Underwater in Rollo Bay, off Prince Edward Island, Canada, the inactive Avenger Dr Walter “Stingray” Newell, currently temporarily active, speeds through the water, east and north from Rollo Bay as requested, searching for Attuma’s forces. His red and white costume like a beacon in the murky water, approximately five miles offshore, the oceanographer suddenly finds them. ‘Now! The surface-worlder spy is in our clutches!’ one of Attuma’s warriors shouts. ‘KILL HIM!’ another booms, as the warriors surround Stingray in seconds. ‘Sorry, boys - but I’m not in your trap - you’re in mine!’ Walter exclaims as they come at him. And although his battle-suit could take the punishment temporarily, Stingray is pleased the warriors are in close, so he can electrify his exterior, sending them sloshing back through the water.
But as it is, Walter sees that a few of the warriors hung back. ‘He has downed the commander!’ one of them shouts as they begin blasting Walter with their weapons. ‘Quickly! Kill him!’ another shouts. But a few well-placed electro-bolts take care of that, and the Atlantean warriors cry out in agony as Stingray’s power strikes them. Stingray swims towards what the warriors were protecting, and it is just what was expected - a pre-fab blockhouse holding the processing plant Attuma’s forces on the surface used to keep their breathing helmets oxygenated and functional. With the target located, Walter collects the power packs from the aqua-troopers’ guns, surveys the plant, and has cleared it of all enemy personnel with his electro-bolts.
Dr Newell then rewires the power packs and plants them where they will do the most good - before swimming away as quick as he can, as the plant explodes behind him. With his mission accomplished, Stingray returns to the main operation and reports in. ‘Stingray to Scarlet Witch. Come in Scarlet Witch. Mission accomplished - with complete success’ Walter announces as he flies towards the main battle.
Avengers Temporary Squad Beta: Scarlet Witch (acting leader), Stingray, Jack of Hearts, Hercules.
Objective: Repel Atlantean invasion of Canada.
On the battle field of Prince Edward Island, Hercules and the Avengers’ newest member, Jack Hart a.k.a. Jack of Hearts, are under the command of Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch, assisted by Canadian soldiers as they battle the ground fleet of Atlantean warriors. ‘Copy that, Stingray. Great work’ the always encouraging Scarlet Witch calls out to Stingray, informing him that once he has caught his breath, they could use his help on the ground.
Meanwhile, near Wuwel, in China:
Avengers Temporary Squad Gamma: Warbird (acting leader), Vision, Silverclaw, Black Widow, She-Hulk.
Objective: Block incursion of Deviant forces from underground.
Surrounded by countless Deviant warriors, Carol “Warbird” Danvers, the Vision, Natasha Romanova a.k.a. the Black Widow, Maria De Guadalupe Santiago a.k.a. Silverclaw and Jennifer “She-Hulk” Walters are in a whole lot of trouble, trapped underground. ‘Not good, pals and gals - not good at all!’ Jennifer exclaims, remarking that the Deviants dropped the whole village underground. ‘Now we’re on their turf - and sure, numbers don’t count for much against us - but they’re sure happy about something!’ Warbird remarks that the Deviants probably have ordinance that can outpower the five of them. ‘If they can pin us down’ she adds, before announcing that she has done some reading on US Intel files on the Deviants. ‘I’m going to try something…’ she exclaims, as she suddenly calls out in an authoritative voice: ‘Who leads this rabble?’
The other four Avengers look at Carol somewhat concerned, as she declares ‘I name you coward, hiding behind weapons and bodyguards! Coward and worse! I name you unfit to lead!’ she adds, pointing accusingly. ‘Huh? What’re you -?’ Jennifer asks. Carol tells the She-Hulk to shush, while calling out to the Deviants once more: ‘By your own rules, which decree that only the strong shall lead - I challenge to you single combat - for leadership of your army!’ When she gets no response, Carol calls out ‘Well?’, and suddenly, a green-skinned Deviant speaks up, introducing himself as Duplus. He reveals that he leads here, and explains that a woman cannot challenge him for leadership, nor can a human, and laughs at Warbird. ‘Oh? And do you fear women, then, mighty Duplus? Do you fear women and humans?’ Carol asks.
