this small town of fewer than three thousand souls is known for its olive, tomatoes and the production of lignite. Under the night sky, a man floats upwind of the town. He doesn't know any of this, and doesn't care, either. He pulls a vial of glowing green matter from his person, holds it up over the town – and it breaks with an almost inaudible snap. The liquid it held turns to dust within seconds of its exposure to air – the wind takes it, and the floating man sighs both in contentment and anticipation as the green dust settles down over the town. He wishes he could stay to observe the dust's effect – but he has other places to be, and soon. He gives the town one last look with a smirk.
Meanwhile, deep within the Florida Everglades, a very specialized, very secret training compound, far from prying eyes or ears:
There are no swamp birds here, nothing is heard but the intermittent crack of pulse-rifles and the slap of bodies on canvas as the soldiers undergo their training – until, 'Frankie – you hear something?' one of the soldiers calls out to another, when suddenly, 'Hi, guys – my name's Triathlon – nice place you've got here!' Delroy Garrett Jr exclaims as he speeds into the area and kicks one soldier in the face, while knocking another back with aa punch. 'Good facilities, efficient operation – I bet the Taskmaster's really happy with it. At least until you two screwups failed Sentry 101...' Triathlon jokes.
Other soldiers turn to the scene of action and start to scatter – but Carol Danvers a.k.a. Warbird is hovering above, and fires energy blasts down towards them to keep them contained. 'Good work, Warbird!' Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch calls out to her friend, while announcing that they need to do this nice and clean, and then it will be over before the soldiers know what has hit them. Wanda channels her chaos magic, casting a hex which knocks back several of the soldiers. Wanda is also the field leader of this assault squad of the mighty Avengers. 'This ain't there place, boys! Let's show 'em that!' one of the soldiers exclaims, and seventeen fingers tighten on seventeen triggers – but before they can pull, the seventeen soldiers look around, confused, as their rifles are pulled from their hands. 'Guns are a bore, gentlemen. Why don't you show me what else you've got?' Pietro Maximoff a.k.a. Quicksilver smirks as the weapons clatter to the ground.
The soldiers raise knives and run towards Quicksilver, who stands with his hands on his hips and sarcastically tells them 'Oh. Knives. That'll work, I'm sure'. He adds that the reports must be true – the Taskmaster drugs them and makes them the perfect, mindless underlings to those he supplies them to. 'Come on, then. I haven't got all morning' Quicksilver mutters, when suddenly, 'Hey, now, Quicksilver! I realize there aren't that many of them – but don't hog all the fun!' Simon Williams a.k.a. Wonder Man jokes as he slams down amongst the soldiers in his ionic form, the force of him landing on the ground knocking the soldiers off their feet. Wonder Man fights alongside the other heroic Avengers, cutting through the compound's defenders like ripe wheat, while, inside the building, a voice calls out 'TASKMASTER!' The highly skilled Taskmaster doesn't bother looking out the window where the soldier is pointing and informing him that the men, the whole camp are being overwhelmed.
'Oh, like there's a bulletin. They're goons for hire, Medinnus – not even competent goons for hire yet, most of 'em' the Taskmaster replies as he puts a card into a slot, adding that the surprise here is how the Avengers are being so aggressive, as this is the fourth school he has lost in a week – it isn't like them at all. 'But – sir! You have to help us!' Medinnus pleads. A panel opens on the floor, which the Taskmaster walks towards and replies 'Help you? Are you outta your tree, Medinnus? You're not winning this. All you're doing is going to jail. Me, I'm cutting the data-links, burning the records and heading for Costa Salvador to scout new locations!' he reveals as he drops down through the panel. 'But – but -' Medinnus calls out, but gets no response. Ex-marine, Colonel Howard Medinnus swallows hard, and makes the decision to abandon his men – but before he can follow the Taskmaster through the panel, Wonder Man smashes through the wall into the facility, with Quicksilver and Triathlon speeding behind him, and Warbird carrying the Scarlet Witch as she flies in. 'There's the camp commandant!' Wanda calls out.
