Texas, more specifically Saunders College, where the Avengers Captain America a.k.a. Steve Rogers and the She-Hulk a.k.a. Jennifer Walters lie in a pile of rubble, the victims of an unexpected attack. An attack from their friend and fellow Avenger of the West Coast branch – Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch!
Clad in black, Wanda stands over her friends when Jeremiah Random enters and congratulates her for defeating two of her most powerful former colleagues in less than thirty seconds. Eyes completely white, Wanda remarks that Captain America and the She-Hulk hesitated to strike at her, no doubt thinking that she could be reasoned with. ‘Not realizing there can be no reasoning with That Which Endures…’
‘Of course not! No more than one can reason with a hurricane…a swarm of locusts’. Jeremiah Random replies smiling, ‘We are a force of nature. Primal. Elemental. We have survived since the dawn of life on Earth!’ Random declares that they are now embarked upon a course of action that will ensure their survival beyond the age of humankind. While some of his staff tend to Cap and Jennifer, Random leads the Scarlet Witch away, boasting that they stand upon the threshold of the age of mutants, and informs Wanda that, for many years, it seemed as though the fates, in the form of a cruel genetic quirk, had chosen to bar them from that coming age.
Jeremiah declares that now, with the assistance of the Scarlet Witch, the stage is set for their continued endurance. ‘As mankind falls by the wayside, we shall ride the crest into the mutant millennium!’
Meanwhile, sixty-five minutes later and to the North-East... ‘Cant you get this crate to go any faster?’ Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye, leader of the Great Lakes Avengers asks, muttering that they are never going to get anywhere going at this speed. Ashley Crawford, famous super-model who is piloting the jet informs Clint that this “crate” happens to be one of the finest private aircraft that money can buy. Ashley, who sometimes goes by the alias “Big Bertha” thanks to her mutant power to more than double her size remarks that she knows it is no Quinjet, before reminding Clint that although they call themselves Avengers they do not have access to any of their more sophisticated hardware.
‘Fine! Fine! So stooge along at sub-sonic speed for the next year and a half!’ Clint mutters before turning to his wife Barbara “Bobbi” Morse-Barton, better known as “Mockingbird” and asking her what she has got for him. At the radio-console, Bobbi replies ‘Not much, lover!’ and informs her famous Avenger husband that the Quinjet emergency signal she monitored was so faint she is barely sure she even heard it. Bobbi remarks that she knows they are flying on a pretty straight course for its point of origin, but that unless it starts up again there is no way to triangulate its precise position.
‘In other words, this here is nothing more than a wild goose chase, right, “leader”?’ asks Mister Immortal. Clint frowns and tells Mister Immortal to keep the sarcasm out of his voice, motioning to the other Great Lakes Avengers, Clint remarks that this crew of oddballs assembled here are nothing but bush league super heroes before he and Mockingbird hooked up with them, and points out that, for the first time, they have a real chance to show the Avengers what they are made of – ‘If we can ever find them!’
At that same time, just outside of Los Angeles, a Quinjet returns to its bay at the Palos Verdes Compound, home of the Avengers West Coast. Three Avengers exit the Quinjet – Dr. Hank Pym, his lover Janet van Dyne a.k.a. the Wasp, and Simon “Wonder Man” Williams. Janet remarks that it was something of a fruitless trip, as she was so sure that when Wanda ran off this morning she was and the Vision were heading for Seattle to see Professor Horton. Hank tells Jan that he wouldn’t call it entirely fruitless as any chance to talk with Horton is important, for they now know the Vision was not made from Horton’s original Human Torch like they once believed.
Wonder Man remarks that he is still not sure how that can be true, as there was so much evidence supporting that version of the Vision’s origin. Hank replies ‘Not exactly’ and admits that a lot of pieces seemed to fall into place with the “revelation” of the Vision’s connection to the original Human Torch, but now, seen from their new vantage point, that revealed “truth” starts to get a little fuzzy around the edges. Hank informs the others he is now heading for their main computer facility, as he wants to see what he can cross-check on their missing android, and asks Jan if she is coming.
The Wasp replies that she will join Hank in a bit, and as Hank leaves he tells Simon and Jan to stay out of trouble. The Wasp flits over to Simon and tells him that she assumes by his long face it means he is still concerned about Wanda. ‘Of course! How could I not be?’ Simon replies, reminding Jan that the Vision was only capable of falling in love with the Scarlet Witch in the first place because he was based on his brain patterns and emotions.
