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Issue #1

2098 Underground Revised

Written By Jae Lizhini, Jason McDonald, Maarten Bouw, Mike Hintze, and David Ellis














Editors Notes*



“Seeress:
One Year Later”

Written by Jae Lizhini


Out beyond the south of the Pacific, there sits an island clouded in a shield of soot and smog. The foul smelling gangrenous dome swirls opaque. Though only the highest peaks of bracken stone ridges can be seen from the vile soup of an atmosphere, people often talk about what this blight must be like. This is a place called Hellrock.

Of course, no one actually goes there.  At least they don’t go willingly.  And if they do go, they don’t ever return—at least not as men.  Those forced to walk these dark, garbage heaped grounds poison themselves slowly with each breath of the toxic pollutants.  Most are lucky and only have to endure a slow agonizing death.  It’s the poor ratbiters who survive that first 24 hours that prove to be the unlucky ones.  Their bodies mutating and devolving like a human sized petri dish. 
In the year 2098, only one person has been known to ignore the toxic ravages of this putrid place.

“SEERESS!” The lord of Hellrock calls through his mask of dented gun metal.  His heavy metal footfalls carry him into the cavernous candle lit room.  His heavy body stops just inside the large oval doorway.  His eyes glowing like red hot coals from the slits in his armored mask.

“You may enter, my lord,” a woman says.  Her body is covered in a hooded robe of black and red silks.  The hood hangs low over the ridges of her powder white forehead.  Her face obfuscated with coarse shadows.  She doesn’t bother to look up from the steel cauldron that bubbles beneath her.

“You had something to share?” Dethstryk calls to her. His voice, though cool and complacent, is marred with the flavor of annoyance.  He slowly walks into the lemon haze of candle lighting. His lavender cape sweeps across his broad back with his approach.

“I have had a most fearful vision my lord,” the woman says. Her words catch in her throat for only an instant. “Please, come to the techno-cauldron and let me show to you what I saw.”

Lord Dethstryk lets a sigh rush out of the vents at the front of his metal helm.  The large staff he holds stiffly in his left hand drums across the slick stone floor as he approaches the mysterious woman called the Seeress.  In the many years she has been in his service, she has never been wrong. When she called to him, he must heed.

“We are at the cusp of a second age,” she speaks, and Dethstryk comes to a stop.  Her thin hand stretches outwards over the bubbling black soup. “An age of new Marvels that will burn like a fire devouring everything that the mega-corps have built. Not even Hellrock is safe.”

“A new age?”  Dethstryk asks, his head craning down to further look into the smoking pot.

A skyrise building appears against the dark liquid. Its dark windows and shiny metal are tinted in a deep blue against a heavy moon. The image zooms closer showing a single figure perched atop the roof. The figure begins to slowly be uncovered, his body covered in patterns in an almost purple, blue, and a deep red.  A shawl of webs runs across the man’s thin shoulders.  “Miguel O'Hara, a scientist at Alchemax, will be in an accident. And by a strange twist of fate, he will be given incredible powers.  He will put on a mask and continue the legacy that Peter Parker began all those years ago.”

“A skinny man with spider powers; how does this concern us?” the lord of Hellrock asks.

“This new Spider-Man will become the new CEO of Alchemax.”  Seeress says.

“Are you sure?”

“And he is only the first.”

“There will be others?”

“There will be many more. Like Paul-Philip Ravage, who will come to Hellrock for his indiscretions against Alchemax,” Seeress continues to speak, and the image changes.  The illusion is a beast-like man, with horns ejecting from his face. His scarlet hair runs down his face as his mouth is agape, lined with sharp teeth. “He will be able to resist the toxins of our island at first, but eventually they will take him over mind and soul. And he along with the Norse goddess Hela will confront your very rule.”

“This is complete madness!  Are you sure about this, Seeress?” Dethstryk exclaims slamming a metal gauntlet over the brim of the cauldron.

“This Hela will be created from a mortal woman.” The murky soup again swirls and creates the image of thin woman with dark Taiwanese skin and a long mane obsidian hair. “And with technology, she will be made into a god. She will have her own story, once your confrontation with the Beast Man has come to an end.”

“This is Jake Gallows,” she informs him as the murky soup creates a white skull.  The lord of Hellrock watches and the image zooms out showing a heavily muscled dark-haired man with massive guns in each of his large fists. “His family will be murdered by Alchemax, and he will decide to wage a one man war against the most powerful megacorp in the world. He will call himself The Punisher like the vigilante of the last century. And he won’t be the last.”

“I don’t understand… how long do we have?” Deathstryk asked, his voice growing with tremors of fear.

“One year,” Seeress said him. “But 2099 is only the beginning.

“Magic will return in this new heroic age.  A magician called Metalscream will find out how to once again channel the energies as a sorcerer. “The image abruptly clears showing a lean man sitting Indian-style, his body levitating from the dark ground.  His eyes are narrow and blue, his face weathered and worn etched with tattoos. “But it is not he with whom we should concern ourselves. But instead the disciple.”

“SILENCE!” Dethstryk growled. His arm lashes from the folds his lavender cape. The massive staff slams into the iron pot. The Tech-Cauldron spills to the cold floor in a thud. Seeress carefully hops several steps back to avoid the murky soup flooding at her feet.

“Lord, you must listen.”

“I will not be audience to your follies and fantasy, dear Seeress,” Dethstryk tells her.  His heavy body turns towards the door. “The next time you summon me, do not feed me Thorite fables of super heroes.”

“But Lord…” Seeress says to an empty room.



“Litany Kirkpatrick:
Every New Beginning Comes from Some Other Beginning’s End”

Written by Jason McDonald


 

Some days just aren't worth getting up for.

I slink and slide through the alleys like vapor. Invisible and untouchable, a wraith to my enemies. I weave in-between cardboard boxes and dumpsters, avoiding the stinking carcasses of eviscerated victims and turf wars gone wrong. It goes without saying that I keep my every footfall quieter than a graveyard in the dead of night. Even with the bandaged ribs and the heavy metal guns hidden inside my black sweatshirt, I manage to move like a whisper through the edges of NecroNimrod territory.

