mean.”

“I’m not sure I do.”

“Do you even like him? God, this is so high school…”

“I don’t know, but I do know that’s not your business.”

“Then maybe I should make it my business. What is it? The gauntlet is thrown.”

“No,” Kate says. “There’s no gauntlet. Eli asked me out. You want to ask him out, it’s a free country.” As Kate’s about to leave the kitchen Yelena grabs her wrist, and we realize it’s about to get heated as we cut away.

Teddy’s phone goes off. Then Billy’s. It’s the alarm app that Riri built for them. Teddy growns. “Uggh. Hasn’t anyone told crime it’s not allowed to happen when I’m bloated from too many nachos?”

“Apparently crime didn’t leave a forwarding address. And you can shapeshift around your bloat.”

Teddy does, but still looks pained. “Sure, but I still feel bloated. And logy.” They look for everyone else, but can’t seem to find anyone. “Do you think this is revenge, because we’ve been on the couch all day?”

“Whatever it is, we can’t just not respond just because everyone else went out for pizza.” Lucky pads into the room, hopeful. “Nope. Sorry, girl; I’ll have to owe you.” The dog hangs her head, disappointed.

We pan through the floor, into Riri’s lab. Her helmet starts to make noise, and she silences it, as Yelena slides back into the lab. Yelena’s ticked off. “Everything okay?” Riri asks, barely looking up from her soldering.

Yelena lets out a frustrated sigh. “Feeling like I don’t belong,” she says.

“Oh?” Riri says, setting her tools down. “What happened?”

“It’s too high school…” she covers her face and sighs, before saying, “Hawkgirl went for pizza with Captain Junior.”

“There’s only one Hawkeye on the team, you can probably just call her that, and… you’ve got a thing for Eli?”

“Why not? I like the way he fits in suit.”

“Fills out.” Riri is starting to get suspicious; Yelena’s English is idiosyncratic, not outright bad, and she’s right, this is too highschool. “I’m not sure I get the appeal. Don’t get me wrong, he’s cute, but ‘Patriot.’ The name’s been problematic since at least they named a missile that. I could see Speed keeping up; right now he’s a puppy who hasn’t been house trained, but…”

“I don’t want to talk about your love life- I don’t even want to talk about mine.” Yelena uses her frustration as an excuse to close the distance.

Riri holds up a gauntleted had. “Stop it right there,” her gauntlet hums and glows. “I don’t know who the hell you are, but you aren’t Yelena. And you take one more step towards me-”

“Clever human,” the Super Skrull says, closing on her. She fires, and the Skrull shifts his chest into orange rock to absorb the shot. Riri manages to get her mask up, but he’s stretched his hand inside of her suit, covering her airways, essentially drowning her in his skin as we cut away.

Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel return, bearing ice cream. But there is no one there to eat the ice cream.

We cut away, where Billy and Teddy have responded to a call for help. There isn’t anyone there, so they’re discussing maybe making a date of it. Billy realizes they aren’t alone, and attacks a piece of furniture that turns back into a Skrull. “How did you-”

“With my mom, you kind of get used to staying vigilant about things that might not actually be there.”

“Roger.”

Yelena shows up at the mansion. She’s weirded out because everyone else besides Miles and Kamala are gone. “Not, like, walked out for a bite. But… just not here. I checked Riri’s recordings. Only Bill and Ted left like normal people.” They are bemused that she mentioned them as Bill and Ted, when in walks another Yelena. This one plays coy, says that the other Widow must be the imposter. It’s a humorous scene, because they know almost literally nothing about her, while both of them know a lot about Miles and Kamala. Eventually, Yelena speaks Russian, and the fake her tries, but her accent comes out pretty Boris and Natasha, and Kamala points out, “She’s speaking Klingon.” Miles had already gotten behind her, and zaps her, and the Super Skrull reveals himself and attacks. Big superhero kitchen fight.

They’re able to hold him off long enough for the others in Riri’s lab to wake up and escape, turning the tide. Super Skrull flees, leading them to Teddy and Wiccan, who are barely holding their own against a couple of seemingly normal Skrulls. They aren’t. They were just pretending.

Just to give it a little flavor, there’s Super Skrola Classic, who has Fantastic Four powers, an Avengers Super Skrull (this guy will likely be the biggest bruiser, with a Hulk Hand, a Thor Hand with his own Mjolnir, an Iron Man Unibeam in his chest, and just to make him extra nuts, he has two more sets of limbs, so he can wield a bow, Cap’s shield and a Widow bite) and an X-Men Super Skrull (to give the kids a fighting chance it’s the original five X-Men in their relatively underpowered days).

The kids take the Skrulls apart, and that’s when Super Skrull finally divulges the truth: Teddy is the son of Captain Marvel (the Kree Warrior) and a Skrull Prince. He originally brought Teddy there to be safe during the war between the Kree and Skrull, but his father sent him to fetch him, in the hopes that a Kree/Skrull royal would be able to help craft a peace where others could not. Kamala asks Hulkling if that makes them cousins or something, since he’s the son of the original Captain Marvel and she’s the sort of adoptive daughter, “Slash stalker” Speed adds unhelpfully of the second one.

Yelena says, “I believe we are found family.”

“That’s crazy,” we’re interrupted by Wiccan reacting to Hulkling. But Hulkling pulls him in close and intimate.

“Dude, I can’t just sit around eating bon bons while an intergalactic war I might plausibly be able to stop is going on.”

“I know. You’d get bloated, and you’d hate it.”

“You know what I mean. People are dying.”

“I’d die without you.”

“Then I guess you’ll have to come with me.”

We end on a gay kiss, as music swells, before we cut to black.

Beginning Credits Music. At first we can’t quite recognize it, because it’s kind of a distorted synthesizer version (perhaps playing with the start of the Baroque Hoedown). Riri leads the team inside, in a red and gold band leader uniform, and puts a blue sailor’s cap on Yelena. I’m otherwise not sure what’s funnier, but I think getting versions of classic Disney character costumes with open mouths for the actors’ faces to be visible through would be the best route.

Viv
Pluto
Patriot
Pete
Hawkeye
Daisy Duck
Wiccan
Timothy
Speed
3 Nephews/3 Pigs
Hulkling
Dumbo (Shapeshifting)
Ms. Marvel
Minnie Mouse
Riri
Mickey Mouse
Spider-Man (Miles)
Goofy
Stature
Jiminy Cricket

Riri leads them in a choreographed rendition of the Mickey Mouse Club theme. In the places where Donald insists that the song be about him, Yelena yells, “Donald Duck!” enthusiastically. Note, that while Hulkling shape-shifts into Dumbo, he shape-shifts himself into a Dumbo suit similar to the ones everyone else is wearing.

“I’m in Hell.” Yelena says during a pause in the singing. It might be going too far to have Yelena try to pull her sidearm and pull the trigger, only for Speed to replace it with a water pistol, so she sprays herself in the face instead and say, “Hell is surprisingly moist.” But I’m leaving it in here, because I can, and at least right now it’s amusing me.

Mid-Credits Scene: Stane is on the phone with Yelena. A black widow spider crawls into his palm. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s adorable that you’re catsuit-spy with a heart of golding this. But pulling your chute is not an option. I don’t care how much these brats are starting to fill the role of surrogate family for you. I paid you an ungodly amount of money. Widows aren’t cheap- but they will be, if screw this up. Your business, and more importantly, your sisters’ livelihood, is only as good as your reputation, and right now I’m holding it in the palm of my hand. So you complete the job, or I squeeze.” He closes his hand around the spider and makes a fist, before hanging up. Yelena, angry, perhaps even scared, stares hatefully forward.

We cut back to Stane’s hand. “You sure that’s wise?” a processed voice says. “You’re threatening a very dangerous creature.” We pull back, and can see that it’s Prowler, speaking to him. I’m not going to spoil much, but my thought was that it’s actually Miles’ cousin in the armor- that it belongs to his uncle, but in the next story we’re going to use his cousin, instead, in the Prowler armor.

“I’m not scared of some Russian spy.”

“I meant the spider. I don’t like spiders.”

“Black widows get a bad wrap. They can kill a child, or a sick adult, but to everyone else, they just cause pain. Pain I can handle.” He wipes the smeared spider on his clothes, and we see two puncture wounds in his palm before we cut away.

To My Rapist’s Baby

This week, because of what happened with Roe, I’ve written a new short story.

Trigger Warnings: Rape and suicide.

Dedication: For all of the women (and people of other genders) this Supreme Court is going to kill. All. Of. Them.

Story

The letter starts with the words, “To My Rapist’s Baby,” but it’s scribbled out; written next to it are the words, “To My Darling Daughter;” each introduction breaks my heart in turn as I read.

* * *

I want you to know it isn’t your fault. I don’t blame you. And I tried to love you as if I’d loved your father, as if I’d consented to share my body with him. I’m sure there have been moments when I couldn’t be the mother you deserved, when I couldn’t help but see him in your eyes as he pushed me down, or hear the way he threatened me in your voice when you were angry with me.

I was still too young to be upset when the decision came, too naïve to know what Roe v. Wade had been to know what it meant that it had been gutted, to know what I’d lost until its protections weren’t there when I needed them.

I knew your father before; 8 in 10 know their rapists, while 1 in 5 are related. Your father isn’t technically the latter; his family were friends with ours, essentially treated like family without the blood. At the time I was young, and naïve enough that at first I thought it was my fault, that I misled him, that I hurt him. I actually… I apologized, when he was done. I couldn’t stop crying, and I felt like I couldn’t pull my skirt low enough, but…

I still don’t know if I ever managed to squeak, “No,” but that’s academic. Every inch of my body was screaming it. I was shaking. I didn’t move my arms or legs. I didn’t respond when he kissed me. My body didn’t respond, period. For a virgin, I didn’t understand how thoroughly I was saying, “No.” But he did. And he ignored it anyway.

It took me a long time to process it. To realize how he maneuvered me, made me feel older than I was, made our friendship into something other people couldn’t understand or appreciate, that I had to hide away from everyone else. What I think finally made me understand was how much more aggressive he became afterward about secrecy- how certain he needed to be I wouldn’t tell anyone.

Eventually I broke down and told your grandparents. Mom… wasn’t helpful. His family were friends from hers; and maybe she just couldn’t believe she failed to protect me. Dad was better. Wanted to kick his ass, at least. Wanted to make space for me, to cry, to rage, to talk to whoever I needed to. They fought a lot, in the days that followed; eventually they decided to take me to a doctor, and let me file charges.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I’d seen already in my parents that I was going to have to fight. If even my mother was going to call me a lying little slut…

The doctor was really nice. I was scared. And she walked me through the exam. She said she’d been through one, when she was my age, and so she knew how to make it less scary. And I remember her being good all the way until the end, when my tests came back, blood and urine they took at the beginning of the exam. She couldn’t look at me, anymore, after that, but read from a paper, that I didn’t have any STDs… but that I was pregnant. She handed another paper to my parents.

I barely understood what was going on, but… by law the pregnancy had already been logged into the state database. If for any reason I hadn’t given birth within ten months, there would be an investigation, and all three of us would be held criminally liable. We could go to jail. They could lose their home.

They fought every night after I went to bed for a week. To this day I don’t know which one of them wanted to stay and which wanted to go; they were arguing whether or not we should leave our home, move someplace we could still terminate. The arguments sucked both ways; there weren’t a lot of places you could go that record wouldn’t follow, and fewer still where both of them could readily find work. And they would definitely take a bath on the house; the downturn had been so bad they’d lose some of their equity- it would be harder for them to buy another home, and they might just end up renting the rest of their lives.

Finally I told them to stop. That I wouldn’t- I couldn’t– do that to them, either of them. It wasn’t an option on the table. We weren’t becoming fugitives over this. I think it was what they both wanted to hear, because just like that, we all decided I was becoming a mother. I… have complicated feelings about that. About them. But I don’t hate them for it.

I had to change doctors; my mom had it out with her, after months of canceled appointments. I half expected her to emerge with a head tucked under her arm. But her eyes were red from tears. “She’s a coward,” mom said, “or too soft-hearted for this world.”

I was a cautionary tale all of Senior year. I don’t know if people thought I couldn’t hear what they whispered about me, or if they deliberately whispered them loud enough so I could hear. But almost none of them asked what happened. Even most of my friends stopped talking to me. Their parents would freak out if they knew they were hanging out with someone like me. Worst of all, I knew there was every chance that if I had been one of them, and one of them was me, I would have done the same.

I barely dated that year. I think, in that regard, I was also a cautionary tale; nobody wanted the reminder that our young lives could be derailed so utterly violently. And truth be told, I don’t think I wanted anyone else to touch me; it was all still too raw, too fresh, and even my dad kissing my cheek goodnight made me flash back.

I think, too, that I wanted to prove everyone wrong. Every single person who saw my belly, after seeing that I wasn’t just overweight, wrote me off. My life was over. I was going to be on food stamps and welfare forever. And I had been such a bright young woman, too. So all of that time and energy I might have put into dates and friends, I put into books. Those were the two best semesters of my academic life.

It was good I wasn’t anywhere near valedictorian, because I missed graduation. You just had to come out. It’s honestly probably for the better; in my gown I looked like a pumpkin in a death shroud. And it also felt kind of perfect; my classmates were celebrating a threshold crossed, and so was I.

I don’t think, when I decided it would be less disruptive to our lives not to move, that I realized how the end of Roe upended adoption politics. I expected there was a mail chute or something I could drop you in- I’m kidding, obviously. I’m not saying I didn’t want you; really, I’m saying I hadn’t really considered that an option, at all. But when I started looking into adoption, it quickly became clear that wasn’t really an option at all.

And your grandparents were really supportive. I ended up staying home longer than any of us expected. They saved what they could for college, and instead of a state school, I did a community college, instead, and used the difference to pay a sitter. But dad got laid off, and suddenly my rainy day fund was our rainy day fund, and so I stopped taking classes and started working as a barista at the coffee stand on campus. Slow days they’d even look the other way if I kept you in a sling.

Then, one day I got served. Your father was suing me for custody. Dad got rehired, just in time for his entire salary to go to a lawyer to fight him. It didn’t matter that I didn’t press charges, she said; most DAs don’t prosecute a rape unless it’s iron clad, even when it’s statutory, and even a conviction wouldn’t have precluded him from suing me.

I slashed my wrists when I got home from meeting the lawyer; I couldn’t protect myself from him, no matter what I did, let alone protect you. Mom found me in the tub and got me to the hospital. I spent a couple of weeks in a facility, until they were convinced I wouldn’t try it again. I wasn’t anywhere near as convinced.

We talked about bringing it up in court, that your father was so dangerous and frightening that he drove me to the unthinkable. The lawyer suggested we keep the attempt out of the record; his lawyer could argue I couldn’t care for myself, let alone you. Somehow he found out, anyway, and told the judge, who told me if I made another attempt, he’d have no choice but to take you away, and either give you to my parents, or, more likely, to your father.

My lawyer was pretty great, though; she got the judge to only give him supervised visitations. That saved my life, and also my sanity, because as much as I hated the thought of him stepping foot in your life, at least this way you were safe.

In cause you hadn’t figured it by now, whatever we’d been to each other before, I was now very much invested in being your mother. I don’t know how or when it happened, other than it was definitely before your father served me, but I realized I loved you, despite your head looking mostly like a wad of clay that got stuck under couch cushions during the warm parts of summer- you’ve seen the pictures, you know what I mean. And you were still the most precious thing I’d ever seen.

Necessarily, the shape of my future changed. An advanced electrical engineering degree was out; I set my sights on trade work. I got a job working alongside dad; he was already starting to slow down- this was a few years before his heart attack. Between the three of us, we could do things in shifts, one of us always with you, one of us always working. At some point you stopped drooling and pooping (at least in the ways that required me to wipe up after you), and started walking and talking.

And I don’t think I really realized how much we were all burning the candle at both ends until dad keeled over. He was in the hospital for days, as they tried to fix his heart, and mom was with him the whole time, which meant I was trying to watch you, and get you ready for school in the fall, all while keeping his business going.

You starting school was maybe the thing that prevented us all from a collective breakdown, and possibly more heart attacks. It meant we all started getting more than 5 hours of sleep. It meant we could be people in our own rights again, have interests, and thoughts. We loved you, and we gave our time for you willingly; I only mean to say it’s hard to understand how much you’re giving until you suddenly have a lull.

