(Avengers Academy campus)
Jocasta has appeared alive and well. To Giant-Man’s astonishment, she has stated that she wishes to close Avengers Academy. Hank wishes to examine her, as he believes that she is being manipulated, but Jocasta finds his attitude condescending, as if anyone who disagrees with him cannot possibly be in their right mind. And yet, she adds, she is not the one who nearly got dozens of children killed in a desperate attempt to mold them in her image. She tells Hank that it was for him that she focused all of her analytical power onto the question of what is best for their students. There is no disputing her conclusion. Avengers Academy must cease to exist.
Tigra snarls that it was a nice speech but then points to Veil, who quit Avengers Academy to take a high-paying job with Jeremy Briggs! It’s obvious to her that the little sociopath is bankrolling Jocasta, too. Jocasta asks if she really thinks that money holds any appeal for her, or that Jeremy’s ability to transform chemicals could unduly influence her conclusions. Tigra reckons that if he didn’t have something to hide he would be there. Veil tells her that Jeremy knew she’d be like this, which is why he stayed away.
Hank produces a small device and reiterates that he’d be much less suspicious of her motives if he could analyze her systems. “And repair anything you find objectionable? I think not,” she replies. Escaping his interference is the very reason she felt compelled to fake her death while she worked with Jeremy Briggs to construct an alternative to Avengers Academy. Hawkeye says they aren’t about to close down on her say-so. Has she been drinking Wonder Man’s Kool-Aid? He was there when his band of psychos attacked the Avengers. She asks Clint to calm himself. She has no connection to Simon. He made valid points but acted rashly and with excessive emotion. She isn’t there to fight them but to disable the technology that she installed - namely all of it. If they insist on pursuing this suicidal course then it will be without her assistance.
Quicksilver runs towards her and grabs the technological tendrils that have spread from her body. He tells her that if she insists on playing the self-righteous moralist then she will do so without annoying them. The equipment is the property of the Avengers and she will leave it on their campus. Jocasta’s eyes glow and she replies calmly, “I’m sorry Pietro. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” She then uses a concussive blast to knock down her old friends, explaining that it will cause no lasting damage. She wishes them no harm and has just saved all their lives.
As soon as she has accomplished her task, she states, then the discomfort will end. Hazmat is having none of it. She blasts Jocasta and Giant-Man congratulates her. They need to subdue Jocasta quickly. Quicksilver runs in circles around Veil, disorienting her so she cannot utilize her mist form. She tells Pietro that they don’t have to do this, but a voice from above says that they do. That’s the whole problem, they say. When you think you’re a hero, everyone else looks like a villain.
Everyone looks up to see Jeremy Briggs arriving on a cloud created by Cloud 9. Alongside them are Hardball, Komodo and Prodigy. Tigra asks if all the former Initiative kids are with Briggs now. Has everyone gone insane? Briggs replies that they’re simply coming to their senses, slowly but surely. Hardball adds that, if they’re spoiling for a fight, they’ll give them one. He creates a solidified energy field around Quicksilver as Hawkeye fires an arrow in Briggs’ direction.
Reptil immediately grows into a full-sized Sauropod dinosaur and uses his massive tale to sweep Komodo and Hardball off their feet, though Quicksilver and Tigra get caught up in the moment too. He orders them all to stop it. He quickly shrinks back to his normal size and reminds them that they just got done fighting for their lives. Isn’t there another way to do this? Veil believes he is right. There’s got to be a way to work it out. This is why she left. Can’t they be better?
Giant-Man asks Jocasta if she would object to a neutral third party running a scan to be sure she’s not being influenced. He’ll then be glad to let her delete her own work. Jocasta doesn’t think it’s the outcome she would prefer but it’s acceptable on one condition. Hawkeye asked how she plans to shut down Avengers Academy. The answer, quite simply, is by presenting a better way. She thinks the students should be allowed to hear what they’re doing and decide for themselves if they wish to join them. Pietro asks if she expects them to allow her to recruit their students on their soil? Hank, however, thinks that, if they refuse this, it’ll look like they have something to hide. They have a deal. “See,” says Jeremy Briggs. “We’re evolving already.”
Hank asks Jocasta who she trusts to run the diagnosis. He points out that Machine Teen is a robotic intelligence as well. He seems like an obvious choice. Adam is surprised and admits that he doesn’t know what’s going on. Jocasta says no offense, but she would prefer a truly impartial judge - one unencumbered by emotions. She asks Juston if he minds if they employ his Sentinel. Juston says that’s fine but they need to fish his head out of the ocean first. Hank grows to giant-size and climbs into the water. He reckons that repairing the Sentinel might take a while and he doesn’t want Briggs there any longer than necessary. He asks him to go ahead and say what he wants to say while he picks up the pieces.
