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/ Fantastic Four

FADE IN:

CLOSE ON A MASSIVE STEEL HEAD

Our first thought: DR. DOOM? But it's not moving. A welder's torch sparks into frame in the hands of a sculptor on scaffolding. This is art, an epic 20 foot statue going up of a business mogul (VICTOR VON DOOM) in whose generously extended hands sit two intertwined columns of DNA. His face is chiseled, angular, perfect (too perfect). Past sparks, we MOVE down to pick up...

EXT. STREET/VON DOOM INDUSTRIES TOWER - DAY

REED RICHARDS and BEN GRIMM head toward the soaring glass-box atrium of VDI Headquarters. Designed to inspire awe, it does.

REED High open space, exposed structural elements. Obviously aimed at first time visitors to create feelings of... smallness, inadequacy.

Ben glances at Reed, who looks a little nervous.

BEN Good thing it ain't workin... Reed, what are we doing here? This guy's fast-food, strip-mall science --

REED This wasn't our first stop, in case you forgot NASA. And Victor's not that bad. He's just a little... (seeing the statue) Larger than life.

INT. VON DOOM INDUSTRIES TOWER - DAY

They move past the statue, into the sprawling atrium.

REED He's financed some of the biggest breakthroughs of this century.

BEN You'd never know it.

He motions to a high-tech ORB, showing FOOTAGE of VDI's accomplishments: a safe and clean nuclear facility, the first private Space Station.

All images have VICTOR front and center, glad-handling George Bush, Tony Blair, shady International Leaders. The last image is Victor holding the AMERICA'S CUP.

BEN (CONT'D) Jesus. That too?

They reach three stern RECEPTIONISTS.

REED Reed Richards and Ben Grimm to see --

A receptionist cuts him off, handing them each a pass.

FEMALE RECEPTIONIST Executive elevator, top floor.

BEN What's the price for a smile round here?

They head for the elevator. Reed carries a small, black box. As they enter the elevator, steel doors shut and we CUT TO --

INT. VON DOOM INDUSTRIES TOWER - OFFICE - DAY

A large, dark office. Ben in the corner. He yawns, watches...

BRIGHT HOLOGRAMS: Stars. Planets. They hover in the air, making the room feel like a majestic portal into outer space.

REED (O.S.) My research suggests that exposure to a high-energy cosmic storm born on solar winds might have triggered the evolution of early planetary life.

REED stands among the holograms, speaking to a MYSTERIOUS FIGURE in shadow behind a desk. An ominous, PULSATING RED CLOUD covers the stars. It washes over a hologram of EARTH.

REED (CONT'D) In six weeks another cloud with the same elemental profile will pass Earth's orbit. A study in space could advance our knowledge about the structure of the human genome, and help cure countless diseases, extend human life --

The SHADOW clears his throat. Reed speeds up, emotional.

REED (CONT'D) Give kids the chance to be stronger, healthier, less prone to --

SHADOWED FIGURE Turn it off. Please.

The figure's DEEP VOICE pierces the darkness.

REED But I haven't fully explained my --

SHADOWED FIGURE Yes you have... Imagination. Creativity. Passion. Those were always your trademarks.

Lights brighten, revealing the face behind the voice: VICTOR VON DOOM. 35, handsome, commanding. He looks almost... airbrushed. He drops a WIRED magazine to the desk. REED is on the cover over the words: RICHARDS BANKRUPT, GRANT CUTBACKS.

VICTOR But dreams don't pay the bills, do they? (a condescending smile) Same old Reed, the hopeless optimist. Still reaching for the stars, with the world on your back.

REED You remember in school we talked about working together. That's what I was about to explain...

Reed presses the remote. Another hologram appears: A SHUTTLE slowly approaching AN ORBITING SPACE STATION. Both bear the VON DOOM INDUSTRIES logo. Victor smiles, more intrigued.

VICTOR So it's not my money you want. It's my toys... Tell me: if NASA doesn't trust you, why should I?

Victor is a step ahead. Reed pauses, thrown for a beat. Ben wakes up, suspicious. Victor notices. He notices everything.

VICTOR (CONT'D) That's my job. To stay a step ahead. To know what other men don't.

Ben gets close to Reed, turning toward the door.

BEN I can't take this.

REED (low, quiet) Ben. This is business. Just work. A beat. Victor cracks a smile, enjoying the tension. And...

SUE (O.S.) He's right, Ben.

They turn to see...SUE STORM (demure, stunning) standing in a corner...possibly for the whole presentation. A little cold:

SUE (CONT'D) It's just business.

VICTOR I think you both know my Director of Genetic Research, Susan Storm.

BEN Heya Susie. (under breath, to Reed) One more thing he's got.

Sue gracefully walks into the office, only taking her eyes off of Reed to give Ben a warm hug.

SUE Ben, it's been too long.

She gives Reed a polite handshake. Victor watches carefully. Reed looks uncomfortable in her gaze. A little tongue-tied.

REED You're, you've, I mean, how have you bee--

SUE Never better.

Victor sizes them up. He puts a hand on Sue's shoulder.

VICTOR This isn't going to be a problem, is it?

REED Not at all.

SUE Ancient history.

Victor smiles, eyeing Sue.

VICTOR Good. Then you're just in time to hear the great Reed Richards ask me for help. (to Reed) You know, you made a lot of folks at MIT feel like a junior high science fair. So you'll excuse me if I savor the moment.

Ben tightens. A hard beat. Reed sucks it up.

REED You back this mission, and I'll sign over a fair percentage of any applications or --

VICTOR The number's seventy-five. And it's applications and patents.

BEN What about his first born?

REED (quiet) Ben, the money's not important. We could save lives.

Sue gives a thin smile -- a flicker of old feelings.

VICTOR Twenty-five percent of a billion is enough to keep the lights on, isn't it? Maybe even pay off your fourth mortgage on the Baxter Building.

They look at Victor. How does he know all this...?

VICTOR (CONT'D) Deal...?

Reed looks at Ben, who shakes his head softly no. But Reed...drops a nod. Done. Victor smiles, offers a handshake.

VICTOR (CONT'D) Well then, to our future. Together.

Victor squeezes. Hard. His other hand on Sue's shoulder.

VICTOR (CONT'D) Funny how things turn out, isn't it?

REED Hilarious.

As Reed and Sue lock eyes, Ben watches Victor. Wary.

INT. VICTOR'S OFFICE - MOMENTS LATER - DAY

Director of Communications LEONARD enters, checking files.

VICTOR If Reed's right, then this little trip will double our stock offering.

LEONARD And if he's not...?

VICTOR Reed's always right. Good thing he doesn't always know what he's got...

INT. VON DOOM INDUSTRIES TOWER - ELEVATOR - MOMENTS LATER

Reed and Ben step into the elevator.

BEN He knew about NASA. What if he made the call to shut us down --

REED Ben, think about all the people we can help if this works --

BEN Maybe you should think about yourself for once. You always let this guy push you round --

REED We got what we wanted. That's enough.

BEN I know, I know. I'm just worried about what he wants... Speaking of which...

Reed follows Ben's eyes to...SUE. She joins them. Doors shut.

INT. VON DOOM INDUSTRIES STAIRCASE - CONTINUOUS

SUE You sure about this, Reed?

He nods, head down. He doesn't want eye contact.

REED Those solar winds are flaring, but I factored them into my coordinates and --

SUE I was talking about us. Working together.

Sue holds her eyes on Reed. He is clearly uncomfortable in her gaze. Did the elevator just get smaller?

REED (thinking, talking fast) Well, uh, based on our history...you can handle the biogenetics, and I'll focus on the molecular physics. Or, uhm, maybe I should take the biotech, you work the microscopes, since you have some background in electropho--

SUE (droll, a little annoyed) Right. That's exactly what I meant.

She shakes her head -- same old Reed. He looks at her -- what did he say wrong? Ben smiles, patting Reed on the shoulder.

BEN Way to not overthink it. (to Sue) So when do we leave?

SUE I'll schedule the launch. Call me in the morning to talk about resources and crew.

She offers a business card. Reed doesn't take it.

REED I, uh, think I remember the number.

SUE It's been changed.

Beat. Ben grimaces. Reed takes the card, his eyes down.

REED As far as crew, I was hoping Ben could pilot the mission --

SUE Well, he's welcome to ride shotgun, but we already have a pilot on our payroll. You remember my brother Johnny...

Off Ben's curdling smile, we DISSOLVE TO --

EXT. LAKE LAUNCH FACILITY - DAY

A helicopter shot through trees. We soar over timberland, and find something massive looming on the horizon:

A SPACECRAFT. A sleek take on a space shuttle. Modern tech combined with industrial design that NASA could never afford. The craft's nose is pointed straight up, ready for launch. WORKERS IN JUMPSUITS are scattered around the two-hundred foot tall scaffolding, performing routine checks.

EXT. GANTRY OVERLOOK - DAY

Ben stares up at the craft. A sneer on his face.

BEN Can't do it. I cannot do it.