Wasp knows that Wanda says she hates Simon now because he has refused to let Hank recopy those patterns into the Vision. Simon asks Jan if she can even begin to imagine how that feels. He informs her that when he came back from being “dead” – from the chrysalis stage that transformed him into what he is now – when he saw Wanda for the first time, it was love at first sight!
Jan understands that it was love at first sight and remarks that Wanda had done everything she could to break down the Vision’s robotic reserve, but in the process had made herself irresistible to Simon – after all, it was a copy of his emotional content that Wanda was trying to appeal to. ‘Exactly! I never had a chance!’ Simon exclaims, adding that by the time of his and Wanda’s first meeting, she was already married to the Vision, and as weird as it seemed to him…’Like I said this morning, there are rules about things like that…’.
‘Yes there are, but there’s no reason why you can’t make those rules work for you, Simon’ Jan points out, before telling Simon that Wanda didn’t fall in love with some plastic organs and a few million miles of micro-wire. ‘She fell in love with the inner man she sensed hiding behind the computerized responses – and that “inner man” was you!’ Jan suggests that even though Wanda didn’t know it herself, it was actually Simon she was falling in love with!
In the computer lab, Hank sits at a console, thinking to himself that this is turning out to be a bigger problem than he had imagined – for when that covert international group kidnapped the Vision, they not only erased his personal memory banks, but planted a computer virus in the Avengers’ systems that eradicated all their files about the Vision, which leaves Hank chasing smoke as far as any hope of cross-referencing goes. ‘I’d be working entirely from memory – and as good as my memory is, it’s not good enough!’
Hank leaves the computer room, deciding that perhaps he should concentrate on where Wanda is for now. Walking through the Compound, he calls out to Carlos, who greets Hank and asks him how he can help. Hank points out that as Carlos is their butler, he comes into contact with most of the Avengers several times a day, and asks if he has noticed anything strange about the Scarlet Witch’s behavior lately.
Carlos replies that he has seen only what everyone else has seen – that Wanda is very distressed over what has happened to the Vision, although he seems to recall her brightening after just after she got that letter the other day. ‘Letter? What letter?’ Hank asks, but before Carlos has time to answer, Tigra, somewhat stranger looking than usual, growls and rushes past them.
‘What in the name of…’ Hank exclaims. Carlos remarks that Tigra has been acting most strangely as of late, and that the cook said Tigra has been chasing mice in the kitchen! ‘Mice?’ Hank replies, before putting on his jacket and rushing after her, thinking to himself that it sounds as if Greer is going through another inversion – as though her feline aspects are becoming dominant again.
But within a few moments, Hank searches through the woods, thinking to himself that he never really registered how big the grounds are at the West Coast Compound ‘You could hide a small herd of elephants without too much difficulty!’ he jokes before calling out to Tigra. When he gets no response he is about to turn and head back to the buildings, when there is a mighty roar, and Tigra leaps out at Hank from the trees, landing on him, she pushes him over and begins attacking Hank tooth and claw.
Hank tries to force Greer back as he thinks to himself that his jumpsuit does enough to protect everything it covers, but Tigra is instinctively going for his exposed flesh – mostly his throat! Holding Greer back, Hank only has one chance, and although he doesn’t like using his powers on living things, it is a last resort, and the ferocity of Tigra’s attack leaves him with no choice. Hank’s “Pym Particles” work effectively on the savage Tigra, who growls, then hisses as she is reduced to a size smaller than a housecat. Holding her by the scruff of her neck, Hank wonders what he can do with her now.
At that moment, roughly one thousand miles away, Captain America opens one eye, ‘Alone at last’ he thinks to himself, before sitting up and whispering to the She-Hulk, asking her if she is okay and informing her that he did what he could to protect them both with his shield. Jennifer replies that she is fine and tells Cap that she guessed he was up to something when she saw him fall, adding that his shield should have absorbed the impact of the masonry the Scarlet Witch made fall on them.
The two Avengers get to their feet as Cap replies that it did, but that he thought it best to play possum rather than risk hurting Wanda in a pitched battle. Cap adds that he is glad Jen picked up on what he was planning and played along. Cap points out that this cell is likely to be full of alarms and sensors so they had better move fast. ‘Yes…’the She-Hulk replies before grabbing Cap and tossing him across the room.
