#2: Pilgrimage, Part Two May 12, 2019 6:55:30 GMT -5
Post by HoM on May 12, 2019 6:55:30 GMT -5
Issue Two: “Pilgrimage; Part Two: The Wretched”
Written by Charles HoM
Cover by Craig Cermak
Edited by Aaron Martel
They whisper to me in the night. The monsters hiding in my DNA. They want release, and I can’t afford to give it to them. When they are unleashed, I am aware, somewhat, of what I am doing. Or what they are doing with my body. I know that with every transformation they take another step toward total control. Every time the beasts take control of me, they stay a bit longer. Every time the beasts take control of me, they become stronger. And I know that one day, I will no longer be able to be pulled back from the brink. They will be in control, and they will be unstoppable.
The ground shook as the Hulk took the most powerful punch he had ever felt squarely on the jaw. Considering that this was the first punch that he had ever felt, let alone the first punch he had taken squarely on the jaw, it was quite a shock to him to feel green blood dribble and bubble around the edge of his mouth.
His jaw was shattered. The Abomination howled a guttural howl and trudged forward as the Hulk staggered back. He looked around. His first instinct was to jump, to escape, but he knew that this creature in front of him could follow. He didn’t know how, but he felt it. In addition to the Abomination, suits of armour surrounded him. They were big. Nearly as big as him.
He gritted his teeth as his jaw realigned and shards of bone were snapped back into place by new strands of muscle that were growing instantly. He pawed at his mouth, looked at the blood, and then cleared his throat. Spat the grunge out from inside him. The Abomination was making its way toward him, throwing the suits of armour out of the way as if they were nothing to him. He was an engine of destruction.
Hulk squatted down, muscles tightening, and then he leapt forward, smashing into the Abomination, and sending them hurtling through the Hulkbuster units. Metal tore and screamed, electricity sparked, and the Hulk roared, “UGLY MAN HURT HULK!” He slammed a fist into the Abomination’s face, and teeth cracked and scales ruptured. Ichor glistened out from beneath his flesh.
Abomination snarled. He bared his teeth, each razor sharp fang darkened by the blood oozing out of him, and beads of the liquid dribbled down the Hulk’s fist. “UG LEE. HUR TT HKK.”
General Ross watched as the carnage unfolded. He looked at the weapon in his hands, and then at the Hulkbusters standing in disarray. “Fall back.”
It was but a whisper.
He saw that three of the suits of armour were wrecked completely. Torn apart on impact by the Hulk and the Abomination creature that Len Samson had become because of him. The pilots must have been dead. Or injured.
A voice buzzed in his ear; it was one of the pilots of the suits of armour. “Sir? Please, repeat your orders, sir!”
General Ross collected all the machismo he could from his years of service. “Get your asses in gear and recover our injured, then make a beeline for the complex! We’ll wait until one of these creatures kills the other, and then we’ll move in and take on the winner!”
Abomination slammed his head into the Hulk’s nose, and blood sprayed down as bones gave away. Hulk howled in pain. He’d never felt pain before today. He only had flickers of memory of human pain, human distress, all snatched from the consciousness that he shared with Bruce Banner. Banner. Banner. Hulk growled and caught the Abomination’s head in his hands. He jammed his two giant thumbs in the monster’s eyes, and latched the rest of his fingers around the beast’s head.
The Abomination roared, and threw his fists up and drove them between the Hulk’s hands. He pushed. The Hulk pushed back. It was like a tug of war, and the more pain Abomination went through, the harder he pushed. Hulk had a single name repeating in his head. Banner. Banner. Banner. Puny man. Puny little Banner. Abomination roared, broke the Hulk’s grip, and then kicked upwards. He howled again, and pawed at his eye sockets. He looked up, through green stained vision, and saw the Hulk outraged at his sudden defiance. “RR?”
