The Mysterious Mind-Blowing Secret of Gabriel"
By Scott Casper, with thanks to Stan Lee for Fantastic Four #121
April 5, 1972
Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, Newark, New Jersey
Alicia Grimm was drenched in perspiration, her every muscle tensed. The fingers of her right hand were clenched tight in the warm, human hand of her husband, Benjamin Grimm, who thanked God he was no longer trapped in the monstrous form of the Thing and kept from sharing this special moment.
"Push!" the doctor commanded.
"C'mon, hun, you can do this," Ben said, quietly but emphatically.
"I can't! It hurts so much!" Alicia cried.
"Again!" the doctor commanded even more forcefully. "One more time!"
"Hrrnnnnnnhhhh!" Alicia yelled through gritted teeth as she bore down on her stubborn baby one more time. When she felt it was over, she let out a sigh of relief that quickly turned to tears.
Ben was rewarded with the sight of their baby as their doctor dropped it on the delivery table like a slab of meat and cut the umbilical cord like a butcher. He had long and silently pitied Alicia that she would not see their baby in the moment of its birth until now. The unceremonious behavior of the jaded doctor somehow robbed him of some of the specialness of the moment.
The doctor spanked the child and, with its first breath, it gave out a healthy cry.
"Oh! Oh!" Alicia cried. "Doctor, my baby…?" She struggled to sit up but did not have the strength for it.
"Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Grimm…you have had a healthy baby girl," the doctor announced.
"Would you like to hold her, Mrs. Grimm?" the attending nurse asked.
"Yes, please!" Alicia said, stretching out her arms for her baby daughter.
"She's beautiful, honey. Just like her mother," Ben said softly.
"Oh…" was all Alicia could say, still breathless as she took their child in her arms.
"Here," Ben said, taking Alicia's right arm as the nurse came around and took her left arm. They both gently helped her sit up.
"Well, my work here seems to be done."
"Ya done good, Dr. Liztky. We won't forget it," Ben said.
"Yes, thank you, Doctor," Alicia said.
"It was my pleasure to do something for the Fantastic Four," Dr. Liztky said as he left the room.
"Ohmygosh!" Ben exclaimed. "Gotta go tell the others! Be right back!"
Out in the hallway, Ben saw his oldest and best friend, Reed Richards, and one of his best friends ever, Sue Richards, waiting for him. He half-expected to see them in their Fantastic Four uniforms, just like the good old days, but they were dressed as normally as he was. Indeed, he and Reed almost had matching brown suits on, as alike they had become in taste over the years.
Sue managed to slip around Ben before he could stop her, without her even turning invisible. Reed saw the proud look on Ben's face and slapped him on the back. "Congratulations, old friend!" Reed said.
"Yeah, it's a girl! We gotta call John."
Reed nodded and handed Ben his cellular phone. It was a new prototype, the size of a regular phone receiver, and smaller than the cellular phones the Avengers and or the Fantastic Four had.
"John!" Ben shouted excitedly into the phone after placing a call. "It's a girl! Shut down the Negative Zone portal. The birth went off without a hitch. We won't be needin' the Cosmic Control Rod this time*."
*He refers, of course, to Fantastic Four Annual #6, published Nov 1968
"You're luckier than we were, but of course it was the combination of both mine and Sue's altered cells that–"
"Hey, I–" Ben blurted out, interrupting the science lecture. "I'm glad you two flew out for this."
"We wouldn't have missed it for the world," Reed said with a grin.
"I gotta tell ya', things've been pretty hairy without ya' sometimes…"
"I remember things being hairy whether I was there or not, and you getting us out of scrapes as often as I did. What's really bothering you? This Gabriel business?"
"Yeah, I…" Ben trailed off as Sue exited the room with the nurse right behind her. The nurse was holding his baby daughter and he could not take his eyes off of her.
"Alicia wants to talk to you, Ben," Sue said. "And congratulations," she added, reaching up to kiss him on the cheek.
"But right after that Mrs. Grimm is going to need her rest," the nurse added.
"Ben?" Alicia called out from inside.
Ben took his eyes off his daughter and looked to his wife, lying down again in bed. She looked exhausted. "I'm here, babe."
"Oh, Ben…she really is beautiful?"
"You know it, honey, an' it ain't from my side of the family," he said, putting his hand on her cheek.
Alicia closed her hand over his and held it. She tried to smile but did not seem to have the strength. "Ben…you don't have to go. Let Namor, John and Crystal handle Gabriel. Maybe Reed will help them."
"No, I gotta see this through. I just know it," Ben said softly, but firmly.
There was a knock on the door. It was Reed, standing there in the doorway. "Ben, I understand there's a visitor waiting to see you. On the roof."
"Yeah, I gotta see this…" Ben said, kissing Alicia on the forehead before he stood up to go.
As word spread around the hospital about what had appeared on the roof, it was not difficult for Reed and Ben to gain access to it. Stepping out into the morning sun from the roof access door, they saw said light reflecting off the shiny surface of a man.
