Defenders #8

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Defenders #8

Post  Paul Effin' Schultz on Mon Feb 11, 2013 5:20 pm

The Defenders #8
"Before the Storm"
By Paul E. Schultz


"When I joined the Defenders, it was to honor my brother, the original Defensor," said Diego Ramon Dantes Sepulveda. "Michael Hayes told me the world needed defending from monsters, but it would seem he himself is just such a monster."

"Don't sell Michael short, Diego," said Jacqueline Farnsworth.

"Spoken like a true vampire-lover," said Tania Belinskaya. "We all know your past...relationships with such creatures of the night."

"You leave Blade out of this!"

"You knew Blade?" asked Dennis Dunphy. "That's pretty boss."

The four Defenders were gathered in the drawing room of Michael Hayes's castle, their shadows flickering against the oaken walls as a small fire flickered in the stone hearth. The tension between them was as thick as the smell of burning hickory permeating the dim confines of the room. The tall window cast a faint carpet of moonlight across the hardwood floor. Out of them all, Tania was the only one of them still in her uniform.

"As a boy," said Diego, "I read Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'. I know how this relationship with Michael will end as well as the rest of you."

"The question is when?" said Tania.

"I...I can't believe what I'm hearing," said Jacqueline. "You two can't be serious."

"You know as well as we do that Michael brought us all together to protect the world from him," said Diego. "I'm sure your first meeting with him went similarly to ours."

Jacqueline couldn't respond. She looked to Dunphy, who was staring thoughtfully into the flames. At length, she asked, "Dennis?"

"Don't get me wrong," he said. "I'd be a babbling idiot without Michael's vampire mind-meld, but did you see how he handled Sterns tonight? Like he was just some kinda...thing."

"I'm no stranger to vampires," said Jacqueline, "and the term 'curse' is a loose one. In spite of what he is, Michael is a good man."

"Even the Devil was an angel once," said Diego.

"A jaundiced observation," said Jacqueline, undaunted. "But at least Michael had the forethought to assemble those such as ourselves in the event of his..fall from grace."

"Exactly the point," said Tania. "Even Michael knows his fate."

"I may be many things," said Jacqueline, "but I am no executioner."

"Really?" said Tania. "Even as a girl in Russia, I heard stories of the Invaders."

"That was different. That was war."

"And this is not?" said Diego.

For a moment, no one spoke, the words looming amongst them like their personal ghosts. Finally, Jacqueline said, "I need some air."

With a flash of light, she was gone, her speed ruffling the flames of the fireplace. The door slammed abruptly shut in her blinding wake.

Dunphy suddenly noticed his companions' eyes were upon him as he picked up a chunk of hickory to toss upon the fire.

"Dennis?" said Tania.

The wood in his hand splintered and shattered with his white-knuckled grip.

"Like I said, I owe Michael a lot," he said. "The least I can give him is a quick death."

***

A breeze played at Jacqueline's golden locks as she stood upon the castle roof, blankly staring out at the surrounding lights of Chicago.

"A penny for your thoughts, I believe is the appropriate term," said X-51, stepping up behind her. The soft whine of the machine man's internal engines were just barely noticeable above the distant din of traffic. "Or, in your case, Your Ladyship, would that be a pound?"

Jacqueline found herself laughing, in spite of her troubled thoughts. "Either way," she said, "you would be short-changed, I'm afraid."

By this time, X-51 was beside her, saying, "My sensors indicate a slight increase in your blood pressure and heart rate, Lady Jaqueline. Is there something the matter?"

"No, I just needed some air. It's surprisingly chilly this evening for this time of year."

"My sensors would agree with you," said X-51. "Although I cannot feel it, not in the same sense as yourself."

"Did Michael send you?"

"Should he have?"

"Well, no, but it seems like whenever you appear, it's at Michael's request. I just thought--"

"Michael is resting and does not wish to be disturbed," said X-51. "I was simply making my rounds when I saw you alone up here."

"Yes, alone..."

"Would you like to continue to be so?" asked X-51. "I merely--"

"It's okay," said Jacqueline. "Alone is the one thing I don't wish to be right now. Tell me something, can you get drunk?"

"Although I can consume all matter of food and drink, my system merely converts it to subatomic particles and--"

"Please," she said, laughing at herself more than anything, "spare me the science lesson. I heard similar replies from John Hammond."

"Ah, yes, the original Human Torch," said X-51. "I'm afraid that it's physically impossible for me to feel the effects of alcohol."

"Not me. Care to join me in a pint?"

"As you wish, Lady Farnsworth," said X-51, "Although it's mathematically impossible for the two of us to fit without the aid of Miss Temple's Pym Particles."

"A joke?" laughed Jacqueline. "I believe you're becoming more human every day."

"Please, Your Ladyship,"--Jacqueline was certain she saw the steely features of his face shift nearly into a smile, but it was probably a trick of the light--"there is certainly no need for name calling."

"Come on, X-51," she said, laughing, "let's see about that drink."

