DISCLAIMER: "Sisters Under
Their Skins" is an unauthorized work of fiction using
characters that are (c) & TM by Marvel Comics Group. No
profit is being made on this story, so I think I'll invoke
The Marvel Readers' Bill of Rights (for the full text see
Stan's Soapbox in some of the May 1998 comics, e.g. Generation
"8. The right to practice scripting and drawing our Marvel
characters for your own pleasure and amusement."
The story itself is (c) Tilman Stieve (Menshevik@aol.com).
You can download this and copy it for your entertainment,
but don't sell it for profit, or Marvel will set their lawyers
on you. Please do not archive this on your website without
informing me first.
Not sure about this, but according to some people's rules
this story might be labeled "mature themes."
Introductory Remark: This, my very first attempt at
fan-fiction, dates back six years, (it first appeared in Westchester
Menshevik Annual #1, Feb. 1992), so please be gentle. What
prompted it was Fantastic Four #358, where Johnny Storm's
wife, shortly after having been unmasked as a Skrull, apparently
died. Now read on...
Sisters Under Their Skins
Mid-afternoon in Alicia Masters' studio in New York. She
is working on a portrait bust of Lyja Storm.
Alicia: So, how was your, er, second honeymoon?
Lyja: Well, ...strange. I mean, in a way Johnny had
to get to know me all over again. Knowing you're married to
an alien is one thing, continually being confronted with the
fact is another one entirely. But he's getting used to my
real face now.
The blind sculptress walks over to feel the contours of
her model's upper neck, tracing the jawline to the quintuple
Lyja: At least he never was biased against green-skinned
Alicia: Oh yes, the She-Hulk was with them while I
was ... gone. Ben told me about that.
Lyja: You don't know half of it! Somewhere he's tucked
away a scandal magazine with a topless picture of her they
took from a helicopter when she was sunbathing on top of the
Baxter Building. He doesn't know I know. (Her chuckle makes
Alicia smile). So all I had to do was alert him to the
attractions of multiple chins and long, pointed ears!
Alicia: So you stayed in your real form?
Lyja: Well, most of the time. (Pause) Um, actually
we took a few days before we, er, made love with me in my
Alicia (goes tense): You didn't -- go to bed
with him as me?
Lyja (defensively): No, of course not, Alicia!
I mean, I couldn't look you in the, er, uh, I mean...
Alicia (audibly relieved): Never mind about
that, you were blind too when you were me. But what...?
Lyja: Well, let's just say that one of the advantages
of marrying a Skrull is that you can bed someone different
every night and still remain faithful to your spouse! (Both
grin). But seriously, we're really going to make this
marriage work. With or without children.
Alicia: But can you have children? I always thought
Skrulls were, uh, basically reptilian. Can they interbreed
Lyja: I think so. Johnny looked it up in the computer
files, there is at least one recorded case, a hybrid with
a human mother and a Dire Wraith -- who belonged to an offshoot
of the Skrull race. The Celestials have played around with
both our races' genes. And while we're closer to them than
you in many respects, we aren't reptiles. We fulfill the basic
requirements necessary to be classified as mammals. (Under
her breath): And doesn't my Johnny love them!
Alicia (putting a damp cloth over the unfinished
clay bust): That's enough for the moment. Your turn.
Lyja prepares her materials to get started on her bust.
Alicia, having washed her hands, sits down on a chair.
Lyja: Anyway, we're going to have Reed test me to
make sure. (She combines large lumps of clay to create
the general shape of Alicia's head). Well, if nothing
else, this gives us a chance to talk things over.
Alicia: I've still so much to catch up on here. Susan
and Franklin are helping me a lot. (Pause) I examined
some of your works while you were on vacation. You're not
bad. Did you do any sculptures before you trained to, uh,
Lyja: Not much. I took some art classes at the academy.
Actually I prefer to do more abstract work. So what I did
before was only of limited use when they put me in the Masters
Alicia: And what did that entail?
Lyja: I had a lot of material to work on and study
your style and technique. Agents on Earth had taken holographic
pictures at a number of your exhibitions, they'd even purchased
three. We also had recordings of TV features on you. I think
I didn't do too bad a job of imitating your style.
Alicia: Yes, the sculpture of Reed I handled was very
much like one I did three years ago.
Lyja: Yes, lucky for you my cover got blown before
the critics started to say you were repeating yourself!
The door-bell rings. Alicia goes to answer it and returns
with the She-Hulk and the Invisible Woman. Susan kisses Alicia
in greeting, then, after an instant's hesitation, does the
same to her sister-in-law.
Jen: Hi Alicia. Hi Lyja.
Lyja: Watch out, my hands are dirty.