And you started growing up into just the most wonderful little person. You reminded me mostly of me, but also so very much you, too. Most of the time I really only saw our odd little multi-generational family in you; you had mom’s weird, Skeksis feet, my rebellious eyebrows, and from a startlingly young age you impossibly had your grandfather’s barrel-chested laugh. But the older you got, the more I could see your father in you, too. The way your eyes crinkled at the corner when you were serious. And it hurt me, and I know, there were times, I let my hurt hurt you, too.

Things changed when your father drug me back in front of a judge. He was married, now, and a model citizen. No one had ever managed to file any kind of charges that ever stuck to him. So now he wanted unsupervised visits with you. I was terrified, because you were just the age that he started grooming me. Worse, he could afford a crueler lawyer, one who got the judge to forbid me from telling you all of this, from telling you who he is. I remember the judge yelling at me, that if I did, he’d give your father joint custody.

Mom and dad wouldn’t leave me alone for days; they could see how much I was hanging from a thread. I couldn’t let what he did to me happen to you- but the judge hadn’t given me a choice, so I kept vacillating between killing myself or your father. Neither plan got very far along; mom and dad were good at distracting me enough to keep the ideation in the early stages long enough for me to realize I needed to stay, for you, that whatever happened, I wasn’t going to fail to protect you.

But it was also the beginning of the end, because I realized I wasn’t living for me any longer; your father finally managed to choke the life out of me, and the only thing keeping me on my feet was trying to minimize the harm he could do to you.

I’m sure you noticed it, too. I’d tried dating, a few times, when you were growing up. Not anymore, not after that. And I know I became that mother, the one always asking about your bathing suit area, always talking about enthusiastic consent. Always insisting on meeting your friends, and staring into their eyes in the vain hope I’d be able to see that thing in your father I’d missed. You called me a prude; you said just because no one was seeing me naked I didn’t want anyone to be able to see you. That hurt little girl inside me agreed with you, but adult me was too scared of everything to stop, or at least be better at drawing those lines.

Around then mom got sick; the cancer took her quick. Dad didn’t last two months; she was the only thing keeping him going, after his heart attack. They left me the house, and their life insurance meant maybe there’d be money for your college after all.

I told myself I could wait until you graduated high school; it wasn’t that long until you’d be 18 and move out. It was every other day you spent telling me about a plan to move in with this friend or that, to go to San Diego, or Houston, or some other thriving metropolis. Then one day you walked in, beaming, holding a letter. I didn’t even know you’d applied, but you’d decided to go to the community college, to get your transfer degree, stretch out the money longer. I was proud of you, and thought that I could last a few more years, to support you.

Visitation ended, but by then you had enough of a relationship with your father you kept seeing him regularly, anyway. Worse, you stopped talking to me about it. I found little gifts around the house from him, and had to wonder if they were signs of a doting father, or a man grooming his own daughter. There were nights that I slept in the tub with a razor blade pressed against my wrist; I needed to know I could escape if I had to, that staying to protect you was a choice, and one I could revoke.

You took longer to graduate, because you got a part time job to help out with the bills, and stretch out the money from mom and dad. I tried to tell you you were getting the house, that so long as you downsized, you could buy something smaller and have as much money as you needed for school. But you wouldn’t hear it- you insisted I’d bury you, and you’d never take my home from me.

Eventually you got your transfer degree. But you didn’t go to the state campus, you went to the satellite campus in town, so you could stay home, and save money on food and rent. I didn’t mind… and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t treasure having two more years with you.

I want to stress that the problem was never you. It was always your father. Having to see him every other weekend. Having to smell his goddamned cologne on you when you came home, and having to remember the smell coming from me. Having to wonder if he’d done any of what he did to me to you. And I think, more than anything else, that is what breaks my heart. I let him make me a worse mother. I couldn’t tell you to stay away from him; even when you turned eighteen and he couldn’t threaten me anymore, you couldn’t hear me, and I know that put distance between us.

And I’ve read your latest email for the fifth time. It’s everything a mother could want. You’ve found an apartment. You’re getting on well at your job. And you’ve met someone. I hate that I won’t get to see the person you become, but I am so weary from this lifelong vigilance. I hope my loss won’t hurt your stride; I’ve spent my entire life eager for you to run.

But before I go, I want you to know that you are not the worst thing your father’s ever done; no matter what that judge said, you were always mine, always the best part of my life. The role your father played in our life was a stolen one, taken from someone more deserving, someone who could have loved us as we deserved. But that never made you any less my daughter, or any less at all.

Don’t be sad. Some parts of our story have been tragedy, but I promise you, this ending is a happy one. I raised a woman I could be proud of, one I’m happy survives me.

I’ll always love you,

Mom

* * *

“So should we send this to the daughter?” my junior partner asks me. He’s still new, though not as new as the asinine questions he asks imply.

“What have I told you? You take the stupid out of your mouth every morning before you come to work or I’ll slap it out of you.” He stares blankly at me, and I know he’s going to need the simplified version. “We failed this poor woman in life; we are not going to compound it by failing her in death, too.”

“So what do we tell the family?”

“Society failed to protect her twenty-five years ago. And it’s been failing to protect her every day since. This one’s on all of us.” I can see it in his puppy dog eyes that his heart’s about to break, and I sigh to let some of the anger off as steam. “And we tell her that her mom fought like hell to hold on for her, fought depression through years of suffering to get her where she needed to be, make sure she could handle herself before she let go.”

“You want me to write it up?” he asks, and he’s bounced back enough like a puppy I feel a twinge for kicking him.

“Sure.”

“And, uh, I’m sorry. I know this shit’s gendered, and sensitive, and I can be thick-”

“Christ, I don’t want you to apologize for your gender. I want you to do better than your peers. I want you to raise your boys to be better than their peers. I want you to be a part of the solution- including fixing reproductive rights into law- so twenty-five more years from now we aren’t standing over another woman we failed.”

“I, uh, hadn’t had the chance to tell you, we got some of the prenatal testing back. Apparently the sonographer was wrong. The twins are going to be girls- not a trace of y chromosome.”

On instinct, I grab him and pull him close. “Shit,” I tell him, feeling a little bit worse for the kicking now. “My condolences. You’re in the shit with the rest of us, now.”

DCEU ’22 Pitches 1: Milestones 2: Bound by Blood

The Deal: I pitch movies set in the DC or Marvel cinematic universes. Also other things. This pitch is a direct sequel to Milestones 1.

The Windup: Wait, I haven’t even finished up with ‘21’s Marvel pitches, so why am I posting the first of this year’s DC pitches? Procrastination? Time travel? Nope. It’s Juneteenth. Last Juneteenth, the first where it was officially a federal holiday, saw the posting of Milestones 1, following Milestone’s (the 90s own voices Black imprint) premier superhero trio, essentially their Superman, Iron Man and Spider-Man. Well, this here’s a sequel to that one, introducing Milestone’s take on the X-Men, as well as continuing the story of Icon, Hardware and Static. I’ve tried to modernize some elements, but as with last year, my pitch notwithstanding, this kind of project would need to be written and directed by Black professionals. As such, I’ve taken a relatively light hand, because I know enough to know that I don’t always know what I don’t know, you know? My goal here is to highlight the potential of a Black franchise, not whitesplain the work of Black artists or Elvisize it.

The rest of the DC pitches for ’22 will have to wait; I’ve got more to finish from the MCU ’21 pitches, so it will be a bit before more of these DC pitches happen (tentatively scheduled for mid-August) . If you want notifications of pitches, you can always follow me on the bird app.

The Pitch:

Night, at Alva Technologies. For a moment it’s a peaceful corporate campus. It’s subtle, but Rocket zooms into a window on one of the upper floors during this establishing shot.

We cut to the inside of the facility, into Curtis’ laboratory, and see his Hardware exosuit. Curtis and his most recent handler/assistant, Tiff, hear a boom from nearby. “What was that?” she asks, flat-footed.

Curtis dives for the assistant, pushing her out of the way as the metal door flies off its hinges where they had just been. We hear gunfire, as Icon walks into the room. Alva’s security, using high-tech assault weapons, are firing on him, hanging off him, desperately trying anything to even slow him down, and failing. He throws the one holding onto him into another shooting at him, as bullets ricochet near Curtis and the assistant. When the assistant tries to speak, Curtis covers her mouth. You can go one of two ways with the assistant; she can be Curtis’ protege that turns against him in her own suit of armor, Technique, or you can have him be the white supremacist patsy Curtis frames for joy-riding in the Hardware armor- I’m going to assume we do the former, because I want to play with all the action figures.

Icon looks up into the security camera pointed down at him. “You didn’t think that just because you stole Metcalf’s tech and expertise I’d let you keep them, did you?” Icon asks, before blasting the Hardware armor. If we’re looking for an opening credits montage, molten metal dripping off the armor could work. Icon turns his energy blasts next to the camera, before flying through the wall.

Cut to later, after Alva and more security arrive. He’s mid-lecture.

“You have close to a billion dollars worth of tech at your fingertips in this room, Curtis, and the second most impressive mind I’ve ever seen at work.”

“Yeah, the same tech your security used and he shrugged off- or that he melted without even having to try hard.”

Alva sighs. “Enough posturing, Curtis. Neither of us believe that armor was still nonfunctional, and we’ve both seen footage of someone wearing it out on the streets of our fair city. What I think happened, is you decide to steal my technology, and sell it to Arnus Freeman, only you tried to hardball him, and instead, well, you’ve cost me enough for a lifetime, I should think. You’re fired, with cause, so expect no severance, and if I can tie you to this catastrophe, you will be held liable to the fullest extent of the law, both criminal and civil. My lawyers will feast on whatever remains hanging off your bones.”

“Sir,” the assistant says, turning a screen towards Alva, “you should probably see this.” We see files rapidly changing in a server log, too quick to really understand.

“I’m too to important to guess at the significance of this.”

“Well, I believe it started with this.” She calls up security footage of Rocket accessing servers in their server room, attaching a drive of some sort. “It’s a worm. It crawled through our servers, and deleted everything Curtis Metcalf has ever touched. So far as I can see, that includes any consulting he did on other projects he wasn’t technically on. And… it happened just as the nightly back-up occurred; the worm was transferred to our offsite back-ups as well. It’s all gone.”

“You’re both fired,” Alva sneers. “And it might be prudent of you to flee the city, or possibly the state, in the event I’m feeling vengeful later.”

Alva’s security escort both of them out of the building at gunpoint. The assistant is hostile, clearly blaming him. “Tiff, I’m sorry,” she storms off.

Curtis walks past his company car, that security have already booted. “Company car,” one of them says to him, and he keeps walking with his box of goods.

We cut to deeper in the city. Curtis passes an alley, and is grabbed and pulled inside. “You didn’t think you’d evade me that easily, did you?” It’s Icon, but aside from projecting menace, he’s paused.

“Were we followed?” Curtis asks over an earpiece.

We cut to the sky above them, where Rocket is surveilling from just beneath cloud cover. “Clear skies,” she says over their radios, then dives, landing at the entrance to the alleyway, seemlessly moving from flight to walking. “No drones, no cars, no foot pursuit. You were right- Alva got so pissed he acted without thinking.”

Curtis touches a brick in the wall, and it scans his fingerprints. The bricks start to slide away, creating a doorway, that they all go inside. This is a hole new lab, better than the one at Alva, outfitted by Arnus, and supplying him with myriad alien tech, as well. At the center of the room is the real suit of Hardware armor, newly upgraded, augmented and visually redesigned both to sell a whole new series of action figures and to hide the stolen tech from Alva (and his lawyers).

“Think he bought it?” Icon asks.

“Not sure it matters,” Curtis says. “This tech is 9 generations from the suit he knew about. Even if they can reconstruct the data- which I doubt- they don’t have anyone left on their payroll smart enough to tie it to their tech. Tiff might have been able to, but he canned her with me.”

“You think we should bring her in on this?” Rocket asks, because she’s emotionally the most intuitive of the trio.

“Thought about it. But there’s no safe way out if we do. She says no, she’s a liability to us- it’s coercive even to ask. She says yes, and she could have Alva chasing her for payback the rest of her days. I’ll email her in a couple days, offer to get her a letter of recommendation.”

“I could offer her a job,” Arnus says.

“Same problem. We let her be with us, no matter how clever you are about hiding her in some shell company, and Alva will come after her. She’s smart, she’ll bounce back.”

We cut to the alley. She’s listening on a bug she planted in Curtis’ things. She hits the brick wall, we think out of frustration. But then she plugs a wire from a gauntlet into the hole she made, and hacks his transformer wall. “Screw that,” she says testily. “Who do you think you are freezing me out like this?”

“I think that settles your moral conundrum,” Rocket says, bemused.

“Tiff, why don’t you come inside?” Curtis asks. She does, and the door closes behind her. “Tiff, this is Arnus and Rocket. I think maybe we should talk.”

Static gets his own action scene, since he’s the more popular character of the group. He’s flying along on a manhole cover, chasing down a couple of member’s of Francis’ gang. I’m thinking they’ve stolen a backpack with a laptop in it from a fellow classmate on the way to school, and are trying to run away with it. Static swoops in among traffic, to much honking. He’s got his finished costume, now, and is clearly more steady flying. He zaps one on the butt, making him bonk his head on a street sign, then yanks a stop sign off its post, slides it under the running thug then pulls it out from under him to get a nice, satisfying, Home Alone style fall. Static is standing there triumphant holding out the girl’s backpack when off-screen we hear the sound of breaks squealing, a crash, and horns honking, and he realizes he hasn’t put the stop sign back. He winces, pantomimes “Sorry” and floats the sign back in place.

Static slides into his seat by the classroom door as the bell rings; he was in enough of a hurry he neglected to remove his mask. Rick is seated next to him, trying to get his attention whispering, “Dude” and miming removing the mask. He takes a moment to understand, and tears it off just as the teacher turns and notices him (just missing the mask).

At lunch, Rick tells Virgil he’d really like a chance to talk, that if he’s got a moment after lunch… but Virgil already promised he’d meet with the friendly gang leader to talk about Francis. He’s the same friendly-ish character from the last movie, only now he’s resembling, more and more, the Blood Syndicate’s Tech (sometimes called Tech-9 in the comics, but we don’t want to open up a trademark dispute- we’d lose- and Tech is a better overall name, anyway). He’s appreciative of what Virgil did for their sister (in the communal, not familial, sense), retrieving the girl’s bag during our chase scene, and once again offers Virgil the opportunity to join. But Virgil is savvy enough to know better, and declines. That hurts Tech’s pride, a little, because he’d prefer to have asked Virgil for help as a peer- but now finds himself coming hat in hand.

A quick aside, on Tech’s entourage. Masquerade is a shape-shifter; assigned male at birth, she’s been female since Freshman year, but once she got her powers, was able to look how she always felt. She’s got it bad for Tech, and he’s mostly playing like he doesn’t see it. Also with them are Fade, who is gay, but closeted, and might be the last person to know that he’s in love with Wise Son. They’re all a little skeptical of Static; Tech views him as a partner, even if he won’t join up, same as the ministers he distributes food through (his gang is modeled very much more on the Black Panthers- a civic-minded organization); some of that is Masquerade’s influence; she’s always been the angel on his shoulder.

One of their members was hit especially hard by her transformation. She was always autistic, but had been at least somewhat towards the Asperger’s end of the spectrum, but the mutagen interacted poorly with her condition, and she’s been really struggling since. Tech befriended her when they were kids. Because of her conditions she was teased, bullied for being “thick as a brick.” Boys stopped teasing her when she got older (and prettier); they didn’t understand that calling her “Brickhouse” would call back to their cruelty, and ensure she’d never want anything to do with them. Tech’s looked out for her his entire life- though this has its flaws- he steered her towards the same gang he was in for protection.

But since the accident she’s been different, more volatile, more susceptible to anxiety and triggers. She’s been staying with him as he tries to care for her, but he’s always viewed her as a sister, while for her he’s always been her knight in shining armor. Not wholly understanding the situation, she made a pass at him; even if he were interested, at that moment, when she’s most vulnerable, and most dependent on him for her survival, would not be the right time to consummate it. Tech blames himself when the combination of the anxiety and rejection makes her leave. But it gets worse. Ever since her mutation, Francis has been sniffing around, trying to recruit her for his gang. It’s predatory, and creepy.

