Green fire lights up the Slorene nights. Mere yards away from the camp fence, the prison trucks are attacked and overturned. Slorenian troops and their brutish Targoth slave-beasts spring to the defense. The Dudak champion, Ember, cuts them down like ripped corn with his green energies. Soldiers fall to the ground, and the Targoth try to tear Ember apart, while the prison trucks are overturned in the chaos. ‘Ember! It’s Ember!’ gasps Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch as she takes cover alongside her teammate Johnny Walker a.k.a. USAgent and their associate Dr Ireno Renko, while the other prisoners huddle behind them. ‘How is that possible? We saw him die!’ Wanda gasps.
‘That which does not truly live cannot die, Ms Maximoff! Ember is the immortal champion of my people!’ Dr Renko states. USAgent pulls his disguise away, revealing his costume beneath and tells Wanda it is time to get involved. ‘Agreed!’ Wanda exclaims as she tears her cloak away and the experienced heroes leap into action. ‘Grost mey!’ Dr Renko gasps in surprise. ‘Rock and roll, Witch! AT LAST!’ USAgent shouts. ‘Heads up, fang-face!’ Walker shouts as he arrives near Ember, while Wanda calls out to him, asking him if he remembers them. Ember looks up from the Targoth, speaking his native Dudak dialect, something flashes in the green fire - something like recognition.
Suddenly, Ember explodes away through the perimeter fence into the Slorene parliament compound. ‘Man! It’s like he wants us to follow him!’ USAgent points out, to which Wanda announces that is what they will do. The green fire subsides as Ember approaches the Parliament, smashing his way through several soldiers. Wanda tells Johnny that they need to contain Ember before he murders everyone in sight. Suddenly, one of the Dudak prisoners calls out to Dr Renko, telling her that Ember has given them a chance at freedom. ‘We must flee!’ he shouts. Dr Renko tells the man to go on, while she intends to find out what is beyond the grim fences, and climbs over the downed chain fences, following her American allies. However, she does not even notice the remote camera watching them all.
A mile away, steel clashes in the courtyard of the Parliament building. Searching for the missing Spider-Woman, Tony “Iron Man” Stark finds himself in the grasp of Black Brigade. ‘Call your drones off, mister! You’ve got this all wrong!’ Iron Man tells Black Brigade, while being held back by the drones. ‘Wrong? What is to get wrong? You are a foreign interloper who is meddling in the affairs of the Slorene nation’ Black Brigade states, adding that this is the second time Iron Man has trespassed on Slorene soil. ‘Or did you forget how I fought you to a standstill on your last visit?’ Black Brigade asks, before boasting that now he will finish the job.
Black Brigade tells his drones to hold the interloper still while he delivers the final blow and punch the interloper’s head off. But with his arms held out at either side, Iron Man is able to release repulsor beams, which knock the drones backwards. ‘Not this interloper, friend’ Iron Man declares. Tony then flies upwards, to avert a punch from Black Brigade, which shatters the concrete ground. ‘Another second and I’d have been mush’ Tony tells himself, while thinking that Brigade is ex-Soviet military hardware and at least as strong as he is. Tony hates to think of what Brigade’s upper strength limits might be. Suddenly, Wanda’s voice can be heard over the communicator. ‘Wanda! Go ahead!’ Tony tells his teammate.
Iron Man flies up and dodges a beam of energy fired at him by Black Brigade. The energy strikes the side of the parliament building, while Wanda informs Tony that Ember has reappeared, and that she and Walker have proof of the Slorenians’ genetic atrocities. ‘Are you all right? You sound…breathless’ Wanda tells Tony, who replies that he is a little busy, but will be with her as soon as he can. Tony flies around, and thinks to himself that he feels assured that Force Works’s presence here is justified, and that means that diplomacy takes a back seat. For the first time, Iron Man does not have to hold back against the brutish Black Brigade, which pleases Tony - a lot. With that, Tony flies directly into Black Brigade, knocking him to the ground. Unseen by both of them is the remote camera, which records every moment of the bone-jarring clash.
The recordings are broadcast to the Hex-Ship, which hangs in the whisper-thin atmosphere above the Baltic state. ‘Yes. Yes. Yes’ states the mysterious Recorder, inside the Hex-Ship as he watches what is being played on the monitors - Ember fighting one of the Targoth, Wanda and USAgent, Dr Renko, and Iron Man battling Black Brigade. The Recorder states that he (“this”) is a non-cellular life-form, created to think and to record. He adds that he has elected to document the human behavioral trait known as heroism. The Recorder wishes to observe how said trait is manifested in the human group known as Force Works.
With the alien member of Force Works known as Century lying motionless, slumped over a console, while the Recorder almost smiles as he state that he was denied the opportunity to record Force Works’s endeavors on the recent Chinese mission, this crisis seems a more than adequate alternate. ‘The resulting material…pleases me’ the Recorder remarks, when suddenly, Century begins to stir.
