1964-12-23 - Project Gemini: How the Nazis Stole Christmas
Summary: For 30 years, the Nazis have practiced nasty experiments with dark powers, looming above the Whos in Whoville. Whos? Yous! The noisy holiday preparations and infernal singing of the happy little citizens in New York annoy one nasty scientist to no end. He decides this frivolous merriment must stop. His "wonderful, awful" idea is to capitalize on capitalism, override a lovely holiday tradition of summoning Santa, construct a makeshift machine, and strip the chafingly cheerful Whos of their Yuletide glee once and for all. Oh, and their souls.
Related: Project Gemini
Theme Song: None
tony jean-grey able strange rogue 

11:43 PM. 24 December. Midwood, Brooklyn.

Midwood, like so many locations in New York, glows under a speckling of green and red holiday bulbs. NORAD busily turns all the radar under its command to chase after a man in a red sleigh. The occasional radio broadcast notes old Kris Kringle's presence but all those younger sorts are tucked into their beds, the older souls sipping on wine or hot toddies as they fortify themselves for another Christmas morn. On so many nightstands, speckled constellations rotate around painted walls and bunkbeds and ceilings, stars emanating from a glowing gift. Trees are trimmed, carrots and cookies ready. Christmas Eve is nearly Christmas Day. All awaits with baited breath.

In the Sanctum Sanctorum, a squall of dimensional awareness pings. The wrongness ripples through the wards over London first. An epicentre detonating in London, then Dublin. Montreal, Chicago, Houston twinkle wearily. Holes in a field, one by one, eating into the greater fabric.

At the Xavier Institute, spatial fields distort as one child with a gift for summoning objects to his side does just that… and his bed vanishes, leaving a sheet-shrouded husk on the floor.

At Stark Tower, a scientist topples in front of his locker, one of a shared bank. The fool of a technician who forgot to bring home the very, very expensive and sought after present his wife insisted on will later be blamed.

The usual rounds were being made right from the office of Jean Grey; papers were being shuffled as glow-green eyes remain focused on many tasks all at once. Sort papers into its proper files, check the perimeter outside of the mansion before her own slumber. Outside, to the far reaches of the woods were some of the older students dare to camp. There was a few wildlife around their perimeter, but they too, were locked in slumber during the cold. Then to the cabin, Logan was there, not sleeping, but obviously listening to something on the radio. A tune plays in his head, which causes her to withdraw with a wrinkled nose. Whatever song it was?

It sucked.

Then to the mansion, starting from the floors beneath where some took to training, to the doctor in which Jean gave a little nudge. 'I know you don't sleep, Able. But shouldn't you try?' Conversation was started there, even though the other parts of her mind moved, reminding staff to sleep before they're too tired in the morning, others returning the same mental gesture before the link is cut.. to the bedrooms of the sleepin—-..

"Emergency!" Naturally, the good doctor who still was within that link heard the words aloud from where he stood. It would be with pure instinct in which he would find her. Her footsteps race from behind her desk, up a flight of stairs and down the hall, door already opened with a wave of her hand and a dash in with knee slide to the side of the child.

There..there was nothing there! Hopefully Dr. Tithonus would be in the room soon, or at least on the floor. She was already grabbing the boy up within her arms to dash into the hallway itself.

"I wonder if I can convince Kamar-Taj to lend me an apprentice to keep half an eye on this place…" Scarred fingertips fuss briefly with the crimson scarf around his neck as Strange stands on the outskirts of Washington Square Park. Another spirit, put to rest, no longer lingers and shrieks. Still, an easy task complete and it's time for —

…well, shit. There was time for a cup of tea. Strange turns back towards the Sanctum, now ringing claxons to his Mystical ears, and as quickly as the summoned Gate opens, he's stepping through it. The Belstaff is shredded through a spell to show the battle-leathers and the wrapped length unfurls into Cloaked weight at his shoulders. With brisk steps, he reaches the convergence of the three Sanctums and stops. The slow rotation of the Earth, in hovering splendor in the foyer with cathedral heights, flickers again at the central nodes of power on its surface, and the Sorcerer grimaces.

