(The year is 3006. The scene is O'Zorgnax's Pub in New New York City. Two figures are sitting in a private booth. Both are humanoid - one is a human female who appears to be in her mid-20's. She has long red hair and is dressed in casual clothing typical of the 31st century. The other does not appear to be human, but instead seems to be a male humanoid composed of orange rocks. He is dressed in casual clothing as well, but clothing more typical of the 20th Century. They both have drinks in front of them. The woman's drink is red, the man's - for it is a man, though a man like no other- is dark brown. The woman speaks.
"Thanks again for agreeing to this interview, Ben." Her voice contains a trace of an English accent.
"No problem, Becky," the man replies in a voice redolent of Old New York. "It's nice to know people still remember me."
"Alright then" she says as she pulls out a small recording device. she speaks into it. "Open new file 'Burdock 109' subtitle, 'Ben Grimm Interview'. Begin recording.")
BECKY BURDOCK: I'm here today to interview Benjamin J. Grimm, sole survivor of the legendary Fantastic Four, and one of the few surviving heroes of what is known as the 'Heroic Age' of Earth's 20th and early 21st Centuries. Today we hope to discuss both the adventures for which he is a legend, and to fill in the story of the years he has lived since those days. Ben, if you're ready?
BEN GRIMM: Let her rip!
BB: Well, let's start with your childhood. You were born in Old New York in 1925...
BG: That's right, on Yancy Street, on the Lower East Side. Me, my parents, my brother Daniel. We were dirt-poor, but we were a happy family.
BB: Yancy Street was a very violent area, wasn't it?
BG: Oh, yeah. There were gangs everywhere. Our parents tried to keep us out of them, but Danny got caught up in the gangs and was killed in a fight in 1933 when I was just eight. My parents were killed a few years later, and I was sent to live with my Uncle Jake.
BB: What were you like as a student?
BG: So-so. I did pretty well in football, but not so well in class. I wasn't stupid, but I wasn't a born scholar, that's for sure.
BB: When did you become aware of the first super-heroes?
BG: Well, in those days we called them "mystery men". We first started hearing about them in the early 30's. Most of the first ones were just guys in funny costumes - there weren't many super-powered ones at first. They weren't a big concern - considering how many of them ended up in New York later on, there weren't many there at first. We were more concerned about what was going on in Europe.
BB: You mean the rise of Hitler?
BG: That's right. We were Jewish, you know, and every day it seemed we heard worse and worse stuff coming out of Germany. Alot of us had cousins over there. The smart ones, the lucky ones - they got out if they could.
BB: You were 13 at the time of the second invasion of the "Tripod" Martians.
BG: That's right. It didn't seem real to us. Of course, thanks to Popeye and Superman, they never made it out of New Jersey. The next year, the war started in Europe, and we forgot all about the Martians. That was also right around the time the first Torch and Namor showed up. I saw them fight, you know. Little did I know that I would get to know Namor very well twenty years later.
BB: You were 16 at the time of Pearl Harbor.
BG: That's right. Oh, I wanted to sign up - we all did. But Jake made me wait until I was 18. I signed up in '43 - saw action in both Europe and the Pacific. Met Cap - Captain America, that is - during the war. Another guy I would get to know real well later on. The war ended, and I came home. I went to Empire State University on the G.I. Bill. I was old for a college student - alot of us were in those days.
BB: It was at ESU that you met Reed Richards?
BG: That's right. He was on the G.I. Bill, too. Reed was a big brain even then. Alot of people thought it was odd for the two of us to be friends, but he and I hit it off right away. Heh, I needed a friend who could help me study, and he needed me to pry him out of the lab once in awhile. To this day, I remember him talking about the space rocket he was going to build. I told him I'd pilot it for him. I should of kept quiet.
BB: What did you do after you got out of college?
BG: I joined the Air Force. Eventually I became a test pilot for experimental vehicles. I spent a good chunk of the 50's testing aircraft and fighting giant bugs. I had just left the service in 1960 when I heard from Reed again for the first time in awhile. My life was about to change forever.
BB: This was the beginning of the Fantastic Four?
BG: Yeah, I suppose everyone knows the story, even today - Reed was calling in my promise to pilot his rocketship. I was fine with that, but he kept pushing to go up as soon as possible, without enough shielding.