***

Jacqueline set her glass of beer down upon the bar and glanced around the billiard room, taking in the soft glow of lamp light above the lush green felt of the table in the corner. X-51 stood on the other side of the bar, looking down into the amber liquid of his own drink.

"Do you play, X-51?" asked Jacqueline, turning her attention back to her mechanical companion.

"Billiards?" he asked. "Yes, but I'm afraid it would be pointless to engage me in a game. It's all mathematics and such and I am a walking computer."

"Good point," said Jacqueline. "So, you keep this place running when you're not out gallivanting with the rest of us? Impressive. What do you do for fun?"

"I read."

"Read? You mean you download information, or--"

"No. I read books. Of course, I'm able to process over ten thousand words per minute, but turning the pages of an actual book slows my rate down considerably. I have quite an extensive library of my own, plus the castle's own library holds thousands of books."

"I'll be damned." Jacqueline took a drink of her ale. "Do you have a favorite author or subject or--"

"I enjoy children's books most of all," said X-51.

"Really?"

"You were expecting Mary Shelly? I find children's books get to the root of what it means to be human and understanding humanity is one of my primary functions. Besides that, Shelly is nearly impossible to read."

"Touche," said Jacqueline. "I don't know about you, but I could use some air."

"I don't require breathing," said X-51.

"Not exactly what I meant. I need to get out of this castle."

"I would think you would be quite at home here."

"That's just it. I've spent my whole life in these stuffy, old things. And the only time I leave this one is when we're on a mission. Do you know what I mean?"

"Would you like me to check with the others? I'm sure one of them would be happy to--"

"No offense, but I've had just about enough of them."

"Even Miss Temple? I was under the impression that the two of you got along quite well."

"I think Claire prefers to spend her free time down in the labs. I think she's carrying something even her great size can't heft alone. Would you care to join me?"

"Me? I'm afraid I would stick out in public like the proverbial sore thumb."

"Are you kidding me? This is Chicago."

For a moment, X-51 was silent, then: "Just let me put on my face."

"Why do I have a feeling that means exactly what it sounds like?"

As X-51 headed for the door, Claire Temple burst into the billiard room, her otherwise pretty face a mask of terror and disbelief.

"The TV!" she breathed heavily. "Turn on the TV!"

"Claire?" said Jacqueline. "Whatever's the matter? You look--"

"Just turn on the Goddamn TV!"

X-51 raised a hand and a large painting on a wall slid away, revealing a massive, black screen. A moment later and the dark plane came to life.

"What channel would you like?" asked X-51.

"It doesn't matter," said Claire, moving up to the screen along with Jacqueline. "It's on all the channels."

As the image came quickly into focus, a young, blond woman came into view as banners flashed around her. Behind her, the scene was utter chaos as pillars of dust and smoke rose from the skyline of what could only be New York City. Firefighters and police men scrambled behind her, keeping pedestrians at bay and spouting order to each other.

The woman spoke, "...According to eye-witnesses, shortly after an all-out battle with the self-proclaimed Masters of Evil, both Avengers Mansion and Stark Tower were utterly destroyed. In a scene reminiscent of 9/11, Stark Tower came down in a series of explosions, raining glass, steel and concrete down upon the streets below. Eye-witnesses claim to have seen various members of the Avengers barely escaping the explosive carnage. Similarly, Avengers Mansion was decimated as well. At the moment, police and firefighters as well as the National Guard have done their best to deal with this horrifying situation. Shortly after the destruction of both buildings, Zemo and his Masters of Evil fled the scene. Thus far, none of the Avengers have been available for comment. Repeating our top story..."

***

"Madre de Dios!" gasped Diego as he and the others all watched the broadcast, having all piled into the billiard room upon hearing Claire's frantic calls from down the hall.

Jacqueline, Tania, Dennis, Claire and X-51 all stood in mute disbelief as they listened to the broadcast.

"Cap..." uttered Dennis, for all of his incredible strength, he suddenly felt completely helpless.

"Do you think they're okay?" asked Claire.

"Are you kidding me?" said Jacqueline. "This is the Avengers we're talking about."

"Next to them," said Tania, "we're nothing."

"I've been simultaneously monitoring a number of other broadcasts internally," said X-51," and, thus far, there is very little news of survivors and no news concerning the Masters of Evil."

"We gotta do something," said Dennis.

"Agreed," said Tania. "Zemo and the others must pay for this."

"Someone should rouse Michael," said Diego. "I would think he should like to see this."

"No need. I'm well aware of the situation."

At the sound of Michael Hayes's voice, the others turned to see him entering the room. Like Tania, Michael was in his uniform.

"X-51 woke me a few minutes ago and filled me in," said Michael. Once he was certain all eyes were upon him, he said, "Let's go."

Dennis smacked his fist into his hand with a resounding clap and whooped, "Yee-ha!"

Paul Effin' Schultz

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Re: Defenders #8

Post  Mechajared on Thu Feb 14, 2013 3:45 am

Awesome Paul, I love how you kept with the continuity of the Avengers storyline as well.

I can't wait to see what comes next.

Mechajared

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