Slap on those HAZMAT suits, true believers, because it’s time to spread the disease with another round of…
…in which I use the character creation rules in the Marvel Super Heroes RPG’s Ultimate Powers Book to roll up a random batch of powers and abilities, then sit back and watch as some incredibly talented folks work their creative magic upon the quantified chaos.
This week’s infectious effort comes courtesy of Joe Hunter (art) and Brad “Harvey Jerkwater” Reed (writing).
Hundreds of advance scout troops are jumping out of a slow-moving dropship high above the surface of the planet Pazaxi Za. When they hit the ground, they’ll disperse and kill everything within a radius of five hundred miles, including the settlement just beyond the hills. The drop zone will become the hub for the conquest of the planet.
I am standing in the center of the drop zone, beneath the nine moons, waiting for them. I am alone.
I am not a smart man.
Call me John. It’s not my name, but it’ll do. The first thirty-two years of my life aren’t worth talking about: school, job, a few girlfriends, lost my job and found a worse one, nothing you don’t see every day across America. Then came that other thing you saw all across America: green men from outer space. You remember it.
The Skrulls hit my town harder than most. A wing of their armada destroyed near everything around there. The garage I worked at was melted was under a heat ray, and my apartment building reduced to a crater. They messed with the wrong planet, though. We won, and won big, though it cost us. What it cost me personally is none of your damned business.
The government set us up in tents and tried to figure out what to do with us. In the camp, rumor was that the Skrulls would return soon, and if not them, some other bug-eyed monsters from space. A bunch of us agreed that we had to do something – arm, plan, stand up for ourselves, something. We also knew that assault rifles and dynamite weren’t going to be worth much against lasers and flying robots. We needed more.
PROTOCOLS BE DAMNED
Her name was Dr. Pilar Suarez. She was a member of the xenobiology department at Johns Hopkins University, a Skrull specialist, and she had a mad on. She’d written dozens of articles that screamed that we needed to take the fight to the Skrulls, because they’d never give up on conquering the Earth.
When I pitched her the idea of me and my boys helping her with her plans for Earth’s defense, she asked us to meet her in rural Maryland. A farmer had found an intact Skrull scout ship sitting in a cornfield, and she was hot to crack it open. She explained that her department had refused to let her, due to the xenobiological protocols. “Ridiculous,” she said. “It’s an invaluable asset, and it’s not like a thousand just like this one didn’t open up on Earth three months ago.”
Jake, Chris, and Jason came with me. We met Dr. Suarez at the ship, and I volunteered to be the first one in, since I’d studied diagrams of Skrull warships on the internet and had a decent idea of the layout of a scouting unit. Jake laughed at me. “Oh, the internet taught you! Skrull ships are filled with cats and adult entertainment, then?”
I shot him a look. “You wanna go in first?”
He shook his head. “Oh no. The honor of meeting Space Kitties is all yours, man.”
Dr. Suarez hot-wired the hatch and opened the ship. I stepped inside, ready for anything.
I collapsed. Everything went white.
We’d misidentified the ship. It wasn’t a scout ship but a science vessel, one that had been modifying bio-weapons for use against humans. The crew was dead. Their half-finished projects weren’t.
TUMOR HAS IT
Dr. Suarez told me the name of the disease I contracted, something unpronounceable. She cleared it up with two words: “Skrull cancer.” The Skrull ship had mutated the disease to affect humans. Every cell in my body had gone insane, and I became a greenish, unstable mass in man shape. She saved my life by finding a respirator device on the ship that pumps a green gas through my body to hold the disease in check. My weird body’s incorporated the machine, and it’s part of me now. The total effect is disgusting. I’m a walking loogy with a sprinkler system. The gas makes me a little slow on the uptake, too. Chris and Jason had a lot of fun with that.
Being a walking loogy has a few upsides. I can squish my body into a ball, grow spikes, go sludgy, whatever. Trying to hit me is nearly impossible, and it makes me pure evil in combat. It’s like getting into a fistfight with pissed-off water. The respirator doesn’t change with me, which limits my moves, but that thing is dangerous too, since the green gas knocks humans out very, very quickly. I modified myself so I can spray it out at short range.
The disease isn’t fully in check, even with the gas, so I constantly generate more of myself. If my overall mass increases by more than a few percent, I’ll lose cohesion and die. I build up that much mass in all of twenty hours. That means that to survive, I have to expel blobs of cancerous mass from my body, right off of my skin. Again, disgusting. What I learned is that I can shoot that excess mass from my body by building up a pressure bubble of the green gas. You get hit with that blob, you catch my disease. If you’re not wearing a respirator rig, you’re gonna die. Horribly.
Dr. Suarez put it best. She called me a fierce and beautiful weapon.
GOTTA BORROW THE CAR
The other guys from my group survived with strange powers too. Jake became Ostioid, an oversized monster made of bone. Chris became Synapse, a rail-thin scarlet-skinned guy who created electrical shocks. Jason became Neuron, a bug-eyed gray beast who could interfere with brain activity and cause seizures and comas. Given my cancer-based powers, I got the name Stage IV. Chris tried to change my name to “the Two-Fisted Terror Tumor,” because he would, but it didn’t take. Dr. Suarez got lucky and avoided infection.
Once our biologies settled down and our minds wrapped around the situation, we talked over what to do next. We could become superheroes. Or we could steal. Or throw in with groups that would have use for us. Dr. Suarez had a better idea. She figured that the four of us could be a hell of a hit-and-run team that could keep the Earth safe. The Skrulls wouldn’t be able to attack if we damaged their supply lines. Her department’s research had figured out several key Skrull outposts, and she could get us a set of translators to understand the alien chatter. We had the power. All we needed was a ship to get us there.
