Works HQ, Ventura, California. A man stands in the shadows on a cliff that overlooks a large gully. On the other side of the gully, a high-tech facility is built into the side of the mountain, a waterfall streaming out from beneath it. It is 7:45 PM, on December 25th, and the stars shine in the sky above.
‘God bless us, everyone…’ a voice can be heard saying. ‘Bah, humbug!’ another exclaims. The voices are coming from the television, which the alien known as Century sits in front of, cross-legged and hovering off the floor. ‘Bah, humbug! Bah, humbug! Humbug…humbug…’ Century repears over and over as he watches the television. Nearby, ‘Julia…is he…like, okay?’ asks Amanda Chaney, Force Works’ Public Relations Manager asks as she and Julia “Spider-Woman” Carpenter, both wearing evening dresses, stand next to a Christmas tree and decorate it. Julia tells Amanda that Century is obsessed with the TV. ‘Culture shock, I think’ she explains.
Julia’s daughter, Rachel, is holding onto a stuffed toy, “Mister Muppet” she calls it, and remarks that Mister Muppet is helping them, as she places a decoration on the tree. ‘Why doesn’t Century help us, too?’ Rachel asks. Julia tells her daughter that Century is busy, to which Amanda mutters ;Yeah, right. Bah humbug’. At that moment, Force Works’ resident tech-guy, Fisher Todd enters the living area, carrying a large gift. ‘Fisher! Merry Christmas!’ Rachel exclaims. Fisher greets Rachel and holds out the gift, it is for her. ‘Wow! What is it?’ Rachel asks as she drops to the floor and begins to rip it open. ‘Just something I ran up in the lab’ Fisher replies.
‘Very nice’ an unimpressed Julia declares as the gift is revealed to be a small skateboard-like hovercraft. ‘Oh, Spider-Woman. Hi! Hope you don’t mind…’ Fisher remarks. ‘A hover board! Far out!’ Rachel exclaims as she gets on it and hovers out of the living area. ‘I thought she’d like it’ Fisher remarks. ‘Sure, I thought she’d like this talking muppet. Shows you how much a mother knows’ Julia mutters as she picks the toy up off the ground. ‘But…I didn’t mean…’ Fisher begins, only Julia is half-way out of the room, not interested in listening to him. ‘Better luck next time, Fisher’ Amanda tells him, reminding him that after the incident in the VROOM Room, he is going to have to work hard to get back in Miss Spider-s good book. ‘I tried! So shoot me! I tried!’ Fisher declares, slamming his hand against his forehead. ‘Curious’ the enigmatic Recorder remarks as he stands nearby.
The Recorder enters the kitchen, where John Walker a.k.a. USAgent is pouring some alcohol into a bowl. The Recorder tells the hero that he has a query, but Walker replies ‘Not right now, Recorder. Fixing this eggnog is a matter of scientific precision’. The Recorder ignores Walker and asks if striking the forehead repeatedly is a traditional custom for humans at this time of year. ‘No. It ain’t. Now look…why don’t you so live up to your name and record this party for posterity’ Walker suggests, handing the Recorder a video camera. ‘The proposition appeals to my programmed directives’ the Recorder replies. ‘Great. And getting you out of my hair appeals to mine’ Walker remarks quietly to himself as he holds up the bottle of alcohol.
8:12 PM, Wanda Maximoff a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch has entered the living area and looks at the Christmas tree, telling Amanda that the decorations look wonderful. Amanda thanks Wanda but explains that Spider-Woman and Rachel deserve most of the credit. Suddenly, the holographic Plato materializes before the women and announces that the first of this evening’s guests are arriving in the foyer.
Indeed, waiting in the foyer dressed in suits or evening dresses are eight of Tony Stark’s long-time friends, allies, employees and confidants - Happy and Pepper Hogan, Bethany Cabe, Bambina Arbogast, Abe Simmer, Erica Sondheim, Felix Alvarez and Phil Grant. ‘Where is everyone?’ Felix asks. Abe suggests that they may have the wrong night, to which Mrs Arbogast tells him ‘Surely not’.
‘Oh, great start to the evening this is…’ Amanda mutters as she follows Wanda down a corridor. Wanda tells Amanda to go on and greet the guests while she flushes Tony out of hiding. Amanda continues on, while Wanda turns to go in another direction, annoyed, she wonders what Tony is playing at, as this party was his idea - relaxation therapy for everyone after that Mandarin business. ‘Plato? What’s Tony’s current location?’ Wanda calls out, when suddenly, she is almost knocked over by Rachel, on the hover board. ‘Gang-way!’ Rachel exclaims. ‘Careful, child!’ Wanda declares as she grabs Rachel and pulls her from the board as it slams into a nearby wall. ‘Sorry, it’s kinda fast’ Rachel tells Wanda, who tells her not to mow down any guests, and that her mom need never know.