I'm Litany Kirkpatrick. Unfortunately, I'm also a member of the Meathook Conquistadors - a lunatic gang of monsters on a Westward Expansion kick - hell-bent on ruling the streets of Transverse City with an iron fist. They eat territory like a fat man eats ribs, and mark their newest acquisitions with the corpses of their enemies. The bodies are strung up along Meathook turf borders, hanging on meathooks like slabs of beef in a slaughterhouse. Lain out for all to see, they represent the ultimate "Do Not Disturb" sign.

So why would I, a bony little sixteen year old girl with two Magnums as her best friends, be rolling with a group of batshit nutty spuds like the Conquistadors? Nine years ago, they saved my ass after being orphaned on the streets of Transverse at seven fucking years old. Why they saved me, I don't know, but I do remember suppressing the urge to wretch the minute we got to their borders.

Even though every brain cell was screaming at me to get the fuck away from these psychopaths, my week-long empty stomach and xylophone ribs won the battle that day and I went back to their main base among the stinking carcasses of their victims. In return for food and relative safety, they only asked for my absolute loyalty to their carnage quest.

Small little thing like I was at the time, I wasn't much use as a heavy-hitter. So they trained me as a lookout instead. It takes a lot of time to string up those dead bodies, or perform the typical murders and rapes as examples to the enemy not to fuck with the Meathooks. Someone's gotta make sure that no gangs will roll up on us while we're demoralizing the shit out of our enemies. The Meathook Conquistadors are a terrifying bunch of bastards, yes. But we're far from the worst thing rolling up along the streets of Transverse. Sixteen years old and I have scars you wouldn't believe. I've seen things that would just make you want to slaughter the whole of humankind, knowing the Earth would be better for it.

Naturally, being the rebellious kind of bitch I am, I've tried to escape from the Meathooks several times. And gotten the living shit kicked out of me each time and dragged back across the turf line. Today's my last chance. If I fail - we the Meathooks fail - in this mission and our leader cuts off my hand. He says I'm one of his best lookouts, but I don't need hands to slink around alleyways and warn when the enemies are coming. He argues I'd move faster without the extra weight.

I've seen what happens to the limbless ones in the Conquistadors. Blood in the water. I've seen one of them survive nine days of constant assaults before finally getting a meathook shoved through their back. Murdered only for the fun of it, of course. You don't show weakness with the Conquistadors. AT ALL. Even if you're a small, tiny little thing like I am. Not if you don't want to hang up on the borderline, warning all the other gangs to steer clear of Conquistador turf.

The mission at hand is to infiltrate the NecroNimrods - one of the newbie gangs in Transverse that's quickly climbing up the kill count ladder. Masters of necro-mysticism. Stories go that they kill their victims and resurrect them for their own dark purposes. A Zombie Apocalypse cult with intelligent design. I won't even mention the kinds of things they do to their victims before killing those poor souls. They've declared war on the Conquistadors. And that war has - for lack of a better phrase - gone to shit. It's become a massive, bloody affair. Nimrods and Conquistadors are falling left and right - a bloodbath with a clogged drain. Non-stop kill fest. And yet, their kill counts are edging out over ours. We are barely hanging on.

My boss has sent a small strike team - namely myself and some of the more insane members of the crew - into the heart of NecroNimrod territory to kill their main base and slaughter their leaders. He thinks with my speed recon and their unbridled ferocity, this long shot is our best shot at a lasting victory. The small strike team - again, including the more insane members of our crew - have decided that I'm their best shot at getting into their main building and surviving their death gauntlet.

In the five blocks I've run, I've dodged forty-three separate death traps. Most were pressure activated. At least five were noise-activated. I took detours to avoid the heat-sensing ones. I'm sweating bullets and wondering if the death by the NecroNimrods would be worse than the death waiting for me with the Meathooks, should we fail. The last four hours have been hell. And yet, something's ringing in my brain that this is going way too easy.

But now, I've finally gotten us around the booby traps. They get us through the front door. After watching the blood-hungry crew I roll with collect death like it's always been in-style, we are now standing together in front of their leader. He's a blonde-haired crazy bastard with TV static in his chest and hands that glow with techno-magic light.

"I'm not the leader, you sodding brain-wrong set of pig's intestines! That's the bloody leader!" He points down to the man below him - a dead, broken creature still wearing his prized jacket made of skin. The fresh corpse is dressed as a dark priest, with actual skulls attached to his ruined headdress. 

The clean shaven mystery man with the blonde hair grins and gestures in an unnecessarily grandiose way. "My name's the Metalscream."

Something makes me think this "Metalscream" character is telling the truth. My Meathook allies, who are high on their hours-long murder spree and mainlining drugs to make them good and violent, aren't interested in the truth. They're looking for a heart-bursting adrenaline rush finale to their bloodlust. And by Thor, they are going to get their fucking fill.

They attack en masse, screaming like the batshit crazy lunatics they are. The newcomer is all motion and his every gesture simply takes my breath away. Technomantic energy just flows from his hands in wide arcs and does things that really should be impossible in a city like Transverse. Guns transform into flowers. The people fly upwards, and are knocked unconscious by the black light chandeliers. He waits for a few of the angrier ones to build up speed, and then teleports them five inches away from the wall, letting their inertia knock them out into next week. All the while, insane vector equations spurt out of his hands and knock my 'allies' on their asses.

Was I ever afraid of the Meathooks? I wonder, These bastards who bring random violence upon me and all the other girls trapped in the Meathooks just because they can? These monsters who have repeatedly broken my bones just to see me squirm as they heal. These unpredictable murderers whom I'm forced to stand beside and defend every day of my miserable existence?

They just seem so comical now, tossed to the wayside with such ease and grace. The stranger shows us all his raw and implausible powers. How the flying shock does he do this?

