|THE MS. MARVEL GATEFOLD|
|Previously ...Ms. Marvel has decided to go to Texas to investigate the mystery of Frank Gianelli and the mysterious and cluttered package he sent to Carol.|
|CAST OF CHARACTERS|
|MS. MARVEL - CAROL DANVERS was accidentally irradiated by the Kree built Psyche-Magnitron, giving her powers and turning her into the heroine, MS. MARVEL! Now, after a lifetime that has seen her as a NASA security chief, writer, magazine editor, intelligence operative, Avenger and transformed into the cosmically powered heroine BINARY, Carol has regained her Ms. Marvel identity and powers and is the living embodiment of merged Kree/Human genetic potential.|
|PARAMOUR and VELVET - Little is known about the two femle assassins except that they wear the same costume, which includes a belt of tricks around their waist.|
|RED WOLF - Will Talltrees wears the ceremonial garb of the Red Wolf, a champion of the Cheyenne.|
|NORTHERN BEAR PRODUCTIONS|
Weird on the Range
Part One: Go West, Young Woman!
written by Mark Bousquet
Maria Juenez only wanted a ride home from school.
She hated taking the bus home, the driver was a mean old lady who always, purposely, went right past Maria's stop. The fifteen year old girl didn't know why she had caught the ire of the bus driver, but she had.
Joe Phillips, a senior who lived up the road from her, offered to give her a ride. She didn't hesitate to hop into his car. Joe was a nice guy, her and her friends had spent plenty of study halls flirting with him.
Now she wished she hadn't.
She lay on the ground, her eyes red from crying, her ears tired from the taunts of Joe and his three friends, her body … Maria didn't want to think about what they had done to her body.
They sat in a circle around a fire a short ways away from her, drinking and laughing and ignoring Maria now that they were done with her. She could run, if she wanted to, but they were somewhere out in the desert, miles from town. She shivered, the night was cold out here, and she had no want to go sit by the fire.
"Hey, Maria, want something to drink?" one of the boys asked, laughing, from the fire, offering her a beer.
"She's too young to drink, you loser!" Joe laughed and they once again let Maria alone.
Maria turned her head from them and started to cry again when she heard one of them scream. Quickly, she picked her head up to see Joe's friends lying on the ground, unconscious. Joe was standing, shaking in fear, looking at …
… the NIGHT RIDER!
The ghostly rider on the ghostly horse towered over the shaking high school student and as frightening a visage as the Night Rider was, Maria knew that she was finally safe.
Carol Danvers checked herself in under an assumed name - Carol Rogers, she was nothing if not ironic - into the town's only hotel, a six-room, two floor building that somehow remained upright. It also served as the town's bar, which meant that the local "flavor" was in full effect - plenty of hard-drinking, hard-working men who didn't feel like spending the night at home.
Ostranderville wasn't a bad town from what Carol had seen - just small and set in it's ways, ways that depended upon a person to do hard work for little money. There were few wealthy people in town.
But something seemed out of place.
She couldn't put her finger on it, but there was something about Ostranderville that didn't quite feel right. Carol walked up the creaky, wooden stairs, ignoring the stares of the locals. A town like this was always suspicious of strangers - not because of any perceived creepiness, but because it was small. She had planned to go straight to Houston, since that's where Frank or Frank's mysterious helper had sent the package from,* but she had found a map of Texas with a star around Ostranderville. She figured it was as good a place as any to start looking.
* It was Frank and he did it in MS. MARVEL 32, but Carol doesn't know it was him, and the FBI has since told Carol that Frank is dead. That's what we call a mystery, folks! -- Scooby Biscuit
Opening the wooden door to her room, Carol was glad to be inside. She had flown down here by commercial jet and the jet lag was getting to her. She was torn between resting and starting to look for the person who sent the package, but she didn't really know how much of a hurry she should be in. If Frank was in trouble, he could've scribbled a "Carol, help!" message in their somewhere, but he hadn't. He had the time to put the package together, so he certainly had time to scribble HELP somewhere. Most likely, she figured, whoever sent it had probably come across it and knew that Frank had worked for Woman Magazine. But that would mean that Frank didn't send the package, which would mean that he was - No, she scolded herself. Don't start thinking about all the possibilities.
