Earth - in the 40th Century. Hundreds of warriors hold their weapons overhead and chant ‘KANG! KANG! KANG!’ over and over. Kang the Conqueror stands overlooking his warriors, and holds a glass of wine up, while his son the Scarlet Centurion stands behind him. ‘Such a wonderful sound. The roar of loyalty. Of devotion. Of worship. And one day, my son…they will roar for you’.
The Plaza is open, plain, functional. It has no formal name, thought it is spoken of in hushed tones on a thousand thousand worlds. It is known as “Center” - and it is the seat of government of Kang the Conqueror.
Kang motions to the large pillar in the middle of the plaza and calling it the Pillar of Conquest, remarks that it shows the worlds of his empire, shifting through their images unendingly. ‘It is vast now, Marcus - but it will be vaster still, with you as my son and heir’. Kang stands on the balcony and declares that, for too many years he struggled against a predetermined fate - against becoming, in time, that parchment-sniffer Immortus. ‘I thought only of my present, and saw the future as a curse. But now I am free of that foul destiny, and have turned my thoughts to the future I shall forge - the dynasty I will found’.
Kang tells Marcus that he has proved himself an able warrior, a fine commander and have earned the respect and devotion of the men as his chief lieutenant. ‘You have done well. It is good to have a family…a crown prince’. The Scarlet Centurion asks ‘And…my mother, noble sire? Does that make her the empress?’ Kang looks disgusted, ‘Pfah! Do not think too much of women, my son, or give them too great a status. They are a distraction and a weakness - good to serve as soldiers or mothers, but little more’ he declares, before remarking that he has told Marcus of his birth….
Flashback panels, narrated by Kang:
‘How your mother was selected from among princesses, scientists, athletes, the finest breeding stock in all my empire. Each was scanned, tested for genetic purity, for an ideal match with my own DNA…and when the perfect mate was found, she was installed in my private chambers for me as long as it took’. Indeed, women were scanned by scientists, while Kang oversaw the process. And later, he relaxed in a chair, while watching the woman undress in his private chambers. ‘M-my lord Kang, I -’ the woman spoke, but Kang told her that he does not need her to speak, before ordering her to approach him.
The woman was sent 25 years into the past to bear Marcus, on a secluded planet, and Kang visited him every fortnight to supervise his training and upbringing. It took a month of Kang’s time to see Marcus grow from a clumsy youth into a skilled soldier, the superior of all his instructors. ‘It was a pleasure to see your final exercises’.
‘But always remember - the genes that formed you only gave you potential. It is what a man accomplishes that sets him apart - the mark he leaves on the world around him, not the ancestors he can name. You mother is your past, Marcus - and the past is over. It is your future - our future - that should concern you now’ Kang declares as they walk up some stairs into a chamber, standing before a holographic map. ‘We have tarried enough’ Kang declares, before announcing that the conquest of the 21st Century lies before them. He remarks that the time has come to begin their assault. ‘This time period, on this planet, has already been my greatest challenge - and the champions of this era have earned my lasting respect’.
Kang declares that as much as he enjoyed striving against them in times past, the moment has arrived to end the game. ‘In commemoration of your status as crown prince, I shall give you this era as a vassal state. It will be my crowning triumph - and your first. The first of many to come’. Kang orders Marcus to go, and ready the invasion forces. ‘Immediately, father’ Marcus replies.
And if there is something more in Kang’s mind as he watches the Scarlet Centurion leave the chamber, some judgment still hanging in the balance, some test yet uncompleted, well, he says nothing of it.
Meanwhile, in the present day, inside the Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia. Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America, Bonita “Firebird” Juarez, Thor and Janet van Dyne a.k.a. the Wasp have arrived to meet with General McGinty, who thanks them for coming on such short notice. In his hover-chair, the injured Captain America tells the General that it is their pleasure, explaining that most of the active teams are on R&R for a few days after what they have recently been through, so it was no trouble. The General tells Captain America that he read the reports on what the Avengers averted in Siberia and remarks that they did a good job. ‘I was sorry to hear of you and your squad’s injuries’.
Captain America thanks the General as they shake hands, boasting that Avengers heal quickly, he remarks that Quicksilver is already up and around. ‘And I won’t be far behind him’ he declares, before suggesting that they get down to business. ‘Of course’ the General replies as the Avengers are led into a boardroom, while several other officers stand nearby. The General reveals that what he asked the Avengers here to discuss is, naturally, Kang. ‘That madman’s declared war on every civilized nation on Earth - and after that attack on the UN building, it looks as if he’s got the power to make it stick’.
