#1: Pilgrimage, Part One May 12, 2019 6:31:27 GMT -5
Post by HoM on May 12, 2019 6:31:27 GMT -5
Issue One: “Pilgrimage; Part One: Anniversary.”
Written by Charles HoM
Cover by Craig Cermak
Edited by Aaron Martel
EIGHTEEN MONTHS AGO:
The two men surveying the damage wore yellow hard hats, and had clipboards in their hands. Buildings still smoked, rubble was strewn across the streets, and there was nothing but destruction all around them. They scribbled notes on their papers.
“Major property damage, check.” The tallest man looked at his friend and tipped his hat up, so he could see his face. “You got the report on how many dead?”
“No reported casualties yet, it’s just property damage. It’s insane.” He flicked through his papers, looking for notes and details. “Like a tornado ran through the streets and just… selectively destroyed.”
“It wasn’t a tornado though, was it? I heard rumors that the Fantastic Four were here. Dunno if it’s true or anything, but wouldn’t that be cool? The FF in our neighborhood?”
The second man hesitated before speaking. “S-So you think the rumors are true?”
“Yeah. There’s a monster loose in America, and the press are calling it the ‘Hulk’.”
The explosion wasn’t like a bomb going off. There was none of the BOOMing you’d expect from an explosion of its magnitude. It was more like a shrill cry, like a banshee’s wail, and it was all he heard when he closed his eyes to sleep.
He remembered how it felt for his body to be caught in the glowing emerald blast.
He remembered how it felt as his life changed so monumentally.
He remembered it all…
The wail screeched into his ears, and he himself screamed.
Fever dream. Cold sweat covering his body. He tossed and he turned, flashes of memory filled his mind’s eye. They convalesced together, cascaded across his subconscious, colours and shapes, noises and sounds, screams and shouts. His limbs quivered. He couldn’t control himself. He jerked awake, and looked around. Bruce Banner groped for his glasses, placed them on his face, and ran a thin hand through his thick, brown hair. The motel room wasn’t the best, but with what little money he had on him, it was all he could afford. He climbed out of the bed, and staggered toward the bathroom, barely aware of his surroundings.
He hadn’t eaten properly for days, living off granola bars and bottles of water. He couldn’t afford the expense. His stomach was a pit. He was half the man he had been before the accident; what little meat there was on his body was lithe muscle. He was gaunt, tired, and he had to keep moving. He’d be out of this place in less than an hour, and then he’d hitchhike down the country, like he had been for months now.
He ran the cold water tap, removed his glasses, and submerged his face into the icy waters of the wash bowl. Clarity met him within a moment of the sharp pang of the cold. Memories flooded to him, as he floated there. Betty. Old “Thunderbolt” Ross. Len. Bruce himself, before the accident.
It wasn’t an accident though, was it?
Not an accident that made his body into the cage. The brittle human cage that housed an engine of destruction.
He pulled himself out of the memories. Memories were all that held him together, like he was made of twigs, and those remembrances kept the wind at bay. Kept his cage together. If he lingered in them too long, he would break down. He couldn’t afford that. He looked at himself in the mirror and nearly staggered back.
A flash of green, of rage, and a snarl like a caged animal. It couldn’t be, not now. But that’s what it was.
He shook his head, looked back at the reflection and saw a tired, worn man. The beard that covered his face wasn’t for fashion, but to disguise him. He was a wanted man, after all. He was wanted by the government because he was their property. Because the “Gamma Bomb” experiment and all its results and findings were property of the good ol’ US of A. And it was legal, too. He had signed it over to get himself further funding. To get himself to the big kahuna. But look how that turned out. He scratched his beard, and then turned on the shower. He was close now. Closer than ever.
General “Thunderbolt” Ross stood before a single man in the briefing room, empty but for them, as he clicked through a slide show of destruction. He chewed on a cigar, blustering his way through a briefing.
“This is all his doing.”
Click. A photo of Bruce Banner, from when he first entered the G-Bomb program, flashed onto the projection screen.
“Bruce Banner is a threat to all society. Instead of the gamma radiation released by the G-Bomb melting him down to primordial soup, like we had all expected it to, he became the ‘Hulk’.”
