Avengers Island, Captain America’s executive office. The Star-Spangled Avenger a.k.a. Steve Rogers sits at his desk. Several monitors are in front of him, a book opened, he taps a keyboard and thinks to himself ‘Some Avengers leader I turned out to be. Since taking command of this outfit, I’ve been doing as much paperwork as avengering!’ He decides that if he doesn’t get some loose ends tied up soon, he will have to requisition a dozen more monitor screens. The screens depict several super beings and their current status - Scourge, the Flag Smasher, Sidewinder and the Red Skull are all listed as being “at large”, while Darkstar, Vanguard, Ursa Major and Starfox are identified as “recuperating”, The Black Knight is being listed as having a “stable condition”, and the Machinesmith as “in custody”.
Suddenly, the phone rings. ‘Now what?’ Steve thinks to himself. Peggy Carter appears on the video-phone, informing Cap that she has Raymond Sikorsky on the Washington line, and that it is a priority-one, according to Sikorsky, anyway. Cap thanks the Avengers’ Communications Officer, and Raymond’s image appears on the monitor. ‘How goes?’ Captain America asks the Avengers’ government liaison, who replies ‘Judge for yourself, Captain’, as he informs Captain America that he has learned that his erstwhile replacement, John Walker, is actually alive. ‘WHAT? HOW?’ Captain America gasps. Sikorsky explains that the assassination they witnessed was faked in order to give Walker a secret identity. ‘That fake shooting jeopardized lives! Your people authorized that?’ Cap asks, annoyed.
But Sikorsky assures Captain America that the Commission on Superhuman Activity did not, explaining that one member took some individual “initiative” and arranged the whole thing with an FX squad. ‘Believe me, none of this was sanctioned’ Sikorsky assures Cap, who thanks him for telling him. ‘Er, there’s more. You have any plans for the black uniform you used to wear?’ Raymond asks. ‘No. Why?’ Cap replies. Raymond announces that they would like to buy the design from Captain America in exchange for the right to wear the Captain America uniform in perpetuity. He offers to fax the appropriate papers through. ‘You’re going to…’ Captain America begins, while Sikorsky interrupts, ‘Right. Give it to Walker’. Cap looks thoughtful, and asks Sikorsky to send the papers through, and he will get back to him.
‘One last thing…we assigned Walker to our West Coast team’ Raymond reveals. ‘Raymond, that man is violent. He’s responsible for the deaths of -’ Cap begins, but Raymond points out that every one of them was in self-defense. Sikorsky assures Cap that he shares his repugnance for Walker, but that this way, the West Coast Avengers will be able to keep an eye on him. ‘Can you think of a better place?’ he asks. ‘Not offhand’ Cap replies, while Raymond asks him to keep Walker’s identity a secret, and explains that none of the West Coast Avengers need to know. Cap bids Raymond goodnight, but before he knows it, the phone rings again. Peggy’s image appears on the video-phone and informs Cap that she has a call from Ms Bernadette Rosenthal, who claims to be his friend. Cap tells Peggy to patch her through.
Cap’s eyes look sad as he begins to recall his history with Bernie. ‘I guess you could call her a friend, though at once we were so much more’ Cap muses while recalling vividly how they met back in Brooklyn Heights when she moved into the brownstone he used to live in. Cap was immediately taken with her freshness, warmth and directness. Cap wasn’t quite as driven about his mission in those days, as then. He thought it was possible for him to both champion the American Dream and realize a piece of it himself, so he and Bernie dated and got close - and when Bernie discovered the truth about who he really was, it only brought them closer together.
Cap’s memories continue, as he recalls how a few Christmas Eves ago, Bernie proposed marriage to him - but he never said yes, and never said no. ‘I didn’t know what to say’ he reminds himself. He recalls how Bernie was abducted by Mother Superior, the second time Bernie’s life was in jeopardy because of her association with him, however, that wasn’t what ultimately wrenched them apart - it was Bernie’s desire to better herself, realize her American Dream, that made her leave New York and go to law school. They tried to stay in touch at first, and for a while they spoke every other day, with Cap evening visiting her a few times. But Bernie got so involved in her studies, and his lifestyle can be quite a distraction. Cap brings the phone receiver to his face, knowing that it has been months since they last spoke. He wonders if she is ringing to bawl him out for being such a rotten ex-boyfriend.