‘Needless to say, the President is deeply concerned - deeply concerned - about the entire situation. As is NATO, the UN and more’ General McGinty announces, before pressing a button on a remote, announcing that the situation in Europe, where Kang has threatened to attack first, is particularly grave. A monitor shows the goings-on, and the General explains that fortifications are being built north of Paris, and that France has been reinforced by UN troops from all over Europe, and some from the States as well. ‘But despite preparations being made across France we still have no idea where the attack might come, or how best to defend against it’. The General announces that they want to do their best to anticipate Kang, but there has been so much upheaval after his global announcements - uprisings, riots, refugees fleeing French cities, super-villains and others trying to seize territory in Kang’s name, it has occupied too many men and too much material giving them little time to prepare for the true attack.
‘Which is just how Kang wants it, of course’ Janet remarks. ‘And even at that, he’s just setting the stage. He’s told us he’s going to attack in France, daring us to be as ready as we like - and then thrown us into chaos to prevent real preparation’ Captain America adds. Steve continues, exclaiming that Kang wants an early victory, not just to establish a beachhead, but to demoralize the world, to make it seem like he can tell them exactly what he’s going to do, only they are still helpless against him. ‘Exactly’ the General agrees, adding that it is crucial they deny Kang that victory. ‘We have to hold him back, have to blood his nose - show the world that Earth can resist’ he declares.
The General continues, remarking that millions of lives may depend on the outcomes of this, when suddenly, Thor interrupts. He stands up, ‘Excuse me’ is all he says, before turning and leaving the conference room, puzzling the General, while the Wasp and Captain America look concerned. The Wasp exclaims ‘He - he just - left?’ and remarks that he is not usually like that as she apologizes to the General. ‘If you can wait a moment, I’ll -’ Jan begins, but the comely Firebird interrupts her, announcing that she knows what this is about. ‘You keep talking - I’ll go after him’ she exclaims as she flies out of the boardroom.
Meanwhile, at Avengers Mansion in Manhattan, Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch is speaking with Tony “Iron Man” Stark over the computer. Tony apologizes for not being able to make it out recently, but the government has been running him ragged. He explains that he has been working so hard on how to crack Kang’s force field that he has barely had time to sleep, let along suit up as Iron Man. Wanda tells Tony not to worry, as they have more Avengers active than in years. ‘We’ll get by’ she assures him, before telling him that she will let Jan and Cap know he called in, when the Scarlet Witch receives another call.
Tony’s image disappears, replaced by that of a bald man, who bids the Scarlet Witch good evening. ‘I have your codename correct, yes?’ he remarks, before introducing himself as Kro, Warlord of Deviant Lemuria. ‘This is a formal call - to thank you for returning to us our rebellious tribesmen’ he explains. ‘Of course, sir. We were just doing our best to keep the peace’ Wanda replies. Kro replies that Lemuria desires nothing but peace and amicable relations with the rest of the world. ‘We are in the Avengers’ debt - and you may call on us whenever you choose’ he announces, before bidding Wanda goodbye, and the communication ends. ‘Whew. Talk about impressive - I’ve dealt with Dr Doom, but that man’s got “ominous” down cold’ Wanda remarks, when suddenly, Dr Hank Pym, dressed as Yellowjacket, enters the communications room, telling Wanda that she could take Kro easy.
‘So he’s the warlord of an entire monstrous race - what of it? You’re deputy leader of the Avengers - and don’t you forget it’ Hank declares. ‘Hank! So…you, ah, decided to become Yellowjacket again?’ Wanda remarks. Hank smiles and replies that it might seem like an odd choice, given all his troubles, but points out that he has spent too long hiding behind his problems or from who he is. ‘It’s as Yellowjacket that I had my worst problems - so it’s as Yellowjacket I’ll face them, and find out if I’m truly cured’ Hank declares, telling Wanda that he hopes that doesn’t worry her. Wanda and Hank hug as the Scarlet Witch tells him ‘Not a bit, Hank. You’re one of the all-time best, no matter what costume you wear - and you’re going to be just fine, I know it’. Hank smiles and thanks his long-time teammate.
And as two old friends share a moment of warmth and support, upstairs, in the private quarters of Jack Hart a.k.a. the Jack of Hearts, a purple mists floats by his near-naked body, before a computer announces ‘Permeation complete. Neutro-mists fully active. Estimated neutralization period - 4.2 hours’. Jack steps out of the chamber, shakes his head for a moment and sighs. But soon, he gets dressed into jeans, a shirt and a jacket, and tells himself that it has been so long since he wore anything like this that it feels more alien than his armor. ‘Maybe I shouldn’t…’ he begins, before there is a knock at the door: ‘Hey in there - you decent?’