Alicia: Hi Jennifer. Lyja and me were just talking
about you. In fact, she gave me an excellent idea for a belated
wedding-present for him.
There is a look of approaching doom on Lyja's face as
she realizes just what that idea might be.
Jen (oblivious): Oh? What would that be?
Half an hour later. The four are seated over tea and coffee
in Alicia's studio.
Jen: So there was another agent ready to take Alicia's
place all the time?
Lyja: I didn't expect that, especially after the trouble
Paibok had had to get our operation funded. But his superiors
were sure it would fail and I really only was intended to
be sacrificed in the opening gambit. That I succeeded in my
deception for so long came as a surprise to them.
Alicia: They didn't know that Ben would only return
long after you had already established yourself as me, and
that by then he would have decided to break off our relationship.
Lyja: Yes, maybe he'd have noticed otherwise.
Jen: So what exactly did the Skrull high brass do?
Lyja: They knew the Fantastic Four to come looking
for the real Alicia once my cover was blown, so General Kalamari
and his staff secretly prepared a second agent. And when the
FF and me flew in to rescue Alicia, they placed this C'lya
in an obvious place -- the cryogenic centre -- where she'd
Alicia: They figured this time, with me on hand to
counter-check, they'd be sure to avoid any slip-up in the
Jen: So they didn't put you in deep freeze?
Alicia: I wish! At first we were continually on the
move, having to change bases five times because of the civil
war after the Skrull throneworld was destroyed. The things
some of the guards called me because I'm a friend of Reed!
Then I had to "help" C'lya to become my perfect
doppelganger. They did all sorts of medical tests on me so
they could implant a non-metallic micro-device that prevented
normal electronic bio-scans from detecting that she wasn't
me. Actually it turned out Reed didn't even bother to test
if she was the genuine article. He was just so glad to have
found me -- as he thought. After discovering the first deception,
he didn't expect the Skrulls to pull the same trick a second
time. His confidence kind of made him overlook the obvious.
Susan: Yes, in retrospect he should have forseen the
possibility. We all should have. Guess it goes to show that
even he isn't the calculating, emotionless intellect some
people make him out to be when the safety of someone close
to him is involved.
Lyja: How is Reed now?
Susan: He seems to be over the worst, but I think
it'll take a while until he'll be up to leading the active
team again. At least it wasn't like all those years ago, when
Ben warned him of the danger of cosmic rays and we took off
for the moon regardless. But he's still locked up in his lab
most of the time. What really gets to him is that Alicia nearly
was killed in the explosion of War World, an explosion that
he engineered while trying to rescue her.
Jen: Yes, how did you two escape?
Lyja: Well, Reed's no killer. When he sabotaged that
reactor, he left enough time for the crew to evacuate War
World. Barely. In the confusion, Johnny thought Paibok had
killed me and left me behind. Fortunately, when a few minutes
later a couple of technicians passed by, I was up to a groan
again. They got me to a shuttle on their servicing sled.
Alicia: It was even easier for me. The prison complex
I was held in actually was jettisoned and transformed into
a shuttle. Apparently the designers thought that was the best
to ensure that high-security prisoners they didn't want to
lose could be saved from a catastrophe without escaping.
Lyja: I wound up there too. To defect from the service
is bad enough, but then to help in the break-in and destruction
of War World...! At first they wanted to put me on trial for
treason, then fortunately the Empress took an interest. Turned
out that she didn't even know about the operation at first.
Lyja: Kalamari had been killed early in the civil
war, long before she came to power. After Kalamari's death,
Paibok carried on but kept his new superiors in the dark.
His bionic re-engineering had awakened his, ahem, career instinct.
He wanted to use the project as part of his own power-base,
maybe against his bosses. Also, a victory over the Fantastic
Four or at least placing C'lya with them would help him to
rise in the military hierarchy. In the end, the power process
drove him insane -- he was convinced that he could not fail
to defeat the FF. But he didn't bother to cancel the standing
orders regarding C'lya, so his bureaucratic underlings automatically
put the plan into effect when the alarm was sounded.
Jen: Hmm, secret services are the same all over the
universe! And what did S'byll do when she found out?
Alicia: She set us free with no strings attached and
brought us back to Earth. She used that as an opportunity
to negotiate a non-aggression pact with the spacefaring nations
of Earth, but I'm sure she did it to further other aims than
Later that afternoon, before Four Freedom Plaza. Sue and
Jennifer have been joined by Johnny Storm and Franklin Richards
on the way home.
Jen: I'm surprised how well they get on together after
what Lyja did. How does Alicia find it in her heart to forgive
They enter the lift which takes them to the living-quarters.