‘Bernie…? Hi, long time no -’ Cap begins, while Bernie skips the pleasantries and announces that she needs his help, so desperately. ’Oh? What’s -’ Cap begins, while Bernie asks him if he remembers her youngest sister, Nancy, and reveals that she has run away from home. Cap asks Bernie if her parents have alerted the police, to which Bernie tells him that they put out a missing persons alert, but that was over a month ago and nothing has happened. Cap asks Bernie if she has any idea why Nancy left, and Bernie reveals that Nancy had a fight with their parents. ’I guess they weren’t too thrilled about her grades, the way she dressed, her boyfriend, I don’t know’.
Cap tells Bernie that he is concerned, but that tracing runaways is a little big out of his expertise. He offers to get her picture out to his computer hotliners, to see if they can turn anything up. ‘Don’t you think I know the Avengers don’t usually handle things like this? I just - I’m at my wits’ end. I’m so worried about her - I don’t know what else to try!’ Bernie exclaims. Cap asks her to send him a recent photo and every possible detail that might give a clue as to where she went. ‘I can’t promise anything, but I’ll do whatever I can’ Cap replies. Bernie thanks Steve and bids him farewell, before Cap puts the phone down, although he wishes that he said something more, something comforting, but after their long separation, he wasn’t sure it would be right.
Meanwhile, at Fort George Meade, in Maryland, ‘Hold it right there, pal!’ a Guardsman exclaims as he and another race towards Lemar “Battlestar” Hoskins, who is running across a courtyard. ‘I don’t know how you got this far without setting off a couple of dozen alarms, but you’re not going any farther!’ one of the Guardsmen calls out. Battlestar introduces himself to the Guardsmen, and informs them that he used to live at the Special Powers Compound here at Fort Meade. ’Show us your ID, then’ one of the Guardsmen asks him. Battlestar replies that he doesn’t have it, as it turned it in a few weeks ago. ’A likely story. C’mon, pal, you’re coming with me!’ one of the Guardsmen exclaims, lunging at Battlestar, who dodges his punch. ’You got that wrong “pal” - I’m going where I want to be going’ Battlestar replies, retaliating with a punch that slams into the Guardsman’s helmet with a loud KLANG.
‘Yeow! That smarts!’ Battlestar thinks to himself. He blows some air on his fist, hoping he could do this ninja-like, and avoid all these armored officers. ‘I know you dudes are only doing your job - but my job’s a lot more important!’ Battlestar exclaims as he slams his shield into one of the Guardsmen’s helmets. He uses the nearby wall of a building to flip backwards, and forces the other Guardsman down. ‘Okay, now to -’ Lemar thinks to himself, only for a voice to call out ‘All right, punk - drop the shield!’, and Battlestar looks up, where he sees several more Guardsmen have arrived, and are aiming their weapons at him. ‘We have you surrounded, Star-Man! Drop it - now!’ one of them orders. Lemar thinks to himself that he is good, but wonders if he is good enough to outfight a dozen of these dudes, and decides not to put it to a needless test.
He is soon marching with his arms over his head, down a corridor within one of the compound buildings. ‘This’ll probably get me to see who I want to see anyway…I hope!’ Lemar thinks to himself. And shortly, he enters the office of that very person. ‘This intruder claims he knows you, ma’am!’ one of the Guardsmen calls out to the glamorous Valerie Cooper, who is sitting at her desk going over some reports. ‘Uh, hello, Ms Cooper’ Battlestar announces. Battlestar? It is you, isn’t it?’ Val asks. ‘Straight it is, ma’am’ Lemar replies. Valerie asks him what the idea of breaking in here and prowling around is all about, to which Battlestar announces that he is looking for Johnny.
Valerie pauses, before telling the Guardsmen that they may leave. They do so, and Lemar leans down on Val’s desk, admitting that he may not be the brightest guy who ever put on a pair of tights, but that he figures that there is a big cover-up going down. ‘I used to think you weren’t part of it. Now I think you are!’ Battlestar tells Valerie, who gets to her feet as Battlestar announces that he checked on the ambulance company that took Johnny away after he got shot, and it doesn’t exist. ‘Add that to all the other suspicious stuff I’ve already told you about - it all adds up to one thing - John’s death didn’t happen. He’s alive and well, and he’s hidden right here!’ Battlestar exclaims.
