‘Dog - do you see? Project Resurrection has failed. The containment field is breached. We are all dead men!’ the local boy gasps as he and his dog stand on the edge of the AIM facility, where Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America and the villain MODOK fall into the facility, as a beam of energy pours upwards from its base. ‘That rumbling? This entire complex is about to collapse!’ Captain America exclaims as he looks upwards, wearing his new armor-costume. ‘Of course it is, Avenger. We witness the unleashing of the awesome power contained in the merest fragment of a Cosmic Cube!’ MODOK screeches, adding that no structure made by man can hope to contain such energy, as it is the very stuff of creation. The boy goes wide-eyed, ‘Captain America! The MODOK unit is right’ the boy calls out, informing Captain America that the cosmic energy is building to critical levels, that he must leave this place.
‘Good Lord! The boy who rescued me - I’ve got to get him out of -’ Cap begins as he looks up to the ground above, but he is too late, as all across the surface of the island known as Boca Caliente, the ground crumbles and buckles, as explosions of pure cosmic energy burst skyward, the very atmosphere reacts violently to this sudden, brutal assault, as hurricane force winds pound the besieged island.
Several kilometers distant, the Black Widow a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff, Hercules and Henry Pym a.k.a. Giant Man, three of the Avengers, find themselves at the heart of a maelstrom, and are knocked about in the air.
By sacred Olympus! Never has there been such a sto-’ Hercules calls out, before he hits the ground with a whump. The Black Widow is more graceful and manages to somersault into a safer landing position, while telling Giant Man to find something to hold onto. ‘I’m way ahead of you, Natasha!’ Giant Man calls out, before asking Hercules if he is all right. Hercules replies that he is, before pointing out that he can barely hear his teammates over the screaming of the winds - when, suddenly, the storm is over as quickly as it began. ‘That’s not the half of it, Avenger!’ Giant Man declares, as the heroes find themselves standing on a large metal-clad facility. ‘The island? What’s happened to the island?’ the Black Widow asks.
‘We’re seeing it as it really is, Natasha. A vast artificial construct created by the AIM Adaptoids. Everything else was illusion carefully maintained by the Cube fragment’ Giant Man, the team’s resident brilliant scientist, explains. ‘Then the loss of the illusion can only mean something’s gone wrong with the island’s energy source’ the Black Widow deduces. At that moment, ‘Avengers!’ Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff calls out to his teammates as he and his estranged wife, the Inhuman Crystal, speed into view, Crystal carried in Quicksilver’s arms. Quicksilver collapses after setting Crystal down, ‘We were growing concerned. Pietro are you all right?’ Hercules asks as he helps the mutant, who replies that he is just a little winded. Giant Man asks Crystal if she saw any sign of Cap and the others, but Crystal tells him that there was none. ‘We were caught in that sudden storm -’ Crystal begins, before the Black Widow alerts everyone to look at the sky.
And, at the site of the now-destroyed central complex, the newly-born life form MODOK experiences an emotion alien to his programming - wonderment. He hovers before the beam of energy that pours upwards from beneath the ground. ‘The last containment field has failed. The fragment - and all its power - unleashed’ MODOK states, while Captain America’s shield lays broken amongst the rubble nearby. MODOK declares that as the AIM scientists theorized, the power surge has opened a trans-dimensional warp, a hole in the fabric of reality. ‘Look at the oceans - the warp is playing havoc with the gravimetric fields in the quadrant surround the island. Soon it will pull everything into its maw’ MODOK announces, as the warp field overhead glows, and the waves around the man-made island structure lash about.
MODOK grins wickedly and recalls that his creators hoped he could seal the breach - indeed he was re-created specifically to accomplish that goal, but events have precluded the possibility of him carrying out his programming. ‘Or have the?’ MODOK wonders, deciding that, theoretically, the warp is an opening to the dimension of the Cube’s origin, so it is illogical to expect to control something without understanding its origins. MODOK decides that it is incumbent upon him, in accordance with the wishes of his creators, to journey into that unknown place that they have named the Beyond. And, with that, MODOK rises upwards, floating towards the rift in the sky.
Elsewhere in the ruined compound, ‘He was in the complex when the disaster struck! It’s impossible he survived!’ a blonde woman exclaims as she emerges from the rubble. ‘Woman - if you learn one thing in life, learn this well - all things are possible when it concerns the Red Skull!’ the villain booms as he also emerges from the rubble, looking unimpressed. The Red Skull then asks the woman what of the others, and if she has found any evidence of their presence. He gets no response, so asks ‘What’s this? Is that fear I see in your eyes?’, to which the woman announces that she saw what happened in Canada - and that this is worse, as a rift has opened and they cannot survive. The Red Skull just tells the woman that she is frightened by what she does not understand, and because she knows fear ‘You are of no use to me!’ he shouts, suggesting that the woman try and escape the maelstrom, while he seeks to find his destiny. They then both run away in opposite directions.