On instinct, I still have my gun drawn on this Metalscream character even as my gang falls to pieces around me. He strides toward me, all the confidence in the world as my body begins to shake. I can't seem to catch my breath. The weight of my gun suddenly registers in my mind, and I bring it down away from his face. I wasn't much of a threat with the thing anyway.

I bite my lip as I holster my weapon slowly, my other hand held out for him to see, careful not to make any sudden moves. The Metalscream creature tilts his head toward me - seemingly confused for a second - before smiling a wide smile.

"You should see the look on your face. It's utterly ridiculous."

"...yeahbutwhat...?" I stammer. "See, but how...how did you...?"

"You've got a good aura on you, girl. Not like the rest of these crazies." The Metalscream gestures to the defeated Meathooks littering the ground.

"Ummm...what can I say? I fell in with a bad crowd." I grin.

"You going to attack me now, after seeing what I did with your friends?"

"Attack you? What're you, high?" I laugh. I lock my eyes with his and I know he can see the faintest glimmer of rage behind mine. "Besides, those aren't my friends."

"Then why are you with them?" He asks, scratching his head.

"Long story," I murmur, strolling toward the dead NecroNimrod priest and noticing the darkmage lieutenants unconscious or dead along the floor around him for the first time, "So, what's their story?"

"Oh, them. The NecroNimrods. Devout dark priests trying to take over the world by re-animating the dead to serve their mad whims, yadda yadda yadda. Staging themselves in the city with the highest suicide/murder/constant wrongful death rate in middle America, however, was a move of absolute brilliance. You're all just lucky I got a lead on these bozos before they got really toxic. Your little gang never stood a chance against the bastards, I hope you know."

"Yeah, I kinda guessed that one," I say, looking at the amulets and charms laying amongst the dead NecroNimrods, examining the relics that were as dead as their users, "The boss usually doesn't pull suicide missions out of his ass unless he's desperate."

I pull one charm up in particular and notice it glowing - ebbing with the faintest light. He smirks at me as the object seems to react to me. As if he instinctively knows something I don't. Does this charm know I'm here? Am I doing this?

I toss the trinket aside and whirl around to the Metalscream.

"None of this should be possible. How did you do this? Tell me how you did this."

"Tell you how I did it?"

"Yes!" I say breathlessly, "the entire Meathook Conquistadors couldn't make a dent in the ranks of these fuckers. Yet, you smoke the whole gang in an afternoon..."

"More like a late evening, I would think. Getting pretty dark outside."

"Oh my Gods, shut up! You know what I mean! The NecroNimrods. The Meathooks. You wiped the floor with them. I just need to know how you did this! What's your secret?"

"Why do you want to know?" He looks at me sternly.

I put my hands on my hips and prepare a sarcastic remark, and then my eyes focus on one of my Meathook 'allies'. I know him as Bronco. He has a necklace of teeth for each woman he's beaten or raped or mutilated. Calls them souvenirs. The only reason I don't have a tooth on his necklace is because our leader likes me so much. Gives me a free pass. Some of the other girls in our gang, not so lucky. Some of the girls, have multiple teeth on that necklace.

I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to kick his teeth in. But he's twice my size and four times as mean. I wouldn't have a chance. Enemy or friend, doesn't matter. He's ruthless to anyone who crosses his path. And I'm forced to be his lookout on a daily basis, making sure he doesn't get greased by our enemies. Thing is, he's one of the better ones among the Meathooks. With him, I can at least see the horrible monster that he is and keep my guard up.

I think of these things, and my eyes start to tear up. My fist clenches itself all on its own, and through gritted teeth, the anger I've held back for a lifetime finally comes rising to the surface, "I want to know, because I want to take all the evil, ratbiting spuds in this whole stink of a world and finally give them everything that's coming to them. I want to drive chainsaws through their eyes and throw them into a pit of wolverines, and get some justice for all those who can't get justice done themselves. I want to keep the horrors I've seen in my life from happening to anyone else ever again."

I lock eyes with him and he sees my helpless rage in all its glory for the first time. "Teach me how to do what you do. Please."

"Hmmm...I think the Bone Machine would hate me if I did a thing like that..."

"The Bone wassit-now?" I ask.

"...which means I definitely should do it!"

"Should do what?"

"Tell you how I did it. Tell you how to do the things I do. The old coots say they used to spend years even choosing their apprentices, making absolutely sure that their successors would be worthy of the technomantic arts. But what do they know?"

"Um. Wait, what old coots? And what's a 'technomantic art'? Metalscream, you're not making any sense."

"Call me John. John Flamel."

"That's fantastic, Static-Heart, but it still isn't making you make sense."

"That's only because you've got so little going on upstairs," he laughs, "I know this great bar where we can talk."

"Are you calling me stupid, you horrible little..."

We leave the alleyway in a whisper of vector equations and technomantic light. And as we trade beers and insults and even a few laughs at the bar I've been whisked away to, something in me tells me that this was a day worth getting up for...

Probably. Don't quote me on that.



“Xi’An Chi Xan:
The Desert Ghost”

Written by Maarten Bouw


 

“I’m just touched down in Nevada,” Xi’an speaks wearily into the com-piece. The rushed journey from Saigon to America has clearly taken it out of him.

“And none too soon, my friend,” Victor Ten Eagles responds in a relaxed tone. The time-difference between the US and Saigon has little effect on him. “I spotted at least 3 bounty hunters sniffing about these parts looking for you.”

“They didn’t cause you any trouble, I hope?”

“Thankfully not.” Xi’an can hear what sounds like Victor Ten Eagles standing up. “The heat has certainly died done now that you’re out of the country. This frees up the Lawless to continue with some lucrative ventures we have in mind.”

“I’m so glad to hear my absence is agreeable for you,” Xi’an spits back, perhaps too harshly. The haphazard travel plans and upheaval weigh on him.

