The man’s name is Duane Freeman and he is the Avengers’ Federal Security Liaison. When he got this job. it was the proudest day of his life. He believes in the Avengers and wants to help them, not be a hindrance. However, sometimes…sometimes…
Duane stands in front of a monitor displaying a giant-size image of Thor, throwing his hammer, Mjolnir, at a television cameraman. Bluntly, Duane tells the team gathered before him in the team’s Assembly Chamber that something needs to be done. The federal government needs the Avengers to remain strong and effective but, recently, the team has been having many problems that threaten to compromise their good standing. At the moment, protesters stand outside the mansion to raise their concerns over the lack of racial minorities in the team and the inclusion of mutants. The press, of course, has enthusiastically covered the whole story. Now, Thor has assaulted the media after getting annoyed, which has made things worse. This has all led to Captain America resigning from the team, since he feels the team needs a more media-savvy leader. Thankfully, Cap has agreed to help the team out. Iron Man looks at Duane and notices that he did not mention that the Triunes, which Duane is a part of, may be behind this. Iron Man does not say anything out loud though. He likes Duane, but can the Avengers trust him now?
Justice excuses himself for interrupting, but he has something to bring up. Justice stands and admits this may not be the best time, but he has noticed that there is never a good time. However, he and Firestar are taking a leave of absence. He has been so wrapped up over his fear of embarrassing himself as an Avenger that he let his relationship suffer. Now that he has gotten over his stage fright, he wants to work on rebuilding his romance. Firestar explains that the Wasp loaned them her villa in Cap D’Antibes, so the two of them are going to go vacationing and probably will try to get some college credits studying abroad. However, she and Vance have come to love being Avengers and they will come back and, when they do, there just might be a wedding. Upon hearing this, the Avengers congratulate their friends. Justice tells Cap that he wasn’t sure if they should go with him leaving and all, but Cap assures Justice that he is making the right decision.
The Scarlet Witch agrees and reveals that the three of them are not the only ones leaving. Wonder Man speaks up with his concerns and tells the team that he does not want to leave the team under-strength. He doesn’t have to go if they need him. Wanda tells Simon that what Justice said is true. If he waits for a moment that the Avengers don’t need him to leave, then he will always be here. Besides, he still isn’t straight in his mind after what happened in California and he needs to deal with it. Scarlet Witch turns to Thor, Cap and the others and explains that Wonder Man isn’t a full fledged Avenger yet, but he will be when he returns. Captain America then asks Wanda what she plans on doing. Wanda explains that she is still staying with the Avengers. She is still Deputy Leader and she has also has asked Giant-Man and the Wasp to come back and help build up a new roster, since they are both founders and reserve members. Cap agrees that she had a good idea when, suddenly, he stops at the sound of some tapping sounds.
At his laptop, Duane types as he comments under to himself, though a little too loudly, that this isn’t bad at all. There are fewer mutants on the team, but there is still one left, which is good since it defuses the anti-mutant tension without ruining the team’s stance on mutant rights. Now they have a chance to add a black member. Duane looks up from his monitor for second and finds an angry Iron Man right in his face, glaring. Iron Man rocks Duane’s seat back and asks him to repeat what he just said.
The rest of the team forms behind Iron Man, some in shock, others angry, particularly the Scarlet Witch, who is outraged that Duane is glad that mutants are leaving the team, because it appeases bigots. Iron Man tells Duane that they talked before. The Avengers don’t recruit by skin color. They aren’t about equal representation. The squads are too small for that. The Avengers are about getting the job done and that’s it. They have had minorities on the team before, ranging from blacks to Hispanics to gypsies and to gods. They have never excluded anyone by their race.
Duane tells Iron Man that he understands, but they need to deal with the protestors. Iron Man tells Duane that he doesn’t want quotas. Wonder Man explains to Iron Man that it isn’t that simple. Iron Man agrees. The public looks up to the Avengers and it is better if they represent society better, but he wants it to happen naturally. Duane asks Iron Man if it ever will. All the founders of the team are white, including the Hulk, and almost all of the members recruited over the years have been white. Could the Avengers be unconsciously selecting white members?
Iron Man, hesitantly says that he doesn’t know and hates to think that they may be, but he still hates the idea of race being a criteria. They have had problems before when Falcon was forced unto the team. Duane argues that the Falcon was forced on them, because their liaison Henry Gyrich hated them all. It didn’t work out, obviously, but he has one request. The Avengers have a history of asking past members to rejoin when there is a roster change. Why not start with their black and Latino members? Iron Man considers the idea for a moment and then decides it seems fair to him.