Jack spins around: ‘Triathlon! Sure, I was just getting ready’ he smiles. ‘Make it Delroy, when I’m out of costume, okay?’ Delroy Garrett replies, before asking Jack if he has to go through that whole rigmarole every time he wants to ditch the tine suit for a while. ‘Pretty much. The Zero-Energy that gives me my powers can’t be contained by anything but the armor - but the neutro-mist negates it for a few hours, turns the discolored part of my skin back the way it used to be - lets me have at least the illusion of a normal life’ Jack explains. ‘Sounds rough’ Delroy replies.
Jack smiles and explains that it is an improvement actually, explaining that it used to be that he had to stay in a dome with the mists on all the time. ‘But look, I wanted to thank you for setting up this evening. I’ve been off Earth so long - I barely remember which end of towns the Bronx and which is the Battery’ the handsome hero declares. Triathlon replies that it is no big deal, before announcing that they ought to get going. ‘The girls are meeting us at the restaurant - and Yvonne gets cranky if she has to wait around’ Delroy adds as he puts on his jacket over his Triune Understand shirt.
‘Yvonne? She’s the one you’ve lined me up with, right?’ Jack asks. Delroy tells his new teammate to relax, assuring him that he will like her. Delroy thinks to himself ‘I guess Photon and Jarvis were right. All I had to do to start getting accepted as an Avenger was reach out some…’. Making their way downstairs, Delroy tells Jack that he called a cab and it will be here soon, but waiting downstairs for them is Carol “Warbird “Danvers, who asks the men if they have a minute to spare. ‘Sure, Warbird. What’s up?’ Delroy asks. Carol announces that she and the Vision want to talk about the Triune Understanding.
In one of the living areas, Delroy and Jack sit on a couch, while Carol and the android Avenger known as the Vision stand before them. Carol announces that she wanted to do this quietly and without involving team leadership, which means they can keep it unofficial and deniable. ‘Vision, why don’t you tell them what we’ve learned?’ Carol suggests. ‘Very well’ the Vision begins, announcing that Justice and Firestar are undercover at Triune Headquarters, explaining that they agreed to it as a favor to Iron Man, outside of the team’s purview, and after they took a leave of absence from the team. The Vision reveals that Firestar and Justice sent a report out through Photon, explaining that the Triunes are recruiting followers against some prophesised threat from space, and are building a spaceship to engage that foe.
‘A spaceship?’ Jack asks. ‘Yeah, that bit was news to me, too…’ Delroy mutters. The Vision adds that the spaceship is to be powered by the life-force of the Triune acolytes. Carol declares that Justice and Firestar are doing their best, but they are young and not exactly experienced at espionage. ‘I think we need someone else on the scene - someone who can get to the bottom of what’s going on’ she exclaims. Delroy leaps from his seat, ‘Whoa. Hold it. Hold the phone!’ he protests, telling the others that he knows they think the Triune Understanding is some sort of bizarre cult, ‘But remember, I’m a member of the Understanding. I believe in their principles - and I don’t think this is right!’
Carol frowns and points out that Triathlon has had the Avengers private priority frequency before he ever joined, and asks him where he got it from. ‘Ah…the Triunes’ Delroy replies. ‘And you’ve got no worries about them?’ Carol asks. ‘You think they’re on the up-and-up, they’re being completely open about whatever connection you might have to the 3-D Man?’ she asks him. ‘Ah…’ Triathlon replies nervously. Carol declares that she is not saying the Triune Understanding are villains, but that there are questions. ‘We all know that’. She declares that she was in Air Force Intelligence too long to just ignore something like this. ‘I’m saying lets find out the truth - whatever it is. If they’re good guys, great. If not…there are lives at stake’.
Back in Washington, Thor stands atop the Jefferson Memorial as clouds swirl above him as the sun slowly sets. ‘What’s wrong, Thor?’ Firebird asks as she drops down beside the Asgardian. Thor replies that nothing is wrong, and that he merely pauses to appreciate the changing sky as it doth shade toward night. He asks Bonita to leave him, as he wishes to be alone. The defiant Firebird ignores his request, ‘This has something to do with what happened in Russia, doesn’t it?’ Bonita asks, telling Thor that she is concerned. ‘Everyone is. And I’d like to help if I can’. Thor quickly spins around, ‘Woman, I said -’ he begins, but Firebird puts her hands on her hips and stares at him: ‘YES?’ she booms.