“UGLY MAN PAY!” Hulk shoulder barged Abomination, swung his fist upward, and caught Abomination on the chin, sending him flying upwards. Hulk followed through by leaping up after the beast, and then hitting him again, his momentum throwing them both higher and higher with each blow. When his momentum was lost, Hulk grabbed the Abomination, held him in front of him, and then they fell back down to Earth together, and their sudden impact into the ground caused the ground to crack and shudder.
Hulk rose up out of the smoke and rubble, grinning. “Ugly man bleed.”
Abomination’s hand jutted out suddenly, grabbing Hulk by the throat, and then followed through using his other arm with an uppercut that sent the Hulk sprawling across the desert. He rose up, his broken bones cracking back into place with an insane echo.
“Oh, this ghost will win my host, it's lingering-- In me, and around my neck, it taps on my head, while I'm asleep…”
The bar was dimly lit, a thin layer of smoke sticking to the ceiling like a protective barrier against the rest of the world. Everyone was looking toward the small stage in the corner, where one man stood with his guitar, strumming away and singing with the voice of an angel. He had everyone’s attention. The spotlight was on him, and he just concentrated on giving his best. He couldn’t see anyone, those lights were so bright, but he knew they were there, so he gave his best. That’s all he could ever ask of himself, and that’s all anyone could ask of him.
“--Memory's a secret handshake, shakes you with, speaks my language, cease, I cease to believe, you're gonna leave…”
He took a breath, and the crowd breathed with him. His final strum, a moment of silence, and then the bar erupted in applause. He smiled, moved his hand in front of his eyes to block out the spotlight, and then removed his guitar. He made an awkward bow, and then stepped off the stage, and headed toward the bar.
“That was a cool set, Ritchie,” nodded the bartender. “Drink?”
“Sure, thanks mate.” He took the glass and downed the contents, and then nodded. “What I owe you?”
“On the house. After a performance like that, eh…” The bartender smiled. “Same time next week?”
“That’s what I signed up for.” Ritchie stood up, took his guitar from where he left it, and then exited the bar. The city streets were dimly lit, the streetlights flickering on and off. A thin layer of fog had settled on the ground since he had been performing, and he smiled. The air was crisp and cold and as it went inside him he felt alive.
The name whispered out of the fog, and he spun around. He didn’t go by that name anymore. For two years, he’d been living with friends, not using any bank accounts, getting jobs he could get paid in cash for. Gigs mostly. Low scale. “Is that you, Rick?”
“I think you got the wrong man,” he replied, speaking into the darkness. He picked up his pace.
“We sniffed you out from the desert to the city, sniffed out the stench of him.”
Rick Jones spun around, his guitar case raised as a weapon. “That has got to be the most menacing greeting anyone has ever used. Who the hell are you?” He sounded defiant but really he was scared. Because this was the reason he had ran. He was the reason the Hulk had been created. He was the reason an entire city had been brought to its knees.
The fog began to move. Shift and shiver across the ground, pooling, away from Rick. He was shaking now. “We are his agents, Rick Jones, and we have been sent for you!” The fog shot straight at Rick, and fought its way into his lungs. He gagged and clawed at the mist, but his fingers passed through it pathetically. The fight was over before it had begun. He was unconscious, the oxygen pulled from his body with ease.
General “Thunderbolt” Ross swung his fist as the Abomination did, and watched as the Hulk’s blood sprayed across the desert. Green, thick, disgusting blood, flying like a web of ichor across the hot baked sands. “Good God.”
The scientists behind him, monitoring the fight with their own consoles and instruments, buzzed about each other.
“(Is he losing mass?)”
“(That massive radiation spike, what is that?)”
“(Hulk’s adrenal release response is… dropping?)”
“(Is… the Hulk losing color?)”
“Sir!” shouted one of the scientists, “My God, sir!” He leapt up from his seat and hopped over to the General, and then pulled him over to his station. “Look at this!”
“What am I looking at, Jenkins?”