And, shortly, 'Easy, guy, you're not going anywhere' Triathlon tells Medinnus as he and Quicksilver wrap some metal cables around him. 'If – if I'd followed him!' Medinnus mutters while Wanda and Warbird stand over the panel, which Wonder Man is tearing apart with his brute strength. 'BLAST IT!' He dynamited the escape tunnel behind him! By the time we could dig through it, he'd be long gone!' Wonder Man reports, adding that the Taskmaster has escaped – again. Wanda tells Simon not to worry too much, and points out that at least they are hurting the Taskmaster's operations – and denying criminals, terrorists and super-villains a valuable resource. Wanda adds that she thinks it has been a good morning's work, and asks Warbird to call the job in. Wanda smiles and puts a hand on Quicksilver's shoulder, telling her brother that it is good to have him back, too, and that it has been too long. Pietro smiles and agrees, adding that he still has unfinished business to deal with in Genosha, but that he is glad to make the Avengers his first priority once again.
Warbird holds up her Avengers Communicard and connects with Avengers Mansion, reporting that the Taskmaster escaped, but they have shut down another school. 'Blasted slippery jerk – allways gets away...' Wonder Man mumbles as he switches back to his human form. The Vision is on monitor duty back at Avengers Mansion, and as Warbird appears on his screen, he thanks her for the report, and informs her that SHIELD recovery team is already on the way to take possession of the facility. 'That's good, Vision – then it looks like we'll be home in time for us to have that long-delayed dinner-date' Carol replies. The Vision tells Carol that he looks forward to it, and that in the meantime, he shall use her report to update the Status Board.
At Avengers Mansion, New York City, the Vision sits on a chair connected to a mechanism enabling him to move about the comm room within the mansion, where a large holographic globe is positioned in the comm room depicting headshots of numerous foes of the Avengers, and that enemy's current status. Standing before the globe are Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America, Janet van Dyne a.k.a. the Wasp and Dr Henry Pym a.k.a Goliath. 'There she is, boys – it's taken six weeks, but she's finally active' Jan exclaims, asking them what they think. 'Not bad, honey' Pym tells her, pointing out that it will let them keep score, and when things get slow, he can reprogram it and play whack-a-mole. But Jan tells him that it isn't just keeping score – and points out that they have been too reactive lately, tackling things only after they erupt, when they're already deadly – and that has to change.
The Wasp continues, explaining that going after the Taskmaster was only the start, and with her and Captain America as co-leaders, and by staying updated on all major dangers at large, they can be more effective, take the fight to them, instead of waiting for them to bring it to the Avengers. 'Speaking of which, Vision, can you connect me to the Black Knight?' Jan asks as she, Cap and Hank turn to a large monitor. 'Of course, Wasp. One moment' the android Avenger responds.
And, seconds later, in the ravaged Balkan nation of Slorenia, '... it going, Dane? All settled in?' the Wasp's voice can be heard over the Communicard belonging to Dane Whitman a.k.a. Black Knight, who tells Jan that they are set, that he and Firebird are bunking at the SHIELD installation and monitoring the situation.
Bonita Juarez a.k.a. Firebird hovers next to the Black Knight, the scorched land spreading out behind them, as Dane announces that he has nothing new to report – the Bloodwraith is still a raving monster, thanks to the Ebondy Blade, and due to Wanda's spell, he is still trapped within the borders of Slorenia. Dane reminds everyone that the sword used to be his, and so it is his responsibility. 'We'll find a way to break its curse – free this land from him' Dane declares. 'And God willing, it will be soon' Firebird adds. The Wasp tells her teammates to call back if they need anything, and keep them posted.
'That's one field operation – how about the Savage Land next?' the Wasp asks the Vision, and an instant later, Jack Hart a.k.a. Jack of Hearts appears on the monitor from where he stands in a tree in the Savage Land, nearby, several dinosaurs are fighting. Jack reports that he found what was left of the High Evolutionary's base, but that it is a little busy at the moment. He adds that when he gets the chance, he will use his zero-power to scan the wreckage for any unusual radiations, and if he finds any, he will process them through the scanalyzer in his brain, and upload the data to SHIELD and the mansion systems, which should help flag the Evolutionary sooner, if he ever pops up again. 'Sounds great, Jack of Hearts' one of the Avengers tells him, while Jack adds that he wants to thank the Avengers for giving him something to work at, to keep him occupied while his lawyers get his life on Earth back in order. 'I'd been in space so long...' Jack reminds them. 'De nada, Jack' Jan tells him, adding that she hopes they will be working together for a long time to come.