REED External SRBs, orbital system engines. Its just like the shuttles you flew in --

BEN No. I cannot take orders from that underwear model. That wingnut washed out of NASA for sneaking two Victoria Secret wannabes into a flight simulator.

REED Youthful high spirits.

They walk toward the base of the scaffolding.

BEN They crashed it into a wall. A flight simulator.

REED I'm sure he's matured since then.

CLOSE on JOHNNY STORM, leaning over to kiss a hot redhead. PULL BACK TO REVEAL he's riding a MOTORCYCLE, and she's driving a red CORVETTE with license plate: FRANKIE. PICK UP Reed and Ben, watching through binoculars.

REED (CONT'D) When have I asked you to do something you absolutely said you could not do?

BEN Five times.

REED I had it at four.

BEN This makes five.

INT. LAKE LAUNCH FACILITY LOCKER ROOM - NIGHT

Reed and Ben unpack gear into lockers. Suddenly --

JOHNNY (O.S.) Captain on the bridge!

Ben goes to attention on reflex: Johnny snaps a picture with a digital camera. Then advances, as Ben realizes who it is...

JOHNNY (CONT'D) Digital camera: $254. Memory stick: $59. The look on your hard-ass former CO's grill when he finds out he's your junior officer: priceless.

Ben eyeballs Johnny, suddenly reaches up as if to grab him. Johnny flinches. But Ben just reaches for Johnny's zipper, adjusts his uniform.

BEN I can handle the ship. I can even handle Mr. Blonde Ambition. But I don't know if I should be flying or playing Vegas in these suits. Who the hell came up with them?

SUE Victor did.

Sue enters, wearing her blue, wetsuit-like uniform, carrying a stack of flightsuits. She hands them out to the guys.

SUE (CONT'D) The synthetics act as a second skin, adapting to your individual needs to --

JOHNNY Keep the hot side hot, and the cool side cool!

REED Wow. Fantastic.

Reed stares at Sue in the skintight outfit. She wonders, maybe hopes -- is he actually checking her out?

REED (CONT'D) Material made from self-regulating unstable molecules. I've been working on a formula for this.

SUE Great minds think alike.

VICTOR (O.S.) Guess some think faster than others.

Victor enters, wearing his custom-tailored flightsuit.

VICTOR (CONT'D) I hired Armani to design the pattern. These colors will look great on camera.

A DOOR OPENS. Leonard enters, in a sharp suit.

LEONARD They're ready for you, sir.

VICTOR Showtime.

EXT. LAKE LAUNCH FACILITY - HALLS - NIGHT

Leonard leads Victor through the halls. Victor checks himself in mirrors as he walks, fixing his hair, his uniform.

LEONARD Our numbers are through the roof. The IPO's tracking at fifty, sixty a share. The bank's five times oversubscribed --

VICTOR It's not just the money. I could make money in my sleep.

LEONARD Then what is it?

VICTOR History, Leonard. History. Everything else is conversation... (a beat) How's the other matter?

Leonard pulls out a BOX. Opens it: a TEN KARAT DIAMOND RING.

LEONARD Harry Winston sends his regards.

They hit a set of big doors. Victor stops and looks into the reflective, metallic surface on the wall. He fixes one last strand of hair. Perfect. Then he opens the door to...

SNAP!SNAP!SNAP! WHIP-PAN a row of CAMERAS snapping shots of --

EXT. LAKE LAUNCH FACILITY - NIGHT

Retrofitted into a makeshift press area. Victor sits on a platform, with reporters stretched out below him.

VICTOR Today we stand on the edge of a new frontier. In the furthest depths of outer space...we will find the secrets to inner space. The final key to unlocking our genetic code lies in a cosmic storm...

BEHIND THE ACTION: Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben walk past. News crews barely notice, passing without even taking a picture. Our "Fantastic Four" are not exactly big news. Not yet.

BEN Isn't that your speech?

REED He's made a few changes.

BEN This is your dream, Reed. You should be the one up there.

REED Victor's better at these things.

Just past the press area, they see...one woman standing, waiting. This is DEBBIE, Ben's fiance. And for the first time in the entire film...Ben SMILES. They hug, kissing.

Johnny and Reed watch. Reed glances at Sue, who walks ahead. Debbie slips a photo into Ben's flightsuit. A tender beat.

BEN I'll be watching over you.

DEBBIE Just get back soon, or I start looking for a new groom.

Ben looks at the little ENGAGEMENT RING on her finger.

BEN Soon as I'm back, I'm gonna trade that in for a bigger rock.

DEBBIE I don't care about rocks, I care about you. (to Reed) You bring him back in one piece, or you can forget being Best Man.

Reed nods, smiles. Debbie gives Ben a last kiss. Ben turns to Johnny, who gives a cocky smile.

BEN What the hell you smiling at? Just keep your mouth shut, and your mind on those SMBs --

JOHNNY Actually, the engines are SMEs. Hydrogenbase, carbon propellant. Couple generations past your last ride. (at the threshold) I'm not as dumb as you look.

Ben just glares at Reed. This is going to be a long trip. As they follow after Sue, we CUT BACK TO --

VICTOR ON STAGE

Mid-speech. Playing behind him is REED'S HOLOGRAM: stars give way to a pulsating red cloud...

VICTOR Think of a world without genetic flaws -- no asthma, allergies, baldness, breast cancer...

Ben and Reed hear the speech. Ben bristles.

BEN What's wrong with being bald...?

Victor smiles at the crowd, commanding. A true leader.

VICTOR Darwin discovered evolution. Now we -- I -- will define it. Only in America could...

The red cloud of cosmic rays wash over the Earth.

VICTOR (V.O.) (CONT'D) ...a little country boy from Latveria build one of the biggest companies in the world, and truly reach the stars. Now if you'll excuse me, history awaits...

On those words, the HOLOGRAM TRANSFORMS TO...Von Doom's SHUTTLE on the launch pad. BOOM! THRUSTERS FIRE WHITE HOT. Smoke billows across the pad. Ready for take off.

Victor walks past the hologram and exits. His departure perfectly timed with the shuttle LIFTING OFF.

We push in on the shuttle, and follow the ship as it leaves Earth's atmosphere. BOOM -- booster rockets fall away and the shuttle fires its thrusters. The hologram transitions to...

A shot of the SPACE STATION high above the Earth. The shuttle enters from the top, lighting up the hologram with engines afire. As the shuttle approaches the station we CUT TO --

EXT. DEEP SPACE - SAME

THE SPACE STATION in the distance, rotating in orbit above Earth. THE SHUTTLE eases in and docks.

INT. SPACE STATION - COMMAND CENTER - SAME

Victor and Sue lead the others into the command center.

JOHNNY (a "dad voice": to Ben) If you behave, maybe next time daddy'll let you drive.

BEN Keep talking, there won't be a next time.

Reed is focused on THE EARTH.

SUE Long way from the projection booth at the Hayden Planetarium, isn't it?

Reed turns towards her -- a little stunned that she would bring that up. It's the first time she's been nice to him so far. He smiles, gently, hesitantly, always hesitant with Sue.

REED Yes. Yes it is.

Johnny and Ben exchange a look. Reed keeps looking at the stars, eyes wide, like a little kid.

INT. SPACE STATION - COMMAND CENTER/OBSERVATION DECK - SAME

They enter the nerve center of the space station. Victor goes to a computer console on the observation deck below. The windows are closed, so there's nothing to observe.

VICTOR (to ground; via comm-link) Leonard, how's the feed?

LEONARD (V.O.) Recording, sir. We see you perfectly.

Victor glances at a camera mounted into the console.

SUE We can monitor the cloud's approach and observe the tests from here.

BEN Is it safe?

REED The shields on the station should protect us.

BEN Should?

VICTOR What's wrong, Ben? Eighty-million dollars worth of equipment not enough for you?

Ben turns to Victor. A little tension. Reed cuts it:

REED Let's start loading those samples. Get your suit ready, Ben.

Victor keeps his eyes on Ben.

VICTOR So you still do all the heavy lifting?

Victor gives a friendly smile, patting Reed.

VICTOR (CONT'D) Maybe you should have stayed back in the lab. Field work never suited you.

Reed doesn't defend himself. Ben steps up.

BEN He does the talking. I do the walking. Got it?

Victor holds tight to his smile. He nods, condescending.

VICTOR Got it. So take a walk, Ben...I'm going to borrow Susan for a second.

REED Sure.

Ben and Johnny read his eyes, as we CUT TO --

INT. SPACE STATION - AIR LOCK - LATER

Ben preps for a space walk, putting on a helmet and boots. Johnny unloads a set of clear sample boxes off of a cart, each containing a variety of plants.

JOHNNY Please tell me your dawg's not trying to rekindle things with my sister.

BEN 'Course not. Strictly business.

JOHNNY Yeah, well, his eyes say different.

BEN Hey, two hearts got busted last time. Maybe she's not over it either.