Static is, of course, immediately sympathetic, and wants to help. This might be a good moment to clarify our status quo. Clearly, Hardware and Icon are working together. But Static is still an independent operator. Part of the reason Tech approaches him is hoping to call in the big guns; Static tells him what they did- that he’s a kid, and this is a war– they’re not going to encourage him to fight in it until he’s grown enough to make that call for himself. Tech’s disappointed, but still happy for the help, since Static can fly, and is quasi-friendly with the cops in a way that Tech and his syndicate aren’t. On that note… we probably shouldn’t call his gang “Blood Syndicate;” I think you could get away with tying a gang to a real-world one in a 90s comic, but in a 2020s movie, I don’t think that’ll fly. On the other hand, my subtitle for the movie is clearly a reference… so I’m conflicted, obviously.

But Static is clever, and asks if she’s got a phone. Tech says she never goes anywhere without it- it’s got this cat game she’s addicted to. He has Tech call it, and can feel the signal pinging off of cell towers. Problem is, he can also feel Francis and several of his other gang members closing in through their phones. Tech wants to fight; Static says there’s no time- which is likely also true, but he mostly didn’t want to get in the middle of yet another gang war. Static tells him to keep up, then flies off.

We cut back to Curtis’ lab. He and Tiff are working together. “I’m telling you, this is a bad idea,” Rocket says to Icon.

“Why’s that?” he asks.

“She’s still pissed. She’s not going to be able to just stow it.”

We cut to Tiff and Curtis, laboring over his redesign. “So what’s the plan?” she asks.

“I’m still not happy with the handling. Struts shimmy any time I pass the sound barrier, and it feels like I’m going to lose an arm.”

“I mean with us,” she touches his arm meaningfully, just long enough for us to start to wonder if we’ve missed something between them before she laughs. “And Alva.”

“Oh. I suppose you deserve the truth. He’s… involved in all kinds of shady things.”

“Really? The wealthy old white man’s up to no good?”

“More even than you’d guess. He supplied the mutagen the cops deployed last year. And he controls at least one of the gangs that started the brawl in the first place.”

“He turned a neighborhood into a petri dish. That’s dark, even for me.”

“So, mostly, we’re trying to counter his next moves. Trying to get ahead of him.”

“Since all of this has stayed out of the news, I assume he sues, threatens, or,” she drags her hand across her throat, “anyone who could point a finger.” They spend a moment silent. “That’s not going to work with the cops.”

“Oh?”

“My dad was a beat cop. Most days, they act like any other gang, scrap for turf, beat on anyone who doesn’t give them their proper respect. One way they’re different, is they won’t turn tail. I’m not talking about bravery; there are plenty of cowards in blue. But most gangs, you shine a light on them long enough, and they go to ground- they have to. But the cops… their pride won’t let them. Their whole mythology is about how much we need them. Mutated cops are going to be a problem- their pride won’t let them go quietly.”

“Then we need to fix this armor, so we can be part of the solution.”

Static runs into some trouble when he finds Brickhouse. Francis kind of freaks her out (he was one of her bullies growing up), so she’s kind of trying to hide from him in a warehouse when Static arrives. But she doesn’t know him, either- nor trust him. Tech realized that, and tries to call her. Now… I would pay Disney to use enough bars for an A Whole New World ringtone- though frankly I imagine they’d probably let you use it just for the cross-promotion if you said pretty please, but Tech’s ringtone is the song from Aladdin. She tries to answer, but she’s freaked out, and freaked out plus super strength and rock-hard fingers equals smashed phone. But again, Static is clever. He grabs an old throw rug and tosses it on his manhole cover so it looks like a flying carpet, and offers to help her get back to safety with Tech. Static is charming, but in a sweet, innocent sort of way, when he offers her his hand and quotes, “I can show you the world.”

“Shining?” she asks, taking his hand tentatively. “Shimmering?”

He helps her somewhat awkwardly onto the manhole cover, which was not designed for two people, as he says, “Splendid.” They fly off, over Francis and his goons. A few blocks away, they hear a car honking frantically below, and land. Tech and his crew, along with Rick, get out.

“He with you?” Fade asks of Rick. “He said he was, and tagged along.”

“Dude, you followed me. I’m the one with the find my friend app.”

But then Tech notices Brickhouse, wobbling on the manhole cover, not quite sure how to gracefully get off. He gives her a hand down. “Marta, I was so worried.” She wraps her arms around him, then recoils, feeling self-conscious that he doesn’t share her affection. “Hey,” he puts his arms around her, “I spent my whole life looking out for you. I don’t want to stop being here for you.” She latches back on again. “Why don’t you hop inside the car, huh? We’ll get you home. I’ll make you some cocoa.”

Tech helps her in, and the car sags noticeably, before he turns to the two of them. “I owe you, both of you. And I know this is a lousy way to start repaying you, but car’s full up.”

“We’ll manage,” Static says. Tech and crew ride off. Static walks with Rick.

“You sure you don’t want to take me on a magic carpet ride?” Rick teases.

“Figured we could use the walk. So what’d you want to tell me?”

“I didn’t know how to say it earlier, you know, in mixed company, but your fly has been down. All day. From the moment you left your house, to when you left me to stop a robbery. I’m pretty sure you exposed some pipe, while you were flying on your somewhat ironically named manhole cover.”

“I’d know. You get quite a breeze flying. So… what is it really?”

“Seeing the two of them… they’ve been friends as long as we have. I don’t know if that’s sweet or demented. It seems like there have been times in my life when your mom was more my mom than my mom was.”

“I didn’t hit my head, if that’s where you’re going with all of this…”

“I think I want you to remember the history, because… I’m worried it won’t be enough. That… what I’m going to say to you, you’re going to be different with me. And that is the last thing I want. You know?”

“I… don’t.”

“Of course not. That is practically the opposite of context. Okay. Um… I’m not looking for anything to change. Between us. About us. I just… there’s something I need you to know. About me. Because it hurts feeling like there are parts of me I don’t share with you.”

“I already know you watch My Little Pony. Like, way more than any human being should.”

“It’s a great show. And that is actually almost a mislead, because it is a super-straight fandom. Oh. Crap. That was… not how I meant to broach that.”

“That is legitimately hilarious.”

“Not the reaction I was hoping for…”

“No, I mean, I’ve heard you rehearsing pieces of your speech for weeks. You’ve obsessed over getting it across perfectly, and then… just blurt it out. It’s very you. That is hilarious. You coming out? Is cool. It’s brave. I’ve been rooting for you. Because I never want to be someone you have to hide from. Not even My Little Pony.”

“You need to watch it.”

“I need churros. I maybe should watch it. But I’m glad you told me.”

“Me, too. But it was hard. You’ve always been cool with every other gay person in school.” Static gives him a confused look. He becomes more confused with every new person mentioned. “Like Ms. Ellen, the Librarian. Pete on our soccer team. Pete’s boyfriend. Your gaydar may be completely broken.”

“Maybe I don’t see orientation.”

“At this point I’m not convinced you see, period. How many fingers am I holding up?” It’s three.

“Two more than I’m about to,” he says (this is all playful, if that didn’t read).

“Regardless, I knew you weren’t, yourself.” Again, Static is confused. “I have seen you literally fall over when a cute girl bares the tiniest amount of cleavage.”

“Bi is a thing.”

“Dude, the day you stare as hard at any guy as you did at Brickhouse, I will hand-sew you your own bi flag.”

“You sew?”

“Because sewing’s gay?”

“Is it?”

“I… don’t know. And of course I do. Who do you think fixed that awful sewing job on your costume?”

“My mom?”

“And you think she just fixed your costume and let you continue your life as a teenaged vigilante without a word?”

“Until this moment, I think I did.”

“Then thank God for both of us you reacted sweetly; I honestly don’t know how you’d survive without me.”

We cut to a news broadcast. “Violence erupted today at the downtown police precinct. An internal affairs investigation into the day shift found several officers had broke in, working in concert with one of the city’s main gangs. They have since seized control of the precinct, leading to a siege.” Footage of cops outside the building from different angles.

Rocket shows them a social media video on her phone. It’s Oro, a policewoman acting as a spokesperson for the cops holed up inside. “They’re trying to silence us. We were set up. The weapons Alva gave us changed us. They told us we could keep their secret, and work for him, or they’d get rid of us. But some of us can’t just keep going. A third of our guys can’t work, period. They took Gina off a respirator this morning. Alan will never walk again. This is about more than those of us still fit to serve, it’s-” the feed disconnects abruptly.

“We’re out of time,” Icon says.

Curtis kicks up his welding mask. “I need two minutes. I’m no good to you if the armor won’t stop a spitball.”

“Fine. We need to talk strategy, anyway.”

“I’ve been thinking about that. I think you need to stay out of sight.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because the cops can get their head around a man in a metal suit. It’s maybe stolen military tech. Maybe just a clever entrepreneur. But you? A bulletproof Black man who can fly, throw a building? Racist cops won’t sleep again.”

“Sounds all right to me…”

“That’s because your bulletproof.” Curtis finishes, and steps into the armor, which closes around him. “Cops are so much worse when they’re scared; we don’t want to make them feel cornered- at least not until we’re ready to move on the ones who are dirty. But I can draw fire without freaking them out too much.”

“While I get the mutated ones out. Any ideas?” He lifts his arm, and a projection from his gauntlet shows the sewers flow right next to the building’s basement. “Clever.”

We cut to the cop shop. Hardware lands in front of the line of cops hiding behind cars. He broadcasts through external speakers, “I’m going to handle this situation. Disperse, so we can avoid violence.”

The cops, predictably, overreact, and open fire. Hardware is careful not to cause more damage than necessary, mostly taking and breaking police firearms. To that end I’d put a powerful electromagnet on his back, one that rips the guns out of the hands of the cops nearest him.

Icon flies through the sewers, going on foot when his GPS says he’s close. He finds a S.W.A.T. team manned by mutated cops who played ball, setting breaching charges. “I’d ask you to desist and let me peaceably through… but I’d rather put you in the sewage where you belong.” Icon tears through them in the confined space. It should be a pretty wild action scene. We can intercut between Hardware on the street and Icon beneath it. After Icon finishes dealing with the S.W.A.T. team, he walks through the wall. Cops open fire on him.

We cut to the police line outside. “That came from inside. Did our team breach?” They try to reach S.W.A.T. on the radio, but can’t reach them, so decide to breach. They ignore Hardware (though one does try to pry his shotgun off Hardware’s magnet, Sword in the Stone style, before giving up), and instead break down the door, only to find the precinct empty. Stacked in front of the hole in the wall is the unconscious S.W.A.T. team, preventing a timely pursuit.

Icon leads the mutated cops, including Oro, away. “I appreciate the assist, and everything,” she says, “but where does this leave us? They weren’t negotiating; they didn’t even try. They were going to execute us.” They exit the sewers, to find Hardware.

“I had a thought about that on the flight over, and called some friends.” Static lands beside him, and a moment later, Tech arrives in his car, and the rest of his crew arrive in other cars.

We’re now at a warehouse where Tech and his gang hang out. Tech agrees to help smuggle most of the cops away, that the other cops will keep trying to kill them if they stay. He offers to protect anyone who does stay, that they could use strength, since Francis has been jostling for control.

Fade arrives, tells them that Francis is doing a charm offensive. Only it’s more offensive than it sounds- he’s been straight-up threatening people who don’t join, but the get-together in the park is the carrot. Oro recognizes him- he threatened her, too- and realizes that Francis is working with Alva and the cops. They realize they have to show up in force, fight if necessary, but show them that it’s safe to say no to Francis, or he’ll gather enough metahumans to be unstoppable.

At first blush, it looks like public outreach, snacks, games. But there’s an undercurrent of fear and intimidation; the stick is the threat of Francis turning his wrath on those who don’t sign on. Tech and his crew arrive, and tell Francis it’s not okay to threaten people. Francis claims that Tech’s the real aggressor, and attacks.

Initially Hardware, Icon and the mutated cops (I’d throw in both Donner and Blitzen, too, since they’re locals, even if we may not be able to give them better screen time until 3) are able to stem the loss of life/bloodletting, but it’s also clear they can’t hold Francis back forever. Tech is preparing to fight- to make it bloody. That’s when Masquerade intervenes. She tells him that he’s more than he thinks he is- that he knows what they need, even if he hasn’t let himself see it. They don’t need guns- there are more than enough of those on the street. But he can do so much more than he realizes- he can make so much more than guns. He teams with Static to instead create a microphone, and gives a rousing speech into the park’s speakers. Some stay with Francis, but most walk away; a few stay and fight. Eventually, the good guys win.

Epilogues: Masquerade spells out for Tech her feelings- shifting to who the boy he used to know, then back into herself, sad that he can’t love her for who she is, because he’s hung up on who she was. He tells her it’s not that. She’s beautiful, and she’s always been one of his best friends- so much so he wondered growing up if he liked men. But when she came out, he realized he always knew, and loved her for who she’d been even before then- and if that makes him bi? So what. But… he’s been trying to wave her off because of Brickhouse. She loves him, and she’s fragile. And he loves her like a sister, and always will, but can’t hurt her… only Brickhouse overhears this, and confronts them. “Don’t.” She takes his hand. “I love you. Enough to want you happy. Even if it can’t be with me.” She gives Tech’s hand to Masquerade.

I’m not deep into Milestone lore, to know if Static has a better love interest, but personally, I’d likely set up Brickhouse with Static in the sequel. To start in that direction, after Tech and Masquerade walk off to talk, she sees Static being sweet and heroic and community-spirited (so many of the things that attracted her to Tech to begin with), helping to make a young girl frightened by all the violence smile and feel safe again. He notices her looking at him, and smiles, giving a dorky little wave. She waves back.

Rocket talks to Icon, milling about the edge of the park. She chides him, because this is exactly the kind of thing she wanted, and exactly the kind of thing he’d removed himself from by being above it. “You’ve missed out on a lot of this. But what matters is you’re here, now. You helped create this. You helped people who couldn’t help themselves- couldn’t protect themselves from Francis. You made an impact.”

Credits. Mid-credits scene: Hardware and Tiff are working on a new piece of tech. “I want to do more- I can do so much more.” It sounds like they’re having a fight. “I’m wasted as a glorified lab assistant.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” he says, and hands her a breastplate for a new suit of armor, one fit to her dimensions. She holds it up, and we zoom in on it to go to more credits.

End credits scene: We follow Alva into a secretive base, some kind of high tech/elevator Hallway. I’m assuming we won’t have the entire Shadow Cabinet cast- though we can have Donner and Blitzen here, if we’ve had them kicking around for 2 movies. I would like to cast Dharma for this scene, as he’s the one Alva’s meeting. Dharma greets him as an old friend, before asking what brings him to the Shadowspire.

Alva smiles. We know it’s a wicked sort of smile, but others, Dharma included, need to be able to see him as friendly. “Same reason I always visit. I want to help you save the world.”

We pull back, and can see Alva’s wearing some kind of high-tech equipment under his clothes; it can be a bracelet or something subtle, but the idea, I think, is that Alva’s found a way to disrupt Dharma’s ability to see the future and past of any object he touches. He’s going to use this to turn the Shadow Cabinet against the other heroes. Next Juneteenth is going to be fun.

Pitchmas 2021, Part 5: Spider-Man and the Future Foundation

The Deal: I pitch movies set in the Marvel or DC cinematic universes. Also other things. This starts as a sequel-ish to Fantastic Four as I described it. If you don’t want to read that pitch, the gist is Doom has sullied their names, and they’re time-displaced from the 60s, broke and largely without any tech to their names- so they’re in a remarkably similar position to Spider-Man at the end of No Way Home. This is also being bumped up a few weeks, because of some timely casting thoughts (you’ll know them when you see them… unless you’re reading it even a few days later, then it may not be timely at all… insert your own Marvel pun here).

We start with Reed and Sue in bed. No, not like that. They’re sleeping. Reed mumbles a name in his sleep, then sits bolt upright. Sue asks him what’s wrong. “What’s a Peter Parker?” he asks.

Sue yawns. “I don’t know. Did he pick a peck of pickled peppers?”

Reed is using some kind of 3D hologram computer thing to search online. “I think that was Piper. Nothing on the internet- I mean, nothing useful– there are dozens of Peter Parkers in this borough, but… it’s a tickle in my brain. I can’t even describe it, let alone explain. But that name. It’s important, somehow.” He gets up, and is already on his way out of the room. “I’ll be in the lab, honey.”

“I guess I’ll just try to go back to sleep then…” she drops frustrated back onto the bed. She closes her eyes and sighs wearily. “No, I’ll make coffee.”