‘Sorry, Captain. Obviously you have not been properly assimilated – therefore you must be destroyed!’ the She-Hulk exclaims. ‘Assimilated? She-Hulk what in blue-blazes are you talking about? Don’t tell me they got to you, too?!’ Cap exclaims, wondering hot they got to Jen and why it didn’t affect him as Jennifer clearly thinks that it should have.
The She-Hulk lunges at Captain America, who dodges before her powerful blow hits him. Cap thinks to himself that, even if Jen does know the answers, her present mood makes it clear that she is not inclined to share them with him, so the question is now how long can he keep dodging here in this confined space – and if she connects, can he hope to survive a direct hit from someone who is nearly as strong as the Hulk?
Suddenly the door to the cell opens and Jeremiah Random enters, ordering the She-Hulk to stop, as they want Captain America to live – ‘For now!’ Random exclaims as he shoots Cap right in the chest.
Meanwhile, ‘I have been unattended now for seven hours, four minutes, twenty-three seconds’ the Vision declares as he lay on a table, deciding that this is inconsistent with the alleged purpose of his being here at the Saunders College for the reconstruction of his missing data base. Floating up, the Vision remarks that it has been even longer since he has seen his wife, so logic indicates it is time to find out what has happened to her. The Vision notes that Captain America and the She-Hulk also seemed concerned for Wanda’s well-being.
The Vision literally walks through walls as he leaves the chamber he was in and recalls that, according to Jeremiah Random, Wanda departed of her own volition, shortly after leaving him here. He admits that he is not fluent in emotional responses, but upon closer analysis the actions of the Scarlet Witch do not seem in keeping with her expressed concern for his condition.
The Vision decides that he has no reason to doubt Jeremiah Random, the most productive course of action would be to attempt at determining where Wanda might have gone. As chance would have it, the Vision flies into the midnight sky, where a plane is flying nearby. ‘Hey look! Swing around, Ashley. If the Vision’s here…he may know something about that distress signal!’ a voice from inside the plane remarks to Big Bertha.
The Vision notes the civilian aircraft attempting a mid-air rendezvous with him and after checking his programming finds no trace of its identification. A voice is emitted from the plane, ‘Yo, Vizh! Come on over!’ Moments later, the Vision has phased himself into the plane, and greets Hawkeye after recognizing his voice, before pointing out that he does not know any of the individuals here with Clint and Mockingbird. Clint smiles, and remarks ‘No surprise’ before telling the Vision to say “hey” to his new team, the Great Lakes Avengers.
‘”Great Lakes”?’ the Vision replies, before asking if “Midwest” would not be a more appropriate nomenclature. ‘Yeah, maybe. I didn’t name them!’ Clint replies, before asking the Vision what he knows about the distress signal Mockingbird picked up. ‘Distress signal?’ the Vision asks, before realizing that it is probably the one that Captain America referred to. ‘Cap? He’s in this too?’ Hawkeye asks, before wondering what his good friend’s involvement is.
Back at campus, in one of the labs, Captain America is laid out on a table, with various computers scanning him, and a scientist tells Jeremiah Random that there is definitely something in Captain America’s bio-matrix that blocks the assimilator. Random turns to the She-Hulk and asks her what she knows of this. Jennifer explains that it must be the Super Soldier Serum, the substance that turned him into Captain America in the first place, as it still replicates itself in Cap’s bloodstream.
‘A chemical block? Fascinating!’ Jeremiah Random exclaims, before remarking that since Captain America is not a mutant, their presence would have been within every cell of his body since the moment of conception, just as they are in all the higher life forms. Random supposes that the Super Soldier Serum has eradicated them, which he assumes is a side-effect of transforming Captain America into the perfect human specimen that he is now. The She-Hulk informs Jeremiah Random that there is something she doesn’t understand about this, all the talk about “we” and “us”. Jen asks who the “we” is, and ‘What is That Which Endures?’
Suddenly, the Scarlet Witch appears, no longer clad in black, but wearing her pink and red costume, and tells Jennifer that she can answer her question. Jen tells Wanda that she is pleased to see her and apologizes for their little “confrontation” earlier. Wanda smiles and tells the She-Hulk that it is all right, as she knew Jen did not understand what is happening, but now she can tell her.