"Hiya, Chromedome," Ben said to greet the Silver Surfer. "What'dya here for? If there's been a misunderstandin', this is a bad day to come lookin' for a fight."
"Of course not, Ben Grimm. I have come to offer my congratulations on the birth of your child," the Surfer said in his cold, metallic voice. He shifted his silver surfboard from one hand to the other. "It seemed to me the right thing to do, as the woman who taught me the value of humanity has herself brought a new human into this world."
"Yeah, that's real nice of ya', Surfer. She's all worn out from the delivery an' restin' now, but I'll tell her ya' stopped by."
"Of course," the Silver Surfer said. He nodded, hesitantly, as if still unsure of what that custom meant and turned from them.
"Wait!" Reed said. "Ben, have you asked the Surfer's help yet with Gabriel?"
The Silver Surfer turned back to face them. "Gabriel?" he prompted.
"Yeah…" Ben said. "Surfer, on all the planets you've been to…have ya' ever been given reason to believe in angels?"
"Beings of a higher spiritual nature who walk, unseen, among humans," Reed offered as an explanation.
The Surfer seemed to take a moment to think about it. "Unseen by human eyes, yes, but not by one who can see a planet from 15 light years away. There are many such beings about, more so on Earth than any other planet I have seen."
"Huh! And ya' never thought to mention it!" Ben exclaimed.
"I saw no point to do so. I have tried communicating with them but they ignore me. I have observed them, and they only seem to do good for humanity, nudging you in directions that are beneficial to you, but without ever directly intervening. This Gabriel is one of them?"
"Huh…that's kinda' what I was askin' you fer'…" Ben grumbled.
"There's a reason you needed to know that, isn't there, Ben?" Reed asked.
"Yeah…I expect you to be all skeptical about this; yer' parents never took you ta' church growin' up. Me, I went to Hebrew school growin' up so I'm supposed to believe in angels an' stuff. Only…I've seen so much, so many crazy-powerful beings, none of 'em havin' anythin' ta' do with God. An' now Gabriel comes along, an' he's got this mystery we're supposed to solve that's supposedly from God himself…"
"I think a healthy dose of skepticism is warranted, Ben," Reed said, with a hand on Ben's shoulder.
"This mystery of Gabriel's…" the Silver Surfer said, looking skyward. "Would it have anything to do with why some of the angels are heading into outer space?"
"What?" Reed shouted. "How many?"
"I have witnessed 23, but perhaps there are more. They all head in the same direction, but I am not always looking that way."
"Then there is something I can do to help!" Reed said excitedly. "Surfer, if you'll stay with me, show me the angles you have seen these 'angels' depart in, I should be able to triangulate their destination!"
"Now that's the Bigbrain I know!" Ben said, slapping Reed on the back. "An' while you're doin' that, I'll be goin' orange an' rocky again an' joinin' the others at Agatha Harkness'!"
Fireman's Insurance Company Building
Newark, New Jersey
Five minutes earlier
"Okay, Crys, the Negative Zone portal is shut down and locked tight. We gotta get going if we're going to meet Ben and Namor at Agatha's place!"
In the new headquarters of the Fantastic Four, John was about to exit the sub-space lab when Crystal grabbed him by the arm. "Wait," she said. "There's something we have to talk about before you go."
John watched her as Crystal's eyes darted this way and that. "Is this about you being pregnant?" he finally asked.
Crystal looked shocked. "You know?" she gasped.
"I didn't work beside the smartest man in the world all those years without some of it rubbing off on me," John said with a laugh. Then, seeing Crystal did not laugh with him, he held her arms and said more softly, "Crys, it's okay; I'm happy we're having a baby! We had an awful good time back in Honduras after I rescued you. I just figured…well, that you were waiting for the right time to tell me and that now was finally it."
"Oh, John…" she said, falling into his arms. "It just feels so…illegal. In my culture, the Inhumans need permission from the Genetics Council to breed."
"Oh man, am I glad we didn't move in with your family! Look, everything's going to be okay. If you want to stay here and keep the baby safe until I get back, that's cool." He kissed her.
She kissed him back. "You stay safe too, darling," she said.
Whisper Hill, White Plains, New York
Twenty-four minutes later
"Can I offer you anything to drink, King Namor?" Agatha Harkness asked.
Namor stood in the center of Agatha's sitting room, cross-armed, shoulders thrown back and looking regal even in a short-sleeved Fantastic Four uniform. "Fetch me a glass of water," he said, as if issuing a command.
Agatha left, the floorboards creaking across the old house as she made her way to the kitchen. Namor was left alone with her cat, Ebony, who stared at him from the cat's perch on the seat of a rocking chair where it crouched. Namor ignored the cat and admired the shelf of bric-a-brac over the mantel.
"You, of all the Fantastic Four, seem most comfortable with my occupation," Agatha said upon her return with a glass of water.