We cut to a little later. She enters his lab, with two cups, now dressed. “Oh, thank you, darling,” Reed says, stretching across the room to take his. “So I have fascinating news. One, magic really is just technology we didn’t previously understand, though I’m in the process of inventing a new branch of mathematics to be able to- but more importantly, someone used it to make us all forget ‘Peter Parker.’”

“Who?” she asks, because the spell has already made her forget him all over again.

“Right. I’ve been able to change the shapes of the impacted neurons in my own mind to circumvent the spell, but I also invented an innoculation,” he’s already stretched an arm with an injector, and shoots the serum into her arm, startling her.

“Reed, we’ve talked about this. It’s not okay for you to inject people with new inventions without consent- informed consent.”

“Sorry. I get caught up in my train of thought and completely forget. The spell made all of us forget Peter Parker.”

“You mean Spider-Man.”

“Precisely. But the reason this has been on my mind, is that the morning of the spell, I received this email.” He pulls it up as a hologram. “Purported to be from Tony Stark, but clearly arrived after his death. It’s supposed to be automated, triggered by Jonah Jameson outing Parker to outrage and vitriol, apparently asking me, as the currently most intelligent adult available, to take Parker under my wing. My to-do list kept trying to ping this information; I don’t know if it was a flaw in the spell, my coding, or just the spell not being calibrated to handle a brain made of chewing gum, but his name kept creeping into my dreams.”

“Should I be worried you’re dreaming about underaged boys?”

“He’s an adult. College-aged. And just the name. My dreams are typically equational, not prurient; I’m not Johnny.”

We cut to Johnny, and show bouncy bed springs from below, and his face, bouncing, sweaty, from enough of an angle for a moment we worry what we’re about to see. Then we pull back, and see he’s jumping up and down on the top bunk of a bunk bed.

“Come on, I’m bored.”

“It’s night,” Ben grumbles, “you’re supposed to be sleeping.”

He drops onto his butt, bounces to the floor. “I’d say you’re supposed to be grumping, but you’re holding up your end on that.”

Ben sighs. “Matchstick, I got a complexion you could only fix with an angle grinder, and most of the rocks on my face are still cracked from our last fight. Stretch still don’t know if they’ll ever properly ‘heal,’ and somehow I’m still sore. I need my beauty rest.”

“Why, are you worried about getting uglier?” We see he’s actually hurt by this, and Johnny flops down beside him. “Oh, come on, Ben! I always teased you about your mug.”

“Yeah, but it used to be subjective. Now… well, look, it’s a face only the blind could appreciate, even then, only from afar.”

“Okay, it’s just sad when you rag on yourself. So let’s go. Let’s do something. Anything has got to be better than moping around here. We could mini golf.”

“No, we can’t. Last time we tried, I snapped the club like a toothpick.”

“Right. Motion control games.”

“They suck.”

“They suck a lot less than having to replace controllers every time you try to hit ‘X.’” Ben sighs, resigned. “Or, I could make us some BLTs.”

“Now you’re speaking my language.” Okay, it’s at this point that I’m actually forming an interesting casting thought. We raid the Community closet for this movie. Jeff Winger as a brainy but dickish Reed (or Abed, and lean into Reed on the Spectrum, and use Jeff for the antagonist, instead). Donald Glover as Johnny. Either Annie or Britta could work for Sue (their takes would of course be different, I’m not suggesting they’re interchangeable). And Chang for the Thing. He’s already played a Jewish Asian in Community. It… works better than it has any real right to, frankly.

“Sorry to interrupt, but I actually have something for us,” Reed says from the doorway.

Now, for this sequence, I’d probably do a Sinister 5 kind of thing; Spider-Man’s bench continues to be impressive enough that I think that could work. I’d stay away from characters we’re using in Sinister 7, which does limit us somewhat.

Spider-Man is fighting a team led by Kraven featuring Lady Octopus, Rhino, Electro & Sandman. At first he’s quipping, doing okay… but they’re wearing him down, just too many villains, especially now that Kraven has pegged that all they have to do to make him act recklessly is threaten civilians. Lady Octopus knocks Spider-Man back with her metal arm, and Kraven catches him, ready with a ceremonial dagger. He plunges it down, but it hits an invisible forcefield.

The Fantastic Four arrive, and make short work of the villains, who expected a 5-on-1, not a fair fight, and Spider-Man rallies. As part of the fight, Sue ends up in the water, and uses an invisible forcefield to make an air bubble around her.

After the fight, Spider-Man is apologetic. “I’m so sorry,” he says, as they watch from a rooftop while the cops cart the bad guys away. “I wanted to handle it myself. I should have called the Avengers- would have…”

“But they don’t remember you,” Reed says. “Well we do, Peter.”

“Uh…”

“Magic is just science we don’t understand. Well… I’m working to understand it. So we know who you are. And just as importantly, we want to help. You’re practically a kid. You shouldn’t be taking this kind of weight onto your shoulders. Not alone. We don’t have a lot. But what we have is yours.”

“Reed, did you… read?” Sue asks. “Like the whole email? Because what we have just got a lot more substantial. Tony Stark didn’t just ask you to look after Peter. He gave you a grant of millions of dollars to do it.”

“We should probably talk to someone about that.”

We smash cut to a legal office (you’ll see what I did there in a second). My preference is always for She-Hulk, because I like the character more, but Matt Murdock is all but certainly cheaper. She explains, “The money is coming out of a fund Starkset up for philanthropic enterprises, nominally overseen by Pepper Potts. Her administration has been largely hands-off, because Stark set up automatic triggers using his Friday A.I. to watch out for certain circumstances. Like this one. The money is yours if you agree to watch out for a Peter Parker’s well-being. There isn’t a lot of detail as to what that entails.”

“I have some thoughts,” Reed says. “But one thing I did want to check in on… does it say the funds can only be used to see to the well-being of Parker… or can they be used more expansively.”

“As I read it, you have a wide degree of latitude. It’s always possible Ms. Potts or the foundation could ask how the funds are being used, or even seek an injunction if they feel they aren’t being used wisely, but even in that scenario, I’m not certain there’s even the possibility of a clawback, since there doesn’t seem to be an enumerated mechanism.”

Now, this idea basically builds off the one that I mentioned in the Iron Man 4 pitch; I’m going to both assume, for our purposes, that happened, but also like it was a blip, and didn’t create any kind of permanent infrastructure, that this is basically an attempt to codify that and make it lasting.

We do a quick build-up montage, as Fury’s dingy hideout is turned into a state of the art laboratory. Peter enters. “This is amazing.”

“I’ve always been partial to fantastic,” Reed says, “but it’s all thanks to you.”

“All I did was get found by Mr. Stark.”

“You impressed Tony- and not many did. Tony wanted to provide for your future. I’m… trying to build on that idea. And before anyone else arrived, I wanted to thank you. Plenty of people in your situation would want to, what’s the phrase, take the money and run?”

“I’ve learned the hard way that it shouldn’t be about me. The world is bigger and better than just me. And I’m excited to meet it.” Here’s where it gets fun.

Amadeus Cho (Note: this comes after Incredible Hercules), Riri Williams, Moongirl, Prodigy and any other child geniuses/prodigies we can think of enter the room. “Welcome to the Future Foundation,” Reed says. “The minds in this room are some of the greatest of your generation. You will build a future that will make men like Tony Stark, Hank Pym and myself pale in comparison. You have the opportunity to build something beautiful and utopian, solutions to problems that don’t devolve into punching. Spider-Man here is our example; what he did to help people some would have written off as villains speaks well to his character, and well of those who raised him.”

“I’m just… Peter. That’s already enough pressure. I guess, I’ve seen enough people who just wanted to provide for their family, or right an injustice, who ended up on the wrong side of things… I don’t like people getting hurt, when what they really need is help.”

We pull back, and see that Sue is feeling left out already. We hear Johnny before we see him, “I can’t believe you’re jealous of his test-tube babies.”

“I used to be his test-tube baby,” Sue says sadly.

“Gross.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I was worried my sister might be sitting sullenly in a lab somewhere being gross.”

“You are such a dork.”

“Did you know dork means whale dong? The internet is awesome.”

“Don’t believe everything you read on wikipedia.”

“That sounds like what you’d name an encyclopedia of micropenises.”

“Then you’d be all over it,” Ben says as he enters.

“Hot foot,” Johnny says, setting Ben’s foot on fire. Ben hops on one foot as he smothers it with his hands.

“Real mature.”

Sue sighs. “This was weeks in the making,” she says. “When it started, we were partners. But every day, he’s gotten a little more distant. This is such a great thing we were doing… and now it’s a great thing he’s doing, while I watch from the sidelines.”

“So,” Ben says, “why don’t you get off the sidelines?”

We follow her into the room. “Ah, Susan,” Reed starts. “You all know Susan. Most of you spoke to her on the phone. I would posit myself as the brain of this operation, but the heart, the soul, the hands- the rest, really- is her. I have been known to disappear into my puzzles and problems, but if you ever need something, she’s the person who can help. I hope I’m not signing you up for more than you want, dear.”

She smiles, awkwardly. This story is, in part, about Sue feeling unseen and neglected, and I absolutely want to display the emotional truth of that… but it’s also a balancing act, because it won’t have the depth, either, if we don’t show the moments of true and genuine affection between them, too.

Later, Sue is sitting with the geniuses. “So,” Amadeus leans forward, “what are you hoping to accomplish, here?” She’s confused. “I guess I assumed we’re like a think tank, right? So we’re here to solve a particular problem.”

“Yes, and no,” Sue responds. “You’re here to solve the future. Reed, if he hadn’t been ripped out of our own place in space-time, likely would have single-handedly advanced human technology twenty years. But he sees the same possibility in all of those here. You have all, already, single-handedly created math and technology that could change the world- should change the world. Ms. Walters has already put us in touch with a good patent attorney. What we’d like to do is, with your individual permission, of course, file those patents under your names, but place royalties accrued into a general fund that can be used to continue the Future Foundation indefinitely. No funds or fees will go to any of the adults here. But if you’d prefer, we can set aside all or some of those funds for your family or your personal use, as well. You’ll be provided an opportunity to speak to Ms. Walters or Mr. Murdock individually- while we will be compensating them for their time from Tony Stark’s grant, in these matters they are your representatives- to help you understand whatever elections you make, and of course any selections will require, for those of you under 18, parental signature, as well.”

“What about rent? Or food?” Peter asks.

“The stipend we have from the Stark foundation should be enough to pay room and board and cover the cost of this facility for this inaugural class. After that, it all depends on contributions, and how quickly Reed’s patents and any others become profitable.”

At first Sue does get to be involved, but what she complained about continues to happen. Quickly, what looks like the A story, about the Foundation, is going to become the B, as Sue spends time at the harbor, trying to deal with her melancholy and loneliness.

It comes to a head when Sue, on one of her sabbaticals, misses a mission with the other 4. Spider-Man subs in, and she arrives home to see their triumphant return. She watches, invisible, as they celebrate, as she feels more and more like a fifth wheel as they celebrate one another.

She leaves, but on this walk, she’s approached by a strange man. He’s handsome, and offers to walk with her. As they hit the waterfront, he invites her to his place out on the water. He takes her to the dock, and she asks where his boat is. He says where they’re going, they don’t need boats, and jumps in the water. His clothes go floating up behind him, and she says “You’re insane if you thinks I’m skinny-dipping with a man I just met… “she drops off as he climbs out of the water, his moist skin glistening in the moonlight. “Okay, that might be the single greatest possible argument for skinny-dipping with a man in the moonlight I’ve only just met…” He assures her she doesn’t need to remove her clothes, but she will need to her own supply of air, which he’s seen her create before. “You were there,” she says, putting together that he saw their fight with the Frightful Five.

“I was. And I was instantly enchanted, so much so that I barely remembered to intervene. But please. Come with me. We both know I could scarcely touch you if you didn’t allow it, and I would lay my life down at your feet before I allowed harm to come to you- even from myself.”

She pulls away from him. “But why? Why me? Why like this? Why not just call it a night, and get coffee tomorrow?”

“Because I know you’d go back to him, and that would break my heart. Not for myself, but because you deserve a man who adores you like I do. You deserve to be treasured, and cherished. And he doesn’t. He won’t. I doubt that he can. Even if it’s just to spend a night away, even if you never allow me the touch of your skin, I plead that you not return, just this one night. After that, if you still want to go back, I won’t seek to stop you, and you won’t have to wonder if you’re stuck, staying with him in a rut because he’s convenient and there.”

Sue texts Reed to tell him not to wait up, that she got a room near the pier, and a glass of wine and just needs an evening away. His phone buzzes on the laboratory table; he doesn’t notice it.

I think it’s Amadeus who brings it up to the kid geniuses. “So, this is weird, right… but my equations are incredibly predictive. I knew Reed Richards was going to start the Future Foundation likely before he did, and guessed his initial line-up with 93% certainty. It’s not a brag it’s just… behavioral modeling. And… my modeling predicts something bad is going to happen?”

“Should I start polishing my helmet?” Riri asks.

“Uh…” he really wants to make the dirty joke on the tip of his tongue, but Moongirl is super young and he’s hoping he can stall long enough for the temptation to pass.

“It gets dents and scuffs I have to polish out- never mind. Is it a helmet kind of problem, is the salient question?”

“I’m not sure. Sue’s unhappy. Reed’s been spending more of his time with us, and she’s feeling left out, and unfulfilled. Missing out on an emergency situation just, it makes that worse.”

“You can really predict what’s going to happen?” Peter asks.

“Not what. That. I can predict that something will happen. Sue’s not coming back tonight. Maybe she meets somebody. Maybe she gets mugged in the park. Bad things happen tonight.”

“Helpful,” Moongirl says.

“Actually… knowing that something will happen is half the battle,” Riri says, wearing her helmet. She holds out her gauntlet, and projects some camera footage of Sue going into the water with a stranger. “From there it’s just a matter of tracking her phone to the docks, and pulling up a camera when her phone stopped moving.”

“Um… is anyone else worried she’s not coming up for air?” Peter asks.

“With him? I’m not sure I can blame her not wanting to come up for air,” Riri says. “What? Like I haven’t seen the way either of you look at Sue.”

“Fair enough,” Amadeus shrugs. “But then the question becomes… what do we do with it?”

“We shouldn’t tell Reed,” Peter says. “If it’s nothing, if it’s innocent, then we’re inserting ourselves in their relationship in a way that isn’t healthy for them or us.”

“And if it’s not?” Riri asks.

“Then it’s probably better it come from family.”

Ben and Johnny investigate, Ben in his hat and trenchcoat. It’s a relatively quick scene, since the video mostly tells the tale. But they find some lockers nearby, with her phone inside, and her keys and wallet. There’s no sign of a struggle. They reason one of two things have happened, that either she went willingly, or there’s some kind of coercion. And they can’t verify which without Reed.

Spider-Man is with them when they tell Reed, who is largely nonchalant. His posture is mostly, “I don’t want Susan to feel obligated, not to me, not to us, not to the Foundation.”

“Sure,” Johnny says, “and I get that. But what if she was threatened. There are any number of ways she could have been coerced. If she’s okay, we can leave her alone. The bigger issue is going after her.”

“Best we could come up with was having you stretch into a diving bell,” Ben says.

“Depending on how far down, I don’t know that I could hold a bell shape indefinitely. We might be better off figuring something else out.”

“I… might have a solution.” Peter is… weird about bringing it up. “But none of you can ever say anything. To anyone. Ever. Not even to me.” Quieter. “Especially not to me.”

They go to Stark Tower. There’s a secret elevator that goes down. “Did Tony have Iron Man diving suits?” Reed asks, his curiosity clearly peaked.

“It’s just better if you see it for yourselves.” Peter shows them an undersea bachelor pad. It is just as Love Motel as you might initially assume. Johnny is enamored. “One time, when Mr. Stark had a martini, he told me about this place. Before he and Ms. Potts started dating, he’d bring women down here to, seal the deal. Apparently bringing women underwater, or taking them for a ride on his private submarine, was sometimes what it took.”

“What I think the kid is saying is this whole place is six degrees from Tony’s undercarriage,” Ben says.

“Likely less,” Reed remarks.