8:!8 PM, inside the Chaos Vaults, ‘Tony? What are you doing? People are starting to arrive!’ Wanda announces as she enters the vault. Dressed in a tuxedo and sitting in a chair before a monitor, Tony apologizes to Wanda and reveals that he has just received a message from Rhodey, who cannot make it to the party due to his business back east. ‘Blast it! I thought we’d begun to patch things up after the Mandarin affair. The whole point of tonight is to try to heal some old wounds!’ Tony declares. Wanda takes Tony’s hand and reminds him that the whole point is to build morale, his included, and suggests he take his own advice. ‘Or do I have to hex you into submission?’ she asks. ‘Better you than Agatha Harkness’ Tony replies as he gets up and accompanies Wanda out of the vault. ‘I’ll be sure to tell her that when she arrives’ Wanda remarks. ‘By the way…what about Iron Man? There will be people here who don’t know’ Wanda points out. Tony tells her not to worry, as he has taken care of it.
8:31 PM, on the roof, the figure in shadows has climbed on to the top of Works HQ.
Inside the living area, the guests are mingling with each other, while the Recorder has started to film the party. ‘So what’s keeping you?’ Walker whispers as he checks his watch. Suddenly, ‘Hello Jack’ a voice calls out. Walker turns at hearing his alias and sees Captain America a.k.a. Steve Rogers standing nearby. ‘You! I mean…Captain. Uh, glad you could make it’ Walker claims. Captain America extends his hand and tells Walker that he hopes there are no bad feelings between them, particularly on a night like this. ‘Hey - what the heck, it is Christmas’ Walker replies as he shakes Captain America’s hand.
‘Now there’s a sight that makes the trip worthwhile’ Dr Hank Pym, dressed in a white tux remarks to Tony as they look at Captain America and USAgent. Tony calls Hank a cynic and announces that USAgent is not as bad as everyone thinks. Tony adds that he thinks this this team is what USAgent has always needed, as it has stopped him from feeling like a Little League player. ‘Trying to live up to Cap’s standards? Don’t we all do that, one way or another?’ Hank asks. ‘Maybe. Surely, we all make our own standards’ Tony replies, to which Hank smiles and tells him that he didn’t come this far to get into an ethical debate with an ironclad philosopher. Hank tells Tony that he is glad he was invited, and remarks that it is food to see most of the old Palos Verde crowd together again, before announcing that he was shaken to hear of Wonder Man’s death.
‘Duh - there I go spoiling the party mood. So anyway, Mr Stark - would you mind explaining that?’ Hank exclaims, motioning to Iron Man who has mysteriously appeared in the room, and is standing next to former Avengers West Coast member Miguel Santos a.k.a. the Living Lightning. Iron Man remarks that he believes the party was Mr Stark’s idea. ‘Yeah, but surely…’ Miguel begins, while Bethany Cabe and Fisher Todd stand next to him. ‘Surely what, Miguel?’’ Iron Man asks, unimpressed. ‘Errmmm…nothing!’ Miguel exclaims quickly. Tony tells Hank that it is just a hoax, a remotely-operated suit controlled by Plato, the building’s master computer. Tony adds that there are people here who don’t know that he and Iron Man are one and the same. ‘And I thought alter egos went out with changing in phone booths!’ Hank jokes.
Living Lightning quickly avoids more awkward moments by rushing over to Julia. ‘Miguel!’ Julia exclaims upon seeing her old teammate. ‘Have you met the Living Lightning, Mrs A?’ Julia asks Bambina Arbogast, Tony’s executive assistant. Bambina replies that they have not been formally introduced, but that she remembers him from the Avengers West Coast roster, before asking him what he is doing these days. Miguel reveals that he has taken some time off to go to college, to which Bambina tells him is a wise decision.
9:09 PM, at the skylight level, the shadowy figure drops down from the roof. ‘YAHOO!’ Rachel calls out a she speeds along on the hover board, suddenly coming to a stop when she is confronted by the shadowy figure. ‘Ooooh. Hi’ she smiles.
9:36 PM, back in the reception lounge, Wanda stands near her mentor, Agatha Harkness, who remarks ‘And tincture of mandrake every time. Works a treat!’, to which Wanda tells the old woman that she will take her word for it. Suddenly, Agatha turns to the Recorder and pokes him in the arm: ‘Do you mind, young man?’ she asks. Wanda covers her mouth and smiles. ‘Look out, Recorder…’ she whispers, while Agatha stares down the video recorder and announces that she is discussing secrets known only to the enlightened few, and that she doesn’t appreciate having that thing thrust in her face.