There is a low muttering among the Deviant soldiers, and all eyes turn to Duplus. Carol has him - she knows it - and so does he. ‘Very well. You shall battle my designated champion, as is my right as leader! And when you fall - you shall become my body-slave!’ he shouts. The Deviant army begins chanting ‘Fight! Fight! Fight! Slave! Slave! Slave!’ The Vision quietly asks Warbird if this is wise, to which Carol quietly replies that she knows what she is doing. ‘I merely ask - if you do this because you think it the best strategem or because you are still unsettled at the attention of the Scarlet Centurion in New York, and seek to escape your own thoughts’ the Vision replies. Carol pauses and frowns at him, before replying that it doesn’t matter much now, for either way, she busts this clown up, whoever he is, and they can all go home.
‘So bring it on - bring it on!’ Carol calls out, when, suddenly, a large tar-like substance Deviant steps forward, introducing himself as Glomm, designated champion of Duplus. ‘We fight now, yes?’ he asks. ‘Oh, great. What is he? Nine feet tall? This may not be as easy as I’d hoped’ Carol tells herself quietly.
Elsewhere, specifically the Forbidden Zone, Khystym, Russia. It is here where deadly spectres have drifted outward - the skeletal radioactive thralls of the being known as the Presence. Already Snezhogorsk, Norilsk and Agata are infected - their people transformed by the spectres’ touch, their mind subsumed. The spectres drift on, and here, at the center, two remaining Avengers - the Mighty Thor and Bonita “Firebird” Juarez defend themselves against their radioactively transformed teammates - Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America, Dane Whitman the Black Knight and Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff, as well as the Winter Guard and local scientists.
‘Fight on, Firebird - fight on! Though our foes be numberless - still we shall triumph we must!’ Bonita replies that she doesn’t know, but Thor declares that their fellow Avengers do trust the two of them to save them. ‘To see them whole and hale once more - aye, even if we must batter them senseless to accomplish it!’ Thor exclaims as his mighty hammer knocks several of the radioactive beings down like bowling pins.
Avengers Temporary Squad Alpha: Captain America (leader), Thor, Black Knight, Firebird, Quicksilver.
Objective: Investigate and contain radioactive disturbance in Siberia.
Thor and Firebird only remain because they are immune to the poisonous touch that took their teammates. And those teammates, their minds gone, bodies transformed, have joined the forces arrayed against them. And as if in response to Thor’s impassioned speech, the transformed Quicksilver speeds towards him and smacks him in the face. ‘Zounds! Quicksilver’s strength hath been greatly magnified! And his touch - it burns!’ Thor exclaims as he wipes his face. The Asgardian uses his hammer to create a wind funnel, sweeping several of the transformed away, while Firebird takes several down with a blast of flaming energy as she alerts Thor to someone approaching him from behind.
‘By the World Tree! Captain America!’ Thor gasps as his long-time friend attacks him. But the Living Legend makes no response, except to bear down with a strength far, far greater than human. ‘Fight this, Captain!’ Thor calls out. ‘Assert thy indomitable will - and break free of this unseemly thralldom!’ Thor booms as he resists Steve’s attack. Finally, the transformed Captain America speaks: ‘You…will be absorbed, intruder…brought into the collective mind…into the embrace…of the Presence!’ he exclaims. ‘Eh?’ Thor remarks. Firebird continues to keep her opponents at bay, while telling Thor that he has to forget Cap, and stop trying to wake him. ‘That’s his body - but his mind is dead, like you said before! Don’t you understand? He’s dead!’ Bonita exclaims.
‘Forget? Never!’ Thor replies as he begins to swing his hammer about in a massive display of power, shouting ‘Blow, winds! Roll, clouds! Storms of Earth and sky, rage at this obscenity! THOR, God of Thunder commands thee!’ Thor declares that what has transpired here today is mot foully, vilely wrong. ‘Long ago did I accept that the mortals I walked with would die before me - that their lives where brief as a summer’s afternoon - but CAPTAIN AMERICA is more than just a man!’ Thor shouts. ‘He is the best of his people - the best of mankind - and he deserves better than this!’ Bonita watches in awe, ‘Mary, mother of God!’ she whispers, while lightning crackles around Thor, his face in a rage, ‘This man - this hero - he should not have died like this!’