We go back to Sue. Namor’s underwater palace is phenomenal, beautiful, but also exotic. And he really is into her, in all of the ways that Reed just hasn’t been able to be. So she’s legitimately torn. Namor seems like he really values her, and Reed… doesn’t need her. He’s found his calling, his people, his place. I think that is what makes this arc work- it feels like a tragic ending to their love affair…

And then she finds out that Namor, while absolutely adoring her, is going to completely screw up the world. He was there to begin with doing reconnaissance for his entrance to the United Nations. He was going to demand they recognize Atlantis as a nation, and then the ceding of all bodies of water connected to the oceans to him- that humanity had proven themselves bad stewards, and he was going to take over where they had proven incapable. That would mean no more territorial waters for countries, that instead the beaches would become shared territorial property. He is fanatical in his description; refusing to hear that no country would yield to his demand, let alone all of them, that what he’s demanding would at best make him a rogue state, but likely a global ecoterrorist.

She argues for another solution, that his problem is exactly the kind of thing she and Reed built the Future Foundation to solve- that they can solve pollution and garbage and make the oceans clean and habitable again. But he doesn’t trust humans. Even if Reed manages a solution, humans can’t even get ahead of climate change, even as disasters ramp up and kill increasingly more of the population. That is why they aren’t right for one another- Sue’s is ultimately a hopeful view of the future, and Namor’s isn’t (and maybe can’t be, because he’s responsible for so many sea lives that hang in the balance).

It’s then that Reed arrives, having heard enough of Namor’s rant to know the score. Namor’s sad, and when Sue looks like she wants to go, says, “I won’t stop you.”

But she turns, and squares to him. “I’m afraid I have to stop you.” They have a big old fight, culminating in the destruction of Namor’s palace. He’s essentially too strong for them, especially in the open sea, but Sue makes sure that he knows he’d have to destroy her to get to them- that he relents, and departs.

I’m in a weird mood today (or maybe I’m just incensed by the misogynist fury pointed undeservedly at the actress), so I’m going to suggest Amber Heard as Sue Storm. And I’d wave just so much money at Jason Momoa to be Namor, because it would be hilarious (and because he has, thus far, actually been a stand-up dude and supportive of Heard). Come on, think about it. Ridiculous, trolling casting. Otherwise, any dude who can rock a tiny pair of green trunks will do.

Back in the lab, Reed confronts Susan about her betrayal; Reed, for all his aloofness, is genuinely hurt to find that Sue went with Namor willingly. “I don’t understand, Susan. I know I can be an imperfect partner, immensely flawed, even. But even in your disappointment, I don’t see how you could choose to treat me this way.”

“I didn’t think you’d notice I’d gone,” she says, then quieter, “I didn’t think you’d care.”

The pain in her voice absolutely melts him. “Susan…” his voice catches. “That’s my fault. I get so caught up, in trying to fix things, things that are my fault, things that happened because I wasn’t where I should have been, or who… and I neglect the most important people in the world to me. I don’t want to pursue invention for invention’s sake, or to make a better world in the abstract. I want to make a better world for you, for us, for our family, for our children… but I recognize that a single-minded pursuit of that cannot come at the expense of our relationship, cannot come at the cost of me neglecting you, neglecting to tell you that, Susan… I would be lost without you. And I don’t mean in the sense that you compensate for my faults, and make me a better man that I otherwise would be- though you do. I mean that without you I am far from fantastic; I’m not even a man, clanging tools together in a cave. I can imagine a life without limbs, without my intellect, but a life without you? Blackness. Bleakness. Empty. And it should not take a fishman in a tight bathing suit to prompt me to tell you that you are my world, and I am truly sorry for that.”

“That fishman did fill out his bathing suit,” she teases. “But I’m sorry, too. This is not how you should find out I’m unhappy, or feeling alone. You might not always be the partner I want… but I still have a responsibility to be the partner you deserve, too. And, nicely though he filled out his bathing suit, Namor is not the kind of man I could ever fall in love with, because he lacks the quality I need most in my life: hope. Hope that the future can be better than today, and that we can get there, together, if we work hard enough to build it. Which means I’m stuck with you.” He wraps an arm around her.

We pull back, and can see that the future geniuses have been watching. To make it cute, silly, and marketable, they’re watching through a Spider-Bot (as seen at a Disney Theme Park near you). “We did a good thing, guys,” Riri says.

“And ladies,” Moongirl adds.

The girls leave, and we linger with Peter and Amadeus. “Want to talk about it?”

“I don’t know if I’m ready,” Peter hedges.

“Well, if you ever need-

We go to high-speed nervous rambling Peter, “So I think I had what they have but then she forgot because of a magical spell and I thought at the time it was best to leave her alone so she didn’t have to worry about being attacked for knowing me but seeing them work through things makes me miss her and wish, well, wonder, if maybe I made a mistake, if it should have been a love conquers all moment instead of me sacrificing my happiness to protect her, and now I’m sort of seeing this other person who’s really neat and sweet and I feel like my heart and my head are clacking like those weird little silver ball desk things constantly.”

“You understand I’m the only person in the world who could keep up with that, right? I am… not well-versed in women and adjacent issues. But what I can say is this: what happened in there happened in part because you are one of the most emotionally intelligent people I’ve ever met. I think if you listen to the Peter in here,” he points at Peter’s chest, “that you’ll know what you want, and what’s right, and how to navigate the differences between those two things.”

“Could your equations tell me what to do?”

“No. They might be able to tell me what you will do, but figuring out what you should do… that’s something only you can figure out.”

We start credits. Mid-credits scene. Lawyers and repossessors exit the elevator just behind Peter and Amadeus. The lawyers hand Amadeus paperwork, as the repossessors begin to box everything up.

“What the hell?” Peter asks.

“It seems Victor Von Doom, which apparently is his real, legal name, somehow, sued Reed for damages done to his face. And won. The entirety of the grant and all assets procured therewith are being seized. Dr. Doom just beat the Fantastic Four without lifting a finger.” More credits.

End-credits scene. The elevator opens again, this time it’s She-Hulk. “You’re to cease and desist all seizure,” she says, handing the paperwork to the overseeing lawyer. The FF arrive from the other room. As the repossesors and layers leave.

“What’s going on?” Sue asks.

“Doom seized the grant. Apparently they served illegal notice, but managed to force a trial anyway. Matt and I did our best to fight it when we found out, but… he’s taking all of the money Tony gave you. But, Reed’s patent for unstable molecules has already been approved, and a licensing deal struck with several chemical-producing conglomerates. Licensing fees alone are going to keep the lights on in this place for the foreseeable future, as well as cover the cost of any equipment already purchased with Tony’s funds. Wisely, the unstable molecule patents were all filed under the Foundation’s name, so Doom can’t access them. So the Future Foundation is here to stay.”

We start with Reed and Sue in bed. No, not like that. They’re sleeping. Reed mumbles a name in his sleep, then sits bolt upright. Sue asks him what’s wrong. “What’s a Peter Parker?” he asks.

Sue yawns. “I don’t know. Did he pick a peck of pickled peppers?”

Reed is using some kind of 3D hologram computer thing to search online. “I think that was Piper. Nothing on the internet- I mean, nothing useful– there are dozens of Peter Parkers in this borough, but… it’s a tickle in my brain. I can’t even describe it, let alone explain. But that name. It’s important, somehow.” He gets up, and is already on his way out of the room. “I’ll be in the lab, honey.”

“I guess I’ll just try to go back to sleep then…” she drops frustrated back onto the bed. She closes her eyes and sighs wearily. “No, I’ll make coffee.”

We cut to a little later. She enters his lab, with two cups, now dressed. “Oh, thank you, darling,” Reed says, stretching across the room to take his. “So I have fascinating news. One, magic really is just technology we didn’t previously understand, though I’m in the process of inventing a new branch of mathematics to be able to- but more importantly, someone used it to make us all forget ‘Peter Parker.’”

“Who?” she asks, because the spell has already made her forget him all over again.

“Right. I’ve been able to change the shapes of the impacted neurons in my own mind to circumvent the spell, but I also invented an innoculation,” he’s already stretched an arm with an injector, and shoots the serum into her arm, startling her.

“Reed, we’ve talked about this. It’s not okay for you to inject people with new inventions without consent- informed consent.”

“Sorry. I get caught up in my train of thought and completely forget. The spell made all of us forget Peter Parker.”

“You mean Spider-Man.”

“Precisely. But the reason this has been on my mind, is that the morning of the spell, I received this email.” He pulls it up as a hologram. “Purported to be from Tony Stark, but clearly arrived after his death. It’s supposed to be automated, triggered by Jonah Jameson outing Parker to outrage and vitriol, apparently asking me, as the currently most intelligent adult available, to take Parker under my wing. My to-do list kept trying to ping this information; I don’t know if it was a flaw in the spell, my coding, or just the spell not being calibrated to handle a brain made of chewing gum, but his name kept creeping into my dreams.”

“Should I be worried you’re dreaming about underaged boys?”

“He’s an adult. College-aged. And just the name. My dreams are typically equational, not prurient; I’m not Johnny.”

We cut to Johnny, and show bouncy bed springs from below, and his face, bouncing, sweaty, from enough of an angle for a moment we worry what we’re about to see. Then we pull back, and see he’s jumping up and down on the top bunk of a bunk bed.

“Come on, I’m bored.”

“It’s night,” Ben grumbles, “you’re supposed to be sleeping.”

He drops onto his butt, bounces to the floor. “I’d say you’re supposed to be grumping, but you’re holding up your end on that.”

Ben sighs. “Matchstick, I got a complexion you could only fix with an angle grinder, and most of the rocks on my face are still cracked from our last fight. Stretch still don’t know if they’ll ever properly ‘heal,’ and somehow I’m still sore. I need my beauty rest.”

“Why, are you worried about getting uglier?” We see he’s actually hurt by this, and Johnny flops down beside him. “Oh, come on, Ben! I always teased you about your mug.”

“Yeah, but it used to be subjective. Now… well, look, it’s a face only the blind could appreciate, even then, only from afar.”

“Okay, it’s just sad when you rag on yourself. So let’s go. Let’s do something. Anything has got to be better than moping around here. We could mini golf.”

“No, we can’t. Last time we tried, I snapped the club like a toothpick.”

“Right. Motion control games.”

“They suck.”

“They suck a lot less than having to replace controllers every time you try to hit ‘X.’” Ben sighs, resigned. “Or, I could make us some BLTs.”

“Now you’re speaking my language.” Okay, it’s at this point that I’m actually forming an interesting casting thought. We raid the Community closet for this movie. Jeff Winger as a brainy but dickish Reed (or Abed, and lean into Reed on the Spectrum, and use Jeff for the antagonist, instead). Donald Glover as Johnny. Either Annie or Britta could work for Sue (their takes would of course be different, I’m not suggesting they’re interchangeable). And Chang for the Thing. He’s already played a Jewish Asian in Community. It… works better than it has any real right to, frankly.

“Sorry to interrupt, but I actually have something for us,” Reed says from the doorway.

Now, for this sequence, I’d probably do a Sinister 5 kind of thing; Spider-Man’s bench continues to be impressive enough that I think that could work. I’d stay away from characters we’re using in Sinister 7, which does limit us somewhat.

Spider-Man is fighting a team led by Kraven featuring Lady Octopus, Rhino, Electro & Sandman. At first he’s quipping, doing okay… but they’re wearing him down, just too many villains, especially now that Kraven has pegged that all they have to do to make him act recklessly is threaten civilians. Lady Octopus knocks Spider-Man back with her metal arm, and Kraven catches him, ready with a ceremonial dagger. He plunges it down, but it hits an invisible forcefield.

The Fantastic Four arrive, and make short work of the villains, who expected a 5-on-1, not a fair fight, and Spider-Man rallies. As part of the fight, Sue ends up in the water, and uses an invisible forcefield to make an air bubble around her.

After the fight, Spider-Man is apologetic. “I’m so sorry,” he says, as they watch from a rooftop while the cops cart the bad guys away. “I wanted to handle it myself. I should have called the Avengers- would have…”

“But they don’t remember you,” Reed says. “Well we do, Peter.”

“Uh…”

“Magic is just science we don’t understand. Well… I’m working to understand it. So we know who you are. And just as importantly, we want to help. You’re practically a kid. You shouldn’t be taking this kind of weight onto your shoulders. Not alone. We don’t have a lot. But what we have is yours.”

“Reed, did you… read?” Sue asks. “Like the whole email? Because what we have just got a lot more substantial. Tony Stark didn’t just ask you to look after Peter. He gave you a grant of millions of dollars to do it.”

“We should probably talk to someone about that.”

We smash cut to a legal office (you’ll see what I did there in a second). My preference is always for She-Hulk, because I like the character more, but Matt Murdock is all but certainly cheaper. She explains, “The money is coming out of a fund Starkset up for philanthropic enterprises, nominally overseen by Pepper Potts. Her administration has been largely hands-off, because Stark set up automatic triggers using his Friday A.I. to watch out for certain circumstances. Like this one. The money is yours if you agree to watch out for a Peter Parker’s well-being. There isn’t a lot of detail as to what that entails.”

“I have some thoughts,” Reed says. “But one thing I did want to check in on… does it say the funds can only be used to see to the well-being of Parker… or can they be used more expansively.”

“As I read it, you have a wide degree of latitude. It’s always possible Ms. Potts or the foundation could ask how the funds are being used, or even seek an injunction if they feel they aren’t being used wisely, but even in that scenario, I’m not certain there’s even the possibility of a clawback, since there doesn’t seem to be an enumerated mechanism.”

Now, this idea basically builds off the one that I mentioned in the Iron Man 4 pitch; I’m going to both assume, for our purposes, that happened, but also like it was a blip, and didn’t create any kind of permanent infrastructure, that this is basically an attempt to codify that and make it lasting.

We do a quick build-up montage, as Fury’s dingy hideout is turned into a state of the art laboratory. Peter enters. “This is amazing.”

“I’ve always been partial to fantastic,” Reed says, “but it’s all thanks to you.”

“All I did was get found by Mr. Stark.”

“You impressed Tony- and not many did. Tony wanted to provide for your future. I’m… trying to build on that idea. And before anyone else arrived, I wanted to thank you. Plenty of people in your situation would want to, what’s the phrase, take the money and run?”

“I’ve learned the hard way that it shouldn’t be about me. The world is bigger and better than just me. And I’m excited to meet it.” Here’s where it gets fun.

Amadeus Cho (Note: this comes after Incredible Hercules), Riri Williams, Moongirl, Prodigy and any other child geniuses/prodigies we can think of enter the room. “Welcome to the Future Foundation,” Reed says. “The minds in this room are some of the greatest of your generation. You will build a future that will make men like Tony Stark, Hank Pym and myself pale in comparison. You have the opportunity to build something beautiful and utopian, solutions to problems that don’t devolve into punching. Spider-Man here is our example; what he did to help people some would have written off as villains speaks well to his character, and well of those who raised him.”

“I’m just… Peter. That’s already enough pressure. I guess, I’ve seen enough people who just wanted to provide for their family, or right an injustice, who ended up on the wrong side of things… I don’t like people getting hurt, when what they really need is help.”

We pull back, and see that Sue is feeling left out already. We hear Johnny before we see him, “I can’t believe you’re jealous of his test-tube babies.”

“I used to be his test-tube baby,” Sue says sadly.

“Gross.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I was worried my sister might be sitting sullenly in a lab somewhere being gross.”

“You are such a dork.”

“Did you know dork means whale dong? The internet is awesome.”

“Don’t believe everything you read on wikipedia.”

“That sounds like what you’d name an encyclopedia of micropenises.”

“Then you’d be all over it,” Ben says as he enters.

“Hot foot,” Johnny says, setting Ben’s foot on fire. Ben hops on one foot as he smothers it with his hands.

“Real mature.”

Sue sighs. “This was weeks in the making,” she says. “When it started, we were partners. But every day, he’s gotten a little more distant. This is such a great thing we were doing… and now it’s a great thing he’s doing, while I watch from the sidelines.”

“So,” Ben says, “why don’t you get off the sidelines?”

We follow her into the room. “Ah, Susan,” Reed starts. “You all know Susan. Most of you spoke to her on the phone. I would posit myself as the brain of this operation, but the heart, the soul, the hands- the rest, really- is her. I have been known to disappear into my puzzles and problems, but if you ever need something, she’s the person who can help. I hope I’m not signing you up for more than you want, dear.”

She smiles, awkwardly. This story is, in part, about Sue feeling unseen and neglected, and I absolutely want to display the emotional truth of that… but it’s also a balancing act, because it won’t have the depth, either, if we don’t show the moments of true and genuine affection between them, too.

Later, Sue is sitting with the geniuses. “So,” Amadeus leans forward, “what are you hoping to accomplish, here?” She’s confused. “I guess I assumed we’re like a think tank, right? So we’re here to solve a particular problem.”