Air tightens and flows away once again as his mantle is summoned, the weight of responsibility found in citrine on his sternum entombed in golden cage, and he turns again in place as a far more near 'blip' rings to him. Here in New York! All too easy to align to the fading smoke signal and Gate to it.

The clutched child is limp, his eyes vacant where the lids peel back a little. Colour is good enough and the breathing passes muster, but he utters not a noise when Jean carries him. His arm dangles. No response from Davy Martin.

Tony is at the office late. He could afford a warehouse worse of those toys, with no one to give them to. How's that for a turn of fate, you poor, doomed scientist? Start looks out the window, out over the city, high in his tower with a glass of scotch in his hand. He supposed he could hit a party somewhere, find some pretty thing with no arm to hang off of and have himself a merry little Christmas. It beat drinking alone.

He finishes off his scotch and sets the glass aside. It's cold and he doesn't want to wait for a car, so he heads for the closet where his suit is kept. There's a quicker way to get around. Woosh!

Sometimes to his dismay, Able and Jean have maintained a loose telepathic link since she first bullied past his defenses, made contact, and convinced him he was actually alive. Normally he's comforted by that contact. Now it's used to rouse him, and not without a bit of grumbling. She's right, he wasn't sleeping, but he's loathe to interrupt his meditation and reflection. And yet he stands, unlimbers himself, and picks up his heavy doctor's satchel from the corner of his room. "I'm en route," he sends, "I'll be there momentarily."

Midwood. East 17th Street near Avenue K.

In one house after another, the Christmas trees glow in a halo of warm light. Presents laid out in piles glisten. Stockings shine in the wispy condensation formed in the cooling air, though not a dot of ice or snow is anywhere to be seen. Citrine sparks of a Gate fly off the heady mist blotting mortal sight from reaching much beyond a few dozen feet.

Vapor trails weave and twist into the sky, bound through windows, weaving around the town beneath, hung from bright windows and happy wreaths.

Tomorrow is Christmas, it's practically here, the clocks striding forth with a nervous drumming, doing nothing to stop what is coming.

One bell starts ringing, then two, and three. All they do is softly ring, ring, ring,
Softly, brrrring! Brrring! Brrrrring!

And for each bell, the vaporous mass grows.

Oddly, retrorocket thrusters do not set the vapour on fire or register it as moisture.

Visiting the family was always hard. Going out in public moreso when things were weighing on the mind. Jean checked every bit of lingering mind, not diving for a non purpose, but searching for something, leaving the information there while checking.. and moving onto the next.

"We'll know more about Davy soon. But please keep hope. We have the best doctors on campus and I'm currently in arrangements for you and your family to stay with him over the holidays." Jean says with a smile, a sad one albeit that, but.. the door approached to the young mans house and outside she goes, after offering hugs and a few quiet well wishes for the family.

Onto the porch is where she finally sighs, her shoulders slump as she glances up towards the sky. Flying would be good if Able hadn't driven, and it would just be totally rude to ditch. But there were bells. Bells. Mist and bells. Mist and bells, and now? Jean, was getting suspicious. "What in the fresh hell…"

As the Sorcerer steps forth from the rift upon reality, he's quick to draw up short. Haloes are drawn around every possible light in the neighborhood, from street lamps to hung multicolored lights along eaves and awnings. Lifting up a palm, he squints as it gathers ever so briefly within his palm before sluicing off to continue on its path. Bells — light and airy and making his soulfont shiver.

"What in the seven hells…?!" No drizzling rain or oceanic fog ever contained so many minute, mica-like reflections within it. Not even the clouds before the moon contain the same level of ephemeral Fae-like quality. The ringing continues and he swallows carefully. The condesnation isn't water; it's too soft, too…lively without the same zap of electricity. Reaching out once again, he brings forth the gentlest spark of magic to his fingertips, drawn purely from that twinkling aperture within his body. Like-to-like, the mist momentarily pulls close and his eyes widen.