So, the Recorder moves on to the other party guests. ‘I’m Happy Hogan…say is that thing on?’ Happy exclaims, er, happily. Julia frowns and asks ‘Who told you to do this? Agent? I’m going to kill him’, clearly unimpressed. The Recorder moves on to Hank and Tony, catching them in the middle of a conversation in which Hank remarks that Jan is acting like butter wouldn’t melt in her - ‘Not now, Recorder’ Tony declares, shooing him away. The Recorder finds Bethany Cabe, who has her arms around Felix Alvarez. ‘My confession is…I’m Iron Man!’ Bethany smiles, to which Felix shouts ‘And so am I! And so’s my wife!’ Abe Zimmer appears before the camera next, reaching out to touch the Recorder, remarking ‘Best wishes and so on. Now tell me, you’re not exactly human, are you, son?’
The Recorder moves on to USAgent and Captain America. Rachel appears and begins tugging at Walker’s jacket, trying to get his attention. ‘…I had no idea…geez, if I had known…’ USAgent tells Cap, who asks ‘What could you have done? Staged a benefit concert?’ Rachel begins calling out to USAgent, who turns to Cap and tells him that he is needed, and he begins to follow Rachel away. Walking down a corridor, Walker asks ‘This isn’t a joke, right, kid?’ to which Rachel replies ‘No way’, and takes Walker into another room. ‘In here. See’ she exclaims. ‘Well, I’ll be…a gatecrasher!’ USAgent frowns as Clint “Hawkeye” Barton is standing before him, bow and arrow ready, and looking very annoyed!
10:16 PM, the party continues, and Captain America tells the Scarlet Witch that from what he has seen of this place, Tony has put together quite an impressive operation. ‘And you’ve notched up some significant success’ Cap adds, pointing out that the crisis in Houston, for instance, had a result that any team would be proud of. Wanda tells her long-time friend that it has been an uphill struggle, to which Cap asks ‘And it wasn’t in the old days? You and me…your brother Pietro…Clint… don’t tell me you’ve forgotten how tough that tour of duty was?’, before pointing out that now Wanda is team leader, and that she deserves it. Wanda replies that she relishes the challenge, even if Tony sometimes forgets who is in charge. Wanda adds that Tony is used to being his own boss. ‘That’s Tony. Drive, determined, self-reliant…and not without a sense of humor, it would appear’ Cap replies as he looks over and sees Tony and the fake Iron Man standing next to each other.
10:26 PM, USAgent and Hawkeye shake hands, while Rachel lies on a sofa and watches them. Walker remarks that he was beginning to think Hawkeye wouldn’t show. ‘And after the trouble I went to make sure Plato would let you in on the sly’ Walker adds. ‘I don’t know, Agent…I still ain’t sure I should’ve come at all’ Hawkeye replies. ‘You know how I feel about Stark. These days I’d like nothing better than to kick his butt’ Hawkeye remarks. Walker puts a hand on Clint’s shoulder and tells him that this is an ideal time to kiss and make up. ‘I’m telling you, Barton, Stark’s been doing a lot of thinking lately’ Walker begins.
USAgent continues, telling Hawkeye that Stark knows he has hurt a lot of people, played them for fools, screwed them around, now he is out to make amends. Walker adds that Stark has even been talking to Rhodes again. ‘And the beef they had makes yours look like a schoolyard tiff!’ Walker points out. Clint frowns, and reminds Walker that he is the one who got him to give up his “living in the woods” lifestyle, but that it is not the old days anymore. ‘I can’t just waltz in here and pretend nothing’s changed!’ Clint exclaims. He adds that after Bobbi died, he lived out in the wilderness, in every sense of the word. ‘I need space’ he explains, adding that now Stark has this new team, and he is not sure whether he fits in anymore. ‘Bottom line, Agent? I don’t trust Stark’ Clint reveals.
Hawkeye remarks that Stark plays around with people’s feelings to get what he wants, as it is just business to him. Walker asks Clint to come and talk to Stark, promising him that it is the right thing. Clint asks Walker to let him cool off here for a while and get his mind straight. Walker motions to a monitor and tells Clint that Stark wants to see the old West Coast team in private later on, and that Plato will let him listen in on the monitor. ‘I’m sure what you hear him say will reassure you’ Walker adds, before suggesting Clint then come and join the party, as it will freak everyone out. ‘Maybe’ Clint replies, while Rachel keeps watching him.
10:15 PM, the Recorder films Century and Amanda Chaney, who are standing away from the rest of the guests. ‘So, Century…how do you like Christmas?’ Amanda asks. Century replies that, in the normal way, an endorphin response triggers the pleasure centers of his brain. ‘No…I meant what do you think of it’ Amanda declares. Century replies that he does not think he likes / enjoys / appreciates it at all. He points out that it is a human custom, and he is not human. Century announces that it reminds him of the ritual of Ud Gathion that they used to do. ‘No kidding’ Amanda replies, before turning to the Recorder and telling him to scram.