That we ended up fighting the Fantastic Four while trying to steal a ship is something I’m not proud of. Okay, okay, that’s a lie. Hitting Mr. Super-Genius Reed Richards with a four-pound flying alien tumor and seeing him freak out, that was sweet. They did stop us, though. We had to run like hell. A week later we tried another rocket site, and another super-group, this one calling themselves the Defenders, got up in our faces about it. They drove us off too.
You’d think that the fact we were going to kill a lot of evil aliens and prevent another invasion of the Earth would have meant that the ships’ owners would beg us to take ‘em and the heroes would offer to join, but no. Instead we got earfuls of “you don’t know what you’re doing” and “it’s not as simple as that” in between the jets of flame and the rocky fists directed at us. Cowards were just afraid of doing what needed to be done.
Third try worked out fine. No superhumans showed up, and the normal security wasn’t a challenge. We swiped ourselves a fast ship and took to the sky, and I didn’t even have to get into another fistfight with the Hulk.
Dr. Suarez’s starmap was right: a Skrull outpost was right where we thought it would be, on the planet Pazaxi Ka. Our plan was to infiltrate the place, find its weak spots, then break it in half. We’d skulk around wearing sensors that would broadcast info to the doctor back in the ship, who could crunch the data to find key spots.
The outpost wasn’t what we expected, though. Turned out to be a general transit hub and an agricultural site, not a military outpost. Soldiers were few and far between. What was there were grease monkeys and farmers and piles of merchants hawking crazy crap from other planets. It didn’t matter. We were determined to destroy the place.
Problem was, none of us really knew what we were looking at. After two days of hiding in the shadows and learning little, we decided we had to take a risk and question the locals. Since Skrulls are shapeshifters, a walking tumor or a man-shaped pile of bone fragments might not draw much attention, and Dr. Suarez’s translators made us sound authentic.
On the first day of our new plan, I headed for a machine the size of an ocean liner and looked for a sucker to question. A lone Skrull male was tinkering with an outcropping of the machine. Perfect.
Before I could get out a word, he held up a hand in greeting. Then he talked. For ages. His name was Slon’ak, and he was a cheerful son of a bitch who did not hesitate to share his opinions. When he slowed down and I finally got a chance to speak, I hit him with a question about the outpost. He answered, happy to be of help. Then I asked another and another. He answered everything, blabbed about the entire facility.
After getting a ton of insights into the place, I couldn’t resist asking the big question. “When do you think we’ll invade the Earth again?”
Slon’ak lost his good cheer. “Kly’bn willing, never.”
“With any luck, the next inbred idiot on the throne won’t be fixated on that deathtrap. We’ve got bigger problems.” He laughed. “You’ve certainly got bigger ones. Your respirator’s damaged. Want me to fix that?” The Thing’s fist had dented the respirator during our first failed rocket hijacking. Slon’ak broke out a few tools and repaired it in minutes.
Once he finished, he said, “You should go see Jannellia in the medical center. She can help you keep an eye on that disease, maybe even refill your tanks.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll do that.” It was stupid of me, but I Slon’ak put me off balance and so I did just that. I told myself that it couldn’t hurt to gather more intelligence. Jannellia proved just as friendly. While she added green liquid to my respirator, she told me about her mother’s fight with the same disease.
“Don’t give up,” she told me. “Life is beautiful. Life has value. Don’t let it go without a fight.”
“I won’t,” I told her.
For the rest of the day, I mingled with the Skrulls and asked not about the location of key machines, but their opinions and thoughts. I heard stories about pointless battles and their wishes for quiet lives and a large number of dirty jokes. The Skrulls have filthy, filthy minds. After a time, I had to go back to the ship. I had no idea what to say.
Jake, Chris, and Jason were already there, each as confused as I was. Nobody we’d met on Pazaxi Ka was a vicious monster bent on conquest of the Earth. Nobody here even wanted to talk about the Earth. Our planet was considered the fixation of a few royals, a place the regular folk would rather avoid than invade. They just wanted to live their lives.
Dr. Suarez nearly exploded. “You’ve been fooled! Skrulls are liars!”
Jake said, “These Skrulls don’t want war with Earth.”
Rage contorted her face. “Genocide is their way!”
Chris said, “Looks like they have more than one way—“
She cut him off by drawing a maroon pistol and firing a barrage of focused microwave beams at us. Jake’s head exploded. Chris ripped in half. Jason burst like a balloon. My ability to move my body in strange ways kept me alive.
The ship’s communicator kicked on. Dr. Suarez fired at me again and yelled in a language my translator alerted me was Kree. “Detachment nine—“
I curved my body around the beam and shot a blob of tumor at her. It hit her with a wet smack, and in seconds “Dr. Suarez” contracted an advanced case of mutated Skrullian cancer. The details of what happened next are best left unrecorded. For all she deserved it, her death was not a beautiful thing to see.
GOOD FOLKS AND ALIEN INVADERS
The Kree have been fighting the Skrulls for thousands of years. Suckers that we were, me and my boys scouted out this outpost for them. Those troopers falling from the sky above me are their men, a detachment of advance scouts.
The Skrull Empire is a vicious, dangerous thing. But the individual Skrulls in the settlement, they’re good folks. They don’t deserve what the Kree or their own leaders do to them. They deserve better.
I can’t give them that, but I can give them a fierce and beautiful weapon, one nasty enough to give the Fantastic Four and the Defenders a hard time.
I came to space to protect good folks from alien invaders. And I’m going to.
The first Kree soldiers hit the ground.
I let out a battle cry and go to war.
Are you an artist, writer, or terrifying combination of the two who’d like to try your hand at the Ultimate Powers Jam? Then drop me a line at bitter(dot)andrew(at)gmail(dot)com and I’ll commence the dice to rolling.