For long, slow minutes, the wreckage has him pinned down. The dust is nearly choking him. But he will not allow that to stop him. He cannot. A child may be injured or worse. Thus, slowly, agonizing, muscles that should not move, that he was told could not move, amazingly do, and from under his broken shield, Captain America emerges from the debris, to see the form of a dog vanishing, as if it never existed. And he hears a voice come from a most surprising source: ‘C-Captain America. I am glad to see you live’ the damaged Adaptoid calls out from where it lies in the rubble. ‘Good Lord! You’re the boy?’ Captain America gasps as he stands over the Adaptoid, who replies ‘Yes. As you can see, on Boca Caliente, things are seldom as they first appear’.
Elsewhere, the Black Widow reports that the winds are picking up again, as if everything was being sucked into the vortex above them. She sees Fabian Stankowicz’s ship land nearby, and instructs Quicksilver and Crystal to help the evacuation of the islanders, as they are in a state of shock. ‘And who can blame them?’ Crystal asks as she and Pietro rush over to the ship. The Black Widow tells Giant Man to come with her, as they are not leaving this island without Cap. ‘You won’t get any argument from me, Natasha!’ Giant Man replies, as they rush off in the other direction, when suddenly, Sam Wilson a.k.a. the Falcon, Cap’s long-time friend and inactive Avenger drops down, telling them that if they are looking for Cap, to count him in. ‘Glad to have you with us, Falcon’ the Black Widow replies, while the Falcon adds, ‘Yeah, well - y’know, once an Avengers, always an Avenger!’
Cap’s eyes swim and his vision dims, his knees buckle and his arms grow weak. The paralysis that will claims his life is returning - but still he cannot contain his shock: ‘You were an Adaptoid all along?’ he asks the damaged Adaptoid. ‘Yes’ the Adaptoid confirms, explaining that he was caught in one of the first energy waves, and transformed. The Adaptoid reveals that he was built to keep guard over the island’s human population, and they were to use them as living shields against any outside attack. ‘But in my charges, I saw something I could never have in my existence. I saw in humanity the possibility of the infinite, perhaps the divine… and I envied it’. He adds that when the citadel first flared, his envy became reality.
The Adaptoid declares that it was all for nothing, for if the energy vortex is not co0ntained, all reality will be sucked into the Beyond. Suddenly, ‘Then we cannot allow that to happen now, can we?’ a voice calls out, and Captain America looks up, seeing a woman clad in a familiar black and orange costume. ‘Superia?!’ he gasps. ‘Yes, Captain’ the villainess replies, before telling the Avenger that he looks so weak and helpless. ‘The adrenaline that helped you temporarily overcome your fate has faded, hasn’t it?’ she asks, remarking that it must be frustrating for a man like him, a hero among heroes to wither and fade as the world literally falls apart about him. ‘What would you give to be a hero again, Captain America? Would it be a piece of your soul?’ Superia asks, extending a hand.
On the artificial island’s shore, ‘Quickly, quickly!’ Hercules calls out as he ushers the civilians onto the Quinjets that are waiting for them. ‘We must not allow once innocent be harmed on this hellish place!’ Hercules tells his teammates as he passes a baby up into the Quinjet. As Crystal uses her own elemental powers to keep the dangerous waves back, she tells Herc that Fabian has the first planeload of refugees out of here, but that the scanners indicate that the vortex is affecting gravimetric forces for miles around, as if the very ocean floor was being pulled up. ‘There’s no telling what could happen next!’ Crystal exclaims, while Quicksilver speeds onto one of the jets and declares that they be quick about their work. ‘And no pun intended, my friends - just honest, healthy fear!’
Nearby, more rescuers start assisting with the civilians - Captain America’s young allies, Free Spirit and Jack Flag. ‘D’you hear that, Jack? If an Avenger can be afraid - I think I have a right to be terrified outta my socks!’ Free Spirit exclaims. Carrying a young woman, Jack tells Spirit that he gets her, before pointing out that how they feel doesn’t matter, as long as they get the job done. Suddenly, Free Spirit sees a woman clad in a purple and yellow costume, and asks Jack if she looks familiar. The woman in question is Snapdragon - or perhaps not, as she removes her mask. ‘There are enough of us here! We need to go back and find Cap!’ she shouts. Crystal turns to the woman and asks her ‘You’re Cap’s friend, Rachel, aren’t you?’ Crystal tells Rachel “Diamondback” Leighton that she doesn’t know how she got on this island, but that if she knows anything about Cap, she would know that he would insist their first duty was to these children. ‘So I suggest you shut up and help out!’ Crystal snaps.