Briggs tells the assembled crowd that they all want to save the world. So, what are the Avengers doing about global warming, human trafficking, the millions of kids who die of preventable diseases every year? They mean well but they’re stuck in simplistic, old ways of thinking. They don’t have to be. Veil adds that someone has to fight Dr. Doom, but should it be them? She isn’t the Hulk. She turns into gases. All she did against Dark Asgard was to choke bad guys to death, which is why she’s still taking antidepressants. Now, she and Jeremy are working on a way to cure autism and she’s getting paid enough to buy her mom a house. Jocasta then speaks, telling those listening that they were almost killed by a predator which targeted Avengers Academy. Not so long ago, forty-five students were murdered in a single attack at the X-school. A superhuman youth at a school for superhumans is twenty times more likely to die by violence than one living as a private citizen, she adds.
Prodigy states that he is an expert in stupid hero fights. He wrecked Vegas once. The city was mostly evacuated but he can’t deny people probably died because of him. The government wanted him to hide away. Jeremy offered him a chance to atone and to make a real difference in the world. Cloud, Komodo and Hardball all chip in, telling them that, if they feel trapped by their powers, Jeremy can help. They can work on whatever they care about most. Komodo admits that she’s close to finding the key to regrowing missing limbs. Cloud 9 says that she finally gets to use her powers however she wants. She keeps waiting for the catch but there isn’t one. This is for real. Jocasta concludes the speeches by informing them that she’s analyzed the data many times in countless ways. Avengers Academy is a dead end and they can offer a future. This is not opinion. This is science.
The students have their opinions on what has been said. Power Man, Batwing and Rocket Racer like what they hear but Lyra, Ricochet and Butterball aren’t overly impressed. Cloud 9 tells Tigra that with Jeremy she is her own boss. She never has to pick up a gun again. She can just fly as a paying job. She reckons that if she’d been there during the blitz in Washington she’d have wanted her to be a sniper. “Don’t even tell me I’m wrong,” she says. Striker asks Veil if she’s serious about this. Veil replies that she meant every word. It feels like she finally figured out where she belongs. Striker says that’s fine but how does she know it’s for everyone. She’s kinda being like those people who get married and all of a sudden want everyone else to. Veil tells him she doesn’t care what people do. She told them what she thought and now it’s up to them.
Maddie then pauses and says that’s a lie. She cares what he does. She knows Striker wants to be a super hero and wants to be famous. She’s afraid that he’s going to stay at the academy for the publicity and he’s going to get himself killed. She doesn’t think she could stand that. “So,” he replies, “I’m gay.” Veil simply responds with, “Well, duh.” Jeremy Briggs tells Finesse that Veil told him she admitted she might have been wrong about him. Finesse corrects him. What she said was that she has no direct evidence of him having committed a crime, but she does know that he is a murderer. She tells him to get out of her sight.
Hazmat then approaches him and she asks if he still think she could make her and Mettle normal again. Briggs says absolutely. She tells him that Ken won’t go. She just talked to him about it. He’d feel more out of place in an office than he does there. He’s given up on ever being human again. She thinks there might be… other reasons, too. She glances over at Mettle and X-23, who are getting on famously. She admits that she’s not even sure he’s wrong. Maybe he could be happy there. She hands Jeremy a few pieces that broke off Mettle’s body when X-23 stabbed him. She says Ken won’t go with him but if he promises to work on fixing him, she will.
Meanwhile, Giant Man places the Sentinel’s head back on and asks Jocasta where this is coming from. The Avengers are her family. They gave her a place to belong. Jocasta welds the Sentinel’s head on with her optic beam and replies that she is grateful for that but adds that the Avengers have also been the cause of much pain in her short existence. She believes they have held back her development as a sentient being. One might argue the same for Hank. She says he has quit the Avengers several times to pursue science exclusively or to benefit his marriage. He returned only when he felt insecure or the challenges became too daunting or he had nowhere else to go. She asks if he’s ever wondered where he might be today had he not run to the comfort of a familiar place every time he felt weak.
Hank doesn’t respond but instead shrinks to normal size. He asks the Sentinel if it’s receiving and it replies, “Affirmative.” Hank asks it to proceed with the requested protocol. The Sentinel uses cables sprouting from its fingers to hook into Jocasta and do a quick analysis. It states that the virus scan is negative, the tamper scan is negative and there is no external influence showing. Jocasta trusts that Hank is satisfied. Hank says that he is and that, as promised, she can tap into the mainframe and remove all her work. While she does, though, he’d like to say something to the group.