Jarvis walks into the room and announces that they have a situation. Wanda tells Jarvis to hurry up and explain. The butler tells the team that it seems that a group of heroes associated with the Avengers has been caught breaking in and vandalizing the Triune Understanding’s headquarters in New York. Cap is in shock, as Jarvis goes on to explain that Warbird, Silverclaw, Captain Marvel and Ant-Man fought the Taskmaster and some agents and though the reports are garbled it seems that they were led by Captain America. Cap is more confused, because he has been at the mansion all night.
Duane, on his cell phone, explains that it was an imposter. The Taskmaster posed as him and decoyed the team into the building, though he doesn’t know why. Duane assures the team that it can all be smoothed over. He has just invited Jonathan Tremont, the head of the Understanding, to the mansion. He will be here soon to talk to the team so they can get past this misunderstanding. Wanda, worried, looks at Iron Man, who thinks to himself that the Taskmaster is a paid mercenary. Tremont could have paid him to make the Avengers look bad.
Duane sits back down and tells the team that they need to get back to business, since they are going down the right road now. The only business he has to bring up is Thor’s apology to the media. His what, says Thor. Duane tells the god of thunder that he assaulted the press and he needs to apologize for it. Thor puts his hand on Duane’s laptop and tells Duane that the media offended him. They have been after the heels of the Avengers like vermin. He loves the common men of Earth, but he is still a god and demands the respect due to him.
Annoyed, Duane gets up and tells Thor that things don’t work that way. The media members were doing their job when he attacked them. He must apologize. Thor, twice the size and height of Duane, leans down and tells Duane to have care. Or what, questions Duane incredulously, will he take his hammer to him. The rest of the Avengers look on, unsure of what to do as Duane stands up to Thor. “Oh, dear…” mutters Jarvis.
Outside, Megan McLaren reports from Avengers Mansion, where tension continues to build. Megan reports that the Avengers have been in the mansion for hours and there has been no response to the mornings startling news. Aboard a miniature ship, the Wasp comments that the Avengers are in hot water. Hank Pym asks what else is new, and then decides it is time to go in. Their ship is spotted by Megan, who reports that Giant-Man and the Wasp have now reached the mansion.
Suddenly, though, the front doors to the mansion swing open, as Thor walks out with the Avengers right after him begging him to wait. Thor refuses to listen. Duane insists he begs to jackals just so he can keep the right to protect them. Thor swings his hammer around. As he does so, he tells Duane that he has shattered the Avengers. They have lost Captain America, Justice, Firestar and Wonder Man; now they lose Thor as well. Iron Man mutters that he hopes the reporters didn’t hear that. Thor launches himself into the air and calls out that he maybe he shall return to the Avengers when things are sane again.
Moments later inside the mansion, Iron Man turns off the television showing the new coverage on Thor’s exit and tells Giant-Man and the Wasp that they are all caught up now. Of course, they may want to turn around now and go back home. Wasp tells Iron Man not to be silly and agrees to step back up to active status if they think it can help. Hank even has a new costume. Hank explains that it is actually a variant of an old costume that he never wore. He has been Giant-Man for so long and, if he is going active again, he might as well become Goliath again. Hesitantly, Iron Man tells Hank that the switch is great, but to himself he recalls how switching identities has always been a sign of personal trouble for him. Behind the Avengers, Duane sighs to himself as he realizes two more white faces have joined the team.
Jarvis opens the door and brings in the four heroes who were duped into attacking the Triune building. Silverclaw immediately apologizes for everything, but Wasp tells the young girl not to beat herself up over it, as anyone of them would have been tricked too. As the Avengers mingle, Warbird immediately goes up to Iron Man and asks if they can talk. Iron Man tells Cap that he and Warbird will be in the gallery if anyone needs them. Cap tells him that it won’t be a problem, as the rest of them have a few calls to make.
Some time later, on videophone, the Falcon tells Captain America that he sympathizes with the team’s current situation, but he played “Earth’s Mightiest Token” once and he won’t do it again. Next, the Living Lightening explains that he has so many term papers to write. Maybe if they could just wait another semester he could help out. Firebird explains to the Avengers that her first duty is to the Church and they are so busy at the moment. Finally, Captain America calls Photon, but her mother picks up and urges Cap not to ask Monica, because she knows her daughter will say yes and will end up stuck on the wrong side of the galaxy again. She and her father have started a charter business and his health isn’t good, so he cannot do it alone. Cap tells Mrs. Rambeau that he understands.
Beside Cap are Wasp and the Scarlet Witch. Cap goes through the list of possible candidates and announces that the Panther has already said no and War Machine is retired. Wanda tells Cap that Rage is underage and Mantis is off in space somewhere. “And that’s it?” asks the surprised Wasp. She sighs and jokingly says that she sympathizes with the color-blind thing, but maybe Duane has a point.