The man pointed to the lines on his computer screen. “There! We have a baseline of the Hulk effect, we recorded it when Banner was stung by the scorpion, and look at this! Normally, the longer a Hulk manifestation lasts, the stronger the Hulk gets, the more muscle mass he grows beneath his flesh!” He paused, and latticed his fingers. “We know that the more adrenaline that is released in the Hulk, the tighter his muscle strands become, and they grow instantaneously, a reaction to the outside force trying to damage the main entity. But now he’s getting SMALLER!”
“What does this mean?”
“That… ehh, what me and the lab rats have nicknamed ‘Abomination’, is sucking the radiation straight out of the Hulk’s body! The gamma spike that is part and parcel of the Hulk’s presence is lessening, and being sucked somehow into the Abomination!”
The Hulk gasped for air. The Abomination towered over him, and was laughing to itself. “HR HR HR.”
“Hulk… is… tired…”
He looked at what used to be his big green hands. They were small. Green, still, but only because they were covered in his own blood. Beneath the blood layer was dull grey flesh.
He looked up, green eyes sparking with determination.
“God… you’re… ugly…”
He gritted his teeth, and then leapt straight at the Abomination, as hard and as fast as he could, and he only then realized that every time he came in contact with the Abomination’s hard, scaly body… it hurt.
The Hulk grabbed the Abomination’s shoulders, flipped himself over the top of the monster, and then kicked back on the Abomination’s shoulder blades, pushing the stumbling Abomination to the ground, and sending the Hulk back toward Gamma Base.
The gray Hulk sprinted toward the bunker, and as he did so, his body began to shrink. The closer he got to Gamma Base, the smaller and weaker he became, until he was naked, the stretched, torn denim jeans he was wearing left behind him somewhere. He was back to normal. He was Banner. He reached the blast doors. He banged blood caked fists against the hard metal. “ROSS! Let me in!”
"Thunderbolt" Ross watched through the computer screen as Banner pounded on the doors. He watched and he thought. The Abomination was behind Banner, pulling its massive body mass off the ground. Angry.
“Sir?” inquired one of the soldiers, asking a silent question that everyone else wanted to pose.
Ross didn’t speak. He thought. Banner was dying. Weakening. He couldn’t maintain the Hulk manifestation, but was this due to the proximity of the transformed Samson? Or was it because two years of being irradiated and surviving eventually turns your cell structure to mud?
“Open the blast doors,” he whispered. “Quickly.”
The blast doors opened with a roar. Banner didn’t wait till they were fully open, rolling his naked body beneath the massive, meters-thick metal and getting to the other side as quickly as he could. As soon as he was inside, with guns trained on him instantly, he looked around. “Come on!” he shouted. Reverse them! If he gets in here we’re all dead!”
Ross was still watching from the control room. “Do it.” The doors reversed their movement, and sealed shut, the Abomination trudging toward the entrance with a steely determination.
“God damn.” Ross grabbed his jacket and headed toward the entrance.
Banner was looking around frantically, rubbing his temples, shaking his head. As soon as General Ross was present he began talking. “Samson’s cells have been mutated so that he’s absorbing radiation! The Hulk was a deep food source but apparently not infinite, and soon he’ll be wanting to eat more and more. Len isn’t fighting for fighting’s sake, he’s hungry!”
Thunderbolt looked at the small, naked man and grunted, “You’re under arrest, Banner.”
“Yes, yes, I know, but we need to stop Len! You’ve not thought this through! Gamma Base is fueled by a nuclear reactor! Five of them, unless you’ve upgraded since two years ago, and then if you have we’re even more royally screwed than before!”
“The cores are contained. Sealed up,” replied Ross, as he took a pair of handcuffs from one of the MPs beside him. He grabbed Banner and spun him around, slapping the cuffs onto one wrist and then about to proceed to the next.
“And Len will fight his way into the base, head down to the basement, and destroy your containment rods and unleash a nuclear winter unlike anything the world has witnessed before! My God, Ross, are you so blind by your insane vendetta against me that you’ll screw over America and the world just for your satisfaction that I’m in chains?” Banner pulled his arm out of Ross’ grip, exhibiting a strength Ross hadn’t witnessed before. Banner didn’t stop. “What would Betty say, Ross? What would your daughter say?”