At that moment, the final member of Force Works, Julia “Spider-Woman” Carpenter, also regains consciousness. ‘Where am I? My head hurts like a - YOU!’ Julia gasps as she finds herself strung up alongside Dudak prisoners, attached to a powerful machine, and the scar-faced Supreme Commander, grinning over her. ‘You are awake, good. It would be so unfortunate to spend the last precious moments of one’s life unconscious’ the Supreme Commander remarks. ‘Who are you? What in Heaven’s name is going on here?’ Julia enquires. The Supreme Commander introduces himself as Volkhvy, the Eternal One, boasting that he is the lord-champion of the Slorene race. ‘And Heaven, I assure you, has nothing to do with this place’ he adds.
Volkhvy’s eyes glow blue, and he informs Spider-Woman that she is a guest of the program, a sacred, beautiful mechanism. Volkhvy explains that the mechanism collects power from the life-energy of his foes and distils it. He adds that with this power source, he can perform many wonders, and can transmute human cattle into devoutly loyal Targoth slaves. ‘And more importantly, it feeds me!’ he booms. Volkhvy informs Spider-Woman that the Dudak / Slorene feud has lasted for centuries, as he and his accursed adversary, Ember, struggle for superiority. Volkhvy boasts that now he has the program, he has the power, and Ember cannot hope to match him. ‘The feud is mere hours from conclusion!’ the Supreme Commander declares.
‘You’re mad!’ Julia tells the Supreme Commander. ‘You presume too much!’ he responds, smacking Julia in the face and causing her to scream. Suddenly, glass covers slide down over Julia and the other prisoners, keeping them in place. ‘No! Wait! You can’t do -’ Julia shouts, but Volkhvy just orders the coils to be energized. Volkhvy pulls a lever and the wires overhead all light up with blue energy. ‘I will savor your life essence in particular, Golden-Hair - as it courses through my veins!’ Volkhvy shouts. The machine powers up - and Spider-Woman screams.
Suddenly, Ember bursts into the room, shouting in Dudak. ‘Ember? Here?’ Volkhvy gasps, before asking Ember if he longs for death that he has come seeking it. ‘Step close, and I will provide!’ Volkhvy declares. The two beings clash in a blur of light and power. When they reach each other, the chamber itself shakes. Eternal adversaries, Dudak and Slorene locked in a centuries-old cycle of hatred and destruction. They are the living personification of the Slorenian civil war. Their terrible blood-feud has just reached a new pitch of unbridled fury.
At that moment, ‘Back of, Targoth!’ USAgent shouts as he slams his photon shield into one of the Targoth, while Wanda casts a beam of energy at a scientist. ‘My God, Witch! Look at Ember go! But who’s the freak with the sword?’ Walker asks. While Ember and his foe continue to battle, Wanda replies that she would assume it to be the mysterious Volkhvy that Dr Renko mentioned. Wanda begins to ask Walker to keep driving the Slorene troops back, when suddenly, she notices Julia strung up in that machine, and wonders what it is doing to her.
Wanda rushes over to the machine to rescue her good friend, and calls out to Dr Renko, asking her to help free the other prisoners. ‘Yes!’ Dr Renko replies nervously as she begins to act. ‘Wanda…fell so…weak…numb…’ Julia utters as Wanda helps her up. Wanda tells Julia that it is okay and that she has her. The Scarlet Witch tells Walker and Dr Renko to get all the refugees to the surface and to take Spider-Woman with her. ‘And what’ll you be doing?’ Walker asks. ‘I’ll be destroying this foul machine forever!’ Wanda replies.
Back up at Parliament Square, Iron Man is no longer pulling his punches, and yet Black Brigade still refuses to go down. ‘How much more punishment can he take?’ Tony wonders, before telling Black Brigade to get smart and call it quits. ‘Quit - NEVER!’ Black Brigade booms as he falls backwards.
Far above, aboard the Hex-Ship Pegasus. Century has woken and strides towards the Recorder, telling him to step away from the communicator station. The alien states that though he can think of no rational reason, he is forced to conclude that it was the Recorder who struck him down. ‘Why?’ Century demands. ‘Statement: Because you were in my way’ the Recorder replies. The Recorder adds that if he had not rendered Century unconscious, he would have undoubtedly transported to Spider-Woman’s aid, which would have significantly reduced the potential jeopardy.
The Recorder cautions Century not to approach him, and states that he will not allow his work to be interfered with. Century looks at the images on the monitor and declares that his comrades are fighting for their lives. ‘What have you done, Recorder?’ Century demands. The Recorder responds by smacking Century hard in the face, knocking him backwards. Century gathers himself and exclaims ‘That’s it. Say your orisons / votive offerings / prayers Recorder…I am going to tear you apart!’ Century warns the Recorder.