“I’m sorry, my friend. I meant nothing by it.”

Xi’an rubs his eyes doing little to mask a disgruntled moan over the line. “It’s okay, Victor.  I’m just tired.” Xi’an pauses. He hasn’t opened his eyes yet. “But it’s good to be in America.”

“It is?” Victor sounds surprised. “What do you have planned?”

“Like you, Victor, I have some ventures in the pipe-line.”

“Something profitable, I assume,” Victor interrupts.

“Some things are worth more than money, Victor. I have an ideal I want to pursue. But for now I’ll need to cut communication. Perhaps for a while.”

“Oh.” Victor sounds surprised. “I don’t know what you have in mind my friend, but I wish you all the best in your travels as a ghost in that large Nevada desert.”

Xi’an laughs back, “The Desert Ghost was who I once was. That chapter is done.”

“You can’t shut the book that easily.” Victor’s words come back over the line, like an older brother who is always on the lookout for a younger sibling.

Xi’an breaks communication, drops the com-piece to the ground and smashes it repeatedly with his foot. It’s time to get to work on locating the American mutants he’d heard about whilst in Saigon. He’d have to do it under the radar. Although the year was 2098, being a mutant was still a four-letter word.


“Dust:
Striking the Match”

Written by Mike Hintze


Monday, October 6th, 2098

He walked across the dusty plain, his leather duster running along the ground, looking ahead but not truly registering anything. The headaches were back, but then they never really left. His mind was not focused on the here and now anyway.
It was focused on yesterday.

This place he walked upon looked then much like it did today. One of the few places on Earth that did so. It remained untouched by the megacorp greed and interests of the super-rich. This place remained truly what it had always been: a desolate wasteland.

His friends, long gone now, had once called a place like it home for a time. They had called many places home in their lives, but he had always found their Australian home to be the most apt. Apart from humanity yet still sharing the same planet. Apt…very, very apt, indeed.

They had been in conflict, too, at one time. Like a soap opera, his relationship with his old comrades had been full of upheaval and mistrust … yet it always ended in a kind of comradeship and support that he never felt he truly deserved.

He remembered the cantankerous Logan … the Wolverine … and his attitude of no surrender. He came from the most savage and outside of outsiders only to become the beacon of hope for their people in the years before the end. Still, he had been an annoying son of a bitch.

He remembered Scott and Jean … Cyclops and Phoenix … and their most amazing superhuman ability: their indomitable will. They proved to be two of the greatest leaders the Earth had ever seen, let alone their people alone.

Then there was Xavier … Charles. The one who arguably started it all with his dreams of mutant equality and peace with humanity. If he could only see the world as it was now. The 21st century was nearing its close and in the end, nothing much had really changed. Mutants were persecuted … but this time, they had company in the form of Degens and other genetic castoffs. Being different was no different after all. The rich ruled. Corporate greed prevailed and in fact ruled all. Humanity still controlled everything.

Mutants were a footnote in history.

He shook his head. Charles … you would cringe if you saw what your dream has become. In the end, everything was the same … and yet everything was different.
He remembered the adventures they had all shared and how fantastic the universe looked to them. Even after traversing star systems and defeating alien dictators or malevolent alien races, they always returned home to the same old prejudices and hatred. Always. Even in victory they came back in defeat.

He had fought alongside them all and did his best, considering himself one of them up to the end…but afterward, he hid, broken and scarred, only wanting to lick his wounds and forget the horrific events of the rebellion that killed his enemies and friends…or worse. He had hidden here, in the X-Men’s former headquarters in central Australia and eked out a life in the harsh plain. He always found enough to eat and drink due to his powers, but he stayed away from the eyes of civilization. His time was done. He was a man no longer … merely a shell of one.

His only pleasure was reliving days past, of happier times and happier places. His powers allowed him a degree of recall few others could know. He would stay days if not years in his idle fantasies, leaving only to sustain his body. He had nothing left to live for but the past. His abilities meant he was extremely long lived and since he could not muster the courage for suicide, he lived and dreamed of past days and past glories.

“I can’t believe I actually found you,” came a voice from behind him.
He whirled to see a man dressed in leather and pieces of armor. His head was wrapped in an effort to keep the heat out. He wore goggles that reflected his own face back at him. The man sat on a motorbike, old even by the current year’s standards. It ran virtually silent. This man should not have been able to get within a hundred miles of him…yet here he was. His first human contact in many, many years.

“Who—“ croaked his voice from lack of use, “What do you want?”

“In truth…guidance,” said the stranger. “I seek your advice.”

“My advice?” he replied. “Leave me. Leave me now or I will do something we both will regret.”

“My name is Xi’an,” said the stranger. “I … I am embarking on a mission. One that I need to discuss with you.”

“You don’t know who I am,” he said.

“You were one of them,” said Xi’an. “You were an X-Man.”

“Ha!” he laughed. “I was never one of them…not really. They were beyond me…but taught me much. My name is Dust.”

“You knew Zhao … Del Ruiz … Magnus and Xavier,” said Xi’an. “You may be the only man alive that did.”

“For all the good I did,” he said shaking his head. His long, matted grey hair swayed around his face. “Didn’t help anyone when they really needed me … not when the Purge came…”

“I am embarking on a new chapter, for myself, and Xavier willing … the world,” said Xi’an. “The time has come for the mutants and other genetic minorities of the world to assemble and act as one once again … under the banner of the X-Men.”

“The X-Men are dead and gone,” he said. “They did their best … we all did … but the world’s changed. The time has come for the world to change.” He looked at Xi’an.

“You’re one man. One man is not the X-Men.”

“I have friends…allies,” said Xi’an. “We are a small group but we are going to build. Become the X-Nation that Xavier and Magnus always dreamed of.”

“Xavier never wanted segregation,” he said harshly. “That was Magnus…but even he changed his tune in the end. What do you want from me?”

“Join us,” said Xi’an. “Your history and power can help us bring the dream to life. You can honor Xavier and your old allies. You can be an X-Man.”