Ross pulled his gun out before anyone could stop him. His hand moved so fast that Banner was on the floor before he realized it, as blood- red, human blood- trickled down Banner’s nose and out his mouth. “You. Do. Not. Speak. Her--”
Dark green fists pummeled the outside of Gamma Base. Rifles were spun from being trained on Banner to the blast door.
Banner wiped his mouth with his wrist, his Hulk blood congealing with his human blood, and stood up. “You’re insane. But if you don’t let me help, the world will die. Simple as that.”
“Now take me to that stupid weapon you thought could take down the Hulk and let’s see what I can do to reverse this stupid mess you’ve made.” Banner and Ross were staring each other down, Ross chomping on his cigar, taking out his stress and anger on it, while Banner was simply looking the General straight in the eye. “And while you’re at it, General. I’d like some pants.”
Ross snarled and then relented. “This way, Banner.”
“Sonofabitch!” Rick Jones came round with a start, and thrashed about as he discovered he was chained to a cavern wall. “Son! Of! A! Bitch!”
His wrists hurt, his shoulders ached and his head was a mess of broken glass and shrapnel, all being shaken about by every thought he had. But he was alive, and for that, he was thankful. “I hope one of you guys picked up my guitar! That was irreplaceable!”
“H-Hello?” Another voice. Female, again, but this one was softer. He looked around the darkness. He couldn’t see anything. The voice called out, “Who’s there?”
He felt he could trust her. “Umm, I’m Rick Jones? Do I know you?”
The voice was weak. His heart broke with every word she was able to whisper. “Do you know my f-fiancé? Do you know Bruce?”
Rick was surprised by this question, so surprised that his reply was more an ejaculation than an answer. “Banner?!”
Bruce grabbed a white lab coat and pulled on the tracksuit bottoms he had been handed.
“Right, so you obviously made a ridiculous weapon to kill me. I gathered that much. But something happened and you hit Len Samson, one of the few good men I know in this world.”
He examined the weapon, looked it over, inside and out.
“Let me guess… you modulated the energy burst to react to Hulk cells? Probably recovered them from the Oklahoma incident or something… umm. Right, and it hit Samson, and his body had to react as best it could so somehow his irradiated body somehow sucked in all the gamma radiation it could, and considering that radiation was two years ago and lingering about the desert for that long… Len absorbed tainted gamma radiation, and his body mutated into that ‘Abomination’ thing you’re calling it. And now it’s got a craving for radiation and Hulk gave it a real nice main course and it wants to take all that nuclear power down below as a dessert. Fun.”
The lab technicians swarmed around him. They murmured in agreement. “What are you going to do, Banner?”
Banner looked up at Ross, and heaved up the G-Cannon. “You boys and your toys…”
Banner looked up as the lights in the facility went out and everything went green. “What’s this?”
Ross cleared his throat. “Hulk incursion.”
“What?” repeated Banner, confused.
“We designed those doors so nothing could get in, but we knew that the Hulk… Well, he gets stronger with each transformation. So… if something does get in… Hulk incursion.”
“And everything goes GREEN? God, this’ll go to my head.” He looked to the corridor, and grimaced. Gun fire, rocket fire, and all around havoc was audible from the entrance to the complex. “It’s him. He’s in.”
“What are you going to do, Banner?” asked Ross again.
“I’ve reversed the polarity of the energy frequency, so hopefully, if we get in front of the Abomination and the nuclear core before he reaches it, we might have a chance to save the world.”
Ross turned to the men and women gathered in the room. “Retreat back to GB2.” He pulled his radio from his belt and lifted it to his mouth and barked an order. “Retreat! Do not engage the intruder!” Banner looked at Ross, confused. “You and me, Banner, are you up for it?”
Banner nodded. “Yeah.”
The duo headed into the corridor, running past the men and women retreating in the opposite direction. Banner held the weapon tightly to his chest, not wanting it to be damaged or broken.