Back in Kalkhimithia, it is quitting time in this part of the world, and weary men and women head home from fields, mines and offices. But today, the people of Kalkhimithia are unusually irritable – arguments break out in the winding streets. One man jostles another, the second man takes offense – and a punch is thrown.
On the front lawn of Avengers Mansion, the Wasp and Captain America survey the repairs that are underway. Jan tells Cap that she really thinks they are doing the right thing, taking advantage of the damage to the mansion to rebuild and totally refit the lower levels, bring everything up to state-of-the-art. 'But still, every time I see it – it just hurts to see the grand old place wounded this way' Jan adds. Cap tells her that he knows what she means, The Wasp turns to one of the construction workers and tells him that everything is looking wonderful, and tells him she wants to make sure the aboveground portion of the mansion will be restored exactly as it was before. She adds that this may be their headquarters, but it was Tony Stark's boyhood home. The construction worker tells her not to worry, and that when Mr Stark sees this place, he won't be able to tell the difference.
'Iron Man? Sir?' Edwin Jarvis calls out as he approaches Iron Man, who is in a workshop, tinkering under a large piece of equipment. 'Down here, Jarvis' Iron Man responds. Jarvis informs Iron Man that he has taken the liberty of preparing him an energy drink and some high-carb snacks, since he skipped luncheon. 'This is...quite a contraption, Sir' Jarvis adds. 'Well, it will be, if I ever get the glitches licked' Iron Man replies, adding that he may have to contact Reed Richards about getting it calibrated and online. Iron Man emerges from underneath the contraption and explains to Jarvis that it is supposed to warn them of any breaches into their continuum from other dimensions – the Negative Zone, and such – and it is just about as impossible as it sounds. Jarvis smiles and holds the tray of snacks out, 'I'm sure you'll do a fine job, sir' he replies. Iron Man removes his faceplate, revealing Tony Stark under the armor. 'Easy for you to say. Once I'm done with this, Cap wants alarms against time-travelers next...' Suddenly, the Wasp's image appears on a monitor. She greets Tony and asks him if Hank is there. Tony informs Jan that he hasn't seen him. He adds that Hank was going to help out on the dimensional wards, but he hasn't shown up yet. 'That's odd...I wonder where he is...?' Jan replies.
The Wasp's voice is calm, unworried, but imagine her thoughts if she knew that at this moment, Henry Pym, the Avenger called Goliath, is in the mansion's front yard, at insect size, traveling toward a hideaway that Jan doesn't even know exists – a hideaway shielded from detection by sophisticated vibro-electronic fields. Hank uses a jetb-pack to fly into the miniature base, and when he lands safely, he taps the jetpack, activating the Pym Particles within, causing it to shrink back to nothingness eityhin his costume's harness, and Henry Pym enters his lair – to face another Henry Pym. 'Howdy, Doc. How's it hanging today? Comfy?' Goliath calls out to the other Hank, who floats in a stasis tank. 'You – you're the man who kidnapped me – took my place!' he exclaims. 'Have you come to gloat – or did you have something more serious in mind...?' Hank asks.
The impostor Hank grins and tells the imprisoned Hank that he has him all wrong. 'As long as you're a guest ofg mine, I've got to keep you fed and healthy, don't I?' He adds that he is punching up Hank's favorite blend of proteins and amino acids. 'I know you'll like 'em – I picked 'em out myself!' The imprisoned Hank starts banging on the stasis tank, 'This makes no sense! Why don't you just kill me – and get it over with?' he asks. The other Dr Pym makes no reply – at least, not one the captive Dr Pym can hear. The impostor turns and walks away, quietly remarking 'I'm an Avenger. And Avengers don't kill'.
Back in Kalkhimithia, a green glow radiates over the small town. A man insults his wife's cooking, so she backhands him across the room. A minor fender-bender erupts into a fistfight, and onlookers take sides. The patrons of one tavern hurl rocks and imprecations through the window of a competitor – their targets retaliate.
In New York, Thor stands atop Avengers Mansion and gazes out, deep in thought. 'Ah – there you are, Thor. I'm glad you could make it' Captain America calls out as he approaches his longtime teammate. 'Only for thee, Captain. Only for thee' Thor responds. Cap tells Thor that he knows things didn't end well the last time he was active, but with all the dangers out there, they need all the strength they can muster. 'Aye. And so I have come' Thor responds, while telling Cap not to ask him to be polite to reporters. The Wasp flies over to them and tells Thor that it is great to have him back, before announcing that she wanted to show them both something – and here is as good a place as any.