Nearby, Warbird sits in the hallway, as Iron Man asks Duane if he has a minute to spare. Duane welcomes Iron Man, who reveals that he has a returning member to propose, but there is a hitch. Warbird is a recovering alcoholic, but has been in A.A. for a couple of months. She crippled a commercial airliner recently. No one died, but just barely. She turned herself in a few days ago and offered restitution. It was suggested that she could receive a suspended sentence if the Maria Stark Foundation pays for the airliner and settles the lawsuits and if the Avengers agree to supervise her, so she can “work off” her offense as an Avenger. Warbird has agreed, but she is white and she was part of the group that attacked the Triune.
Duane tells Iron Man that he isn’t that rigid. Judge Calloway already forwarded the request to him and he likes the idea. It is better to let her serve rather than throw someone in jail who could be a national or global defender. The government has no objections. Iron Man is surprised Duane agreed and thinks to himself that even he doesn’t think it is a good idea. Warbird has not been sober for that long and being an Avenger has a lot of pressure. However, the Avengers have failed her too often and he couldn’t turn his back on her. Still, Iron Man was sure Duane would hate the idea, so what is really going on here?
Outside, the protestors, after hearing that Firestar and Justice are leaving, begin to chant that they want a clean sweep and that the Scarlet Witch needs to go too. The crowd then notices a limousine pull up with the Triune symbol on the side. The crowd cheers as they realize that Jonathan Tremont has arrived. Tremont stands in the sunroof with Triathlon and greets his followers, who cheer for him to straighten out the Avengers. Tremont tells his followers that he isn’t here for a confrontation with the Avengers. His purpose is to spread peace and to end any anger that has occurred. Before Tremont can continue, however, Triathlon tells him to duck back into the limo, because they have trouble.
Climbing over the walls of the mansion is a group of anti-mutants protestors, dressed with black masks and what appear to be energy cannons. One of the men comments that, if the Avengers are not going to listen to words, maybe the energy cannons the Tinkerer gave them will make them listen. Another man tells him to hurry while the cops and reporters are still checking out Tremont’s arrival. The man with the energy cannon aims at the mansion’s front door, but Triathlon leaps over the wall and nails him in the back. Triathlon tells the group that they might just want to send a nasty e-mail instead.
The attackers regroup and pull out a variety of energy weapons. They recognize Triathlon and recall how he is as tough as three men but, since there are five of them, he cannot win. Triathlon does not hesitate and charges right at the men, taking four of the down in one swoop. He corrects them and tells them that he has triple the best possible strength, speed, reflexes and more a man can have. With power like that he could take on a regiment. A man shoots at Triathlon, but he easily evades, as the blast knocks over a tree. Triathlon then rushes at the man and kicks him in the face. He then delivers the finishing blows to the other four men until all are down. He turns around and comments that all are down just in time for the residents to show. Before him are Goliath, Wasp, Wonder Man and the Scarlet Witch. Goliath questions what happened and Triathlon explains that the men were anti-mutant protestors that wanted to take graffiti a step further. Wasp looks at the beaten men and thanks Triathlon.
Inside, Jarvis prepares a meal, as he watches a news report on the events outside, where the reporter announces that this is a great day. Jarvis think to himself that it is a great day for the Triune Understanding, but not for the Avengers. Outside, Tremont and Captain America shake hands and pose for a picture. Tremont comments to the media that a mistake has been made and, as long as they rise above it, then a lesson has been learned. He hopes that everyone sees that they don’t need to be enemies when all they want is the same thing: a freer people in a freer world.
Iron Man notices that the press is eating this all up and wonders if they even made the distinction that the real Avengers didn’t invade the headquarters of the Triunes, or that they weren’t led by the real Captain America. They don’t care as long as they have a picture of the Avengers on their doorstep. Iron Man hopes he isn’t being paranoid, but notices how everything fell in place so neatly. How much to the Triunes know about Goliath’s problems? Did they want Warbird on the team, because she makes an easy target? As the Avengers proceed inside, Iron Man looks at Tremont, who shakes Duane’s hands. Iron Man hates fighting an enemy they cannot face or touch. He can see it in the face of the others; they are just as worried. Duane thanks Tremont and goes over to Triathlon and, just as Iron Man suspected, he asks the man to wait a few minutes. “Bingo,” thinks Iron Man.
Inside, the majority of the Avengers are with Triathlon, who looks at a picture of Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, Wasp, Vision, Falcon, Captain America and Beast, as he wonders what everyone is talking about in the kitchen. In the kitchen, Iron Man tells Duane no. To himself he adds that the Avengers have enough to worry about and they cannot have a potential spy in their ranks. Confused, Duane asks why not. Triathlon is capable and proved his heroic nature. This will also diffuse the team’s problem with the race problem. Iron Man puts his foot down and affirms his no. Wasp asks Iron Man if he is sure, but Iron Man tells Wasp that she wasn’t there when the team clashed with the Triunes. He is sure they are hiding something. They have orchestrated all of this as revenge and now they want an insider in the team. His ethnicity isn’t the problem; his Triune Understanding membership is.