(Shown with flashback images)
Wanda informs Jen that it began four billion years ago with the first primitive cell, essentially the first life on Earth, which, like all the simple organisms since then, that cell reproduced itself by dividing. But, at that first moment of diversion, something happened – the fission should have produced two identical entities, but it did not. One was different, it immediately invaded the other half, matching itself exactly to the proto-cells genetic structure, becoming one with it.
So it is, this invader has been present in all the descendants of that first organism – present in the fish that developed in the seas. Present in the plants that that were the first to make headway onto the land – and in the amphibious creatures that followed. It was there in each and every one of the dinosaurs, subtly guiding their development – making them masters of this world for two hundred million years! But, the dinosaurs came to be seen as a dead end, and they were abandoned, so focus shifted to the mammals….
Wanda concludes by stating ‘Without our presence to guide them, the dinosaurs quickly died out. She-Hulk is slightly confused – ‘You mean this…”passenger” inside us all…it’s conscious? Thinking? Choosing?’ she exclaims. ‘After a fashion, She-Hulk!’ Jeremiah Random declares, smiling as he exclaims that it is true a form of intelligence that developed in them almost immediately, for that most part, that intelligence lay dormant, it was many millions of years before they learned to control the process Charles Darwin named “Natural Selection”.
Random explains that once that occurred however, they began to take an active interest in their hosts, and once every hundred thousand years their intellect manifests itself in a few…random…creatures, studying the progress of life and matching the adaptability of one species against another. Random adds that an assessment is made, and those life forms they judge to be at their maximum potential they abandon. ‘Our presence within their cells shrinks, dwindling eventually to nothing – and our guiding intellect turns to other, profitable species, after all, our whole and sole purpose is to endure’.
Jeremiah Random remarks that, thus, they left the dinosaurs in favor of concentrating on the mammals, and since then narrowed their focus to the ultimate mammal – mankind, adding that when Neanderthal proved unsuitable, they shifted to Cro-Magnon. Random is about to say something else, when suddenly one of his associates enters the room informing him that they are under attack – by the Avengers!
Outside, the Great Lakes Avengers rush forward, with Hawkeye shouting ‘Avengers Assemble!’ Mockingbird leaps into action, kicking one of the men, she remarks that they mostly seem to be college kids, and tells the Great Lakes Avengers to try not doing any permanent damage until they know what is going on here. Flatman has twisted his body around a trio of attackers and tells Bobbi that it shouldn’t be a problem, as none of them are properly armed, so obviously they did not expect them.
Dinah Soar swoops down low, causing a quintet of attackers to fall to the ground, and as the Vision deals to his own opponent, he congratulates Hawkeye on his new team’s efficiency. ‘But not quite efficient enough, Vision!’ exclaims the She-Hulk as she arrives on scene, before pulling a large column from the ground and exclaiming that she will see how Hawkeye’s team fares against some real muscle. Big Bertha declares that the “She-Hulk lady” has turned bad, and tells her team-mates that she will deal with her.
As Big Bertha lumbers over to the She-Hulk, Jen exclaims ‘Gimme a break, tubs – what can you do!?’ but the She-Hulk gets a bit of a surprise as the large column simply bounces off Bertha’s body. Big Bertha exclaims ‘There’s your first lesson in what Big Bertha can do, She-Hulk’ before leaping high into the air and declaring ‘Here’s your second…!’ with that, Bertha slams her body down to the ground, landing hard on the She-Hulk.
Nearby, Mister Immortal motions to one of the buildings and asks Doorman if he thinks it looks important also. Doorman tells Mister Immortal that it isn’t his imagination, as the kids they are fighting seem particularly keen on keeping them away from that structure. Mister Immortal declares that, as they are Avengers, he thinks they should see what is on the other side of that door. ‘Way ahead of you!’ Doorman exclaims, as he fuses his body with the building, and informing his teammate that he is ready when he is.
Mister Immortal rushes towards Doorman, telling him to hold still, then with one leap, dives through Doorman, and into the building. Examining his surroundings, some strange lab, Mister Immortal thinks that it is no wonder those kids were so eager to protect this place, as it looks like this is some kind of nerve center.
At that moment, Ms. Klein announces that one of the Avengers has penetrated the inner defenses of the assimilator. Jeremiah Random and the others all rush out of the room they are in, exclaiming that if the assimilator is damaged, then they will lose the telepathic link that joins them – meaning it might be another hundred millennia before they can continue with their plan!