‘Not fallen back to an attack he could not defend against! Not made a mindless slave to a cause he would have despised! Not this man! He deserved more - aye, he deserved better - and by my hammer - HE SHALL BE AVENGED!’
Meanwhile, aboard Damocles Base, in Earth’s orbit, Kang the Conqueror, the orchestrator of this worldwide chaos, observes his handiwork via monitors, and he is pleased. ‘And on it goes - the old familiar dance. A few words - and they rise at each other’s throats’ Kang remarks, adding that it doesn’t matter whether they fight for his favor, or to seize power for themselves, or simply out of fear and panic, as they do his bidding nonetheless - and for these few rebels, freebooters and would-be quislings sow fear and disorder, just as he wished. Suddenly, Kang’s son, the Scarlet Centurion approaches his father, announcing that the first group of applicants is here. ‘Very good, Marcus. Was there resistance from the local authorities at the rendezvous points?’ Kang asks. Marcus replies that there was, but it was easily handled. ‘I would expect no less. I shall be there shortly’ Kang replies.
And, moments later, Kang appears on his hovering-chair, which keeps him over the men who have come. ‘So. We sent out a call for recruits. And you are the response’ he remarks, before pointing at one of the men. ‘You there!’ Kang shouts. ‘Uh…me?’ the bare-chested man replies. ‘Yes. What qualifies for you for a place in my armies? Swiftly!’ Kang exclaims. ‘Well, I - Australian army training, sir. Served six years, soldiered private too, in -’ the man begins, while there is some commotion behind him. ‘Huh?’ ‘What?’ ‘Hey!’ the other men begin to call out, some of them are blasted into the air, as Whirlwind makes his way to the front of the group. ‘Enough! Whirlwind’s here - and I don’t wait in line behind bums and losers! I got more power than the rest of these clowns put together, Kang - so I figure I’m just what you’re looking for in running the Earth, and I should get class treatment. I want to be a general…at least’ Whirlwind exclaims.
‘Oh, you do, eh?’ Kang replies as he presses a button on his chair. ‘Well then, I have your first assignment, “General”. Tell your fellows on the mudball below - that Kang already has power! What he seeks is obedience, ability and discipline - and he will tolerate nothing less!’ the Conqueror booms. And with that, Whirlwind disappears in a blinding flash of blue energy. The prospects for Kang’s army look around, puzzled. ‘Now…where were we?’ Kang asks.
Back in China, Warbird and Glomm have circled each other for some minutes, searching for a weakness, gauging the other’s skill. ‘You fly very nice, human woman. Do you fight, too?’ Glomm asks. Carol replies that she is just waiting for the right moment. ‘But since you ask -’ Carol exclaims as she unleashes a burst of energy - which simply passes through Glomm’s body as he adjusts his maleable form. ‘Heh. You don’t hurt Glomm that way, human woman. I have no bones, no organs, save one. I shape my mass how I choose’ the Deviant smiles, before grabbing Carol in his mucky purple arms. ‘Still, first strike is yours, human woman. And now - you feel the embrace of Glomm!’ he exclaims. Glomm’s lunge is faster than Carol would have expected of him, and his grip is impossibly strong. And then Carol feels him shifting - his mass flowing up her body and over her face as he begins to suffocate her!
Back in the Forbidden Zone, ‘Thor - watch your back!’ Firebird calls out as she blasts one of the radioactive beings that follows her and the God of Thunder as they move swiftly through the air. ‘Where are we going, Thor? Thor?’ Bonita calls out, but she gets no response. Shortly, at the center of the Forbidden Zone, ‘So, he hath a personal guard, does he?’ Thor calls out as he sees Sergei Krylov a.k.a. the diabolical Presence, standing with Dr Tania “Starlight” Belinsky, and the transformed Nicolai Krylenko standing nearby with several other transformed beings. ‘Strike, storm-clouds! Let these foul beings feel thy wrath!’ Thor booms as he knocks the radioactive beings out with lightning blasts.
Thor drops to the ground with an imposing thud, announcing that he wishes to speak to their master, undisturbed. Sitting in a hover chair, the Presence remarks ‘Ah, Thor. You have great power, pretender to godhood. But I am the Presence - and I am power personified! If you cannot be transformed…you will be slain!’ the Presence declares as he casts his radioactive energy towards the mighty Thor, who blocks the attack with his trusty hammer, ‘I think not, Presence. For I am Thor, do you hear? I - AM - THOR!’ he booms. ‘And thou shalt judge for thyself whether I be pretending!’ he exclaims.