The Weasp grins as she reports that their comm-web is active again, and with the new hardware, she can punch up a holo-screen from anywhere in the mansion grounds, even up here. 'And check this out!' Jan exclaims. 'Look who's calling!' A blue glow radiates from the comm-link on Jan's wrist, and a projection of Quasar appears through the blue glow. 'Hiya folks' Wendell Vaughn calls out. 'And Photon and the Living Lightning. We got everything set up here early – so I thought I'd test out the q-link I implanted into the mansion's comm-systems' Quasar reports, as Monica Rambeau a.k.a. Photon stands at his side, and Miguel Santos the Living Lightning can be seen sitting at a monitor behind them. Quasar adds that he wanted tyo make sure they would be able to talk with each other instantaneously, even over this kind of distance. Captain America tells Quasar that it works perfectly, and that he is impressed they were able to get it up and running so soon, considering they had to build an entire deep-space monitoring system in the asteriod belt – from scratch! 'I'll admit, the work goes faster when you've got a paid of Quantum-Bands...' Quasar declares.
Thor asks them how they will manage so far from civilization, to which Quasar explains that he is exiled to space anyway, since he has the essence of Ego the Living Planet trapped inside him, and is grateful for the human contact. He adds that he is glad to serve as point man at the Avengers' Forward Warning Post for Extraterrestrial Attack. Miguel reveals that he can use the solitude up here, as he is auditing his college courses via the Q-Link, and this will keep him focused on cracking the books – plus Starfox promised to come by from Titan every now and then to make sure they don't get too lonely. 'And that ought to guarantee that no studying gets done at all!' Monica grins, before informing the Earth-based Avengers that she will be commuting – as at lightspeed, she can make it from Earth to the asteroid belt in minutes, so she will still be based out of New Orleans, which will keep her mom happy. 'Sounds perfect!' the Wasp tells them.
And, once the conversation is finished, the Wasp ends the Q-Link, and reports that they have still got more to do – they need to arrange for the Black Widow to get on the Exemplars' trail, and take up Hercules and the Falcon on their offers of help, but she thinks they are mostly ready. 'And woe betide any foolish enough to oppose us...' Thor frowns. Cap tells Thor that he hopes he is right, when suddenly, a Quinjet blasts past them, and Cap reports that it is the others, back from Florida.
In Kalkhimithia, open warfare now rages in the streets, but curiously, none of the combatants have thought to pick up a gun, or even a knife. Rocks, clubs and fists are the order of the day – especially fists. And the rage of the battle continues to grow and grow....
Cap, Thor and the Wasp make their way down from the roofopt as Wanda, Wonder Man, Triathlon, Quicksilver and Warbird emerge from the Quinjet. Wanda reports that most of the students had records, and all of the instructors did – so they won't be out anytime soon. 'Great! A few more strikes like that, and we'll have closed the Taskmaster down!' the Wasp points out. Triathlon grins and remarks that it sounds like he and Simon will be going undercover again – posing as riff-raff until they get “recruited” for another one of his schools.
The Avengers make their way into the mansion as Thor tells Captain America that he is impressed – he and the Wasp have brought new fire to the Avengers. Cap thanks Thor, but tells him that he keeps thinking something has been missing, something has been overlooked. Triathlon calls out to Simon, asking if he can have a few more acting tips, as those last ones worked like a char. 'Sure, Delroy' Simon replies, while Cap remarks that he keeps going over things in his mind, trying to think of what they are not doing, and what more they could do.
Captain America is unaware that he is being watched, from an unknown location, 'Pfah He frets and quails like an old woman. He is no threat to us' one of two shadowy figures remarks. Scans of Captain America's brain appear on the monitors the two figures are watching. 'He is human. Physically impressive, but no more than human' one of the men remarks. 'We are human, my son' the other figure, sitting in a chair, replies. 'Yes, but -' the man standing on a strange platform begins, but the other man declares that they have weapons at their disposal, technology that performs wonders. Another image of Captain America in battle appears, and the seated man tells the other to look at the surveillance feeds and study them – Captain America is human, yes, but with no more than his shield and his fighting spirit – and he wins, and leads others to win. 'It is not about weapons. It is not about power. It is about spirit, and cunning, and courage and skill' the seated man explains, telling his son to think on this – for as long as the Avengers possess the spirit to match their skill, they will be formidable foes. He adds that they are preparing – building prodigious defensers, so they must ber even better prepared, must never disdain the Avengers – or they will not be deserving of victory!