Back in Parliament Square, Iron Man tells Black Brigade once more to give it up, to which Black Brigade responds ‘While I still have breath, American dog, I will rip your living heart from -’, but he is interrupted when Iron Man rips a piece of equipment from Black Brigades armor. ‘Enough of this trash talk!’ Iron Man shouts, before pointing out that Black Brigade doesn’t have a choice. ‘I just tore out your armor’s central cybernet processor. I doubt you can even move now’. Black Brigade’s face plate has been destroyed, and the human inside the armor looks up, and the man inside utters ‘So, at least you have the courage to claim victory with a death blow…the armor is the man…as it dies, I die with it…better that than the shame of defeat…’.
‘WHAT?’ Iron Man exclaims, surprised, as the chill of realization grips Ton’s heart. Black Brigade’s Soviet creators fused the man to the armor, making him dependent upon it for life support. By destroying the armor’s control systems, Tony has doomed the man inside. ‘What are…you doing?’ the man asks as Stark begins tinkering with the armor. Stark announces that he is trying to reconnect the life-function control. ‘Blast it, Brigade, don’t die on me!’ Tony declares. Black Brigade asks Iron Man why he bothers. ‘I would not have shown you such mercy’ he admits. ‘That’s what makes us all different, pal’ Tony replies, while realizing that Black Brigade will be dead in less than a minute unless he can figure out the specs of the Soviet design. ‘Talk about irony!’ Tony decides. ‘I fight to keep him alive, but this little act of compassion…is keeping me from the team and whatever mess they’re now in!’
Ember shouts something in Dudak at Volkhvy, who retorts ‘Spare me your curses, vermin! They will mean nothing when I grind your bones beneath my feet!’ While the arch-foes continue to battle, energies radiating all around them, Walker, Wanda and Dr Renko are busy at the machine controls. ‘Sit rep, people! Looks like old green eyes is gonna take the trophy!’ Walker announces, while Wanda declares that there must be a way to shut down this equipment so they can disable it safely. ‘Dr Renko?’ Wanda asks, to which Ireno replies ‘Your guess is as good as mine, Scarlet Witch’, before explaining that the control marked “gerkoi” is clearly the “on” switch.
Suddenly, Volkhvy cries out in pain as Ember destroys some of his armor. Walker tells Wanda to quit it with the machine for a moment. ‘Ember’s got Dracula on the ropes but good!’ he declares, as Ember looms over Volhvy and punches him hard in the face, before grabbing his head, and green energy pours into the Supreme Commander, who shouts ‘No! Noooo! It cannot end this way! It cannot end!’ Dr Renko, USAgent and the Scarlet witch look on in horror as momentous history is played out before them. The eternal enmity, the long bitter warfare, the ceaseless unforgiving blood-hate ends here, ends now.
Ember, the Dudak champion grasps the skull of his mystical Slorene adversary and like a leech, sucks the formidable energy from Volkhvy’s shuddering form. In a heartbeat, all that remains is a corpse, and another so powerful that it approximates a God. As Volkhvy’s withered form drops to the floor, an empowered Ember stands over him, arms outstretched, energy flowing around him. ‘I don’t know squat about any mystic mumbo jumbo…but I’d say Ember just won!’ Walker declares, but Dr Renko announces that he hasn’t, and reveals that this has happened before, too many times to count. ‘What?’ Wanda asks. Ireno explains that it is the accused cyclic balance of the feud.
Dr Renko continues, explaining that one side gains control for a while, then the other usurps his place, and that last time it was Volkhvy who bested Ember, an act which led to generations of Slorene tyranny. She adds that now Ember is in the ascendant, and no doubt his rule will be just as bloody until Volkhvy rises once more. The Scarlet Witch steps towards Ember, with USAgent, Spider-Woman and Dr Renko standing behind her. Wanda tells Ember that they want freedom for Dudak and Slorene alike - not some corrupt reversal of the situation.
Wanda calls out to Ember, asking him if he can hear her, understand her. She tells him that she met Pavel Chenklo, the human form that he inhabits, and that he was a good man who wanted to end the bloodshed. Wanda asks Ember to reach inside himself, to find that part of him that is Pavel, to let him show the way to set down his power in the name of peace. ‘I hear you, witch woman! But there is no Pavel Chenklo here…there is no one but EMBER!’ the powerful being announces, releasing his green energy over Wanda, Walker, Julia and Dr Renko. ‘He’s crazy! Drunk with power!’ Walker declares, before he is overwhelmed by the energy.