Suddenly, the winds begin to lash around them - whipping faster, closer, forming a wall around them. Thor calls out to the winds, and their fury increases. Firebird, her eyes wide, feels her skin prickle. This is not the Thor she is used to. Her faith tells her there is no God but one. But this - this….
‘Sergei - what does he--?’ the loyal Starlight calls out. ‘Some absorption trick with his hammer’ the Presence replies, telling Starlight not to concern herself, as he shall soon overload it. ‘Do thy worst, villain. Thou hast used thy power badly. Thou shalt use it no more!’ Thor exclaims angrily as he sucks the power from the Presence, who finds, to his horror, that he cannot turn his power-blast off. ‘My - my power! What - what are you doing?’ the Presence calls out, shocked. Firebird hovers hear Thor, whose hammer glows green, and Thor shouts ‘Hear now the judgment of THOR, creature! Thou hast caused the death of a man finer than thou shalt ever know! And thou shalt pay for thy crime - with thy life!’ Thor booms. ‘Sergei…?’ Tania whispers, but the Presence does not respond as the energy is sucked from his form. Indeed, he cannot..!
Back in China, the Deviants cry out for Glomm, chanting his name as his mucky body has covered Warbird. ‘No more defiance, human woman?’ Glomm asks, grinning. ‘Black Widow! We must -’ the Vision begins, pointing to Carol, but the one-time former leader of the Avengers holds everyone back. Carol struggles to move, it is like swimming through clay - thick, hot and unbelievably strong. It envelops her fully, and she is blind and deaf - except her power to absorb energy - she senses a source very near deep within Glomm’s form. Carol slowly and painfully reaches toward it - her mind goes dark red from the lack of oxygen. Darker - darker still - and then, she wraps her hands around the energy source - Glomm’s sole internal organ. His brain. His heart.
The results, needless to say - are impressive, as Glomm utters some sort of moan, and Carol is freed from his form, which loses all shape, and falls to the ground like a mound of mud. Carol gasps for breath, and as the other Avengers strand behind her, she calls out ‘So your Deviantness - what’s it gonna be? Surrender? Or a complete betrayal of what passes for your code of honor - in front of your men?’ Duplus looks around nervously, while the other Deviants all stare at him.
Back in the Forbidden Zone, ‘Dost thou feel it, villain?’ Thor calls out as the life-force is sucked from the Presence. ‘Thy last spark of power - of life - fading in retribution for the lives thou hast so cruelly -’ Thor exclaims, when, suddenly, ‘Thor, wait! Stop!’ Starlight calls out, begging Thor not to kill the Presence. ‘I share his power - perhaps I can drain it from your comrades - restore them, as he restored his son…’ Starlight announces. ‘Thou art able to do this?’ Thor asks. ‘I…think so’ Tania replies. Thor ceases draining the Presence’s life, and tells Tania that she shall restore everyone - the Winter Guard, the scientists, all who have fallen. ‘Of course’ the former Defender replies. ‘Then it is a bargain’ Thor declares, before asking Starlight why she would save this monster’s life?
Starlight replies that the Presence’s dream of global unity was his alone, that she did not share it, and so she loses nothing by reversing his actions. ‘But just as I share his power…I share his curse’ Tania explains. ‘Our lethal power prevents us from associating long with others. Without him, I would be alone’. Firebird stands beside Thor, while Starlight crouches down and cradles the Presence’s unmoving body. ‘Perhaps, woman…thou wouldst be better off that way’ Thor tells Starlight, who replies ‘Yes…perhaps…’.
Later, the Russian authorities have arrived to deal with the aftermath. Soldiers to secure the area and medics to treat the survivors. For there are survivors. Starlight’s efforts were successful, though those transformed remain weak, and will need careful treatment. The Presence has been placed under arrest, and will be confined. Starlight, for her part, goes along unresisting, to accompany him. Thor can only watch as Starlight leads the Presence into a transport vehicle, and the God of Thunder shakes his head at her choice.