Oh gods below. It's life-force! Soul-matter!!! The bells — it must be something to do with the bells.

Tony dons his suit. Drunk flying, wouldn't be a first. He's a functional alcoholic, so he's got that going for him. He's all ready to speed into the night when he flies out into mist. He can't see a damn thing. This isn't ideal. Once he notices it's not reading as water, he says, "JARVIS, analyze this vapor." If it's not water, then what?

It was awfully nice of the city to ring bells in his honor as he flies over. He's dressed in red, but that's where the resemblance to crertain jolly men ends. No presents, just presence. He tries flying lower to see if he can get below the vision-clouding stuff. He didn't don the suit to go for a latenight mosey.

No matter how small or large the case may be, Able always gives everything he has when it comes to treating a patient. He was his usual mechanically efficient self today, completing in minutes tasks that would've taken most doctors an hour or more.

With his work completed, now he's standing outside next to Jean. Grateful for her charm and bedside manner, he rests a hand on her shoulder and glances from right to left. "Something's wrong…" he murmurs.

Tony and Steve in red are a trick,
Donning beards to look just like Saint Nick,
All they need are reindeer, but with none to be found,
They'll ride a robot and the Phoenix around.

Pale vapor continues to rise into the rather warm night air, carried off in thin currents that sweep north and west. Any with vintage will see Midwood is not alone in the phenomenon, not by a long shot. For up goes the mist through windows and flues, joining a cloud that floats in a cloud of ephemeral grey (and no blues). It slithers and slinks round buildings and trees, rising in a cool fog that so gently flees.

All the merry while, the soft bells ring down,
Around the homes where good folk lay asnooze in their town.
All their windows are drawn. Quiet chimes fill the air.
All good folk are all dreaming sweet dreams without care.
Except for Mr. McMahon, he passed out hours ago in the square.

"Yeah." Jean states. It wasn't often that she comes to this part of the city, but when she does, it was always friendly. Hardly ever yells, screaming, trash. Good neighborhood by far, a smaller Westchester to be sure. Thankfully, Jean always came prepared especially in the dark of night. Her hair soon tugged into a ponytail as her fingers dig into her peacoat, smacking the mask upon her face as she steps off the porch. The coat itself was done away, the car door open, garment tossed inside.

She was in her typical heroic garb, sans cape this time, she didn't want to get stuck in a propeller.

"Able. Take the car and follow the mist. I'm going up. Do the best you can, go on foot if you have to." And, without another word, she was up in the air, flying high above the mist but not too far to follow at least where one point flees.

Once he's over his initial shock, Strange realizes that he's hearing a familiar voice speaking beyond the mists. It seems nearly sacreligious to move futher through it — can one harm another soul's consistency by flying through it? A harrowing consideration. — but he's quick to try and pinpoint the location of the speaker. Female, that much he can tell, and then there's the swirling disruption of mist at a distance.

Flicking hands at his hips, the Sorcerer is quickly on the other person's flight path and while it takes a moment or two, he can vaguely make out their form.

"Identify yourself!" he calls out in her direction, "By order of the Sorcerer Supreme!"

Up and up still the mists swirl. On Jean's skin they are not cold or warm, but oddly dry and neutral. It's like passing through any gas. The same thing will be true for anyone who passes into them. The lights twinkle in merry green and red blurs. A good breeze will no doubt send them on their way.

"Not water?" Tony says as JARVIS gives him the details. "Identity unknown? This stuff can't possibly exist." He loop-the-loops through it, watching it skirl off into little eddies of whatever-it-is. "Well, whatever it is, it's blocking my view."

He flies higher. If the stuff isn't possible, that makes it impossible, which can only mean one thing. "Strange, what are you up to," he mutters. He peers through the mist, but there's nothing to be seen. He swoops closer to Midwood for no particular reason, the searing blue of his arc reactor gleaming on his chest.