JOHNNY Let's see: you got Victor, stud of the year, more coin than God? Or Reed, the world's dumbest smart guy worth less than a postage stamp. Hmmm, it's a toss-up.

BEN Put your tiny little mind at ease.

JOHNNY Don't you wander off, boy.

Johnny steps out of the air-lock and shuts the door. He looks through a small window to see Ben give the thumbs up. THE AIRLOCK DOOR opens, and Ben gracefully steps into space.

INT. SPACE STATION - OBSERVATION DECK - SAME TIME

Sue descends the stairs at Victor's behest. Joins him.

VICTOR Surprised I agreed to Reed's proposal?

SUE I understand the business reasons.

VICTOR Well, when you're looking at your future, it never hurts to find closure about the past.

Sue's eyes narrow. What is this about...?

VICTOR (CONT'D) Susan, every man dreams that he'll meet some woman he can give the world to.

He presses a button and the observation deck's outer windows open up, revealing a spectacular, romantic view of the EARTH.

VICTOR (CONT'D) In my case, it's not just a metaphor.

While she stares out the window, Victor reaches into a pocket, revealing a RING BOX. Sue looks unsettled.

INT. SPACE STATION - NEARBY CORRIDOR - SAME TIME

Reed checks data on a work station, set on a wall. The results of his calculations are not what he expected... He sees WIND VELOCITY digits rise. He does a double-take when he sees the readout: EVENT THRESHOLD, T-MINUS 10:00.

REED No...no...impossible. It's...too fast.

INT. SPACE STATION - OBSERVATION DECK - SAME TIME

Behind his back, Victor holds the ring box in hand.

VICTOR You've been with me two years now.

Sue doesn't know where this is going. She treads lightly.

SUE It's been a good two years, Victor... The company's accomplished so much.

VICTOR Right, of course, the company... But you see, I've come to realize all the accomplishments in the world mean nothing without someone to share them with --

SUE Uh, Victor, I hope I haven't done something to make you think...

VICTOR Sue, I've lived my life unafraid of taking big steps. And this is the biggest step yet. If it helps, think of this as a promotion. A merger of sorts... (getting closer) Four little words that can change our lives...

He is about to spring the ring on her. She looks like a deer in headlights. She opens her mouth, and...WHAM! Doors slam open. REED RUSHES INTO THE ROOM.

REED The cloud is accelerating!

Victor quickly puts the ring back in his pocket.

REED (CONT'D) I don't know what happened.

Sue quickly moves to a nearby control panel to verify Reed's claim. Starts punching buttons. Confirms Reed's findings with a nod. Victor hardens, in control.

REED (CONT'D) We've got minutes until it hits, not hours...Victor, that storm's deadly -- the radiation's lethal. We need to abort.

VICTOR Get a grip. Reed. We didn't come all this way to lose our nerve at the first little glitch. Just close the shields...

REED Ben's still out there --

VICTOR So reel him in. But we came here to do a job. So let's do it. Quickly.

EXT. SPACE STATION - MOMENTS LATER

Ben is carefully arranging SAMPLE BOXES OF PLANTS.

REED (ON RADIO) Ben, we need you back inside.

Ben turns to see Reed and Johnny staring from a window.

BEN (INTO RADIO) I ain't done arranging your flowers, egghead.

REED (ON RADIO) Ben. This is serious. Turn around.

Ben sees Johnny motioning for Ben to look behind him. Ben turns and sees: THE COSMIC STORM, rumbling toward the station. Not close, but not far. That gets Ben's attention.

BEN (INTO RADIO) Roger that, on my way.

He turns back towards the ship. BEHIND HIM, the storm grows.

INT. SPACE STATION - COMMAND CENTER - SAME TIME

Victor rushes into the room, looks at the monitors. Sees the others near the airlock on one screen, and the approaching cloud on another. Anxiety creeps across his face.

AUTOMATED VOICE Event threshold in two minutes.

INT. SPACE STATION - AIRLOCK DOOR - SAME TIME

Reed and Johnny stand by the airlock, waiting for Ben. They heard the automated voice. It panics Reed.

REED Come on, Ben, come on...

VICTOR (ON RADIO) Reed, we're running out of time.

EXT. OUTER SPACE - MOMENTS LATER

A wake of turbulence from the cloud hits Ben, making it harder to maneuver. The cloud's tendrils snake toward him.

INT. SPACE STATION - AIRLOCK DOOR - SAME TIME

They can see Ben outside the window, still twenty yards away. The entire corridor rumbles. Lights flicker and spark. They watch helplessly.

INT. SPACE STATION - COMMAND CENTER/OBSERVATION DECK - SAME

Sue watches the monitor, also helpless.

SUE Johnny... Reed...

Victor, annoyed by the indecisiveness, marches right up to Sue. Practically shoves her aside as he hits the INTERCOM.

VICTOR Reed, you need to get up here so we can close the shields! Now!

Sue glares at Victor. His lack of compassion shocks her.

REED (ON RADIO) Not until Ben is back inside!

VICTOR It's too late for him, and soon it'll be too late for all of us.

Victor doesn't bother to wait for a response. He takes over the console, punching keys.

SUE What are you doing?

VICTOR Raising the shields.

SUE You can't leave them out there.

Sue glares with as much contempt as her face can muster.

VICTOR Watch me. Reed had his chance. You can't help them any more than I can.

Beat. She takes a step toward the door. Not sure what to do.

SUE I can try.

With one final glare, she bolts from the room.

INT. SPACE STATION - AIRLOCK DOOR - SAME TIME

Reed bites his lip. Thinks. He decides.

REED Victor's right. Johnny, get to the command center. Close the shields. JOHNNY What about you?

One look from Reed tells Johnny, he won't leave without Ben. Johnny eyes Ben, steels his courage. He's not going either.

JOHNNY (CONT'D) (to Ben) Come on big guy, you can do it!

INT. SPACE STATION COMMAND CENTER - DAY

Victor watches the shields slide down. Alone. An island.

AUTOMATED VOICE Event threshold in thirty seconds.

INT. SPACE STATION - CORRIDOR - SAME TIME

Sue races down the hall. Not panicked. With determination.

EXT. SPACE STATION AIR LOCK - DAY

The exterior air lock door slides open. In agonizing, weightless slow motion Ben reaches to haul himself inside.

The leading edge of the cloud hits: Ben is pelted by a hissing mass of space dust, splattering his suit with orange stains. Larger particles, small pellets, pepper him. Ben hauls himself in the last few feet by pulling on his tether.

INT. SPACE STATION AIR LOCK/COMMAND CENTER - DAY

AUTOMATED VOICE Event threshold in ten seconds. TEN...

Johnny punches controls to close the exterior airlock door...

Reed opens a first aid kit, grabs a thermo-elastic blanket...

INT. SPACE STATION - COMMAND CENTER/OBSERVATION DECK - SAME

Clutching the diamond ring, Victor stands defiantly. Showing absolutely no concern for the others. Interested only in the event itself. Lights and equipment FALL, CRASHING around him.

A control panel EXPLODES in Victor's face. He jumps back, and into the falling equipment. Collapses under the weight.

INT. SPACE STATION - AIR LOCK - SAME TIME

Sue rounds a corner, sees Reed and Johnny.

SUE Johnny! Reed!

AUTOMATED VOICE FIVE...FOOOOUUUR...

SLOW MOTION: Everyone frozen in position as:

-- JOHNNY is hit with sparks of flame from a control panel. -- REED REACHES out for Ben and the airlock door. -- VAPOR STREAM pours down on Sue from a blown gasket. -- THE SPACE DUST burns into Ben's skin.

SLOW MOTION: Just BEFORE the exterior air-lock door closes, a SINGLE PARTICLE zips through the narrowing gap and hits Ben in the back, ripping through his suit. The exterior door shuts and seals. The station loses all power. DARKNESS.

EXT. SPACE STATION - DAY

As quickly as it came, the cloud passes on and whirls away, leaving the space station intact. Power quietly flickers on.

Silence. Time resumes. All four pick up exactly where they left off, unaware of anything that just happened to them.

INT. SPACE STATION COMMAND CENTER - DAY

Victor emerges from the rubble. He stands, checks his body. A few scrapes, nothing serious. A thin, throbbing CUT on his head. He touches the wound, but it is not bleeding.

INT. SPACE STATION AIR LOCK - DAY

Reed and Johnny scramble to open the interior air lock door. Sue joins them, as they pull Ben in. They try to remove his helmet. We don't see his face, but he's clearly unconscious.

REED He's not responsive --

JOHNNY Ben! Ben!

INT. VON DOOM COMPOUND HOSPITAL ROOM - DAY

A BLACK SCREEN:

JOHNNY'S VOICE Ben, wake up! Wake up!

SUBJECTIVE CAMERA, BEN'S POV: The blurry image of Johnny comes slowly into focus, standing beside a hospital bed.

BEN (O.S.) Where...where am I?

JOHNNY Back on Earth. Victor's medical facility... We're in quarantine.