Click. News headlines flashed onto the projection screen. 'Hulk?!'
“A glorious name coined by the press. They glorified a weapon. A living weapon of mass destruction. After six months of activity Banner dropped off the map. It’s been two years close to the day since the G-Bomb went off. Two years close to the day when the ‘Hulk’ was created. Now tell me, Doctor Samson, how close are you to tracking him down?”
Len Samson latticed his fingers and pressed them against him bottom lip, and then continued to stare at General Ross. “We’re close to the day now,” he whispered.
SOMEWHERE IN NEW MEXICO:
“Where you headed, mate?” asked the truck driver in a distinctly British accent. Bruce had been standing at the side of the road for about an hour before the truck had pulled over and picked him up.
“A while down the highway,” replied Banner, as he kept looking forward.
“Nothing on the highway apart from petrol stations and tumbleweed. This is New Mexico, not New York.”
“I know that, but where I’m headed isn’t on any maps,” shrugged Banner.
The truck driver went silent for a moment, and continued to drive down the sparse road. The desert was on either side of them, mountains visible in the distance. “You one of those conspiracy theorists? Looking for Area 51?”
Banner looked at the driver and watched as he began to laugh to himself. “Not exactly.” He put out a hand, and the driver took it, keeping one hand on the wheel. “I’m David. Thanks for this. I didn’t think anyone would give me a ride.”
“No worries. I’m Greg,” smiled the man. “I needed the company. Need someone to talk to. Where you from, Dave?” He paused again. “I can call you Dave, right?”
“Sure. I’m from New York, got a cousin up there… not visited her for a couple of years now…”
Greg nodded as he listened. “Long way from home, then.”
“As are you, by your accent,” noted Banner.
“Yeah, well, I love the road, and we don’t have enough roads back in the UK. I love the sand and the wind and the warm nights. We don’t have enough of them in the UK either. I got my green card as it were, and I’m here hauling cargo for a living. Me and the open road.”
“I can relate. All I do is move nowadays. Not one day in the same place.”
“And that’s how it should be!” exclaimed Greg. “We’re nomadic people by nature, but we’ve forgotten how it should be. We’ve been forced into towns and villages because we think we should be! We’re not cattle. We’ve got to keep moving.”
Bruce thought this over for a moment, applying it to his own existence. He had driven himself away from towns because if he had an episode in a densely populated area, he could risk so much. So many lives. He kept moving, because that’s all he could do. Apart from one time, three months ago, when he returned to New York to leave a message for a close friend… he kept moving, because it’s all he could do. All the control he could exert. “Interesting hypothesis.”
“Yeah, I thought so. I’m not eloquent enough, I guess, to get it out there how I want to. But we are travelers. So let’s travel. Don’t let anything hold us back.”
“Sometimes you need that restraint,” whispered Banner, not thinking. “Sometimes you need something holding you back. Before you fall over the edge.”
Greg chuckled. “We talking about the nomadic lifestyle of the new age traveler, or something else, Dave?”
Banner turned to him. “Something else. Probably.” He turned back to the road, and arched an eyebrow. “We’re off road.”
“Short cut,” said Greg, smiling.
“To where?” A different knot tightened in Bruce’s chest. Not the knot that reminded of his lack of nutrition. Not the knot of sickness that he had been feeling for two years. The other feeling. The feeling of something writhing in his soul. Something rumbling, growing, begging, growling for release.
The scientist rubbed below his nose nervously, sniveling before his superior. “I think we have the answer, General. The first Hulkbuster device that is viable in its method of killing the Hulk.”
“Banner. His name is Banner, not that Hulk bullcrap,” huffed Ross as he paced the lab. He paced a lot. He was an impatient man. “You have a weapon to kill a weapon? What you calling it?”
The scientist looked excited at this question, and took a deep, calculated breath. “The Gamma-Booster-DNA-Extrapolator-Ray-Blaster.”
“… Are you serious?”
“Yes sir! Very, sir!”
