1746The Defenders #70
- Apr 22, 2010Doctor Stephen Strange stood before his patient in the hospital room in his green scrubs, stethoscope hanging from his neck. There was no doubt he was indeed Stephen Strange; his face, his figure, his mustache.
Luke Cage sat up in his bed. He was in a hospital gown, having been beaten severely the night before by the costumed Minotaur. He had been hired by Ed Towser's grandmother to knock some sense into him, convince him to leave the criminal life behind. Instead, Cage found his powers suddenly gone and Ed in a costume that granted him super-human strength on a par with what Cage once could have dished out.
Kasper Cole, who had found the bloodied hero-for-hire in his other identity of the White Tiger, stared at the doctor as well. He had come to follow up on his investigation and see what Cage knew; he hadn't expected to find the leader of the Defenders here.
"Sweet Christmas," Cage muttered under his breath before asking, "Dr. Strange?"
"That's my name," Dr. Strange laughed, apparently assuming a nurse must have told his famous patient his name.
"A legend in my line of work," Kasper said, trying to think of some way of involving himself without giving away his identity, "almost as much as you, Mr. Cage. You were integral to the Devil's Night case, weren't you?"
"Oh, no, I'm afraid you must have me mistaken for someone else," Dr. Strange said, "I'm just a surgeon."
"Kasper Cole," Kasper introduced himself, flashing his badge, "I was just asking Mr. Cage a few questions about"
"Sure you're feeling alright, doc?" Cage asked.
"Yes," Strange said, hesitating for a second, unsure why he was asked.
"How long have you worked here, Dr. Strange?" Kasper asked.
"Oh, about a year now," Strange responded, "Look, is there"
"Do you get a lot of superhuman activity in this hospital?" Kasper asked, trying to keep from looking like he was too interested in Strange personally.
"Not a lot, no," Strange responded.
"Do you have any sort of test for Leech virus? I think Mr. Cage might have it. If not, we'll need to test him for any biological agents that might have infected his system and could prove a contagion threat."
"He has a point," Strange assured Cage, "but I'm sure the Leech virus is all it is. And no, there isn't a test I could deliver to check, but I can send the samples on to a specialist who could."
"Thank you," Kasper said.
The doctor took a swab inside Cage's mouth and left with it. Cage looked to Kasper, eyebrow raised.
"We need to talk," Kasper said.
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 #70
"Strange Multiplication, Part 2 of 4."
Guest-starring Luke Cage!
Writer: John Flint
Webmaster: Liam Gibbs
Valkyrie's tiny fist sent shockwaves through the air as it smashed into the Minotaur's well-armored helmet. Windows of nearby buildings shattered as the Minotaur staggered backwards, winded by the powerful blow.
The Minotaur hadn't expected such power in a lithe package. He had no idea that she was an actual Valkyrie, the last of her kind, the Chooser of the Slain for Valhalla. All he knew was that he shouldn't have let her take one free swing at him.
Now, he had trouble staying on his feet, as stars suddenly blinded him, the world spinning on its axis like a top.
"It is sad that you thought you could get away with robbing that jewelry store before the sun had even set," Valkyrie said. "Did you really think yourself unbeatable? That Spider-Man, Daredevil, no one would show up to stop you?"
"Just a just a little blonde chick," Minotaur huffed, hot steam ejecting from his helmet as he staggered about.
"That little blonde chick is the powerhouse of the team," White Tiger said, as he came up running beside Luke Cage. Cage was now in jeans and a black jacket, with a white t-shirt beneath it.
"Is this Defenders business?" Valkyrie asked. "Too bad. I was hoping he was just a minor super-villain who needed a good thrashing."
"Yes and no," White Tiger said as he and Cage finally arrived on the scene, "he's just a bit player as far as we're concerned, but he did give Cage a pretty nasty beating."
"I find that very difficult to believe," Valkyrie scoffed as the Minotaur finally fell over and lifted his helmet enough to throw up.
"My skin isn't bullet-proof anymore," Cage admitted, his eyes quickly scanning the neighborhood to see if there was anyone else within earshot. "Leeched."
"My condolences," Valkyrie said.
"Yeah, anyway," Cage continued, "turns out, there's another Doctor Strange, one who's actually a doctor. We figured we should let our Doc know about him, in case it's a sinister duplicate or something."
"There are still M-bodies from the Infinity War floating around," Valkyrie nodded, her back to the Minotaur. "Alright, I'll bring it to his attention. Are you coming with me?"
"How can we reach him?" White Tiger said, not asking about M-bodies as he knew he didn't want to know. "We can't teleport to the island, remember?"
"What? You guys got an island now? Man, I miss out on all the best"
"I can open up a hole in the fabric of spacetime," Valkyrie said, unsheathing Dragonfang, "and though I suspect I could open one to the island itself, I won't exert myself just yet to that degree. I'll open one to the ocean nearby and we can ride Aragorn the rest of the way."
"Do it," White Tiger said. Valkyrie gave him a look and he shrugged. "Please?"
"Strange is our leader, not you," Valkyrie said, "keep it in mind."