“Hmph,” he said. “Been there, done that. I—“ His mind flashed as an image came across it. Several of them.

…a woman whose telepathic gifts made her a living mutant detector…
…a man who could mimic the properties of any metal he touched…
…a girl with the ability to negate the physical properties of her limbs, making them serpentine…
…and someone this Xi’an had yet to meet…whose skin became translucent when charged with energy, acting as a human capacitor…the key to his plan of restoring the Dream of the X… a Skull of Fire…

He opened his eyes and saw he was lying on his cot within the small cave that had been his home for generations now. The remnants of technology still embedded in the walls, traces of the larger community that the X-Men had used to call home here in the Outback over a century ago…and Xi’an was sitting next to him, wringing a wet cloth to put on his forehead.

“I’m home,” he said.

“You fell unconscious suddenly,” said Xi’an, “I took you back here to get you out of the sun.”

“Wasn’t the sun,” he said as he tried to sit up. “Had a flash … a vision. Haven’t had one in a long time.”

“What did you see?” asked Xi’an.

“Normally I’d tell you it’s none of your damn business, mindwipe you and send you on your way…but what I saw pertained to you. You and your … X-Men.” He brought his feet back over the edge of the cot and looked Xi’an in the eye.

“Your dream … if it has any hope of surviving … needs one man. Your friends are all well and good … but there is one man without whom everything will fall apart.” He grabbed Xi’an’s shoulders. “Timothy Fitzgerald. You’ll find him in Kingman in three months’ time.”

“Thank you,” said Xi’an. “Will you come with me? Rejoin the dream? Help guide us?”

“No,” he said, shaking dirt off his hat and putting it back on his head. “I’m done. Broken. You don’t need me.” He stepped outside of his hovel and saw that it was already night in the Australian Outback. He had been unconscious longer than he had thought. That was when he noticed…the headaches were gone.

“My mutant talents include the ability to heal,” said Xi’an. “I needed to be sure you would be all right.”

“My thanks,” he said, “Don’t touch me again.”

“I respect that,” said Xi’an. “Thank you… and if you ever change your mind…”

“I won’t,” he said. “Goodbye, Xi’an.”

Xi’an blinked and found himself standing in the middle of the desert, alone. His bike was with him, but the cave and old settlement that was the old man’s home was nowhere to be seen. He looked at his chronometer. Minutes had passed.

If there was any doubt who he had been dealing with, those doubts were gone now. He grabbed a recorder and spoke. “Ensure Shakti locates Timothy Fitzgerald when she hits Kingman.” He shut off the recorder and pocketed it.

He had met one of the X-Men. Denial aside, the old man had been one of the greats.

And whether or not he had been one of the team in his own eyes…Nate Grey was a legend.

Nate Grey was still an X-Man.



“Miguel & Gabriel O’Hara:
Arrested Developments”

Written by David Ellis


 

 

“I’m here to pick up my brother.”

“Name?”

“His or mine?”

The Public Eye clerk gave him a tired, withering ‘how dumb are you?’ look that conveyed just how much he hated his own job, as well as how little he thought of the man he was speaking to.  “His.”

“Gabriel O’Hara. My height. Busted for public nudity. Can’t miss him.”

“Oh. One of those.” The clerk recorded all the information into the computer with all the passion of someone who couldn’t give less of a shock. “Subject six-eight-nine-one-dash-four-five-dash-three-one-one. Your name?”

“Miguel O’Hara. His brother.”

“Relation to Subject?”

“I did just say I’m his brother, right?”

“Sir, there’s no need for the attitude. Relation to subject?”

Miguel stared at the clerk. His eyebrow twitched. His nostrils flared. “Older brother.”

The clerk input the information. “Thank you. Was that so hard?” His eyes lit up – ever so slightly – and Miguel guessed the clerk had run a search-and-crossref on his name. “Ah. O’Hara, Miguel. Alchemax, Special projects – Genetics. Level C clearance.”

“Yeah, I know all this.”

“Hmmm. No Black Card information.”

“Don’t have one.”
“Interesting. Most Alchemax employees, Level C and above, are eligible for Black Cards.”

“I opted for the lifetime supply of Twinkies.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Never mind.” A childhood spent with a twencen fangirl like Xina Kwan had done odd things to his sense of humor. So few people understood his references to artifacts long past. “So can we speed this along?”

“Well, sir, if you had opted in for a Black Card, we would have been finished by now. But as you don’t have one, I’m going to have you fill out Form Twenty-eight-A-dash-seven-three. In duplicate.” The clerk handed over a datapad complete with stylus.

 

“So, Gabe, I’m thinking about getting a Black Card,” Miguel announced to Gabriel an hour later as the two of them walked through the main hall of the police station, passing perps, prostitutes, and people of ill repute.

Gabe was dressed in standard-issue dark-gray Public Eye prisoner garb emblazoned with the number 311 on the back. It was a reference to the last three numbers in his Public Eye prisoner number, the police code for public nudity.

He gaped at Miguel with a scandalized expression. “A Black Card? Why? I thought I’d talked you out of getting one?”

“You didn’t; I came to that conclusion myself. But now, I think I want one, just so I don’t have to deal with the paperwork, or the idiots who peddle it. I understand I have you to thank for that. This is another one you owe me.”

Gabe’s head drooped. “I’ll make it up to you. Could … could I make another request, though?”

Miguel stopped and shot his brother a ‘you-have-to-be-kidding-me’ look. “So you can add another item to the list?”

“Could you … convince them to let Stacy off too?”

“She got you into this mess in the first place, Gabe. I told you it was a bad idea to date her.”

“She’s a good person, all right? She’s opening my eyes to everything that’s wrong with society!”

“Like clothes?”

“No, it goes beyond that! It’s about – forget it, all right? If you don’t want to bail out Stacy, that’s fine. She can fend for herself.”

“Fine by me.”