Valerie tells Lemar that he must stop his investigation at once, as it will only lead to trouble. ‘What are you talking about, lady?’ Lemar replies, but Val explains that she can’t tell him any more. ‘Shove that! I’m going to the papers with what I’ve learned and spill it!’ he warns her, while asking ‘You are in on the cover-up, aren’t you?’. Val sighs, and admits that she is, as of five days ago. She informs Battlestar that John is alive, and that his assassination was a scheme cooked up by one of her subordinates to give John Walker a secret identity.
‘Why didn’t you tell me last time I called?’ Battlestar asks. ‘National security. The fewer who know about it, the better’ Val replies. Battlestar forgives Val, before asking where John is. Val replies that he is working undercover. ‘If he wants to see you, he’ll contact you. Until then, keep your mouth shut and let the matter ride’ Val declares. Battlestar turns to walk away, and Val tells him that she is sorry their relationship has come to this. ‘Yeah’ Lemar mutters. Val offers to write him a pass to comb the entire facility if he would like to check that John isn’t here, but Lemar doesn’t want to it. He looks at Val, before leaving her office, and thinks to himself ‘He’s alive! I knew it!’
Hours later, at Avengers Island, Captain America examines his work and realizes that between the police and his network of volunteer computer hackers, he has compiled quite a lengthy list of teenagers who have disappeared from the tri-state area in the past three months. ‘If I didn’t know better, I’d call it an epidemic’. Reading the list of names, Cap sees that it includes one of his hotliners, two of their close friends and one of his hotliners’ siblings. Cap understands that the brother of one of the missing teens thinks he made it to New York City, and something happened to him there. ‘Wonder what?’ Cap asks himself. He wishes that he could try loitering around Port Authority bus terminal to see what he could see, but with his height and weight being what they are, he could never pass for a teen.
Cap wonders about having Hank Pym use his shrink-gas to reduce him by a foot, but decides that he would not fool anyone. He know he could sue the illusion casting abilities of Dr Druid or Dr Strange right now, but one is lost in time and the other is believed dead. Cap is curious as to what other illusionists or shape-changers might be about, and he begins a search on the Avengers’ database. ‘Hmmm…Sersi! She’s one of the superhuman race of Eternals. ‘I believe she’s the one who keeps sending us party invitations’ Cap recalls ,while reading her file, sees that she has the power to transmute matter. Cap smirks and decides that it is worth giving her a call.
The next day, Cap knocks on the door to Sersi’s penthouse, while recalling that from all reports, Sersi is content to use her considerable powers in frivolous pursuits, but that otherwise, she is trustworthy and discreet. As the door opens, Cap reminds himself that when they spoke on the phone, Sersi seemed interested in helping him, but knows that it will probably cost him. ‘Yoo-hoo! I’m in the drawing room!’ Sersi calls out. Captain America follows the sound of her voice, and finds her in an elaborate room, lounging on a sofa. ‘Ms Sersi?’ Cap asks. ‘So you’re the famous Captain America. Mmmhmm. You’re much handsomer than your pictures’ Sersi smiles, before telling Cap that he doesn’t know how delighted she is to finally have him here.
Ignoring Sersi’s come-on, Cap reminds her that as he mentioned on the phone, he needs to go undercover as a teenager for a while. ‘You are all business, aren’t you?’ Sersi replies, before informing Cap that she believes she can accommodate his specific needs. Cap asks Sersi how long the change will remain in effect, and as she stands next to him, Sersi tells him that it can remain in effect as long as he wishes, and offers to set a time limit on it, like she did with Cinderella and her pumpkin coach. ‘All right. How about 48 hours?’ Cap suggests. ‘Child’s play, dear heart. Just say when’ Sersi tells Cap, who replies that he is ready any time.
Sersi begins to cast her spell, weaving her powers around Captain America, she asks him if he feels it, with each passing second, she strips away another year as if they were layers of paint. Cap replies that he does feel a little strange, while Sersi remarks that he has more years to remove than she would have guessed, before asking him what age he wants her to stop at. ‘Fifteen sounds about right’ Captain America tells Sersi, and shortly, he appears as a fifteen year old boy. Cap looks down at his new form, the trench coat much to large for him and remembers that he didn’t have the super-soldier serum in him at this age, and realizes that this is no cosmetic change, Sersi really did regress him to what he was as a youth.
