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1741The Defenders #69

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  • altmarvel-release-owner@yahoogroups.com
    Apr 17 5:16 AM
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      In an old warehouse filled with boxes of ceramics and hidden firepower, four men in casual dress watched a fifth don a furry suit of armor. The radio droned on in the background, reporting on the recent terrorist attack on the first X-Corporation press conference the previous day. (1)

      The man in the suit, Edward Towser, scratched at his chest. "It's kinda bulky," he complained.

      "It is until you activate the automatic systems," said the leader of the men who watched him, cigarette in hand. "Once it's activated, it'll be like floating on the air. You'll be so strong your own body weight will be like a bag o' feathers."

      Ed put the helmet over his head, the helmet resembling a bull. He saw through a digitalized screen imprinting on the surface of his eye, giving him menus and sidebars and detailed information on whatever he was looking at.

      "State of the art," the cigarette-smoking man said, "not as advanced as, say, Iron Man, but you could take on the Green Goblin or Spider-Man and hold your own reasonably well."

      "Sweet," Ed said as he looked around beneath the bull helmet, eyes blazing red with electrical energy.

      "Man, I don't see why there isn't more supers crime now," said one of the other men, "what with the Punisher underground and Cap missing, you'd think now'd be the time for a surge in activity, yeah?"

      "Things are brewing," said the cigarette man. (2) "Things that are none of your business. But while that's going on, the market is free and clear for new agents to make the scene, and the Maggia wants people like you, Eddie, to be able to capitalize on that. For us."

      "Sure thing," he said, flexing his muscles under the powerful armor, "I rob a bank, I bring you your cut. No problem; where should I start?"

      "You can start by taking off that stupid mask and going home," Luke Cage said as he strolled into view, a battered man carried in each hand by the scruff of the neck. "These guys are low-level chumps anyhow, Eddie. Not worth my bother, let alone yours."

      "Cage! Cap him!"

      "Right, that'll work," Cage laughed as he dropped the unconscious men and strode towards them, the bullets shredding through his shirt without damaging his bulletproof skin. "Eddie, your grandmother is paying me to see that you come home and quit this gangland hoodlum crap."

      "I'm not Eddie Towser anymore, Mr. Cage," the man said, a huff of air pushing out of his helmet for heating and cooling purposes. "I'm the Minotaur!"

      "I can see this is gonna be one of those nights," Cage said. "Well, it's your skull."

      The mysterious DOCTOR STRANGE! The savage WHITE TIGER! The alien RINTRAH! The high-flying VALKYRIE! Evil-doers tremble at the names--for these four form the crux of the greatest NON-TEAM in history, heroes called together only when the need arises--to battle MENACES that threaten the security--or the very LIFE--of the planet Earth!
      Dan Gordon Presents: The Dynamic Defenders!

      The Defenders #69
      "Strange Multiplication, Part 1 of 4."
      Guest-starring Luke Cage!
      April 2010
      Writer: John Flint
      Webmaster: Liam Gibbs

      The Minotaur cracked his gloved knuckles as Cage knocked out two of the gunmen easily, simple chops to the sides of their heads sufficient to take them down. The cigarette man threw his cigarette down and stomped it out.

      "Minotaur, deal with this hero-for-hire," the cigarette man said, "if you aren't in prison by the end of the night, consider this the start of a lucrative career."

      The Minotaur stood in front of Cage while the cigarette man and the other minion fled out the back door.

      "I'm not here for them," Cage said, "this time. I'm here for you, Eddie. Let's go."

      "I'm not going anywhere with you!" The Minotaur threw a punch which Cage easily dodged and then threw one of his own that knocked the Minotaur on his backside.

      "C'mon, kid, you're not a fighter," Cage said. "Let's go."

      The Minotaur screamed in rage and pounced, tackling Cage to the dusty floor and battering him with his super-strong fists. Cage kicked him away with both feet, knocking him through a crate filled with porcelain.

      "I'm not getting paid enough for this," Cage complained to himself as he tore off the tattered remains of his shirt. "Listen, Ed—"

      The Minotaur charged, slamming his head into Cage's abdomen and smashing him against the wall. Pinned, Cage actually felt pain. He beat on the Minotaur's upper back until he let up. Thankfully, this kid didn't know how to press his advantage in the suit.

      "Listen," Cage said, and then wiped his nose. His eyebrows lifted as he looked down and saw blood on his hand. Blood?

      "You listen, Cage," Minotaur said as he smashed his large gloved fists into Cage's jaw. "I'm not going back to being some nobody."

      Cage dropped to one knee, and wondered if his jaw was broken. What was happening? Why was his power failing him?

      The Minotaur picked him up and threw him across the room, breaking through a crate to reveal an assortment of medical supplies.

      "Goodbye, Mr. Cage," Minotaur said as he stood over the fallen hero, "Don't try to follow me."