Chimes swell in high, tinkling notes in repetition from here and there. They're growing quieter in Midwood. Not quite the noisy swell they were before, the sound fades away. A church takes up the tone from a distance off, calling midnight one-two-three from the steeple.

Swishing contrails move on lazy drifts above the rooftops, still smoked around a few windows of houses further down 17th, and 16th, and 15th, and you get the point. Looking up through the haze would show only a few stars, wrapped in scintillating brightness, and the streetlamps aglow in a dim halo that twinkles so prettily. Ooh, that's not mist.

A low blanket of the stuff, that soul substance, folds out over Long Island and into the city, epicenters that overlap and pool. Whatever happens is happening fast, widespread as the midnight hour is past.

There was hope there that Able was already in the car and gone, Jean keeps watch above in her spot, floating for a moment, then trailing off towards the passing of the 'mist'. It wasn't a lean forward fly, just a hover that had its direction as she keeps an eye out for her surroundings. And yet, there was a voice of decree, and for a moment, Jean was about to release some terse words for the caller. But.. Sorcerer Supreme?


"Stephen Strange?" Jean calls out into the distance, not waiting for his approach but instead flying towards him. "It's me! Dreamwalker.. astral.. lady.. person.. in the flesh." There was a light in the distance, which seemed familiar, but she couldn't quite place it. "We're not up here alone.." She points out in Iron Man's direction. "What is going on here?"

His name flies back at him from the other person and even as he's pulling up short, swirls of dry mist eddying about the hemlines of the Cloak, Strange thinks he can place the voice now that he sees the face — oh, especially when she mentions 'astral' and 'dreamwalking'.

"Jean — yes, I remember you." What a weird trip that had been. Doll houses had never been the same afterwards. Looking beyond her, he knows that particular beacon in vibrant blue as it approaches. "Ah, yes, and that would be Stark. Stark!" He lifts a hand towards the man in the mechanical suit.

Once Iron Man has drawn close enough, the Sorcerer speaks again. "It's soul matter. Souls," he emphasizes, looking quickly between the telepath and Tony. "I presume the bells are somehow attuned to it and able to draw it forth from the bodies of the sleepers."

"Sir, I believe that's…"

"I hear him," Tony says. He flies in that direction and, sure enough, the Sorcerer Supreme is there in evidence. "This stuff is impossible," he says. "I take it you're against this sort of thing, and we're up against something — I can't believe I'm saying this — sucking the souls out of people. On Christmas Eve, even."

He swooshes through the soul stuff again. Surely this can't be bad for it? "So how do we put it back?" There's an awful lot of 'we' going on here. Those blue-gleaming eye hopes turn toward Jean Grey. "Hey, I remember you. I'm glad you didn't drown in the ocean." He might have gone back to look after all the commotion.

The misty soul-stuff stays mostly restricted to the land. All over New York, it trails up to a roundish cloud that might even be spotted by a passing satellite if such things weren't falling out of the sky every other day of the week. Each minute on, the cloud spreads out, though never much gaining in opacity or colour. It merely looks like the slightest silvery dampness to a pretty night, and only in front of the lights, seems odd.

Columns of it tentatively form in places, separated by long miles. Up in the air, one over Manhattan, another Harlem.

One over Brooklyn. One over Queens.

One lazy bunch down this way, another winding further off towards Jamaica Bay.

"Stark. Iron Man?" If there were a time to fix her hair, now would be it. Wind-whipped and touselled, it was, but Jean really wasn't angling on looking good for tonight. At least her face was partly covered? But she was confused as the next person, especially once Stephen explains. And Tony joins in on the band wagon, which leaves her to..well, follow the mystical leader. "I'm glad I didn't drown either. Some lady fished me out the lake. Was detained for hours. Long story, that.." She remarks to Tony, albeit, belatedly.