“Yes, and no,” Sue responds. “You’re here to solve the future. Reed, if he hadn’t been ripped out of our own place in space-time, likely would have single-handedly advanced human technology twenty years. But he sees the same possibility in all of those here. You have all, already, single-handedly created math and technology that could change the world- should change the world. Ms. Walters has already put us in touch with a good patent attorney. What we’d like to do is, with your individual permission, of course, file those patents under your names, but place royalties accrued into a general fund that can be used to continue the Future Foundation indefinitely. No funds or fees will go to any of the adults here. But if you’d prefer, we can set aside all or some of those funds for your family or your personal use, as well. You’ll be provided an opportunity to speak to Ms. Walters or Mr. Murdock individually- while we will be compensating them for their time from Tony Stark’s grant, in these matters they are your representatives- to help you understand whatever elections you make, and of course any selections will require, for those of you under 18, parental signature, as well.”

“What about rent? Or food?” Peter asks.

“The stipend we have from the Stark foundation should be enough to pay room and board and cover the cost of this facility for this inaugural class. After that, it all depends on contributions, and how quickly Reed’s patents and any others become profitable.”

At first Sue does get to be involved, but what she complained about continues to happen. Quickly, what looks like the A story, about the Foundation, is going to become the B, as Sue spends time at the harbor, trying to deal with her melancholy and loneliness.

It comes to a head when Sue, on one of her sabbaticals, misses a mission with the other 4. Spider-Man subs in, and she arrives home to see their triumphant return. She watches, invisible, as they celebrate, as she feels more and more like a fifth wheel as they celebrate one another.

She leaves, but on this walk, she’s approached by a strange man. He’s handsome, and offers to walk with her. As they hit the waterfront, he invites her to his place out on the water. He takes her to the dock, and she asks where his boat is. He says where they’re going, they don’t need boats, and jumps in the water. His clothes go floating up behind him, and she says “You’re insane if you thinks I’m skinny-dipping with a man I just met… “she drops off as he climbs out of the water, his moist skin glistening in the moonlight. “Okay, that might be the single greatest possible argument for skinny-dipping with a man in the moonlight I’ve only just met…” He assures her she doesn’t need to remove her clothes, but she will need to her own supply of air, which he’s seen her create before. “You were there,” she says, putting together that he saw their fight with the Frightful Five.

“I was. And I was instantly enchanted, so much so that I scarcely remembered to intervene. But please. Come with me. We both know I could scarcely touch you if you didn’t allow it, and I would lay my life down at your feet before I allowed harm to come to you- even from myself.”

She pulls away from him. “But why? Why me? Why like this? When not just call it a night, and get coffee tomorrow?”

“Because I know you’d go back to him, and that would break my heart. Not for myself, but because you deserve a man who adores you like I do. You deserve to be treasured, and cherished. And he doesn’t. He won’t. I doubt that he can. Even if it’s just to spend a night away, even if you never allow me the touch of your skin, I plead that you not return, just this one night. After that, if you still want to go back, I won’t seek to stop you, and you won’t have to wonder if you’re stuck, staying with him in a rut because he’s convenient and there.”

Sue texts Reed to tell him not to wait up, that she got a room near the pier, and a glass of wine and just needs an evening away. His phone buzzes on the laboratory table; he doesn’t notice it.

I think it’s Amadeus who brings it up to the kid geniuses. “So, this is weird, right… but my equations are incredibly predictive. I knew Reed Richards was going to start the Future Foundation likely before he did, and guessed his initial line-up with 93% certainty. It’s not a brag it’s just… behavioral modeling. And… my modeling predicts something bad is going to happen?”

“Should I start polishing my helmet?” Riri asks.

“Uh…” he really wants to make the dirty joke on the tip of his tongue, but Moongirl is super young and he’s hoping he can stall long enough for the temptation to pass.

“It gets dents and scuffs I have to polish out- never mind. Is it a helmet kind of problem, is the salient question?”

“I’m not sure. Sue’s unhappy. Reed’s been spending more of his time with us, and she’s feeling left out, and unfulfilled. Missing out on an emergency situation just, it makes that worse.”

“You can really predict what’s going to happen?” Peter asks.

“Not what. That. I can predict that something will happen. Sue’s not coming back tonight. Maybe she meets somebody. Maybe she gets mugged in the park. Bad things happen tonight.”

“Helpful,” Moongirl says.

“Actually… knowing that something will happen is half the battle,” Riri says, wearing her helmet. She holds out her gauntlet, and projects some camera footage of Sue going into the water with a stranger. “From there it’s just a matter of tracking her phone to the docks, and pulling up a camera when her phone stopped moving.”

“Um… is anyone else worried she’s not coming up for air?” Peter asks.

“With him? I’m not sure I can blame her not wanting to come up for air,” Riri says. “What? Like I haven’t seen the way either of you look at Sue.”

“Fair enough,” Amadeus shrugs. “But then the question becomes… what do we do with it?”

“We shouldn’t tell Reed,” Peter says. “If it’s nothing, if it’s innocent, then we’re inserting ourselves in their relationship in a way that isn’t healthy for them or us.”

“And if it’s not?” Riri asks.

“Then it’s probably better it come from family.”

Ben and Johnny investigate, Ben in his hat and trenchcoat. It’s a relatively quick scene, since the video mostly tells the tale. But they find some lockers nearby, with her phone inside, and her keys and wallet. There’s no sign of a struggle. They reason one of two things have happened, that either she went willingly, or there’s some kind of coersion. And they can’t verify which without Reed.

Spider-Man is with them when they tell Reed, who is largely nonchalant. His posture is mostly, “I don’t want Susan to feel obligated, not to me, not to us, not to the Foundation.”

“Sure,” Johnny says, “and I get that. But what if she was threatened. There are any number of ways she could have been coerced. If she’s okay, we can leave her alone. The bigger issue is going after her.”

“Best we could come up with was having you stretch into a diving bell,” Ben says.

“Depending on how far down, I don’t know that I could hold a bell shape indefinitely. We might be better off figuring something else out.”

“I… might have a solution.” Peter is… weird about bringing it up. “But none of you can ever say anything. To anyone. Ever. Not even to me.” Quieter. “Especially not to me.”

They go to Stark Tower. There’s a secret elevator that goes down. “Did Tony have Iron Man diving suits?” Reed asks, his curiosity clearly peaked.

“It’s just better if you see it for yourselves.” Peter shows them an undersea bachelor pad. It is just as Love Motel as you might initially assume. Johnny is enamored. “One time, when Mr. Stark had a martini, he told me about this place. Before he and Ms. Potts started dating, he’d bring women down here to, seal the deal. Apparently bringing women underwater, or taking them for a ride on his private submarine, was sometimes what it took.”

“What I think the kid is saying is this whole place is six degrees from Tony’s undercarriage,” Ben says.

“Likely less,” Reed remarks.

We go back to Sue. Namor’s underwater palace is phenomenal, beautiful, but also exotic. And he really is into her, in all of the ways that Reed just hasn’t been able to be. So she’s legitimately torn. Namor seems like he really values her, and Reed… doesn’t need her. He’s found his calling, his people, his place. I think that is what makes this arc work- it feels like a tragic ending to their love affair…

And then she finds out that Namor, while absolutely adoring her, is going to completely screw up the world. He was there to begin with doing reconnaissance for his entrance to the United Nations. He was going to demand they recognize Atlantis as a nation, and then the ceding of all bodies of water connected to the oceans to him- that humanity had proven themselves bad stewards, and he was going to take over where they had proven incapable. That would mean no more territorial waters for countries, that instead the beaches would become shared territorial property. He is fanatical in his description; refusing to hear that no country would yield to his demand, let alone all of them, that what he’s demanding would at best make him a rogue state, but likely a global ecoterrorist.

She argues for another solution, that his problem is exactly the kind of thing she and Reed built the Future Foundation to solve- that they can solve pollution and garbage and make the oceans clean and habitable again. But he doesn’t trust humans. Even if Reed manages a solution, humans can’t even get ahead of climate change, even as disasters ramp up and kill increasingly more of the population. That is why they aren’t right for one another- Sue’s is ultimately a hopeful view of the future, and Namor’s isn’t (and maybe can’t be, because he’s responsible for so many sea lives that hang in the balance).

It’s then that Reed arrives, having heard enough of Namor’s rant to know the score. Namor’s sad, and when Sue looks like she wants to go, says, “I won’t stop you.”

But she turns, and squares to him. “I’m afraid I have to stop you.” They have a big old fight, culminating in the destruction of Namor’s palace. He’s essentially too strong for them, especially in the open sea, but Sue makes sure that he knows he’d have to destroy her to get to them- that he relents, and departs.

I’m in a weird mood today (or maybe I’m just incensed by the misogynist fury pointed undeservedly at the actress), so I’m going to suggest Amber Heard as Sue Storm. And I’d wave just so much money at Jason Momoa to be Namor, because it would be hilarious (and because he has, thus far, actually been a stand-up dude and supportive of Heard). Come on, think about it. Ridiculous, trolling casting. Otherwise, any dude who can rock a tiny pair of green trunks will do.

Back in the lab, Reed confronts Susan about her betrayal; Reed, for all his aloofness, is genuinely hurt to find that Sue went with Namor willingly. “I don’t understand, Susan. I know I can be an imperfect partner, immensely flawed, even. But even in your disappointment, I don’t see how you could choose to treat me this way.”

“I didn’t think you’d notice I’d gone,” she says, then quieter, “I didn’t think you’d care.”

The pain in her voice absolutely melts him. “Susan…” his voice catches. “That’s my fault. I get so caught up, in trying to fix things, things that are my fault, things that happened because I wasn’t where I should have been, or who… and I neglect the most important people in the world to me. I don’t want to pursue invention for invention’s sake, or to make a better world in the abstract. I want to make a better world for you, for us, for our family, for our children… but I recognize that a single-minded pursuit of that cannot come at the expense of our relationship, cannot come at the cost of me neglecting you, neglecting to tell you that, Susan… I would be lost without you. And I don’t mean in the sense that you compensate for my faults, and make me a better man that I otherwise would be- though you do. I mean that without you I am far from fantastic; I’m not even a man, clanging tools together in a cave. I can imagine a life without limbs, without my intellect, but a life without you? Blackness. Bleakness. Empty. And it should not take a fishman in a tight bathing suit to prompt me to tell you that you are my world, and I am truly sorry for that.”

“That fishman did fill out his bathing suit,” she teases. “But I’m sorry, too. This is not how you should find out I’m unhappy, or feeling alone. You might not always be the partner I want… but I still have a responsibility to be the partner you deserve, too. And, nicely though he filled out his bathing suit, Namor is not the kind of man I could ever fall in love with, because he lacks the quality I need most in my life: hope. Hope that the future can be better than today, and that we can get there, together, if we work hard enough to build it. Which means I’m stuck with you.” He wraps an arm around her.

We pull back, and can see that the future geniuses have been watching. To make it cute, silly, and marketable, they’re watching through a Spider-Bot (as seen at a Disney Theme Park near you). “We did a good thing, guys,” Riri says.

“And ladies,” Moongirl adds.

The girls leave, and we linger with Peter and Amadeus. “Want to talk about it?”

“I don’t know if I’m ready,” Peter hedges.

“Well, if you ever need-

We go to high-speed nervous rambling Peter, “So I think I had what they have but then she forgot because of a magical spell and I thought at the time it was best to leave her alone so she didn’t have to worry about being attacked for knowing me but seeing them work through things makes me miss her and wish, well, wonder, if maybe I made a mistake, if it should have been a love conquers all moment instead of me sacrificing my happiness to protect her, and now I’m sort of seeing this other person who’s really neat and sweet and I feel like my heart and my head are clacking like those weird little silver ball desk things constantly.”

“You understand I’m the only person in the world who could keep up with that, right? I am… not well-versed in women and adjacent issues. But what I can say is this: what happened in there happened in part because you are one of the most emotionally intelligent people I’ve ever met. I think you listen to the Peter in here,” he points at Peter’s chest, “that you’ll know what you want, and what’s right, and how to navigate the differences between those two things.”

“Could your equations tell me what to do?”

“No. They might be able to tell me what you will do, but figuring out what you should do… that’s something only you can figure out.”

We start credits. Mid-credits scene. Lawyers and repossessors exit the elevator just behind Peter and Amadeus. The lawyers hand Amadeus paperwork, as the repossessors begin to box everything up.

“What the hell?” Peter asks.

“It seems Victor Von Doom, which apparently is his real, legal name, somehow, sued Reed for damages done to his face. And won. The entirety of the grant and all assets procured therewith are being seized. Dr. Doom just beat the Fantastic Four without lifing a finger.” More credits.

End-credits scene. The elevator opens again, this time it’s She-Hulk. “You’re to cease and desist all seizure,” she says, handing the paperwork to the overseeing lawyer. The FF arrive from the other room. As the repossesors and layers leave.

“What’s going on?” Sue asks.

“Doom seized the grant. Apparently they served illegal notice, but managed to force a trial anyway. Matt and I did our best to fight it when we found out, but… he’s taking all of the money Tony gave you. But, Reed’s patent for unstable molecules has already been approved, and a licensing deal struck with several chemical-producing conglomerates. Licensing fees alone are going to keep the lights on in this place for the foreseeable future, as well as cover the cost of any equipment already purchased with Tony’s funds. Wisely, the unstable molecule patents were all filed under the Foundation’s name, so Doom can’t access them. So the Future Foundation is here to stay.”

Whores 1.5 Epilogue

.09 Epilogue

“Hey boss,” Jezebel said, finding Anna alone in the kitchen, staring into a beer before taking a swig.

“I refuse to lead any organization that would have me for a leader,” she replied dryly.

“And yet we follow you. Except when we don’t.” She winced. “I’m still undecided, if I should be bracing for this, worried you’ll drum me out for good, or see this as a right of passage. But I’ve been anxious all day.”

“You should be. Mimi ratted you out.”

“I’ll believe that when I have details.

“About driving past her hotel, blasting Springsteen.”

Balls. That’s going to cost me, isn’t it?”

Anna laughed, the bite of her half-drunk beer wafting on her breath. “I went out with Lisa.”

“Does Ellen know? Is this like a unicorn situation? Because Mae would be devastated.”

“Accompanied her on her mission, wiseass.”

“Oh. Mae will still probably be jealous.”

“She’ll survive. My point is, if we had better options, you and I would be insulated by layers of security and protocol. But we aren’t- we can’t be. We’re improvising, and oftentimes making shit up as we go. That means that, yes, we need to be as prepared and professional as we can be. But it isn’t because- or at least not strictly because- I’m a control freak. It’s because we can’t control everything. We can’t even control most things. But for the sake of the women depending on us, we have a responsibility to control as many things as we reasonably can- and not to bullshit or push the envelope on that measure, either.”

Anna polished off her beer before continuing. “What I’m saying is maybe this is a rite of passage. There was a time Mimi was a mentor to me, when I thought she was never going to run out of things to teach me. And… one day I realized I was teaching her, more and more. Part of doing what we do is evolving, growing. There’s going to come a day when you and I shoudn’t work together anymore, because we’re redundant. When one of us should set up shop someplace else- or maybe by then I can find some less crummy place in Canada to retire.”

“Oh?”

“I love Ellen. But here? I barely get to. And a part of me… a part of me will always  want to have kids with her. A family- and I don’t just mean you misfits.”  

“I really expected this to go differently. I expected you to stomp me much harder, and probably in stiletto heels.”

“If discipline is becoming a kink for you, I can have Mae do it. She doesn’t have entanglements, and she’d have fun with it. You two could go nuts.”

“The idea of her swinging a riding crop is frightening… but also hot.”

“So it is becoming a kink.”

“Only because we’re talking about it out loud. But for one… I didn’t expect you to disobey your own orders at the same time I was.”

“Well… you and I are a different breed, I think. Certainly, I trust the others, as far as it goes. They’d stall, evade, play stupid for as long as possible. But interrogators always break you, in the end.”