“In Public Eye custody. With men leering at her and cops judging her.”

“Gabe, that guilt trip isn’t going to work with me. You’re aware of that, right?”

 

“Not another word until we’re all in the car,” Miguel asserted as he led Gabriel and his girlfriend Stacy (what kind of last name was Wojciechowski, anyway?) through the same hallway as before. “As much as I’d prefer to be fashionably late to Dad’s funeral, this is pushing it.”

Fashionably late. He’d rather not go at all. He’d rather not have known his father at all, but instead, he’d had to spend his formative years under the same roof with George O’Hara. All it had taken was six years for him to have his fill, so when the aptitude exam had placed Miguel in the top one percentile – eligible for the Alchemax School for Gifted Youngsters – Miguel had jumped at the chance to get out of the house. He’d even let his father think the aptitude test had been George’s idea to begin with.

But it had meant that there had been one less person to comfort Gabriel during the times George slapped and punched his wife until she couldn’t move. It had meant that there had been one less person to serve as a source of stability for Conchata O’Hara as her husband got progressively worse.

The least he could now was be a pillar of support for Gabe and his mother at the funeral. But that meant he had to first show up, which in turn meant he had to jump through hoops to clean up his little brother’s mess. Again.

Which meant he had to be here. He was getting tired of seeing the inside of the building. The giant stylized Public Eye logo – a hologram of a circular ‘E’ shaped to resemble an eyeball – had been staring at him for the three hours he had been at the station. Underneath the logo was the slogan, ‘We’re Looking Out for You’; and Miguel would have flipped it the bird if he didn’t think it would end in a Public Eye beating, more paperwork, and possible jail time.

“I just wanted to thank you double-plus for, like, throwing me a solid back there,” Stacy said, chattering away. Despite her Polish-sounding last name, she was a tall mixture of African and Asian features, and her 311 prisoner suit was at least a size too small.

“I’m sorry, what part of ‘not another word’ was unclear?” Miguel was striding rather quickly toward the exit, not wanting anything to interrupt him. “As for the ‘solid’ I threw you? You’re washing my car tomorrow. Clothed.”

“But … nudity is, like, my lifestyle total-phase,” Stacy objected. “I don’t wear clothes, and I have to, like, Metex these back to the PE as soon as I get home.”

“Don’t care,” Miguel replied. “If you wash my car naked, my fiancée will throw my clothes out into traffic, along with everything else I own.”

“I call fakeshop,” Gabriel piped in. “That’s something Xina would do. Dana would just give you a look, followed by silent treatment and the couch.”

Miguel stopped and turned abruptly to the two miscreants, causing them both to stop in order to avoid running into him. “The point is—“

That was when he glimpsed one of the holo-screens on one wall, displaying a newsfeed. The sound was muted, but the live footage and closed captioning was as vivid as a punch to the gut. There was the grinning face of Kron Stone, who had terrorized him as a child. As an adult, Kron was a notorious serial killer.

His teeth and fists clenched. Kron had almost killed him back when they’d attended the Alchemax School, and he’d almost done worse to Xina. And his punishment had been expulsion from the school. Since then he’d racked up a disturbing body count. Judging by the newsfeed, that count had risen by three people: the family of a high-ranking Public Eye officer named Gallows, who had been hospitalized in the attack.

Kron Stone had murdered the mother, brother, and sister-in-law of someone who worked in these very halls, and he was going to get off scot-free. Miguel had no doubt about that; Kron’s father was Tyler Stone, who had a Level B clearance at Alchemax. And while George O’Hara wasn’t anyone’s idea of a model father, Miguel supposed that having a father like Tyler Stone would turn anyone into a trainwreck.

He noticed a pair of Public Eye officers – one, short and stout, while the other was tall and athletic -- watching the same newsfeed, gossiping amongst themselves. One of them turned and spotted Miguel and Gabriel. “Hey, look who it is! George’s kids, right?”

Miguel scowled as the two of them walked over. They were friends of George O’Hara, who worked as a Public Eye surveillance engineer.

Closing the distance, the first man spoke again to the glowering Miguel, “You remember us? Mack and Barney? We an’ your dad go way back. Once our shift is over, we were gonna go to the funeral.”

He paused as Miguel just stood there. “You don’t remember us, do you?”

“Not really,” Miguel replied with undisguised contempt.

“Guess you wouldn’t. You kids were little-bitty when he used to bring you around. And now look at you, Lead Geneticist! George’s been bragging about you for years! Guess I should call you ‘Mr. O’Hara’ now. Or ‘Doctor’?”

Miguel was tempted to call him a doctor. “I’d prefer it if you didn’t.”

The athletic one noticed what Gabriel and Stacy were wearing. “Well, at least one of you turned out all right. Public streaking, huh? Just had to show off, huh?”

“We were just walking,” Gabriel replied flatly. “Just like we’re walking now.”

The short one leered at Stacy. “I think I’ve seen you in here before, for the same thing. Y’know, if you’re lucky, next time I’ll be the one that reads you your rights.”

Miguel glared at him. He didn’t have a positive opinion of Stacy, but she didn’t deserve this. “And if you’re lucky – which you won’t be – I won’t report you to your superiors for sexual harassment.”

The fat one stepped forward. “Okay, first? I was just jokin’ around. Second, you know it’s your word against mine.”

Atypically, Miguel held his ground. Normally he avoided confrontations, but this time there was too much pent-up anger in his system. “You’ll find my word carries more weight at Alchemax.”

The athletic one stepped between them. “You want to walk away, or else you’re not leavin’ this station.”

Miguel felt a hand on his shoulder. “C’mon, let’s get out of here,” Stacy whispered. “We’ve got places to be, and this guy isn’t worth it.”

He blinked at her, surprised to find that she had dropped the pseudo-teen-girl verbal tics from her speech. He slowly unclenched his fists, but not his teeth. “You’re right. Let’s go.”

The turned to leave, and the two officers laughed. “See you at the funeral.”