Back in the ruins of the facility, ‘You see this golden liquid, Captain? It is your salvation. Taste of it…and the long nightmare will be over…and you will be cured!’ Superia exclaims, adding that she asks for nothing, except a debt of honor to be named at a later date. ‘Lady - NO DEAL!’ Capt exclaims as he reaches up and smacks the needle out of the surprised woman’s hand. The needle is flung into the air - and lands, stuck in the hand of the Red Skull. ‘Ah, my ancient nemesis, you are a fool. What you discard, I embrace. Superia, your handiwork is mine!’ the Red Skull grins, wickedly. The Red Skull explains that with Superia’s serum coursing through his veins, he is spared Captain America’s fate. He fires a blast of energy, close range, at Superia, striking the woman, who screams as she falls backwards. ’And to insure the singularity of my good fortune, Superia - I deem you superfluous!’ the Red Skull adds. ’Skull! No!’ Captain America calls out. The Red Skull tells Captain America that he cannot stop him, that he can never stop him again. ‘Think of that as you die!’ he boasts, I before he teleports away.
‘Sorry to disappoint you, Skull, but I don’t intend to buy the farm just yet’ Captain America remarks as he slowly crawls towards the Adaptoid, who tells him ‘Brave words, Captain, but I’m afraid we are all doomed’. Cap tells the Adaptoid that he didn’t learn the most important lesson from his human charges - that to give up hope is to give up life. He struggles to his feet, and pulls the injured Adaptoid up, too. ‘Your paralysis is returning?’ the Adaptoid asks. ‘Yep. But I can’t think about that. I’m not important. Sealing off that breach and cutting off the vortex is. They start to climb up a staircase out of the hollow pit they are in, as the Adaptoid decides that perhaps there are lessons still to be learned from humans. ‘If you intend to try the impossible, I would like to accompany you. If that is all right?’ the Adaptoid enquires. ‘Sure. I never wanted to die alone’ Cap responds.
They move closer to the breach, sweat pours down Captain America’s face, he can feel the waves of energy washing over them. The Adaptoid realizes that Cap cannot take this much longer, as no human has long withstood the Cube’s purest rays. Cap tells the Adaptoid that he can’t give up, as there are too many people depending on him. ‘I see. Put me down, Captain’ the Adaptoid tells him as they are halfway up the staircase.
Minutes later, the Black Widow, Giant Man and the Falcon arrive at the citadel. ‘Steve’ got to be inside!’ the Black Widow calls out, while the Falcon alerts her to an unidentified female up ahead. ‘You’re the Skull’s agent!’ the Black Widow declares as she grabs the woman, asking her if she has seen Captain America. ‘He is inside - and if you go in there you are all fools!’ the woman replies, pointing behind her. ‘Well, no one ever accused us of being geniuses!’ the Falcon jokes as he takes flight, and the Black Widow and Giant Man run ahead. ‘Speak for yourself, Falcon!’ Giant Man, an actual genius, retorts.
And, ‘What?’ Captain America asks as at the Adaptoid’s suggestion that he leave him. They reach a platform, as the Adaptoid points out that like Captain America, he approaches the end of his existence, that the damage he suffered in the explosion is irreparable. ‘I would like to accomplish something with me end’ he explains. The Adaptoid suggests that if the breach is to be closed, he may be able to do it, by adapting his form into that of the containing wall, only such a total adaptation will take all his life energies, and he will lose all ability for sentient thought. ‘Who knows? Perhaps with this final deed - if I try the impossible - I will touch the infinite…and know the divine…’ the Adaptoid utters, his last words, as he shifts his form into the wall, and bocks up the hole where the energies of the Cosmic Cube pour through. ‘I hope you do, my friend. I hope you do’ Cap utters as he holds up the remains of the Adaptoid’s facial features.
Like liquid mercury, the being that was an AIM Adaptoid flows across the ruptured ceiling, repairing the damage, and holding back the awesome energies behind the containing wall once more. In the aftermath, the wounded, weakened Captain America staggers and falls off the platform. And as the floor races up to meet him, Captain America accepts his fate…perhaps a bit prematurely, as the Falcon swoops down and grabs him. ‘Steve - don’t worry! I got you!’ the Falcon calls out as Cap falls into his friend, knocking the Falcon off balance, he calls out for someone to lend him a helping hand. ‘You asked for it, Sam! You got it!’ Giant Man declares as he extends a large hand to collect both men. He then sets them down on the ground as the Black Widow rushes over, ‘I’ll admit, you guys do come in handy from time to time’ the Falcon remarks, while the Black Widow exclaims ‘Steve - thank Heaven! You did it, my friend!’ The Black Widow touches Cap’s face, and tells him that he saved them all. ‘Not me, Widow.d all I did was help someone find his dream’ Cap replies, as the sun rises over the remains of the island.