Back to the matter at hand. "Is there a spell that you can cast? Something to at least create a barrier, or.. suck all of the souls up like soup and put them back. Something.." At this point, she felt like a bruiser. Point her towards a problem, let her punch it. For even now? She still doesn't even make the connection of this to what happened to Davy.

"The soul is a delicate thing. It'll take an equally delicate spell, I think, and gods only know where we begin." Yep, more 'we'-ing here. They're in it to win it now, the three of them hanging there in the air, watching the rising shafts of life-force escape from sleeping families. "I have…an idea. The sound of the bells. Bells have been universally utilized to access the Mystical, realm and places beyond reach via meditation. It's not impossible that the bells are so well-attuned to access the sleeping soul that they are drawing it forth."

Pausing for a second, Strange frowns and puts a hand over his eyes. "Think, Stephen…yes," and he snaps, literal sparks flying from his fingertips. "That might work." Holding one hand out, palm flat and up, the other begins to seemingly stir the air above it. The space between takes on the aspect of a mirage, translucent and hinting at something coming into being, and then, there's a white-blue crystal bowl in his grasp. "Singing bowl," he explain, plucking the lined mallet from its depths. "I may be able to find a resonance to pause if not counter the bells with it. If I do, I'll need someone to take it off my hands and continue playing it so I can isolate the specific thing creating the bell sounds." Devanagari inscriptions run around its rim, proof of its age and rarity. "I'd prefer that no one dropped it, please," he adds dryly.

"Need someone to blot out the sound of the bells down below?" Tony asks. "I'd need more ampage, but I could make it work." He's armed with rock and roll and HiFi. "While you do your little kumbaya thing up here? I'm just spitballing. This isn't exactly taught in MIT."

He looks to Phoenix. "How are you with singing bowls?" As if this were a normal topic of conversation at any given dinner party. "You could hit the bowl," His voice doesn't even waver, "I'll silence the bells, and Strange can… be Strange." Then he actually defers to Strange. "Does that work?"

Still, more happy mist follows the updrafts in the atmosphere and melts into those thickening columns. The columns have a point in which they might appear to meet, streams of mist that form corridors overhead the way clouds do. Mind, being on the ground or in the mist makes it a little harder to see the pattern than some Watcher on the Moon peering down, but the atmospheric currents do what wind and atmospheric currents do, making some areas clearer than others.

It was a marvel to watch the two veteran heroes work. Jean was taking notes and paying attention to the two, as well as the surroundings just in case something untoward were to come their way. Bruiser, guard, she'd be all of that tonight, she was already rip and raring to go, now hearing that innocent souls were at stake.

Right when she was about to offer to do something else, Tony takes the lead and designates positions. For a moment she stumbles and stammers, then finally shakes her head, her resolve showing to break the uncertainty. "Right. I can do it. Steady hand and all of that, see?" Was jazz hands appropriate? Probably not, but those fingers dance in the air before she gestures with those same hands. "I don't think we have time to dawdle. I don't mean to rush but, what happens when all of it's gone? They die?"

"Yes, Stark, that could work," Strange replies to the man in the suit. To Jean, he nods. "They're technically in a comatose state as we speak. If their souls don't get returned, they die." No pressure at all. "Allow me to show you how it works."

He begins drawing the mallet around the rim of the bowl, consistently with speed and gentle force of friction. At first, nothing — but slowly, the sound builds upon itself. It's a clarion call that seems to resonate so much farther than expected, to penetrate deeper than a standard chime. If anyone feels an odd little skip of delight interally, they might not be wrong. Strange brings the mallet to a halt and the sound dies away, leaving only the incessant tinkling of the bells and an emptiness in its wake.

"Like that," he says, and offers the bowl and mallet out to Jean. "Stark, if you can isolate the relative frequencies of the bells, it will help me pinpoint their source. More ampage?" Maybe that's a cue word, who knows?