‘Boy, who would have guessed a slender child like you would grow up to be a brawny hunk like Captain America’ Sersi remarks, before offering to do something with his ill-fitting wardrobe. ‘Is that what you had in mind?’ Sersi enquires, while Cap looks in a mirror, his outfit is no longer ill-fitting, he smiles and exclaims that no one could possibly identify him now. ‘Indeed. Ohh, if you don’t have the sweetest little crack in your voice’ Sersi exclaims, while Cap turns to her and suggests that she really should consider joining the Avengers, as they could use someone with her talents. ‘Oh, world-saving is such a bore’ Sersi replies.
Cap goes over to pick up a case, but has trouble trying to lift it. He asks Sersi if the rejuvenation will wear off in exactly 48 hours, to which the Eternal confirms that it will, unless he returns here and has it done sooner. Cap points out that he is having trouble lifting his portfolio, and asks if he can leave it here, explaining that his shield is inside it. ‘Go right ahead, Captain’ Sersi replies, while looking at him lustfully as she tells him she is sure he can’t wait to hear what favor she is going to demand in return for all this. Cap blushes, and utters ‘Uh…right, bye!’ as he races away.
Later that afternoon, sixty blocks uptown, Battlestar is inside a car and pulls up outside a building. He hopes that this is as good an idea as he thinks it is, deciding that if he wants to find out where John has been sent undercover, he will have to expand his contacts in the business. Lemar recalls that the only other crime fighters he has met are Captain America and one of his ex-partners, D-Man, yet he didn’t make the best impression in the world on either of them. But, Lemar knows that another of Cap’s ex-partners, the Falcon, is one of the few super dudes who has gone public with his identity, so he shouldn’t be too hard to look up. Lemar gets out of his car, and looks up at the building, where according to the phone book, is where social worker Sam Wilson has his office.
Suddenly, ‘What in the -?’ Lemar wonders as he sees an office chair thrown through a window from one of the upper floors. ‘Something tells me that high-flying desk chairs mean trouble!’ Lemar tells himself as he enters the building and leaps up the flight of stairs. He bursts into an office, ‘What’s this?’ he wonders as he sees two villains attacking Sam Wilson. ‘The suit, man - yer gonna tell me where ya keep that suit or the next thing outta that window is you!’ Rock Python warns Sam as he holds him up against a wall. Rock Python’s teammate, Coachwhip, turns and sees Battlestar enter the room. ‘Who the -?’ Sam Wilson thinks to himself, while Coachwhip announces that she will see to their guest. She attacks Battlestar with her whips, while Battlestar manages to dodge the, and Sam Wilson’s pet falcon, Redwing, tries to free itself from the ribbon that is wrapped around it.
Rock Python tells Coachwhip that he isn’t taking any chances, ‘Here’s help whether you want it or not!’ he exclaims as he throws some eggs, which land at Battlestar’s feet, break open, and a metal ribbon emerges from them, wrapping around Battlestar’s legs just as it trapped Redwing. Sam Wilson manages to break free from Rock Python’s hold, thanks to the distraction that the hero who he is not familiar with has created. Sam kicks Rock Python in the back of his legs, knocking him over. Sam races to a panel on the wall, and his closet opens, where he pulls from it his costume. ‘Hey! The costume!’ Rock Python exclaims as he sees Sam run away with it.
Sam knows he has to get away long enough to put the costume on, Coachwhip tells Rock Python that she will catch Sammy, and she races after him, while Sam enters a bathroom and slams the door behind him. Coachwhip slices the handle off the door with her whip, ‘If you think I’m too shy to barge into a men’s room - think again, Sammy!’ she exclaims as she kicks the door down, only to find Sam has changed into his costume. ‘Lady, I wouldn’t put squat past a sleeze like you!’ the Falcon tells Coachwhip, who replies that she loves it when a man talks crude to her. ‘Play it again -’ she begins, as she cracks her whips towards Falcon, who dodges them just in time. ‘You enter a trough trade, babe - better expect to get roughed up now and then’ the Falcon tells Coachwhip as he slams her up against the wall. Out of breath, Coachwhip falls to the floor, while the Falcon tries to remove her whips from her hands, but he has no luck, as they are attached to her gauntlets. ‘I’ll have to hope she’ll keep till I get back!’ Sam thinks to himself.