BB: That was when you met Sue and Johnny Storm?
BG: Around that time, yes. I liked Sue straight away - I might've made a play for her, if I couldn't tell she was already stuck on Reed. And Johnny? Well, he was just a kid. We must've been nuts bringing them with us, but they insisted. Anyway,everyone has heard the story of how we went up, and the cosmic rays changed us, and we became the F.F.
BB: I know you've discussed it at length in your autobiography, but maybe you'd talk a little about what it was like after you were first changed.
BG: Well it was hard. Do you know what it's like to wake up, and lie there feeling good, and then suddenly remember that you're a monster?
BB: More than you might think.
BG: Well, that's true, I suppose, but at least you were still human-looking. No one ran screaming from you - unless you showed them your teeth, of course. Anyway, all of a sudden nothing was strong enough to hold you, everything was breakable. And, how to put it - interpersonal relations, shall we say, became problematical. I mean to say, anything physical - it was out of the question, unless it was another superhuman.
BB: But, for a time at least, you were involved with the sculptor Alicia Masters.
BG: Yeah, that's right. Poor Alicia, what I put that woman through. In the end, it wasn't emotional stuff that did us in, or even physical - at least not "interpersonal" stuff. In the end, it was something that Reed told me.
BB: Which was?
BG: Well, Reed was always doing research on my condition, trying to cure me, trying to figure out my limitations, that sort of thing. Anyway, one day he came to me and told me that if I remained the Thing, I was likely to live a very long time - Something on the order of a thousand years, maybe more. That floored me. Of course, I still had hopes of being cured, but if I wasn't...Well, to get involved with someone I was going to outlive not by a few years, but by centuries - it just didn't seem right, somehow. Alicia and I stayed friends, she ended up marrying a painter, nice guy, he did a portrait of me, I kept it for years, it got burnt up when the Daleks invaded in the 22nd Century.
BB: Let's talk about some of the people you encountered while you were part of the Fantastic Four.
BB: Well, let's begin with Doctor Doom.
BG: Doom, there's a name I can never hear comfortably. For the whole history of the FF, we fought him, us and every other hero on Earth. And then, even after he died, that crazy daughter of his...
BB: So you believe Sailor Doom was really Doom's daughter?
BG: Reed did, and whom am I to argue with him? Anyway, Doom vanished around - what was it, 2000? To this day, I wonder if he's really dead.
BB: But surely after a thousand years...
BG: His daughter lived three hundred years, who's to say what Doom could do?
BB: You also fought Galactus when he visited Earth in 1966.
BG: That's right, him and the Surfer. We ran into the Big G a couple of times, on Earth and in space. Reed used to get aliens dropping in sometimes, asking how we fought him off.
BB: Of course, Galactus hasn't been seen in the spaces we know in over five hundred years.
BG: Well,space is a big place, and there was no reason for him to hang around these parts. Galactus once said that Reed was the closest thing he'd ever had to a friend. Sometimes I think he took off for parts unknown just so that he wouldn't ever have to fight Reed again.
BB: The FF stayed together until 1986.
BG: That's right. By then, Reed was in his early 60's, so he retired to do research. Sue was still pretty chipper, but she was ready to call it quits, by then, too. Johnny and I thought about carrying on with new members, but the FF was always about the four of us. It just wouldn't've been the same with anyone else. So, we went our separate ways . Johnny joined up with the Avengers and I went out on my own for awhile.
BB: Was it during this period that you encountered the Quantum Quartet?
BG: Well, a few years later, in 1993. There was this Doom wannabe, and he exposed this family to cosmic rays, gave them powers just like ours. It was a Chicago shoe salesman named Bundy, and his wife and kids. Anyway, they turned up fighting crime, and Reed sent me out to check them out, bring them into his lab so he could look them over. I ended up talking to the daughter, Kelly, she was about 21, and she'd ended up being turned into a female version of me. It was hard on her. I mean, it'd been hard on me, and I wasn't exactly the second coming of Errol Flynn to begin with. Kelly'd been a real looker, someone who'd pretty much gotten by on her looks in fact, and she'd had that taken away. I was able to talk to her,share what she'd been going through, and one thing led to another and well, we got- involved. I know how it sounds - heck, I was just about old enough to be her granddad, but when you look like this, that doesn't seem to mean as much. And, well, you remember what I told you about how my options were limited to "super" women. There weren't that many around the fit the bill, and most of them were already spoken for. We were - together- for awhile, but after awhile... Kell wasn't exactly stupid, per se, but as I say, she'd gotten by on her looks most of her life - she hadn't really had to develop, er, intellectually, you might say. And after awhile the difference in our ages got to be an issue. We parted fairly amicably.