Right. But that’s also not the whole story,” Jezebel said. “Torture- and interrogation is just torture with pretensions- doesn’t work- not if by ‘work’ you mean getting accurate information. And the reason it doesn’t work, is that it takes time to break someone. And anyone who knows anything of any real value knows that, knows that all they have to do is stall and lie, obfuscate, give them bad intel to chase down and otherwise be a brat, to give your friends a chance to change up the organization. It’s why it’s especially ineffective against cells like ours, with relatively little infrastructure, light on personnel, already mobile by nature and used to setting up and breaking down at the drop of a hat. So if the cops had swept me up, maybe because I was an unescorted woman driving by a hotel frequented by sex workers, I would have stalled. Hours protesting my innocence. A woman suspected of gender crimes doesn’t automatically get access to a lawyer or a phone call, so I’d have to tap dance a bit more, but you make up stories. I was an informant for that GC detective who was killed, Harmon. Spin a tale of half-truths, anything to buy time, with the bonus that any lies you tell when you’re still pretty fresh and hydrated make it harder for them to believe the truth once you become delirious from a lack of sleep, water or food.”

“But all of that only works if we know you got picked up,” Anna said.

“I told Ellen before I left. Her stink eye is almost as strong as yours.” Anna didn’t smile. “God, this is so much worse. I honestly wish you had yelled at me. Because then I could focus on the ‘You’re not my mom’ of it all, and how unfair it was you were targeting me. But instead… I’m forced to face the enormity of what happened. Almost everyone I care about could have been killed today. And for what? It’s supplies to keep that little pop-up clinic going for two weeks, max- that’s if it’s a light two weeks. And that’s why they’re winning, isn’t it? Because we have to run the table, every time. We won today. But every time we screw up, every time one of ours gets caught, at best they get beat up, traumatized. As often as not they get killed. How can it be worth it? How is that not a slow, depressing slide into death or powerlessness?”

“I-“ Anna’s phone rang.

“Please, be rude and pick it up,” Jezebel said, taking a swig from her own bottle, “unless you’ve got a rousing speech to pull me out of my tailspin.”

Anna put it on speaker. “Oh, good, I was worried I’d end up in your voicemail.” For a second, they couldn’t place the voice. “Oh. Duh. You don’t have this number. It’s Ofelia. I’m in Canada.”

“You made it!” Jezebel said, practically snatching the phone from Anna.

“I did. I’ve actually been here a few days, and it’s been overwhelming. But I wanted to call and tell you I made it, and I’m safe. There’s a lot of people who settled around here who know you. I’d met a few, people we helped travel North, or get drugs, procedures, whatever. But most of them stay locally, because they’re all like-minded people, who escaped just awfulness to make it here. And I think the reason it’s taken me this long to call is… it’s home.

“And I want be careful how I say that. Because for forever home was down there, with all of you, and I will never stop missing all of you. But up here… it’s the world you’ve been working so hard to build, the people you’ve risked so much to save. This is the home you all deserve, and my heart is so full and at the same time so heavy because you’re not all here with me…”

She sniffled, then continued. “But you can’t be. Because not everyone can just up and leave; when I first met you, I wouldn’t have been able to, and I know there are so many men and women trapped down there who rely on you. And I am so sad and angry that right now those people need you there more than I do, but so proud and grateful to have known you, to have had a chance to help, even for just a little bit. Every single one of you down there is my hero, and every one of you better figure out a way to join me up here, because I am lonely and horny and miss you. Share my love with everyone. I’ll want to call, and talk, as I can, with all of them, but in the meantime hug the hell out of them for me. Crap. People have noticed my weeping, so I should probably go explain that it’s more because I’m happy even though I’m also sad. It’s been good to talk. Next time I might even try listening for a minute. I love you two. Bye.”

“Bye,” Anna said, as the line went quiet.

“It was a dense question, wasn’t it.” Jezebel said thoughtfully. “Of course it’s worth it.”

“No, it wasn’t a dense question,” Anna said. “Each of us has to ask it. Because it is a deeply personal question. We have a right to ask it, and to decide the answer every day. This might be a war, but we aren’t going to win it by treating ourselves or each other like wheat to feed into the thresher. We win by remembering our humanity, valuing each other as people first and foremost, including respecting the choice to stop if or when we need to. Or else what’s all of this even for?”

End

Afterword: I’d like to stop writing Whores. It’s an alarmist, panicked cry about a world we shouldn’t want to live in- a semi-pocalypse we can absolutely avoid if we just make better choices. But until then, here’s the novel this short follows immediately after:

https://amzn.to/3lc3KOQ

And yeah, thanks to the right-wing fascists on the Supreme Court, I’m writing the sequel. In the meantime, take care of each other.

Whores 1.5 Chapter8

.08 Lisa

Anna adjusted the rearview mirror as the sun set behind them. “Something up?” Lisa asked, sitting up.

“Mae’s here,” Anna said. “She flashed a signal with a mirror. She’s posted up on the hill behind us.”

“That does make me feel better,” Lisa said, sighing heavily, “as much for her as for us.”

A buzzing noise in Anna’s jacket made Lisa jump. Anna removed an older phone from a pocket, and checked it. “Mitchell’s clear.”

“His team had a phone?”

“A burner, like this one. They were at the highest risk. Multiple stops, any one of them potentially compromised…”

“And if they didn’t make it away clear?”

“From the sounds of it they were nearly made, at the bolt-hole. But to directly answer what I think you’re asking… I’m not going anywhere. Aside from Jezebel’s source telling us BH was blown, it’s been a beautiful day in the neighborhood. So I’m going to give her until midnight to show.”

“And what about me?”

“Hypothetically?” Anna asked, eyeing her.

“Sure.”

“Generally, I’d say if you want off the mission, you can make it out of here on foot with relative ease. Pretty much as soon as you clear the lot, you can pretend to just be a lost little girl.”

“But less generally…”

“Less generally, the more traffic there is in or out of this place, the more likely some concerned citizen calls a cop. You’re probably safer staying put.”

“But I still have a choice?” Lisa asked uneasily.

“You do.”

“Just checking. I’m not going anywhere… but I get twitchy being told I can’t go anywhere.”

“I get it. Even after what happened to me- even though I can’t get pregnant- it still pisses me off to be told that I couldn’t choose to terminate if I did. And barring pretty egregious examples of internalized and self-destructive misogyny, the name of our game largely is choice.”

“Do you… think we’re going to be okay?”

“I think we’re past the worst of it. Even if the cops found us here, it’s trespassing, at worst.”

“I don’t mean tonight,” Lisa said.

“I know. But tonight is all I can answer with any real certainty. All romanticism aside, we are criminals resisting a violent, fascist regime that is buoyed by the largely silent complicity of the world around us. It’s possible the police will develop another mole in our ranks; they may have already. Tonight, I think we get to go home with our family; tomorrow we could all conceivably be lined up against a wall.”

“You probably could have lied to me,” Lisa said wryly.

“No, I couldn’t, not after the conversation we just had about choice. Hold up.”

“What’s going on?”

“Mae just flashed. Someone’s approaching, on foot.”

“She flashing in morse code?”

“God, no. Nothing so complex- or interceptible. Two flashes was for her arrival, three if she has to leave. Four is a person approaching on foot, five in a car. One single, solitary flash is get the hell out of there. That’s the approach of more than one vehicle, or a car that obviously belongs to the police. In that case, I’d wait, until they stopped and parked, so she could put a few shots into their tires.”

“What’s the phrase, you can’t outrun a radio?”

“That’s true, as it goes. But that’s why disabling the vehicle’s so important. If there’s a cop car disabled in a field with a sniper, the cops will go there. They likely won’t even bother calling us in- and even if they do, we’ll be a much lower priority. In the meantime, Mae can put another round or two into the car, maybe into the radio, if we’re lucky and she can get an angle on it, then drive off. It’s not a perfect set up, but it’s solid. Jezebel put together a solid extraction plan.”

“Unless this is a cop approaching our car,” Lisa said, as they watched a figure cloaked in shadow walking along the tree line at the edge of the property.

“It’s not,” Anna said, smiling. “Because a beat cop wouldn’t be carrying their weight in a duffle bag. Help her get it into the trunk, would you?”

Lisa hopped out as Anna started the engine. She jogged towards the woman moving towards them with increasing speed. “Let me help with that,” she said, and they shared the weight as they walked through gravel and pock-marked earth. Anna popped the trunk as they approached, and the two women lifted the duffle inside. Lisa closed it. “You take the front,” she said. “I insist.”

Lisa hopped in the back, and buckled up. The older woman wasn’t exactly what Lisa expected. Her clothes were pretty, but conservative, and likely expensive. Her hair and makeup were flawless, and aside from the strain of hefting the duffle around town, she was very well put-together.

“That your supply run?” Anna asked. She didn’t wait for confirmation. “You should have left them. That is contraband up the ass, probably life in prison, if they caught you with it on the street.”

“That is lives, period,” the other woman replied, still fighting to catch her breathe. “That is autonomy, and freedom. From abusive boyfriends. From bosses who will dislodge a woman’s career the second she gets knocked up. It was worth the risk to me, because I know what that freedom is worth to those who need it.”

“God, you’re stubborn,” Anna said, and threw her arm around her as she pulled the car onto the street. “It’s good to see you made it. Lisa- uh, by the way, this is Lisa-“ she stuck a thumb in the direction of the back seat, “and this is our Black Hoe.” The older woman grinned broadly. “You know that callsigns are supposed to obscure your identity, right?”

“I think if the other side could see past their pecker envy I might have taken them more seriously. But I have never met a man who wanted to shackle a woman didn’t have something to prove.” She turned back to Lisa, and waved. “It’s a pleasure. And I appreciate the risk you both took to come and find me.”

“Wasn’t just us,” Anna said. “We had half the Shelter crawling all over town trying to intercept you, and get warning to the clinic.”

“I checked the dead drop this morning, before a client meeting; I thought I was clear, until Jezebel drove by my hotel, blasting ‘Born to Run.’ So instead I booked another couple of regulars, and took my time, pretending it was just another ordinary day.”

“That was clever of her.”

“She’s a clever girl; would remind me of you, if she were more ornery.”

“She’ll get there,” Anna said with a smile, “likely when she finds her own Jezebel.” But her smile faded. “You know you’re going to have to move on.”

“Yeah, you said that last time.”

“Things are worse, now. And because of last time, you’re even more of a liability, this time. We have to assume you’re blown, maybe even twice over. That puts any job we put you on at risk. Any supplies we entrust with you. Any associates. I can’t let you keep working for us. And you shouldn’t freelance anymore- not around here. You want, I know people who do similar work to us a few counties in either direction. The other alternative is you retire from your day job, and you work with us full time.”

“I’ll think about it,” she paused. “I meant what I said. I know what you risked coming to get me. I don’t want to keep putting you at risk like that.”

“It’s good to see you. It’s good you’re still in the world.”

“Try as they might, they ain’t killed me yet.”  

“So,” Lisa said, from the back seat. “Maybe it’s because you’re old friends, and that has me feeling like a third wheel, or maybe it’s just because Anna brought it up earlier, and it’s been effectively driving me up the wall since. Why should I be glad it isn’t Friday?”

“You been talking out of school?” the older woman asked, eyeing Anna. “I expect she’s mentioned that my code phrases are all old vices. Fridays happen to be John’s johnson. Uncircumsized, amongst other descriptors.”

Lisa frowned. “And that was a vice because…”

“Because we had great chemistry, sexually. But personally? We had a different kind of chemistry- a combustive kind.”

“Oh,” Lisa said. “But why vices as code words at all?”

“I’m not so spry a chicken as I used to be, and it helps me remember. But the deeper answer… there’s two ways to quit something. The one way is to carry its loss, and hurt when you remember it. The other is to remember the parts of it that soothed you, to remember the good with fondness. That doesn’t mean you can’t keep perspective about why you quit it, but you can remember the things you had, too. Me and John, we had some good times. Too few, but they were good.” She sighed, long, and heavy. “You got me reminiscing about an old lover. Makes our introduction inadequate. You should call me Mimi.”

“That your given name, or a…”

“Nom de foutre?” Mimi asked, and laughed lightly, delicately. She extended a hand somewhat awkwardly over the back seat. “It’s what my friends call me. And I got an inkling you and me are going to be fast friends.”

Lisa shook the hand warmly. “I’d like that.”

“She’s more polite than Mayday, course, I’ve known bulls more polite than Mayday. Sweet girl, but before I met her I didn’t know a soul who could make me blush…” she laughed, but it turned heavy. “I was sorry, to hear about Maria. She deserved better. Hell, we all deserve better.”

“We do,” Anna said, and nodded.

Whores 1.5 Chapter 7

.07 Mae

Mae wiped the man’s blood on an old, oily rag she found sitting on the floorboards of the stolen truck. It made her miss Clint all the more, and not just because he was the only one who seemed to flirt the way she did. He was her brother in arms, and understood better than most what they did for the cause- what it cost them, every time they pulled a trigger, or pushed a knife under someone’s ribs.

Right now, without him backing her up, she felt more alone, and naked, than before. Her friends counted on her- which wasn’t new, but after what happened… she didn’t have Clint to share that load with, or make en tendres about load-sharing with. She wanted to be angry about that, to channel the anger into wanting to hurt people… but more and more she just wanted to crawl back into the bottle where Anna first found her, and never come back out.

She checked her rearview, both to make certain Sabina was still with her, and see if they were being followed. Sabina was far enough back to make it look less like they were in a convoy, and as they turned, no one mirrored. Mae tapped her breaks three times; Sabina responded with three flashes of her headlights- they both believed they were clear to run.

Mae parked beside the alley behind the police station, then pulled a black ski mask over her head. Jezebel’s intel told her where she knew there were cameras, but that didn’t guarantee there weren’t cameras she couldn’t see, or her contacts might not have divulged. Finally, she checked her gloves for tears or signs of wear.

She dropped down the tailgate, and Sabina was already there, wearing her own mask. She climbed into the back of the truck. “Assembly line,” she said, and held out her pliers.

“Right,” Mae said. She managed to insert the wires on the first bomb with her hands, then she cinched a garbage back up around it. She laid it down by the corner of the building, besides bags of overflow trash piling up next to a dumpster.

By the time she was back to the truck, Sabina already had the next barrel cinched up and ready. Mae put three of the barrels together, and two more at the corner of the building, by the sidewalk.

The last they didn’t bother putting into a bag. An ‘accidentally’ frayed wire rendered it inert. “No prints on this one?” Mae asked.

“Been wearing the gloves, like Jez asked,” she said, holding up her gloved hands. Mae nodded. She set the final barrel by the back door to the police station, so much in the way they’d practically trip on it when they came out to investigate. When they were done, Sabina jogged back to the van, parked across the street, while Mae got behind the wheel of the truck. She pulled around to the corner of the block where the entrance was, where she was certain she was on camera.

Between the two of them, they could see the approach to all of the explosives, either from the alleyway, or from either direction down the sidewalk. Sabina gave two quick honks of her horn- they were clear from her end.

Mae dialed a burner to the number wired to the first cluster of bombs and waited. Sabina, since she could see down the alley still, was the final go/no-go. Their eyes met, and Sabina glanced one last time to ensure the coast was clear, before hitting a button on her own phone. The explosion shook the air, and car alarms and screams followed immediately. Mae hit ‘send’ on her own phone, and a second explosion followed, this one at the corner of the building and the alley, where Mae could see it.

Mae jammed on the gas, so hard that her tires squealed and the truck fishtailed a moment, climbing the curb onto the sidewalk before she could muscle the vehicle back into the road. Mae took an indirect route, so that Sabina could beat her back to the compound. Mae didn’t want to add risk to her, so she didn’t circle to make sure she was in position before she made her approach.

The driveway was largely a straight shot, so she lined the truck up at the entrance from the street, wedged the peddle down and kicked the truck into drive. It lurched forward as she leapt off, slapping the door shut. She had her canvas bag and the plastic case; she had left the burner in the rear of the truck.

Mae knew the truck would be caught on camera, and if the angles were right, would either clip an old tractor in the field, or possibly hit the edge of the farm house; either way, it would be arrested by the collision and eventually flood.

She ducked into a row of corn opposite the brush she made her way through earlier. These were proper crops, and provided less cover, but Sabina was with her within thirty seconds. “Want the stick?” Sabina asked.

“You drive. I imagine you’re a better driver than you are a shot,” she hefted her canvas bag for emphasis.

“Oh, right.” They drove for several miles before they hit the suburbs, and skirted them all the way across town. The sky was turning a golden orange as Sabina guided the van up a hill. “And we’re overwatch, right?” she asked. Mae nodded. “And that means…”

“To watch over,” Mae said.

“Oh.”

“In practical terms, it means you and I climb someplace high, and offer fire support, in which case I’m sniping, you’re spotting.”