As if it just occurred to him, Ross demanded, “Where have you been, Banner? You’ve been off the map for eighteen months- where have you been?”
Banner looked back at Ross as they turned the corner. “I traveled a bit. I had some business in New York three months ago but I got out of there as soon as I could.”
“Your cousin? You went to visit your cousin?”
“No, General. If I had, I’m sure the men you have watching her would notice. I haven’t seen her for a good long time.”
“So she claimed,” replied Ross, “But relatives cover for each other all the time.”
“She’s a lawyer, General, she wouldn’t lie!” snapped Banner in mock shock. “And, besides--” He fell silent as he turned a corner. “--Oh God, now I know how everyone else feels.”
The Abomination was right in front of them. As big as a brick house, and built as strong as one, too. He snarled, his long tongue flittering out and spitting saliva as he did so. “RRRRRRRR!”
Banner brought up the weapon. It fizzed and bubbled, and a blast of green energy hit the Abomination squarely in the chest. The monster howled and thrashed about as the energy wrapped itself around the monster’s body, and then as the pressure was on, the monster began to stumble back, being driven toward the blast doors that had been torn open.
Something began to be rejected from the creature’s body. Big clouds of radioactive mist began to seep out from his large, finned ears and huge, fanged mouth, his flared nostrils and scale-covered pores all seeping the overabundance of radioactivity inside him. Then he began to shrink, just as the Hulk had before.
“ARRRRRRRGHHHHHH!” it screamed, the mouth shrinking, the fangs dissolving, the scales peeling off of its body like dead skin, the ears jutted back into the skull, and flaking back to the sides of its face.
Len Samson fell to his knees, naked, his muscles still bulging, his formerly long blonde hair now emerald green and his body shaking. He looked up at Bruce, his eyes glassy and full of mist. “Huh. Huh. Huh.”
Banner smiled, and lowered the weapon. “You alright, Len?”
“Huh. Huh. Hurts.”
Banner turned to the General, and the General nodded slowly.
“Buh. Buh. Bruce… Yuh. You saved muh-me?” Samson sputtered.
“It was a joint effort.” Banner put his wrists out for Ross, and Ross looked at them slowly. “Ross did the leg work. I did the heavy lifting. An odd reversal of old events.”
“I guess,” whispered Len Samson. He looked around at the carnage, the mayhem he had caused. “Oh, God, this was me?”
Ross was still looking at Banner’s wrists. “We couldn’t contain you, really, could we? You came here to give yourself up. Sit in a cell and just stay away from the world.” Ross took a deep breath. “You’re not a weapon, God dammit.”
“Go, Bruce. Go.” Ross walked past Banner and went over to Len, who was changed in every way from his experience. “Come on Len, let’s get you to the medical bay. We may have a wait- everyone’s at GB2.”
Len climbed to his feet. “You moved everyone to Gamma Base 2?! It was that bad?”
“Yeah, Len, it was.” Ross turned to where Banner had stood, and saw the white lab coat on the floor. Bruce was gone. “He’s gone.”
Len looked at Ross. “You did the right thing.”
“Maybe. Or maybe I did the worst thing I could have done. Maybe I let him go because he thinks I trust him now. Maybe he’ll lie low for another two years, but I get a feeling he won’t. He’s going to try and contain what’s inside him. He’s going to fight it tooth and nail. And we’re not going to be lying down waiting for him to surface again. We’ve got baseline analysis of his transformations. We’ve got blood cells, skin scrapings, and we’ve got a weapon that can create something powerful enough to defeat him. And thanks to Doctor Banner, we have a weapon to take down that creation, too.”
Len pulled himself away from Ross. “You’re a monster, General.”
“My daughter is DEAD, Samson, because of what he became! And we couldn’t even recover a body, the damage to the city was that bad! He is everything I hate because he cost me the one thing I had left in this life! If I’m the monster, then I’m a necessary God-damn evil because the Hulk killed my daughter!”
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