BB: And then you joined the Justice Society?
BG: That's right, it was a little while after that. I'd known the JSA for years, since the 60's. Alot of them were of my generation, guys who'd been in the war, their kids. It was family, not quite like the FF, but as close as I'd come. I enjoyed working with the kids in the JSA, so much so that when Xavier and Howlett came to me with the PS 238 idea, I jumped at the chance.
BB: What was PS 238?
BG: It was a school for younger mutants and metahumans. Sort of an elementary school to complement Hero High and the Westchester School, which were more like a high school and college prep kind of places. Alot of people were surprised by the idea of me as an educator - but they forget, you can't be a test pilot and be an idiot. And I'd come to like helping kids learn. It keeps you young, you know. Anyway, I ran the school for about twenty years or so. Then I decided to get back into test piloting again, this time for space ships. By that time, space travel within the solar system had become pretty commonplace. We had contact with Titan, Planet X and the Treen. Humans were living on the Moon, Mars, Venus, out in the asteroids...and the first attempts at interstellar ships were being built. There was alot of work for an experienced pilot that could handle way more physical stress than most people.
BB: You were off-Earth during the Great Disaster.
BG: That's right. I was out in the Oort Cloud testing a ship for Stark Interplanetary when it happened. I didn't even hear about it until I got back to Pluto, and by then it was all over. It was total chaos - no one knew what was going on. I couldn't even get a ship back to Earth for over a year. By then, the Judges were running North America. When I did get back to Earth, everything had changed - most of the metahumans and mutants were dead or trapped in other dimensions, alot of the aliens living on Earth had left or were leaving, magic hardly worked anymore, and the "Stabilization" had taken place.Before the Disaster, most people had figured that the majority of the human race would be super-human by 2100 or 2150, at the latest. Instead, hardly any new super-humans were born and stuff like Terrigen didn't do anything to 99% of the human race except make them cough. The few super-humans that did exist really stood out.
BB: Of course, you were a big part of the Rebuilding.
BG: That's right, and that's when I ran into Kelly Bundy, again. She'd been through the Disaster and she'd seen alot. It'd changed her, matured her. The age difference didn't seem so much, either. We got together again, stayed together about sixty years or so, through the Rebuilding and the first Breakout. We started a family together, had a few kids that looked like us. I still run into a few descendants, now and them, it's kind of funny. Eventually, we went our own ways, Kelly and me. It wasn't a big break-up, or anything like that. It's just - living together happily ever after's a different story when it stretches out into centuries. We still get together from time to time, every few decades or so. She keeps better track of the kids than I do, so she keeps me up to date on them.
BB: Were you involved in the Romulan War at all?
BG: Some - some covert stuff. Some stuff I can't talk about even today. I came back to Earth after the war. I was here when the Daleks invaded. I saw the first destruction of Old New York. Lost most of my stuff from the old days then. Saw alot of good people killed. Thirty years rebuilding the city, and then the Gamilons wrecked it again. I watched them lay the foundations of New New York in 2205. Anyway, after all that, I decided to get away from Earth for awhile. I bought a starship and took off for deep space. Knocked around the Beta Quadrant, did an occasional mission for Starfleet. I had all sorts of adventures. Before I knew it, two hundred years or so'd gone by - it was about 2410 when I decided to head back to Earth. I was pretty far out - so far out that I was the first Earthman alot of those folks'd seen. When they met regular humans they didn't always believe they were from the same planet as me.
BB: So, you went back to Earth?
BG: Yeah, but as I say, I was so far out, it actually took me fifty years to get back. It was actually 2463 before I set foot on Earth again.
BB: What was your reaction on seeing Earth again?