But Carol wondered if she was telling herself all this because it was the most logical solution, or if her lack of emotional attachment to her memories caused her not look at the situation with the urgency it needed.
All she wanted to do now was hop in a nice hot shower, some food, grab some sleep and start looking tomorrow. She started the water in the tub to let it warm up, glad that the seemingly 19th century hotel at least had decent bathrooms, and began to remove her clothing.
As she stepped into the shower, she had the strangest sense that someone was watching her, but there were no windows in the small room and the door to the bedroom was shut. There was no way someone could be watching her and yet she couldn't shake the feeling.
A creature sat and watched a scrying pool. On it's surface, Carol Danvers stood in a bathroom shower stall and bathed.
In the farthest northwestern corner of Ostranderville - a town that was small in population but large in land - behind the secret Native American burial grounds, a government installation hummed to life. Men in beige camouflage worked quickly in the cool night, exiting from the hangar that was the only structure inside the barbed wire fence perimeter.
The fence was peculiar in and of itself, Red Wolf noticed. There was no break in it's circle for an entranceway. Nothing got in and nothing, apparently, got out.
Will Talltrees had been watching this facility for days now, and he still didn't have an idea as to what was going on down there in a facility that, as far as he knew, shouldn't be there. Army men came out, took readings with various pieces of equipment, and then went back inside.
Red Wolf frowned at the same moment his wolf companion, Lobo, growled.
"Catch that scent, boy?" Will asked the dog, who answered with a louder growl. "I can't place it, but I am almost certain that I have never encountered it before. It is almost … not human."
Carol couldn't sleep.
She was bothered by too many things to relax. First was Frank, second was the increasing sense of uneasiness, but in the back of her mind her thoughts had turned to Aurora. Where was she? Why had she left Avengers Mansion?*
* Check out MS. MARVEL 35 for details
She needed some fresh air. If this was New York, she would have simply taken a fly around the city, but down here in a small town she figured she'd go our for a walk as Carol Danvers.
That's when the explosion rocked the outskirts of town.
Instantly she changed into the Ms. Marvel costume and flew out the window like a shot, hurtling towards the billowing clouds of smoke and fire in the distance. She was surprised at how far away the blast was because the intensity made her think that it was much closer. It was a major explosion and she thanked the heavens that it had happened as far away from the center of town as it had.
She poured on the speed, thinking that if she just had her Binary powers, it would be incredibly easy to simply soak up this heat and flame. But she didn't and, she figured, all things considered she was glad to be rid of them.
Smoke rushed to meet her and Ms. Marvel blasted through it without fear of what lay on the other side. She blasted through the last of the smoke and the scene opened up before her.
It was horrific.
It was AIM.*
* Advanced Idea Mechanics
The carnage was already obvious. Bodies - the bodies of American military men and women - were strewn about the ground. Carol prayed that they'd be okay, but at the same time wondered what a government installation would be doing out here. Before she had come down to search for Frank, she had done some checking for military installations in this area to see if there was anyone she used to work with stationed down here.
She hadn't read or heard a thing about this place.
'No time for that now,' she frowned and descended like a bolt to the ground. AIM troops, their bright yellow uniforms giving them away, stormed over the installation - which looked to be a small airplane hangar and nothing else. Smoke and fire poured and erupted from everywhere - including up out of the ground - as gunshots fired back and forth. AIM was trying to surround the hangar and by the looks of the number of troops they had, they might be able to do it.
But why would AIM be here in such force?
Ms. Marvel arced to avoid the ground, coming in low and blasting through AIM's troops, hitting everything she could get her hands on. She wondered if she'd be enough to turn the tide all by herself. AIM had the military troops pinned down, and kept the entrance covered with sprayed bullets.
Her arrival had caused a commotion within AIM's ranks, but no sooner had Ms. Marvel begun to cut a path through their ranks when another commotion came from the other side of the complex.
'Looks like the cavalry has arrived,' Carol grinned. 'Wonder who it is?'
She arced up high into the sky to see who it was.
"Woo-hoo! Mah, mah, mah, now this is a fight!"
"Stop bragging and keep these AIM troops on the run!"
"Yes, sah, pretty lady! These AIM troops don't stand a chance against TEXAS TWISTER and SHOOTING STAR!"