He grows in size again so that everyone can see him and says that he believes in the Avengers. They came together to face threats no single individual could withstand to make the world a safer place. Perhaps it was a simpler time, he wonders. Perhaps they were naïve. Jocasta just asked him where he’d be without the Avengers. He’s thought long and hard about that and he knows that, without question, he would be dead or insane or in prison and not doing anyone much good. He explains that he’s faced hard times as a result of being an Avenger, but he’s also experienced some of the greatest moments of his life; seen things and done things no other scientist can imagine. He’s had the privilege of fighting beside some of the greatest heroes and best friends the world has ever seen and he’s found happiness… probably more than he deserves.
He continues to say that, if he’d never become an Avenger, he might have lived a quiet, contented, productive life as a researcher. But, it’s just as likely he’d have struggled with the same demons - depression, mental illness and suicidal thoughts and never made it out the other side. And, he’d never have had the honor of teaching them. He concludes by pointing out that he is a better man because of the Avengers than he would have been without. Apart from his concerns about Briggs, he realizes Jocasta’s point is a valid one, but so is his. The Avengers make the world a better place.
Once he has concluded his speech, Jeremy Briggs asks everyone to decide, but Reptil cuts him off, wishing to say something himself. He tells them that he just came from the future where Veil was back with them. They were all together as teammates and as friends. He gets the feeling that things went differently for them; that they faced Hybrid alone and a bunch of them died. That’s what made them put aside their differences. When he returned, he found that they worked together to beat Hybrid because his future-self called them. They did something that none of them could have done alone. Can’t they learn the same lesson without people dying? he asks. They might want to do things differently, but that doesn’t mean they can’t stay in touch and help each other when it makes sense. He tells Jocasta that it’s basic strategy that they can accomplish more together than apart.
Reptil says to Jeremy that he rejects the old ways of thinking, right? Well, so does he. He rejects anything that says he can’t see his friends because they don’t think exactly the same way. Briggs says that he actually likes the idea and so does Giant Man. He’d hate to leave things hostile between himself and Jocasta. Jocasta admits that they did defeat Hybrid by combining all their strengths. It’s to their mutual advantage to cooperate at times. Hank turns to Briggs and says he has just one thing. He will not deal with him. Briggs replies that even if all those nasty things people say about him are true, isn’t he all about redemption? Hank tells him that to be redeemed you have to take responsibility for what you’ve done and be sorry. Briggs says that the only thing to decide, in that case, is who’s staying and who’s going.
The White Tiger, X-23, Lightspeed, Striker and Reptil are all happy to stay at the academy but Veil still believes her future lies with Briggs. Rocket Racer and Machine Teen decide to go with Briggs too. Rocket Racer says he’s more an engineer than a super hero, and Machine Teen explains that he came to the academy to work with Jocasta. Hank wishes them well and assures them they are welcome back anytime. Hazmat also wishes to leave which surprises Mettle, but Briggs tells her she doesn’t have to go. He says he doesn’t want anyone who doesn’t want to be there. If her heart is at the academy, she should stay. His door is always open and he’ll still take care of her little project. “You will?” she asks, amazed. He turns and says that only good can come of it, but his sly expression says otherwise.
Jocasta informs Hank that she maintained contact because she hopes she may yet convince him that he is harming the children or mitigate the damage when he learns the hard way. “Funny,” replies Hank, “That’s how I feel about you.” Cloud 9 creates a solid cloud and steps on alongside Briggs, Jocasta and the rest. Jocasta tells him that they’ve found something they can agree on. Perhaps there is yet hope for tomorrow.
(twenty years from now)
Veil stands over a capsule holding the comatose Reptil. She knows that he failed them but he deserves better than this. Giant Man replies that he’ll do all he can. If his mind is in there somewhere, he’ll reach it. And, he didn’t fail. Madeleine points out that he didn’t make things work out the way they remember. It was after Hybrid killed all those students that everything changed for them. It was when Hank changed and realized they needed to work together to make the world safe.
Hank replies that this is the genius behind what Reptil did. He set them on the same path without the fatalities. It might take a bit longer to get there but they will. In fact, he adds, according to his calculations, their world is now more likely to become theirs than it was before they sent Reptil back. The things that matter will still happen. The timestream isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. There are many futures. Achieving your goal, he adds, is about making some more likely than others. Thanks to what Reptil did, his instruments now show that, not just in this reality but countless others, they will see the desperate need. They will put aside their differences and save the world from itself.