Meanwhile, at the Port Authority bus terminal, Cap walks around, and tells himself that the first step is to look like a typical teenage runaway getting off an out-of-town Greyhound for the first time. He looks around, pretending he has never seen anything like this before, and reminds himself to keep thinking young, nervous and inexperienced. He takes an escalator down to another floor, and then exits onto the street. Cap realizes that if he does run into trouble, he will have a tough time making his frail body do anything Captain America-like. A homeless person approaches him and asks ‘Spare a quarter, kid?’, but Cap looks at him nervously and replies ‘Uh…no - sorry’.
Cap then sees two girls staring at him, and he wonders if they are runaways. ‘Hey, blondie - come here!’ one of them calls out. Cap walks over to them, and the girl with long blonde hair asks him if he is new in town. ‘Uh, yeah. From Akron. I’m here to find work’ Cap claims. The girl asks him if he has a place to stay, to which he replies he doesn’t yet. The girl with the dark hair tells him that he is un luck, as they know a good youth shelter nearby, and they each put an arm around his, offering to take him there. ‘Uh - okay’ Cap replies, smiling.
Uptown, Battlestar races back into his office, ‘How’s it going in here, mister?’ he enquires. ‘Name’s Battlestar, Falcon - and it’s going pretty good’ Battlestar replies as he punches Rock Python. ‘Battlestar, hey? As in the new Captain America and?’ Falcon asks. ‘That’s me!’ Battlestar confirms, while Rock Python tells him to give it up. ‘Like my name says - I’m hard as a rock!’ he boasts, forcing himself backwards, he slams Battlestar against a table. Falcon tells Battlestar that he doesn’t mind his very timely assist, but points out that all the rolling around he is doing is doing a number on the office furnishings. ‘On a social worker’s salary, it’s gonna be a mother trying to replace this stuff!’ Falcon exclaims.
Battlestar replies that he is sorry, and asks Falcon to open his front window. ‘Here’ the Falcon calls as out as he indeed opens the window. ‘Hey! What do you think yer doin?’ Rock Python exclaims as Battlestar drags him to the window and takes him out onto the fire escape. ‘I’m gonna see if you’re as hard as you say you are, Rock!’ Battlestar declares. ‘Wha -? WAIT!’ Rock Python calls out, but too late, as Battlestar leaps from the fire escape, after checking that there is no one below. An instant later, they hit the ground, Rock Python cushioning Battlestar’s fall.
Downtown, ‘Here’s the place, Roger. It’s not much to look at, but it’s cozy’ one of the girls exclaims as they lead “Roger” into a YMCA building. Examining his surroundings, Cap sees lots of other teens and supposes that it does look like haven for runaways, and realizes he may have lucked onto the right track. He knows he has to keep an eye out for Nancy Rosenthall. A stern woman sits at a counter, ‘Sign in here’ she tells the kids. ‘I thought you said -’ “Roger” begins, but one of the girls whispers into his ear that he can sign any name, as they don’t check ID. Cap does so, but something is bothering him about the girls, only he can’t put his finger on it.
Uptown once more, Battlestar gets to his feet and decides that Rock Python is out of it, while wondering if he got carried away, smashing him into the pavement from four stories. He feels a pulse and sees that there is no sign of any blood. Battlestar tells himself to watch it, as he doesn’t know who is behind him - when suddenly, he is attacked from behind by another member of the Serpent Society - Puff Adder. ‘Another one! Should’ve known!’ Battlestar thinks to himself as he lands against a brick wall. ‘That’s the closest anyone’s come to hurting me in a long time, fats! Don’t expect me to let you try again!’ Battlestar exclaims as he punches Puff Adder, knocking the villain backwards.