“And that means…”

“That means you use the binoculars to keep an eye out for threats. Watching the world through a scope you can get tunnel vision. A sniper without a spotter is a sitting duck, more often than not, because it’s all but impossible to watch your own back while looking for targets. But it also means we can watch a larger area.” Sabina pulled to a stop at the top of the hill, overlooking a partially cleared area; it wasn’t until she saw the screen at the far end that she realized it had been a drive-in theater. “I can mostly scope the road from here, but you can watch for a foot approach.”

Mae hopped out of the van, and opened her bag. She handed a pair of binoculars to Sabina. She spotted Anna’s car, and could make out Lisa sitting inside. “At least we know they’re all right,” Sabina said.

“Unless the cops are waiting for our girl to arrive, so they can sweep all of us up at the same time without spooking any late arrivals.”

“And you couldn’t have lied to me?”

“Nah, I respect you too much,” Mae said with a smirk.

“Do you think this will all work?”

Mae considered her answer. At least parts of the day had felt… less than optimal. But they had made it this far, and while there was always a possibility the cops were waiting, she couldn’t see a real reason why. If they were setting a trap, grabbing any girls on the way made more sense than letting them all gather, because capturing one or two people at a time was less difficult than catching two or three cars, each containing multiple people that could scatter on foot any moment. A competent response would focus on arrests early and often; you could always try to flip a prisoner for information after the fact. But if they managed to lose everyone because their eyes got too big, that was riskier- there was no way to turn around an empty interrogation room. “I think we should be happy we made it this far, and otherwise keep our eyes open; we’re not safe until we’re all at home., and we have a better chance of getting there if we keep alert.”

At the thought of that, Sabina yawned. “You didn’t have the foresight to…” “Coffee’s in a thermos in my black bag. Sip it. We don’t have any more, and we could be here until midnight. We also want to avoid any bathroom breaks if possible.”

Whores 1.5 Chapter 6

.06 The Janes

A truck pulled up to the curb as the Janes arrived at the sidewalk that hemmed the park. Jane averted her gaze and diverted down the street, with Janey on her heels. She heard the sound of a car door open, and a man’s footsteps, and tensed. “It’s okay,” Janey whispered into her ear, “just keep walking.”

“Excuse me!” she heard a man yell not ten feet behind them. Janey pulled her along like they were a team of sled dogs. “Just what the hell do think you’re doing?” this time she recognized the voice, their ‘dad,’ Mitchell. She had never heard him so angry, belligerent, menacing. She knew him as the sweet man who held her as she cried when she first came to the clinic, not because she was ashamed to be there, but because of how terrifying the thought of being discovered either coming or going was.

Even as they gained distance his voice seemed to grow; his words were nearly unintelligible, almost the snarling bark of an angry dog. “I watched you, stalking two nice young ladies through the park. At your age? You should be ashamed of yourself. This is a family park. We don’t appreciate perverts following girls around. Yeah, creep away. Pervert!”

Jane heard the truck door slam, and heard the engine gun as the vehicle roared away. They didn’t stop walking until they rounded a corner, with a building between them and the park. Jane collapsed against the red brick of the building, gasping for air. “He wasn’t supposed to do that,” she wheezed.

“It worked,” Janey said. “If he was a creep, he’s creeping elsewhere. If he was a cop, the attention made him worry more about his cover than what we were up to.”

“And what if he goes and checks the drop? Then we’re blown and so is Mitchell.”

Fuck,” Janey said. “What do we do?”

Jane exhaled out angrily, pushed off the wall, and yanked them by the hand. “First off, we keep moving. Mitch should circle to make sure no one touches the drop. But… she’s already been there. The coin… it was there, like it was supposed to be. Whenever she checks the drop, she flips the coin. It was tails up, so she’s already been there today. I left the message anyway, just in case some kid or parent happened to turn it over, but… I’m pretty sure we missed our chance to head her off.“

“Maybe,” Janey said. “But from what they said about her… she’s bound to be savvy. When I was just a baby, still, you know, figuring things out, I met an elder. I mean, she wasn’t much older than me, now, but… she was a sex worker, because she lost her office job when hormones got harder to come by, and she couldn’t pass as easily. But she was smart. People hate us, people hate sex workers, she told me once the world was always looking for a place to stick the knife, so she had to be five steps ahead of everyone. Sex workers are survivors, is what I’m saying, in a way most people can’t even start to understand.”

“What are you saying?”

Janey laughed lightly. “I’m saying I’m terrified of the cops, but I’m going to that bolt-hole. If we can get her out, I’m going to. But… if you want, you can get back in Mitch’s truck.”

“Hey,” Jane spun around, and cupped their cheek, “I appreciate the pep talk, and you wanting to protect me, but there is no way I’m letting you go in there alone. Besides, we’re here.”

The apartment building was painted a creamy blue. Jane led them to the last corner apartment on the ground floor. She found the key where Jezebel said it would be, on top of the doorframe. The key fit, and the door opened with barely a jostle of the knob.

“Hello?” Janey called through the still apartment. They bolted the door, noting that it was a different color to the knob. They parted, Janey stopping in the bathroom, while Jane proceeded deeper inside. The bed wasn’t touched. The living space seemed only partly lived-in, like a hotel room minutes after check in. “No sign of her, not in the kitchen, either,” Janey said, rejoining her.

“No signs of struggle, at least. She just hasn’t been here. Got the message?”

Janey reached into their shirt, and produced a piece of paper, folded four times. “And this will mean something to her?”

“Yeah. It’s not in code. It’s just protocol. She’ll recognize the letter, and know that it means to proceed to the extraction point.”

“Yeah… I think I was freaked out enough when they were talking I lost several minutes.”

“I figured,” Jane said. “Your heartbeat hammering through your palm felt like I was being jabbed with a nail.”

“Maybe my hand was just happy to see you,” Janey said, before tensing. There was a soft knock at the door. “Shit. Whatever happens, stay behind me, okay?” Janey squared to the door, raising their fists.

“Suddenly you’re a spinached-up Popeye?”

“I’m butchbidextrous,” they said, but their usual lightness and humor was drained from their voice.

“Hey!” they heard, a whisper, but somehow yelled, from the opposite side of the apartment as the front door. It was Mitchell, speaking to them through a window cracked open enough to let in a breeze. “Come on.”

The knocking at the front door became louder, more urgent. Jane helped Mitch open the window. “Come on,” he said, and supported her as Janey boosted her through. “You, too,” Mitch said, as Janey slid over the door frame.

Mitch’s truck was parked a few feet away, the engine still running. He got in the driver’s side, and gently slid the door closed, giving it one final, firm tug to engage the lock. “Like that,” he said, “to cut down the noise.” Jane slid across the bench, and Janey in after her, then they closed the door as Mitch had shown them.

“This was my fault,” Mitch said as he pulled away. “I screwed it up yelling at the creep in the park.”

“Or maybe it bought us time to make it here,” Jane said. “And we don’t know it was the cops at the door. Neither of us look like an older Black woman. Could have been the super checking in, or a nosy neighbor.”

Janey frowned. “Are we that suspicious?” they asked.

“Could be,” Mitch said. “There’s an older woman, from a distance she looks like BH, who lives a few blocks away. Periodically, she’d go in or out, make the place look lived in. But she’d sneak out the back window; neighbors saw her come with groceries once a week, and just assumed she was otherwise a shut-in.”

“The point,” Jane began, “is the only way we can get the details is to go back and talk to whoever was banging on that door, which was either the cops or could quickly lead to them getting called… I think I’m willing to live with the mystery, if it means avoiding that.”

“Me, too,” Mitch said.

Whores 1.5, Chapter 5

.05 Lisa

“Are you coming inside with me?” Lisa asked, realizing that one whole side of her clothes was soaked through with the man’s blood.

“Anna asked me to check in, if I could, on my way,” Mae said, smiling sheepishly. “But I’ve got a distraction to make- and sitting around with a stolen truck full of explosives seems like a bad idea.”

“To the door?” Lisa asked. Mae bit her lip, hesitating pensively.

“Sure,” Mae said. “But if you think it might be anyone other than the clinic staff, you bolt with me, you hear?”

Lisa reached out her hand, and Mae took it. They walked together down the path.

The woman behind the desk didn’t look up before beginning to say, “Crisis Pregnancy Center, we know what you’re going through is tough, but you don’t have to do it without- Jesus,” she gasped, “Is that blood?”

“I think you’ll be okay,” Mae said with a grin. “I’ll see you back home.”

Lisa sighed. It was home. Which was screwed up. But, in order, her two previous homes had been burned down by the police, and violently raided by them. So the new Shelter did feel like home.

“Do you need help?” The woman behind the counter stammered out. “Because we’re more of an advisory clinic than a full-fledged hospital. I can- I can call you an ambulance.”

“It’s not my blood,” Lisa said confidently. “And you don’t need to worry about me at all. Though, if you have it, I’d take a box of frosted cupcakes.”

“Cupcakes?” the woman asked, the increasing surreality clearly threatening her sanity.

“Orange ones.”

“Oh, God,” she said, deflating. “God, god, god, god, god god, god.”

“I’m sorry,” Lisa said, leaning onto the counter. “I know this is scary. I know drilling, practicing, trying to prepare… it doesn’t prepare you. It can’t. Because the moment… the moment is awful. Your body turns against you and your mind feels in no way up to the task. But what you need to do is tell the others. You’ve been compromised, and you need to get out of here.”

“God, we have an appointment, in an hour, and she was too scared to leave a name or number.”

“I almost forgot,” Lisa said. “Could I borrow some gauze, bandages?”

“I thought it wasn’t your blood.”

“It’s not.”

“Right,” the woman nodded, and opened a drawer, and handed Lisa a first-aid kit, then snapped her fingers. “The patient’s neighbor is the one driving her in. We’ve got his number.” She picked up the phone and dialed, and while it rang through, she called, “Shirley? A woman just asked for orange cupcakes.”

Lisa heard excited movement as she turned on her heels and left.

Her attacker was still laying where Mae had dragged him, moaning. “Still with us?” Lisa asked. He didn’t respond until she nudged his stab wound with her foot. “Whatever advantages you thought you had, size, muscle mass, privilege- a stab-wound is a hell of an equalizer. I’m going to try and stabilize you enough that you don’t die, but I’m not losing sight of the fact that, roles reversed, we both know you’d leave me bleeding out in the street- so don’t try me.”

He groaned as she peeled back his shirt. The wound was clean. She managed to get a gauze pad taped in place, wrapped to hold at least some pressure onto the wound. “If you can, keep your hand on the bandage and push. It’ll hurt, but it’ll improve your chances of surviving. And I think we both know you deserve at least this much pain.”

Lisa stood, brushed herself off, and saw that Anna was waiting at the end of the long walkway with her car. She jogged to it, and slid into the passenger’s seat.

“Mae’s doing?” Anna asked. Lisa nodded. “I thought that was her in the truck. Take off your top.”

“I don’t think Ellen would approve.”

“I only take that kind of cheek off Mae.”

“And Ellen.”

“Fair, and Ellen.”

“And often Jezebel.”

“Don’t push it. Now take it off. We can’t drive you around looking like Carrie coming home from the prom.” Lisa peeled away the shirt; where it was wet with blood, it stuck to her skin like a bathing suit. “There’s garbage bags under your seat. There’s some wet wipes on the floorboards in the back, and an extra sweater back there.”

“You came prepared.”

“Sadly not the first time one of us ended up hosed down with blood.”

“So do we get to go home and get drunk now?” Lisa asked.

“Not quite. We’re the extraction team,” Anna said, pulling into an overgrown lot with periodic mounds of Earth that Lisa recognized as an abandoned drive-in theater. “Protocol says she has til midnight to show; after that, she’s on her own.”

“But realistically, if she hasn’t shown by then it’s because it wasn’t safe to… which may well mean we’re sitting in a cell.”

“If it makes you feel better, Mae- assuming she can get here safely, is our overwatch.”

“It actually kind of does; she’s like Batman, if he stabbed people and gave surprisingly warm hugs.”

“I know what you mean… she seems almost superhuman, sometimes. But she’s also a person. When I found her, she was so drunk she could hardly stand, just barricaded in her place, waiting for the cops. She killed the men who murdered her husband, and after, she was content to take down as many of the men who protected them as she could. What I mean is… she bleeds, like the rest of us. And this fight has cut her, deeply. She is the sweetest person I know, and also possibly the most hurt. I trust her, with my life, with all of our lives… but it’s important not to let her carry more weight than she can. Because she’ll try. It’s who she is. And those of us who love her have to make sure she’s got the help she needs.”

“You’re uh, speaking from a different kind of experience, aren’t you?” Lisa prodded gently.

“No. God. She’s… not my type. And I’ve known Ellen since before I met her. And-”

“Not what I meant, and you’re not deflecting me.” Lisa touched Anna’s shoulder. “You carry too much. Sometimes you buckle, and if you’re not careful, some day you’ll break. So listen to your own advice: let the rest of us carry more.”

“That was really sweet,” Anna started, and Lisa felt the turn in her tone even before she added, “until you wiped blood on me.”

Shit.”

“I hope not. Blood would be bad enough.”

Stop deflecting,” Lisa said; “I’ve still got plenty more blood I could wipe on you.”

“You’re right,” Anna said with a sigh, leaning back in her seat. “I know you’re right. Most of the time I’m,” she shook her head, “an out-of-control control-freak who is impossible for anyone but Ellen to put up with, and even then, she doesn’t, always… but then, in a crisis, all of that bossiness and bitchiness becomes actually helpful, and I feel, fleetingly, like instead of being a burden to everyone around me emotionally I’m finally useful, maybe even enough to justify everything I hate about myself…”

“You’re useful all the time,” Lisa said. “And maybe you’re extra useful in a crunch- but that’s why we need you over the long term. You give yourself a heart attack or a stroke or an aneurism, who takes over? The Janes?”

“They would definitely solve internal conflicts with pillow fights…”

“You and Mae, both, w’[;pe need you. But that means we need you taking care of yourselves, too. This gender war is a marathon, not a sprint. We have to be ready to go the distance.”

“I think I’m beginning to see why Ofelia liked you. And Mae.”

“For the longest time I felt like an adopted puppy. Pitiful, maybe adorable, but…” she stopped, uncertain if she wanted to press ahead, “Clint changed that. He saw me. Me me. And on the one level he sold us out… but on the other, he was protecting me. It’s…”

“It’s tragic,” Anna interrupted. “He would have died for the rest of us- I guess, in the end, he did. But when push came to shove, he chose you over us, and it really is tragic that he was ever asked to. No one should be forced to choose between people they love.”

“A man and his mistresses?” Lisa asked.

“There’s a difference between love and who you want to fuck, though so long as everyone’s on board for polyamory, even that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. And now you’re the one deflecting…”

“I still… it’s hard for me. Because half of me still loves him, the man who would have forsaken everything for me, who gave up everything to protect us… but he’s also the same man who betrayed us. I know that’s not… fair doesn’t even feel like a word that could apply, here. He was coerced-”

“Violated, even?”

“I guess… though I’m not sure how comfortable I am with that metaphor.”

“Well, it’s my metaphor, and as a survivor, I was comfortable enough with it to draw the parallel- not that it necessarily means any other survivor would agree with me. But what was done to him was a violation. He deserved better. You deserved better. We all deserve better than this- that’s why we fight.”

“I wish I were like Mae. It would all feel less… terrifying if I felt I could fight in anything other than a metaphorical sense.”  

“I know what you mean,” Anna said, taking her hand. “But I’ve been at this long enough to know that most battles aren’t won or lost at the end of a gun- they’re won by people like you, doing the right thing, again and again, knowing the risks and facing them. Violence is easy- but its ability to craft lasting change is small. The future is built, one brick at a time, through tiny, often even passive, acts of resistance, and all of us have a role to play.”

“You mind if I turn on the stereo?” Lisa asked, and Anna shrugged. For a few minutes, they listened. It reminded Lisa of going out on dates back in high school, lots of pressure and tension- would they kiss her, would she like it if they did? But also no real idea of what was going to happen; most of the time they’d chat nervously, listen to music and then drive home.

Her nostalgia for the relative safety of her youth was cut off by the sound of sirens passing on the nearest road, the police cars near enough they could see their lights flashing through the trees. Both women tensed, and glanced from one another to the entrance to the lot. No lights refracted off the small ticket booth in the entryyway, and the sirens began to fade into the distance.

“Mae’s distraction?” Lisa asked. “Let’s hope so,” Anna replied.