“Gee, I can hardly wait.”

 

Months later.

George O’Hara’s funeral, and the gathering afterward, had come and gone. Miguel and his family had to put up with George’s friends and other well-wishers who had more nice things to say about the man than his family could ever dredge up.

Stacy had exchanged strained pleasantries with Dana D’Angelo, Miguel’s fiancée who had previously dated Gabriel. Miguel and Gabriel had tried to keep Conchata in a delicate balance of not too drunk, but just drunk enough that she wouldn’t start a fight with George’s second wife. And Miguel actually found himself crying over his father’s grave. Not because he was saddened, but because he’d wanted George to be punished by living to a decrepit old age.

And the following day, Stacy had washed his car. Clothed.

But all that was behind him now. He was looking forward to attending the Dia de los Muertos Festival in Mexico with Gabriel, who had long since broken up with Stacy and her nudist ways. There had been a brief fling with Michelle, who’d worshipped Mother Earth to an extent that had almost swallowed Gabriel whole. But even that was in the past.

Miguel packed his suitcase. He’d purchased a Day of the Dead costume made of sturdy Unstable Molecules to protect him from the rowdier aspects of the festivities. Dana had to work, so she wouldn’t be able to join him on his vacation, and she hadn’t even had the chance to see his costume.

But that was fine with Miguel. It was going to be The O’Hara Boys vs. Mexico, with nothing getting in the way of them having a great time.

Lyla, his golden-hued holo-assistant, appeared in a flash of pixels, accompanied by a friendly chime. “Incoming call from your brother, Miguel. Would you like to answer?”

Miguel squeezed his clothing into his suitcase with considerable effort, and finally got it to close. “Yeah, sure. Put him through.”

Lyla’s shapely image morphed into an image of Gabriel. “Mig, it’s Gabe. You’re not gonna believe this…”

“You met a woman, didn’t you?”

“…but I met the most amazing woman! Her name is Leilani, and she is really great, and … I was wondering. Could I … bring her along to Mexico? I’ll pay for her plane ticket.”

Miguel buried his face in his palm.



“Paul-Phillip Ravage:
Major Changes”

Written by Maarten Bouw


 

Looking out my office window at ECO I await the fireworks to mark the end of the year.  It’s almost midnight and I can’t wait for 2098 to end.  What a shocking year it’s been.

I look out into the heart of Neuva York and I wonder just what my life has become.  Not that long ago I was a soldier fighting the eco-wars.  Shock, it was a war we won.  Soon enough here I am, hair slicked back, decked out in the latest corporate attire, and for what?  What war am I really fighting here?  The environment certainly isn’t any better since I came onboard as head of ECO.

Sure we have plans in place to send up EMT’s throughout the city as a means to clean the polluted air.  They are a major part of ECO’s work leading into the new century and one I’m particularly excited about.  I need to be very careful in the roll out though, as the cost involved will surely bankrupt us.

I suspect my executives are making under-the-table dealings with eco-terrorists to ensure things run as slowly as possible.  To be honest though I can see their point.  Why put everything into fixing the earth’s pollution if it’s going to ultimately cost you your job?

Wait; what am I thinking?  This is ridiculous!  No wonder Tiana left me.  I’ve grown soft and spineless here at the top.

No wonder Andertorp Henton is conspiring to oust me from my position.  I don’t have the proof yet but I suspect Anderthorp is secretly involved with the Mutroid island known as Hellrock.

I could pull up his daily logs and see just what he’s up to, but despite having the top job I don’t have the authority to do so.  I’d need to clear such a move with the board; a board Anderthorp himself resides at.

“Almost time for the fireworks,” I hear the sweet words slip from Tiana’s lovely mouth as she enters my office.  Shock she looks good but I can’t really go ahead and tell her so.  She made her position known to me pretty clearly the other night.  She knows I’m watching the corporate cowboys within ECO.  For some reason she doesn’t want me rocking the boat.  Unless I toe the company line and take charge of ECO’s future dealings, she doesn’t want anything more to do with me.

“Did you need anything else before I leave Paul-Phillip?” Tiana asks.  I look at her, deep in thought.  What am I going to do about this corporation?  “Paul-Phillip...?”

“Huh?  Oh, sorry Tiana.  No, no.  Thank you.  That’ll be all.”

“Fine” I hear her respond with a harshness I’m not used to.  It cuts right to the bone.

I continue to look out the window and before I know it I hear the soft echo of New Year’s Eve countdown and then suddenly the fireworks begin.

Interesting fact; ECO have a hand in the fireworks display each New Year’s Eve.  The pollution is so bad in Neuvo York that pyrotechnics have long been banned from usage.  If any of the flammable gases were to become exposed to the pollutants in the air it’d create one big fireball across the whole city.

That thought alone suddenly has my blood boiling.  For far too long ECO, and I, have stood back and allowed the Earth to become what it is.  I’ve become too concerned with the profit margin of the corporation and less about making the air safe, and the land rich with growth.

I see out the end of 2098 and I promise myself that 2099 is going to see some major changes.

Major indeed.

The Beginning.



“Tiana Kwong:
The Mask of Professionalism”

Written by David Ellis


 

As long as I’ve lived, I’ve worn a mask. I’ve had to.

The mask is figurative instead of literal, but for all that I want it to appear delicate and made of porcelain, I need it to be heavy and made of iron. It’s the barrier I’ve constructed around myself – the façade that everything is all right and that nothing can hurt me.

In truth, few things have ever been all right in my life, and I’ve been hurt plenty. Back when I was a child, I lost my father to corporate backstabbing; he was exiled to Hellrock by an executive from ECO, a subsidiary of Alchemax. That same executive then cozied up to my mother and became my stepfather. And my life got worse from there.

I endured it with that mask of delicate iron, and I went through schooling to reach a better station in life. Ironically enough, my career path took me into the same corporation that destroyed my family. I tell myself that I’m an executive assistant for ECO to uncover definitive proof of the foul play behind my father’s exile and exactly who was responsible. But it’s just as likely I work here to be stubborn, to send a silent message that they haven’t broken me.