BEN (O.S.) Reed? ... Sue?

JOHNNY They're fine. Everybody else...is fine.

Johnny looks away, as if he can't bear to lay eyes on him.

BEN (O.S.) What's wrong with me?

JOHNNY I swear to you they've done everything humanly possible. The best plastic surgeons in the world, Ben. You had the best --

BEN (O.S.) Give me a mirror...

Johnny picks up a hand mirror on the bed table before Ben can reach it, reluctant to give it to him.

JOHNNY They said that's not such a good idea, the shock alone could --

BEN (O.S.) Give me the god damn mirror!

Ben grabs it from him. Then slowly raises it to look and see that...except for some serious stubble, Ben's totally normal.

JOHNNY Unfortunately, the doctors just couldn't do anything to fix your face!

He cackles as he heads for the door. Ben heaves the mirror at him, breaking it into hundreds of pieces. He turns to the side-table, and grabs that picture of DEBBIE. It calms him.

EXT. VON DOOM COMPOUND - ESTABLISHING - DAY

A modern facility of glass and stone, nestled in the forest. In stark contrast to the lush greenery surrounding it.

INT. VON DOOM COMPOUND HOSPITAL CORRIDOR/SUE'S ROOM - DAY

Reed walks down the hall. His hair is GRAYING at the temples. He passes Johnny, who is smiling, still enjoying his joke on Ben. Johnny slows, looking at Reed's hair.

JOHNNY Nice 'do. Going for the "grandpa" look?

Reed passes a mirror, slowing, seeing his gray hairs. He keeps going. He passes a partially open door. He stops when he catches a glimpse of Sue asleep in bed. He sees a vase of flowers. He grabs a couple lilies, and enters.

But Reed sees...the room is already FILLED with expensive flowers. All from VICTOR. Reed is trumped once again.

A DOCTOR writes on Sue's chart. A wall TV plays a press conference with Victor, outside the FACILITY. He looks worse for wear. A few hairs out of place, and a small BANDAGE on his face. We PUSH INTO the press conference --

REPORTER #1 You've been accused in the past of moving science a little too fast --

VICTOR Accused by who? My competitors?

REPORTER #2 But surely this accident gives you pause --

VICTOR Danger is always part of discovery. What would have happened if Ben Franklin never went out in a storm? Without risk, there's no reward.

REPORTER #3 So where's the reward? You promised a cure-all.

Victor pauses. For the first time. Just a flicker.

VICTOR And you'll have it. I've never come up short. And I'm not going to start now.

REPORTER #2 So you're still taking VDI public --

VICTOR Yes, of course. I've never been more confident in the compan--

Reed mutes the television.

REED How's she doing?

DOCTOR Stable. Vitals are strong.

Reed takes the clipboard, looks for himself.

REED Blood panels show no irradiation. Good. You'll step up this protocol, every --

DOCTOR Four hours. We know what we're doing... One more day of observation, then you're all cleared.

The Doctor takes his clipboard, and walks out. Reed steps to Sue, with the drooping flowers in his hand. Quiet:

REED Sue...I want to tell you...I'm...

WHOOSH. A NURSE rolls in with a tray bearing ten more extravagant bouquets. Reed looks resigned. He walks out.

REED (CONT'D) She's allergic to orchids. Put that Amaryllis Apapathos by her bed. The African lilies? They're her favorites.

Reed exits, dropping his two wilted lilies into the trash.

Sue opens one eye, as the big lilies land by the bed.

INT. VON DOOM COMPOUND HOSPITAL ROOM - DAY

A SEXY NURSE wheels a testing station into Johnny's room. He's stripped down to Calvins, changing into a ski outfit.

SEXY NURSE And where do we think we're going?

JOHNNY I don't know if "we've" noticed, but the sickest runs this side of the Alps are right outside that window --

NURSE I've noticed... But doctor's orders, you're not allowed to leave until we --

JOHNNY Finish the tests, I know -- could you give me a hand with this zipper?

NURSE You know this is not a ski resort.

JOHNNY Not yet.

Johnny opens the cardboard box, revealing a colorful fiberglass object the size of a briefcase. In the blink of an eye, he unfolds it into a LONG SNOWBOARD.

JOHNNY (CONT'D) Luckily grandma still sends care packages.

The nurse pops a thermometer in his mouth to shut him up.

NURSE You are trouble.

JOHNNY (thermometer in his mouth) Brubbles my Triddle Name.

They both pay more attention to his zipper than the digital read-out: it runs right up past 98.6, then accelerates fast.

SEXY NURSE You're hot!

JOHNNY So are you!

SEXY NURSE I mean, you feel a little feverish.

JOHNNY I've never felt better in my life. When do you get off work?

SEXY NURSE My shift ends at four, but I couldn't --

JOHNNY Meet me at 4:01, top of the run. That'll give you a minute to freshen up.

He hands her the thermometer, a quick kiss and he's out the door. The machine beeps: Johnny's temperature is 209 DEGREES.

EXT. VON DOOM COMPOUND HOSPITAL PATIO - DAY

Ben finds Reed on a patio with a panoramic view. Reed works at a laptop computer.

BEN How long was I out?

REED Three days. I was worried about you. How are you feeling?

BEN Solid.

Ben can see Reed doesn't look too solid.

BEN (CONT'D) How you doing?

Reed shakes his head, looking back at his screen.

REED I don't know. I just keep going over and over the numbers.

BEN Reed. Even you can't compute every little thing.

REED I should have done more, run more tests --

Ben gets closer, pushing down Reed's computer screen.

BEN It was a freak of nature. Last I checked, you don't have a crystal ball. Let it go.

Reed considers. But he can't let it go. He opens his computer back up, returning to work. Ben shakes his head, looks out at the view. His eyes catch on something, wheels turning.

BEN (CONT'D) You go through something like this, makes you appreciate having the right woman in your life.

REED Yeah, you and Debbie and perfect --

BEN Reed, I'm not talking about Debbie.

Reed follows Ben's eyes to a lower level patio: SUE.

REED What? Come on. She's got a good thing with Victor --

BEN I'm sorry, did that cosmic-bath loosen your screws?

REED He's smart, powerful, successful --

BEN Well maybe you should date him.

Reed looks at Ben, resigned.

REED Ben. He'll give her the life she deserves. She ended up with the right guy. Things worked out for the best.

Reed steps away. Ben stands alone, an idea sparking.

BEN Do I have to do everything myself?

INT. HELICOPTER/EXT. MOUNTAIN SUMMIT - DAY

The chopper hovers over this pristine peak. JOHNNY and his NURSE sit in the chopper-bay, prepping their ski gear. Johnny's customized snowboard has wild, acrylic patterns.

His Nurse wears a hot pink cat-suit, her skis dangling out. Their bodies are close: a sexy, competitive flirtation. They look down at a death-defying black diamond run.

JOHNNY Me like-y.

SEXY NURSE Stay right. Left is trouble.

JOHNNY I though we went over this.

SEXY NURSE Last one down springs for room service.

She pulls down her goggles, jumps out. Johnny drops out after her, hitting the snow. He smolders: literally. The snow bank behind him sizzles and starts to melt.

He takes off after her and the chase is on:

EXT. BLACK DIAMOND RUN - DAY

The Nurse knows every inch of the trail, slicing expertly in and out of the trees through deep powder. Johnny's a speed freak, maximizing velocity, closing the gap between them.

Ghostly FLAMES shoot off his hair: his ski cap catches fire, flies off. Jets of fire knife through the back of his jacket.

The Nurse looks back: In a burst of speed, Johnny draws even. She looks over and sees the flames shooting out behind him...

SEXY NURSE You're on fire!

JOHNNY Not this again --

SEXY NURSE No: You're ON FIRE!

Johnny sees his gloves are burning, flicks them off in alarm. His body SHUDDERS: the back of his ski suit catches on fire. A burst of flame launches him down the slope like a rocket.

Nurse loses concentration, falls. Johnny races away like a missile, screaming in exhilaration. He looks back -- no nurse.

He tries to put out his flaming clothes, and accidentally VEERS to the LEFT. He fails to notice the giant CHASM in front of him. He faces forward and...

SCREEAAMMS! LAUNCHING off the cliff, LEGS FLAILING, trying to catch ground. FLAMES begin to TRAIL his body as he FALLS towards the rocks below. He tries to will his body away.

Instead, his body becomes engulfed in flame. He is a HUMAN TORCH! And for a moment he HOLDS THE AIR -- the fire giving him some kind of...LIFT. He maneuvers just over the rocks, almost making a 90 degree turn.

He looks back at the rocks in disbelief. But the lift doesn't last long. He quickly CRASHES, landing HARD into a snowbank.

He opens his eyes; tries to move but can't. He's trapped under snow and ice. With all his strength, he tries to move, NO DICE. Panic sets in. His eyes go wide as the snow around quickly begins to melt. Johnny is on fire, and within seconds he's sitting in a small POND, steam rising from the water.