‘Let’s see how you like a face full of wall, chump!’ Battlestar tells Puff Adder as he picks him up and holds him overhead. ‘Whatever ya say, Star Baby!’ Puff Adder responds, when suddenly, Battlestar has trouble holding Puff Adder up, and tells himself that it feels as if he is growing. Puff Adder begins to squirm, and Battlestar collapses under his weight. ‘Congratulations, punk - you just been squished by the ever-expanding Puff Adder!’ the villain boasts.
Downtown again, Cap sits in a room with the girls, ‘Sure you don’t want a hit, Roger?’ one of them asks as she begins smoking drugs. ‘No thanks. I don’t like polluting my body’ “Roger” replies, before asking the girls if they aren’t worried they will get kicked out if someone finds them doing that stuff. ’No - they’re really cool here’ one of the girls claims, before remarking that it is hard to believe someone as straight as he had the guts to run away from home. ’It’s getting hard to breathe in here - mind if I open a window?’ Cap asks. He gets up and walks to the window, ’Go ahead, big man’ one of the girls tells him, as she trips him up. “Roger” falls to the floor, and one of the girls sits on his chest, pining him down. ’Youknow what I think, blondie? You gotta loosen up a bit. And lil ol’ me is just the one to loosen you!’ she exclaims.
‘Give it to him, Raunch!’ the other girl exclaims. ’Even with this frail body, I should be able to -’ Cap thinks to himself as he struggles to break free from her hold. ’Ooh, a little fight in you, eh? Mm-mmm’ the girl exclaims as she grabs his hair. Cap realizes that there is something about her eyes, and he is getting dizzy looking at them, as if he is going to pass out.
Uptown again, Falcon peers over the fire escape, ’While I was checking on the whip-lady, Battlestar seems to have run into trouble!’, and he recognizes Puff Adder from a recent raid on the Serpent Society headquarters. Falcon tells Redwing to attack, and so the bird flies downwards towards Puff Adder. ’You must be da Falcon’s pet parakeet! Scram!’ Puff Adder declares as he blows some acid-breath into the air. Redwing turns and flies away from the breath, and as Falcon lands on the ground, with the unconscious Coachwhip on his back, he tells Puff Adder to get up off the ground. ’Let’s see you make me, bird-brain!’ Puff Adder replies.
‘I don’t make monkeys - but maybe the whip-lady does!’ Falcon exclaims as he uses one of Coachwhip’s whips against Puff Adder. ‘This is embarrassing!’ Battlestar thinks to himself from underneath Puff Adder. Another crack of the whip, and Puff Adder feels pain, he flinches, giving Battlestar time to force the behemoth up off of him, and then punch him in the stomach, reducing him in size. ‘Now that I cut you down to size - let’s see you do your thing with that wall!’ Battlestar exclaims, and Puff Adder lands against the wall. Falcon congratulates Battlestar on some nice punching.
Battlestar thanks the Falcon, and asks him what they wanted with him. Falcon replies that he isn’t sure, but that they talked as if they wanted to steal his costume for some reason. Battlestar suggests it could have been some kind of initiation stunt for their snake sorority, before the Falcon asks him what brings him to this neck of the woods, in the nick of time, no less. Battlestar explains that he doesn’t have many contacts in the business, and wanted to introduce himself. The Falcon replies that he is glad Battlestar did, before adding that he is sorry to hear about what happened to his partner. Battlestar just frowns.
Elsewhere, hours later, Cap wakes, and tells himself that his head feels like there is cotton between his ears. He realizes that he is on a bus, and supposes that while he was unconscious, someone must have stuck him on it. A sullen bus driver is at the wheel, while Cap looks back and sees that the bus is full of teenagers, and notices the two girls who took him to the youth center. He wonders where they are going, and whether any of the others were drugged like he was. ‘Slash, go see hw blondie is doing up front!’ one of the girls exclaims. ‘What is going on here?’ Cap wonders, when he realizes that the girl approaching him has a metal claw for a hand.
Cap looks worried, and he realizes why those girls looked familiar - they are two of the Sisters of Sin! He remembers that those girls were tutored by the Red Skull. He recalls that when he originally fought them, they had been artificially aged to adults, and that it was only in his last clash with them that they were restored to their rightful ages. Cap wonders what the Sisters of Sin have been up to these past few years, and, more importantly, what they are kidnapping this bus load of teens, while the bus continues putting along the road, seemingly to the middle of nowhere….