Velvet hung limply in her bonds, finally waking after her punishment at the hands of Paramour had led to unconsciousness. The young assassin listened for several moments to detect if there was any sound. There wasn't. Paramour was probably off meeting with their next associate.
Using techniques that Paramour had taught her, Velvet wiggled her hands free above her head and quickly freed her shackled ankles. She feared no more punishment from Paramour for freeing herself - the older assassin had made it quite clear that she would not ever free Velvet and that if she was to be a full-fledged Grellian assassin then she would have to learn how to free herself.
She winced as she stretched her limbs, the welts on her flesh bringing pain with every breath she took.
She crawled to the bathroom to bathe. The beating came because she had applied salve to cure the Brimstone Powder that threatened to burn the eyeballs from Ms. Marvel's face.* Velvet thought she had been doing the right thing. Paramour had trained her to always keep an opponent off-guard and guessing about your true intentions, and that the kinder you acted to an enemy, the greater the advantage that was yours.
* Back in MS. MARVEL 34
But Paramour was not happy with Velvet's actions. She was furious, taking it as an insult for her squire to help an enemy that had just bested Paramour in combat.
Velvet knew there was only one thing she could do to save face. She'd have to take out Ms. Marvel and pledge the victory to Paramour - it was the highest honor a Grellian squire could place upon her master. Wherever the heroine was, Velvet would track her down … and kill her.
"What do you mean we shouldn't be here?" Ms. Marvel fumed. "We're saving your-"
"Don't talk to me like that, young woman!" General Kint shot back at the Female Fury. Carol had flown into the hangar to try and coordinate some kind of attack with the military troops caught inside, now that Texas Twister and Shooting Star were outside battling AIM. But General Kint - an old war-horse if there ever was one - wasn't exactly rolling out the red carpet. "The US military can certainly handle a bunch of AIM troops."
"Oh, yeah, you're doing a great job," Ms. Marvel countered, pointing to the turmoil that was going on just outside the large, barn doors. Carol certainly hadn't come in here to get into a fight, but she wasn't about to back down, either. 'Probably grandstanding in front of his troops. Wouldn't want to be shown up by a woman, would we?' she scoffed to herself. But looking around the inside of the hangar, she noted that even as the firefight was going on, army troops were busy covering up pieces of equipment with tarp. Why would they be so concerned with hiding whatever it was they were hiding when AIM was right outside trying to get in? AIM may be stupid, but they're not that stupid.
"Look, miss, this is a secret government installation!" General Kint. "You're being here compromises our security!"
"And AIM's doesn't?"
"AIM obviously knew what was here or they wouldn't have shown up!" Carol did not like the way the General was getting in her face.
Or the way his actions were making less and less sense to her. "Forget it!" she fumed and raged out of the hangar to take her anger out on the AIM troops. Texas Twister (what was with that blue cowboy outfit?) and Shooting Star were concentrating their attack on the far end, so Carol decided to look for the leader.
He was easy to spot, being the only one here shouting orders and the only one here surrounded by a small group of AIM troops. Ms. Marvel was going to end this and end it now. She poured on her speed and knocked him cold across the battlefield.
AIM was finished.
On a ridge overlooking the battle, Will Talltrees stood and watched his former partners in the Rangers, Texas Twister and Shooting Star, battle the AIM troops that had descended onto this once quiet piece of desert. Red Wolf saw no need to join them in their battle, even though, as a former member of the United States army, he was sorely tempted.
But they had the battle in hand. After Ms. Marvel took out the leader, all that was left was rounding up the disorganized troops. Texas Twister raged with the fury of a twister, spinning wind around the plains, keeping AIM continuously off balance, while Shooting Star blasted away with her six shooters, her special bullets knocking them unconscious.
They didn't need his help, though he would certainly give it if it was required.
Beside him, Lobo barked excitedly. "You have joined us," Red Wolf said without turning and waited as the Night Rider rode up next to him. The masked ghost on the ghost horse said nothing. 'He's drawing away from humanity,' Will thought, but did not voice his concerns.
Together they watched, both knowing that the real battle would come after AIM had left.
to be continued …
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NEXT ISSUE: WEIRD ON THE RANGE, PART TWO! Carol joins the Rangers as they spy on the government installation and discover part of the shocking secret of just what goes on inside the facility!
-- Mark … 3.July.1999