"I was just going to play the Kinks til people woke up, but sure, we can call it that thing you just said," Tony says. He turns his attention away from the pair, hovering in the air as he studies the columns of soulstuff. Maybe it's one big Rorschach test, but the shapes the columns make cause him to mutter, "Son of a—"

"Sir, I believe we can isolate the relative frequencies."

"Yeah, thanks, buddy. Let's get to it." He tips off a salute to Strange, inclines his metal-masked head to Phoenix, and dives down closer to street level. It's a nice neighborhood. It'll be improved by 'You Really Got Me Going' blasted in the streets.

Jean watches intently, keeping note of the speed and just how the singing bowl is played. He hands it to her and she quickly gathers it up, pressing the mallet against the edge of the bowl in preparation. Perhaps Strange asking was a cue indeed, and she begins to mimic what she's learned only a second ago. She was making good speed, keeping both hands steady and even, concentrating on the bowl alone as a chill begins to run along her spine.

Someone within was getting -highly- irritated with that noise, but picture two big-headed, animated Jean's bashing each other with mallets to keep the other in check. "Is this good?" She asks, she wasn't nervous, no. But feeling that inner irritation? Yes. Definitely yes.

Ding, ding, ding, goes a Tony!

Clank, clank, crunch goes the bowl!

Something goes a bit awry with the bowl. Something imperfect distorts the flow with the flame-crackling rumble awakening in Jean's belly worse than that one time she probably ate undercooked meat. While Tony is now waking up groggy parents and overinebriated partiers, more than a few lights come on. Angry residents shout, "Hey, it's Christmas Eve!"

"Turn off your long-hair music!"

"How is Sammy sleeping through this? Go check on Dean…" A piercing shriek will follow from that household in about five minutes.

Those weird tones conjured by the Sorcerer Supreme's will suggests that something is terribly, utterly wrong. Rising columns and intersecting lines forge a seal out of the soul substance merging together. A good, solid pluck on the strand makes the mist spontaneously quiver, and then flow, faster than any river. An explosive surge pierces through the veil to some unseen wellspring.

Jean, at least, can feel the energy draining from the mists. The substance of it is unravelling.

For Tony, the dancing octopi-in-the-sky flashes instantaneously green. He will know because a psychotic replay by Jarvis insists he see that symbol. He ought to know it, his mustachioed father fought against it for a good ten years.

And for Doctor Strange, it's like being punched in the gut as a ritual alignment locks into place. Summoned into a line, now the seal is set and the draining of those eager, bright souls kicks up by a full magnitude. He can't see the black hole, exactly, but the barred alignment stands out starkly in the night sky.

If nothing else, at least parents are now panicking, and isn't that what Christmas is all about? Maybe shaking the little ones will jiggle their souls free of the columns. Stranger things happened. Like, oh, columns of souls. "JARVIS, let me know when you've got that frequency separated. Then we're going to cancel it out."

He eyes the symbol in the sky, extra-specially identified by his buddy the AI. "Not this time, you bastards," he mutters. "Not in my city and not on Christmas Eve." If beating Hydra's ass was good enough for pop's it's good enough for him.

Yes, the sound was irritating. Irritating down to her very soul, so much so that she nearly curls up within the air as she continues to play. The playing itself was becoming offkey, her messy hair was soon turning into bouts of flame, firing on and off, brightening like a beacon that screams.. 'We're up here!' She begins to waver in the air, slightly flying left and right, then lets out a harsh growl before she stops with the bowl all together.

In a fit of rage, she would have thrown it, but no, she just holds it tight enough for her knuckles to go white.

It was hard to hide her own heart from the panic, for now reality sets in just because of them. The sounds of screaming, the quick dip into a parents eyes to see the lifeless children.. the realization that this -too-, is what happened to Davy.. and up with the bowl again! No matter if she was irritated, gut punched, ready to rage out. She was playing that goddamned bowl like it was -her- life on the line and no one elses. Nevermind the glowing hydra symbol, or the brief flicker of rage from Tony. Its all filed away for later. Sing bowl sing!

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