(outer space, then)
Immundra stands at the wheel of a Shi’ar cruiser but informs his Empress that it has broken. The world is lost! Empress Lilandra asks Smasher to go and warn the Earth. Smasher replies that she has his vow. He will not fail. An explosion soon follows, courtesy of a Sentient Drone ship and Smasher is caught in the blast. Regardless, he journeys to Earth where he lands at high speed in a field in Iowa. He is badly injured and a small piece of his exospecs comes loose and falls to the side of him.
Sometime later, a young woman named Izzy Dare discovers the shard, which has now transformed into a pair of Smasher’s synthetic tri-plated spectra form exospecs. These are organic constructs which means they are alive. Izzy has no idea where they came from but she picks them up and takes them back to the farm. She finds her father putting on his coat and he asks how it looks out there. “Weird,” she replies. He’s not going to believe what she found in the north field. He tells her it’s going to have to wait. Her grandfather has decided to sabotage the pen… again. He asks her if she can talk to him. This is getting old.
Izzy goes to see her grandfather. “So, the farmer’s liberation army strikes again, huh?” she asks. He coughs and says he has no idea what she’s talking about. Izzy asks him to stop doing it. Emphysema isn’t Alzheimer’s and he’s not fooling anyone. He replies that he just doesn’t like anything in cages. He coughs once again. Izzy says fair enough. She prepares herself and her grandpa some soup and sits at the table with him. She asks if he can at least try to stop getting caught so she doesn’t get sucked up in his and her dad’s multi-decade drama.
Her grandfather informs her that, when her mom died and she came home from school, he never planned on staying. He thinks that it’s good that she wants to help, but she was studying astronomy and other space stuff in Colorado. She was doin’ what she was supposed to be doin’. So, why is she still here? Izzy replies that the sky is clear and she can see the heavens. It’s not that bad. She doesn’t regret doing the right thing. Why does he keep giving her a hard time about it? Why does he care? Her grandfather looks up at her and simply says he doesn’t like things in cages.
Izzy is outside and looking at the night sky through a large telescope. A voice calls to her. “Hello beautiful,” it says. Izzy looks down at the pair of exospecs she found which are now glowing. “Put me on,” they say. Izzy doesn’t even think about it for a moment and places the exospecs on her face. Energy sizzle around her as her clothes are replaced by an Imperial Guard subguardian’s uniform. “Whoa!” she exclaims. As she looks upwards, the voice provides information for her, stating that she is a Guardian-type Smasher. It accesses its astral archive and aligns the stellar clusters she sees to known universal cartography to ascertain her location. It then accesses the imperial superguardian exobase. It stabilizes the datastream and then downloads a stargate map and access codes. It also provides the suit with exo-strength, exo-flight and penta-vision. It then asks Izzy if she wishes to upgrade. Izzy smiles at whatever is happening and replies, “Absolutely.”
She then takes off at high speed with a joyous roar. Watching from inside the house is her grandfather who laughs. “Now that’s more like it,” he grins. The exospecs broadcast a priority signal and a stargate appears before her. Izzy asks what it is. The exospecs inform her that it is a non-commercial stealth-grade stargate. It was secretly placed in this non-imperial system because it is a place of strategic significance. “Stargate?” she asks. She is informed that it is an egress for the Shi’ar interstellar transportation network. In this case, it leads to the Shi’ar homeworld, Chandilar.
Izzy goes through the gate and appears in a whole new place. She is awestruck. Large towers rise high into the sky and ships fly effortlessly between them. “This is another planet,” she gasps. “That’s… a freakin’ alien planet. Holy ferd. I’m going to be the first human being to set foot on a…” the exospecs interject and explain that she is incorrect. Many humans have been to Chandilar. She, however, is the first human subguardian in the history of the empire. Izzy admits that she doesn’t know what that means, but she is informed that while possessing formidable assets of a traditional variety, the Shi’arEempire’s greatest military asset is its Imperial Guard defense structure. Hundreds of worlds produce thousands of candidates - subguardians of various types… mantas, starbolts, warstars and smashers. Izzy asks by smashers if it means like her. The exospecs reply that they do. There are currently 43 smasher-class subguardians preparing for the chance to join the most elite fighting force in the known universe - the Imperial Guard. Izzy flies to a large tower, guided there by an unknown force. She asks what, if she is a subguardian, they are called. Superguardians, the exospecs reply as she descends before Gladiator and several of his colleagues.
(Avengers Tower, now)
“Blackveil?” asks Tony Stark. Ex Nihilo’s new Adam says his name in his own coded language. “Blackveil,” repeats Tony. Adam says his name again. Tony reckons it’s not the steam engine, but it’s what civilized men call progress. Cannonball and Sunspot arrive. They don’t wish to disturb Stark but when he sees them he asks them to come and look at this. He shows them a board where Adam’s name is written in his own language and underneath that is the word Blackveil. He explains that he and Adam were able to formalize the characters in his alphabet and from that he’s been able to create a conversion system that syncs up with his speech. They’ve just had their first breakthrough. His name is Blackveil.
Sam tells him it’s very impressive but they’re looking for Izzy and Eden. When they couldn’t find them they tried using the ‘where is’ function on the Avengers machine, but… Tony tells them that he can’t believe they missed all the commotion this morning. Imperial alerts, threats to the empire, general hysteria. They didn’t show up on any finder because they’re in another galaxy.