Valkyrie got onto Aragorn's back and tore a hole in the air beside her. It gaped, widening enough for the entire winged steed to fit through, and the White Tiger and Cage jumped onto its back behind her before it was completely gone through the wormhole, which sealed itself off after they were through it.
The police arrived, meanwhile, as the Minotaur finished up throwing up.
[Akhnet, or the Rune Isle.]
Rintrah stood on the beach to greet his friends, waving his arms at them as they rode through the air. He had sensed their arrival as soon as the hole in space opened and he watched Aragorn fly them forward towards the island.
Aragorn landed on the beach and Rintrah patted his head. "It is good to see you again. I'm afraid the doctor's condition has deteriorated again."
"He's still weak?" Cage asked.
"Yes," Rintrah said, "I'm afraid so. He was better for a period after enjoying the Fountain of Youth at its source and re-communing with Gaea, the spirit of the Earth."
"Maybe it has something to do with why we are here," Valkyrie suggested.
Rintrah scanned their minds with the amulet of Agamotto, saving them time and energy. "Yes, I see," he said, "I will transmit this to the doctor."
The White Tiger, Cage, and Valkyrie waited silently on the beach as the waves crashed and Rintrah telepathically communicated with his master.
`Yes,' they all heard Strange's familiar astral voice in their heads, `it does bear some investigating. Unfortunately, I have another, more pressing, errand. Therefore, it will be up to you, my Defenders, to protect this other Doctor Stephen Strange while I perform these duties. I shall reunite with you as soon as I possibly can.'
"Sounds good," Cage said as Valkyrie climbed aboard Aragorn once again.
"You're in? I thought you were `for hire,'" White Tiger asked as he jumped onto the winged horse behind its rider.
"I do a lot more pro bono work than I'd like," Cage said, "but this one time, it's on me."
Cage followed the Tiger while Rintrah levitated under the power of his cloak, and the team flew off away from the island until it was far enough that the magical minotaur could teleport them all back to New York.
"Ha, ha, what a knucklehead! Like puttin' on some silly suit makes you a super-villain!"
The police in charge of guarding the prisoners laughed as Ed Towser blushed behind the bars. He still had a headache from the single blow that had knocked him out. He silently swore he would have his revenge.
The guards suddenly went silent, and Ed perked up.
A man in a gray business suit walked in and the guards stood, backs straight, eyes glazed, staring at the man with the green-glowing eyes. His jet black hair was slicked back and Ed saw he had a scar beneath his left eye.
"I am Jonathan Sage," the man said, as though that explained all, as he walked towards Ed's cell, "come with me if you want to, ahem, live."
Ed stepped back as Sage approached his cell, lifting up one hand. He turned the hand and the cell door popped open. Sage beckoned, then turned his back and began to walk, casually, out.
Ed followed after him, a distance behind, and checked out the hypnotized guards, waving a hand in front of their faces.
"Don't do that," Sage commanded, and Ed did as he was told and chased after his new lord and master.
"I will show you where they have taken your Minotaur suit," Sage said, "Put it back on. You're going to need it."
[A short time later.]
Doctor Strange had just gotten off the clock and was speeding out of the parking ramp when a green-furred minotaur in a blue cape suddenly appeared in front of his car and he slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting him.
"Damn!" Strange cried as he tried to swerve out of the way. It wasn't enough; he passed through the image, harmlessly.
"The true Doctor Strange would have recognized my astral form," Rintrah said as his physical body appeared from the sidewalk, his astral form sliding into it again. Strange got out of his car and nearly threw up, sweat drenching his body.
"You nearly gave me a heart attack," Strange said.
Valkyrie landed on Aragorn beside the car, with Cage and the White Tiger riding behind her. Strange recognized his patient right away. "What is it? What's wrong? What's going on? Am I going mad?"
Rintrah's amulet opened up, a blinding light flashing from the eye within, and Strange shut his eyes to it, blocking his face with his arms.
"It is Doctor Stephen Strange," Rintrah confirmed, "and yet, that is impossible, for we know that our Strange is also"
"He isn't an imposter," Dr. Strange announced, suddenly there. The Defenders and the surgeon Strange turned to look upon him.
Dr. Strange now wore a blue suit with a red tie. His shoes were shined and he kept a hand in his pocket. When he finally pulled it out, it was holding a silver pocketwatch.
"Doctor? What's going on? Why have you changed so?" Rintrah asked.
"Dane was kind enough to help me to blend in somewhat," Strange explained, "the suit jacket is made of my cloak of levitation, while this pocket watch is a new cover for the Eye of Agamotto."
"Should prove more discreet," White Tiger said.
"In some neighborhoods, anyway," Cage added.
"Not mine," Valkyrie decided.
"Anyway, I think it time we brought this mystery to a close," Dr. Strange announced, walking towards the bewildered surgeon who looked at his exact double approaching him.
The men came within inches of one another, their fingertips nearly touching as though in a mirror. There was a crackle of savage energy as crimson bled into the world from some place beyond and the two men were thrown away from each other.
Rintrah, White Tiger, Valkyrie, and Cage rushed to the two men, whose eyes had closed and breathing had stopped.
[To be continued ]
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