the Superflow, universe 7109:
Blue tendrils sweep through space at high speed towards the Superflow - a large illuminated structure floating in space. On board the Nexus of all Superflows, two people monitor what is happening. As the tendrils destroy superflow 7109, the curator informs his boss, the caretaker, that it has gone offline. The same things happens to other superflows in several other universes. He adds that nearly thirty thousand have gone offline in the last hour. The caretaker asks the curator to extrapolate. He replies that if the rate of acceleration remains constant, they will lose the entire communication / ascension fleet in the next half-triad. Outside of the web, he adds, it is impossible to determine whether or not the superstructure will maintain integrity. More superflows drop offline.
The caretaker states that a collapse of the superflow is almost unthinkable. They need a closer look. The curator asks, “Should I also alert the…” The caretaker says no. Not until they know more. He asks him to take them in. The Nexus drops into dreamspace and the boss sees the tendrils all around. He asks if what he is seeing is real. The curator mentions more superflows dropping offline and replies yes. The structure is collapsing. The caretaker remarks that their masters spent a million years constructing this system and it has existed for a million beyond that. Who could have imagined it would end?
The curator explains that the central web is fractured. They are adrift and cannot escape. “Caretaker?” he asks, looking for direction. The caretaker asks how many more communication stations remain. “192, 151, now 127,” he replies. The caretaker asks him to salvage what he can, auto-engage the systems-command for all stations to fire. He looks up at the encroaching tendrils and says he has failed the builders. “Forgive me,” he sighs as the Nexus is destroyed in a massive explosion. As it explodes, many superflows go the same way, continuing the inexorable devastation of the whole system. For the time being, the superflow of universe 616 is still intact.
Avengers Tower, now:
Nightmask is emanating white/pink energy. His eyes glow as he says, “The White Event.” Tony Stark and the Avengers have little idea what is going on so Tony asks Captain Universe to elaborate. She turns to him and repeats what Nightmask just said. “The White Event.” For a couple of seconds, Earth is bathed in bright white light. As quickly as it appeared, it vanishes. Spider-Man asks what just happened. Nightmask simply repeats the words again, only this time he states that it’s the last White Event.
Nightmask then raises his arms and begins to manipulate the machinery that Tony was using to monitor him. He asks Nightmask to stop it, but he continues pulling things towards him and replies that he has many talking machines. Shang Chi asks Tony to wait. He believes Nightmask knows what he’s doing. Captain Universe agrees. She says he was made to be one thing and become something else. She asks Nightmask to tell them. He informs them that they have many talking machines. He can hear them. This is helpful as he can mold them into what is needed. Spidey puts his hand up and asks if it’s possible that they’re extending too much goodwill to the overly ambiguous half-naked super-being. Captain Universe simply replies no. Tony is desperate to know what Nightmask is doing. Maybe they could help? Nightmask replies that he has to find the others.
five hours ago:
A young couple are sitting on a park bench. The blonde girl asks when they are going to tell them. Her matching blond partner has his arm around her and says he already has. “What?” she asks, surprised. He asks if she remembers the recruiter he went to meet. Well, he actually went to see her parents. When he asked them if he could marry her, her father got a little misty. It was kind of perfect, he adds. It was perfect. This is perfect. They are supposed to be together.
Nightmask explains that a White Event occurs when a world is on the verge of ascending on a universal scale. A White Event creates / alters heralds to shepherd this ascension and a Nightmask always acts as forerunner of the change. “I am a Nightmask,” he adds. “There should be others.” Spidey asks what that means. He is very confused. Captain Universe says that this was not a normal White Event. Nightmask tells them that the machine is broken. The universe is broken.
four hours ago:
A couple of guys walk along the school corridor, chatting about how the larger of the two knocked another guy’s ass out for talking to a girl the wrong way. His friend wishes he could have been there. He knocks into someone who drops their books and says he’s sorry before telling his friend that violence is the last resort, but he enjoyed it, right? “Okay,” he admits. “Maybe a little.”
three hours ago:
A tall, slim, dark-haired guy is at a refectory counter and chatting on the phone. He is engrossed in conversation and gives no thought to anyone around him.
Avengers Tower, now:
Spidey wonders what Nightmask is doing. He explains that the machines like to talk to each other. They want to help him find what he is looking for. He tells him there was supposed to be a Justice, a Cipher, a Starbrand and sometimes there is a Spitfire. They should be here. He brings up a map using the machines he has recalibrated and Captain Universe points to a mark on that map. She says they must go there. Tony looks at it and reckons that it’s unrecognizable from their vantage point, but it’s definitely suburban. He taps away at a computer and overlays archived maps on top of it. It doesn’t take him long to figure out where it is. “Sound the alarm. Assemble the team. It was a college.”
two hours ago:
A teacher is giving a lesson and he asks his students if anyone cares to explain the significance of the theory he has laid out on the board. One pupil stands up and explains that it’s all about controlling the transfer. He says that the conduit is everything. They have plenty of systems capable of providing an almost unimaginable source of electric current, but this would enable an almost lossless rate of conversion. He asks people to imagine what kind of good you could do with that much power.
The Quinjet rockets over New York City flanked by Thor and Hyperion. Inside, Tony explains that both the shape of the impact site as well as the herald it’s supposed to produce is a Starbrand. Captain America asks what it’s supposed to do beside blow up schools. Tony reckons it’s some kind of planetary defense mechanism - a person. He believes it’s some normal somebody with the power to defend an entire planet. His armor wraps itself around him as he adds that it’s a scary thought but they should wait until they hear the bad news. “Which is?” replies Captain America. Nightmask answers for him. He explains that this was not a normal White Event. Captain Universe adds that the machine is broken. Not understanding what’s occurring, Eden says he can’t believe that he’s the only one who finds this unbelievably irritating. Tony, now in full costume, informs them that apparently there is supposed to be a system in place for selecting a Starbrand and it’s possible because something went wrong, that those protocols weren’t followed.
The Avengers descend upon their target location with Hyperion landing first. Iron Man determines that there are no other life signs within a hundred meter radius but then he gets a hit. Captain America points to where a Starbrand is emerging in a nearby razed field. In the center, a human form begins to stand up. They don’t know it, but it’s the guy who was walking past the couple in love, the guy who had his books knocked from his hands in the school corridor, the guy serving chicken sandwiches and the guy in class watching as another student spoke.
Tony explains that it turns out that there is a very good reason for these systems existing and why there were only certain types of people that were ever given the Starbrand. It’s a planetary defense system. To properly defend a thing, it requires an amount of energy equalling what’s needed to destroy it. Do they understand? Defending a planet requires having the ability to break one. Now, he adds, imagine that kind of power in the hands of someone who has spent his entire life being ignored!