Johnny: Lyja betrayed all she stood for and nearly
got herself killed trying to save her, but that's not the
whole story. Alicia knows that if Lyja hadn't taken her place,
the other agent would have earlier, but forgiveness isn't
something you can simply demand. Lyja told me herself that
she'd understand if Alicia would have hated and continued
to hate her for what she did, because there was simply no
way of giving her back the time she lost in Skrull prisons,
of making up for her sufferings.
Susan: Johnny became really eloquent when he tried
to explain his feelings towards Lyja to Alicia. Of course,
he had done it before -- with C'lya.
Johnny: Don't remind me, sis. Y'know Jen, I felt a
complete idiot after she was unmasked.
They leave the lift. Johnny takes Franklin to his room
and gets him ready for bedtime. Susan and Jennifer go to the
Susan: I can't read Alicia's mind, but I think my
brother had a lot to do with it. Alicia's been family for
years, she cares for us as we do for her. She knows how much
Johnny loves Lyja, that she's just right for him. Their happiness
is at her mercy, she can't bring herself to destroy that.
Also, she and Lyja were in one cabin on the flight back to
Earth, they got to know each other then. I suspect she's come
to discover in Lyja the sister she never had. There are great
similarities between the two -- I don't think Paibok's choice
of Lyja for the job was entirely preconditioned by their previous
Jen: Meaning you can't afford to risk a major operation
just to get back at an ex-lover?
Susan: Yes. Lyja realized that complete openness was
the only way to get any chance of gaining Alicia's acceptance.
Also, I think Alicia's come to understand the Skrull point
of view to some extent.
Jen: The "Stockholm syndrome"?
Susan: No, I think it's more than that. She witnessed
their civil war and the aftermath. Knowing that Reed was indirectly
responsible for the destruction of the Skrull throneworld,
she at least can understand their attitudes. Anyway, they
made a promise to sculpt each other's portrait when they were
back on Earth and that's what they're doing now. Still, I
wonder about Empress S'byll's motives... (Pause) Umm,
Jennifer, there's another reason for today's invitation...
Jen: You want me back on the team, right?
Susan: Yes, I'm afraid Reed still isn't up to leading
the team. That botched rescue operation hit his confidence
badly, so at the moment he'd prefer to stay at home for a
while. I'm substituting for him as leader, but we need you
to fill up the active team.
Jen: Wow, that is a surprise. I had expected Ben was
going to take a leave, not Reed!
Aboard a Skrull spacecraft en route to the Andromeda Galaxy,
Empress S'byll is sharing a drink with her military chief
of staff, Admiral Zorak, and C'lya.
C'lya: With all respect, I'm still not quite sure
I understand what exactly we're supposed to achieve by the
Zorak: Earth has been a constant distraction and drain
on the resources of the three empires. With the Shi'ar and
the Kree on the move again, we must husband our forces. With
the treaty, we stole a march on the others. The Kree don't
think in terms of peace treaties, and even if the Shi'ar have
a foothold of sorts on Earth through the consort of the Majestrix,
he belongs to a distrusted minority.
S'byll: Call it a calculated risk, C'lya. What made
our Empire was that we know how to calculate cost-effectiveness
and balance out investments and profits. Unlike the Kree,
we always explored options other than violence, knew when
to swallow our pride. And this was an opportunity to make
economies by toning down our Terran operations.
C'lya: But your majesty, was it necessary to break
off my infiltration of the Fantastic Four?
S'byll: It galls me to let Richards off that easy
after what he did, but all our earlier attempts resulted in
failure, and in the present crisis we can't afford many defeats.
Having you in Alicia Masters's place did not improve the odds
that much. Especially after the Ventura woman showed up pregnant
on Grimm's doorstep and he suddenly was preoccupied with that.
Zorak: Let's face it Lieutenant, though brilliantly
executed, Paibok's operation did not yield much of a dividend.
And even if we had succeeded in neutralizing Richards, could
we have been sure Galactus would not have tried to avenge
his rescuer? Remember how the world-ravager's intervention
made a mockery of his trial.
S'byll: This way, I've got him indebted to me for
so generously righting my predecessors' wrongs. I've had a
xenopsychological study done: He will feel duty-bound when
we ask for the aid of the Fantastic Four. Better to have them
on our side in a major crisis, making amends for what they
did, than to weaken ourselves further trying to bring them
to justice. And through our breaking off the operation, we're
hitting Richards in a sensitive place: his government will
no longer trust him implicitly, now it's revealed his sister-in-law
is a Skrull. And his accursed self-confidence is breached:
He knows that Paibok and Kalamari outsmarted him -- twice!
-- and that he almost killed Alicia Masters himself. So let's
drink to the success of our journey to that bothersome mudball!
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