The one positive aspect of this job has taken the form of Paul-Phillip Ravage. He’s a war hero who has medals older than me. He befriended me, taught me self-defense to give me a measure of interior confidence to go with my exterior mask. Before I knew it, my mask had cracked, and I had fallen for him.

Our relationship officially ended two nights ago. He’s a man of contradictions, holding steadfast to his convictions where it would get him demoted or worse, and making compromises where he should hold his ground. It’s become infuriating. But I think what’s pushed me away the most is his need to protect me, as if he really believes I am made of porcelain. I’m not. He doesn’t seem to understand how much it hurts that he treats me that way.

So it’s over.

The worst part about this – the part I’ve dreaded – is going to work for him the next day and carrying on as if nothing has happened. However, since I pride myself on my professionalism, I’m perform all the tasks asked of me, PDA in hand, to the best of my ability. I manage his schedule, set up conference calls, go over reports, and everything else my job requires of me. Hopefully, I’m carrying myself as if there was never a relationship between us beyond the professional.

Paul-Phillip, on the other hand, just looks lost. The hurt is etched into his face, and he looks like his thoughts are miles away. Those thoughts are probably chasing each other in circles, all about how everything has gone so wrong between us.

It’s almost enough to crack my exterior. Almost.

I suppose I could at least be a little friendly to him. Toward midnight, as I’m packing up to leave the office for the night, I stop by his office. Sure enough, he looks like he’s adrift at sea. “Almost time for the fireworks,” I inform him, hoping to snap him out of his reverie.

Nothing. He’s still staring out his window.

 “Did you need anything else before I leave, Paul-Phillip?” I ask. I’d gone back to calling him Mr. Ravage, but maybe this would show him that I don’t completely hate him.

He finally turns to look at me, but his eyes don’t really focus.

My high heel clicks on the floor. “Paul-Phillip...?”

“Huh?  Oh, sorry Tiana.  No, no.  Thank you.  That’ll be all.”

He’s still out of it.

“Fine.” As I say that one word, there’s an edge to my voice that takes me by surprise. It seems born out of my frustration with him, but I think I might be just as angry with myself.

I leave his office, realizing the cracks in my professional demeanor are splitting open. I hate this. I hate him. I should hate him. I love him. I hate the way he makes me feel. I never told him. I hate that I never told him how much he treated me. I hate the mask that I’ve always worn.

Somewhere along the way, I find myself running out of the ECO building, onto the walkways, past the crowds of people and maglev cars. I run into Reverend MacAdams’ First Church of the Aesir, a place where I’ve come with increasing regularity. My mother worshipped the Norse pantheon, and so do I. Religion was of the primary ingredients of the mask I wear. My goddess of choice was Hela, powerful and regal behind a serene façade.

I’m crying at the foot of her statue. I plead with her to give me strength. My mask is slipping, cracking, and I need guidance more than ever. Not for the first time, I consider her status as the Goddess of Death and the Underworld, and I wonder if what I’m really praying for is death.

Fireworks flash outside the windows, illuminating the dark church. It’s a new year. 2099. The message is clear: this is a chance to continue living and to repair the cracks in my mask.

 

 

You like this anthology special? Thank Jae Lizhini, this is all his fault!

You see, back in March of this year, Jae Lizhini posted an excellent idea onto the Ghostworks List: What were our favorite characters doing in the Marvel 2099 Universe a full calendar year before 2099? What was Ravage doing in 2098 before he fought against the corporate menace as a low-tech revolutionary before being mutated into the well-known Beast Man? What was Litany Kirkpatrick doing before her teacher John Flamel was murdered and she took up the mantle of the Metalscream? What was Miguel O'Hara up to before he crossed his genome with a spider's to kick a nasty Rapture habit and became the Spider-Man of 2099? What was Xi'an doing in the year before he bought a bunch of mutants together in the desert to resurrect Xavier's dream in the form of the X-Men of 2099? What were all our favorite characters up to before the iconic events that made them part of the Second Heroic Age of 2099? This resonated with us to such a degree, that we had to make sure Jae's idea became a reality. And thanks to everyone's hard work, that reality has partially come full circle in the issue you hold in your hands. Err, the issue that you're reading on your computer monitors. Okay, slightly-clichéd metaphors aside, I think you catch my drift.

As David Ellis pointed out, it was just like the "Flashback" series of Marvel Comics published in the '90s, where we found out what the heroes of the First Heroic Age were up to, and what events shaped them into the heroes they are today? We loved Jae's idea so much, we decided to make it a special for the 2099 Underground Revised! After all, we've been gone from c-space a long time. We thought that we should do something special, not only to delve in some of the things that made these characters great, but also to provide a recap on the past of the 2099 Universe with as many characters as we could fit into one issue as possible! We got another special planned to catch you up on the present situation, now that our calendar year has moved into 2100. This month has been a look into the UGR's past, October shall showcase the present, and the future awaits in the months after that...

Now, you might have conspicuously noticed two absences from this particular issue: Ghost Rider 2099UGR and Strange 2099UGR. Don't worry, we haven't forgotten about them. They aren't in this 2098 Special because, well, they simply have specials of their own coming out. That's all. There's so much story in their pasts to tell, that we had to just up and give them their own one-shots to tell it all! Jae Lizhini's Ghost Rider 2099: Prelude comes out this month, and Ed Ainsworth's Strange 2098 Special is on the books for October. Trust us, you'll love what'll be coming not only from these two specials, but from the series following the preludes. I, for one, couldn't be more excited!

Outside of that, we have some amazing things planned for you guys. Strange. Ghost Rider. Doom. Spider-Man. Ravage. And Metalscream.

More than ever, my friends, the future begins today.

 

David Ellis & Jason McDonald
Editors of the 2099 Underground Revised_