The nurse races toward the steam. Scared, panicked. She finds Johnny...smiling, sitting naked in an impromptu hot tub, staring at his hands. His body. Exhilarated.

JOHNNY Care to join me?

She smiles and unzips. The FLAMES DISSOLVE TO...CANDLES IN --

EXT. VON DOOM COMPOUND - VICTOR'S OFFICE - DAY

On an expansive parapet with a billion-dollar view, Victor prepares a romantic dinner-setting as his staff scurry about. He checks every fork and knife, with a slightly manic energy.

VICTOR How's the IPO?

LEONARD Stable. We're looking at low twenties. It's a good number, considering the fallout from --

VICTOR Reed's disaster. You know, I half- think he did this to me on purpose.

LEONARD Sir, I'm sure he wouldn't put himself --

But Victor is on to the next thought, always strategizing.

VICTOR Get me on the AM shows, Larry King, cover of the Journal... (staring into silver tray) I've got to do something about this scar. Make sure they only shoot my right side.

LEONARD Actually, uh, people seem to think the scar "humanizes" you.

VICTOR And that's a good thing?

Victor looks at the scar, enraged by this defect. It glistens in the silver tray. His eyes are bloodshot, sleepless.

LEONARD You know, maybe you should get some rest --

VICTOR Later. First, I've got some unfinished business. A deal that needs closing...

Leonard looks at the table, the lavish spread. A beat.

LEONARD Sir, I've always wondered... Why Sue? You could have any woman in the world but --

VICTOR That's why. Because I could have any other woman... You know, when they asked Caesar "why England," he said, "because it's not mine."

INT. VON DOOM COMPOUND DINING HALL - LATE AFTERNOON

Two dozen EMPLOYEES sit and eat. Others serve themselves at the buffet. Ben and Sue walking into the dining hall --

SUE I can only stay for one drink, Ben. I've got to meet with Victor.

BEN Wouldn't want to keep Vic waiting.

They turn a corner and find Reed, entering by another door.

BEN (CONT'D) Hey Reed, what are you doing here? (before he can answer) Great, why don't you join us?

He quickly shepherds the two of them toward a quiet table. Ben's stomach GROWLS; so loud that they all can hear it.

BEN (CONT'D) God, I'm starving. Gonna hit the buffet.

Ben's stomach growls again, even louder this time.

INT. VON DOOM COMPOUND DINING HALL - EVENING

The sun is long gone, and so are most of the diners. The room is darker, more romantic. Ben finishes the last shrimp on his plate, pushes it away, belches prodigiously.

BEN Pardon me...

Sue and Reed stare at him. Ben's stomach growls again.

REED Are you alright?

BEN I think I need to lie down. Bad shrimp.

This was Ben's plan, but he really isn't feeling well, unsteady when he walks away. He looks down at his stomach.

BEN (CONT'D) Really bad shrimp.

ANGLE: Fireplace. Sue looks gorgeous in the light. A beat. A long beat. Reed doesn't know where to start with this woman.

REED Feeling better?

SUE Yes, thanks.

REED That's good. That's uh...good.

SUE You always had a way with words. (an awkward beat) I should be getting back.

Sue gets up to leave. Exasperated, Reed tries to think of something, anything, to say.

REED I'm really happy for you and Victor.

She slows down, looking at him. She was hoping for more.

SUE You're happy for me and Victor.

REED I can tell you guys are enjoying what was the best part of our relationship --

SUE Which was?

REED Passion.

We see surprise on Sue's face, and...

REED (CONT'D) For science.

SUE (frustrated) You are such a dork, Reed... You never got it and never will unless it's explained to you in quantum physics.

As if triggered by her emotion, the fireplace light around her BENDS. The flames flicker in a ghostly breeze.

REED What? What did I say?

She looks more disappointed than angry.

SUE It's never what you say. It's what you don't say. What you don't do...

She lets that hang. A lot of history here. Quiet, hurt -- she wants Reed to fight for her, to show some emotion.

REED I...I...I just wanted to --

As Sue's emotions swirl, she slowly...disappears.

SUE It's been two years, and all you can say is you're happy for me and some other guy... (standing up, hurt) You know, Victor may be a lot of things, but at least he's not afraid to fight for what he wants... (Reed looks down) And it's nice to be wanted sometimes. To be heard...seen... Reed, look at me.

He looks up...but all that's left of her is the blush on her cheek and her bewitching eyes. He drops his fork, shocked.

REED Uh, Sue...? I can't.

SUE What? What do you mean you --

REED Sue...look at your hands.

She raises her hands, but we don't see them. We only see a medical waistband...floating. Her watch...floating. Her clothes appear to be suspended in mid-air.

Sue is invisible. She shrieks and gets up -- knocking a GLASS off the table...

SLOW MOTION: The glass flies off the table, tumbling... Reed instinctively reaches for the bottle: his arm stretches two feet out of his sleeve -- grabs it just before it hits --

Then snaps back into place. Reed stares at his arm in disbelief. Sue's eyes widen as well. The rest of Sue reappears. They look at each other: mutual alarm.

JOHNNY (O.S.) You guys will not believe what just happened!

They look up to see JOHNNY in the doorway, NAKED except for the nurse's PINK PARKA wrapped around his midsection.

INT. VON DOOM COMPOUND - VICTOR'S OFFICE - EARLY EVENING

CLUNK. The candles burn low on the table. Victor strides out, heading for the door. He runs his hand through his hair to comb some strays. A CLUMP comes off in his fingers. He PAUSES. He steps to a mirror, stares at his hair. His SCAR.

It is longer than the bandage now (as if it SPREAD). Victor peels back the bandage, and sees the scar is bluish-gray. Deep, unhealthy, maybe infected...

INT. VON DOOM COMPOUND - HALLWAY - EARLY EVENING

DOUBLE DOORS burst open. Reed, Sue, and Johnny urgently walk.

SUE It has to be the cloud. It's fundamentally altered our DNA.

REED Let's not jump to conclusions, we need a massive amount of evidence before making that leap.

Reed glances over his shoulder. He stares. Sue follows his gaze to see: Johnny's FINGERTIPS are on fire. He SNAPS his fingers. They GO OUT. He's totally unharmed.

JOHNNY Now what is up with that?

REED (deadpan) The cloud has fundamentally altered our DNA.

JOHNNY Cool. What'd it do to you guys?

SUE Apparently I can disappear.

JOHNNY Please tell me you go silent too.

Only one thing on Reed's mind --

REED We have to find Ben.

EXT. VON DOOM COMPOUND - OUTSIDE BEN'S ROOM - EARLY EVENING

Johnny snaps his fingers -- which generate small explosive bursts of flame. He turns it on and off, like the "CLAPPER."

JOHNNY Flame on, flame off. Flame on, flame off --

SUE Johnny.

He does it again. Flame on, flame off.

SUE (CONT'D) Stop it.

JOHNNY Okay, "mom."

Reed's about to knock on Ben's door when he hears the banging, moaning and pleading inside. Johnny smiles.

JOHNNY (CONT'D) Oh, you dawg you. Better not be my nurse!

INT. VON DOOM COMPOUND - BEN'S ROOM - EARLY EVENING

REED (O.S.) Ben, are you there?

A creepy rippling movement begins beneath the sheet and gradually intensifies, reflected in the fabric's surface: the contours of Ben's body are changing, inflating, growing rough and craggy. SOUND of grinding heavy rocks.

SUE (O.S.) Open up Ben, we need to talk.

It all stops. A beat, then all four legs of the bed give way and it crashes to the floor. Under the covers, he groans in pain, and his voice is DEEPER, GRAVELY, but definitely CLEAR:

BEN LEAVE ME ALONE!!!

INT. VON DOOM COMPOUND - OUTSIDE BEN'S ROOM - EARLY EVENING

Reed decides they can't wait any longer. He kneels to the floor. He concentrates, not sure if it will work... Suddenly, his arm STRETCHES, THIN ENOUGH TO CREEP UNDER THE DOORJAMB.

INT. VON DOOM COMPOUND - BEN'S ROOM - EARLY EVENING

Reed's arm wriggles under the door. It bends upward, swiping clumsily, until it finally grabs the knob. Rubbery fingers find the latch and unlock the door.

INT. VON DOOM COMPOUND - OUTSIDE BEN'S ROOM - EARLY EVENING

Reed focuses, and pulls. His arm snakes out from under the door and snaps back into place. His flesh and bones reforming before their eyes. Johnny stares at Reed.

JOHNNY Ewwwwwwww. That is disgusting.

They hear a tremendous SMASH from inside the room.

INT. VON DOOM COMPOUND - BEN'S ROOM - EARLY EVENING

They open the door. The room is trashed. Every stick of furniture smashed to splinters.

REED ...Ben?

Their eyes adjust; there's a huge hole where the window used to be. They rush to it. Looking out they see SOMETHING LARGE in the distance, running away.

JOHNNY What is that thing?

SUE I think that thing is Ben.

Reed looks out, emotions roiling. Is that his best friend...? Suddenly, Victor comes around the corner (bandage bigger).