Ross looked at him disdainfully. “Alright, it’s the G-Cannon, and no arguments. I am not green lighting a weapon called the Gamma-Booster-DNA-extrapapa-whatever. G-Cannon.” Ross nodded slowly to himself. “G-Cannon. Very nice. We need that weapon ready for use within the next few hours. We don’t know when Banner will strike next.”
Doctor Len Samson took a step forward, and shook his head. “General Ross, I object to this. Banner has not been active for eighteen months. Eighteen months since his rampage through Oklahoma. We don’t know where he’s been, or what he’s been doing, but from what we can tell, the Hulk has not been present for that time.”
Ross blustered, chewing on his cigar with frightening intensity. “Banner destroyed Oklahoma City--”
“And no one died! Yes, major property damage was incurred, but he is not a murderer!”
“Someone died, Len. And you know that.”
“Dammit, General, you don’t know that! You don’t know that was Bruce!”
“Listen to me, Samson! Banner has the potential to be the most deadly weapon of mass destruction this world has ever seen, and I will not rest until he has been taken down! You know Banner? Well, I know this mutation of his, this Hulk freak he unleashes when he’s a bit upset, and it is a monster! A dumb, stupid monster with the power to destroy an entire city!”
“We need to help him. We owe it to Bruce- we owe it to ourselves to help him.”
Ross mumbled something to himself. “I’m sick of the threat looming over us. We created a monster, Banner and me. We did this. And we knew the risks, but we pressed on, and we lost so much to it.”
“Promise me, General, that you’ll go with the sedatives first. Try and calm him down. The med-team has been working on something that could theoretically take down Banner, just as your weapon could theoretically kill him.”
“Or they could just make him angrier,” noted the General.
“Okay. Tranqs first, and if that fails...” He looked over to the G-Cannon. “...My favorite new toy.”
SOMEWHERE IN NEW MEXICO:
“Greg, not to sound like I’m terrified or anything, but if you could… hrrghh,” Bruce grabbed his chest, his heart pounding. “If you could explain to me where you’re going, I’d really appreciate it.” He looked up, and was met by the barrel of a gun. “Ah, that isn’t good.”
“I like the desert. It’s quiet. Even when it’s dark, there’s some light. And those mountains. You could lose yourself in those mountains. Wonderful.”
“You don’t want to do this, Greg, you really, hggg, you really don’t want to--”
“Shut up,” snapped Greg. “Think. Come on Dave, it’s obvious what’s happening here. It’s survival of the fittest, and you’re a wee slip of a lad and I carry a rather large bowie knife. Survival of the fittest!”
“Of the strongest…” mumbled Bruce, as he looked at Greg. He was no longer shaking, and a kind of serene clarity spread over his body and mind. “Strongest.”
“Yeah, and out here,” grinned Greg, “I’m--”
“--The strongest there is.”
“Yeah, I, oh my God--”
The truck careened across the desert. Metal tore and wrenched, screaming as the truck came to an abrupt stop.
Gamma Base was situated on the site of the fateful, long-ago G-Bomb testing. The radiation was still present, but it wasn’t harmful to humans, the gamma waves having dissipated across the desert and lingering just enough to make a Geiger counter go a bit sideways if turned on. Len Samson stood where the G-Bomb had originally been detonated, the concrete mount still intact, though visibly singed. “You were always a strange little man, Bruce.”
Len Samson was a tall man. Broad shouldered, imposing like a wrestler, but he was well spoken, though when he spoke, he spoke with force. He chose his words carefully. His long, blonde hair was tied in a pony tail behind his back, and he wore a red shirt with a black suit jacket over it. He smiled, remembering the past, remembering his time spent at the dinner table of Bruce and Betty Banner.
“Strange, destructive little man,” Len spoke wistfully.
“N-not nice to talk about your friends like that, L-Len,” mumbled a man as he limped toward the mount. “Even if they’re walking dead men.” His breath was visible in front of his mouth, even though they were in the desert. Ever since the detonation of the gamma bomb weapon, it was always cold at this site.
Bruce?!” exclaimed Samson, rushing over to his old friend who was wearing rags, his jeans torn and stretched. “I-- oh, oh God, I didn’t think, what are you, what are you…?”