Random, Ms. Klein and the others all approach Mister Immortal, who is doing something at a console. Mister Immortal looks at Random and remarks that he has the look of a head honcho – a head honcho in a powerful flap! Random is slightly confused, ‘You’re not one of the Avengers!’ he exclaims, before ordering Mister Immortal to stop what he is doing, as the inner chamber surrounding the assimilator is protected by an intense radiation field.
Random tells Mister Immortal that if he steps inside, the door will close automatically behind him and he will be bombarded with lethal radioactivity. Ms. Klein adds that the assimilator is protected, but that any human exposed to that bombardment would be dead in thirty seconds. ‘Tell me something that scares me, folks!’ Mister Immortal replies, before introducing himself, and stepping into the assimilator declares that all they are threatening him with his death ‘And dying is what I do best!’ he exclaims. ‘The fool…’ Jeremiah Random mutters.
At that moment, outside, ‘Okay, lard butt…’ She-Hulk exclaims as she finally manages to lift Big Bertha off her body, then tosses her across the grounds. Angry, She-Hulk is ready to get back into the fight, but she is confused. ‘And now…and now…’ she repeats over and over, until Hawkeye and Mockingbird rush over and ask if she is all right. ‘Hawkeye…? Mockingbird…? What…? How…? Where…?’ Jennifer exclaims.
Suddenly, all of the Saunders College students that were involved in the fight all begin to walk around in a daze, and Flatman exclaims that it is as if part of their brain has been turned off. ‘Hey! Avengers Assemble!’ Over here! Quick!’ Doorman shouts, altering his teammates to what has just gone on.
Shortly, the Vision asks Jeremiah Random if he cares to explain all of this. Jeremiah Random reveals that his name is actually Charles Edison, and informs the Vision that one of his teammates is in grave danger – if not already dead!’ Wanda and Hawkeye look at a monitor showing the inside of the assimilator and see Mister Immortal lying motionless on the floor. Clint exclaims that it looks like he smashed through the containment wall, before asking Wanda if the glow is the radiation that she mentioned.
Wanda replies that it is enough to kill a hundred men, and tells Clint that his friend has sacrificed himself to destroy the assimilator. ‘Sacrificed? Don’t count on it!’ Clint replies, before going over to the assimilator door and asking Random – ‘Or whatever the heck your name is’ – if the door switches off when radiation is opened. Random replies that it is, so Clint opens the door and asks Flatman if he can get Mister Immortal without setting off the pressure plate in the floor. Flatman does as Hawkeye asks, and moments later Big Bertha is checking her teammate’s life signs. ‘Dead as a doornail, Hawkeye’ Bertha replies. ‘I’d say he’ll be coming around in ten minutes…’ she adds.
Hawkeye remarks that there is not much point in trying to arrest anyone, and points out that if anyone ever had a good claim to not being in full control of their faculties, its these people! Charles “Jeremiah Random” Edison thanks Hawkeye, pointing out that it is bad enough to realize he has lost half a life time and every penny he owns to this thing, without having to serve a jail sentence as well.
The Vision remarks that the dormant “survivor” inside Edison compelled him to use his family fortune to purchase this university and convert it to the needs of the project, then gather together those few hundred others in whom That Which Endures had awakened, and each contributed a small cell sample to develop into the assimilator.
Wanda puts a hand on her unemotive husbands arm and declares that it is all so frightening, as the memories the assimilator placed inside of her – she still has them, and asks if it is possible the dinosaurs died because That Which Endures left – ‘And if it someday leaves mankind for the mutants as it planned…Wanda’s voice trails off. The Vision simply replies that he is no properly programmed to consider such philosophical matters.
‘Maybe not, but I have something to say!’ Captain America exclaims. Cap remarks that he doesn’t know how much of what they learned today he is really prepared to accept, ‘Maybe it’s all true…Maybe without That Which Endures mankind would still be squatting in the caves, afraid of the dark, of the thunder and lightning. But I’d like to think there’s something more to humanity than just a few pounds of flesh and bone. Something deep inside that sets us apart in the scheme of things. I hope that’s true. And I hope no part of it was due to That Which Endures. For if it is…if we are no more than vehicles for this parasite…when a day comes that the survivor does finally depart…we’re going to find ourselves very much alone…’.