VICTOR What's going on?

SUE Victor, are you feeling alright?

He considers, but never shows weakness. He nods.

VICTOR Just a little banged up. A couple scrapes. Why?

REED Ben did this.

VICTOR Ben did this?

REED He's had some kind of...reaction to exposure from the cloud. And he's not the only one.

SUE We need to find him.

Victor redirects his attention to Sue.

SUE (CONT'D) Victor, I'm sorry I --

VICTOR (cold) Just find him.

Victor strides off, leaving the others.

JOHNNY Anybody know where the big guy's going?

We PUSH IN on a picture of Debbie lying on the floor, Reed knows exactly where Ben is going.

REED He's going home.

EXT. TRAIN YARD - NIGHT

A view from Brooklyn: Manhattan glistens in the distance. CAMERA MOVES down to A TRAIN YARD, where we find empty cargo trains. We PUSH IN on the main track, where...

A CARGO TRAIN has just stopped. We hear a cargo DOOR slide open, then WHUMP! Big FEET hit the ground. Someone, or someTHING barrels into the night.

EXT. BIG & TALL SHOP - NIGHT

A locked storefront on Flatbush Ave. SOUND of breaking glass.

INT. BIG & TALL SHOP - NIGHT

SERIES OF SHOTS: Ben tries on clothes, shoes. Jackets rip, shoes split. He needs an extra extra extra large.

EXT. PAY PHONE - NIGHT

A HUGE FIGURE is huddled in shadow. It's Ben.

CLOSE ON: The dial pad. Big fingers try to push keys but they're too large. Ben tries for a few seconds, getting more and more frustrated. He manages to press "0" with his pinky.

BEN Hello, Operator?

Ben looks up the street, into the 2nd story window of a modest, working-class home. His eyes go soft when he sees Debbie grab the phone.

BEN (CONT'D) Deb... It's me. I need you to step out front.

DEBBIE Out front? You home, baby? I got a surprise for you.

He blinks hard. Sad, dark.

BEN I got a surprise for you too.

EXT. BROOKLYN HOUSE - NIGHT

Debbie steps out. There is "WELCOME HOME" sign over the door. She looks out. The wind blows softly. Something shifts in the darkness. Debbie pulls her robe tighter.

DEBBIE Ben?

BEN (O.S.) Don't come any closer for a sec. This is gonna be kind of a shock... You remember when we said "together forever no matter what"?

DEBBIE Baby, you're scaring me.

A hanging beat. And Ben...steps into the light, where we SEE HIM FOR THE FIRST TIME: he's HUGE, easily twice the size he once was, and AN ORANGY ROCKY SURFACE COVERS HIS ENTIRE BODY.

Debbie sees him. Fear washes over her, not sure what to think. He reaches out, a little tentative. She flinches back.

DEBBIE Oh my G-g-g. What did you...do to Ben?

BEN Deb, it's me. It's still me.

He reaches out. She recoils. It's too much for her. Tears swell in her eyes. Covering her mouth, she backs away.

He takes a step closer. She backs away faster, tripping over her robe, falling into the street. A car screeches to a halt. Ben instinctively steps out to help, but she scurries back.

DEBBIE Don't...don't...DON'T TOUCH ME!

Her shout wakes NEIGHBORS. Lights flicker on. Ben knows he has to go. He looks at Debbie, sensing this is the last time he'll see her. She trembles, terrified. His eyes go moist.

BEN I love you, Deb.

With that, he turns away. The "WELCOME HOME" sign flutters, falls to the ground. A tragic tableau. As more lights go on around him, Ben picks up his pace, speeding into the dawn.

INT. VICTOR'S COMPOUND OFFICE - DAY

Victor packs a monogrammed Armani briefcase: "VDM" emblazoned on a gold plate. Leonard waits not-so-patiently.

VICTOR Make sure you find Ben, bring him back here. And keep it quiet. I don't need this to hit the press.

LEONARD Yes sir. You've got the Mayor at eight, then a nine-thirty interview with the Journal --

VICTOR Front page?

LEONARD Top left, like you asked. (a smile) Today Wall Street. Tomorrow, who knows...maybe Washington.

Victor turns to Leonard, disappointed with him.

VICTOR Leonard. Think bigger.

EXT. BROOKLYN BRIDGE - DAY

We swoop toward this epic monument. On a steel girder above the road, we see...a STATUE. BEN. He sits on the edge of the beams, staring down at the river below, brooding, muttering.

BEN A few days in space, it'll be great, what's the worst that could happen?

A PIGEON flutters past him, and drops a white gooey gift on his shoulder. Ben just glares up at the heavens.

BEN (CONT'D) Perfect. Thanks.

He hears the sound of someone SOBBING. He turns to see...a distraught BUSINESSMAN with a briefcase. The man drops his case, which PLUMMETS hundreds-of-feet into the RIVER.

The Businessman looks out, ready to jump. He doesn't see Ben (or doesn't realize Ben is not a statue).

BEN (CONT'D) You think you got trouble? Take a good look, pal, how bad could it be?

The Businessman looks at Ben, terrified. Ben steps forward.

BEN (CONT'D) Okay, easy there, buddy.

Backpedaling, the man SLIPS, FALLING toward the ROADWAY! His arms flail, grabbing a narrow beam -- his fingers hold tight while his legs thrash over speeding traffic. Cars and trucks SKIM right underfoot. Ben shakes his head.

BEN (CONT'D) You had to choose my spot, didn't you?

Ben steps out to help, but...his WEIGHT BENDS the beam! The Businessman LOSES HIS GRIP! He FALLS TO THE ROAD, landing hard on the highway! A few PEDESTRIANS see Ben. They point.

Ben looks up, deer in headlights. He sees a massive TRUCK bearing down on the Businessman.

BEN (CONT'D) This is really not my day.

Ben DROPS to the street. WHOOMPF! He lands in front of the Businessman, SWEEPS him out of the way with one arm, and turns to the oncoming 18 WHEELER CAB.

The DRIVER slams his brakes, eyes wide. The truck SWERVES, but cannot stop! Time slows to syrup, as Ben looks a little scared. He shuts his eyes, and...

SHOULDER-BLOCKS the INCOMING TRUCK! A football move. The truck BUCKLES, POPPING a WHEELIE, CRUMPLING all the way to the windshield! It looks like a metal car-compactor.

The truck SWERVES hard, its tail SMASHING into steel girders. CARS SCREECH, SWERVE, SLAMMING INTO EACH OTHER, CAUSING A FOUR-LANE TRAFFIC ACCIDENT! Windows shatter, fires flicker. One of the cars in an NYPD CRUISER. COPS clamber out.

EXT. CAB ON HIGHWAY - DAY

Reed, Johnny, and Sue sit in the back. They see the action on the bridge. Reed and Sue lock eyes, sensing the worst.

EXT. BROOKLYN BRIDGE - DAY

Ben stands in the middle of the chaos, staring at the destruction. He sees the tow-truck DRIVER bleeding, trapped in his cab. Ben moves to this burning hunk of steel.

He SWIPES through the shattered window, and PUNCHES the airbag, POPPING it like a kid's balloon. He tries to grab the seat-belt, but his fingers are TOO BIG. He struggles.

BEN A little help here?! You wanna hit that button, sir?

The driver is too woozy. Ben can't get to the button. Frustrated, he simply TEARS OFF THE DOOR, and RIPS THE DRIVER'S SEAT right out of the cab! COPS round the corner. They see Ben holding onto the Driver. They raise their guns.

COP FREEZE! PUT THE MAN AND THE SEAT DOWN!

Ben looks at the cops. PEDESTRIANS stare, point. He realizes how this must look -- a monster holding a bloody man in hand.

EXT. BROOKLYN BRIDGE - APPROACH - DAY

At the back of the traffic jam, cars SCREECH to stops. The whole bridge is FULL of bumper-to-bumper traffic. We PUSH TOWARD one car: three doors pop open, and out come...

REED, JOHNNY, SUE. They look through smoke and mayhem to see...their first full look at Ben. Reed stands gutpunched.

JOHNNY Not even Ben deserves that.

EXT. BROOKLYN BRIDGE - DAY

Ben puts the seat down, with the Driver on it. He lunges behind a truck. The cops try to follow, but FLAMES push them back. Ben lurches away, head down, self-conscious.

He tries to hide from ONLOOKERS around him and PEDESTRIANS on walkways overhead. He wants to escape, but hears SCREAMING MOTORISTS. He grits his teeth, and moves to help them.

EXT. BROOKLYN BRIDGE - GRIDLOCK - DAY

Reed, Sue, and Johnny race toward the flames. All other people head in the OPPOSITE DIRECTION. BRIDGE POLICE herd the crowd away from the accident.

BRIDGE COP Back! We're evac-ing the bridge.

Reed, Sue, and Johnny slow down, swap glances.

SUE What now? Reed...? What do we do?