Thor smirks and tells Bonita that she has spirit to stand up to the son of Odin. He remarks that it is a quality he seems to encounter more frequently of late, to which Bonita tells Thor that she thinks he needs a friend. ‘What kind of friend would I be if I let you chase me off?’ Bonita asks. Thor replies that the discussion in the meeting room seemed so transient, so unimportant. ‘War. Death. It is never far from the lives of mortals’ he remarks, before revealing that he is considering leaving the Avengers once the present danger has past. ‘Leaving? But why?’ Bonita gasps. Thor looks to the distance as he replies that, in Russia, when he thought Captain America to be dead, he was overcome with grief and rage. ‘And that, in itself, is the problem’.
‘I am an immortal. All human lives are brief, by comparison to mine own. And I had convinced myself…convinced myself…that I was not too attached to these firefly comrades who blink out so swiftly’ Thor explains. Thor tells Firebird that as she saw in Siberia, he was wrong. ‘It is foolish of me, to make such close bonds, convincing myself that these mortals will not burn out, will not vanish. But they will’. Thor declares that he is a god playing at mortality, pretending to something he is not, and should stop. ‘I’m not so sure about that’ Firebird tells him, and declares that if he leaves, she thinks he will be making a mistake, costing him something precious to spare himself pain. ‘You cannot understand’ Thor tells her, to which Bonita replies ‘Maybe not. But I’d like to show you that you’re wrong. You said you’d stay until the current crisis is over. Can I have that long to try to change your mind?’ Firebird asks. Thor frowns.
Back in Manhattan, Triathlon frowns: ‘Okay. I still don’t like it much, but I’m convinced. If there’s dirt, let’s find it. If not…let’s prove it. But what do we do? Say, “Hi there, the Avengers would like to join up”?’. Carol explains that they will get in through Delroy. ‘You’re an Avenger, after all - is it so hard to believe you talked about the Triune teachings, got us interested?’ she asks. ‘Well, I didn’t - didn’t want to intrude’ Triathlon remarks, before asking what a bunch of world-famous super heroes would need with spiritual guidance. The Vision replies that anyone can be in need of guidance, pointing out that Warbird is an alcoholic, and that he has lost his wife, and is seeking new direction and purpose in his life. ‘Even Jack here is recently returned to Earth, and could be confused and overwhelmed by his cosmic experiences’ the Vision suggests.
‘Well, when you put it that way…’ Delroy mutters, shrugging his shoulders. ‘You - you want me to go?’ Jack of Hearts asks, surprised. ‘No - it was just an example. I believe only one of us should go, so we do not unduly weaken the Avengers’ roster strength’ the Vision explains, before announcing that he thinks he should go, as his android form is suited to observation, analysis, and if necessary, escape. The Vision reveals that he is also interested in learning more about the Triune faith. ‘It’s quite intriguing’ he exclaims. ‘Just so you don’t go becoming a convert on us, Red…’ Carol remarks, tapping the Vision on the shoulder. ‘Hey!’ Delroy exclaims.
Looking out one of the large windows, Jack announces that their cab has arrived. ‘That’s our cue!’ Delroy exclaims as they begin to leave the lounge, but Carol holds Delroy back, informing him that there is another reason why she suggested all this. ‘I do think it’s the right thing to do, but also - I know there’s been some strain between you and the team’. Carol tells Delroy that she thinks he is a good guy, and thought it might help. ‘I think like an intelligence officer, what can I say?’ Carol remarks, before assuring Delroy that she hopes this turns out to be nothing. ‘Well…thanks, I guess’ Delroy replies, before declaring that this is the first time anyone has asked him to spy on his church to make him feel better, before asking Carol and the Vision if they want to join he and Jack for dinner. ‘Maybe his a few clubs…?’ he asks. ‘You know…that sounds like fun’ Carol smiles.
Minutes later, Carol has changed into a blue jacket and skirt, while the Vision has adopted his “Victor Shade” persona, and looking forward to an evening of being people, not heroes, they leave the Avengers Mansion grounds. But from above, a fifth Avenger - Pietro Maximoff a.k.a. Quicksilver - watches them from the Mansion rooftop. ‘Sir? Quicksilver?’ Edwin Jarvis calls out. The speedster turns and looks at the Avengers butler, who announces that he brought refreshments. ‘I thought you might like a snack’ he remarks. Pietro thanks Jarvis, and remarks that he was just collecting his thoughts, wondering where the others were headed in such a convivial grouping.