BG: Well, so much had changed. I didn't feel at home on Earth anymore. Oh, no one looked at me funny, and alot of folks were eager to talk to me - historians, scientists, Federation Intelligence...But, I could tell, too, that the Federation was in decline, on its way out. It was sad. If I'd been Reed or Cap, or someone, maybe I could've figured out a way to stop it. I tried talking to people, but alot of the bigshots tended to treat me like an antique or a relic. Good for work that required muscle, but not much else. And Earth had changed alot. It just wasn't the world I remembered. Maybe if I'd lived through the changes...Anyhow, after a few years of that. I bought a newer starship, and took off for deep space again. You could call it running away, I suppose, but I was fed up.
BB: Where did you go?
BG: Nowhere. Everywhere. If there wasn't much good I could do on Earth, there was plenty of places a guy like me could do some good. and once the Imperium took over, I was pretty much persona non grata in Earthspace - not exactly a criminal, but unpopular with the powers that were.
BB: But you came back to Earth in the mid-28th Century...
BG: Yeah, well, I started hearing stories that mutants were being born on Earth again, and they were, but not mutants like I'd known when I was young. These were the kind of mutants we have today - and the Imperium was sweeping them under the rug, making them live underground, that kind of thing. But it meant something else, too. The effects of the Great Disaster were starting to wear off, at least a little. Sure enough, by 2800, the barriers between the dimensions broke down. Alot of the heroes that'd been trapped in other realms after the Disaster were still alive, and their descendants, too. Some of them were changed in weird ways, other were exactly the same as they'd always been. And they flooded back to our side. It was great seeing them, again. That was when you came back, wasn't it, Becky?
BB: That's right.
BG: Anyway, the Imperium freaked out - all these super-humans they couldn't control, flooding the Earth. All those fighters for justice suddenly appearing, and the Imperium wasn't exactly Justice Central, was it? They were done, and they knew it, even if they did hold on for another century before the DOOP took over. Between the old heroes, and the new kids in the Legion, things are pretty peaceful on Earth, right now.
BB: What are you doing now?
BG: Well, for whatever reason, New New York's more like the New York I remember now than it has been for years. So, I keep an apartment here - Kelly and I share the place, although we're almost never there at the same time these days. We've each got friends and family scattered over half the galaxy. So, I like to visit them, re-visit some of the places I helped in the past, see how they're doing now, help out the Legion once in awhile, that kind of thing. The docs say I've got maybe another two, three hundred years, Kell maybe another four or five hundred. We know we won't last forever. What was it Steve Trevor once said? "No one lives forever except the Spectre, and he's dead."
BB: So, no great plans for the future?
BG: Nah, I'll just take things as they come. I've lived a long time, and had my fill of adventure. Of course, if the kids ever need an old-timer's help, I won't say no.
BB: Any regrets?
(He pauses, and for a moment it looks as though he might not answer. Finally , he speaks.)
BG: Not really. I mean, sometimes I think about what it might have been like if I hadn't piloted that ship for Reed - or at least had insisted on better shielding. I might have lived out a normal man's life, and been a thousand year's dead by now. But, things worked out how they did, and I've seen so much, done so much. I gotta say it's all been worth it.
BB: Do you ever miss the old days?
BG: Not so much the old days as the people that I knew back then. Reed, Sue, and Johnny, of course, and Jake and Petunia, Danny, my parents, and Alicia, Steve, Spidey, Hal, so many others. You know the Doctor?
BB: Oh, yes.
BG: About two hundred years ago, I ran into him out in space. I asked to take me back to the old days for a visit, and he wouldn't do it. Said it would foul up the Web of Time, or something. Now, I think it was just as well. I think maybe he knew that sometimes you just have to let the past be ...well...past.
BB: Any final thoughts?
BG: Not really. In a thousand years, I still haven't acquired the knack of coming out with deep philosophical insights or making up pithy sayings, or whatever. All II would say is: Enjoy life, make the most of it. Don't let an opportunity to let something new, or good, or exciting pass you by. No matter how long you live, life's too short to waste any of it.
BB: Ben Grimm, I thank you very much for speaking with me today.
BG: Anytime, Becks.
(Becky stops recording. She and Ben chat amicably for a while, and finish their drinks. As they get up to leave, a red-haired young man and a bending unit enter the pub. The young man recognizes Ben and eagerly asks for his autograph. Ben complies cheerfully. "Ah, me public", he says.)