"Though none remain who practice it now, Atlantis was once full of sorcerers. Your race's greatest secret is my race's cultural heritage."
"Indeed? I simply must visit Atlantis someday."
"If you can do what you claim today, I shall take you there myself."
"Well…we shall see shortly now," she said, just as there came a knock on the front door.
Namor and Agatha greeted Ben and John at the front door. Both men were also dressed in their Fantastic Four uniforms now, though Ben's shirt and shorts were stretched over the large, stone-like form of the Thing.
"Glad you two could finally make it," Namor said with a half-smirk. "Are we it, then?"
"Yep. Let's do this. Agatha?"
"This way, gentlemen. Oh, and congratulations on the baby girl, Grimm," Agatha said, leading them slowly deeper into the dark old house.
"Huh," was all Ben said, unsure if she had used magic to learn of the delivery or if someone else had simply told her.
"What I don't get is, if Gabriel is really an angel, how you're going to summon him with black magic," John said as they walked down a hallway flanked by pitch-black doorways to either side.
"Then you misunderstand my magic," Agatha said without any trace of offense in her cracked voice. She was holding a lit candle in her hand now, though no one had seen the candle there a moment ago. The next room on their right grew brighter as they stepped inside, the light from the candle reflecting off of silver mirrors, more tall white candles, brass incense holders and numerous angel figurines. On a small table topped with a white alabaster slab sat the scroll with the seven seals that Gabriel had given to the Fantastic Four, supposedly given to him by God Himself.
"This is your summoning room?" Namor asked.
"Tailored to the task at hand, yes," she said. As Agatha walked around the room holding her lit candle out, the candles she passed also lit. "The figurines are sympathetic magic. The incense…well, I just like the smell. It helps me concentrate. Now, join me around the circle, gentlemen."
Ben recognized the silver-inlaid glyphs engraved in the floor. "Hebrew," he observed. "Yaweh…Jehovah…El…"
"Flame on," John said, invoking his own words he always said while willing burning plasma into existence in a sheath around him.
"And more secret names from the oldest Kaballah," Agatha concurred. "In the name of the angels Arariel and Hadraniel, I summon Gabriel. In the name of the archangels Haniel and Michael, I summon Gabriel. In the name of–"
Agatha's voice was drowned out by a great blast of sound, like a choir a thousand strong suddenly launching into song. All the flame in the room became a brilliant white light then Gabriel appeared between them, floating in the air, feathery white wings partially extended from his back.
"Enough. I have come to hear what you would say but know that this conjurer's circle beneath me neither forced me here nor binds me now."
"Nor was it intended to," Agatha said, "only to weaken you."
"Now!" Namor shouted as he lunged at Gabriel's side. He locked his arms around Gabriel's right arm in a tight hold.
"Ben!" John shouted, prompting his partner to their plan.
Ben, though, stood transfixed. All his doubt and skepticism were washed away again in the presence of Gabriel. "Let's just hear what he has to say…" Ben said with uncharacteristic meekness.
"Twenty-one days have passed and no progress have you made on your quest. How do you explain this?"
"You didn't give us much to go on, at least not with our only clues being on a scroll we can't read without ending the world," John said, also sounding more meek and humble than he had expected. He bowed his head and continued, "Please, tell us something that will help us."
"Very well, your request for help will not be denied. Know you now the secret of Gabriel…that the reason God chose you, through me, is that in all of His creation you are most experienced with he who would thwart God's plan and make war upon Him. And that the name of the enemy is…Galactus."
Namor let go of Gabriel's arm and stepped back. Ben and John stood slack-jawed at the mention of that name and Agatha lowered her face. Before any of them could speak, if they even intended to, there came a loud noise from nearby like a door being splintered in half.
"What was that?" Namor asked, looking around.
"Know that you cannot subvert the will of God. You have been granted your first of seven seals, no different than if you had sought it from the scroll. And so the first seal has been broken. The End of Days is now that much nearer. And so I go to report this to the angels." And with that, Gabriel vanished and the candles in the room were restored to normal flame.
"This is big…" John said. "This is too big. We're gonna need Reed…"
"Reed!" Ben exclaimed. "He's workin' on somethin' right now. We gotta tell him what we know!"
Namor flipped open a small pouch on the side of his belt. Beside his miniature FF signal flare gun was a cellular phone the size of Reed's prototype. After dialing Reed's number and turning the phone to speakerphone for the benefit of the others, he said, "Reed, we've learned Gabriel's secret. He says we have to stop Galactus."
There was a pause on the other end before Reed responded. "Then I think I know where Galactus is. I've been triangulating from data the Silver Surfer has given me and I believe the angels are heading towards Mars!"
To Be Continued...
Next: In Fantastic Four #13: The FF go to Mars to confront Galactus! More revelations are had about the vanishing angels! It's a titanic tale that just had to be called "Galactus Unleashed!" But first, don't miss 1970's Fantastic Four Annual #1, not on sale (because it's free!) soon!