Shocked, Duane comments that it is not right to discriminate by race, but it is okay to discriminate by spiritual belief. Duane insinuates that Iron Man is prejudiced, but the golden Avenger tells him that he isn’t. Duane asks for proof linking Triathlon to any crimes, or any of the Triune members to a crime. The Triunes had a right not to let the Avengers into their headquarters. There were Triune members in the protesters and media, but Triune members are everywhere. Maybe there is a conspiracy, maybe there isn’t. However, does Iron Man have proof of Triathlon committing a crime? Wanda again looks worried at Iron Man, who says nothing.
Duane explains that it is his job to advise the team, but the Avengers can do what they want. However, he warns Iron Man that if they refuse to allow a member based on religious grounds, then he will tell the federal government to cancel their clearance and to shut them down. The team will be forbidden to work in the United States and Duane will recommend the government to make their own super-team. They haven’t been successful in the past, but they will try again. Iron Man will not reject a candidate based on sex, race, or religion. Is he clear? Again, Wanda looks at Iron Man and says his name. For a moment Iron Man says nothing, but finally agrees, but warns Duane that, if anything goes sour, he will be responsible.
From behind, Triathlon stands in the kitchen entrance and asks if they forgot something. No one asked him if he wanted to join. He does have the triple best hearing of a human too. Embarrassed, Duane tells Triathlon that he wasn’t meant to hear anything. Goliath tries to explain to Triathlon that the Avengers are in a difficult spot and need to be careful. However, Triathlon tells him to save it. He has respected and looked up to the Avengers for years. He would ordinarily be honored to join their ranks, but this isn’t the “honor” he wants and he will have to think long and hard about the respect he once had for them. However, he will join the team if for no other reason to prove to them that they are wrong about him and the Triunes. Then he will rub it in their noses. Triathlon gets up in Iron Man’s face and asks if he can hear him in there or does the suit filter out uncomfortable noises. Annoyed, Iron Man tells Triathlon that he hears him.
After an awkward silence, Duane says that he is sure things will work out, but they have one more slot to fill. Insulted, Wanda tells Duane that the slot is the Vision’s and he hasn’t quit officially. Duane reminds her that he left, but Wanda tells him that she doesn’t like the idea of assuming he quit. Wasp picks up the phone and tells the two that they had enough difficulties for the day. They will get a temporary member for now, until they get confirmation on the Vision. They need a familiar face to lighten up the mood. Wasp then gets in touch with Jennifer and tells her that she is glad she caught her at home.
Some time later, the sensational She-Hulk stands in the Avengers foyer and asks why they have such long faces. A girl might think she isn’t being welcomed. Wasp introduces She-Hulk to those unfamiliar with her. Warbird smiles and notices that the roster is now four women to three men. It’s about time, she adds. Nearby, Wanda asks Simon if he is sure he wants to join the team, but Wonder Man assures her that he wants to be there and help and that is why he has agreed to be a reserve.
Iron Man approaches Wanda and asks if she has a second. Wanda obliges him and Iron Man tells her that Cap suggested that he becomes leader but, since he just came across as the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, well, she is Deputy, so maybe she should lead. Wanda declines the offer, as she is not ready to be a full-time solo leader. However, they do have an experienced leader in their ranks and that is the Wasp. Iron Man agrees and the flattered Wasp thanks them and agrees to lead. Wasp tells Iron Man that she wants him to know that no one thinks that he is prejudiced and that he was trying to protect the team. Iron Man hopes she is right. Wasp tells him that in the case of the Triunes and Triathlon, she hopes he is wrong. So does he, says Iron Man.
Outside, the Avengers stand before the press, as the Wasp introduces the new team as herself, Warbird, Scarlet Witch, Goliath, Triathlon, Iron Man and She-Hulk. Jan tells the press that the Maria Stark Foundation will give them a press pack shortly. Iron Man tells the team that they should go back in. Disappointed, She-Hulk asks if no one is going to yell “Avengers Assemble!” Iron Man tells her maybe later; for right now it doesn’t feel right. Inside, Duane Freeman watches the team go in on television and remembers how a roster change was always celebrated. He hopes he did the right thing, but sometimes… sometimes he hates his job.
Deep in the Guiana Highlands of South America, a man reaches the nearest radio station and asks if his message has been sent. The man operating the telegraph machine says that he is waiting for confirmation, but then gets notice that the message was received. Luis Ramirez thanks God and then leaves, as he knows everything will be all right. She will come and save them. He heads back to his village but, barely an hour into the jungle, he hears the beat of giant wings. He then knows that, even if La Garra Argentado does come back to set things right, he will not be there. Luis screams for mercy, as a Hawk Rider swoops down with his spear, telling Luis that for his crime against their lord his punishment will be death. Luis turns to run, but he knows that it is all over for him.