“I’m here because it’s been calling to me, Len. It’s the place where I was reborn, don’t you get it?” Bruce shook his head. “Like a whisper in the night. It was time to face my fear.”
“My life was falling apart before the blast. After Emil’s attack, the explosion, the transformations, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I had to--”
The floor began to shake.
“Bruce, you shouldn’t have come here, you walked right into Ross’ hands!”
“I don’t care, I just had to end this--”
From underneath the desert floor, metal slats began to rise up, and massive machines roared out of their storage compartments. Suddenly the duo was surrounded by Hulkbuster mech, and Banner was smiling.
General Ross stepped forward with the G-Cannon. “Banner! On the ground! Don’t even think of getting emotional! You knew this had to happen!”
“Yes, General, I did, I’m calmly getting to my knees, and I’m calmly handing myself over to you. It’s taken me two years to work up the courage. Two years and a lot of travelling, but I’m calm now, and I’m giving myself up to you. Lock me away with all the other monsters.”
Len backed away, and Banner began to get to his knees, when a pain rushed through his foot. He looked down, his eyes wide. A curiously green scorpion withdrew its tail from his foot, and blood trickled out of the wound. “No. Oh, God, no, no…” Pain rushed through his veins from his foot upward. “Oh, Jesus…”
Len looked on in horror. “Fire! Fire the tranqs!”
Tranquilizers slammed into Banner’s body, from dozens of needles fired from the Hulkbusters. Too late. The pinpricks of pain only made it worse. He quivered and he shook, and Ross shook his head. “Oh, Betty, I’m so sorry.” He leveled the weapon at Banner, and pulled the trigger without hesitation. He didn’t see Samson diving in front of the beam without thinking. His eyes widened as he saw the green beam strike the psychiatrist. “LEN, NO!”
Len fell to the ground, green energy wracking his body. His muscles began to bulge. His skin stretched. Green blood dribbled from his mouth and nose, and his eyes as well. He screamed and screamed as his body contorted and shifted. His muscles grew uncontrollably, his flesh hardened.
Banner too, was changing. His skin turned green as he grew larger and larger, his super strong flesh rejecting the needles and chemically processing the sedatives into nothingness. He was suddenly larger than before, a living monolith, ready to destroy anything that got in his way. The Hulk turned to Samson, and watched as the doctor stood up, his body still growing and contorting. By now, Samson was a mess of muscles, nearly as big as the Hulk.
Ross pressed a finger in his ear. “The beam missed! It got Samson! He’s changing! Tell me what’s happening, you sonsofbitches!”
A scientist replied within moments. “Oh, sweet Jesus. Samson’s cells aren’t built like the Hulk’s-- I meant Banner’s, sorry sir…”
Thunderbolt spat as he spoke. “Doesn’t matter! Tell me what’s happening!”
“He’s mutating, sir. We won’t know into what until we get him on the table, but I can probably guess it’s not pretty… According to our sensors, his body is absorbing all the gamma radiation in the vicinity, corrupted from the past two years of lingering with God knows what…”
“It’s an abomination…” whispered Thunderbolt, as the man formerly known as Len Samson towered over Banner. By now, Len was a scaled beast, with muscles still growing and pushing the scales up over his body. His eyes were black spheres in his skull. His flesh was a darker shade of green than the Hulk’s.
“HLLLLLLK…” grunted Len, his teeth razor sharp, his tongue long and dripping with saliva. “SMSSSSSSSSSH…” A clawed fist slashed outward, colliding with the Hulk’s jaw and sending him flying into the Hulkbusters, their armor shattering on impact. Thunderbolt hated doing it, but in his head he was making notes on improvements to be made to their equipment.
Samson didn’t stop mutating. More muscles grew. His scales jutted out, his eyes flickered open and shut like a reptile.
The Hulk clambered out of the metal suit, at first seemingly puzzled by this slight, but then his eyes widened at the sight of the Abomination. A large smile grew on his green face. “Ugly thing… hurt Hulk? HULK HURT UGLY THING! HULK SMASH!”
TO BE CONTINUED
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