‘You could join them. I’m sure they’d -’ Jarvis begins, before Pietro interrupts: ‘No, I don’t think so. I might do some training in the combat simulation room, though’ he remarks, announcing that he finds himself wishing the alarms would go off - that they would be called back into action. ‘Sir?’ Jarvis asks, confused. Pietro explains that in battle, at least, he knows who he is - what his role is. ‘I depend on my power, my training, my tactical skill. But away from the battlefield, what am I? A failed husband. And absent father’. Quicksilver takes something off the tray Jarvis carries as Jarvis replies ‘Really, Sir. You’re far more than -’, but Pietro interrupts again, telling the long-serving butler that there is no need to manufacture compliments. ‘I know what I am’.
‘I am arrogant, quick-tem petered and unlikable. I know that, and I don’t mind. Usually, I do not wish to be liked - and I think I have good cause to be arrogant’ Quicksilver declares, before gazing out over the city, remarking ‘It’s just that sometimes…sometimes I wish the call to battle would come, that’s all…’.
Back inside the Pentagon, the Wasp announces that Attuma’s soldiers have not returned. ‘We’re told he may be having some trouble with Prince Namor’ she explains. ‘Let’s hope so’ the General remarks, adding that they had hoped the Avengers could have taken the fight to Kang and ended his threat. ‘But we’ve been distracted by his machinations as well’ the Wasp declares. ‘Yes, quite so’ the General remarks. Wasp tells General McGinty that it is not over yet, announcing that they would be making plans to assault Kang’s orbital base right now, if they had not been called here.
The General replies that he didn’t mean to impugn the Avengers’ dedication. ‘I just meant…well, we’ve had to make backup plans’ the General reveals. He exclaims that this is too important not to throw everything they have got at it. ‘And accordingly…we thought you should be aware of our next step’ he announces as he presses a button on his remote, and a screen shows rows and rows of Sentinels waiting in a factory. ‘Sentinels!?’ Captain America exclaims, getting to his feet. ‘You’re not serious, General?’ the Wasp adds, hands on hips. McGinty replies that they are not a jokey bunch around here, and announces that he thinks the Sentinels may be able to pierce the force-field around Kang’s base. ‘We have over 200 under construction - we’ve boosted their plasma beam output, increased their speed -’ the General announces, before Captain America interrupts: ‘General, with all due respect - this is a bad idea’.
‘The first time the Sentinels were activated they turned on their creator. The second time they did it again. More recently they devastated Manhattan. They’re too risky - they’re just a bad idea!’ Captain America declares. General McGinty replies that he is not unsympathetic, remarking that they understand there is a risk, but they feel it is the risk that they have got to take. ‘There is a weapon of opportunity, however. The first flight of Sentinels won’t be ready for 96 hours. If the Avengers can deal with Kang before that…’ he announces. ‘96 hours? If that’s all you can give us, General - we’ll take it. And I assure you, sir - we will find a way to take Kang down!’ Captain America declares.
His words are said casually and quietly, but still, they have the ring of a solemn oath…when, suddenly, there is a mighty rumble. ‘What in -?’ the General exclaims, declaring that this is not possible, as the building is reinforced - ‘Earthquake proof!’ he exclaims.
But for all that, it happens - not just at the Pentagon, but across the river in Washington DC proper - as far north as Chevy Chase, and as far South as Alexandria, the ground heaves, buckles - and then thrusting up into the sky like some biblical behemoth’s gigantic teeth - and on it goes - more, ever more - giant structures, fully half a mile high, and a quarter-mile thick at the base - and more, and still more - until finally, with a final shuddering sigh - there is silence. ‘Od’s blood!’ gasps Thor as he and Firebird witness the amazing event unfold.
Inside the Pentagon, ‘Sir! Sir! This - this structure - whatever it is - it’s ringing the whole city! Entirely around, in one great ring!’ someone announces as they rush into the meeting room. He tells the General that they have no idea where it came from, and that there was no warning whatsoever. Another officer enters the room, announcing that there are calls coming in. ‘It’s happening everywhere, Sir - all over North America! Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto - we’re getting more and more reported every minute!’.
The Wasp asks if this could be Kang, when, suddenly, a voice is heard over the monitor: ‘Hardly my dear, quite the opposite in fact’. Cap, Jan and the General all turn to the monitor, where they see a man dressed in silver armor with a red cape sitting before them, with two strange green alien wolf-like creatures at his side. ‘My apologies for the unorthodox intrusion - but I wanted to set your minds at ease as soon as possible. It is I who have fortified the cities of North America. And I who will repel the aggressor from our planet’. ‘Who -?’ someone asks. ‘Oh, did I neglect to introduce myself? Once again, my apologies. You failed to protect the world - so I was forced to step in. I am, of course, the MASTER OF THE WORLD - and all who live on it, whether they are aware of me or not, are my subjects, and thus under my protection - now, and forevermore!’….