Back in the Kalkhimithia, the fires burn freely now, and the only sound to be heard in the town – is a cacophony of distorted, animalistic howling....
Meanwhile, on the Hudson River, just off of Manhattan's West Side, the afternoon is unseasonably warm and sunny – a perfect day to be out on the water, even in the middle of of what should be a New York winter. Two jet skis speed along the river – but all good things must come to an end, they say – and eventually, the two riders head in, to return the rented jet skis. 'That was great!' Carol Danvers grins as she removes her helmet and ruffles her hair. Carol adds that she hasn't had that much fun since the last time she qualified on prop-driven planes and scared the instructor out of his wits doing loops. 'But when you suggested an afternoon out before dinner, I have to admit, this wasn't what I was expecting. What made you think of it... Vision?' Carol asks as the Vision gets off his jet ski and removes his helmet, telling Carol that he is pleased she enjoyed it.
They walk side by side up some stairs to the boardwalk as the Vision reveals that he has been trying to experience more of what the world has to offer – trying a great variety of things to discover what he likes, and he saw an advertisement for this, and had never done it before, plus he thought it might appeal to Carol. 'It sure did. Really worked the kinks out' Carol replies. The Vision tells her that he is glad, and suggests that they do dinner next. Suddenly, his appearance changes to his human guise “Victor Shade” by using his internal image inducer, and he alters his voice, as he doesn't want to startle their server.
'Hot dogs? Vizh, you're just full of surprises!' Carol exclaims as they stand at a hot dog vendor's cart. 'What's next? Rock climbing? Ballroom dancing?' Carol asks. The Vision points out that he thought rock climbing might be too pedestrian for two people who can fy, and dancing perhaps too intimate for a first date. He informs Carol that there is a double feature of Hong Kong action movies hear here, and he has never seen any such films – but the Beast assures him that these two - “Armor of God II” and “Wicked City” - are a not to be missed experience. Carol tells the Vision that he has put a lot of thought into this, and asks him flat out whether he asked her out to try and make Wanda jealous. 'You two were together for so long...' Carol adds.
The Vision frowns and admits that he has deep feelings for Wanda, and presumes he always will, but that he has learned that he he cannot focus his personal happiness in others – he must build a life for himself on his own terms – once he discovers what those terms are. Suddenly, their date is interrupted when the Vision picks up a signal from Avengers Mansion. He tells Carol that they should return there, as he has been monitoring incoming signals, and they are about to be needed. Carol looks longingly at her hot dog as she throws it, uneaten, into a trash can, then rushes off after the Vision.
Barely a minute later, 'Whatever it is, it's in Greece, gang. But there's no clue what it's about' the Goliath impostor calls out as he points at the large projection of the globe in the communications room. 'We'll know in a minute, Hank' the Wasp responds as she, Cap, Wanda, Iron Man, Quicksilver, Thor and Edwin Jarvis gather in front of a large monitor. The Wasp reports that they have got a call coming in from their federal security liaison, and an instant later, Duane Freeman appears on the monitor. The Wasp greets him and asks him what they can do for him. Freeman announces that a report has come in from a place called Kalkhimithia, in Greece. He shows them an image of the exterior of the town, ablaze, which was taken by a SHIELD spy-cam. 'OD'S BLOOD!' Thor gasps as the Avengers look at the raging fire. Duane informs the Avengers that they are piping the transmission over now, and the Avengers see a town full of gamma-radiated townspeople transformed into hulks, fighting each and tearing the town apart.
The images fill the screen for another few moments, before Duane Freeman reports that is all they got before one of the creatures crushed the spy-cam, accidentially, they think. 'Anyway, you ccan see why SHIELD would like you to – hm? Jarvis? Where is everyone?' Duane asks when he realizes he doesn't see any of the Avengers. 'They said to tell you, sir – that they're on their way' Jarvis replies.
At that moment, a Quinjet blasts skyward from Avengers Mansion. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, the Wasp, Warbird, Quicksilver and the impostor Goliath sit in silence, preparing themselves for the battle to come....