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"Tales of the Twilight Menshevik"

Stories in this series:

Sisters under Their Skins
Midnight Sun
A Year in the Life
October 6: A Night 2 Remember
A Day's Work
Late Summer Interlude
The Time the Twain Shall Meet
Message to a Grandchild
Ergo Bibamus 1: Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Lights in the Dark
Between the Woods and Frozen Lake
Ergo Bibamus 2: There's a Tavern Near the Town
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Someone Blue
Valentine Allsorts
The Ballad of Trish and Henry
Rogue's Fairy Tale
Magneto, My First Love
To My Dark-Haired Lady
The Raven and the Oriole
Trish -- A Rapture

Val and Ray at the Movies
March 2002
July 2002

Tales of Future Twilight
Ergo Bibamus 3: Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes
They Will Always Be Penny and Max to Me
Getting to Know You
Fourth Thursday in November
The Iceman's Tale
Pictures at an Exhibition
The Survivor Has a Different Kind of Scar

Twilight Yet to Come
Hang on to Your Ego
Strange Headfellows
Sonnet for Magnus
Between the Winds

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 X #38):
"8. The right to practice scripting and drawing our Marvel characters for your own pleasure and amusement."
The story itself is (c) Tilman Stieve ( 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 chin.

Lyja: At least he never was biased against green-skinned women.

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 Skrull shape.

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 with humans?

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, replace me?

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 crash course.

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 be found.

Alicia: They figured this time, with me on hand to counter-check, they'd be sure to avoid any slip-up in the deceit.

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.

Jen: What???

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 philanthropy...

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 her?

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 living-room.

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 relationship.

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 peace treaty.

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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