MOVE IN ON REED. A first test of leadership. But he is not a leader. Not yet. Sue gets closer to him.

SUE (CONT'D) Ben's out there. Let's go get him.

BRIDGE COP Maybe you didn't hear me. Those cars are gonna blow sky high, any second.

REED Look, we've got a friend out there in trouble. We need to get to him before --

BRIDGE COP #2 Nobody gets past this point.

A hard beat. Reed signals Sue with a look, a nod.

SUE What?

REED (mutters) We need to get past them.

He motions to her body. She understands. She concentrates, and starts to turn invisible.

BRIDGE COP #1 What the hell is this? A magic show?

But her clothes don't go invisible. Beat. Reed mutters:

REED Sue. Your clothes. Lose them.

SUE What...? (realizes) Oh.

She unbuttons her blouse. Not thrilled with the idea. She wriggles out of her pants. Down to her skivvies. She reaches back to undo her bra...momentarily loses concentration and becomes visible. The sight of Sue in her undies grabs the COPS' attention. Everyone watches, stunned.

The realization that she's visible hits her like a ton of bricks. Cops are transfixed. So is Reed.

JOHNNY This is wrong in so many ways.

REED You've been working out.

SUE Shut up.

Sue takes a deep breath. Closes her eyes. Focuses. Nothing happens. She's embarrassed and furious.

SUE (CONT'D) Any more ideas, Reed? Maybe you should strip down next, see how it feels to have fifty people staring --

...and she DISAPPEARS. Entirely. Undies float. Jaws drop.

REED Uh, Sue?

She stops ranting. Realizes she's gone invisible.

SUE (INVISIBLE) Oh. Well then...

The undies drop. The cops stare open-mouthed. They turn to look at Reed, astonished. He sheepishly shrugs his shoulders.

JOHNNY I'm gonna need serious therapy.

A beat. She walks away. The cops watch her, gaping. By the time they turn back around, Reed and Johnny are gone, disappearing into the clouds of smoke.

EXT. BROOKLYN BRIDGE - DAY

A news CHOPPER flies around the bridge, fighting for the best angle on the action.

EXT. BROOKLYN BRIDGE - ACCIDENT - DAY

Reed races through wreckage. He tries to see over a big TRUCK, and his neck STREEETCHES!

He finally sees...BEN. Reed wraps around a car, and...BOO! His face snakes right in front of Ben. Ben jumps.

BEN What the --!

REED Ben. Are you okay?

BEN Am I okay?! You wanna explain that?!

He motions to Reed's neck. Then to his own body:

BEN (CONT'D) Or this?! What the hell am I? 'Cause I sure ain't Ben anymore.

Reed opens his mouth, but he has no answer. Not yet.

SUE (O.S.) REED! BEN! LOOK OUT!

Ben spins, looking for Sue. He can't see her. But he does see...A CAR INCHES AWAY, WITH GAS TANK FLAMING!

BOOOOM! The first car BLOWS! BOOOM!BOOOOM!BOOOOOM! Empty cars BLOW in a chain-reaction. The flames are mushrooming!

Reed SWIPES his ARMS OUT, holding people back. His arms FLATTEN to form a barricade -- FACES INDENT his skin.

FLAMES lash out. A pack of attractive YOUNG WOMEN scream. Johnny LEAPS toward them. His feet LEAVE THE GROUND, giving him extra lift. He SPINS, lands, and embraces the women, SHIELDING them from flames which burn up his back. He looks the ladies up and down, and gives a cheesy smile.

Sue SCREAMS. She puts her hands up (a normal reflex). The air seems to RIPPLE around her hands, like FORCE-FIELDS.

She looks at them, surprised, confused. Her invisible fields SPIRAL OUT, partially CONTAINING the blast. But the flames hurtle closer. She fights the pressure. Blood trickles from her nose. Just as the white hot blast is about to hit her...

Sue is dressed again. Visible. She SCREAMS, and PUSHES THE FORCE DOWN INTO THE ROAD! She collapses, as the blast deflects off the street and into...

An oncoming FIRETRUCK! BOOOOM! The firetruck is KNOCKED OFF THE GROUND, SLEWING SIDEWAYS. Brakes scream. Its tail slashes out, PUNCHING through the guard-rail.

THE BACK OF THE TRUCK DANGLES OUT, HUNDREDS OF FEET ABOVE THE WATER! FIREMEN hang off the back and sides. The truck TEETERS, falling! Ben wastes no time. He GRABS onto the front of the truck, just as it goes off the side!

He DIGS his heels into the ground, but his feet DRAG across the concrete, digging grooves into the street.

ON THE DANGLING FIRETRUCK: FIREMEN climb out, clawing toward the bridge. Their truck SWINGS. Bits and pieces tumble down at them -- a hose, an axe, a helmet. All deadly now. The HANGING LADDER swoops down, with men RIDING ON IT!

Ben SCREAMS! STRAINING with all his might. Ben SCREAMS! His muscles ripple, and...he takes his first step...back. Another scream. Another step. Another. Another. Epic, painful.

He is pulling the truck back onto the bridge, inch by inch. His footsteps THUD. With monumental effort, he levels the truck. Firemen scurry over hoses and ladders, some climbing over Ben.

Reed tends to Sue who has fainted from her effort. Ben steps back from the truck and slumps to the street exhausted. Wary cops close in to cover him with weapons, but...

The FIREMEN slowly begin to APPLAUD. The crowd of onlookers joins in as well. Sue, Reed, and Johnny seem surprised, touched by the reaction. But Ben seems uncomfortable.

Firemen step forward to offer Reed a couple of their coats; he hands one to Johnny and uses the other to cover Sue.

EXT. BROOKLYN BRIDGE - DAY

Ben sees a familiar face in the masses: DEBBIE. Ben steps toward her, but she stops him with a look. She places something on the ground and runs off into the crowd.

Ben sees something GLISTENING on the ground. He stoops over to pick up...her ENGAGEMENT RING. His big fingers can't grip it. He tries in vain. Hopeless, pathetic. A beat. And...

A hand grabs the ring. It's Reed. Quiet, close.

REED I swear to you, I will do everything in my power until there is not a breath left in me: you are going to be Ben again.

Off the wounded look in Ben's eyes, wanting to believe him...

INT. VICTOR'S OFFICE - DAY

Victor sits with remote in hand, staring at his plasma TV. ON THE TV: he sees a crowd of firemen applauding the new Fantastic Four. For the first time they strike a heroic pose. Leonard enters, with a phone in his hand.

LEONARD Uh, sir...Larry King called, to cancel. (seeing the TV, a beat) Apparently, there's a bigger story.

Victor sees Reed put his arms around Sue as he covers her with the jacket. And the penny drops: he's FURIOUS. As it hits him, he feels something odd. He looks down at his hand...at glints of gleaming METAL poking through flesh.

EXT./INT. EMERGENCY HOLDING AREA - DAY

An impromptu command center -- a series of police tents, surrounded by EMERGENCY VEHICLES, NEWS VANS, FIRETRUCKS.

INT. EMERGENCY HOLDING AREA - TENT - DAY

Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny sit together, getting changed. They get ready to go, but the CHIEF FIREMAN enters, stopping them.

CHIEF FIREMAN There's some folks outside, want to talk to you.

REED We're not going public with this. We're scientists, not celebrities.

CHIEF FIREMAN Too late, son.

He turns on a little TV MONITOR in the corner. NEWS FOOTAGE plays on all stations, with the tagline: FANTASTIC FOUR.

CHIEF FIREMAN (CONT'D) That's what they're calling you. The Fantastic Four.

JOHNNY Nice.

Johnny heads for the exit.

SUE Johnny, slow down. Let's think this through, a second.

Johnny pauses. Rubs his chin once. And...

JOHNNY Okay. Done thinking.

He runs out. Sue, Ben, and Reed swap glances, knowing Johnny cannot be their spokesman. They take off after him, out to --

EXT. EMERGENCY HOLDING AREA - PRESS FIELD - DAY

CLICKCLICKCLICK! Fifty cameras flash. The field is full of press. Our heroes freeze, shocked by the crowd.

Johnny eats up the attention. Ben turns, self-conscious. Reed notices. The Chief Fireman turns to them.

CHIEF FIREMAN So which one of you's the leader?

Johnny does not hesitate.

JOHNNY That'd be me.

CHIEF FIREMAN No seriously.

A beat. Sue and Ben turn to Reed. The Chief hands him a mic.

CHIEF FIREMAN (CONT'D) You're on, son. They all want a statement.

All eyes go on Reed. He looks out, gulps hard. A long beat.

REED Uh, during our recent mission to the Von Doom space station, we were exposed to as yet-unidentified radioactive energy, most likely some kind of nucleotide compoun--

Nobody came for a science class. A crush of questions overwhelms Reed:

VARIOUS REPORTERS What happened on the bridge? Does it hurt to stretch? Were you really on fire? Is it true that one of you can fly?