(the Shi’Ar galactic rim, now)
A major battle is taking place. Warstar is struck as he and Manta fight off their enemy. She turns to see Smasher on the ground being cradled by Oracle. When she asks how he is, Oracle informs her that Galin is gone. Manta is then thrown into the air as another energy beam hits the ground beneath her. “Sharra and K’ythri save us,” she whispers. She looks up to see many enormous sentient drones flying overhead. As she watches she sees several of them get hit by energy beams and wonders who did that. She looks around and sees Izzy in a smasher costume backed up by several Avengers including Wolverine, Captain America and the Falcon.
Izzy explains that her exospecs picked up her intergalactic alert and she came as quickly as she could. She brought reinforcements… the Avengers. Cap says that it looks like they arrived too late for anything except mop-up duty. Wolverine wonders what an Imperial Guard unit is doing getting rolled by a bunch of sleazo normal-type attack drones. Oracle asks if he thinks the guard was beaten by this rabble. He and his tiny sphere of influence. He should look up; look up and prepare themselves for battle. Up above, they see dozens of heavily armed soldiers in battle suits. “Oh, boy,” sighs Izzy. Dr. Banner reckons it looks like there are around twenty heavy cruisers and countless support ships outnumbering the five remaining Shi’ar super destroyers. He sees one of them destroyed and changes that to four. He asks Izzy to hold his exospecs while he transforms into the Hulk.
Izzy states that most of the technology is hundreds of thousands of years beyond what they have on Earth, that saying nothing of the cumulative influence of the thousands of worlds that make up the empire. She would never run, but how do they even fight something like this? They’re facing an endless alien armada. What’s a smasher to do? The Hulk turns to her with a grin. “Smaasshhh!” he says before leaping towards the drones. “Well…” replies Izzy. “All right.”
Captain America asks the Falcon to give him and Wolverine some air support while they engage the ground troops. Eden asks what he wants him to do. Cap says he can move things from one place to another, right? What happens if he moves one ship inside another? Eden replies, “Bad things.” Cap asks him to get busy. Bad things are exactly what he needs. Izzy reckons this is something they don’t teach you in school in Iowa or Colorado.
Izzy’s father sees a trail of energy as she descends and lands near the house. He rushes over immediately. Izzy knows that in the deep, dark corners of the universe, they measure the passage of time in millions of years. Swim in the infinite too long and you forget what solid ground feels like. You lose your anchor to the here and now. If you’re not careful, life simply leaves you behind. It just moves on past you.
“Hey dad,” she says as she sees him approach. She removes her exospecs and transforms back into the clothes she was wearing the first time she changed. He tells her it’s been a month. Where has she been? He thanks God she’s come back. She tells him he isn’t going to believe him but she’s been to space. “I joined this group of… alien… You know what. Never mind. I was in space.” He hugs her and says he thought he was crazy. He thought her grandfather was crazy his entire life. But, he said she went off flying off towards the heavens and he didn’t believe him. “Crazy old man.” Izzy asks where he is. Her father frowns and looks down to one side. Izzy gets the message.
Smasher and the Avengers go to work on the invading force. Eden teleports crafts inside each other so they explode, the Hulk uses his mighty strength to smash them and the other Avengers take on the ground forces. “Don’t let up!” yells Captain America. As Smasher destroys a ship with her eye beams, the exospecs inform her that continued use of them will result in permanent retina damage. Izzy switches to exo-strength and the exospecs upgrade her gauntlet grading. They continue to advise her but she becomes annoyed and orders them to shut up. She smashes the side of a ship with her fists but the exospecs speak up again. They alert her to a Majestor supercast on the superguardian channel. “Majestor…” says Izzy, looking around. The voice on the message congratulates her. She has held the line. The victory codes are transmitted and received. She is informed that Gladiator, the Majestor Lux, is here. The empire is here. The guard is here.
On an open plane, the guard gathers together with the Avengers. Gladiator informs Oracle that they will be leaving soon. The threat has been extinguished and the system has been cleared, but first they must follow the forms. He asks which one it was. Oracle informs him that it was the human smasher-type. He tells her to get on her knees. “Isabel Dare,” he says. “Human of Earth. It seems that after today we are lacking an elite class of your designation on the guard. Are you the smasher the empire is looking for?” She replies that she is. He asks her to rise, to rise a superguardian. Cap smiles. He tells Izzy that she’s the first human member of the Imperial Guard.
Izzy visits her grandfather who lies ill in bed. “Look at you,” he says. “Back from Pluto.” She tells him he doesn’t look so bad. Her dad made it sound worse than it is. He coughs several times but asks her not to fuss over him. He passes her a card and tells her that a good friend gave it to him. He wants her to have it. He wants her to use it. She reads the message which says ‘Dan – if you ever need anything, call me. Steve.’ Izzy doesn’t understand. What is this? He explains that she has something special in her, something passed down from one generation to the next. She has a birthright; one she didn’t even know about. He isn’t going to be around much longer so he wants her to remember something. She tells him she will. He says that heroes make others believe they can do great things. Heroes make heroes. He asks her to turn the car over. She spins it over and sees the letter A printed on there. “And promise me,” he adds. “No more cages.”
Captain America tells her the old man would be proud.
Gladiator says they lost the entire frontier armada and he demands answers. Oracle enters a captive’s mind and raids it mercilessly. He screams in agony before collapsing. “Well?” asks Gladiator. Oracle informs him that he is broken. However, she had some success. His mind was torn asunder and there was no secret he could keep from her. Gladiator asks what weakness they saw that made them think the empire would tolerate an invasion. She replies that it wasn’t that they were invading them, but that they were running from something. They were running from someone!