Aboard the Pegasus, the Recorder punches Century in the face, forcing him to the ground once more. ‘Statement: You will cease your attempts to injure me, now, Century. You are making me miss all the best bits!’ the Recorder declares. But Century responds by kicking the Recorder in the face, and exclaims ‘You are insane / deranged / faulty, machine! It was you who looked on while Wonder Man gave his life! Was that one of your “best bits” too?’. Century then tells the Recorder that he will not allow another member of this team to die for the Recorder’s entertainment. ‘Statement: You’re finished!’ Century mocks as he uses Parallax to slice off the Recorder’s head. Century announces that he will be back to dance upon the Recorder’s scattered components, and orders Parallax to transport him planet-side.
Back in the chamber, the heroes and Dr Renko are held in stasis by Ember, who asks ‘Don’t you understand? You will be the first Westerners to feed me!’ when suddenly, Iron Man bursts in through the wall. ‘Force Works!’ he shouts, before ordering Ember to release them no. ‘NYED!’ Ember responds as he douses Iron Man in the green energy. Ember speaks in his native Dudak tongue once more, just as Century materializes behind him through a portal created by Parallax. Century then uses Parallax to slice Ember in the back. ‘Ember…eat stick and die!’ Century exclaims, while Century is flung across the chamber.
With Ember down, he loses his grasp over Force Works. ‘So that’s where you’ve been, Blue…practicing your one-liners!’ Spider-Woman exclaims, before alerting everyone to the fact that Ember has gone face-first into the pod-bank of the machinery. Julia releases a psi-web to hold Ember there, but tells the others that it won’t last long. Julia’s psionic webbing wraps around Ember, who protests. ‘Ay smart ideas? Anyone? Like now!’ Julia declares as she knows she will lose hold soon. ‘Just one, Spi…shield! Tight focus! Release!’ Walker shouts as he releases his photon-shield, aiming it at a large red button on the control panel.
‘You said that “gerkoi” was Slorene for “on”, right Doc?’ Walker asks, before the photon shield slams into the red button. Volkhvy’s program bursts into life. It was designed to rip the life-power from those placed in the pods…it was not deigned to handle power on this scale. ‘Out, Force Works! Get out now!’ Someone shouts, as Ember is engulfed in the energy from the machine. Force Works and Dr Renko escape the facility, which bursts into flame moments later. ‘Keep moving! Don’t look back!’ the Scarlet Witch encourages everyone. ‘Shake your tail, Doc!’ Walker tells Ireno.
Later, a newsreader announces ‘…more on that late breaking Slorenian story…the state of emergency has effectively brought the long-term civil war to a standstill…with both sides in the conflict united in coping with disaster’. She adds that the massive explosion that levelled the center of the capital city of T’Blunka is now thought to have been caused by an earthquake, and that the Slorenian parliament building was destroyed in the blast. She tells viewers that the American super-team, Force Works, is in the area assisting with the rescue work. The reporter adds that a statement issued in the last hours reports that an interim government has been established under the leadership of the noted humanitarian worker, Ireno Renko.
Meantime, inside the Hex Ship, Wanda declares that they were right down to the wire there, and that it was a miracle they pulled it off. Century states that he does not believe in miracles, to which Julia announces that she does, and adds that Slorenia is going to need a fine one to pull itself together. Tony looks at Wanda and remarks that at least they have got a fighting chance now, and adds that the future of Slorenia is looking brighter without those crazy butchers around. Tony admits that he may have been wrong when he pulled the team out last time, and tells Wanda that he should have trusted her instincts. ‘Maybe you will, next time’ Wanda replies, before asking about Black Brigade.
Tony reveals that Black Brigade was taken to the hospital for emergency surgery, and that Dr Renko has promised to oversee his rehabilitation. Tony adds that he is going to supply technical support to help free Black Brigade from his suit. Julia points out that their other loose end is their little helpmate, the Recorder. ‘Can we leave him in a bat part of town and hope they strip him for parts?’ she asks. ‘I wish’ Iron Man replies, before remarking that he has no explanations for the Recorder’s aberrant behavior, and that he will run some diagnostics on him when they get home.
Century holds up the Recorder’s head and announces ‘He does not deserve your attention. He would have reveled in your deaths. I am glad I broke him!’ The Scarlet Witch agrees with Century that the Recorder has caused enough trouble, and suggests they put him where he can do no harm - in the Vault!
Epilogue: Detention level six, the Vault Maximum Security Facility. They call this the B.E.M. wing - only non-terrestrials are interned here. A Guardsman patrols the area, where several aliens are engaging in exercise. ‘Ah, Commander. Didn’t see you there’ a blue-skinned alien remarks as he looks up from the weights machine he is working out on. ‘As you were, Bar. Maintaining combat fitness, I see. Excellent’ the Commander replies, looking up at the Guardsman he adds ‘Who knows when we may need the old skills again’. Bar asks the Commander if he has something in mind, to which the Commander smirks and replies ‘Most definitely, Bar. Most definitely…’.