Amanda turns back to Century and tells him that she thought his past was an amnesiac blank. Century holds his head as he replies that it is - it was / has been / persists in being so. He reveals that lately, fragments have been returning. Century goes over to a chair and sits down. Amanda follows him and asks if he is all right. Century replies that his mind hurts, that there is a flashing, like lightning. ‘Ud Gathion…the procession…people singing…’. Amanda announces that she will go get someone, and tells the alien to stay put as she rushes off.
‘Query. Explain this distress’ the Recorder states as he holds the camera close to Century. The alien explains that the Mandarin took his staff, Parallax, from him for a while, and only in its absence did he learn how dependent he is upon it. He explains that his minds destabilized and that they have not yet recovered. ‘So many…in my head…screaming to get out. Pieces of memory…a girl…in the procession…my child! And with her - my life-mate! I see their faces…but I can’t remember their names!’ Century exclaims. He gets up off the chair as Wanda arrives. ‘Amanda said you were ill…’ Wanda begins. Century replies that he is not, but explains that as in China, his recollective faculties are returning. He adds that it is a matter of time until he remembers who he is - and what he is.
11:01 PM, Wanda, Julia and Walker, as well as Hank and Miguel are gathered in a private lounge, while Tony stands before them. ‘Bear with me…this won’t take long’ Tony announces, explaining that he needed to have a private word with them, and that it is long overdue. Tony declares that he has done some things he is not proud of. ‘As far as you’re all concerned, I walked out on the West Coast team, and faked my own death’. He tells his companions that he never apologized to any of them for that deception and abandonment.
11:03 PM, Hawkeye is sitting with Rachel, and holds out an arrow, explaining that it is a signaling arrow, that air rushes through it and it whistles. He tells her that she could tape it to her new board and drive everyone in the building nuts. ‘I ain’t much big on gifts…but Merry Christmas anyhow, kid!’ Clint tells Rachel, who smiles and exclaims ‘Whoa! Cool! Thanks, Mister Hawkeye!’ Clint notices on the monitor that Stark is saying his piece, so Clint orders the computer to increase volume, where Stark can be heard saying ‘Never forget Simon Williams. I hope you can all make the memorial service next week…and Hawkeye. Always the clown. Always the joker, driving me crazy with his loud-mouthed opinions’. This doesn’t impress Clint, who mutes the sound, and declares ‘So he’s been thinking lately, huh? About what? New ways to insult old friends?’
If Clint hadn’t muted the monitor, he would have heard Tony say that he regrets Clint’s absence tonight more than he can say, as Clint was the backbone of the West Coast team. ‘I hope one day to count him a friend again’ Tony adds. Tony remarks that the break they made with the Avengers wasn’t on the best of terms, and he wants to make sure there are no hard feelings. ‘And if you guys ever need our help…’ he says to Hank, who smiles and replies ‘You’re in the book, right?’ Tony admits that he had no business running out on his responsibilities to the West Coast team. ‘And I didn’t see fit to trust any of you, and I’m ashamed of that’. Tony then says ‘In plain English…I’m sorry. And I wanted to tell you that in person’. Tony assures his team that from now on there will be no more deception, before suggesting they rejoin the party.
11:35 PM, Fisher and Amanda stand before “Iron Man“, asking him why he cannot tell them who he really is. ‘Stark’s given us top clearance on everything else!’ Fisher exclaims, to which “Iron Man” replies that he is a very private person. Captain America goes over to Iron Man and tells him that Hank has told him about the memorial for Simon, and that he will be there. Tony replies that it would mean a lot. ‘I know you haven’t been feeling too good lately’ Tony adds, explaining that he has sent notice to everyone who knew or worked with him, so it should be quite a crowd. Cap and Tony shake hands, as Cap tells Tony that despite his loss, his new team looks like it is working out, adding that it deserves to. ‘Just give Wanda some breathing room’ Cap suggests. ‘She’s been talking, eh?’ Tony asks, before assuring Cap that he will try.
The partygoers mingle around, while USAgent squats down beside Rachel and asks ‘Gone?’ to which Rachel replies that Hawkeye listened to Tony on the monitor, then got real mad and left. ‘He said to tell you sorry’ Rachel adds. USAgent declares that he doesn’t get it. ‘What’s it take to get through to that guy?’ Nearby, close friends Wanda and Julia are discussing Tony, with Wanda remarking that his apology had been a long time coming. Julia replies that it sounded like to her as if Tony got a weight off. ‘Things he needed to say. I think he meant every word’ Julia adds. ‘Let’s hope so’ Wanda frowns.
‘Playback’ Century calls out to a monitor as he sits in a chair and re-watches the Recorder’s video tape of him. ‘I see their faces…but I can’t remember their names!’ Century can hear himself saying on screen. ‘Rewind. Playback’ Century orders as he listens to that phrase once more, and again’ sitting in the darkness, he frowns….