      Minotaur stomped down on Cage's face and everything went black.

      [Akhnet, formerly known as Rune Island.]

      On the mountaintop, Doctor Stephen Strange sat, legs crossed, in deep meditation, overlooking the sunrise. Rintrah watched him from afar, concern etched across his face.

      Though the doctor had been healed from his injuries, he was growing weak again. Already Rintrah could see that he was getting bad once again. Was he going to have to continually seek restoration?

      Rintrah looked at the distant waves crashing and the tropical forest below. Save them, there was no animal life on the island. It made things easier, not needing to worry about anything attacking anyone. No one could teleport onto or off of the island; they had been able to teleport onto it once before, (3) but that had apparently reawakened the spell that kept anyone from teleporting on the isle. Now, the star-gate was sucking any and all teleportational energies into its own gaping maw.

      It was a strange place, to say the least, though that was probably why it appealed to Strange while his own Sanctum Sanctorum was still out of synch with spacetime. The building standing there now had some of the same enchantments, (4) but it wasn't the Sanctum. It served instead as a memorial shrine to fallen heroes.

      Wong worked there and would alert them to anyone of note showing up.

      Valkyrie and the White Tiger were out there in the civilized world. Rintrah wondered about the words of the White Man; he had told Rintrah that it was up to him to keep the Defenders together, and if there were no Defenders, there could be no future. Regardless of whoever else might come or go, it was up to Rintrah to stay as the heart of the non-team.

      "I fear this tableau is coming fast to its close," Strange said, surprising Rintrah. He didn't know that the Sorcerer Supreme was even aware of him there, but he supposed that, even without the Eye of Agamotto aiding him, such a Master of the Mystic Arts could still hear his thoughts, feel his spiritual resonation in the air about them.

      "Your mind is muddled, confused," Strange said. "Whatever happens, happens. Do not fear it, my protégé."

      "Yes, master," Rintrah obeyed and sat down to begin the work on calming his own nerves.

      [New York.]

      The Minotaur had left, leaving Cage in a bloodied heap atop a box of medical supplies. The previously unconscious gunmen began to stir back to life, and saw that now was their opportunity for revenge.

      "Stop, you idiot," one said, "he's bullet-proof, remember?"

      "Look at how he's bleedin'. It's just his skin that's bullet-proof, and now that it's all ripped up, we can surely shoot what's underneath and kill the sucker."

      The four men reloaded their pistols in preparation for the kill. Before they could aim their weapons on their targets, four energy daggers shot out across the warehouse and tacked the pistols to the wall.

      The men turned to view the White Tiger walking towards them, hand inside his bomber jacket as he pulled out his own 9mm. "If I were you, I would run," he said in the heavily accented voice he only took on while in costume.

      The men did as they were told and fled through the back exit, as the White Tiger hurried over to the broken Luke Cage.

      "It is fortunate I came when I did," White Tiger said, scooping Cage up in his arms. The hero-for-hire's eyes were beginning to flutter open, but consciousness still eluded him. "I meant to break up a Maggia operation, but that can wait."

      The White Tiger bounded across the room, Cage in his arms, and fled through the night towards the nearest hospital.

      [The next evening.]

      Luke Cage sat up in his hospital bed and followed with his fingertips the line of the IV from his wrist to the saline solution. He was wearing a hospital gown and was told that it had been touch-and-go for awhile, but that he should be fine so long as he doesn't overdo it any time soon.

      He was normal now, as evidenced by the IV stuck in his hand. His skin was as vulnerable as anyone else's. His strength was that of a normal man of his height and build. He was human-for-hire.

      "Mr. Cage," a nurse said, "There's a detective here to see you…"

      "Let him in," Cage said. The man entered. "Anything I can do to help. I assume it's about last night?"

      "Yes," the detective said and came to the side of the bed to shake his hand, "first, let me say it's an honor to meet you, Mr. Cage," they shook hands. "I'm Kaspar Cole. I—"

      "Have we met?"

      "I don't believe so, no," Kasper said, and found it difficult to keep to an ordinary American dialect while in the presence of a fellow super-hero.

      "Sorry if I'm interrupting anything," a white man said as he came in, dressed in green scrubs and wearing a stethoscope around his neck, "I just wanted to let the patient know what we did inside him, assure him that he's in the very best of hands."

      Both Luke Cage and Kasper Cole's jaws dropped wide open as they looked upon the white man with his familiar pencil-thin mustache.

      "What? Do I have something on my face?" Doctor Stephen Strange asked and then smiled nervously.

      [To be continued…]

      1. See Daniel Gordon Presents #80, "The Humanist Agenda," for the details.
      2. See upcoming issues of the Mighty Avengers.
      3. In The Defenders v. the X-Men.
      4. As seen in AltMarvel Team-Up #41.
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