While Captain American and the other Avengers are treated by medics, Firebird calls out ‘Thor?’, though the God of Thunder does not look at her. Bonita tells him anyway that she is glad it all worked out, before remarking that she has a question: ‘This is the second time I should have died, but didn’t - and I’m concerned’. Bonita explains that her beliefs say that the true rewards of Heaven come after death. ‘So if I can’t die, I may be forever denied them’. She declares that if that is the Lord’s will, then she will bear it. ‘But - did you mean it, when you said you’ve accepted that your friends will die, and you’ll just…go on?’ Bonita asks.
Thor still does not look at Firebird, replying that he has seen many die, in his time. ‘Too many. And while once they went to Valhalla, to greater glory, that did not make it easier’. Thor explains that he has great respect for the Avengers, and an attachment to them as a group. ‘But as individuals - I know too well that a century hence, I may still be an Avenger, but most of those I know will not’ Thor declares. ‘A word of advice, young Bonita. If thou art immortal, be careful making close bonds with mortals. It brings great pain. I had thought to have held myself aloof - distanced - but I see that I have not. I must…consider this’ Thor declares, while Bonita considers his words quietly.
Back in China, Warbird sits on her “throne” as the Avengers oversee the Deviants cleaning up the mess they made. ‘Wow. Look like they go on forever’ She-Hulk remarks. ‘So, Silverclaw…good to be the king, huh?’ Carol smiles. ‘I suppose…’ Maria replies nervously. Carol tells her to relax, ‘We’re not staying. Not that I couldn’t get used to this…’ Carol adds, before tapping her wristband communicator: ‘Warbird to base. Come in, base’ Carol calls out, before an image of Janet van Dyne a.k.a. the Wasp appears.
One explanation later, ‘Great. Now all we have to do - is figure out what to do with a surrendered Deviant army’ Janet remarks from Avengers Mansion, with Dr Hank “Goliath” Pym and Delroy “Triathlon” Garrett stand beside her. The Wasp tells Warbird that she will check in with the Black Panther since Wakanda has diplomatic relations with Deviant Lemuria. ‘Maybe he can get someone to take them off your hands’ Janet adds, before announcing that she will call back as soon as she has more info. ‘Wasp out’ Janet remarks, before telling Hank and Triathlon that she has one more call to make. ‘Wasp to Team Beta. Come in, Team…’ she calls out as she taps into the Scarlet Witch’s communicator.
‘Scarlet Witch here, and…is that Hank, up and around? That’s great!’ Wanda exclaims, adding that she knew Hank would be fine, before asking what turned out to be the problem. ‘It was…complicated. The important thing is Hank’s good as new now. Better, maybe’ Wasp replies, before asking how thing are at Wanda’s location. With Hercules and Stingray at Wanda’s side, and Jack of Hearts hovering over head, Wanda tells the Wasp that everything seems to be fine, at least for now thanks to Stingray. ‘We cut their supply lines…and they were forced to retreat’. Wanda adds that as far as she can tell, the Atlanteans have retreated back to the North Atlantic, and there is no sign of them anywhere in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. ‘The Canadians are patrolling, of course -’ Wanda begins, before the Wasp interrupts, remarking that it looks like another hot spot has been shut down, and announces she will try and contact the Sub-Mariner to find out what is going on in Atlantis.
Suddenly, Wanda’s image disappears from the monitor as a priority call comes through - and the grim expressions of Dr Valerie Cooper of the Commission on Superhuman Activity, and Duane Freeman the Avengers’ Government Liaison confront the Wasp. Duane excuses himself for the interruption, informing the Wasp that Avengers leadership is needed in Washington urgently to confer with the Joint Chiefs over the Kang situation. ‘Duane?’ Janet asks, confused, before informing him that she has been making arrangements to bring the field teams in, and get them some rest before heading out again. ‘You need us, Duane, you’ve got us’ the Wasp assures him.
Duane thanks Jan, before ending the communication. He turns to Valerie and tells her that the Avengers will be here. ‘And I hope they can come up with a way of ending Kang’s threat swiftly and cleanly, Val - because I don’t mind saying, I don’t much like the backup plan’ Duane tells her as they exit the office and enter a factory. ‘No, I don’t like it at all…’ Duane declares as he and Valerie stare ominously into the large factory where in mass production are…Sentinels!