JOHNNY Working on it. And it's a lot harder --

SUE We don't know much more than you do, at this point. Which is why we will be going directly to the lab, where we can diagnose our symptoms and --

REPORTER #2 Symptoms? So it's like a disease?

Reed looks at Ben's face, feeling the guilt. Ben is lost in thought, looking at Deb's ENGAGEMENT RING. Johnny leaps in.

JOHNNY Symptoms? Please. If having powers is a disease, then yeah we got it. And we are gonna blow your minds. There's a new day dawning. The day of the Fantastic Four.

REPORTER #3 That thing doesn't look too fantastic.

The Reporter nods toward Ben. Ben's fists tighten, the sound of rocks crushing together. Reed feels the pain.

REED Ben Grimm is a genuine American hero who's been through a terrible orde--

JOHNNY What he's trying to say is: every team needs a mascot...

Reporters laugh. Ben turns his head away. Reed burns.

REED Look, we went up to space to find a way to understand DNA, to cure disease, save lives. Well, now it's our DNA, our disease, our lives on the line... (a beat) Thank you. No more questions.

Reed, Sue, and Ben get up to go. The press waits a beat, then surges. Ben spins, holding up one finger. A giant.

BEN Be nice.

The press step back, intimidated. Flashbulbs POP, and Ben's FACE FREEZES. It goes BLACK-AND-WHITE on a NEW YORK POST in --

EXT. BANK - DAY

Establishing shot of a historic New York building.

INT. BANK - CONFERENCE ROOM - CONTINUOUS

BANKERS sit around a table. LAPTOPS hum. The lead banker is power-broker NED CECIL. The men keep their eyes on Victor.

NED CECIL Well, Victor, the bank would like to congratulate you. On the fastest freefall since the Depression. We can't even give your stock away.

VICTOR Ned, you know I can turn this around.

Ned motions to the paper, the picture of BEN.

NED CECIL You promised a cure-all, and came back with this. Who the hell's going to invest in a biotech company that turns its workers into circus freaks?

Victor's grip tightens around the table, and...the LAPTOPS FLICKER, losing feeds.

Victor looks down at his hands -- a private beat (did I do that?) He lets go of the table; screens go back to normal.

VICTOR (pointed) I really appreciate all your support.

NED CECIL You've got a week, Victor. One week to turn this around. Or we pull out... (a beat) This meeting is over.

Victor looks at him, blood boiling, and we CUT HARD TO --

INT. BANK - HALLWAY - DAY

Victor and Leonard stride out. Victor is writhing.

VICTOR Goddamn book-keeper doesn't know preferred stock from livestock.

Leonard is thinking all business.

LEONARD Sir. Reed's comments at that press conference killed us. How are we going to turn this around?

Victor considers. His mind races, eyes narrow.

VICTOR Very simple. I cure them. If I can cure these freaks, then I can cure anyone. What better way to restore my reputation?

Leonard nods, impressed. Victor is a man in motion. As they step into sunlight, we cut to...CLICKCLICKCLICK in --

EXT. BAXTER BUILDING - DAY

REPORTERS snap pictures. A POLICE CONVOY drives up, stopping in front of a towering HIGH-RISE. Sue, Reed, and Johnny and get out of a police-car. Ben steps out of a BIG PADDY-WAGON, which immediately bounces back up to the normal axle position.

COPS hold back the surging press. Ben keeps his head down, self-conscious. He passes Johnny, smiling for the cameras.

JOHNNY Smile, Ben. They want to like you. Give 'em your good side. Or your less bad side.

Ben turns to a group of LITTLE KIDS. Stiff, tentative:

BEN Uh...don't do drugs.

The kids FLINCH. Ben trudges on. Johnny smiles bright, doing hand-signs for F4. Sue pulls him toward --

INT. BAXTER BUILDING - LOBBY - DAY

The Fantastic Four enter. They are greeted by JIMMY O'HOOLIHAN, an old-time doorman with a kind smile.

O'HOOLIHAN Welcome back to the Baxter, Dr. Richards. All that for you?

He motions to the flashing cameras outside.

REED I'm afraid so...

He searches for the name. Sue steps up.

SUE Jimmy. Good to see you again.

He smiles at Sue, then at Reed.

O'HOOLIHAN Good to see you too... Don't worry, sir. I know how crowded that head of yours is.

REED Any visitors while I was away?

O'HOOLIHAN Just the usual. Told 'em you were circling round outer space.

He opens a drawer full of LETTERS from the BANK. Reed looks sheepish. He shuts the drawer, looks to Johnny and Sue.

REED We had a tough year.

BEN Yeah, nine years straight.

Reed looks at Ben. Thanks a lot. DING. Elevator doors open.

INT. BAXTER BUILDING - ELEVATOR - DAY

They enter. Reed hits the top button, for the 20TH FLOOR.

JOHNNY Twenty? From outside the place looks a lot taller.

REED Oh, it is.

The doors close, but...the ELEVATOR does not move. A beat.

JOHNNY Either we're moving really fast...or not at all.

A digital readout on the panel: EXCEED MAXIMUM WEIGHT. A sign reads: MAXIMUM CAPACITY: 2000 pounds. They turn to Ben.

BEN I'll take the stairs.

Doors open. He lumbers out. As the doors close behind him, he looks back over his shoulder, locking eyes with Reed.

INT. BAXTER BUILDING - ELEVATOR - DAY

The elevator rises. Reed roils with guilt.

SUE How come Ben can't turn it on and off like us?

REED That's what we're here to find out.

SUE If it happened to him, then it could...

Happen to all of them. Reed nods softly.

JOHNNY Wait. You mean there's chance we could be full-on-24-7-fantastic?

SUE Grow up, Johnny. You want to run around on fire for the rest of your life?

JOHNNY Is that a trick question? C'mon, I can't be the only one who thinks this is cool.

Reed considers. But Sue cuts him short with a look.

DING! The elevator stops.

INT. BAXTER BUILDING - ATRIUM - MOMENTS LATER

The elevator opens. They step out. They might be on the 20th floor, but Reed owns the building from here to floor sixty. It's a massive atrium, lit by skylights far above --

Reed leads them into another area filled with separate "apartments" and all the amenities of home.

REED We should stay here until we can define the extent of our changes...

JOHNNY This place is deluxe. You got cable?

REED (hearing Ben's FOOTSTEPS) ...and figure out how to reverse them. Let me show you to your rooms.

EXT. BAXTER BUILDING - DAY

The press has died down, but there are still plenty of cameras. A MAYBACH SEDAN rolls up. Victor emerges, wearing sunglasses. This time, the press pay no attention to him. No cameras flash. Victor tightens, and enters the building.

INT. SUE'S ROOM - DAY

Sue walks out of the bathroom in a robe, drying her hair. She notices a familiar book on a shelf: a SCRAPBOOK.

She flips through it. It's filled with pictures of Reed and his inventions -- a lot less fancy than Victor's multimedia globe. She stops at a picture of her and Reed in COLLEGE.

A noise, and she turns, flinching slightly, surprised to see...VICTOR. He smiles, standing at the door, watching her.

VICTOR God, I've been so worried about you.

She notices the scar on his head.

SUE Victor, your scar --

VICTOR I told you, I'm fine. It's you I'm worried about.

SUE I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to --

VICTOR Please, no apologies. I've arranged for your things to be moved to one of my condos. You'll have round-the clock care.

He goes for her bag. But she stops him. A half beat.

SUE Thank you, that's generous, but I think I should stay here. With my brother. Until we get a handle on this.

Victor is not used to being rebuffed. He gives a thin smile.

VICTOR Sue. I think you should let my doctors have a look at you.

A tense beat. Standoff. Made more tense by --

REED (O.S.) Victor! What are you doing here?

They turn to see Reed approaching, with files in hand.

VICTOR I'm starting to wonder the same thing... How much do you know about what happened to you?

REED Not much. We need to run tests to see the extent of the damage.

Victor pauses. He looks at Sue, knowing she's here to stay.

VICTOR Well, let me know if there is anything I can do. We're all in this together now.

Victor shakes Reed's hand. His GRIP is so tight that Reed's fingers STRETCH. Victor lets go, and turns to Sue, who puts her hand out. He smiles, and shakes. He heads off.

Reed looks at his hand. Shakes his wrist. He looks at Victor.

INT. BAXTER BUILDING - HALL - DAY

Victor moves fast, holds tight to his anger. Reed catches up.

REED Victor wait... I just wanted to say, I'm sorry the mission didn't go as planned --

Victor suddenly WHEELS on Reed. Lights flicker.

VICTOR Didn't go as planned? It was a catastrophe. You ruined the lives of four people --

REED I ruined? With all due respect, I told you to abort --

VICTOR Abort? Reed, I put my company, my name, billions of dollars on the line, and I will not let you make me look like a fool --

REED Victor, if we could understand what happened to us --

VICTOR I don't want to understand it. This isn't one of your science projects. I just want to fix it. Fast!

Reed sees Victor's SCAR maybe growing. Lights dim.

>>>

/ Fantastic Four.
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